The wheels buzzed under the car and on the ice. Up in the North Country, this wasn’t the normal buzz of rubber on pavement. It was the whirl of studded tires on packed ice. Up here, everyone who could afford studded tires, used them. Some used chains on their rigs, but mostly if they had a truck, a snowplow up front and were helping their neighbors get their quarter mile driveway unburied during a four-foot blizzard. Newcomers to town, if they lasted, were laughed at during their first winter because they used cable chains. I was now in my mid-twenties, but hadn’t forgotten these local rules and guideposts, even though I had been away for several years.
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An individual drives on and reflects about icy roadways.
The at times close narrative distance default of first person closes into an internal to the narrative milieu agonist's perspective. A challenge of first person, though, is inconsistent narrative point of view and bumpy perspective shifts. The fragment haphazardly switches from inside looks outside to outside looks inside. Or from agonist persona reflected reality experience to summary narrator persona direct reader address.
The urge for a narrator to comment from an external perspective spoils close narrative distance, much preferred. The first sentence is an inside looks outside. The remainder of the first paragraph is outside looks inside. The second paragraph's first sentence is outside looks inside; the second sentence, inside looks outside.
An adjustment worth consideration considers that the fragment mostly summarizes and explains, or tells, about icy road tires generically; rather, show, or in-scene mode, details icy road tire complications and conflicts.
A safe tire naive individual, for example, wreaks mayhem on roadways in an immediate now moment. A savvy driver copes with road conditions, again, in an immediate now moment, includes naive drivers cause savvy drivers problems. Prose's dramatic essentials and word economy puts both in close interaction contention. Reader effect then is of a personal, if vicarious, experience of icy roadways' hazards.
The contention and complication, though covert, are accessible; that is, roadway naivete and savviness contend, and complication's motivation wants and problems arise from naive driver roadway hazards. Want to drive somewhere safely and pleasantly; road hazard naive drivers cause congruent opposite problems: unsafe and unpleasant roadways.
However, such circumstances are best practice matters incidental to a specific, related overt and tangible complication motivation. For example, a need to go into town and get, what, fuel for a generator? Whatever, some specific motivation and destination. The incidentalism of naive and savvy in contention then is covert and perhaps what the narrative is truly about, moral and message-wise, yet reader accessible.
That savvy diligence versus naive sloth moral contest then overall unifies the parts and whole and establishes the end outcome of what? Say, the agonist realizes perhaps the savvy self is naive in subtle ways and takes proactive actions to cope with or transcend life's everyday mayhem. A twenty-something home from college and itinerant professional -- what can go awry? Many are the entertaining narratives about early adult crises of competence and confidence at odds with actual circumstances.
A start, regardless, best practice at least intimates what a narrative is actually about, or implies or declares outright the dramatic point of the narrative. The deft introduction of tire chain and stud savviness and naivete intimates what the narrative might be about as is, except in summary fashion rather than exquisite in-scene fashion.
"this wasn’t the normal buzz of rubber on pavement_._ It was the whirl of studded tires on packed ice." Semicolon or prose's dash of style indicated instead of the period. The negation statement verb "wasn't" forms a conditional clause out of an otherwise independent clause, the second clause is itself an independent clause, and a close relationship between the clauses, hence, a semicolon wanted or an em dash. The two sentence subject pronouns, also, are syntax expletives and antecedent subject-pronoun referent errors. Idiomatic expression uses pronouns that refer to vague or nonexistent subjects, not a best prose practice. "packed ice," Huh? snow-packed ice or vice versa maybe, black ice, whatever, stacked sheet ice? something more of a visual continuity and logic is wanted.
"afford studded tires_,_ used them" stray comma.
"Some used chains on their rigs[.] [B]ut mostly[,] if they had a truck, a snowplow up front[,] and were helping their neighbors get their quarter mile driveway unburied during a four-foot blizzard." Huh, that's a train wreck fused sentence, or also known as run-on. Missed punctuation and static voice, too. Specificity shortfalls, also.
"rigs" generally applies to tractor-trailer vehicles. "but" is unneccesary and an overly informal everyday conversation idiom. "mostly," an -ly adverb, is an emotionally empty modifier. Plus, being a sentence adverb, a conjunctive adverb at that, takes comma separation.
"if they had a truck," subordination conjunction "if" subordinate phrase content takes comma separation. "truck," vague description, even pickup truck adds essential detail. "had" therein is an unnecessary and confused tense shift to past perfect, means "they" did have a truck at some past time and no longer do. "they" is a number agreement mistake and a confused idiom. All of "they" had a single truck? Or they had trucks?
", a snowplow up front[,]" appositive noun phrase description, takes comma separation.
"and were helping their neighbors get their quarter mile driveway unburied during a four-foot blizzard." ?? Another tense shift, and another and another. The second main culprit of the fused sentence "and" after "but." Static voice progressive present tense "were helping" and static voice verb "get" used as a to be stasis expression, hence static voice. Plus emphasis buried and confused and wordy, the clause and the sentence overall.
Sentence adjusted for illustration purposes:
//Long haul and local freight drivers used chains on their tractor-trailer rigs. If savvy locals drove a pickup truck or a dually, a snowplow mounted up front, they helped neighbors scrape their quarter mile driveways out from under a four-foot blizzard.// "dually," though, is an unfamiliar vernacular term, means a pickup truck with dual rear tires each side and enhanced wheel wells and suspension and engine and drive train and rear axle.
"were laughed at during their first winter because they used cable chains" Unnecessary -ing word "during." "because," though a grammatically correct causation conjunction, misses prose's occasion for discretionary descriptive expression. Numerous options are available and that are apt for prose's difference grammars. For examples: //Those naive drivers who used flimsy cable chains were laughed at their first winter.// //were laughed at their first winter, for they used wimpy cable chains.//
"I was now in my mid-twenties, but hadn’t forgotten these local rules and guideposts_,_ even though I had been away for several years."
Consider another syntax that enhances tension and arcs emphasis. Another unnecessary "but." "local rules and guideposts" confuses the concrete-abstract motif balance. Stray comma: "guideposts_,_ even though I had been away for several years." Terminal appositive dependent and restrictive clauses take no comma separation. Vague antecedent subject-pronoun referent "these."
//Though now returned home in my mid-twenties, even though I was away at college for several years, I remembered the local rules of the icy road.//
Several of the features and motifs imply or intimate where the place is, though inaccessible for warmer climate readers. Studded tires, for example, are illegal in many southern states, and only cable chains offered on auto parts shelves. Heavy roadway ice and feet-deep blizzards imply northern states and cold winter climates. "North Country" implies a northern border state; the 2005 motion picture North Country is set in Minnesota. The North Country Trail spans below the northern border from New York State to North Dakota, and is any state's nickname for its northern territories. A clearer name exposition for the place is wanted, though.
No title given. Titles best practice intimate main event, setting, and persona in contention and of a metaphorical theme related to what a narrative is truly about. For example: Savvy Rules of the Icy Roadway. ???
As is, I am disinclined to read further as an engaged reader. If the clash between savviness and naivete were more emphatic yet incidental, or intangible yet accessible, though what the parts and whole are truly about, and were in-scene mode rather than narrator summary tell, I could be hopelessly engaged.
First, this is an essay on driving on ice, not a story. Sories happen, in real-time.
Think about it from a reader’s viewpoint: Why does a reader, who came to you for a story, want to learn about driving on ice? After all, if they live in such a place they know. If not they don’t care. In short: Begin your story with story, not a talking head.
quote: The wheels buzzed under the car and on the ice.
Where else would the wheels be but under the vehicle? Given that, what function does “under the car” serve? Why that matters is that every unnecessary word that must be read slows the reading and dilutes the story’s impact.
quote: Up in the North Country, this wasn’t the normal buzz of rubber on pavement.
As you read this you already know where we are. But the reader just arrived, and your intent doesn’t make it to the page. So what does “the North Country” mean to a reader who doesn’t know what country, or even what planet we’re on as the story begins?
Added to that, because you put the buzz, an effect of studs on pavement, before the cause of it, the studs, there’s no context and the words bring no picture. You must give your reader context as the words are read, not confuse them and then later, clarify. As I read, my first guess was that the “buzz” meant the tires were slipping on ice. So, what I get isn’t what you intend. And the reason for that isn’t a matter of good/bad writing, or talent. It’s that you’re transcribing yourself telling the story aloud, trying to use the skillset of the verbal storyteller in a medium that can’t reproduce your performance—audible or visual. As you read this, you can hear and visualize your performance, your voice filled with emotion, your hands visually punctuating, your expression illustrating the necessary emotion.
How much of that makes the page? None. You can tell the reader how a character speaks a given line, but not how the narrator does, so literally all the emotion that would be imparted via your performance is stripped out. Have your computer read it aloud and you’ll hear how different what the reader gets is from what you intended them to get.
The fix is simple enough: since our schooldays writing skills are designed to make us useful to our future employers, and are not professional fiction writing skills, you need to add the proper skill-set. You have a lot of company in this, because we pretty much all leave school believing we learned the writing skills needed for writing a best seller. It’s a pain to have to fix that, but it’s something everyone goes through on the way to publication.
Unfortunately, while the answer is simplicity, itself, like any other professional skillset it takes study, and practice to perfect. But in the end, given that the goal is to write like a pro, doesn’t it make sense that we need the skills of one?
Spending some time in the local library’s fiction-writing section would be a wise investment of time, and will make a huge difference in both the writing, and how much fun it is to write.
I wish I had better news, but as I said, it’s not a matter of talent, and is a problem you share with anyone who decides to begin recording their stories. So have it.
And hang in there. The world needs more people who, when staring out the window, and asked what they’re doing, can truly say, “Working.”
Posts: 97 | Registered: Dec 2016
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I'm new to this forum as well, and at this stage don't have much to add to what more experienced members have offered above.
Building a more visceral sense of this place and this character would be important. But to make more constructive comments, I think I'd need to understand more about what you are trying to achieve... Is this the beginning of a novel? What kind? What is the tone and feeling you're aiming to create in the first pages - and for what purpose (i.e. where are you taking us once the protagonist is introduced and the cultural / physical / geographical scene is sketched out).
Maybe most importantly, what do you want us to understand and feel about the narrator/protagonist? Hs connection/alienation from this place might be one way in (though I might be making unwarranted assumptions about your theme here).
In summary: I'm not yet hooked. There is description, but I can't find a way into the world yet (same as what others have said about narration vs scene).
But I would be keen to understand more - and would be happy to comment on a longer fragment (e.g. first 3 pages - or first chapter if it's short) if you'd like to share that via email. (NB: I cannot offer the kind of detailed sentence by sentence analysis and critique you've received above; I'd simply give you an honest reaction and frame some questions that the intro pages raise for me.) Feel free to email or not as you prefer. If you do, likely turn around time might be as much as a week; I'll be traveling without reliable internet access early next week. Returning the favor (i.e. swapping a few pages for review) would be nice, but not essential (and I don't have pages ready this minute).
Posts: 8 | Registered: May 2018
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My suspicion is that this just starts too early. Find the place where you have a character actually trying to do something. That's your opening. I really don't care about the tires.
Posts: 4464 | Registered: Dec 2008
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