Thursday, April 19, 2012

First Page Critique: DON'T SAY A WORD

by Michelle Gagnon

Today's first page critique submission is entitled, DON'T SAY A WORD. As Joe said yesterday, we're accepting 350 words max of works in progress. We aim to provide an overall assessment of the work based on what we've learned through our own publishing experiences. We hope it will be helpful not just to the author of each work, but to all of our readers.

DON'T SAY A WORD

“All right, Marconni, see Valentino. There. Mickey’s the one in the red silk,” I said, pointing to the three gang members of the Valentino family gathered in the New York City Italian restaurant.

Assistant FBI Director John Marconni drew in a deep breath as we watched the surveillance feed. The lights inside glowed dim, and the closed sign appeared in the window with the red checkered curtains two hours ago. The last public patrons were long gone.

“They won’t be there long. Valentino doesn’t socialize well,” I said, running a hand over my neck, massaging the tight muscles.

Marconni nodded. “He’s not slipping out this time, Aiello.”

“You won’t take him alive,” I said, shaking my head, “he’ll never testify.”

I grimaced and felt adrenaline pumping into my system. At least at this hour, whatever went down, no more civilians would die at Valentino’s hands.

Marconni raised his hand and spoke into the mike. “Hold, Team one. Eyes open, Team two!”

I saw it.

Movement on the street caused Marconni’s hesitation.
A figure appeared out of the shadows and walked toward the restaurant. A woman, dressed to the nines, clingy red scrap-of-a-dress, four inch heels, body to die for. Long brown tresses cascaded to her waist. She fished in her purse for something.

“We got her, boss. She’s going in. Team two, hold position. We got a renegade on approach.”

My heart slammed into my chest.

She inserted keys into the lock and for a fraction of a second, as she opened the door to the Valentino hideout, the dim lights inside illuminated her face.

“You seeing this, Tony?” Marconni asked.

“I see it,” I growled, the recognition flooding into me, twisting my gut.

I watched as the woman walked over to Mickey Valentino. He pulled her into his arms and they embraced. Kissed. His hands roamed all over her, and I watched with revulsion as she responded to him.

“We gotta go in, Tony. I’m sorry,” Marconni whispered where only I could hear. Then he spoke into his mike, “Go, Team Two. Take ‘em alive. All of them.”

As an opening page, I really enjoyed this submission. The author does a good job of dropping the reader into the middle of a scene without an inordinate amount of exposition. The stage is set nicely for whatever is about to transpire.

I do wish that I was given a better sense of where the narrator is vis a vis the action; is he in a van? I assumed so, based on the surveillance feed line, but a single sentence of clarification would be helpful. What does it smell like inside the van? Maybe it reeks of take out, since they've been there for awhile. Perhaps our narrator is hungry, since he's been stuck there for hours. Also a few lines about the restaurant, and/or the surrounding area. Is there anyone else outside? Is it summer, spring, fall? This is another opportunity to provide a few key details that really set the stage. I understand that it's late; can he hear garbage trucks collecting trash from dumpsters? A few cabs sliding past on the nearly empty streets? Are homeless people dozing in nearby doorways?

And what does Marconni look like? Is he in a sharp or rumpled suit? Old, or young? Again, just adding in a sentence here or there to build a sense of what the characters look like and what they're feeling would be helpful.

There's a nice noir feel to this piece, and I think it would be great to expand on it a bit. But some of the phrasing is a bit trite: grimacing, heart slamming into my chest, adrenaline pumping into my system. These are all nice and descriptive, but a bit overused. I would aim for more subtlety, and coming up with a way to illustrate these sensations that is more original.

All in all, I would definitely keep reading. I'm curious to find out what the narrator's relationship is to this woman, and to discover what's about to happen in the restaurant. Well done.

8 comments:

  1. Well it's a hooking opening for sure :) I love starting to read and finding myself in the middle of something, so good work to the author.

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  2. The strength of this is that it starts with action. It's a scene in progress. And while I like starting with dialogue, I think the opening paragraph could use a tweak. I was confused by the first line:

    "All right, Marconni, see Valentino."

    We're missing something there. It should either be "I see Valentino" or "see Valentino?" I'm just not sure what the author intended, and it stopped me short. Also, there's no need to stuff exposition into the first paragraph. "Marconni" "gang members" "Valentino family" "New York City" "Italian restaurant." Those details can wait. Thus:

    "There," I said. "Mickey's the one in the red silk."

    Assistant FBI Director John Marconni drew in a deep breath as we watched the surveillance feed. The lights inside the Italian restaurant glowed dim. The closed sign had appeared in the window with the red checkered curtains two hours ago.


    You can continue the scene and find a way to more naturally drop in the other material, re: gangs and NY, later.

    I would heed Michelle's advice about rooting out cliches. Not a hard thing to do, and well worth it.

    Also, watch out for the "said" attribution mixed in with a simultaneous action:

    I said, pointing to the three gang members of the Valentino family

    I said, running a hand over my neck, massaging the tight muscles.

    I said, shaking my head

    I growled, the recognition flooding into me, twisting my gut.

    This makes the reader do "extra work" and while they don't consciously notice it, it is what I call a "speed bump" that makes the reading experience less smooth, and too much of that is detrimental.

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  3. This opening really grabbed me too. I'm a critical reader and if I'm not hooked within the first few paragraphs I'm moving on to the next book.

    I agree 100% that based on what I've read so far, I'd keep on reading. Well done!

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  4. I'd cut the entire first paragraph, and drop the pertinent info into the second and further on.

    Assistant FBI Director John Marconni drew in a deep breath as we watched the surveillance feed. The lights inside the Italian restaurant glowed dim, and the closed sign appeared in the window with the red checkered curtains two hours ago. Normally, New Yorkers trickle in and out of joints like this for a bite all night.

    The dialogue seems stilted to me, even for noir. And there's no need to identify who's talking to whom this much within actual dialogue. If the author feels that needs specificity, put it by the tags, but I'd delete most instances, with the exception of the "Aiello" and the first "Tony". And maybe I'm wrong, but it feels like there should be more technical surveillance jargon coming from Marconni. For example, "Hold, Team One. Eyes open, Team Two." should probably be something like: "Team One, stand by. Team Two is now the eye." And there should be three tac teams if this is a raid, two to cover the restaurant's front and rear egresses, and a third as overwatch, plus the command center where Tony and Marconni are.

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  5. Awesome advice and insight. I'm already going through and pruning even more dialogue tags out of my WIP (and they were spare to start with).

    I like cop novels and I like mob novels . . . so what's not to like?

    I agree with the others on the first paragraph. It clunked and I see Mr. Bell added "had" in front of "appeared in the window . . . " It was needed.

    Great dark mood. ::hunts around for like button::

    Terri

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  6. I agree with James, the beginning line stopped me for a minute. However the rest of the story grabbed my attention. Who was the woman to the narrator, etc.

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  7. Just a note to say THANKS to everyone who commented on my submission. Your POV on this First Page I drafted means more to me than you could know, and I appreciate you all taking the time to share your feedback.

    I know you folks are busy but exercises like this help us all in so many ways. This interaction is priceless.

    Paula

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  8. Hey, Paula! Nice to see this submission was yours. Good writing!! You got some great suggestions there. You go, girl!

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