Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Page Critique Tuesday: Is this really where the story begins?


If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums!

Also, if you'd like to test your editing chops, keep your eye on this area! I'll post the pages and queries a few days before a critique so you can see how your redline compares to mine.

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to knowledgeable, whose page is below:
Title: The Musician
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Aaron opened his eyes, but he could only see dark. Small spots of cold—snow—pelted his face. Pain shot though his ribs. He tried to suck in air, but his chest—something pushed on his chest. Huge. Heavy. Immovable.  
Am I dying?  
How long could I go without breathing before passing out or dying?  
A deathly, otherworldly silence enveloped him like an isolation booth.  
Where am I? 
They had been on the bus, driving through the Berkshire Mountains. The five men were all talking about the gig they had just played in New York when Danny, the driver and their manager, let out a cry. The bus lurched and the next thing Aaron knew, he was tossed in the air, multiple items in the bus flying and hitting him. 
He slipped between substance and shadow as recent and older events whirled and tumbled in his mind, just as he and some of the equipment had in the bus. Cele. If only he had known what to do when he realized she wanted an abortion. Maybe he could have gotten there in time to save the baby. If only he had known sooner. Hitching a ride with Danny to get out of Dalhart. bussing tables at the diner. London. Amsterdam. 
* * * 
On a warm August night in Nashville, 1963, Aaron Cronan arrived at Manchester’s bar. He, Cal, and Cele were the house band until July of that year when Aaron took work at a local studio.
People often feel as if they need to do something really big and dramatic with their opening page to give their story stakes and oomph. You hear this advice so so so so much from people around the Internet, at writer's conferences, even from people who are within the publishing industry.

Grab the reader's attention! Do something more dramatic! Wow, that murder scene was chilling, why don't you start with that?

I don't know what the rest of this story will entail, as I've read no more than you have. But I have a hunch that this story actually begins with a warm August night in Nashville in 1963, as in the section after the bus accident. This framing device has the makings of a deus ex machina that forces the main character to reflect back on their life. But do characters really need a big, dramatic reason to reflect back?

There may well be some reasons for beginning this way that I'm not privy to, but I would urge the author to be confident that the reader will be engrossed by a very well-written scene at Manchester's bar, and that they don't necessarily need to do something big and dramatic for the sake of doing something big and dramatic. There's some good detail here, and I trust the author can set the scene.

But setting aside whether or not the framing device is necessary, I had a few concerns.

First, it mixed perspectives in a way that I didn't feel added much. If you're going to break perspective from third person to first person, it should be italicized to tip off the intrusion into someone's head.

But to me, the bigger problem is that  "Am I dying" and "How long can I go without breathing?" don't add much for me. Isn't that pretty much exactly what you would expect someone in Aaron's position to be thinking? Either these thoughts should be revealing of a very particular character (an over the top example: "Looks like I've strung my last Gibson Les Paul"), or the reader is going to just assume these types of thoughts are running through their head and we wouldn't really to be told.

Lastly, for veteran readers of page critiques, you know how much I believe in specificity. Good writing is precise. Give the reader the details they need to understand what you're telling them.

Title: The Musician
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Aaron opened his eyes, but he could only see dark. Small spots of cold—snowpelted his face. Pain shot though his ribs. He tried to suck in air, but his chest—something pushed on his chest. Huge. Heavy. Immovable.  
Am I dying? 
How long could I go without breathing before passing out or dying?  
A deathly, otherworldly silence enveloped him like an isolation booth.  [Don't think "like an isolation booth" adds much.]
Where am I? 
They had been on the bus, driving through the Berkshire Mountains. The five men [Be precise -- who are they?] were all talking about the gig they had just played in New York [Be more specific and slow down -- what were some details? Give some flavor, set the scene more. Anchor the reader] when Danny, the driver and their manager, let out a cry. The bus lurched and the next thing Aaron knew, he was tossed in the air, hit by equipment and glass multiple items in the bus flying and hitting him [Be specific - which items?]
He slipped between substance and shadow. as recent and older Events whirled and tumbled in his mind, just as he and some of the equipment had in the bus [This sentence is awkwardly phrased]. Cele. If only he had known what to do when he realized Cele wanted an abortion. Maybe he could have gotten there in time to save the baby. If only he had known sooner. Hitching a ride with Danny to get out of Dalhart. Bussing tables at the diner. London. Amsterdam.  [This is an abrupt transition]
* * * 
On a warm August night in Nashville, 1963, Aaron Cronan arrived at Manchester’s bar. [Set the scene.] He, Cal, and Cele were the house band until July of that year when Aaron took work at a local studio.
Thanks again to knowledgeable!

I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.

Art: Mezzetin by Antoine Watteau






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