Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Page Shooter #9

75,000 words

Original Text

Sidney Bidwell and the silver Porsche zigged and zagged , leaving the courteous drivers of lesser cars in his wake. The common folk used turn signals and enjoyed the view--the mighty Hudson below or the sun-baked cliffs across the river. Sidney read his text message. He didn't see the box truck slow to a halt, and he never felt a thing (had this made the news report, some might have said it only proves life isn't fair). The delay on the bridge that morning was brutal.

Sidney stumbled through dense fog, toward an off-key whistle. The mist thinned, the clearing revealed the source of the happy melody. The little man approached Sidney and smiled.

“That’s one hell of a turn, isn’t it, Sidney?” He clasped Sidney’s hand between his own. “You died, Sidney…on the bridge. A few minutes ago.”

Sidney pushed him away.

“How could I be dead?” Sidney shouted. “Who are you?”

“Calm down, Sidney. I'm dead, you're dead…what's the difference? I’m Patrick...your only friend now.” Patrick pulled an I-Pad from his pocket, and laughed. “You've never seen these apps.You sell commercial real estate. Forty five. Divorced, two kids.”

Sidney could hardly breathe. “How do you know that? Where am I?” his voice cracked.

Patrick raised his brow. “Where do you think you are, Sidney?”

“Am I in heaven?” Sidney asked hopefully.

Patrick burst out laughing.

“Heaven? That’s rich! A foggy day and another prick thinks he’s in heaven.”

***

With Suzie's Notes

Sidney Bidwell and the silver Porsche zigged and zagged , leaving the courteous drivers of lesser cars in his wake. The common folk used turn signals and enjoyed the view--the mighty Hudson below or the sun-baked cliffs across the river. Sidney read his text message. He didn't see the box truck slow to a halt, and he never felt a thing (had this made the news report, some might have said it only proves life isn't fair). The delay on the bridge that morning was brutal.

I can tell from the opening this isn't exactly the kind of story I'm drawn to. The tone is light and ironic and a little distanced.  But for people who do like this kind of story, it's not a bad for paragraph. There are subtle details about Sidney to let us know what kind of person he was.

Sidney stumbled through dense fog, toward an off-key whistle. The mist thinned, the clearing revealed the source of the happy melody. The little man approached Sidney and smiled.

There's nothing wrong with this "after-death" scene, though I would have found myself much more interested if it was something new and different. This feels cliched with the mist thinning and a little man whistling and off key but happy song.

“That’s one hell of a turn, isn’t it, Sidney?” He clasped Sidney’s hand between his own. “You died, Sidney…on the bridge. A few minutes ago.”

Sidney pushed him away.

“How could I be dead?” Sidney shouted. “Who are you?”

With dialogue in emotional moments (no matter how distanced the narrative), less is usually more.  The problem here is that Sidney expresses three different reactions in split seconds. That doesn't work. Denial, anger, confusion are accurate emotions for him, but without slowing the pace down so the reader can process everything, they'll be distanced from the story and going "wait, what?"

“Calm down, Sidney. I'm dead, you're dead…what's the difference? I’m Patrick...your only friend now.” Patrick pulled an I-Pad from his pocket, and laughed. “You've never seen these apps.You sell commercial real estate. Forty five. Divorced, two kids.”

Again, there's too much here, too quickly, without transitions, and as a reader I'm not sure what I should be grabbing onto, what I should be getting out of this. I'm not sure if Patrick is a ghost or a reaper or something else completely. The iPad and the apps make no sense to me at all, and while the details about Sidney are things I didn't know, I'm not sure I care enough about him yet.

Sidney could hardly breathe. “How do you know that? Where am I?” his voice cracked.

Patrick raised his brow. “Where do you think you are, Sidney?”

“Am I in heaven?” Sidney asked hopefully.

Patrick burst out laughing.

“Heaven? That’s rich! A foggy day and another prick thinks he’s in heaven.”

By this point I'm completely lost and disinterested. This conversation reads too cliched, and the last few lines don't read as funny (I'm not sure if they're supposed to or not). But I don't care about or feel any attachment to Sidney or Patrick--or their situation. And I'm not convinced there's anything unique about this story. It feels too much like something I've read or seen before.

11 comments:

ashelynn hetland said...

iPad or iPod? I can understand if he's pulling an iPod from his pocket, but an iPad? I'm looking at my iPad and don't think that'd fit in any pocket. Well... maybe a coat pocket?

Fia said...

It sounds to me like in whatever afterdeath this is, there's an ipad that is more tricked out with after-death useful apps. Which could've been played funny, but it took me a minute to get too.

Rachel Levine said...

hmmm... it only goes to show you how different types of writing resonate with different types of people. I found this to be curious and wanted to know what's next. I probably would instead encourage the writer to make the opening line a little bit sharper and more funny.

glassoffashion said...

I'm de-lurking to say I liked this a lot- but then I like my humour ironic. I thought the voice was interesting, and would definitely want to read on.

Rachel Levine mentioned the opening line could be sharper. I wonder if there's any mileage in moving the 2nd sentence (or even the 2nd and 3rd) to the beginning? "The common folk used turn signals and enjoyed the view--the mighty Hudson below or the sun-baked cliffs across the river. Sidney read his text message."

And the idea of the afterlife Ipad apps made me chuckle...

Lauren B. said...

I would keep reading to see where this is going. I don't mind the tone as much as Suzie, though I do agree with her that this feels like a very 'been done before' scenario and would benefit from changing some of the interactions/dialogue to be a little less "on the nose".

Dancing Dogs and Dirty Tricjs said...

I too liked the query and would like to know more. Definitely read-on material.

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

"The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman talks of how agents read, searching for excuses to refuse a manuscript, especially if the author is unknown.

"..dialogue in emotional moments (no matter how distanced the narrative), less is usually more," Suzie said.

Thanks for this great tip, I ran straight to my manuscript to read the pertinent scenes.

dianehenders said...

I'm a fan of a dry, sarcastic tone, and I liked this.

The initial couple of lines of dialogue between Sidney and Patrick didn't quite ring true for me, but I think they could be easily reworked.

Pickiness: I usually interpret "his brow" to mean "his forehead", which doesn't read quite right under the circumstances. I probably would have said "raised an eyebrow" instead.

The last line made me laugh out loud. I'd definitely keep reading.

Horatio said...

I liked the intro paragraph for precisely the reason Ms. Townsend didn't. However, the rest lost me because I felt the transitions were absent. I understand that may have been intentional - being displaced from one's body may be a rather abrupt experience - but I much prefer at least a token of thought as to why I'm reading about driving and suddenly about fogs.

As for the cliches, there are plenty. How does one write about an afterlife without them? I think, perhaps, movies do it the fog way because it's cheaper than some grandiose spectacle. But, since you're the writer and your budget is unlimited, I'd recommend doing more!

I may keep reading, though, but only if this wasn't another reaper story. And, personally as a reader, I would hope the rest of the novel takes turn in another direction.

Stephsco said...

I got the ipad/ipod apps reference right away, but I think it could be played differently. It could work.

I think seeing the crash and making a few transitions would help. It felt like this was a rushed summary to get to the real story a few more pages in, which we don't see. Maybe the story needs to start someplace else if this scene is so rushed? Maybe it starts when he's already dead and can reflect back on the accident with the Porche later...

I appreciate the comment that this might not be someone's preferred style of writing. I attend an in-person writer's group and see work like this that others are interested while I might not be.

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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?