Wednesday, November 2, 2011

First Words Workshop: The Burning Birthmark

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

Here is this week's 100 word (anonymous) Paranormal YA entry:

I walked out of the bathroom and froze at the sound of a metal click by my temple. My legs and knees shook as the robber held his gun to my head. He yelled something at the cashier but all I could hear was my heartbeat throbbing in my ears. For whatever reason, I glanced at the new guy I just met, Caleb. His messy but perfect hair almost fell into his green eyes. I did too when we first met ten minutes ago. Something about him was familiar but I was sure I didn’t know him. He was from England after-all.


The birthmark on my hand had been burning since Caleb said hello. His green eyes looked like he was planning something, but I had no clue what.        

I could smell the gunman; a mix of sweat and crazy all together. My heart hammered when he looked at me.

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My comments are in red:

I walked out of the bathroom and froze at the sound of a metal click by my temple. Whoa, right into the action! I almost want to change the order of this sentence to have the click come first. My legs and knees shook (just one or the other and let's find a stronger verb) as the robber held his gun to my head. He yelled something at the cashier but all I could hear was my heartbeat throbbing in my ears. For whatever reason, I glanced at the new guy I just met, Caleb. His messy but perfect hair almost fell into his green eyes. I did too when we first met ten minutes ago. Something about him was familiar but I was sure I didn’t know him. He was from England after-all. Not sure if all of these thoughts should come into play here while a gun is to her head. Maybe we should set these two characters up first and then have the robbery happen.


The birthmark on my hand had been burning since Caleb said hello. Intriguing! His green eyes looked like he was planning something, but I had no clue what.  What about his green eyes made her think this?   
   
I could smell the gunman; a mix of sweat and crazy all together. NICE! My heart hammered when he looked at me. You already have her heart throbbing above so let's change this up. And since I've been able to read further ahead in this story, there are some details I'll add in, below.

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STINA'S comments are in blue:

An intriguing start. Good job showing the main character’s visceral reaction (legs and knees shook) right after showing the reader the stimulus (metal click by the temple).

My problem with this opening is there’s too much going on. Plus, you’re starting with action before the reader becomes emotionally attached to the protagonist. I don’t care enough about her to worry about the gun being held to her head. And I don’t know about you, but if someone is holding a gun to my head, I’m not going to be thinking about how I fell for the stranger with green eyes ten minutes ago. I’m going to be freaking out. Agents might not like this kind of start. It’s like waking up to find a stranger in your room late at night, and immediately thinking how hot he is. You need to make it more believable.

You might not be starting in the right place. You want suspense, but you’ll create more if you hold off on the big action until a little later in the chapter. Maybe have the main character notice the “bad” guy when he first enters the store, but paint the picture in the reader’s mind that he’s up to no good. The reader will keep reading to find out what the guy has planned, and hopefully by the time the gun comes out, the reader is ready to cheer for your main character.

I did like this line: I could smell the gunman; a mix of sweat and crazy all together. That gave an image I could cling to.

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Possible Rewrite (based on both sets of comments):


When I stepped out of the convenience store bathroom, the panic I saw in Caleb's face bolted my feet to the floor. I'd just been introduced to him ten minutes earlier by my childhood friend, Ame, but nothing could mistake how his wide green eyes darted all around around my face.


 The sound of a click by my temple almost made my heart crash out of my chest. And when the robber jammed the cold metal to my head, my knees nearly buckled beneath me. He yelled something at the cashier but I couldn't hear it above the thundering in my ears.  


The birthmark on my hand still throbbed like it did upon meeting Caleb, but it was nothing compared to the burning in my throat. I wanted to yell out to Caleb, but the slight tilt of his head toward the door made me think he was planning something. So I kept my mouth shut.
        
I could smell the gunman--sweat and crazy all mixed together. And when he looked at me, I wished with all of my being that I hadn't returned to this stinking, good-for-nothing town.

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


Do you want YOUR first 100 words work-shopped? Email me!

13 comments:

Misha said...

Another thing that I picked up was the fact that there's a lot of telling going on, that isn't helping to suck me into the story.

I think this author could probably still start with the "click", if he/she ramped up the showing a little.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I forgot this post was for today. I can't believe I forgot we were discussing it only yesterday.

Stefanie Wass said...

Love the "sweat and crazy all mixed together".

Careful not to repeat "green eyes". Is this detail important to the story?

Great rewrite,Christina and Stina!
I learn so much from these posts.

Slamdunk said...

Excellent Christina and Stina. I appreciate you all hammering selecting the best verb--I tend to be lazy and repetitely use just a handful.

Christina Lee said...

Stina, it happens. You know, as you get older (heh heh)! :-))

Matthew MacNish said...

I really like the way this starts, and I wouldn't disagree with any of C or S's comments, but I just want to add one point.

I've never actually had a gun pointed at my temple, but I have had a gun pointed at me, and unless this character is pretty much unlike every person who has ever lived, she is going to be frozen to the spot, with all her awareness micro-focused on the fact that she could die at any moment.

Also, a click and the touch of metal against your temple is not going to automatically say gun to most people, you may need the robber to say something to her.

Another thing I'm wondering about the logistics of this whole situation is whether there are other robbers, and if not, why is she the one who needs to be held at gunpoint? What about the clerk? What about the guy?

Otherwise I really like the concept of this opening.

Belly B said...

I especially loved "a mix of sweat and crazy all together." Very imaginative.

Belly B :)

Lourie said...

Yes, I agree with Stina...who is this person that is being held at gun point? Monday on Castle, the show started with a bank robbery and a gun to Castle's head before the first commercial. It was awful because we know and love Castle. The story has great potential though.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

My first thought, when the protagonist came out of the bathroom and had a gun pointed at her(?) head was that she was at home and this was an intruder. Then, at the mention of the cashier, I realized it was probably a convenience store so that should probably be mentioned at the beginning. But I wondered if the protagonist worked at the store -- because why else would the gun be pointed at HER head rather than the cashier? Is she the manager? Is she a random hostage?

When the protagonist's attention switched to the hot guy with the green eyes she'd met earlier, I'm afraid you lost me. It was a "Come on!" moment. You don't think about hot guys when you have a gun pointed at your head.

I do like the suggestion that she sees Caleb across the room and recognizes that he's planning something. She ought to be even more terrified, wondering if his heroics are going to get her shot.

I think it's the wrong time to give any backstory on Caleb. And if we need this backstory to understand what's going to happen next, I'll have to agree with some of the other people who said you might be starting at the wrong spot. If it's important for the birthmark to be burning, then maybe that should come first.

Maybe it's the reason she goes into the restroom, to see what's wrong with it.

Christina Lee said...

Wow, lots of good thoughts!

MG Higgins said...

Really intriguing opening! What immediately crossed my mind was assuming he's a robber. He could be a crazed employee, a rapist, a kidnapper, etc. IOW, she can't know his intentions until he makes them known.

I love the third option! Immediately pulled me in. And by saying "gunman," there's no assumption he's a robber. But I would delete "all together" since it's redundant with "a mix." And I think simply "a mix of sweat and crazy" is more crisp and powerful.

Christina Lee said...

MG, good suggestion about "A mix of sweat and crazy"!

Beth said...

This is great advice. It's really helpful to see your suggestions and see how it has strengthened the story.