Monday, August 29, 2011

First Page Shooter #10--REVISED

78,000-word urban fantasy

We have a revision!

Revised Text


Graham’s memory wasn’t getting any better. The car accident happened more than six months ago and when he woke up in the hospital to doctors questioning him about his phone number and address, he couldn’t give them more than a single name—Karl. There were no faces or happy memories from his childhood, there was just a name; and soon it was lost to become yet another hole.

When he was discharged from the hospital, the doctor told him the recovery process could be slow and he would need to be patient, though he never mentioned his mind would grow so weak he would be practically living hour to hour. Key moments in his life, like his graduation from high school or his first kiss, gradually started coming back, though they were never clear and Graham saw these images from a distance. He was certain these events had taken place at some time—they had to—but the more he tried to attach himself, the less he belonged.

After his past was filled with enough cracks to keep him locked in his apartment for fear that he wouldn’t find his way home, Graham knew it was time to start researching; but no matter how many times he renewed the library books on medical disorders or scoured the internet for similar amnesia cases, he couldn’t find anything that would help his memories come back. Most of the advice was the same—follow a healthy diet, get more sleep, drink hot beverages, practice relaxation techniques—and for several months, Graham lived by these regimes, convinced he would find his way back.

With Suzie's Comments



Graham’s memory wasn’t getting any better. Still love this first line! The car accident happened more than six months ago. I like that I know how it happened, but this sentence felt really jerky. and wWhen he woke up in the hospital to doctors questioning him about his phone number and address, he couldn’t give them doctors more than a single name—Karl. Huh? But his name is Graham. Who's Karl? This is more confusing. There were no faces or happy memories from his childhood, I like this! there was just a name; and soon it was lost to become yet another hole. This is too vague or too metaphorical. Karl is lost?

When he was discharged from the hospital, the doctor told him the recovery process could be slow and he would need to be patient, This clause is a very generic "this is what doctors say in a case like this" statement. As a result, it should be said very quickly (Doctors told him recovery would be slow,) and then move on, readers want to know what makes this story unique. though he never mentioned his mind would grow so weak he would be practically living hour to hour. Clear up the pronoun usage here--it's hard to read and understand who all the he's are. And how is his mind growing "so weak"--what does that mean? What does living hour to hour mean? Is this like in the movie Memento where he has to write notes to himself because he can't make new short term memories, or is it something different?  Key moments in his life, like his graduation from high school or his first kiss, gradually started coming back, they do come back? This seems contradictory to the "his mind got weaker" statement. though they were never clear and Graham saw these images only from a distance. Tighten your sentences. (Though I'm not entirely sure what from a distance means).  He was certain these events had taken place at some time—they had to—but the more he tried to attach himself, the less he belonged. What does this mean?

After he remembered enough to get over the his past was filled with enough cracks to keep him locked in his apartment for fear that he wouldn’t find his way home, Graham knew it was time to start researching.; bBut no matter how many times library he renewed the library books on medical disorders or scoured the internet for similar amnesia cases he found on the internet, he couldn’t find anything that would help his memories come back. This sentence is entirely too long. I got lost in the second clause. (My edits are just an example of how you might make it more readable). Most of the advice was the same—follow a healthy diet, get more sleep, drink hot beverages, practice relaxation techniques—and for several months, Graham lived by these regimes, convinced he would find his way back. Is he convinced? This last statement seems at odds with what he's been feeling for the last few paragraphs.


So we definitely have more information about Graham and what's going on with his memory, but everything is still "telling"--and there's more of it now, which makes it feel more like an info dump.


My new suggestion is start with:


Graham's memory wasn't getting any better.


[Show us him standing at the bus and feeling whatever it is he's feeling since he can't remember what's going on]


[Have him decide to walk home]


[On the walk home, give us the info about the accident and those six months of more memory loss]


All in all, I think you need to decrease the narrative distance and allow readers to get more in touch with Graham.

Original Text
Graham’s memory wasn’t getting any better.  Entire sections of his past were still missing from his thoughts and no matter how many times he renewed the library books on medical disorders or scoured the internet for similar amnesia cases, he couldn’t find anything that would help his memories come back.  For the first few months he tried to ignore the ridiculous sites that told him to eat marinated almonds or peppered honey—he may as well have danced naked at the full moon—though soon he was willing to try anything.  Most of the more reliable sources said ‘time’ was the best cure, but time was something Graham didn’t want to give up.  Every day, every hour, his memories slipped away until he would find himself open-mouthed in the street, trying to remember which bus would take him back home.

He stood there now, watching as the thirty-one bus came and went, followed shortly after by the thirty-four and the thirty-five.  He read the flashing neighborhood signs on the buses’ windshields, knowing that at least one of them would show him the destination he was hoping for.  When he saw it, he’d know it was the right one.  Wouldn’t he?

After waiting forty-five minutes for the bus he was sure stopped at his corner every ten, Graham decided to take the five-mile trek back to his apartment.  The bus schedule may have been emptied from his mind, but the familiar city streets were not something he was likely to forget after training his muscle memory for the last twenty years.

With Suzie's Comments:

I picked this entry for first page shooter because the writing is well done and I'm interested in Graham's situation, but if the author did a few things different I would be so much more interested.  Right now the excerpt is too telling. Especially in the beginning.

Graham’s memory wasn’t getting any better.  I love this as an opening line.  It gives us the problem right away. There's something wrong with his memory! Entire sections of his past were still missing from his thoughts and no matter how many times he renewed the library books on medical disorders or scoured the internet for similar amnesia cases, he couldn’t find anything that would help his memories come back.  This is where I want MORE. Here I'm being told about his memory issue, but it's vague. I would be so much more interested, if I got more specific, unique, details about what was going on. "Entire sections of his past were still missing"--like what? how big are these sections? If they're still missing, how long have they been missing? Is this is a new problem? Is it getting worse? Is there a specific example of when he realized some of his memory was gone? Give me more details--really develop them so I can get a sense of the character and feel something for his situation.  Next, he's done all this research and found nothing. Has he gone to a doctor yet? Again, I want more details--show me his frustration/his angst. For the first few months he tried to ignore the ridiculous sites that told him to eat marinated almonds or peppered honey—he may as well have danced naked at the full moon—though soon he was willing to try anything.  I like the concept of the desperation here, but again I want more. What sites did he start with? What things did he try first? What was the moment he decided it would try eating marinated almonds--what drove him to that? Most of the more reliable sources said ‘time’ was the best cure, but time was something Graham didn’t want to give up.  Every day, every hour, his memories slipped away until he would find himself open-mouthed in the street, trying to remember which bus would take him back home. Does he know what precipitated his memory loss? Was it an accident or did he just start forgetting stuff? What kind of things (other than the bus) has he been forgetting? We need more of a frame of reference--is the bus something that should be easy to remember? (I for one have never mastered the NYC bus system). 

He stood there now, watching as the thirty-one bus came and went, followed shortly after by the thirty-four and the thirty-five.  He read the flashing neighborhood signs on the buses’ windshields, knowing that at least one of them would show him the destination he was hoping for.  When he saw it, he’d know it was the right one.  Wouldn’t he? This is an interesting paragraph, but it falls a little flat.  Get me more inside his head. How does he feel? As a reader, I need the author to show me what I should be feeling for this character through his own thoughts/feelings. Is he annoyed/frustrated/sad/scared/disillusioned? What?

After waiting forty-five minutes for the bus he was sure stopped at his corner every ten, Graham decided to take the five-mile trek back to his apartment.  The bus schedule may have been emptied from his mind, but the familiar city streets were not something he was likely to forget after training his muscle memory for the last twenty years. Again, he seems pretty nonchalant about this, which undercuts any tension you've built up in the first paragraph about the memory loss.

Overall, I probably wouldn't keep reading. I like the flow of the writing and I would be interested in checking out other projects this author was doing. But as is, this hasn't grabbed me though I was intrigued at first.

8 comments:

Lauren B. said...

I agree with Suzie's assessment. I'm okay with a 'telling' opening, but as a reader I'd expect a more omniscient narrator and more immediate explanation as to why Graham was suffering from this condition.

If you want to keep the POV more limited, I'd go with 'show' and I'd want less narrative distance and more of an emotional connection with the character. Losing your memory must be terrifying and I didn't get any of that from this.

I do like the premise and the style of the prose.

sara said...

I wonder if the author is starting at the wrong place in order to tell the readers the entire hook right away. There's no real tension in this scene, and to be honest, I couldn't find a reason to care about Graham and whether he gets on his bus.

I'd suggest changing the beginning to a more action-oriented scene in which Graham's condition is interwoven subtly, teasing the readers to want to learn more, or at least raise the stakes in this scene. Maybe have him freaking out because this is his first test leaving home by himself and he knows he's failed, or as because all of a sudden he can't remember his back-up plan of walking home either? Will he have to tell someone at home that he failed again at figuring out the bus system? Perhaps he makes a rush decision and realizes he's on the wrong bus?

There are few moments where you could add in some info about Graham to make us care more. I.e., why should he know the right bus? Did his family tell him he used to ride the bus all the time? Is there something vaguely familiar about the bus number itching in his brain? Why are the streets familiar? Did he grow up hustling in that neighbourhood? Etc.

A good hook doesn't need to smack the readers in the face, it needs to tease us in. Personally, as a UF reader, memory loss is a very common trope. I'd like a little more on what makes this unique right in the first page, or I'd probably not bother reading on. All that being said, I did enjoy the writing style and I think there's something there.

Kudos to the author for putting this out there!

annievictory said...

As an author, every now and then it's good to leave my own head and "see" what's going on in someone else's! It's really awesome to see examples of why writing works and why it doesn't. I loved this. I really believe it will help a lot of people to become better writers. Thanks!

Jeff King said...

I agree with the comments and the assessment of the piece. I often struggle with telling where showing would be preferred.
Nice post!

earth said...

Interesting opening, but I agree. He seems too complacent about his lack. His mood does not go along with some of his thoughts which indicate a deep desperation. Make us care for this guy, so we read on to find how, why, when and what is he going to do about his memory loss.

africa2asia said...

I would keep reading, this is after all only the first page, but would need an explanation of his condition pretty soon. Don't keep the reader hanging too long.
Use of the question at end of second paragraph engages me. Would like to 'see' his environment - sights/sounds/smells etc.

sara said...

I still think there needs to be more tension in this page. If there isn't any, then it's not the right place to start the story. Also, you don't need to give so much info on the memory loss. The readers can fill in the blanks.

My suggestion is to keep the first line and make it something like this:
"Graham's memory wasn't getting any better. The endless stream of advice he sought out from doctors, library books and internet hacks after his accident wasn't helping. He was sick of living hour to hour, with only fleeting memories of useless information, like his high school graduation or first kiss, popping up from time to time. Those weren't the kind of memories that would help remember who he was today.

After six months of hiding out in his apartment, it was time to take charge of his recovery. Graham figured the only way to do that was through muscle memory. Walk the streets of his neighbourhood until something jarred his mind.

But after watching twelve buses drive by with no recollection of which one would get him home, he realized what a mistake it was..."

Obviously my voice sucks and it's your story and this is just mean to be a skeleton of an idea. Your voice is really good to begin with, and my apologies if I'm overstepping, but I think the idea of him being stuck at the bus stop with no memory of getting home is a lot more tension-filled and immediately pressing than the larger issue of his memory being lost.

Assuming Graham's first venture outside his home is the instigating factor for the rest of the plot, then make the key focus of the page, not the fact that his memory is lost. That background can be filled in as you move through the story.

Beth said...

This is all backstory, and is fairly tension-free. I was skimming by the end of the excerpt.

Writer, what's needed here is a real scene. The character needs to grapple with a problem. As it currently reads, it's pure exposition, not story.

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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?