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Author Topic: Magic Street by OSC
lehollis
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Recently, I spent some time in my local library, looking at the first thirteen lines of books. It's interesting, and it emphasizes that a) novels are not short stories, and b) a hook can be merely "interest", not conflict, questions, a plot introduction and so forth.

BOOK: Magic Street by OSC
Chapter Titel: BAG MAN

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"The old man was walking along he side of the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, gripping a fistful of plastic grocery bags. His salt-and-pepper hair was filthy and hanging in that sagging parody of a Rastafarian hairdo that most homeless men seem to get, white or black. He wore a once-khaki jacket stained with oil and dirt and grass and faded with sunlight. His hands were covered with gardening gloves.

Dr. Byron Williams passed him in his vintage Town Car and then stopped at the light, waiting to turn left to go up the steep road form the PCH to Ocean Avenue. A motorcycle to the left of him gunned its engine. Byron looked at the cyclist, a woman dressed all in black leather, her face completely hidden inside a black plastic helmet. The blank faceplate turned toward him, regarded him for a long moment, then turned to the front again."
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If this were F&F, at one time I might have scolded him for not telling us the homeless man's name. I think I've gotten past that now--maybe. Or maybe I know its OSC, and I trust him. Anyway, I think it works because he jumps to a character and tells us something about that character quickly. He's a Doctor (of what?) and he drives a Town Car. Soon after this, we learn even more about the man.

Interestingly, the homeless man and the motorcycle rider are more important to the story than Dr. Byron Williams is.

I was also struck by the number of passive descriptions in the first paragraph. "Was" appears a lot. That, I still would have pointed out in F&F.

I've been telling myself that passive is okay, sometimes. For the right reason. Maybe. I think OSC had a reason here. I've read enough of his advice to know he knows what he's doing.

I also noticed a strange passive line later. In the midst of some action, I see, "He was pointing his gun at so-and-so." Before this, no mention of the gun being drawn or anything. This is the PoV character's first reaction to what just happened--and it's passive.

I think it was intentional. He's smaller than what is happening, and he feels it. He's pointing a firearm, but he feels passive. He's not going to shoot.

It has been said so many times, but done right--any rule can be broken with good effect.

I think overall this 1-13 would have gotten quite a few questions and comments in F&F, but that shows that those questions and comments aren't gospel. OSC had reasons to do this and he knew why he was doing them. I know I would have had a few things to say about it.

To me, thats why anything in F&F is to be considered, but not always acted on. The writer should decide on what works for his own story. Not the critters.


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debhoag
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I agree with you about considering, but not being ruled by, crits. Ive seen folks jerk this way and that, as if any opinion expressed has to be addressed by changing the text immediately. And yet, we rarely are in complete agreement about anything - it's just one of our many charms, like Heinlein's cantankerous old coots I use a rule of threes. Of course, typos I correct immediately, but for the finer points, if three different readers see the same problem, I would carefully consider how i'm tripping then up.
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franc li
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quote:
"He was pointing his gun at so-and-so."

I don't believe this is passive. Passive would be "The gun was pointed at so and so [possibly "...by whatsit."]

Not using passive is like not using adverbs, which is to say it's a rule on the order of not sticking a q-tip in your ear.

Though I just thought of a reason that's bad. If there is something in your ear, you might push it further in.


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lehollis
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Yes. Technically, "He" does not receive the action of the verb. Still, it could be "more active" than "was pointing", and I still felt it conveyed a more passive feel than if it had been, "He pointed the gun at so-and-so," which sounds to me as if he's more likely to actually use the gun.

But I do see what you mean, and I think you are correct as far as I understand those things. Thank you for pointing that out

[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited July 23, 2007).]


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Corky
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"Was" is a static verb, not necessarily a passive one.

Passive, by definition in grammar, refers to word order in a sentence more than it does to whether or not the verb is static.

So saying "her hair was dirty" is static, not passive.

Saying "dirt was placed in her hair" is passive because the object (dirt) of the verb (placed) is in the subject position (so the word order is inverted). It's also passive because there is no indication of who placed the dirt (and if there were such indication, it would be followed, most likely by the word "by").

In fact, if you say something like "dirt pelted her hair" you are still using passive, even though you have no static verbs, but it's a subtler form of passive because it is only passive in the sense that dirt does not pelt anything of its own volition--someone else has to cause the pelting.


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