Hey all. I've been away from Hatrack for a month or two. I've still been writing, though. Here's the opening for my current WIP. A bit of a departure for me: no sci-fi in this one. This is a mystery/crime story. I'd love to hear what you think.
The apartment building at 85 Market Street was a joke: no doorman, a recessed doorway out of view of the casual passerby, and a lock that he could have picked with his eyes closed. In fact, it was so easy, Peter Gerenko didn't trust it. He waited at the light and crossed the street to a coffee shop across the way so he could observe for a little bit, make sure everything was kosher with the job. He ordered a plain, black coffee, not because he liked it black but because he didn't really plan to drink it, and he didn't want to pay extra money for something he wasn't going to drink. The coffee cup was just set dressing, an excuse to sit in the booth by the window and watch the doorway across the street. His job bag clunked loudly when he set it down on the tile floor next to the booth.
Posts: 1474 | Registered: Dec 2003
| IP: Logged |
Several effective features are present in this opening. Voice, though unsettled, has a close narrative distance for much of it. Dramatic complication is artfully introduced, either as the main dramatic complication or a bridging complication, I suspect. Tension is clearly and strongly developed for the brevity of thirteen lines. The tension factor influenced by Gerenko's first refusal to enter the building. I'd expect three refusals total before he either enters or abandons entry. Some narrative authentication details given, some of them artfully, some underdeveloped, for the sake of artful reality imitation.
A few glitches that detract from the above, though. The first sentence smoothly enters character voice, without too commonplace a dialect. A thing being a joke is a slang idiom a burglar might use, character emotional attitude expressed through narrator reflection of Gerenko's reflected thought. "Joke," though in that idiomatic usage is everyday and as-common-as-air slang. A manly burglar might use a different and more creative, unique-to-him idiosyncratic term. Say, a tourist's jest, an insult to a career man (irony), a security skylarker, deserving a manic laugh, a swing and a miss, a stupid landlord asking for robbery, an interrupted abortion, in that vein.
"Recessed" is on the sophisticated side for a macho burglar. That word comes from narrator voice, overt, when "joke," for example, is covert narrator, overt character voice.
"out of view of the casual passerby" Preposition "of" twice in close proximity, again, slipping toward overt narrator voice sophistication and estranging character voice--opens narrative distance immediately after closing narrative distance. "the casual passerby" is a definite phrase, perhaps too definite and yet nonspecific at the same time as well as overt sophisticated narrator voice. Either a specific passerby described or a unique-to-Gerenko expression I feel is warranted, say, bluehairs, bluebloods, hoy-poi-loys, proles, Lulu-lalas, etc.
"with his eyes closed" likewise is on the trite, almost cliché side. Again, a phrase unique to Gerenko I feel is warranted, with a lady's skirt over his face, for example. Noir-like hardboiled cynic stuff and junk.
"In fact" overt narrator sophistication again, artless back and forth between narrator and character voice, between sublime sophistication and comonplace style, unsettled voice.
"it was so easy" expletive sentence subject pronoun, "It" is proximal to antecedent subject lock, though the subject is otherwise the apartment building. The sentence ends on another expletive "it." Again, a shift from narrator to character voice.
"So" used to signal emphasis, as in "so easy" is a feminine voice characteristic uncharacteristic of a macho male burglar. Another voice shift in that regard, one where the character Gerenko now seems female or at least feminine. Likewise "a little bit" is feminine voice.
"kosher with the job" implies a regional or ethnic identity, a metropolis idiom not used outside of major cities to mean "above board," "proper," "copacetic," "satisfactory," or "all is normal, as expected." Another voice shift, four at least voices shifting unsettled between genetive identities.
By the way, was Gerenko going in without casing the premises (joint in noir parlance) beforehand? Might be he's a bumbler. Fail to plan, plan to fail is a motto of the business world and career criminals.
"plain, black coffee" Tautalogy, "plain" and "black" mean the same thing, even in contemporary coffeehouse culture. Made more apparent by "black" used again later in the next clause: "liked it black."
Multiple negation statements tend to express or signal irony when artfully used. "_not_ because he liked it black but because he _didn't_ really plan to drink it, and he _didn't_ want to pay extra money for something he _wasn't_ going to drink." Wordy in the first place, unclear meaning and not as strong as might be ideally desired from character voice also. Consider recasting to positive statements and simplifying and in character voice for expressing Gerenko's attitude.
"was just set dressing" "just" feminine voice.
This is an emphasis fault, two actually. "His job bag clunked loudly when he set it down on the tile floor next to the booth." the dependent clause after "loudly" inverts standard syntax, places emphasis on setting the bag on the floor next to the booth rather than the ideal "clunk" sound. "Loudly" is an empty adverb in the contexture, empty of emotional meaning. Adverbs are for expressing commentary, ideally emotional attitude commentary. That's a summary too, an artless tell.
The opportuity the sound of a tool clunking offers is to show the sound by coffeehouse patrons and baristas' reactions. Narrative authentication's artful reality imitation depends in part on sensory detail descriptions, though also upon reactions to sensory stimuli. As the sound is portrayed, it is as empty as the coffeehouse, no patrons, no counter staff, no one inside, no meaning.
That raises a similar concern about the apartment building's description. Gerenko is situationally aware the entryway setting is odd, but unaware of the building's larger situation, only focused on the entryway. A burglar who is not fully situationally aware is either a naive novice not long on the street or all by his total lonesome on the street and in the coffeehouse. Does no one else populate this metropolis? Wouldn't he enter by a back door, or service entrance?
Anyway, the bag clunks, consider Gerenko noticing startled patrons and baristas' reaction to the odd clunk of, presumably, a pry bar or heavy hammer, bag of heavy metal burglar tools.
By the way, the odd clunk signals to me heavy burglary tools, why I think Gerenko is a macho male and not effeminate.
I think this opening has promise though conflicted by a jumpy voice and underdeveloped character and setting. The events, though, are above reproach. Clearly, a routine about to be interrupted by a crisis, wants and problems wanting satisfaction artfully implied by events, and emotional equilibrium upset, at least by Gerenko turns away from his first entry attempt. Clearly and strongly a tensional development, perhaps empathy, not sympathy for the wicked dickens, and curiosity for sure, from will Gerenko enter and suffer a cruel surprise or will he turn away? Immediate outcome of that bridging complication kept in doubt, hopefully for up to three escalated refusals to enter before a decision, artfully done.