Wednesday, July 27, 2011

First Words Workshop

To see how the workshop began, read THIS post: An Analysis of First Pages.

Here is this week's 50-100 word (anonymous) CHICK LIT entry:

Why couldn't I love Phillip? He smoothed out his dress jacket and walked towards me holding out a hand that I reluctantly grabbed. A light hum fell over the restaurant. The sound of elevator music made it apparent that Phillip and I were the only ones here. Wait staff buzzed around us with champagne glasses, main dishes, and candlelight that triggered something was up. Sweat formed on his forehead, the nerves in my stomach began rumbling. He stole a quick glance in my direction.

"You look beautiful tonight," Phillip said clearing his throat.

I jumped at his voice, the sound putting goose bumps along my forearm.


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My thoughts are in red:

Why couldn't I love Phillip? Hmm.. I'm not a fan of this first line. I want you to show me this instead of tell me--it would hike up the tension. He smoothed out his dress jacket and walked towards me holding out a hand that I reluctantly grabbed. A light hum fell over the restaurant. The sound of elevator music made it apparent that Phillip and I were the only ones here. I like this image of them being alone in the restaurant. It tells the reader that Phillip went through a lot of trouble to do this. But I think you could zero in on the sensory description even more. Wait staff buzzed around us with champagne glasses, main dishes, and candlelight that triggered something was up. Kind of confusing.Was she already sitting down and they came in with all of this, or was it already there? Sweat formed on his forehead, the nerves in my stomach began rumbling. Do nerves rumble? :D He stole a quick glance in my direction.

"You look beautiful tonight," Phillip said clearing his throat.

I jumped at his voice, the sound putting goose bumps along my forearm. Goose bumps makes it seem like she was glad to see him--maybe she's undecided?


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Stina's thoughts are in blue:

This is an intriguing start. But we’re almost halfway through the first page and I don’t have an emotional connection to the main character. Try weaving in some introspection so we get a better sense of her character.

Watch out for your punctuation. There needs to be a comma separating an action and a passive verb: He smoothed out his dress jacket and walked towards me, holding out a hand that I reluctantly grabbed.

Nerves don’t rumble. Stomachs rumble. Make sure your physiological processes keep true to reality. I have a background in physiology, so I notice this kind of thing. :D Are you trying to tell me she’s nervous or hungry?

Trim extra words that don’t add anything other than "wordage". For example, we know elevator music is sound without being told. This is especially important since you have sound mentioned twice in the first hundred words. Also, ‘began’ isn’t necessary here. Change it to ‘the nerves in my stomach (whatever you want them to do).’

You’ve got a good start here with sensory description, but you are focusing only on sound. Can you paint the picture further by adding the smell of food? Then the reader knows what type of restaurant it is.

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Possible re-write to consider:

Phillip fussed with his jacket as he stepped inside Giovanni's and stole a tenative glance in my direction. A hum had fallen over the restaurant, and paired with the dimmed lights, it was apparent that we were alone. He bounded toward me with his outstretched hand and I hesitated for a split second before grabbing it.

Phillip cleared his throat, "You look beautiful tonight."

I jumped at the sound of his voice, my stomach seizing.

All at once, wait staff buzzed around us holding champagne glasses, appetizers, and lit candles.

Something was definitely up.


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Two different views to take or leave. Thank you for the entry!

Readers, feel free to give your two cents, if you want!

13 comments:

Jen Daiker said...

Well I must say I always learn something when I stop in here! This was very helpful.

I must say this sounds like one awesome story ;)

Sarah said...

Great feedback! I noticed the punctuation issues as well--needing a comma to delineate the participial phrases ("clearing his throat", "holding out his hand"). It's essential to making the meaning of the sentence clear. I think, overall, this needs a careful, literal read through (for instance, were the wait staff really buzzing around them with candlelight?). However, I've got to say, I actually liked the first sentence, and I really got a sense of the awkwardness of the moment! Wiht some rearranging and crafting, this will really shine!

Gina said...

One small nitpick- there is no 's' at the end of toward. It's a common mistake.

I agree with Christina that the goosebumps seem out of place if she's not in love with him. Is she in lust, then? It needs to be clearer. But I like the setup and the tension.

Stefanie Wass said...

I've been reading about physical cliches lately: stomachs grumbling, goosebumps rising, eyes rolling. As writers, we all have to work hard to show, not tell, but in doing so, avoid overused physical descriptions to portray emotions.
This is hard to do, but something that will elevate our writing to the next level.

Christina Lee said...

I knew someone would like that first line! And that's good because it shows that you can get many points of view on revisions and the writer should choose what resonates with THEM.

Stef-- yep, Mary Kole had a good post about that (more interiority and less physical cliches). Having said that, I don't think it's necessary (or even possible) to get rid of all of them. But searching for more unique ones to use helps too!

Maddy said...

When you're reading, one never realizes all the work that goes into paying the picture in our heads. Very cool! As a non-writer, it's great to see your process! It's a lot of work!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

The main thing with physical reactions is to make sure they're physiologically true. And don't overload your text with them. That was also one of Mary's point. Less really is more.

Of course this is subjective. I know one reader who cringes at what she considers to be too much interiority (the amount that Mary would be happy with).

Janet Johnson said...

Great comments. I like how you guys broke up the text in the possible re-write.

The missing commas caused me to stutter a bit on the reading, too. And I felt like I understood Philip better than the MC. More interiority would definitely help. But I do love the set-up . . . discovering your alone in a swanky restaurant with a man you don't love. Makes my stomach drop, too!

Best of luck with it. :)

blueviolet said...

I actually really like her redo. It grabbed me.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Personally, I really liked the first line. It's not something I see often, a 'why can't I love...' - I find it quite interesting. :)

Devin Bond said...

Ah, this is really cool. The redo was pretty cool. The comments on it were good too.

Theresa Milstein said...

I like the rewrite. It takes all the essential ideas and boils them down to necessities to make mood.

Short story writing has helped me. With a word-count ending looming, it's amazing how creative I can get with saying a lot with a little. And if I can't, my beta readers point it out!

Rumbling nerves didn't work for me either and I'd like to know more about the MC. But I was interested in what would happen next.

Michelle Fayard said...

I love how you offer two sets of comments, as it not only provides more input but let's us look for trends and differing opinions.

I’m delighted to be a new follower and have left a response to your comment on Bird’s-eye View at http://michellefayard.blogspot.com/2011/07/getting-blog-comments-to-work-for-you.html.