guest blogger, Carrie L. Lewis, is sick, so December’s crit winner kindly agreed
to share his revision.
down to December 13 for his entry, and back up to December 14 for my critique.)
see a big difference in the pace of
the opening 1,000 words. In 1212RS’s initial entry, his 1,000 words end with
Benny starting his journey. In the
revised 1,000 words, Benny reaches
of the bedside phone jarred Benny awake. Before he could mumble a greeting,
angry words hissed from the receiver.
you listen, Mr. Wilks,” said a whining, sibilant voice. “I will not repeat
call? Yeah. That’s probably it.
calling on behalf of an old friend. He has information you need and wants to
meet with you immediately. I assure you, it’s very important that you attend
friend Tommy wishes to discuss events that happened in Chicago, many years
thumb halted before it reached the “end” key. Air drained from the room, and
dread tightened around his throat. “Who is this?”
interrupt me, Mr. Wilks. We have no time for questions. Consider this call an
invitation–and a warning. Be at the corner of Crichton and Emerald at 1:20.”
moment, Benny couldn’t breathe. He blinked, trying to clear his head. But the
call still made no sense.
no way Tommy wanted to see him. Because Tommy died fifteen years ago.
to be a mistake.
word from the call plagued him, preventing his pulse from settling back into
its strong, slow rhythm.
Sweat beaded on Benny’s face despite the cool air.
After his best friend’s death, he’d left Chicago behind.
Left his life behind. Sworn never to return.
Was that a mistake?
Worry rolled in, a storm of long-ignored memories
that threatened to keep him awake all night.
No, he hadn’t made a mistake by leaving. Because yes,
Tommy was dead.
Benny no longer knew anyone in Chicago. No reason to
worry about anything going on in that city.
Yet, how could he ignore the phone call?
out of bed and padded to the dresser to grab some clothes. On the way out he
snatched up a shoulder bag crafted from a single piece of weathered walrus hide
and covered with hand-tooled designs. Then he opened the door and scanned the
probably nothing, but as he looked over his shoulder, a line from one of his
favorite childhood TV shows came to mind: “My Spidey senses are tingling.”
breath later, he reached the back stairwell and started down the first of three
flights. He passed his weathered Honda Accord without slowing.
No need to drive. He could walk the eight blocks to Crichton and Emerald with time
to spare. And on his terms. The caller may know Chicago, but Seattle was Benny’s
A gust of cold air slapped his cheeks. Physical shock
dissipated the effects of the earlier mental one, leaving him sensitive to
every sound, every hint of movement on the darkened streets.
drizzle began to fall. He resisted the temptation to turn up his collar,
embracing the slight sting of the droplets on the back of his neck. Eyes and
ears adjusted quickly to the night.
continued east on Campbell, Benny raked his memory. Had he heard that hiss on
the phone before? It didn’t sound familiar.
But he had
to be sure. So he forced his mind through the past, dredging up memories of men
with whiny voices. By the end of the third block, he was certain. He did not
know the caller.
blocks passed before he saw another soul in the darkness. At the corner of
Campbell and Garnet, a beefy man stood under the awning of a closed restaurant,
sending a text message.
met with the wary acknowledgement common to men who cross paths at night: I’m
not looking for trouble, and you won’t get any unless you start it.
Can’t shake that thought.
He was headed
somewhere dark and nasty. Delridge was not a bad neighborhood. But danger
lurked late, even in the nicest places.
being foolish? Inviting trouble? Probably. Yet
curiosity and an indistinct sense of dread pushed him to keep walking.
trembled in anticipation and anxiety. With some effort, he stilled their
movement and quashed the urge to walk faster.
No need to
hurry. He would reach the intersection several minutes before the deadline
without rushing. Plenty of time to plan his next move.
calmly observe, then decide, then act.
last apartment house on the sixth block, the rain stopped. The air, thick with
moisture despite the cold, warned that the precipitation had not ended. Just
wandered away for a while and would return.
from the rendezvous, Benny felt a pull in his gut–-instincts pealing a warning.
wasn’t right. But what? After five years in this neighborhood, didn’t he know
the fastest route to the intersection?
that was the problem.
taking the best route? Fastest and easiest, yes. But the best? What if he was
walking into a trap?
simplest path lay one block east to Emerald, which blazed with lights, and one
block south to Crichton.
simple solutions. They worked.
tonight. A part of his brain that hadn’t spoken up in years would not allow him
to take the obvious route.
south on Ruby, a residential street that even in bright sunlight did not
warrant its namesake. Benny crept down the middle of the tree-choked lane with
no street lamps, navigating by the chancy landmarks of a porch light on one
side of the street and a TV in a window on the other.
than a minute, he stood behind a tree on Crichton, about ten yards west of
Emerald. Eight minutes early for the rendezvous.
scraped his cheek as he snuck a glance toward the intersection. Lit by four
streetlamps, the scene held no secrets. But it still made no sense.
A musk ox
sprawled in the center of the intersection.
1212RS, for sharing your revision. I like how you quickly moved Benny out the
door in your new beginning, and then built tension by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out
his journey to his rendezvous.
reader, did you catch some of the other changes 1212RS made?
Scroll down to yesterday’s post to read December’s winner,
1212RS (to preserve anonymity). Today I’m posting my critique. Since my opinion
counts as only one person’s perspective, not to mention that I can’t possibly
cover everything, please—BIG PLEASE!—add your comments to extend the benefits
HOOK: Your hook happens to consist of two components. The first is your
sentence, “Maybe, just maybe, he’d live long enough to find out who was trying to
kill him.” It immediately spotlights the intrigue—who is trying to kill Benny,
why, and will he escape?
The second component is the promise held out by the opening 150
words that end in the scene break (###), when Benny falls asleep. The promise
is that something really is going to happen--a sort of To Be Continued--once the reader gets through all
the backstory of the next scene. Oh dear, is that enough to entice the reader
to hang in there?
That brings up the question as to why you chose to structure the
story this way. In other words, why format it as backstory with an opening
current-time hook instead of just jumping into the story with the telephone
call as the opening event?
Most editors will stop reading as soon as they see the story has
segued into backstory. They will tell you to not ask the reader to hold her
breath while she wades through past events. Instead, they want you to tell all your story in current time.
In addition, your segue into backstory has another problem. When
you are in a character’s point of view (POV), you can present only what that
character consciously experiences. If the character falls asleep, he’s
unconscious and therefore nothing should happen from his POV. Yup, that includes
no segue into backstory while he’s snoring.
There is a way to deal with this. Simply keep Benny awake and
have him tell his story into his recorder. Then everything is in current
time—i.e., he’s on the train, awake, making a recording. However, what he
records is still backstory; it doesn’t get around that editorial no-no!
Unless there’s a really good reason to format the story as it
currently stands, I suggest you eliminate the first 150 words and begin in
current time with the telephone call (or some other opening). Um, sorry to say,
but that means coming up with a new hook …
SCENE GOAL: In the opening 150 words, the scene
goal is clear: Benny is going to record his story “before it’s too late.” Only,
as it stands now, he doesn’t. He falls asleep.
In the next scene (which hopefully will become the first scene), it would
be good to clarify that Benny’s goal is to get rid of the caller so he can go
back to sleep. This keeps the reader from getting impatient with the phone call
(minimal story action) and also sets up the obstacle to Benny’s goal, the
invitation/threat that leaves him wide-eyed and sleepless. It’s not a problem
to have the scene goal change to a new one (meeting the informant), but it is a
problem to not identify the goal when the scene begins. Give the reader
guidance so she won’t have false expectations as to where the story is going.
By the way, a scene goal is always an external action, and it can be as
simple as answering a ringing phone.
CONFLICT takes place when the character’s scene goal runs into obstacles. Your first
1,0000 words contain two scene goals—first, getting rid of the phone call so
Benny can sleep, and, second, meeting the informant. The first goal encounters
two obstacles, the disturbing invitation and then the alarm set off by Benny’s
memory at the word Chicago. Uh-oh, no
way he’s going back to sleep.
to the second goal is (or so we assume with the little information we have) Newt’s
hidden observation of him, perhaps compounded by the fact that Newt is a cop. Benny
doesn’t want anyone following him, but how can he be sure when he can’t see
Newt? As Benny walks to the meeting, he should form some kind of goal for what
he will do when he meets the informant. That goal, in turn, should run into
Clear goal +
obstacle(s) = conflict. A simple, effective formula, but it’s easy to skip the
scene goal and thereby water down or even obscure the obstacles. A phone call tends to be boring reading material, but knowing Benny wants to dismiss it and can't puts some zing in it.
TENSION: You do a great job of building tension
through how you “show” Benny’s reactions to stress. Some of them are mental
(“Was he dreaming? Not a chance.”), some are action (“Benny’s thumb halted before it reached the ‘end’ key.”),
and you have a nice variety of visceral
ones (“Air drained from the room, and dread tightened around his throat.” “… preventing
his pulse from settling back into its strong, slow rhythm.” “Sweat beaded on
Benny’s face despite the cool air.”). You slip the reader right inside Benny’s
skin with your descriptions so that she picks up on the mounting anxiety.
Again, great job!
Your CHARACTERIZATION of Bennyis so minimal that it might
be your biggest deterrent to keeping your reader interested. The problem is
that we don’t know who in the world Benny is. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Is
he a victim of whatever happened in Chicago, or is he the perpetrator of a
crime there? While it’s good to make a reader curious enough to read on, it’s
not good at the cost of confusion. If the reader knows Benny is a victim and
all of a sudden he’s in trouble, she’ll probably care enough about the poor guy
to keep reading. Or if Benny is the perp, she probably will care enough to want
him brought to justice. Curiosity about what happened in Chicago is salty
enough without the uncertainty of who this guy is and where the story is going.
I pretty much assume a novel will open with the protagonist, a good guy,
so that’s what I assumed Benny was. But what do I know about him after a
thousand words? He lives alone, there’s some unresolved incident from his past
that threatens him, and he has a cop spying on him. It would be easy for me to
shrug my shoulders and say, “Ah, what do I care?” and put the book down.
Demystify Benny with a simple clue or two so the reader can orient
herself to his basic identity. If he’s a cop, for example, one of his first
thoughts after being jarred awake could be a reference to his having just
completed his beat, and he needs sleep.
PACING: Your story starts off at a good trot, but since it’s a
thriller, you’d do better to crack the whip and change the pace to a
breath-taking gallop. In this scene, Benny is pretty introspective—save most of
that for later. What you want now is to capture your reader through fast-paced
action and tension. Cut everything you can and hurl Benny into his encounter
with the informant.
GRAMMAR: A track document will be sent to 1212RS on grammar corrections.
There were very few.
I’ve suggested a lot of overhauling here, which can be
taken as a real bummer. However, your story concept is good—I’d read it!Work on your opening scene to remove
its stumbling blocks, and Benny will be off and running, reader in hand!
BLOG READERS: PLEASE ADD YOUR INSIGHTS AND OPINIONS!
I will run this post until December 20, when guest blogger Carrie L. Lewis will
give yet another of her insightful critiques. So pitch in, keep coming back,
and let’s give 1212RS a lot of take-away!
Opening one thousand words of an untitled thriller/suspense novel (critique will be posted
Benny staggered into the train
compartment and locked the door. Muscles shrieked with each motion as he folded
the benches together into a bed, then fell into it.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d live long enough
to find out who was trying to kill him.
Eyes closed, he lay motionless, waiting
for his breathing to slow. For the first time, he felt safe enough to relax.
Consciousness ebbed away.
No. Not now. Can’t sleep yet.
Benny shook himself awake. He grabbed a
digital voice recorder from his bag and began: “It’s Thursday, Feb. 4. I’m
recording this account from an Amtrak train compartment.”
The effort of speaking tired him, and his
eyelids grew heavy.
Got to tell the story before it’s too
“It all started with a phone call at 1:04
this morning …”
Benny paused. In the moment it took to
select the proper word, he lost consciousness.
The bedside phone’s ring had jarred
Benny awake. Before he could mumble a greeting, a scared, angry man hissed
into the phone.
“I suggest you listen, Mr. Wilks,” said a
whining, sibilant voice. “I will not repeat myself.”
Was he dreaming? Not a chance. The call
had ripped him away from a dream, and the afterimage of somewhere warm and
humid was fading away.
“I’m calling on behalf of an old friend.
He has information you need and wants to meet with you immediately. I assure
you, it’s very important that you attend this meeting.”
Crank call? Yeah. That’s probably it.
“Your friend wishes to discuss events
that happened in Chicago, many years ago.”
Benny’s thumb halted before it reached
the “end” key. Air drained from the room, and dread tightened around his
throat. “Who is this?”
“Don’t interrupt me, Mr. Wilks. We have
no time for questions. Consider this call an invitation – and a warning. Be at
the corner of Crichton and Emerald at 1:20.”
The line went dead.
For a moment, Benny couldn’t breathe. He
blinked, trying to clear his head, but only came up with questions.
Who had found him here, 2,000 miles away?
He suppressed the urge to leap out of
bed, instead replaying the call in his head.
Had he missed something? Misinterpreted
the caller’s verbal signals? The voice quavered just a bit. Rushed from point
to point without the subtle gaps most speakers inserted between thoughts.
No. The takeaway was subtle, but adamant.
There was fear in the man’s voice.
Despite the call, sleep still beckoned. A
trip loomed, several long days scouting real estate in Oregon, and he dreaded
dragging his body into action this early.
Was he overreacting? Perhaps the caller
really was a crank.
But one word from the call plagued him,
preventing his pulse from settling back into its strong, slow rhythm.
Sweat beaded on
Benny’s face despite the cool air. For 15 years he’d labored to forget that
part of his life.
He traveled a lot. But
no matter how promising the real estate deal, how hot the market, he would not
Could never return.
Worry rolled in, a
storm of long-ignored memories that threatened to keep him awake all night.
No. Can’t allow that.
He expelled the
memories from his mind, then sucked in a deep breath once, twice, three times.
Good, his pulse was
slowing. He no longer knew anyone in Chicago. No reason to worry about anything
going on in that city. Yet, how could he ignore the phone call?
The word would not be dismissed.
Had the caller known
him in Chicago? Had someone tracked him to Seattle?
He took a deep breath and rolled out of
bed. From the dresser he grabbed suitable attire for a late-night prowl through
the wintry streets of Seattle – jeans, a Seahawks sweatshirt, and hiking boots.
For the first time in years, indecision
Should he call the police? No, not yet.
What could he say? Some weird guy called
and told him to meet someone on a street corner? That wasn’t a law-breaker.
Can’t mention the implied threat, either. This guy said he had helpful
information. So why should Benny feel threatened?
Excellent question. With no good answer.
He snatched up a shoulder bag crafted
from a single piece of weathered walrus hide and covered with hand-tooled
designs, then opened the door and scanned the hallway. It was probably nothing,
but as he looked over his shoulder, a line from one of his favorite childhood
TV shows came to mind: “My Spidey senses are tingling.”
One deep breath later, he reached the
back stairwell and started down the first of three flights.
He passed his
weathered Honda Accord without slowing.
No need to drive. He
could walk the eight blocks to Crichton and Emerald with time to spare. And on
The caller may know
Chicago, but Seattle was Benny’s turf.
A gust of cold air
slapped his cheeks, driving away the last of his lethargy. Physical shock
dissipated the effects of the earlier mental one, leaving him sensitive to
every sound, every hint of movement on the darkened streets.
A cold drizzle began to fall. He resisted
the temptation to turn up his collar, embracing the slight sting of the
droplets on the back of his neck. Eyes and ears adjusted quickly to the night.
A vibration from his pocket. The phone.
The text from Newt read, “’Sup!”
He texted back, “Aren’t you a little old
for that kind of slang? Cops should set better examples. Leave that to the kids
at the Youth Center.”
“LOL! ‘Nuff bout me. Where u goin?”
How did Newt know he was on the move?
Benny looked over his shoulders and
strained to peer around corners. Nothing.
“I’m not much of a cop if you spot me.
Benny kept walking, careful not to
change his posture. If Newt was watching, he would notice.
“I’m workin. Got tip about robbery. Be
under for awhile. So, where u goin?”
Take this quiz to determine your befuddled quotient
(answers are below):
1. Affect or Effect "Our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how
anybody or anything outside ourselves will _____ us." (Stephen R. Covey)
or Climatic The new music
director favors full-bodied, robust sound, which can build to daring decibel
levels in _____ moments.
3. Flare or Flair The bright spot in the sky was an unusually large solar _____,
a stupendous explosion that belched radiation and billions of tons of matter
far into space.
4. Flaunt or Flout The first priority of the
commission should be to identify restaurant owners who knowingly _____ public-health
5. Hardy or Hearty"_____ laughter is a good way to jog internally without
having to go outdoors." (Norman Cousins)
6. Leach or LeechBatteries are difficult to dispose of and contain harmful
heavy-metal compounds that may ______
into the soil.
7. Liable or
you shoot me, you're _____ to lose a lot of those humanitarian awards."
(Chevy Chase in Fletch)
8. Prescribed or Proscribed The Canadian government added the Somali al-Shabaab
group to its list of _____ terror groups.
or Prostrate "Miss
Everglot, what are you doing here? You should be at home, _____ with
grief." (Pastor Galswells in Corpse Bride)
10. Restive or
Restless "My _____,
roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very long." (Buffalo
NEXT THURSDAY IS DECEMBER’S CRITIQUE WINNER.
1. affect (Affect
is usually a verb meaning "to influence." Effect is usually a
noun meaning "result." When used as a verb, effect means
2. climactic (The
adjective climactic corresponds to the noun climax, as in "a climactic scene." The adjective climatic
corresponds to the noun climate, as
3. flare (As
a noun, flare means a fire or a blazing light. As a verb, it means to burn with an unsteady
flame or shine with a sudden light. Violence, troubles, tempers, and nostrils
can flare. Flair means a talent or a
distinctive quality or style.)
4. flout (To flout
means "to defy" or "to show contempt for." To flaunt
means "to show off.")
5. hearty (The
adjective hearty, related
to heart, means showing warm and heartfelt affection or providing
abundant nourishment. The adjective hardy, related to hard, means daring, courageous, and capable
of surviving difficult conditions.)
6. leach (The
verb leach means to empty, drain, or remove. The noun leech
refers to a bloodsucking worm or to a person who preys on or clings to another.
As a verb, leech means to bleed with leeches or to act as a parasite.)
7. liable (The
adjective liable [a three-syllable word] means subject to, obligated to,
or responsible for something. The noun or verb libel [a two-syllable
word] refers to a false publication that damages a person's reputation.)
8. proscribed (Proscribe
means to ban, forbid, or condemn. Prescribe means to establish,
direct, or lay down as a rule.)
9. prostrate (As an
adjective, prostrate means lying flat on the ground or reduced to
extreme weakness. The verb prostrate means to put oneself into a
submissive position. As both a noun and an adjective, prostate refers to
a male gland.)
10. restless (The
adjective restive means difficult to control or impatient in the face of
restraint or authority. The adjective restless means unable to rest,
relax, or remain still. Unlike restive, restless is not
associated with external restraint.)
YOU DO ON THESE? SEVERAL ARE COMMON ERRORS.