Monday, May 23, 2011

First Page Shooter #6

Original

If you want the truth, I started planning my wedding at my best friend's funeral.

But now I can hear Nic screaming, "Nobody wants the truth! It’s boring and takes too long. People have no attention span! More words and depth than a New Yorker cartoon equal zero readers. Kindle this, lady."

She’d probably be right. My love for the printed word is quaint at best; my attention to detail tedious. But I’m a proofreader. And Nicole, the hypocrite, was a copy editor. Plus, the funeral in question was hers, so maybe she would keep reading just out of personal interest. Just to find out what happened when Alec and I finally met.



.................

I was 27 when Nic died. I had to fly from New York to California for the funeral. Nic’s parents, the Hansens, were nice enough to let me stay with them. The service was very dark, literally and figuratively. It was held at the Alumni House at the University of Southern California, this place full of deep brown mahogany moldings and recessed lighting. From the outside it looked like the walls of the bottom floor were all French doors, but when you got inside, they had put these heavy velvet curtains along all four walls so the room was cave-like, closed in. It seemed like the entire first floor was a giant room swathed in red velvet, full of folding chairs and reeking of flowers.

****

With Suzie's Critique

If you want the truth, I started planning my wedding at my best friend's funeral.


I like this first line. There's voice here and it's intriguing. Not something I would expect.


But now I can hear Nic screaming, "Nobody wants the truth! It’s boring and takes too long. People have no attention span! More words and depth than a New Yorker cartoon equal zero readers. Kindle this, lady."


But whatever interest I had based on that first line has now already waned. Who's Nic, why is he/she screaming? And this dialogue block is much too long for someone we don't know or care anything about. Especially if this dialogue isn't happening in real time. If this is something the protagonist also thinks, I'd rather hear it in her voice.


She’d probably be right. My love for the printed word is quaint at best; my attention to detail tedious. But I’m a proofreader. And Nicole, the hypocrite, was a copy editor. Plus, the funeral in question was hers, so maybe she would keep reading just out of personal interest. Just to find out what happened when Alec and I finally met.


Here we get some more details. I'm interest that the funeral in question is Nic's--maybe knowing that before would help. But even with this paragraph I think the set up here is too long. It's telling, and what we really want after that first line is to see what exactly will get the protagonist to start planning a wedding during her best friend's funeral.

Also, and this might be me, but a huge pet peeve of mine is when the protagonist steps out of the narrative and tells us that we're reading. There are exceptions to everything and I've certainly read some great books that break down that fourth wall. Most of the time it just really pulls me out of the narrative--which is the opposite of what you want.

What if the first few lines read:

If you want the truth, I started planning my wedding at my best friend's funeral.

My best friend Nic--the one whose funeral it was--might say No one wants to hear the truth, but I'm a proofreader and my attention to detail is tedious.

So the truth it is.


.................

I was 27 when Nic died. I had to fly from New York to California for the funeral. Nic’s parents, the Hansens, were nice enough to let me stay with them. The service was very dark, literally and figuratively. It was held at the Alumni House at the University of Southern California, this place full of deep brown mahogany moldings and recessed lighting. From the outside it looked like the walls of the bottom floor were all French doors, but when you got inside, they had put these heavy velvet curtains along all four walls so the room was cave-like, closed in. It seemed like the entire first floor was a giant room swathed in red velvet, full of folding chairs and reeking of flowers.

While I find some of these details interesting, there's too much telling here. The first four sentences are short and structured similarly and just dispensing information. I do like the images of the last several lines in the paragraph, particularly the reeking flowers, but it's still telling description.  


The voice in the earlier lines seems different now or even gone. I want to get the protagonists thoughts and feelings  interspersed with the description--her best friend just died, where's the emotion?


I think I would read the next paragraph or two to see where this was going--I really did love that first line--but if the protagonist continued to lack emotion I'd stop.

12 comments:

Amber said...

That's a great first line ... and then it's downhill. Even though the main character is speaking the "I was 27..." paragraph, it feels more like a random observer. I am not really getting any insight into her. How would she talk that is different than random Joe Shmoe? What details would be important to her, but not someone else, etc?

Lauren B. said...

I enjoy eased-in openings. The lack of emotion didn't really bother me since she's reflecting on something in the past, not raw in the moment. I'd definitely keep reading.

I am curious what genre this is.

christwriter said...

I agree with just about everything Suzie says, but I wanted to add on a couple of things.

One of the "rules" I have (your mileage may vary) is 1st sentence=primary conflict of novel. First paragraph should touch upon the second and (if applicable) third level conflicts, and most of the novel's conflicts and characters should be at least touched upon before you get out of the first page. All without telling a damn thing. Because most of the time you're working with your reader's subconscious, and that is way, way, WAY more perceptive than you think it is.

That's why the first line rocks so much. Our brain realizes that this is what the story is about: the conflict between the joy of a wedding and grief. Possibly grief at the friend's death, but there may be something else.

And then ... nada. The question that should be answered next is, like Suzie said, "Why start planning it at a funeral?" followed immediately by "What kind of person would do this?" and "What circumstances would make this callous a choice okay, and continue to make the main character likable?" (<---yes. The subconscious really does think about this.) Which means, IMHO, that we should launch immediately into the funeral, to answer these questions and raise a whole new set that we need to read page two to get answered.

Another thing is, you could probably use the telling description--there really aren't a lot of ways to show description--to show a lot about the character. Here's my take (knowing absolutely nothing about the other conflicts in the story, I'm arbitrarily choosing something to point at)

If you want the truth, I started planning my wedding at my best friend's funeral.

It wasn't something Nic would have wanted. The funeral, I mean. She'd had it all planned out. Cremation, and then service out in a feild, vases of sunflowers and her favorite dance tunes blasting out of hidden speakers. No one was to see her dead. We were there to celebrate her being alive at all. "And at the end," she told me once, before she sucked the last of a vanilla latte through her straw, "everyone will be forced to dance."

Her parents insisted on an old church. The funeral was all organ music, stained glass, bad lighting and lilies. The sweet reek of them would never wash off my skin. Nic's cold, still body lay in her coffin like a doll. The girlish pink dress emphasized how pale she was. How dead.

She'd planned her wedding, too. I walked up to the coffin and looked down at the dead thing that wasn't my friend, anymore. She had urged me to plan with her, but I hadn't. I didn't want to imagine myself dead. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't imagine myself married."


In other words, I'd develop Nic's character a bit more by showing what she wanted (happy funeral) and contrast it with what she got (traditional funeral) and then use this, the love of life showcased by the happy funeral and the main character's train of thought (Good funeral, bad funeral, she planned her wedding too) to justify her choosing to begin planning her own life after the death of her best friend. And then at the end, raise another question that requires further reading to answer: Why can't she see herself married?

Beth said...

As has already been established :), the first line is great.

But after that, what's lacking is both emotion and interesting details about the people involved. I really do not care about the decorations at Alumni House. What's important, and what you need to focus on, are the "who" and the "why," and not so much the "what" and "where."

Laura Maylene said...

Agree -- the first line is intriguing, but then you lose me. I would cut out the second and third paragraphs entirely. It sounds like the author is trying to find a way to tell us that the protagonist is a copy editor, but this information doesn't really matter right off the bat. These paragraphs also seem to be trying too hard; I'm not feeling the method of addressing the reader directly about what is to come in the story. Just give us the story, please.

I'd keep the first line, and then, in the next paragraph, jump immediately into "I was 27 when Nic died." As everyone else said, though, from here on out you'll need more finesse in describing the funeral and Nic, avoiding "telling," etc.

Good luck -- this is an interesting premise.

Emailman said...

I think everyone has to agree the opening line is a great start. It would be quite easy to add a little emotion, even if it's just a small reaction to the words she is thinking. Is she disgusted with herself? Or maybe she thinks it is funny?

I also agree the telling should be cut. A reader never likes to be told anything. These are easy fixes, though. Over all, I think I would read on.

This is a great blog, by the way. It's so awesome to see an insight into everyone's views and opinions. :)

Bryce Daniels said...

I have to agree with everyone's take on the first line. VERY good voice, really drew me in.

My take, as humble as it is.
Suzie nailed it when she said the voice disappeared after the first line. The author began with "If YOU." Almost as if we were sitting at Starbucks and having a friendly chat. LOVED IT. Then comes the switching of gears and what, to me, is the info dump.

Most of us, when sipping coffee with even our best friends, would fatigue of facts pretty fast. (Forgive the alliteration.) I happen to be sitting at a table with a writer. I want an experience.

You haven't lost me. Yet. Just buy me another latte.

earth said...

The first line definitely grabs attention and increases our expectations of tight, tense writing. Unfortunately, the next few lines fail to deliver. Too many words which give too little information.
The last segment seemed too detached. Good descriptions, but emotionless. Now I, for some reason, liked the sentence - I was 27 when Nic died. Somehow that brought a dark edge into the plot. I'm wondering if the MC had something to do with Nic's death, and was that the reason for the lack of emotion. I might read on to find out.

Stephsco said...

As the others said, great first line. I agree with Suzie's critique and the suggestes Christwriter made about fitting the point of the story right there in those first paragraphs through snippets of what's to come. Not easy, but I think the author can rework this. Great feedback!

Sasha Barin said...

Not knowing the whole story, my one question is: does this Nic person matter? Depending on how much she actually matters, I'd rework (she was Alec's girlfriend, HAR HAR!) or even blow away the whole thing (she was just a random friend with no effect whatsoever on the story).

And Christwriter is right, set up conflict from the start. It may be hidden (readers may not know that Alec is Nic's boyfriend, or Luke's father, or whatever), but you could build up/hint/foreshadow onward from there. IMO, describing the doors and curtains just loses the reader.

Phil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil said...

The first line was great the first time it was used by JD Salinger. As much as I tried, I could not shake this comparison, and felt that not only was the opening 'line' lifted, but also the 'voice.' Perhaps that's why it was lost from that point forward.

Search This Blog

Loading...

Popular Posts

Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?