A little something I'm working on for a writing contest. Any and all criticisms welcome.
It was a rainy Friday when Tom Richardson came face to face with the world again. Instead of being jolted rudely awake from a nightmare he found himself slowly rising into consciousness, his surroundings coming slowly into focus. He sat on the side of the bed and inhaled deeply, smiling tremulously. Today the fog of depression that had enveloped him for the past year was dissipating. He could feel it lifting; his conscious mind percolating back to life one synapse at a time. He had emerged from its smothering cocoon and could view the world with the eyes of a man willing to try to live.
Working on the assumption that this is a speculative fiction story, I've got a few concerns about whether your hook is effective as it could be.
Firstly, the "just woken up" start is normally a very difficult place to enter a story.
Whatever the broad conflict in your story is, my very generic advice is to start the story a bit closer to where the protag's world changes. You can always fill in the backstory of Tom's emotional states through his interactions with others. If he's unusually happy today for some reason, then his nearest and dearest will notice it.
In and of itself, the opening is basically "Tom, normally depressed, is happy today." His depression/elation is probably something cleverer than that, but I can't tell at the moment.
The identification with the protag is well done, but nothing in the hook intrigues me. I can see that it's well written, but I get the feeling that the really interesting bits are later in the story. If so, why not get straight to them?
I'm also not seeing the speculative touch in the opening 13...I don't personally think it's mandatory in short stories, but it's a bonus that can hide other weaknesses in a story.
[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited November 15, 2008).]
It was a rainy Friday when Tom Richardson gained and lost the world. Instead of flying open seeking escape from yet another nightmare, his eyes flickered, the world slowly coming into focus. He inhaled deeply, smiling tremulously. Today the fog that had enveloped him for the past year was dissipating. He could feel it lifting; his conscious mind percolating back to life. Emerging from depression's smothering cocoon he viewed his surroundings with the eyes of a man willing to live.
No more waking up and closer to the central action of the story. All comments welcome!
It was a rainy Friday when Tom Richardson gained and lost everything. Today the fog that had enveloped him for the past year was dissipating and he knew that he was at last emerging from the smothering cocoon of depression. His feet hit the road with rhythmic accuracy and he took in his surroundings with the eyes of a man willing to live. He had gained weight during his illness and relished his churning legs as sweat ran freely down his body soaking his shorts and t-shirt, Shepherd-mix Storm running at his side. Even the light rain and gray skies could not hinder his high spirits. He returned home thirty minutes later color still on his cheeks, his breaths slowly becoming more even. Storm headed straight for her water bowl in the kitchen before happily prancing into the bedroom.
I don't really see any hook here. You have a man who has been depressed and now feels better but I don't know enough about him yet to care one way or the other. I think the first sentence is good and tells us enough for you to lead straight from that to the heart of the story (either what made him depressed or why he suddenly feels better).
His feet hit the road with rhythmic accuracy and he took in his surroundings with the eyes of a man willing to live. This didn't really work for me and seemed a bit over-written, especially the "rhythmic accuracy".
He had gained weight during his illness and relished his churning legs This sounded a little strange to me--he had gained weight and so this made him relish his churning legs? I'm not sure how that works, also "churning" conjured a strange image to me of the way this man walks.
Shepherd-mix Storm running at his side I know just a couple of sentences later you say this is a dog, but on the first read I wondered what this was.
Even the light rain and gray skies could not hinder his high spirits by now you have already well established this guy feels a lot happier, I think you could move on by now.
He returned home thirty minutes later color still on his cheeks, POV?
Storm headed straight for her water bowl in the kitchen before happily prancing into the bedroom. Is this important? I would prefer you to be developing your hook by now.
I like the first sentence, I'd just prefer you to move on and tell us what it is that has changed in this guys life before the end of the first page.
Overwriting is absolutely my curse. In my story in the second paragraph Tom comes home to find his wife has died in her sleep. Should I include that in the first paragraph?
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Regarding the wife yes. That's where the story starts because that is what tips his life out of the ordinary. How abou this? This incident is what tips him from depression to happiness. You suddenly have a scene where his reaction to her death subverts our expectations.
Regardless of my suggestions, having him come back to a dead wife raises a question that makes the reader keep reading...how did she die? I think that makes a great hook.
[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited November 15, 2008).]
Dang it Nick that his wife's death shows him the redemptive power of life was my denouement! Your idea is very interesting though. Will sleep on it and if I have a nightmare we're good (don't ask). I had actually not included at all her manner of death because I intentionally wanted people to wonder what had happened to her. Please let me know if I'm off base with that.
All right I'll say that in my character notes she dies of a massive heart attack because she's a chef and has some cardiac issues that she doesn't know about and dies peacefully in her sleep.
I agree, the point where he encounters the dead wife is the point the story starts. His waking up is not very compelling even with the "gained and lost the world" which is really too abstract and cliche to be meaningful.
quote: And if the reader is curious about how she died does that make the story about her more than Tom?
It depends on how you playing, but I think not. Finding out how a loved one died is an acute part of the grieving process. He would strive to discover this information. The reader would need to know this for Tom's sake, mostly.
By "speculative", Annepin meant whether the story was in the field of science-fiction, horror or fantasy. Given the nature of the board, it's a reasonable question. You might want to give the slush reader a hint that there's a speculative element to the story in the 1st 13; it shows you've targeted the market and helps hook them because they're speculative fiction readers.
By showing us how he reacts to his wife's death, you make the story about your protagonist. I've always thought that one of the best ways to reveal the character of a protagonist to the reader is to show how they react to events. Obviously you don't have to follow my suggestion (and it sounds like it's unsuitable for where you want your story to go), but my scenario shows the reader something unexpected about the protag's character and you don't have to spell it out.
There's nothing wrong with the outline of your story; it could go in a thousand different directions. The trick is to make it fresh and new.
As far as the opening line goes, it's okay. Could you swap the order of the two lines? This way, you start off with something like "It was a rainy Friday when Tom's depression finally lifted after a year of suffering. Unfortunately, he also retuned home to find his wife dead." If you start it off the other way, it's confusing because it's not clear whether his depression lifting is a result of finding his wife dead.
Note also, that it's a very "telling" opening. Nothing wrong with a bit of telling in the right place, but a scene showing him finding his wife and his reactions has the potential to be a lot stronger (depending on where you want the story to focus).