Okay, this is a story I'm working on. Actually, I'm rewriting it. Dark, pyschological thriller/horror story with vile, disturbing subject matter that even makes me cringe just thinking about it. None of that is evident in what follows, perhaps fortunately, and I never cross the boundaries of good taste -- well my own good taste, I suppose. (I doubt Card would want it for his magazine, however.)
I hope you'll indulge me here, for this is my problem.
Every time I open up the manuscript, I see the first paragraph and think: it's not right, the words are not quite right, even though it says all that I want it to. I'll post the full 13 lines, but what I really need is suggestions on improving the first sentence without changing its content or intent. I suspect the troubling bit will be fairly obvious (not this isn't a test, but I need to see if others take issue with it in the same way I do), or maybe it won't be obvious, or maybe I'll learn something else about it. I do know that I want the first sentence to be it's own paragraph and to clearly foreshadow the premise...
Comments on the whole fragment are okay, if you want, but I'm primarily concerned with the first sentence. I'm not yet ready for readers for the whole thing.
Thanks in advance.
Molly’s ordeal began because she failed to give any important notice to the van parked at the curb alongside her house.
It was a glorious, hot autumn afternoon in Surprise, Arizona; perfect for walking home from school, and daydreaming about friends, classes, the future, and having petty fantasies of revenge on those stupid, backbiting cheerleaders that taunted Molly for no reason except that they were all probably hell spawn. Was it her fault that she got straight A’s? Intelligence aside, she had no athletic ability to speak of, nor was she considered pretty by the boys as far as she knew, or wealthy, or even funny--all requirements for being popular in eighth grade. Walking, however, gave her time to pretend to be anything and anyone without distraction.
I tripped over the first sentence. It's pretty cryptic and awkwardly worded. Also, you talk about her ordeal beginning in the first sentence on account of failing to give notice, then you completely leave us hanging and dive into Molly's biography.
And it read just like a biography, too, which, with the third-person omni narrator you employ, is not really a good thing.
The second paragraph read for me like a rambling diatribe of why Molly is so misunderstood and under appreciated by the in-crowd that we should all feel some empathy/sympathy for her situation, thus care for her. I didn't buy it, but that's because I generally don't like that type of character arch-type.
If she was an unpopular loner and didn't care, I would like that (nay, appreciate it), but the narrator makes her sound as if she longs to be apart of the pretentious people that don't pay her any mind. I also don't like the assumption that jealously over intellect breeds hostility in school. It's a plot point I've seen used a million times and am desensitized to it by now. And the cheerleaders being the antagonists to the unpopular girl is the pinnacle of cliche. It has a ring of Stephen King's Carry to it, but more blunt.
My favorite part of Carry was when King showed us her home life. How her religiously fanatical mother ruined her life. I liked this because it's interestingly unfamiliar and I find it curious to explore. On the other hand, everyone has been bullied in school at one point or another. Reading about it happening to someone else isn't really my bag. If that's what you're focusing your story on (the bullying/payback and not the character) I'd say it's a mistake.
Maybe I'm assuming too much. I, of course, don't know as much about your character as you do, but that's what I got from it.
And the first sentence of the second paragraph is a monster. I think it cuts the rest of your narrative to ribbons. You're trying too hard and too fast to convey too much information; you aren't letting it flow naturally.
When using the third-person omni narrator, you can afford elbow room in the way information is presented.
Minor nit: you don't need an apostrophe in "A's"
This piece seemed rushed to me. Too eager to tell rather than show. Maybe that's what's off about it.
All-in-all, this territory is too familiar for me to give it a try.
[This message has been edited by Swimming Bird (edited June 25, 2006).]
I can see a couple of ways you could approach the first sentence differently. First I think you may want starting with the van instead of Molly, since the idea is not to intoduce Molly, but rather to show the van she didn't pay enough attention to. Also I'm not sure you need to use the word "ordeal" I think you can trust the reader to read between the lines and know something awful is coming. I'm not saying I'll come up with a good first sentence, but I'll quickly dream something up to get you thinking in a new direction:
A van parked at the curb alongside Molly's house. The driver stretched back in his seat and took a long draw on his cigarette as he watched her come closer. To bad Molly payed no more attention to him than a spoiled tuna sandwich.
OK I failed miserably, that's not one sentence and I intoduced a person who may not even be in the van, but that is what came into my mind as I tried to visualize the scene. I do think you could use more than one sentence.
quote:Use an apostrophe only when you need it to prevent confusion
A capital A at the start of a word at the end of a sentence, and with the content of the sentences before and after about how kids in her school dislike her, I don't see how there could be any confusion.
As much as I appreciate the irony of you being proven wrong with your own link, and your thinly-veiled concession, I think I will check out some other threads before being called a doodie head.
Posts: 151 | Registered: Aug 2005
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I'm just going to comment on the first sentence, since that's what you want anyway.
It seems to me to be...wordy. I agree with what Ray said: it needs some trimming. For instance, "important notice" doesn't work for me. I think leaving out "important" would help. It just seems to be redundant saying "important notice". If someone takes notice of something, it must have looked important to them somehow.
And you're telling us rather than showing us what happened. I think that might be the main problem. I didn't even notice it until the fifth time I read through it. I knew something felt wrong about it, but didn't know what it was either. I think that's it, though.
I'd like more tension in the first sentence, which means more stuff. Personally, I'd expand the first bit into a series of sentences. I'll give an awful example, because I find I can't say what I mean:
Molly's ordeal began because she failed to notice the van. It was important that she notice the van, parked in plain sight beside the curb at her house. But she didn't. She was daydreaming.
(Of course, then you'd have to rearrange the first sentence of the next paragraph, to prevent repeating that "it was"..."Surprise, Arizona's hot autumn afternoon was glorious, perfect for walking home..." And then I'm sure THAT introduces new problems...awful example as promised.)
I like the part about the cheerleaders, and I'd probably set the last clause apart with some sort of emphatic punctuation ("...for no reason--except that they were all probably hell spawn.") I find Molly sympathetic, and if you are going to do something horrible to her, I'd rather not know!
If Molly had only noticed the van parked outside her house, the whole ordeal could have been avoided.
But as she walked home from school, Molly was daydreaming: having petty fantasies of revenge on those stupid, backbiting cheerleaders that taunted her for no reason except that they were all probably hell spawn. Was it her fault...
I think this maybe gets your intent.
I had POV problems. I think you're going for omni in paragraph 1 ("1st paragraph is free"), then we zoom into Molly's head. But the latter part of paragraph 2 doesn't seem like it's her POV. For example, instead of "all requirements for being popular in eighth grade," she might think "all requirements for being popular," since eighth grade right now is her world (unless she's contrasting it with her previous grade level). You might (or might not) also keep going with that attitude you were doing so well with the cheerleader stuff.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited June 25, 2006).]
quote:I'm not wrong. It would be confusing to me without the apostrophe. Therefore it freakin' stays the way it is. So piss off, moron.
HSO, way to take the high road and not argue.
If you didn't like Bird's crit, that's fine, but to me it just seems like he cut into your work and it offended you so you're using this A's/As thing as a WMD-excuse to attack him.
And honestly, after he took the time to write out a long, and what I think, helpful analysis of your story, to simply focus on one tiny thing and to refer to the rest of it as unhelpful is very, very rude.
Especially when other posters echoed what he said originally.
I was planning on writing a crit myself, but now I won't for fear of the same treatment.
Hm...gotta say this is failing to catch my attention. The second paragraph feels like backstory and the first one feels like, "Wait! Things are going to get good later." I'm fairly certain that you could fit all of this into the story through POV hints later.
So, my take is that the reason the first paragraph feels wrong, isn't a problem with the structure of the sentence, it's that it doesn't belong at all.
Right. I truly need to find a way to make the first line work. So let me elaborate on my intent. I want it to stand apart from the second paragraph. It's deliberately designed to tease by not withholding what is about to happen (notwithstanding that some may not like that, but keep reading and you'll see what I'm on about). Molly does indeed see the van; she sees it in detail, even, but she's got her mind on other stuff, as is evident in paragraph 2, even more dire stuff on her mind that follows in paragraph 3. She's not an outcast, she's simply being teased by a few cheerleaders because she's brainy and poor. She's rather well-adjusted, actually, despite her messed-up home life. She doesn't really care, but she still has petty fantasies, just like we all do from time to time.
Anyway, this seeing-but-not-seeing thing happens to all of us. We see something, but we don't give it the proper attention (and these may be the words I want) we should. Those who said "important notice" was off nailed my exact feeling about the sentence, and I concede I may also be trying to cram too much into this one sentence. I intend for paragraph 2 to cover general setting (Surprise, Arizona) and the beginning of characterization (who Molly is, age, etc.).
Paragraph 3 starts with the beginning of her abduction, so it's not that long of a wait or a tease. She sees the van's door opening, hears the engine running, sees it all in detail, and still she's thinking and focused about stuff happening at home with her father, so she's distracted, and gets nabbed. If she were paying attention, well... who knows if she'd get away...
So, the first line, which may at first seem out of place, is deliberate--very intentional, and if I can get the wording right, it'll work. I know it will. This type of setup is precisely the same technique that many very good authors choose to use, and if I must, if pressed, I'll start citing example after example. It's a quick setup, a short digression to set the stage, so to speak, and then it's back to the topic the first paragraph (or in this case, the first line) develops.
So, that's my intent with the first line. Other style issues aside, I think it'll work with the right words.
In my experience, it wasn't the people at the top of the social pyramid in school who dealth the most damage, it was the people in the middle. I was near the bottom. I was jealous and bitter of the people at the top, but they never picked on me. Why would they? They were already at the top.
That doesn't exactly play to the extremes we like to play to in fiction, though.
My suggestion would be along the lines of "Molly's ordeal began because she didn't pay quite enough attention to the van parked outside the house."
I think that's simpler, losing the odd conflict between "any" and "important" in your opener, and reducing the apparently unnecessary precision of "at the curb alongside her house" (though of course you may have a reason for that precision that I'm not familiar with).
(Edited for typographical errors)
[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited June 27, 2006).]
I haven't read any of the other responses, so I apologize if this is just a repetition.
quote:Molly’s ordeal began because she failed to give any important notice to the van parked at the curb alongside her house.
This sentence is a bit tough for me because there is so much in it. If you could simplify it a bit, I would have less trouble reading it and rush on to see why. One way to simplify it might be to remove the reason for why her ordeal began, and just let the reader take it for granted that he will find out why, later on.
So, you might change it to something like "Molly’s ordeal began when she failed to notice the van parked at the curb by her house."
I think we can take it for granted that it was important to her to take notice, after all this is the lead into the whole story; it must be important.
"She barely glanced at the van. It fit too well into the well manicured suburbia of the neighborhood for her to take any notice of it other than it existed. Mr. Dark and Evil had been counting on that. Counting on her being absorbed by the petty daydream revenge that plauges teenage girls."
I think the problem may be that you are trying to say "don't look behind the curtain." Dorothy and the others didn't notice the curtain even though they would have "seen" it. So the audience didn't "see" the curtain until Toto attacked it.
By highlighting that she DIDN'T really process the threat the van posed, you are violating POV. She wouldn't be making a mental catalog of the cars she's passing or about to pass. You might not be able to hint at "something dire is coming" and pull it off. You won't be able to pull it off in her POV. She doesn't know.
It's like the punch that catches the MC off guard. You can't say "Mordent didn't see the punch that knocked him off his feet coming." because he didn't see it. You can only say, if even that: "Mordent saw a blur of motion out of the corner of his eye. Pain lanced through him as Jurriaan's fist connected."
IMHO, you have the same problem with the opening sentance.
While I see what you're going for (mostly because you explained it at length), I think you're over complicating the matter. The whole seeing-without-recognizing thing happens all the time. I would simple state the situation without the first sentence, however much you are in love with it.
Molly walks down the street with the parked van. As she walks, bad things happen.
There are three main reasons I feel the first sentence doesn't fit.
1. You're stating an effect "the ordeal" before the cause "not noticing the van" (structural nitpicking). If you choose to keep the sentence, I would flip the order. You should find it makes it less cumbersome.
2. The sentence is extremely vague, which as a reader who hopes to get hooked from the first line, really makes it hard for me to carry on.
3. The sentence tries to force tension by telling the reader something abhorrent is about to happen, when showing them would go alot further.
I know this isn't what you're looking for because you desperately want to keep that first sentence, but it's all I got.