Wednesday, August 3, 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) adult fiction entry:

Ben Novak stared numbly at the unopened bottle of scotch sitting on his table. He wasn't going to buy another bottle. He had promised himself. But his pain was stronger than he was.

He could forget the pain of that night while he was at work, but once he walked into his home, empty and silent, he was haunted and tortured by grief and guilt. His eyes were stinging with tears and the bottle became blurry.He cursed under his breath as he grabbed the scotch in one swift move. He turned on his heel, marched into the living room and flopped down onto the couch. No glass needed.

*****
My thoughts are in red:

Ben Novak stared numbly at the unopened bottle of scotch sitting on his table. This is an intriguing opening! I want to get rid of that no-no adverb (numbly) but I also want to keep it. He wasn't going to buy another bottle. He had promised himself. These two sentences could be combined. But his pain was stronger than he was. I like this line!

He could forget the pain (you use the word pain twice in close proximity so I'd change this one, same with "bottle" in first two sentences) of that night while he was at work, but once he walked into his home, empty and silent, he was haunted and tortured by grief and guilt. This is nice, I 'd just tighten up the sentence. His eyes were stinging with tears and the bottle became blurry. Watch for more passive words, "were" and "became". This sentence would be stronger if you removed them.

He cursed under his breath as he grabbed the scotch in one swift move. He turned on his heel, marched into the living room and flopped down onto the couch. No glass needed. I love this! I'd just remove one of the beginning "he's", you've got a lot of them in here.

*******

My rewrite:

Ben Novak stared numbly at the unopened scotch sitting on his table. He had promised himself he wouldn't buy another bottle. But his pain was stronger than he was.

He could forget the grief of that night while at work, but once he walked into his empty and silent home, he was tormented by the guilt. Ben's eyes stung with tears, the bottle blurring.

Cursing under his breath, Ben grabbed the scotch in one swift move. He marched into the living room and flopped down onto the couch. No glass needed.

******

Stina's thoughts are in blue:

I liked this start because we sense he’s battling grief and guilt (okay, we’re told that), but we have no idea why. I want to keep reading to find out what happened to leave him needing to deal with the pain by getting drunk.

The writer didn’t use many details to describe the setting, but empty and silent spoke volumes to me. A few more can be added here to give us a better idea of where he is (e.g. kitchen table).

I do, though, want some details very soon so we get some insight as to who he lost and the happy world he once lived in. Was the place decorated with a woman’s touch? Are there pictures of the loved one? Is the place now a mess because he can’t be bothered to clean it or doesn’t have the energy to do it?


One thing to watch out for is how many times you started a sentence with the pronoun ‘he’. And watch out for passive verbs.


******

Stina's rewrite:

Ben Novak stared numbly at the unopened bottle of scotch sitting on his kitchen table. He wasn't going to buy another bottle. He had promised himself. But his pain was stronger than he was.

His eyes stung with tears and the bottle became blurry. He could forget the pain of that night while he was at work, but once he walked into his home, empty and silent, he was tortured by grief and guilt.

Cursing under his breath, he grabbed the scotch in one swift move, then marched into the living room and flopped down onto the couch. No glass needed.

****

Two different viewpoints to take or leave. Thanks for this great entry!

11 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I was dying to see what you wrote, Christina. :D

Christina Lee said...

I think we're pretty similar, right?

Matthew MacNish said...

I like the idea of this, and not just because I love Scotch, but because drowning one's sorrows in booze is just a great way to open a story. To set a scene.

But I think the execution needs a little work. I don't necessarily have a problem with a novel opening with a bit of exposition or introspection, I mean I do it myself, but for me this reads just a little too vague. You don't necessarily have to launch into a bunch of backstory or anything, but if you're not going to tell us why, you need to to ground us more in where and when.

A little more action, perhaps twisting the label open, or some details about the bottle, and a little more description of the setting would be great.

Unless this moves into some action or some dialogue very soon, I would prefer to know more about where exactly we are. So far we just have a couch and a kitchen table that could be, essentially, anywhere.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Yes, you guys had a similar take on the opening! Great minds think alike! :D

I thought this sentence contained a little too much telling: "He could forget the pain of that night while he was at work, but once he walked into his home, empty and silent, he was haunted and tortured by grief and guilt." I wondered if the author could describe Ben's actions, expressions, or reactions in such a way that we could see the pain and grief ourselves. Alternatively, I do like how Christina tightened that sentence up.

Great beginning!

Stefanie Wass said...

Loved both rewrites! I also like Stina's idea of describing the setting a bit more--maybe he sees photos that remind him of happier times. (Or of the pain that he lived with for so long) Just a few physical details will ramp up the tension, too!

storyqueen said...

Good pick up on the overuse of bottle and pain. My own editor is a stickler for such things...thus I have to change lots of words because I do this all the time!

Shelley

p.s. I love seeing both points of view from you and Stina!

Lourie said...

I want to have an editor now. :P This was awesome to see.

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Hmmm. Which revise do I choose? They were both great! Guys, I LOVE the fact you are doing this together, helping anon to strengthen their opening. Woo-hoo!

Clara said...

This is such a great idea, I absolutely loved this. Agree with your changes a bit more, Chris! : )

Christina Lee said...

Thanks guys--all of your feedback is very helpful to anon!!!!

Janet Johnson said...

It's always fun to see your two different views.

I don't have much to say, but I liked the two sentences as separate: "He wasn't going to buy another bottle. He had promised himself."

But I definitely like the changes for that last paragraph. Much better.

Best of luck with it!