In last week’s post, “Don’t confuse your reader,” we discussed some writing “do’s and don’ts” that can help us avoid losing readers. I’ll revisit a couple of those points in today’s critique. My comments follow in the bullets.
Dani struggled to haul another load of class materials across the campus to where she’d had to park her pickup truck. Just a few minutes late, and she’d not been able to find a spot closer to the building where her temporary classroom was located. The renovations should have been finished weeks ago, but all the rain had shut down construction, and the ground was so saturated that every step felt like the entryway to a bottomless pit.
A new session, actually a completely new program, would be starting soon and she was eager to get her room organized and ready to go. She stopped to set the box down for a minute and wiped her dripping face. She loved living in the southeastern part of the country, but the muggy summers were sometimes hard to take. Dani felt something hit her lightly on the back and turned to see her friend and colleague, Suzanne Feltenburg, trying to get her attention. The balled-up piece of paper that Suzi had thrown started soaking up water, and Dani bent down to pick it up, then glanced at her friend’s face.
“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”, she signed with one hand as she shoved the paper in her pocket. Suzi hesitated, then blurted out with rapid signs, “They’ve found another body.”
“What?!” Dani muttered under her breath as she signed back in reply to her friend’s obviously uncomfortable gaze. “This is getting ridiculous. The science department said they’ve accounted for all the animal cadavers that were used in the biology classes this year, and the students involved in illegally burying them have already been identified, so what’s the deal?”
Suzi signed, “That’s the problem. This one is human.”
- I enjoyed the tone and voice of this first page very much. I do think it could use some tweaking to heighten its impact. For example, I think the use of the past perfect tense (“she’d had to park”) in the first sentence serves as a drag on the opening. I would keep the action in simple past tense for the first sentence, then provide the explanation of why the truck was parked in a problematic spot.
- The introduction of the verb “sign” was a bit confusing to me at first. It was only after I kept reading that I figured out that she was using sign language. Whenever you introduce a verb or phrase that you think might be unfamiliar to your readers, you need to introduce it with enough context so that its meaning is clear from the start. Then you can use it freely. That said, some readers might find the constant use of “sign” as a substitute for “said” a bit distracting. If I were the writer, I’d consider establishing the signing at the beginning of every scene, and then switch to the less intrusive “said.”
- Try to use fresh similes. “Bottomless pit” is a bit of a cliche.
- This is just a nit, but the names Suzi and Dani seem overly similar–two syllables, ending in “i”. I’d leave Suzanne’s name as is, or have her nickname be something else. The more you can do to differentiate your characters for the reader, the better.
- Dani’s dialogue-explanation of the animal cadaver background is a bit long and stilted. It might be more effective to use a couple of short exchanges between your two characters to provide the same background.
- I really liked the ending. I’d keep reading.
Other thoughts, TKZ gang?