Saturday, May 26, 2012

First Page Critique: TEAM MADNESS


Presented for your consideration: the first page of a work entitled TEAM MADNESS:

"River Madden!"
I jerked in my seat and looked at my classmates, all eight of whom stifled laughter while keeping their heads down and their eyes on their notebooks. They'd been like that every since we'd handed our assignments in at the beginning of class, and I wasn't sure why. But it wasn't one of them calling my name.
Professor Higgins glowered behind his battered wooden desk. Our desk/chair thingys sat in a semi-circle eight feet from him, all the distance the cramped, overheated cubby hole of a classroom allowed. Late afternoon autumn sunlight filtered through the tall windows to my right. The two rows of overhead fluorescent lights switched from humming a lullaby to belting out Bad Boys—off-key. I ignored them.
Higgins' narrowed eyes stared at me from his purpled face, and his plump hands clenched on a stack of papers. Oh, oh. My essay topped the pile. I could recognize it by the bright pink stationery. It's not a color I would have chosen for a dissertation on the Neanderthal religion, but by the time I'd finished the required reading at 2 a.m., it was too late to knock on doors and ask where to get paper. So I'd used what I'd found in my desk, left by the previous occupant of my room. It sucked being the new guy at Dimensional Protective Service.
From the tone of his voice and use of my full name, Higgins had called more than once. S**t (edited by blogger). I'd either fallen asleep again, or my schizophrenic brain had tuned him out to listen instead for patterns in the clicking of the heat ducts or the tapping of wind-blown leaves against the windowpane. I liked history and wanted to be a good student, quiet and attentive, but he delivered his lectures in a dry, droning voice I couldn't focus on no matter how hard I tried.
"Um, yes, sir?"
The little digital clock on Higgins' desk chimed, announcing the end of the insufferable class, and I thought I'd been saved by the bell. No such luck.
"Come here, Mr. Madden," Higgins rumbled.

TEAM MADNESS breaks one rule right out of the gate --- nothing wrong with that --- by not featuring explosions, mayhem, sex, and/or karate within the opening paragraphs. Now, I LIKE books that start off with those elements. Who among us, however, who has seriously (or otherwise) pursued the benefits of a classical education, did not at some point or another find themselves in the Birkenstocks of Mr. Madden? The author does a good job of showing us the classroom; the buzzing of the florescent lights is a nice touch and the description also reveals that Madden may have some autism spectrum issues with which to deal. The first page does not pick you up by the ears and drag you along, but it does crook its finger and gesture you; I would read more just to see where things go after Madden mercifully exits the classroom.

Some proofreading and clean-up is needed. I counted a couple of typos on the first page --- “every since” should be “ever since,” just for starters, and  “ thingys” should be spelled “thingies” believe it or not  --- and if that’s how things start off there are probably going to be two or three similar errors per page, on the average. It’s a distraction, at the least, and unnecessary. That irritation notwithstanding, what is presented here isn’t a bad start at all.

6 comments:

  1. This is a very good first page. I get to care about the character due to his straightforward perspective, and the overall atmosphere in the classroom is also very present in my imagination with the bits of description that were given. Great start!
    And what for the love of Pete is the Dimenstional Protective Service? Are there aliens? Paranormal beings? Time jumps? I want answers! :P

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  2. Thanks, Joe! I appreciate your feedback on the piece. Sorry for the typos! It's the insanity of early draft stage, but that's not an excuse.

    For the enlightenment of others, here's the pitch for this, the second in the River Madden series:

    Light bulbs still serenade River Madden, but at least the hapless schizophrenic has a job now. As the newest recruit at Dimensional Protective Service, River's anxious to prove himself. His first assignment: rescue a scientist who's been lost in D-space. When River finds his target, the man's dead. The Neans claim a demon did it. The FBI and the CIA think River's the culprit. The light bulbs aren't talking. Can River unravel the web of lies and spies to find a killer before the demons destroy the human and Nean dimensions?

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  3. My interest zoomed at the mention of Dimensional Protective Service. Before this, I couldn't have guessed the genre. The sensory details make the classroom come alive. I'd be interested enough to read more.

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  4. Anon, nice to hear from you. Thanks for participating. I'll look forward to seeing the rest of the work.

    Vero and Nancy, thanks for your comments. I wondered about the Dimensional Protective Service myself. That's an interesting hook, for sure.

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  5. I like this author's voice. Sounds like a quirky character in a wierd world. Seeing as how that's sort of how I grew up, I'd like to see where this is going. LOL!

    That said, the structure with its run-on look on the page could become exhausting. Only, I found this technique used here intriguing because the character's voice is so very good. I like this piece. If this work has the promise this first page offers, I could become hooked on this author.

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  6. Nice. It may break the "exploding helicopters" rule but it does the important thing right: it raises questions in the reader's mind without giving away the complete answer.

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