Wednesday, April 16, 2014

First 250 Words Smash! #47

Most Wonderful Author: Darcy Addams @ Tumblr
Most Evil Critique Master: Rebecca
Working Title: Purple Violets

The money's all they need, the guys on the door know them. Arthur had picked the place out a few years ago, solely for the fact they gave you a wrist band instead of 'one of those horrible tramp stamps'. The muffled base of the music flared out as they entered the building, the noise instantly clamped down on their ears. Bodies milled, sliding past each other, detailed silhouettes in the dim lighting. Coloured lights threw tints over the walls, faces flashed green for a split second, black lace glowed crimson.

“Do you think Mike's got the base amped up more than usual?” Arthur whispered half jokingly as they pushed their way passed a group of girls, cyber dreads laced into their hair. He called it a whisper, but really it was a stage whisper shouted over the music thudding into their bones. Pierre shrugged, personally he liked the way the base reverberated through the floorboards, filling the room. Like a defibrillator, it jolted his heart in to wake-up mode.

“You're going to boil in that,” Arthur tugged at the cuff of his friends velvet jacket.

“We'll see, it'll be worth it on the walk home.”

Arthur himself was braving the cold in a dress shirt and black waistcoat with straps buckled across the chest.

“You'll just have to be the epitome of chivalry and lend it to me when we get outside.” He patted the taller male on the shoulder, smiling in mock sweetness.

Strong Points –
This intro creates a really strong sense of setting from a variety of different senses. I almost feel as overwhelmed as the characters by the lights and sounds. Some lines that I really liked include:

Coloured lights threw tints over the walls, faces flashed green for a split second, black lace glowed crimson.

Like a defibrillator, it jolted his heart in to wake-up mode.

There are some really strong verb choices that keep the description active and in the moment so we don't feel overburdened right at the beginning. My favorite might be the "sliding" bodies, which gives us a bonus to really feeling the sweaty crowd and the fluidity of their dancing all in one go!

You also have some great, specific choices for nouns, like cyber dreads (which after a quick google search I did find out are a real thing and not just fiberoptic connections you can braid in your hair that light up and connect to your favorite social networking medium, but I think the term still resonates with futuristic imagery!) and velvet jackets. This isn't just any old club, but it's also never straight out said that this is a goth club--a great example of showing vs. telling!

Some Tips –
There are a few grammar issues throughout, so it might benefit from another look-over (watch the mix-up of "base" bottom with "bass" wubwubwub. A big issue that kept cropping up is the dreaded comma splice.

Comma splices often lead to run-on sentences which can create a lot of problems in the flow of a story. It might help to take a step back and make sure some of these commas aren't used to link two separate sentences by accident. If both phrases around a comma can stand by themselves, they can either be broken up with a period, or connected with some sort of conjunction (and, but, although, when, etc.). For instance, let's look at the first sentence:

The money's all they need, the guys on the door know them.

For this sentence, it seems like there could be a connecting link between those two ideas:

The money's all they need, because the guys on the door know them. (So they don't need to show their ids.)
The money's all they need, but the guys on the door know them. (So they let them in for free.)
The money's all they need, and the guys on the door know them. (What more reasons do you need to go?)
The money's all they need when the guys on the door know them. (But not when it's that other guy who's always forgetting their faces, God, I hate that guy, rude.)

At other times though, don't be afraid to break up longer sentences and change up the rhythm for that extra special emphasis punch!

For instance, the comma splices also happen in my favorite line about the "coloured lights" and "black lace." It could be argued that the comma splices are left here intentionally to  give the reader that same pulsing feeling as the strobe lights, but because the comma splice is a recurring problem, my faith is shattered just enough that I see a grammar mistake rather than a stylistic choice. However, this sentence could also be broken up. Compare these two options:

"Coloured lights threw tints over the walls. Faces flashed green for a split second, and/then black lace glowed crimson."

"Coloured lights threw tints over the walls, and faces flashed green for a split second. Black lace glowed crimson."

To me the first sentence seems to be zooming in from a larger picture (perhaps could benefit from replacing "Walls" with "The crowd" or "The dance floor" so it stays connected to the people, like our other nouns, faces and lace?) to two close-ups. Using "then" rather than "and" also makes it very sequential—first one flash of color, then the next.

The second option feels like the last sentence is adding more force to the same point made by the first two, but with just a little more intimacy. Especially with the emphasis on that black lace, now at the beginning of its own sentence. Rrrow.

And those aren't the only two options available! Read it aloud. See what flows—and what doesn't! It doesn't matter ultimately which way you choose (even if it breaks grammar rules, although I recommend doing so on a limited basis) so long as it is a CHOICE. There are other great discussions of flow in critiques 44 and 41.

While this scene is told in 3rd person perspective, I can see some character voice coming through in the narration, which is great! However, there were a few instances when it didn't seem so seamlessly integrated, and it confused me instead.

First, the "tramp stamps" line threw me off since I think of tramp stamps occurring on only one body part—and it's not the back of a wrist. For a second I took it literally and thought this was a gang requiring secret tattoos before you could join! Common sense eventually intervened, but I think part of what was tripping me up is that this detail is sprung before we even get a real sense of the characters or setting yet, and it leaves a lot up to inference. First they are an ambiguous "they," then we are hardly introduced to Arthur before we are hearing him quoted about his preferred method of club entry. I think it would help to be a little more obvious and tack on an "as Arthur called them" or some other phrasing to make it extra clear. Then the reader should be safely correct in their assumptions.

Meanwhile in paragraph 2, I got stuck on the pronoun confusion over who is calling Arthur's speech a whisper. Is this Arthur himself reading his dialogue tags out loud? Or Pierre (who I assume to be our limited-pov character) calling it a stage whisper in his own narration?

I really like the image of someone trying to speak over the din of loud music and their yells coming across as a whisper to the person right next to them. But to me, it seemed like there was too much emphasis on terminology, and then in the middle of it all, there's that blurb of description about the cyber dread girls. It creates this disjointed gap in the narration that breaks up the flow.

But why worry about the dialogue tag and who's calling it what? Skip all that and get straight to the description of Arthur's voice. I think it would be easier to just tell us exactly how loud it is in comparison to the noise in the room, and then have the description move on to the cyber dreads. When in doubt, simplify! And that should help the flow of that entire line, so the reader doesn't have time to drift away from that description only to be whipped back for more. (For extra help on dialogue tags, they have been covered very well in past Word Smashs 37 and 42!)

And when writing descriptions, in addition to getting pretty words down on the page, it's important to make sure those words all make sense together. Let's take a look at this line:

The muffled base of the music flared out as they entered the building, the noise instantly clamped down on their ears.

The flaring of the music is great about capturing that feeling of opening up when entering a new, big space. But then immediately, that idea is contradicted by the noise "clamping down," which gives a sense of something closing violently. Rather than expanding on the idea of the noise in an open space, the rest of the description leaves the reader feeling more confused than anything. But that's okay! There's some great experimentation going on here. Maybe a few different word choices will make that second sentence jive better with the first, or maybe it will be axed to let the first part shine on its own. Just like with the flow I mentioned above, some conscious decision-making that tweaks what works in the piece and cuts what doesn't work will make the whole read cohesive, clean, and beautiful!

The rest flows well from there. Too well, even. The only thing this intro is missing is a taste of the conflict these characters will face in the story. I don't have any sense from this intro yet of what that could be, other than the fact these characters have temperature regulation differences. While I highly doubt the story is going to climax over an epic battle at the thermostat, I have no idea whether this will be a supernatural thriller about two vampires who target their victims in dance clubs or whether this is a romantic comedy about dating misadventures in the goth club scene.

The story could benefit from starting closer to the first major conflict or tension. It could have something to do with the reason Pierre and Arthur are at the club in the first place. Are they hoping to accomplish some goal at the club, or see someone in particular? What makes this club night different from the typical ones they experience? Is a fire going to break out any second? Is a rival going to punch Arthur in the face? Experiment with fast-forwarding to that moment when everything begins. Even a slight change in tone with certain words or key pieces of dialogue could fuel the reader's suspense and desire to keep reading.

Because while I think this scene is set up well in terms of balancing between dialogue and description and all those juicy active verbs, what I really want is this same skill of setup around the first conflict that turns this ordinary night into a story I can't put down.

Would I Keep Reading?
Alas, no for now. Although there's a lot that I like in this scene and descriptions, I want a little more that will tell me what plot-relevant incident is going to happen at this club to change your character's lives forever! But I think you will get there. Feel free to resubmit, because when you get this right, I think I'll be hooked! <3

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