Thursday, July 31, 2014

First page critique: Oh, the places you'll go! Or, not.

Hi Guys! Today we have a first-page submission from another brave writer. This one is called ALICE IN REAL LIFE.

My comments follow.

***

Life is funny . . . in a brutal kind of way.

One minute you’re a youngster surrounded by grown-ups shoving sunshine up your ass about your bright, shiny future and the next, you’re alone in a crappy apartment, pushing thirty and taking stock of your inadequate underwear supply while packing to leave the country.
Or, is this just me?

Come on, I can’t be alone here. As a kid, you must’ve heard crap like, “the world is your oyster”, whatever that means. And I know I’m not the only one given this inspirational little book by a well-meaning grown-up at high school graduation: “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss. Sound familiar? At one point, the main character enjoys a magical balloon ride, ascending through marvelous new experiences in a whimsical world. As if the only place to go is up. It’s cute. It’s promising. It’s bullshit.

Maybe parents hand this out to see the hope in their kids’ eyes that was lost when they found out the truth about Santa. Or, maybe they’re sadistic assholes that just want to tell one more lie. They know the ride into adulthood will be much more like a roller coaster. Not the Disneyland kind. The questionable, County Fair-taking-your-life-into-your-own-hands kind.

Sure, Dr. Seuss’s character hits a couple of bumps along the way, but my version would have even more reality mixed into those colorful pages. I’d still call it “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, but without the exclamation point and with a sad little Who on the cover pinching the top of his nose and shaking his head. Still whimsical, but with a hint of shame. Chapter 1, “Vomiting in a men’s room toilet while a stranger holds your hair”. Chapter 2, “The choice between paying rent and eating”. Chapter 3, “Your boyfriend’s selling drugs out of your apartment”.  But, wait – there’s more!  Chapter 5, “The engagement’s off”. Then, there’s the part I’m on now, Chapter 6, “Your mom battles cancer . . . and loses”.

Okay, I can see how this sounds like a great big bummer and book sales would not be good. Dr. Seuss wasn’t stupid. And Mom wasn’t sadistic for giving me hope, but, let’s cut the crap at graduation. Because I’ll tell you, the only time the world was full of magical shapes and whimsical colors was during Chapter 4, “That regrettable mushroom incident”.


***

My comments:

"Doctor Bombay! Doctor Bombay! Emergency! Come right away!"
 
Wow. Talk about having a voice. Reading this first page, I feel like I just got a two a.m. call from a close friend in crisis. The kind of call which would cause me to knock the sleep out of my eyes, throw on some clothes, and trundle across greater LA, braving freeway traffic to see how I could help sort things out.

My feeling is that this section sounds like the first page of an incredibly interesting memoir. I want to get to know this narrator.  What happened to her, and why? This page makes me want to go on the journey with her.

What say you, TKZers? Chime in!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The First Conundrum

Nancy J. Cohen

Often people will start reading a series with book number one. "You can begin with any story," I'll tell folks interested in reading my Bad Hair Day series. But they insist on starting at the beginning. "That's fine," I'll say, but is it really?


coverPTD

I am thinking how that first book is not the best example of my writing skills today. How long ago was it published? In 1999. And the book had probably been in production for a year before. So that means I wrote it sixteen or more years ago. Don't you think my writing has improved since then? Yet here is this potential fan evaluating my entire series based on that one book. You'd hope she would cut me some slack.

At least I got the rights back to my early futuristics. I revised those stories before making them available in ebook formats. No problems there.

I do not have the same opportunity with my mysteries. But even if I did, would it be a good use of my time to revise all of my earlier stories? Or is it best to leave them in their pristine state, an example of my earlier writing style? If so, let's hope that the readers out there coming to my series for the first time will approve and understand.

Sometimes the opposite is true. A writer's early works are his best efforts, before he gets rushed to meet deadlines or to quicken production. In such cases, the later writing might suffer. I’ve seen this happen with some favorite authors.

So what do you think? If you want to read a new series, do you begin with book one or with the latest title?
 
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Now for some BSP. My new book, Warrior Lord (Drift Lords Series #3) is being released on Friday, August 1.

http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=831

August 1, Friday, Book Launch Party for Warrior Lord, 10 am – 4 pm EDT. Join the fun. Giveaways all day! https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What This Old Dog Learned
From Teaching New Writers


By P.J. Parrish

You can, it seems, teach an old dog new tricks. I don't mean the one above. That's my dog Bailey. She's as smart as a whip, but at fourteen, she's not about to let me balance a Wishbone on her nose. I am talking about myself here. Let me first stipulate that I am an "old dog" (way past AARP induction age and been published now since 1985). Yet I am definitely still learning new tricks.

This point was driven home to me last week when my sister Kelly and I were up in Michigan teaching a two-day fiction writing workshop at Saturn Booksellers. It was pretty intense and we worked our charges hard, giving them Powerpoints on the twin pillars of plot and character, and on the finer points of transitions, pacing, theme and voice, rewriting, and what "show vs tell" really means.

But we also forced them to actually write, giving them quick exercises on a host of topics. We would show them a photograph and give them the opening line. Then they had five minutes to write to the assignment.  I was surprised at the quality of the short pieces they produced. I think they were, too.

Almost all of them, they admitted, felt bogged down and somewhat defeated by their works in progress -- all for different reasons. But there was something liberating about doing those short-burst exercises that recharged their confidence and got their mental muscles moving again. (For some reason, this photo below, for the dialogue exercise, really inspired some great offbeat writing. Go figure!)

We also offered to critique the first ten pages of their manuscripts. There was some good stuff in their submissions and the mistakes tended to be the usual ones of craft that we here at The Kill Zone talk about all the time. But it was the big-picture issues that I found myself thinking about afterwards. Because even after ten years of teaching, after publishing twenty novels, a novella and a bunch of short stories, this old dog is still learning -- from my students.

Here are my top big picture points from our Michigan workshop.

Chose your entry point carefully



Where do you begin your story? This is, to my mind, maybe the most important choice we make as writers and one I struggled with mightily on my WIP. I changed my opening five times before I finally hit upon the right moment to begin my tale. It's like those astronauts in "Apollo 13": You come in too late you burn up. If you come in too shallow you skim off the atmosphere and fly off into space. Many folks pick a point too early and the reader gets bored waiting for something to happen. This is why prologues usually fail; it's just the writer clearing his throat or doing a backstory dump. Here's what agent Dan Lazar hates to see: "Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes and thinking, staring out the window and thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”  But if you come in too late, you create confusion for the reader aka "coming out of a coma syndrome." (ie where am I? Who is that? What the heck is going on?")

Things to consider when picking your entry point: Early on, tell us who the protag is and make us care about her. Create a conflict for the protag in the opening pages. Establish the stakes. And make the opening scene compelling enough that we must read on. But don't get too clever. Here's Dan Lazar again: "A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”

Don't try too hard



Nothing's more cringe-inducing than a writer who's swinging for the fences and whiffing. Whether it's lame humor, groddy sex scenes, overly didactic themes, ten-dollar vocabulary, or cutesy attempts to be different ("Look, Ma! No punctuation!"), writing that calls attention to itself is just...bad writing. Yes, we all admire inventive writing, but there's only one George Saunders. You are not him. Neither am I, alas. Remember what Nathaniel Hawthorne said: "Easy reading is damn hard writing." Just tell a compelling story about characters we care about. Get out of the way of your story. This is something, my friends, that I need to have tattooed on my forehead.

Read. Read. Read some more


Our students, who ranged from a 17-year-old writing vampire YA to a great-grandfather writing a WWII novel, were all pretty good on this account. But we stressed to them that they have to read with an analytical eye, dissecting how other writers spin their magic. I have gotten lazy on this account lately, telling myself that I just don't have time to read. But up in the Michigan woods, I read two terrific books -- Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz and The Blue Hour by T. Jefferson Parker. From Koontz I re-learned  the importance of rich characterization and how to handle an unreliable narrator. (Which I am grappling with). From Parker, I got a great lesson in how to handle dual protagonists. If you want to be a writer, you must first be a reader.

Don't be afraid



One of the hardest things for our students was exposing themselves and their writing. This is why we made them write in class and share. Fear is a common affliction among writers. I'm not immune; I'm afraid I don't have the chops to pull off my WIP story. For the yet-unpublished, the fears are more basic. They are afraid of scrutiny, criticism, ridicule, rejection -- you fill in the blank. I know folks who have slaved for years over their books (aka The Thing That Has Eaten Up Ten Years of my Life) who have never worked up the courage to show it to anyone. Yes, we get personal gratification from the process. But the purpose of writing is communication. You have to put it -- and yourself -- out there.

Make your story compel someone to say, "Wow, that's exactly how I feel." If you do that, well, then you can relax a little. Because you'll know then that you really are a writer. Peace out. Woof.


Monday, July 28, 2014

25 Tips for Writing a Winning Short Story

Jodie Renner, editor & author, @JodieRennerEd

Writing short stories is a great way to test the waters of fiction without making a huge commitment, or to experiment with different genres, characters, settings, and voices.

And due to the rise in e-books and e-magazines, length is no longer an issue for publication, so there’s a growing market for short fiction. You can submit your short stories to anthologies, magazines, and contests, or publish a collection of three or four of your stories yourself in a short anthology. Or even one really good story, and price it at 99 cents. You can also get together with other authors in your genre and each contribute a story for an anthology, as did Kill Zone authors in 2010, with Fresh Kills, Tales from The Kill Zone. Time for another collection, I'd say, wouldn't you? (Nudge, nudge.)

In fact, it’s a good idea to try to publish a few high-quality, well-edited short stories between novels to help with discoverability and growing a fan base.

Also, today's busy readers (especially the young ones) have more distractions and temptations for their time, therefore shorter attention spans, so a short story is a nice escapism-byte for increasing numbers of people, I think.

Here are some tips for writing a compelling short story that is worthy of publishing or submitting to contests, magazines, and anthologies. Of course, these are only guidelines—like any good cook with a recipe, you’ll tweak them to suit your own vision, goal, and story idea.

PLANNING STAGE:

1. Keep the story tight. Unlike a novel or even a novella, a short story is about just a small slice of life, with one story thread and one theme. Don’t get too ambitious. It’s best to limit it to one main character plus a few supporting characters, one main conflict, one geographical location, and a brief time frame, like a few weeks maximum—better yet, a few days, or even hours or minutes.

2. Create a complex, charismatic main character, one readers will care about. Your protagonist should be multi-dimensional and at least somewhat sympathetic, so readers can relate to him and start bonding with him right away. He should be charismatic, with plenty of personality, but give him a human side, with some inner conflict and vulnerability, so readers identify with him and start worrying about him immediately. If readers don’t care about your character, they also won’t care about what happens to him.

3. Give your protagonist a burning desire. What does she want more than anything? This is the basis for your story goal, the driving force of your story.

4. Decide what your character is most afraid of. What does your hero regret most? What is his biggest fear? What is he most afraid might happen? Give him some baggage and secrets.

5. Devise a critical story problem/conflict. Create a main conflict or challenge for your protagonist. Put her in hot water right away, on the first page, so the readers start worrying about her early on. No conflict = no story. The conflict can be internal, external, or interpersonal, or all three, against one’s own demons, other people, circumstances, or nature. 

6. Develop a unique “voice” for this story by first getting to know your character really well. A good way is to journal in his voice. Pretend you are the character, writing in his secret diary, expressing his hopes and fears and venting his frustrations. Just let the ideas flow, in his point of view, using his words and expressions. Then take it a step further and carry that voice you’ve developed throughout the whole story, even to the narration and description, which are really the character’s thoughts, perceptions, observations and reactions. (In a novel, the voice will of course change in any chapters in other characters' viewpoints.)

7. Create an antagonist and a few interesting supporting characters. Give each of your characters a distinct personality, with their own agenda, hopes, accomplishments, fears, insecurities and secrets, and add some individual quirks to bring each of them to life. Supporting and minor characters should be quite different from your protagonist, for contrast. 

8. To enter and win contests, make your character and story unique and memorable. Try to jolt or awe the readers somehow, with a unique, charismatic, even quirky or weird character; a unique premise or situation; and an unexpected, even shocking revelation and plot twist.

9. Experiment – take a chance. Short stories can be edgier, darker, or more intense because they’re short, and readers can tolerate something a little more extreme for a limited time.

WRITING STAGE:

10. Start right out in the head of your main character. It’s best to use his name right in the first sentence to establish him as the point-of-view character, the one readers are supposed to identify with and root for. And let readers know really soon his rough age and role in the story world.

11. Put your character in motion right away. Having her interacting with someone else is usually best—much more dynamic than starting with a character alone, musing. Also, best not to start with your character just waking up or in an everyday situation or on the way to somewhere. That’s too much of a slow lead-up for a short story—or any compelling story, for that matter.

12. Use close point of view. Get up close and personal with your main character and tell the whole story from his point of view. Show his thoughts, feelings, reactions, and physical sensations. And don’t show anyone else’s thoughts or inner reactions. You don’t have time or space to get into anyone else’s viewpoint in a short story. Even the narration is your POV character’s thoughts and observations. Don’t intrude as the author to describe or explain anything to the readers in neutral language.

13. Situate the reader early on. Don’t forget the 4 W’s: who, what, where, when. Establish your setting (time and place) within the first few paragraphs, to situate your reader and avoid confusion. But as mentioned above, avoid starting with a great long descriptive passage.

14. Jump right in with some tension in the first paragraphs. There’s no room in a short story for a long, meandering lead-up to the main problem, or an extended description of the setting or the characters and their background. Disrupt the main character’s life in some way on the first page. As Kurt Vonnegut advises, start as close to the end as possible.

15. Show, Don’t Tell. Don’t use narration to tell your readers what happened—put them right in the middle of the scene, with lots of dialogue and action and reactions, in real time. And skip past transitional times and unimportant moments. Just use a few words to go from one time/place to another, unless something important happens during the transition.

16. Your character needs to react! Show your character’s emotional and physical reactions, both inner and outer. And to bring the character and scene to life on the page, evoke as many of the five senses as possible or appropriate, not just sight and hearing.

17. Every page needs tension of some sort. It might be overt, like an argument, or subtle, like inner resentments, disagreements, questioning, or anxiety. If everybody is in agreement, shake things up a little.

18. Dialogue in fiction is like real conversation on steroids. Skip the yadda-yadda, blah-blah, and add spark and tension to all your dialogue. And make the characters’ words and expressions sound as natural and authentic as you can. Each character should speak differently, and not like the author. Read your dialogue out loud or role-play with a friend to make sure it sounds real and moves along at a good clip. 

19. Build the conflict to a riveting climax. Keep putting your protagonist in more hot water until the big “battle,” showdown, or struggle—whether it’s physical, psychological, or interpersonal.

20. Go out with a bang. Don’t stretch out the conclusion – tie it up pretty quickly. Like your first paragraph, your final paragraph needs to be memorable, and also satisfying to the readers. Try to create a surprise twist at the end – but of course it needs to make sense, given all the other details of the story. 

21. Provide some reader satisfaction at the end. It’s not necessary to tie everything up in a neat bow, but do give your reader some sense of resolution, some payout for their investment of time and effort in your story. As in novels, most readers want the character they’ve been rooting for all along to resolve at least some of their problems. But be sure the protagonist they've been identifying with succeeds through their own courage, determination, and resourcefulness, not through coincidence, luck, or a rescue by someone else.

REVISION STAGE:

22. Hook 'em in right away. Now that you’ve got your whole story down, go back and grab the readers with an opening that zings. Write and rewrite your first line, opening paragraph, and first page. They need to be as gripping and as intriguing as you can make them, in order to compel the readers to read the rest of the story. Your first sentence and paragraph should arouse curiosity and raise questions that demand to be answered.

23. Cut to the chase! The short story requires discipline and editing. Trim down any long, convoluted sentences to reveal the essentials. Less is more, so make every word count. If a sentence or line of dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, add intrigue, or develop a character, take it out. 

Also, use strong, evocative, specific nouns and verbs and cut back on supporting adjectives and adverbs. For example, instead of saying “He walked heavily” say “He trudged.” Or instead of “She walked quietly into the room,” say “She tiptoed…”

24. Make every element and every image count. Every element you insert in the story should have some significance or some relevance later. If it doesn’t, take it out. You have no room for filler or extraneous details in a compelling short story. In fact, try to make all descriptions do double duty. Rather than listing their physical attributes and what they’re wearing, your description of a character should reveal their personality, their mood, their intentions, and their effect on those around them, and also the personality and attitude of the character who is observing them.

25. Pay attention to word count and other guidelines. Short stories are generally between 500 and 7,500 words long, with the most popular length around 2,500 to 4,000 words. If you want to submit your short story to a website, magazine or contest, be sure to read their guidelines as to length, genre, language, etc. Also, for your own protection, do read the fine print to avoid giving away all rights to your story.

For some great insights on creating a compelling short story, see James Scott Bell's post here on TKZ, How to Write a Short Story. And check out Anne R. Allen's great posts on the subject, such as "Why You Should be Writing Short Fiction." Also, if you're fairly new at writing short stories and would like more guidance, see my recent post, Some Quick, Basic Tips for Writing a Riveting Short Story. (Click on the titles.)

Do you have any suggestions to add to this list?


Besides publishing numerous blog posts, her popular Editor’s Guides to Writing Compelling Fiction, the award-winning Fire up Your Fiction and Writing a Killer Thriller (and the upcoming Captivate Your Readers), and her handy, clickable e-resources,
Spelling on the Go – Commonly Misspelled Words at Your Fingertips and Grammar on the Go, Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor. Find Jodie on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for her occasional newsletter here. Author website: JodieRenner.com

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Horrible Thing I Saw The Other Day

@jamesscottbell

"I wasn't trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it." – Ray Bradbury on Fahrenheit 451


The other day I saw a horrible thing.
It wasn't a traffic accident on the 101 Freeway, of which there are many on any given L.A. day.
It was not a wounded soldier or a bar fight or a new reality television show.
Nevertheless, what I saw twisted my stomach and made me groan for the future of our kind.
It was an otherwise lovely afternoon and I was walking along the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. As usual it was awash in activity––people of all shapes, sizes, colors, tempers, faiths and costumes sauntering along the street of dreams.
As I am wont to do I was watching faces.
I love watching faces. Each one is a potential character or storyline.
I was content.
I was engaged.
And then I stopped, recoiling in horror.
Okay, it was only an inward recoil. But there it was, as real as the hardened gum on Dick Powell's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A woman was pushing a stroller. In the stroller was a young child, a boy of perhaps two years.
The boy was holding a digital device. His head was down and his fingers tapped the screen like a mad reporter on deadline.
I thought: I have met dystopia and it is us.


In 1953 Ray Bradbury penned an essay for The Nation about science fiction. He began by describing a scene in his novella Fahrenheit 451 where the fireman comes home to find his wife in a virtual stupor, an earpiece attached to her head. She was not reading, for that was forbidden. Aural stimuli were being pumped into her docile brain.
For Ray Bradbury, that kind of passivity was one of the most awful scenarios imaginable.
Bradbury then recounted how he had been out for a stroll recently and saw a couple walking their dog. The woman held a transistor radio with an earpiece (back then, a rather ponderous and rare piece of equipment) plugged into her auditory canal.
The husband, Bradbury noted, might as well not have been there.
Bradbury expressed his astonishment that his prediction of a rather gloomy future was happening much faster than he supposed.
And this was the early 50s! What would the late, great RB think of any given restaurant today? Couples, trios, whole families sitting at the same table, heads bent over phones or tablets, hardly exchanging a word?


And now this, here on Hollywood Boulevard. Is this our future? Will it be made up of little boys and girls who had iPads in their strollers, now all grown up into humorless, unimaginative technocrats unable to engage the real world?
I remember feeling some of this same revulsion when I first saw a DVD player in a motorized vehicle. It was a desert night and I was driving back to L.A. after some event. I pulled up alongside a dark SUV and saw a small monitor playing a cartoon for the denizens of the back seat.
This was a night when the stars could be gazed upon in wonder and the mysteries of desert shadows might stir the imagination.
But not for the children in the car! For them the desert was a bright and colorful Looney Tune with a funny roadrunner and a rather frustrated coyote. 
I'm fearful. I fear that digitized babies are not engaging their world or training their imaginations. I fear they will grow up unable to engage a long-form piece of writing, let alone real people in actual, meaningful conversation.
Am I overreacting?
Let me throw it out there to you, Zoners. Am I engaged in the sort of fogey-ism that is a part of every generation?
Or, like Ray Bradbury, should we be truly alarmed?


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Summer Movies


I made good progress on my novel this week, but I have no interest in writing a post about writing now. It’s summertime and I want to talk about the movies. This week I saw two movies that couldn’t be more different: Boyhood, the Richard Linklater film that everyone’s talking about, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Well, now that I think about it, there are some similarities between the two films. They’re both about family, right?

Actually, the latest Planet of the Apes installment was a great disappointment. It was too dark, not thematically but visually -- almost all the scenes in the movie take place at night or in a gloomy forest. (And I think all those 3D movies are inherently dark because the glasses block a high percentage of the light from the screen.) After stumbling out of the theater I wistfully recalled the bright colors and memorable lines from the very first Planet of the Apes, the one with Charlton Heston and Dr. Zaius. “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” “You maniacs! You blew it up! Goddamn you all to hell!”

But I can wholeheartedly recommend Boyhood. It was filmed over twelve years and it follows the travails of an ordinary family, but it’s a scripted movie, not a documentary. Linklater found two child actors (one of them is his own daughter) who were willing to shoot a few scenes every year. In the opening scenes the boy is six and the girl is eight; by the end of the movie they’re both in college. Their mom and dad are played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, and they undergo an equally familiar transition. At the start of the movie they’re good-looking but hapless parents; by the end, they’ve both gained a measure of wisdom and responsibility, but neither one is very attractive anymore.

It’s a long movie, almost three hours, and I admit I was a little bored at times. The story of this family has a few dramatic moments -- notably (spoiler alert!) after the mom enters into a second marriage with an older man who turns out to be a violent drunk -- but most of the film shows the commonplace milestones of growing up, such as birthdays and camping trips and high-school football games. When the boy hero Mason Jr. goes to a new middle school he gets bullied a little, and when he’s a bit older he drinks beer with some other teenagers, but nothing momentous happens in either scene. The bullies never really hurt Mason, and there are no negative consequences to the drinking incident. These scenes aren’t part of a big plot puzzle, they’re just interesting episodes from a typical adolescence. But the scenes stick with you afterwards, because they remind you of similar episodes from your own past.


I found this approach very refreshing. In my novels I spend so much time constructing the plot and making sure that every scene advances the story. But in Boyhood the story is life itself, so it’s okay to have lots of loose ends.  

Friday, July 25, 2014

Reader Friday: Does Writing Get Easier or Harder?


"It's the whole getting started thing for me. I forget how to write a book. The first ten thousand words are like digging fossils from rocks." – J. T. Ellison

Reactions?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

First Page Critique–Brooklyn Nights

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane


iStock_000002398839Small
Purchased image from iStock by Jordan Dane/Novel Shout Media



Now time for another edition of FIRST PAGE CRITS, brought to you by TKZ. One intrepid author. One daring submission. My two pennies worth on the flip side. Care to play along? Read the opening 400 words to a courageous author’s work and give constructive criticism. Now for your consideration – Brooklyn Nights.



Brooklyn Nights
Chapter 1

The room glowed green in rhythm with the flashing neon of Gerry’s Irish bar across the road and two stories down. Frank Daley, fully dressed and lying on his back on the cheap bed, put a period on the light show with the red tip of his Chesterfield.

The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window, Antonio’s Pizza Pies blending with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month. It’d have to do. He’d lose his security deposit anyway, once he robbed the joint.

The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey, her snores a discord of nasal wheezes that drowned out conversations of the restaurant patrons below as they came and went to an irritating bell dangling above the door. He leaned over and pinched her nose until she opened her mouth to breathe. What came out overwhelmed all other aromas, pleasant or otherwise.

She was naked except for a pair of black lace panties and a gold strapless sandal on her left foot, the heel worn on one side. He had noticed it earlier on their walk up the staircase. There was no significance to the worn heel, but it represented something he knew that no one else did. It was one of his better qualities, a keen sense of observation. It had kept him alive and out of jail since the war.

Her breasts rose and fell with her breathing, the air once again escaping through the clogged nostrils. Between the bell over Antonio’s door and her nose music it sounded like a bad Salvation Army band.


Feedback:

Overview: Well, Frank is a piece of work. Charming man. I think I used to work with this guy, but I’d never admit it. It cracked me up that he thought about his lost security deposit considering he planned to rob the flea bag. Stellar ethics. I do love the cesspool details of this scene. All the senses are triggered and the imagery is here. Frank’s got an attitude with a hint of dark humor. I would definitely want to read more to get a sense of Frank and where this story will lead. There’s no indication that he is a main character. He could be a mood setter, secondary character. I’ve opened more than a book or two with fun secondary characters who pave the way for my protagonist to make an entrance. For me, there needs to be more to Frank than what I’m reading here to carry my interest through a whole book of him, but I like the edgy writing style.



Suggestion 1: There appears to be much more to this story, considering Frank is fully dressed and waiting for something. That leads me to suggest a better, more gripping first line that would pull the reader into the mystery of Frank.  



Example: Like most people, Frank Daley had ambitions for a better life—money, a sweet ride, and respect—but the drunk hooker lying next to him, snoring and wheezing like a busted radiator, had become his upside.


I'm sure the author could come up with a better line, knowing the story, but this is an example of a first line focused on Frank.



Suggestion 2: The scene is set and the senses are triggered, but another way to begin this would be to focus on Frank more than setting the stage. Make the hooker and the cheap digs be the backdrop for what’s going through his mind and lure the reader in with his story. With only a scant 400 words, it’s hard to know what to suggest, but my instincts tell me there is more to Frank, even if he’s a secondary character. The hooker, the Irish bar, and the pizza joint are colorful, but I’m thinking they’re only window dressing for what’s about to play out with Frank. A better way to show Frank has keen observation is to show it, rather than tell it through the hooker’s sandal. Have Frank sitting in the dark and listening, smelling, sensing everything both in the room and outside on the street, as if he were a predatory animal. Again, the focus should be on him and not the room or the hooker or the street outside.



Suggestion 3: To introduce Frank to the reader, the author might have him do more in this opening scene. Have him interacting with another character in dialogue or in a conflict to see how he handles it. Encapsulate his personality in a defining scene that will show the reader what he’s all about. Creating a scene like this, it would be the difference between Johnny Depp making an entrance in Pirates of the Caribbean. You wouldn’t write him sitting in the dark, waiting. You’d make him come alive and do something, whether his character is intended to be funny or deadly serious. Maybe have him get up from the hooker, dress, then go down and rob the motel – but before he leaves the dump, he asks, “I guess this means I don’t get my deposit back?”


Suggestion 4: I had to reread the following two sentences. They were too long. They'd be more effective broken up.


Before: The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window, Antonio’s Pizza Pies blending with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month.


After: The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window. The aroma of Antonio’s Pizza Pies blended with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month.


Before: The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey, her snores a discord of nasal wheezes that drowned out conversations of the restaurant patrons below as they came and went to an irritating bell dangling above the door.


After: The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey. Her snores were a discord of nasal wheezes. The noise coming from the drunk hooker drowned out the conversations of restaurant patrons as they walked under an irritating bell that dangled above the door.



Summary: This author has an engaging style that I like. The writing basics are here, but the right scene selection, an intriguing first line, setting up a conflict or an evocative escalating situation that will keep the reader turning the page, is the challenge with every book.



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