First Page Critique: SOME KIND OF DEAD

Photo by Marks Polakovs. All rights reserved.

Welcome, Anon du jour, welcome to The Kill Zone! Thank you for submitting Some Kind of Dead, your masterpiece in progress (and I mean that sincerely) to our First Page Critique:

Some Kind of Dead

By the time the dark blue BMW made a second pass past the bar, Andy Weber pegged them for amateurs. Unlocking the door he had just secured, he ducked back into the bar, keyed the alarm pad and then grabbed the cut-down Remington 870 that Gus kept below the register. Cops called it a “street sweeper” for good reason. Checking through the window for the car, he slipped outside and stood in the dark shadow of the doorway. As the sedan slowly rounded the corner at the far end of the block to make a third pass, Andy was ready for them.

The car drew even with the front door. Two mini-mag machine pistols began to emerge from the open back window on the driver’s side and Andy started unloading on the slowly moving car. First, the driver, to immobilize the vehicle, then the two passengers in the rear…one, two, three, and it was over just like that. The dead driver’s foot had jammed the accelerator. The Beemer, accelerating rapidly, entered the intersection against the light, right in the path of a fast moving gasoline tanker. The truck driver tried to avoid the car but he overcorrected and jackknifed the trailer, slamming into the BMW.” The tanker wasn’t as lucky. After hitting the car, it slid sideways through the intersection. The driver could see what was coming and jumped out, rolling to a stop. The tanker turned over, exploding in a ball of flame, engulfing three cars in the fireball. The driver stood, dazed, in the middle of the intersection.

Andy, satisfied that no one else was coming for him, picked up the ejected shells and returned the street sweeper to its rightful place under the bar. Resetting the alarm, he locked up and started off down the street, away from the carnage he just created. Tomorrow he would have to remember  to clean the shotgun and pay Gus for the three shells he used. “Amateurs”, he whispered to himself as he walked down the street.

 

This is simply terrific, Anon. I am predisposed to to love this anyway,, given that it sits solidly in my favorite literary genre — crime noir — but even after looking at it as critically as I could I found very, very little here with which to quibble. You draw the reader right in, hold their interest, create the proper dark mood and have the requisite mayhem and explosion which readers these days tend to expect right from the…well, from the first page. It reminds me of the paperback crime novels that I cut my reading teeth on back in the 1950s and which I read to this day. That said, I have a few things to mention in the hopes of making a terrific opening page a perfect one:

1) First paragraph:

— Let’s get everything parallel in the first sentence. The car goes around the block and Andy pegs “them” for amateurs. Who is them? Let’s change that to “By the time the dark blue BMW made a second pass past the bar, Andy Weber pegged its occupants for amateurs.”

— Wow, those guys really were amateurs. I know grade school cub scouts who could pull off  a better ambush than they attempted. I’m puzzled as to why they didn’t shoot Andy on the second pass. I assume they didn’t see him, even though he saw them. How about showing that to your readers like so (there are many different ways to this): “By the time the dark blue BMW made a second pass past the bar, Andy Weber pegged its occupants (see above) for amateurs.Gus’s doorway was the perfect place for observing without being observed. Andy had been able to clock the car’s occupants as they played two games of urban ring-around-the-rosy without their having a clue that he was watching. Unlocking the door…

2) Second paragraph:

— Let’s break up that compound sentence. Like so: “Two mini-mag machine pistols began to emerge from the open back window on the driver’s side. Andy stepped quickly out of the shadows, unloading on the slowly moving car.”

— …“ against the light, right in the path…” How about “…against the light, into the path…” instead?

— “The driver could see what was coming and jumped out, rolling to a stop.” I generally think of cars, rather than people, rolling to a stop (or when I’m driving, rolling through a stop).  I’d suggest this: “The driver could see what was coming and jumped out. He hit the ground and rolled until he ran out of blacktop.” Or something like that. There are a few different ways to write it.

3) Third paragraph:

Andy, satisfied that no one else was coming for him, picked up the ejected shells and returned the street sweeper to its rightful place under the bar. Resetting the alarm, he locked up and started off down the street, away from the carnage he just created. Tomorrow he would have to remember  to clean the shotgun and pay Gus for the three shells he used. “Amateurs”, he whispered to himself as he walked down the street.

You use the word “street” three times in the same short paragraph. Let’s eliminated the first and third ones. For the first, call the street sweeper a shotgun; as for the third: when Andy whispers “Amateurs” we already know he’s walking down the street because you just told us. You could end that paragraph with “Amateurs,” he whispered.”  (see below) and it would be just fine.

4) There are also a couple of typos:

Second paragraph: “ The car rolled twice, and came to rest on what was left of its tires.”  I suggest striking the comma in the sentence “ between “twice” and “and.”

Third paragraph, last sentence: Let’s stick that comma after “Amateurs” after the ‘s’ and before the final quotation mark.

Thank you again, Anon, for submitting this first page of SOME KIND OF DEAD. I sincerely cannot wait to see what follows. I will now sit back,  attempt to stay uncharacteristically quiet, and let our TKZ audience hold forth.

 

4+

12 thoughts on “First Page Critique: SOME KIND OF DEAD

  1. There’s a lot of “pass”-ing going on in a very short passage (couldn’t resist).

    I do voiceover work on occasion. I would suggest recording your writing. You will hear things you might not see. You will also get a preview of how your audiobook will sound.

    Best of luck!

  2. Great start! I have one quibble: the gasoline tanker has been used in film so often that, for me, it’s become a cliche. Early in the morning, the truck could be a semi-
    moving garbage or a tanker carrying milk. Surprise me.

  3. I wonder if the fire-and-brimstone after the shooting is necessary for the story or just excitement for the sake of excitement?

    Also, in the second par: “The Beemer, accelerating rapidly, entered the intersection against the light, right in the path of a fast moving gasoline tanker. The truck driver tried to avoid the car but he overcorrected and jackknifed the trailer, slamming into the BMW.” The tanker wasn’t as lucky. After hitting the car, it slid sideways through the intersection.”

    We’re into the path of a tanker and then suddenly there’s a truck driver. Is this the tanker driver? Is there a second vehicle? What was the tanker not as lucky as?

  4. This is very good. I really like it.

    Now, get out of your own way.

    “Two mini-mag machine pistols began to emerge from the open back window on the driver’s side and Andy started unloading on the slowly moving car.”

    “Two mini-mag machine pistols emerged from the back window on the driver’s side and Andy answered by unloading on the slowly moving car.”

    1. Search out all the “look like” “began to” “tried to” “started to” “looked like” “smelled like” “tasted like” and just get on with it.

    When I taught flash fiction, I used this example:

    Mary picked up the spoon and began to serve the potatoes from the bowl on the table.

    vs.

    Mary served the potatoes.

    Unless that spoon, that bowl, or that table are about to become integral to the plot, you can dispense with them. We all know that she didn’t serve the potatoes with her hands from a pile on the floor (unless she did, then you would add that because it is outside the frame of ordinary inference.)

    2. This segues into magic of inference. If the guns are coming out the window, you don’t need to tell me that it is open. Or than Andy had to unlock the door because he had just locked it. All I need to know is that Andy went and got his gun.

    3. This passage is evidence of not trusting the reader to visualize the scene:

    The Beemer, accelerating rapidly, entered the intersection against the light, right in the path of a fast moving gasoline tanker. The truck driver tried to avoid the car but he overcorrected and jackknifed the trailer, slamming into the BMW. The tanker wasn’t as lucky. After hitting the car, it slid sideways through the intersection . . .

    This is mostly telling, not showing. Remember your POV is with Andy.

    The Beemer ran the light. The gasoline tanker squealed his brakes, but the sickening thud told Andy that it was too little too late . . . .

    You’ve got this. Set the stage, drop the clues and let us see it through your POV character’s eyes.

    Terri

    • 1. But don’t you create a more vivid, precise image if you add detail to “Mary served the potatoes”?

      2. I think having to unlock the door tells us that Andy wasn’t just leaving the bar but closing it for the night–he’s an employee. And having him unlock the door means it takes him longer to get back in and get to his shotgun. There are other ways to convey this info, but isn’t Anon’s way of doing it more of a showing than a telling? Anon might show us even more by having a tense Andy take longer than usual to get door unlocked.

      • Only if it serves the plot. How does Mary began to serve the potatoes on the table serve the plot? But cutting out all the began tos and looked likes, you can add the details. The color of the antique bowl, the smell of the potatoes, the terror of the knife going into her back. That is showing. All the extraneous movements are just telling. Think about all the steps you take to leave the house nad start your car. Reading them would be mind-numbing.

  5. Excellent submission!

    My only quibble was with the section beginning: ” Two mini-mag machine pistols began to emerge from the open back window on the driver’s side and Andy started unloading on the slowly moving car.”

    I’d break this into two sentences at least. Consider amping up the pace once the guns come out. The pacing comes across the same from start to finish though the events escalate.

    To add a sense of urgency, consider shorter sentences once the guns come out. Forget “began to emerge” and just says the guns emerged. I think it would add immediacy also if you give us more sense of the physicality of the protag as he moves through these actions. How does his body react – with precision? How does he feel – calm on the surface, but heart pounding or?

    I get this guy is a calm, cool, collected sort, but the action is described a little too precisely and objectively. This distanced me from the protag and had him leaning more superhero than everyman for me. And perhaps that is your intent. Just pointing it out. I’d agree with the other posters that the gasoline tanker is maybe a bit much.

    Very strong writing overall and you grab the readers attention at once and give them confidence they’re in good hands. Nice job!

  6. I think there’s a lot to like here. I love the voice and the pacing. You create vivid imagery. That’s all good.

    The action, not so much. And here’s why: I feel like I’ve seen it all before. That’s particularly true of the exploding gas truck. Plus, consider this: those tankers typically hod between 6,000 and 10,000 gallons of gasoline. Andy’s bar will likely not be there in the morning.

    Dead people go limp, period. They do not jam gas pedals.

    I’ve a fair familiarity with guns, and I’ve never heard of a mini mag machine pistol. Neither has Google. And while we’re there, shotguns eject hulls, not shells.

    As others have told you, I agree that any sentence that includes phrases like, “began to” are inherently weak and slow the action.

  7. Thanks to everyone who has commented and will do so as the hours and days roll on. Anon, you know you’ve got something good when you get people disagreeing among themselves about the finer points but like what you’ve written generally. And, just for the record, I still like gas tanker explosions. They never get old at casa de Hartlaub. Thanks again for submitting the The Kill Zone’s First Page Critique!

  8. Interesting title. Now, on to the tough stuff.

    While this snippet was full of action, I think it read a little too much like a news report. It would help to vary the sentence structure. For example, let’s look at this section:

    “The driver could see what was coming and jumped out, rolling to a stop. The tanker turned over, exploding in a ball of flame, engulfing three cars in the fireball. The driver stood, dazed, in the middle of the intersection.”

    The sentences begin much the same way (i.e. “The tanker…”; “The tanker…”; “The driver…”)

    Also, instead of giving a blow by blow description of what’s happening, try to get the reader inside of Andy’s head a little bit more.

    I’d also recommend using one POV and sticking to it. If you are telling the story from Andy’s point of view, Andy would not know what the driver was thinking or experiencing. So, the sentence that begins “The driver could see what was coming…” doesn’t make sense. Andy would have no way of knowing what the driver could or couldn’t see.

    Also, be careful with pronoun references. Joe already mentioned this sentence:

    “By the time the dark blue BMW made a second pass past the bar, Andy Weber pegged them for amateurs.”

    Who is them? Be careful.

    Also, the name Gus is mentioned in passing, but the reader isn’t given any introduction to Gus. If Gus is an important character, he needs a proper introduction.

    Think twice about beginning sentences with words that end in “ing.”

    You use the phrase “started off down the street.” The word “off” is redundant. Just say “started down the street.”

    You use “…it was over just like that.” Get rid of the “just like that.” It weakens the sentence.

    You write: “Amateurs”, he whispered to himself as he walked down the street.

    The comma needs to be inside of the quotation mark, like this:
    “Amateurs,” he whispered to himself as he walked down the street.

  9. Let me jump back in and correct an omission of mine: HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all of the TKZers out there! May your day be full of the love and respect that you have earned and thus deserve!

  10. I like the voice and the tone, but I have to admit, I hesitated at “pass past” in the first sentence. Easy fix.

    The second to last paragraph contains eleven sentences. Nine of them begin as follows:

    The car …
    First, the driver …
    The dead driver …
    The Beemer …
    The truck driver …
    The tanker …
    The driver …
    The tanker …
    The driver …

    This can numb the mind of the reader and is the kind of thing that is not immediately obvious to the person who wrote it, since the average writer doesn’t think, “How can I begin each sentence differently?” This is precisely the value of TKZ, other eyes who see things very differently. Any decent editor, of course, would have spotted it right off the bat. I would hope this is a problem only with this paragraph and not with your entire book.

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