Thursday, August 1, 2013

First Page Critique: AVANTI

Note: The blog administrator deeply apologizes for the tardiness of today's post. She'd like to blame technical difficulties, but can't bring herself to lie to her valued TKZ peeps. Life got in her way.

As usual, my comments follow the text.



WAY BACK BEHIND HER flashing lights—reds and blues—closing like a rocket. THE COPS! Imagine that, she thought. Out here, middle of nowhere. Desert all around, guy sittin’ half the night all alone in the dark, his radar gun, or whatever, poised and ready for action, unlikely event some speeder comes bopping by, not a care in the world. And that of course, would be me, just daydreaming like some schoolgirl and totally ripping up the landscape. Sooo stupid. 

“Gettin' stopped out here will never do, girl.” She said it aloud, followed by a “No way” . . . and then she punched it.

 Her car, all made up special. Custom everything. Suspension. Wheels. Tires. Engine. All state-of-the-art. Outrun anything. Anything! “We’ll just see ‘bout that,” she said. Accelerator to the floorboard, the flashing lights recede. “Chase is on now, son.” She cracked a big wide smile. Fully alert. Arms locked. Shoulders set. One-twenty-five and climbing! Dips in the road punching her gut. Weightless one instant, then wham! Needle passes 145. Everything outside’s a blur.

She checked her side mirror. Still there and coming on strong. Whoa, baby! Got me a tiger on my tail. HAH! Time to light the candle. Her reference was to an enriched fuel mixture she could employ in time of trouble, like, now. She slipped a pair of NODs—Night Optical Device—over her eyes and cut headlights. In total darkness she reached down and flipped the special switch. Soon as she stomped the accelerator, the result was explosive. Explosive!

WHAT A SIGHT it was, viewed from back down the road in the cop car. First off, the tail lights recede. 

Oh, man! Got me a runner! So he steps on it. Closing the gap the tail lights simply vanish. An instant later, KAPOW! Ten feet of angry flame lashes the darkness. And this time she really is gone, except for the heady smell of burnt kerosene and rocket fuel.

AND SHE'S FLYING. Not like back in the old days piloting Black Hawks and Apaches in Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other places the censors deleted from her logbook. Only, here he comes . . . again. Reds and blues winking away back there in the dark, until . . . Headlights bouncing and he’s off the road. A tower of flame geysers into the starry sky.

Oh, no! What have I done?


My comments:

I found this to be a really interesting submission. I liked the "in the moment" sense of the narrator's voice, which immediately draws you into her action. I like how the technical details were slipped in to give the reader a sense of her expertise. This writer doesn't make the mistake of  explaining the reasons his character has competence and history--he suggests it by introducing technical clues while never breaking the action's pace. That's good. That's strong. I like this.

I have a couple of suggestions to make. 

AVANTI meant nothing to me as a title. Frankly, it sounded to me  like an aperitif or a menswear designer. I looked it up and found the definition as:

Kingdom of Avanti, an ancient Aryan kingdom of W central India, with its capital near modern Ujjain; flourished in the 6th–4th centuries b.c.

So, is this story going to pull us into a story based in West central India, or is it going to be some kind of CIA historical time traveling thing? Or is there another definition for Avanti that I'm clueless about?

The trouble is, the title is one of the strongest weapons you as a writer have to get a reader's attention. If the reader is completely ignorant about what your title stands for, you've just lost your chance to lure that reader into your story. (And even if I'm the last person in the world to know what Avanti means, and everyone else chortles at my ignorance, I stand by that statement. You don't want to lose even one reader if possible, especially on the cover.) So bottom line: I suggest finding a stronger title that suggests more about what the story is about.

POV transition
This comment is just a nit. When you switch from the narrator's POV to the view from behind (aka the cop's POV), in the following sentence:

WHAT A SIGHT it was, viewed from back down the road in the cop car.

It's a slightly jarring, possibly confusing transition. Switching POV midstream can easily throw a reader. We read the line "What a sight it was," before we know we've just switched to the cop's POV.  I can't really figure out an easy fix for that, but I would suggest playing around with it to get a smoother transition. I also think the writing got a bit awkward when it switched to the cop's POV. His "voice" also sounded exactly like the main character's in style and presentation. It's important to distinguish the sound of your characters' voices from one another. As a possible fix, maybe he could reach for the radio and have him speaking into it--that would be a natural way to introduce the cop's thoughts and dialogue without repeating the "inside the head" style you have for the main character.

Capitalization and Exclamation Mark : In general, all caps and exclamation marks are no-no's for creating a sense of drama. And this piece doesn't need them. The writing is very dramatic as it is. And I'd be careful about overusing ellipses as a "thoughtful pause" device.

Voice:  I love the voice here. I love its narrative flow and the way it conveys an "in the moment" sense of being in the character's shoes (or car, in this instance). I like the use of language. (For example, I liked how the writer uses "geysers" as a verb instead of choosing something more mundane, like "shot"). I did think some of the terseness was slightly overdone at a couple of points, but only very slightly.

Overall, I find this to be quite a strong first page. Well done, writer! 

TKZ'ers, your thoughts?


  1. Overall, I enjoyed this submission. I would keep reading. It does need a strong editing job. But I can sense there's an enticing story here. Avanti could mean the Studebaker Avanti, a high-end muscle car from the '60s that was WAY ahead of it's time.

    One suggestion for dealing with the POV shift is to keep it in the main character's viewpoint. "She imagined what a sight it was viewed from the cop car. First off, her tail lights would recede ..."

  2. I like this. It is saucy and irreverent and gives a nice sense of the MC.

    The POV is all over the place and a bit of a mess, but easily fixable. This paragraph had a bit of everything:

    She checked her side mirror. Still there and coming on strong.

    Whoa, baby! Got me a tiger on my tail. HAH! (if this is dialogue, internal or external, it needs to be set off with quotes or italics)

    Time to light the candle.

    Her reference was to an enriched fuel mixture she could employ in time of trouble, like, now. (This is oddly placed. Out of POV, almost like a parenthetical or stage direction. Total telling. Consider something more along the line of:

    Time to light the candle," she thought, flipping open the compartment housing the enriched fuel system.)

    She slipped a pair of NODs—Night Optical Device—over her eyes and cut headlights. In total darkness she reached down and flipped the special switch. Soon as she stomped the accelerator, the result was explosive. Explosive! (So, what was it, explosive? The second one is a bit coy. Consider some more "show." How did it feel when the leap snapped her back into her seat. Was it a rush? Isn't that one of the reasons vets are attracted to hot rods?)

    Really just nits. This is a fun piece. Hammer down the POV (maybe scene breaks?) and smooth out the bumps.

    And listen to The Killzone. I did and it's paying off. Since I've been hanging around, I've gone from "we both know this sucks" to the finalist list for The Claymore Award.


    1. Yay, Terri! Congratulations! Woot!

    2. Way to go, Terri! Congratulations and best of luck!

  3. Congrats, Terri. I'll be there to see you win!

    1. Double yay, Terri! We're proud of you!

  4. Thanks piles for your great insights. The POV comments were very helpful. I certainly don't want anyone to be jerked out of the moment. In fact, everything was helpful.

    My intent is to shift that POV from the woman's vehicle to the cop's vehicle. I'll work on it.

    Yep. Avanti is a flashback to the Stude and "andare avanti (precedere) = go ahead; [orologio] = be fast." Also, it's the woman's handle from when she flew choppers.

    More to come...

    1. It's a very promising start, Jim. The telling thing is that everyone is drawn into your story, despite the nits that were pointed out. But you've nailed the hardest part, which is grabbing the reader's interest enough to want to turn the page. The rest is really just technical stuff. Keep going with it, and keep us posted on your progress!

    2. Oh, and I just had a thought. Since Joelene has military helicopter experience, she must have had actual rockets fired at her during her tour. In your first sentence, you could revise "like a rocket" to include a specific type of rocket by name, the kind of rocket she had to avoid as a pilot. That would be a great way to introduce the first technical detail that suggests her background.

    3. Oh, thank you for that thought. I'll include the name of some kind of rocket that would be fired at her from the ground. ANY SUGGESTIONS THERE, FOLKS?!! Oh, the technical details! Where's Tom Clancy when we really need him?

    4. Shoulder fired surface to air missiles (SAMs), like a Stinger (American version). Not sure what the Russian version of the Stinger is. The Afghan rebels actually had some Stingers because we gave them some in the 80s when the Russians were in there. (This from husband who is a war history buff.)

  5. Really liked the voice, once I got into it. The very first line threw me off because I read it quick so it came across as "her flashing lights". I'd throw a comma in there but I am so nitpicking. I would certainly keep reading and I already like the main character so all is good. Except for the wobbly POV which you already know about. So, ignore me, Jim, and carry on with the more to come.

    1. That first line kind of threw me too, Amanda. I think it's because from her POV, she could only see the cop's light in her mirrors, or from the way it floods the cabin of her vehicle with neon colors. Maybe using her "view" of the cop's lights by referencing how she's seeing it would help locate the reader more quickly in the action, and reduce possible confusion.

      But this is why writing is so challenging, and so rewarding. It's hard work to sort through different layers of issues, but so satisfying when you get it to the "sweet spot" where it sings to you from the page. That's why we keep at it.

    2. That's a good call. Of course she sees the flashing lights in the mirror. I suppose this whole first piece is about POV bouncing (reflecting) all over the place.

      I once read a piece where a squadron of planes were attacking a target on the ground. The POV road with each pilot zooming in, along with the others, waiting their turn, and watching. Everything was up in the air and twirling. It was a fascinating spacial setup. I'm trying to get it right.

  6. I agree with Kathryn and others - I really enjoyed this. I was immediately drawn in and very curious about who she is, what century this is, what kind of character it is that wants to outrun cops over a speeding ticket, etc., etc.

    I'd never heard of the Studebaker Avanti. The word, "Avanti," conjured up "avant-garde" connections for me, which I guess is sort of in the "forward" neighborhood. However, this title wouldn't attract me and would probably put me off. (just my $.02)

    I also agreed that the POV needs work. What I haven't seen pointed out yet (so maybe I'm wrong), is that we've got 1st person POV in the 1st paragraph: "And that of course, would be me, just daydreaming like some schoolgirl..."

    So, it's not just a matter of switching from one close 3rd person to a different character close 3rd person POV. I think that's why it's such a jolt to suddenly move to the cop. Even in close 3rd person, we're an onlooker, not identified with the narrator, so it doesn't upset our expectations so much to move to another 3rd person POV.

    I don't know how you reconcile these. I'm not an expert, but to me, it doesn't read right to mix the 1st person & 3rd person.

    I agree about the voice - strong, distinctive, fun and I'm really wondering what comes next. Very strong beginning.

    1. I agree with you that there is a bit of POV confusion, I had a bullet point on switching from 1st person to third, but when I reread it carefully, it seemed like not so much a violation of POV as a confusing presentation of inner thoughts. But you are right--it would be worthwhile to do an edit pass to make sure that the POV and tense remain comsistent throughout. Thanks for your input!

    2. Make that "consistent", not "comsistent." Sheesh!

  7. Sheesh! The italics were in there originally to indicate thoughts. Unfortunately, they seemed to have fallen off en route. They would go a long way to clarify POV etc.

    No excuses; it needs massaging. By the way, the MC is Joelene Stonehouse, retired chopper pilot, and all you civilians better get outta her way. I'm glad you seem to like her. Writing her is a challenge for me.

  8. Interesting read. Ditto what the others said regarding ways to fix it, but especially that yes I would keep reading with some basic adjustments. Depending on how the rest goes this might make a pretty decent audiobook as well, although if the female character here is the main lead it'd prolly need to read by a female....which puts my not to feminine voice of the market, unless you want your female lead to sound like a butch chain smoker.

    1. Thanks for that image, Basil. I tried an audio book of Don Winslow's Savages. The reader was male and did the female parts with a high voice. "Oh...Oh...OOOOOOH." Get the idea? Totally ruined it. That's when I bailed.

  9. Great example of how voice can singlehandedly propel a story through the underbrush of POV, obscure title, and words in capital letters.

    1. Absolutely right, Mike! All those issues are easily fixable. This page shows how having an exciting, compelling voice can keep a reader involved and want to continue reading. The rest of it is just technical stuff.

    2. The sequence of three words in uppercase--and preceded by an extra blank line--mark the beginning of a new section within the chapter and, thus, the POV shift. Somehow this was obscured in the presentation here. Ahhh, due to technical difficulties beyond our control......

  10. Avanti is Italian for forward – and the style certainly pushes you in that direction, doesn't it?

  11. I'm going to make comments before I go back and read anyone else's, just to see if I came up with any of the same suggestions.

    Good stuff:

    • You didn't begin with backstory. Thank you. (I'm cheering.)

    • I like the voice.

    • Interesting use of choppy phrases and clauses to emphasized the action.


    • Use of capitalization to make the reader feel your emphasis. Instead use intense writing.

    • Exclamation points in your description. Try to reserve these for dialogue, and only use when really needed.

    • Tense issues. My personal mantra is pick one and stick with it unless you make a break in the text because you're changing characters, time frame, whatever, and there's a really good reason for it. (And you can make it work.) Otherwise it's extremely confusing for the reader. In this case, I think you should just stick with present tense entirely.

    • Some of the repetition was just repetitive and didn't promote emphasis.
    - Outrun anything. Anything!
    - big wide smile (There would also be a comma separating the descriptive adjectives if you kept both.)

    • POV alert. This is very much being told from inside your character, real time, until you jump out of her head and say that it's quite a scene from behind her in the cop car. She doesn't know that because she's not in the cop car, and it hurts the narrative. You could get around it by her visualizing what it must look like, but otherwise this shouldn't be in the story.
    • Unnecessary dialogue tag. I don't think you need to mention that she says it out loud. If it has quotes, we're probably assuming that she's talking to herself.

    • Last line felt strange. For her to wonder what she had done didn't seem consistent with her character. From what I know of her so far, I wouldn't think she did care.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this piece. All your comments are right on.

      Your take on the last line and it's feeling strange was intended. I know she sounds and acts like she doesn't care ... but she really does. Whaddaya think she does next?

      And I'm so thrilled by your follow-up comments. This story has lots of "juice" and I'm glad so much has come through in this short opening.


  12. By the way, I forgot to say that I'd keep on reading, although it feels rough, just because I'm interested. It's exciting, and I'm curious.

  13. WAY BACK BEHIND HER flashing lights...

    Do the flashing lights belong to her?

    Or did you mean Way back behind her, flashing lights...

    I kinda got hung up there.