This is the start of a 3600 word short story.
When I first saw Sandy, I thought she was a woman. She was taking a box out of a small car parked in front of our apartment building when Bob and I came back from playing tennis. She was tall with dark shoulder length hair, blue eyes, and a lithe slender body under her pink sweat suit. I decided to greet our neighbor. She told us she was Sandy Moreschi, and she was just moving in. Her voice was very high, childlike, but not unpleasant. We helped her get her boxes upstairs; she thanked us profusely and offered some lemonade. We agreed, but Bob added that he couldn’t stay long. “I want to get back to Beth, my wife. We’re expecting our first child in a few weeks.” “Super! Did you decide to have a boy or a girl?”
My suggestion: engage the reader by active storytelling, using action verbs and writing out the scene instead of narrating it. (e.g. "She took..." instead of "She was taking.."; "I greeted..." or better yet "Hi," I said, and helped her with the box instead of "I decided to greet our neighbor...")
Hmm, I seem to recall seeing it before Kathleen edited it down to 13 lines. Not complaining, perfectly correct edit, but the hook's gone.
That "I thought she was a woman" is odd, and for me sets an expectation that she isn't what she seems. While this expectation does not need to be fulfilled in the first 13, it does need to be delivered by the end of the story.
How does narrator know, in the first para, that she's a neighbour? She doesn't say so until second para.
And I agree with History, active voice would be better, for me, from the start.
But the premise, deleted to fit 13 lines, is interesting.
The title, Moreschi's name, the description of Moreschi's high, child-like voice, each suggests the character is inspired by Alessandro Moreschi, the Last Castrato. Sandy is short for Alessandro and though most often a female nickname is gender neutral. Moreschi is Italian plural for "Moor." Those features add up, to me, to signal Moreschi is not a woman, is a dark, sinister neuter; a woman, though, the viewpoint character, first-person narrator thinks. However, Moreschi and castratos generally were heavy-set, not lithe.
The scene is a polite pleasantry exchange. The action otherwise unremarkable on the surface. Three people meet in the street lot of an apartment complex. Bob raises a topic of a natural-birth child, in a milieu where children most often come from "womb clinics," expected by his wife Beth and him. That natural birth piques Moreschi's interest. That Moreschi moves into the same apartment complex as the narrator and Bob implies an ulterior motive, though not yet clearly and strongly; perhaps an artfully delayed revelation for later.
The start's sentence verbs are mostly of the to be type, "was." To be verbs form stasis statements, statements that express a state of being that span a nondefinite period of time. From "state-" and "stasis," the voice is labeled static voice, not passive or passive voice, no less active voice for being static.
Passive voice is a syntax construction inversion where the receiver of a predicate verb's action is placed in sentence subject position -- the doer of a predicate verb's action -- rather than the conventional sentence object position. The sentence subject then is placed in sentence object position, implied though not given, or left off altogether. The prior sentence here is passive voice. Active voice follows conventional syntax: subject, predicate, object.
A net effect of the static voice and polite pleasantry exchange for me is a glum ambience mood to the start. That in combination with an everyday routine, subtle cues Moreschi is a castrato or similar, and mention of a pendent child birth Moreschi is perhaps overly interested by create an ominous effect, imples a routine interruption related to reproduction complications is what this narrative is about related to a moral human condition. Taken ironically, the title implies Moreschi's angelic voice may disguise a sinister intent.
The observer viewpoint character is posed to observe, be involved in the action to come, though the narrative focus is on Moreschi. The shape of the opening is a specimen type, from Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction vernacular. Another clue that Moreschi has unseemly intent, Moreschi is the opening first-person viewpoint agonist's focus, signals the villain of the piece is Moreschi.
In all, though for a start this opening is dramatically slow to develop, the static voice dramatically and emotionally lackluster, the start implies ominous doings are afoot. Though most of the action is implied perhaps less than ideally accessibly for general audiences, for me, this is a strong start despite or because of the static voice and other features enumerated above.
I think it has some good hooks (Sandy's gender/unreliability, the natural-birth vs. womb clinics) but overall it's a little slow, especially for so short a story.
I get the impression that it is a Gattaca/Brave New World meets Pleasantville sort of story. Which, to be sure, garners my interest.
I think a lot of the descriptions and actions could be tightened up to get to what's really going on. Things like: -Sandy getting the box -Sandy's physical description -Narrator and Bob helping, offered lemonade -Bob can't stay long
All this may be necessary, but I think could be shortened or included later (such as Sandy's physical description). Some of it is repetitive as well: Narrator explains Bob can't stay then Bob says he can't stay and explains why. Narrator and Bob say the same thing twice.
I like the familiar details (a game of tennis, lemonade, helping an apartment neighbor) but don't let them get in the way of what is most important (that conversation at the end, or so I'm guessing).
Thanks to everyone for their comments. They’ve helped me to improve the beginning, and I went through the story, found every use of was, and eliminated all those I could. The story takes place in a world where bioengineering has enabled people to have offspring even though they have no sex organs. Some parents have taken advantage of that to engineer their offspring so no sex organs develop. My main character’s parents did that, which is why I have named her after a castrato. And Kathleen, apologies over posting too many lines. I must have miscounted. Henry
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The posting box is designed to be exactly big enough for 13 lines, so if you account for that, and only add lines if you've put a blank line between paragraphs (I don't count blank lines), then you should come out all right.
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When I first met Sandy, I thought she was a woman. Bob and I saw her moving into our apartment building, and we offered to help carry her boxes. She thanked us and introduced herself as Sandy Moreschi. Her voice sounded high, childlike, but not unpleasant. After we got her boxes upstairs, she asked if we wanted some lemonade. Bob said, “OK, but I need to get back to my wife soon. We’re expecting our first child in a few weeks.” “Super! Did you decide to have a boy or a girl?” Bob smiled. “We left that up to nature.” Sandy looked surprised. “Did the womb clinic tell you which it would be?” Bob shook his head. “We’re not using a womb clinic. Beth’s carrying the baby internally.”
Based on the premise and dialogue, I found myself interested and would continue.
That being said, The voice was uncomfortable to me. POV wasn't sharp enough for the first person account. Visually too many pronouns burdened my eyes. First person narration offers a great opportunity to eliminate wordiness. I don't usually like to rewrite authors words so I will paraphrase an example based on the first paragraph.
A hot lady leaning against the brick wall beneath the streetlight caught my eye.
"What do you say, fellas?" I shuddered at her baritone man's voice. Bob and I looked at each other, confused--petrified.
My Hero responded, "Just on our way to evening mass." and stoically waved.
this is just a corny example of how deepening the POV of first person narrative can imply certain things and therefore reduce wordy and repetitive descriptions and pronouns.
I really like the use of dialogue. I really like the scene and I felt hooked. I would definitely continue, but I really feel this would shine with tighter POV.
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