|Purchased image from iStock by Jordan Dane/Novel Shout Media|
Now time for another edition of FIRST PAGE CRITS, brought to you by TKZ. One intrepid author. One daring submission. My two pennies worth on the flip side. Care to play along? Read the opening 400 words to a courageous author’s work and give constructive criticism. Now for your consideration – Brooklyn Nights.
The room glowed green in rhythm with the flashing neon of Gerry’s Irish bar across the road and two stories down. Frank Daley, fully dressed and lying on his back on the cheap bed, put a period on the light show with the red tip of his Chesterfield.
The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window, Antonio’s Pizza Pies blending with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month. It’d have to do. He’d lose his security deposit anyway, once he robbed the joint.
The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey, her snores a discord of nasal wheezes that drowned out conversations of the restaurant patrons below as they came and went to an irritating bell dangling above the door. He leaned over and pinched her nose until she opened her mouth to breathe. What came out overwhelmed all other aromas, pleasant or otherwise.
She was naked except for a pair of black lace panties and a gold strapless sandal on her left foot, the heel worn on one side. He had noticed it earlier on their walk up the staircase. There was no significance to the worn heel, but it represented something he knew that no one else did. It was one of his better qualities, a keen sense of observation. It had kept him alive and out of jail since the war.
Her breasts rose and fell with her breathing, the air once again escaping through the clogged nostrils. Between the bell over Antonio’s door and her nose music it sounded like a bad Salvation Army band.
Overview: Well, Frank is a piece of work. Charming man. I think I used to work with this guy, but I’d never admit it. It cracked me up that he thought about his lost security deposit considering he planned to rob the flea bag. Stellar ethics. I do love the cesspool details of this scene. All the senses are triggered and the imagery is here. Frank’s got an attitude with a hint of dark humor. I would definitely want to read more to get a sense of Frank and where this story will lead. There’s no indication that he is a main character. He could be a mood setter, secondary character. I’ve opened more than a book or two with fun secondary characters who pave the way for my protagonist to make an entrance. For me, there needs to be more to Frank than what I’m reading here to carry my interest through a whole book of him, but I like the edgy writing style.
Suggestion 1: There appears to be much more to this story, considering Frank is fully dressed and waiting for something. That leads me to suggest a better, more gripping first line that would pull the reader into the mystery of Frank.
Example: Like most people, Frank Daley had ambitions for a better life—money, a sweet ride, and respect—but the drunk hooker lying next to him, snoring and wheezing like a busted radiator, had become his upside.
I’m sure the author could come up with a better line, knowing the story, but this is an example of a first line focused on Frank.
Suggestion 2: The scene is set and the senses are triggered, but another way to begin this would be to focus on Frank more than setting the stage. Make the hooker and the cheap digs be the backdrop for what’s going through his mind and lure the reader in with his story. With only a scant 400 words, it’s hard to know what to suggest, but my instincts tell me there is more to Frank, even if he’s a secondary character. The hooker, the Irish bar, and the pizza joint are colorful, but I’m thinking they’re only window dressing for what’s about to play out with Frank. A better way to show Frank has keen observation is to show it, rather than tell it through the hooker’s sandal. Have Frank sitting in the dark and listening, smelling, sensing everything both in the room and outside on the street, as if he were a predatory animal. Again, the focus should be on him and not the room or the hooker or the street outside.
Suggestion 3: To introduce Frank to the reader, the author might have him do more in this opening scene. Have him interacting with another character in dialogue or in a conflict to see how he handles it. Encapsulate his personality in a defining scene that will show the reader what he’s all about. Creating a scene like this, it would be the difference between Johnny Depp making an entrance in Pirates of the Caribbean. You wouldn’t write him sitting in the dark, waiting. You’d make him come alive and do something, whether his character is intended to be funny or deadly serious. Maybe have him get up from the hooker, dress, then go down and rob the motel – but before he leaves the dump, he asks, “I guess this means I don’t get my deposit back?”
Suggestion 4: I had to reread the following two sentences. They were too long. They’d be more effective broken up.
Before: The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window, Antonio’s Pizza Pies blending with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month.
After: The sounds and smells of the Brooklyn neighborhood floated through the open window. The aroma of Antonio’s Pizza Pies blended with the odors of cigarettes, sweat, and sex that filled the fleabag he had rented for the month.
Before: The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey, her snores a discord of nasal wheezes that drowned out conversations of the restaurant patrons below as they came and went to an irritating bell dangling above the door.
After: The whore beside him stunk of cheap whiskey. Her snores were a discord of nasal wheezes. The noise coming from the drunk hooker drowned out the conversations of restaurant patrons as they walked under an irritating bell that dangled above the door.
Summary: This author has an engaging style that I like. The writing basics are here, but the right scene selection, an intriguing first line, setting up a conflict or an evocative escalating situation that will keep the reader turning the page, is the challenge with every book.
What say you, TKZers? Please share your comments on Brooklyn Nights.
I liked this opening scene a lot. I get the sense that the author is showing Frank through his observations, which I think isn’t in your face so much as would be had he attempted to put action on the page right away.
This scene is very discreet and fits. Prostitute, fleabag joint, impending crime. I like it all. The smells, sounds, and visuals are all there, and I have to disagree with you Jordan, on making some of the sentences shorter. I loved the cadence of the drawn out sentences and vivid details. It wouldn’t have the same feel if the sentences were short and clipped.
I would keep turning the pages. It’s more engaging than many first pages of books I’ve read lately by well-known authors.
This author definitely has a flair for imagery & setting the stage for interesting characters. I like edgy gritty crime fiction. Thanks for your comments, Diane.
I thought the level of sensory detail was really good at setting the scene but not as effective of getting us inside Frank’s head. I found myself in a “so why do I care?” mode. Frank doesn’t come off as particularly likable but, if we had a reason to bind it all together, it might transform the setting by imbuing it with meaning.
And I’m with Diane in the comment above – I thought the longer sentences were just fine. Breaking them up would increase the pacing, make the scene more jarring, and disrupt the rhythm of rest of the scene.
Forgot to mention that I’d keep reading, to find out what role Frank had in whatever was coming.
Thanks, Paul. The second long sentence got me most. I had to reread these. Appreciate your take.
Sh*t! Lost my comments; doing them over, but they’re never as clear the second time around.
This is a talented writer with a feel for language and rhythm, and an eye for detail (I especially liked the worn heel on the shoe.)
This is “do as I say, and not as I do” (because I find it difficult), but I’d rather see your first and maybe second paragraph raise a story, or at least a scene, question about what’s going to happen next. Right now, the excerpt sets the scene really well, and reveals a bit of Frank’s character, and the reader thinks that maybe we’re reading noir crime, or some kind of crime novel. The readers asks the general question, “What will happen?” but doesn’t have something more specific to ask, e.g., what will happen NEXT, or why a gun is under his pillow, or whatever.
Unlike Jordan, I’m not a fan of opening with secondary characters, even if they’re dramatic characters, because I get vested in a character, and then I’m a little out of the story when I’m asked to get vested in the next character. You see it a lot, of course, but I and many readers prefer to spend our time with the character to which we’re first introduced.
The writing is mature and flows well. This doesn’t feel like a newbie’s writing to me. The only thing that popped out for me was, perhaps, an over-reliance on the “there is/there was/it is/it was” sentence structure, considered a weak sentence structure, even though you see it in award-winning literary novels. I’d watch out for it, and see if you can strengthen most such sentences.
Overall, however, this is strong writing. For me, the main thing it needs is another look at the structure to strengthen the opening.
Would I keep reading? As a reader, maybe not; as a publisher/editor, yes, because the writing is stronger than many manuscripts I see.
would love to be able to edit the comment (disagreement in number: readers, etc.) Ugh!
Bonus points for reposting your valuable feedback, Sheryl. Thank you.
I like this first page, even though noir isn’t my thing. I would suggest using the second paragraph to introduce us to Frank’s intent–you could almost cut out everything in the second paragraph and start it with “It’d have to do.” What comes just just before that right now in the second para sounds like unecessary window-dressing.
I’m not the audience for this kind of thing, admittedly, but I’m wondering if there’s a more interesting noun to use than “whore”? Something a bit more current and less hackneyed, perhaps. Even the “b” noun would have a bit more oomph for me. 😉
These are stylistics nits, however. Thank you to the author who submitted this piece!
Make that “unnecessary”, sheesh!
It was a challenge to nitpick this piece for me because there’s much to like about this author’s voice. Openers are always tough too.
Very nice…good sensory details, as others have notes. I like the flow and the rhythm, things that are often missing in MSs. I, too, wonder if the writer is asking the reader to invest too much too early in a secondary character. And if it’s not a secondary player, well, the guy isn’t your most likeable protag. But I suspect the writer is going for heavy neo-noir here so we might buy into an anti-hero if he’s well drawn enough. Would need to see more to see if this can be sustained over a whole story.
If I have one caveat it is this: I have heard so many editors lament that this kind of man-wakes-up-hungover-with-bad-girl-in-seedy-room scenario as a cliche. And because it is so hard to get a foot in the door today, do you want to risk an opening that isn’t fresh? Agents and editors are so overwhelmed with submissions, if you give them even one excuse to reject your work, they will. It’s just the nature of things, alas.
All this said, I would read more. I have no confusion nits to pick and maybe more important, there is a definite style and voice here. That’s rare. Good job.
Thanks, Kris. Good feedback.
Yeah. My first thought was that Frank’s a piece of work. I liked the ambiance of the hotel room. At least it was vivid in my mind. I lived in a place (better than Frank’s room, for sure) where the aroma of baking pizza pies kept me hungry all the time.
Great observations and suggestions, JD. For me, the thing with the long sentences is to hold your breath until the period or a well-placed comma comes along. You start feeling faint, that’s too long.
It’s not a stretch to imagine you had a Frank room, Jim. Ha!!
Thanks for your feedback.
We don’t know anything about this guy, my guess he is down on his luck and it might get worse. What we have read could be woven into an intriguing story. I would turn the page and see if I think the tale is going to get better …I might keep reading…if I was an editor would ask for more… I would hope that something would signal me that this is a story with emotional motion. The character Frank has a problem… hopefully there is much more than we suspect.
Thanks, Leon. I would turn the page too. Cheers!
I found myself agreeing with your comments, Jordan. And I especially loved your example of a better opening for the story. That said, the author did a great job of establishing the sights, sounds and smells of the scene. I’d definitely want to read more to see what happens next and what the story is about. He/she has a wonderful “voice” and I’d love to hear more.
Absolutely, D. D. Thanks for weighing in.
Really? Too much description that doesn’t tell the reader much about the character or the plot. What is going too happen? I’d say the first page needs some action–the inciting incident. Where is that?
If I had gotten a sample of this book, I’m afraid I wouldn’t read further.
Indeed the author evokes the senses, but must we know so much about the hooker. It would be much better if she were a corpse. Now that would have captured my interest.
Anyway, you guys are awfully nice. 🙂
It’s not as much about being nice as it about people have different tastes for story development & voice. I like diversity & I’m open to the varied approaches an author might choose to tell a story.
Appreciate your perspective, Joan. Thank you.