Alan paced three circles clockwise, then five counterclockwise. Immediately after circling he paced in a straight line, five steps forward and back, followed by seven forward and back and nine forward and back. Then he stood staring at the Federal Office Building in a forward leaning stance. One arm out, hand fisted with index finger pointing. He counted windows, or so it seemed. Next he did what appeared to be complex mathematical calculations by air writing with his finger. During the calculations he would twice turn and make an aggressive downward arm gesture, looking something like an umpire calling “safe”. After the air writing he started the circling again, and followed the routine all the way through. Alan did this over and over in a rapid, angry, manner. __________________________________________________________________
Technical and non-technical critiqes wanted. I wrote this a long time ago and haven't read it in a long time. Reading it now I see changes to make. I am going to make them below - see if you agree with the changes or not.
I would like to also know in general terms if you would continue reading - and why or why not.
Alan paced three circles clockwise and five counterclockwise. Immediately after circling he paced in a straight line; five steps forward and back, seven forward and back, nine forward and back. Then he stood fiercely staring at the Federal Office Building, leaning forward. One arm out, hand fisted with index finger rigidly pointing. He counted window with a slashing finger. He air wrote complex mathematical calculations with the rigid index finger. During the calculations he spun twice and made aggressive downward arm gestures, like an umpire calling “safe”. He started the circling again, and followed the routine all the way through exactly. Alan performed continuously in a rapid, angry, manner.
Tall, gaunt to emaciation, toothless, 60 years old; he had not
I like that you begin with your main character doing something. It is a lot of numbers, which I am sure wouldn't be there unless they were necessary to make a point of what he was doing and it works fine. I don't particularly like that you jump into a physical description of him in the next paragraph however.
The first paragraph would be made stronger if we knew that Alan was 60. My mental image of the first paragraph was of a middle aged or college aged man. The pacing and counting and whatnot make a stronger impression when I know that the person doing these weird things is an older man. It gives it a more peculiar feel in my opinion. If there were a way to include what is in the second paragraph in the first paragraph I think it would be worth a try. Perhaps inserting a descriptor sentence in between every other sentence of his actions.
Overall, I am interested. What is this crazy man doing outside a Federal Office Building? At first I think its a ritual, then, as the numbers get added, maybe a calculation? Perhaps a conspiracy theory? I want to read on to find out.
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My first response is to the POV. We don't actually know if he is the main character as you always describe him from outside. To whom did he look dangerous? To an as yet unnamed narrator? It may be that I'm so use to tight 3rd person POV that I have been brainwashed into wanting it everywhere, but unless the tone of the story is very wise, I don't think I could take having Alan described from the outside for much longer.
I'm sure you have a reason for not writing his actual thoughts. If you are not going to go into his head, then perhaps you could lead the reader through by describing how others see using very specific details and characters. (Marilee Hobsins, 56, on her way to the salon for a hair update, thought he looked dangerous. She edged past... kind of thing.) So you still wouldn't be in his head and so he could still keep his secrets, but we would know that we were getting "the whole picture," not such a tight shot on the one crazy man in a rather blank setting.
For me, the only hook here is - what is he doing? You give clues with all the mathematics (though I think the list of numbers is too long) but if the reader isn't interested in what he is doing then the clues won't register. If you don't want to go into his head, perhaps be as detailed with clues to his emotions as you are with the more intellectual hook of the mystery. Emotion is a powerful draw, and if I knew how desperately he wanted to achieve whatever he is doing, it would, for me, be a lot more gripping. It might be interesting to explore how you go about conveying his inner life by describing him from the outside.
To round off, my main suggestion (to utterly ignore) would be either write from inside his head, or let us know who is describing him from the outside.