[Critique Game] Post The First Three Sentences of your Short Story

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Unimportant

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First three sentences: Everything Fell Into Black

The door closed in slow motion and the metal clanged together in a sound so final, even light stopped coming in. For hours he lay on the small cot, staring at the ceiling and trying to keep out thoughts of home: lightning bugs in the front yard, rain on the gravel drive, bacon frying in the cast iron skillet on Sunday morning. Random memories of the place he would never see again didn’t give him comfort, and he wished they would recede into faded images like the ones in an old photo album he could close and put away.
Oooh, man in prison! He may turn out to be a monster, but for this moment at least he is sympathetic, and his real/previous world comes through clearly.

I reckon he's innocent. Racial bias. Ammirite?
 

Tocotin

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First three sentences: Everything Fell Into Black

The door closed in slow motion and the metal clanged together in a sound so final, even light stopped coming in. For hours he lay on the small cot, staring at the ceiling and trying to keep out thoughts of home: lightning bugs in the front yard, rain on the gravel drive, bacon frying in the cast iron skillet on Sunday morning. Random memories of the place he would never see again didn’t give him comfort, and he wished they would recede into faded images like the ones in an old photo album he could close and put away.

This starts out quite intriguing! I really like how the thoughts of home engage so many senses: there's sound, and sight, and smell. Really evocative.
The only thing that gave me pause was "for hours", because I find it hard to believe that he knew it was literally hours, without falling asleep. Time in confinement goes slow; fifteen minutes may well feel like a hour. But that's a small thing.
I'd certainly keep reading.

:troll
 

Lakey

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First three sentences: Everything Fell Into Black

The door closed in slow motion and the metal clanged together in a sound so final, even light stopped coming in. For hours he lay on the small cot, staring at the ceiling and trying to keep out thoughts of home: lightning bugs in the front yard, rain on the gravel drive, bacon frying in the cast iron skillet on Sunday morning. Random memories of the place he would never see again didn’t give him comfort, and he wished they would recede into faded images like the ones in an old photo album he could close and put away.
I agree with the others; I like this too. Prison is interesting, so you have a hook right there. You’ve also given us a little characterization with his memories of what sounds (to me) like a modest home in the American south, or similar, and his wish to obliterate them, rather than get lost in them. So very nice work on getting character, conflict, and setting right there in your opening!

It feels a touch wordy to me, though, so I suggest going over every adjective, every adjectival and adverbial phrase, every clause, every filter, ruthlessly cut the ones that don’t add that much, that aren’t particularly evocative. If you tighten up the writing and make it crisper, your successful establishment of character, conflict, and setting can pop even more vividly. I can make some suggestions if you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, but I won’t do that unless you want me to. (I suggest this not just for your opening, but for the whole piece; if the opening is wordy probably the remainder is too.)

:e2coffee:
 
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Jo Taylor

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Oooh, man in prison! He may turn out to be a monster, but for this moment at least he is sympathetic, and his real/previous world comes through clearly.

I reckon he's innocent. Racial bias. Ammirite?
Hi Unimportant. Thanks for the comment that his real world is evident. I address his innocence, he's not guilty of what they charged him for, but far from innocent. I don't address race in this at all, leaving it to the reader to decide. Trying to only answer your question, not defend. Have a great day!
 

Jo Taylor

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This starts out quite intriguing! I really like how the thoughts of home engage so many senses: there's sound, and sight, and smell. Really evocative.
The only thing that gave me pause was "for hours", because I find it hard to believe that he knew it was literally hours, without falling asleep. Time in confinement goes slow; fifteen minutes may well feel like a hour. But that's a small thing.
I'd certainly keep reading.

:troll
Hi Tocotin - you picked out the one word I changed prior to posting! I'm not happy with it either but previously had days or weeks but that's not realistic. I like a challenge. How to convey this twilight. Proust did it but it took him about fourteen pages! Thanks so much!
 

Jo Taylor

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I agree with the others; I like this too. Prison is interesting, so you have a hook right there. You’ve also given us a little characterization with his memories of what sounds (to me) like a modest home in the American south, or similar, and his wish to obliterate them, rather than get lost in them. So very nice work on getting character, conflict, and setting right there in your opening!

It feels a touch wordy to me, though, so I suggest going over every adjective, every adjectival and adverbial phrase, every clause, every filter, ruthlessly cut the ones that don’t add that much, that aren’t particularly evocative. If you tighten up the writing and make it crisper, your successful establishment of character, conflict, and setting can pop even more vividly. I can make some suggestions if you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, but I won’t do that unless you want me to. (I suggest this not just for your opening, but for the whole piece; if the opening is wordy probably the remainder is too.)

:e2coffee:
Hi Lakey - Thank you so much for the wonderful insight. Yes, wordy. This is a piece I'm coming back to so seeing it with new eyes, and your eyes gave me this. I do know exactly what you are talking about. Will play with it. I learned to write free verse to tighten up my stories, but I have difficulty with this middle ground. Good challenge. See, even the reply is wordy. Heavens.
 

Bing Z

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First three sentences from untitled WIP:

Jane brushed the dust from her hands and answered her fourth phone call of the morning.

“Hey, Sis, if the grandmother left any vintage dresses or coats, I’d love them. Mum says she was pretty thin, so they wouldn’t fit you anyways."
Two thoughts:
a) I paused at 'Sis.' It sounded a bit artificial to me. "Grandmother" establishes they are a family, and I can hold on a bit to know their exact relationship.

b) The dialogue is long enough to insert a tag (to establish who the speaker is or the quality of that voice), and there doesn't seem to have a need to be mysterious at this point.

Other than these, I like the unusual out of the usual of the sister's speech.
 

Unimportant

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Two thoughts:
a) I paused at 'Sis.' It sounded a bit artificial to me. "Grandmother" establishes they are a family, and I can hold on a bit to know their exact relationship.

b) The dialogue is long enough to insert a tag (to establish who the speaker is or the quality of that voice), and there doesn't seem to have a need to be mysterious at this point.

Other than these, I like the unusual out of the usual of the sister's speech.
Thanks!
You're right: Sis needs to get cut.
 

Bing Z

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First three sentences: Everything Fell Into Black

The door closed in slow motion and the metal {what metal? Prison bars or what?} clanged together in a sound so final {don't understand this}, even light stopped coming in {light from where? Corridor or the sky?}. For hours he lay on the small cot {when you open with the door closing, I'd expect something in reaction to that; as written, the first two lines are disjoint.}, staring at the ceiling and trying to keep out thoughts of home: lightning bugs in the front yard, rain on the gravel drive, bacon frying in the cast iron skillet on Sunday morning. Random memories of the place he would never see again didn’t give him comfort, and he wished they would recede into faded images like the ones in an old photo album he could close and put away.
The dude's scenario seems intriguing. I might read on a bit, but I also think you need to rearrange some of the thoughts you want to deliver.

Maybe try having the dude pack (if he is leaving..starts with an action instead of the door or him lying down) and looking out of a window or whatever to the scenery that invokes a feeling or thought in him.
 

Jo Taylor

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The dude's scenario seems intriguing. I might read on a bit, but I also think you need to rearrange some of the thoughts you want to deliver.

Maybe try having the dude pack (if he is leaving..starts with an action instead of the door or him lying down) and looking out of a window or whatever to the scenery that invokes a feeling or thought in him.
Hi Bing - Thank you for the ideas and that you found it not very clear. Will be reworking with input from you all. I appreciate it.
 

VictoriaWrites

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It's a short walk down to the old high school. It's dark and cold, but that doesn't matter; even after all this time, Jenna still knows the town like the back of her hand, and a hat and heavy coat further obfuscate her features from anyone passing by.

There's a truck parked outside the school, but Jenna carefully avoids it.
 

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It's a short walk down to the old high school. It's dark and cold, but that doesn't matter; even after all this time, Jenna still knows the town like the back of her hand, and a hat and heavy coat further obfuscate her features from anyone passing by.

There's a truck parked outside the school, but Jenna carefully avoids it.
Here are my thoughts and reactions in no particular order!
  • Short walk: That makes me think the protagonist (or the narrator) is familiar with the route. Getting the sense of a small town. But this if this is characterizing the protagonist, it's pretty subtle. I wonder if there's a way to more strongly involve the protagonist in the first sentence and/or characterize them more directly?
  • Dark and cold: This is pretty spare prose. Is there perhaps a more descriptive way to convey this? Doesn't have to be flowery or anything, but I think more detail would draw the reader in more—and it's an opportunity to flesh out the setting some. I do like the general sense of foreboding you've got going on here.
  • But this doesn't matter: Okay, some characterization of the protagonist now. Doesn't care much about cold perhaps? What comes after the semi-colon should explain it! Huh, but it's not immediately clear to me how it does. Maybe the hat and heavy coat? But that comes way at the other end of the sentence.. and she's wearing it to obfuscate her features, not to ward off the dark and cold?
  • All this time: Okay, she's lived here a while maybe! Gives the opening a nice sense of scale and history.
  • Back of her hand: A widely used comparison. Something more unique to the character or setting may "pop" more here.
  • Obfuscation: She doesn't want to be seen perhaps. Is she doing something nefarious? Is someone after her?
  • The truck: Pretty spare prose again. I wonder if there could be some sensory details about the truck or where it's parked to really draw the reader in. What kind of truck?
  • Carefully avoids it: I wonder.. Why? Is there a way to phrase this that'd be more descriptive? Is she sidestepping it? Does she cross the street?
  • Overall setting: You've got some setting details, but there could be more IMO if you can squeeze them in. Is this a big city? Small town? What does the area she's walking in look/sound/smell like?
  • Overall character: I'm getting a sense of the character, but it's pretty indirect. She's skulking about and maybe heading to the high school, but I don't have a good sense of her or a particular motivation/goal.
  • Overall conflict: Again, I'm only getting an indirect sense here. Maybe someone's after her. Maybe she's doing something she's not supposed to. But I don't know for sure and can only speculate.
Hope some of this helps!
 

Bing Z

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It's a short walk down to the old high school. It's dark and cold {ambiguous pronoun}, but that doesn't matter {if it doesn't matter, why mention it?}; even after all this time, Jenna {at this point I wonder where is Jenna} still knows the town like the back of her hand, and a hat and heavy coat further obfuscate her features from anyone passing by.

There's a truck parked outside the school, but Jenna carefully avoids it.
I think you are trying to pack as much info as possible into the first 2 sentences--they read loaded. I also didn't know where Jenna was until the end of the 3rd sentence. If it were me, I would start with the 3rd sentence, establish everything from her POV and skip the non-essential for the beginning.
 

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What a great idea. Here's the opening of a story I recently finished:

It was time for Rishnal to return to the sky, First said, so we took him down before the sun's shadow crossed the valley, and laid him out on the Returning Stone. Mother of the People removed his axe and furs and leopard tooth necklace that was his three generation's gift, and placed them on the stone next to his head. Rishnal's body was thin like an old man's, though his hair had no white in it.
What if it began:
Rishnal's body was thin like an old man's, though his hair had no white in it. First said, "It is time for Rishnal to return to the sky." So we took him down....

Of course, up to you, but the line with "Rishnal's body was thin..." seems grounding in that describing a human is familiar and grounding and (up to you) but maybe quotes help with understanding First is a person's name.
Nice writing! =)
 

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OK, I'll play. This is from my new collection, currently in beta reading:

The last time Inspector Pathak had the honor of an unannounced visit from his boss, he had been asked to arrange an “encounter”—the swift, extrajudicial dispatch of a gang leader. As a consequence, he greeted Senior PI Wadekar’s entrance with less than his customary enthusiasm. Pathak leaned back, balancing his weight on the two rear legs of his chair.

I'm not a stickler for active voice or anything, but the passive first sentence is a bit too passive in this case for me and could use trimming in my opinion. I'm not sure I like the light-hearted tone for the gritty, myself, and so my (if you'll excuse it) arrangement below seems to take out about half of the buoyancy, but everyone is different with preferences in style.

Maybe something like:
"At their last meeting, Pathak's boss had asked him to arrange a swift, extrajudicial dispatch of a gang leader. As a consequence, he greeted Senior PI Wadekar with less than his customary enthusiasm. Pathak leaned back, balancing his weight on the two rear legs of his chair."

Or maybe?
Pathak leaned back, balancing his weight on the two rear legs of his chair. At their last meeting, Pathak's boss had asked him to arrange a switch extrajudicial dispatch of a gang leader. As a consequence, he greeted Senior PI Wadekar with less than his customary enthusiasm.
 

llyralen

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I'm posting this while in the throws of NaNoWriMo, so it's going to be iffy but here goes:

That winter would take the night forever. Astrid, a young girl of fifteen years, stood among the crowd in a cold silence until she saw the blood. It poured thick and bright into the large, black cauldrons until it nearly touched the brim.

I like the tone. The first sentence is too ambiguous/confusing for a first sentence. Even though I read on, I still was trying to puzzle it out, so it took me out of the story a bit.
I'd just skip the first sentence, the rest works.
 

Unimportant

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Crap, just realised I commented on a story opening that (while truly excellent) was posted years ago. D'oh!
 

Unimportant

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It's a short walk down to the old high school. It's dark and cold, but that doesn't matter; even after all this time, Jenna still knows the town like the back of her hand, and a hat and heavy coat further obfuscate her features from anyone passing by.

There's a truck parked outside the school, but Jenna carefully avoids it.
There's some good moodiness and mystery being set up here, but the second sentence seemed contradictory to me. It's cold -- so I would have thought the hat and coat were to keep her warm, but the rationale jumps the shark to hiding her features. Maybe the first clause should be about nosy small-towners lazing on street corners rather than the weather?
 

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It's a short walk down to the old high school. It's dark and cold, but that doesn't matter; even after all this time, Jenna still knows the town like the back of her hand, and a hat and heavy coat further obfuscate her features from anyone passing by.

There's a truck parked outside the school, but Jenna carefully avoids it.

I'm a mystery or thriller vibe here. Possibly horror. Something tense. The second sentence is pretty dense. I'd break it up and rather than say the cold and dark "don't matter" maybe saying something about how Jenna picked today for that reason or at least appreciated the cold because it allowed to wear a hat and coat to help hide her features (if she's a planner like that).

Also the last sentence has room for more description. Is it an old truck, a work truck, a shiny new one? And you could probably go more descriptive than carefully avoid. I think there were some good suggestions above on that. You also might consider breaking the sentence into two. If you're going for a tense atmosphere, short clipped sentence can sometimes add to that.
 

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Untitled Potential Short Story

A drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock, Old Man McAllister was only capable of producing one thing in his life - pity. Until the last week of that life when he produced nothing but absolute terror. Some folks blame the weed.
 
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mrsmig

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Untitled Potential Short Story

A drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock, Old Man McAllister was only capable of producing one thing in his life - pity. Until the last week of that life when he produced nothing but absolute terror. Some folks blame the weed.

This is hooky and very nearly worked for me. The one glitch is the statement that pity is the only thing Old Man McAllister is capable of producing. However, if he's a laughing stock, by the very definition of the term he is also capable of producing derision and possibly contempt.

I think you could leave out "laughing stock" and it would still work. Or if you like the rhythm of the list of three things, find another descriptor that doesn't come with its own baggage.
 
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Untitled Potential Short Story

A drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock, Old Man McAllister was only capable of producing one thing in his life - pity. Until the last week of that life when he produced nothing but absolute terror. Some folks blame the weed.

My reactions:
  • The "A drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock" phrasing made me think this was: 1. The set-up to a joke, and 2. Talking about three different people. So when I got to the rest of the sentence ("Old Man McAllister ..."), I kind of had to reorient. It might be clearer to switch it around: "Old Man McAllister was a drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock." or similar.
  • While I agree with mrsmig about "pity", I do like the implication of it that he was a failed farmer. Nice, dry humor.
  • "Until the last week of that life..." This is nice and punchy, but I think "Until the last week of his life" would be more expected phrasing.
  • Producing "absolute terror" is problematic, IMO. It feels like you're reaching a bit because absolute terror isn't typically a thing one "produces". I get that you're going with some rhetorical assonance with the previous sentence, so maybe just pick a different verb that works for each of farming, pity, and absolute terror?
  • Absolute terror is kind of vague. It does make me want to read on a bit to find out what it is, but something about the term also strikes me as kind of edgy in a teenager-y sort of way.
  • Blaming the weed: This struck me as kind of unexpected. I don't think of weed as ever producing terror, except perhaps in the paranoid delusions of the one consuming it. So if the absolute terror isn't real and just in the old man's head, that removes a bunch of the oomph from the previous sentence.
  • Overall: This is nice and punchy, and I like the voice. I think with some tweaks it could really pop.
 
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Psychoclown

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My reactions:
  • The "A drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock" phrasing made me think this was: 1. The set-up to a joke, and 2. Talking about three different people. So when I got to the rest of the sentence ("Old Man McAllister ..."), I kind of had to reorient. It might be clearer to switch it around: "Old Man McAllister was a drunk, a dirt farmer, and a laughing stock." or similar.
I hadn't even considered the similarity to the classic joke set up. I was trying to keep the sentence structure a little varied from the usual and felt that this version was a little punchier. But I also see what your saying with it sounding like the set up to a joke.

But then part of me almost likes that little subversion, since if I go forward with this it will be a cosmic horror piece and very much not a joke.

  • While I agree with mrsmig about "pity", I do like the implication of it that he was a failed farmer. Nice, dry humor.

Thank you for the nod to my dry attempt at humor. But yes the phrase laughing stock does contradict the notion that he could only produce pity. But laughing stock will is accurate. He is the butt monkey of the town at the start of our tale. Hmmmm. Do I change pity to contempt? That doesn't seem quite as lowly or wretched.
  • "Until the last week of that life..." This is nice and punchy, but I think "Until the last week of his life" would be more expected phrasing.
Using his would be the more expected. In fact, I think that's what I originally wrote. I think I neither to use "his" there or change the wording of the previous sentence. If I wrote "capable of producing one thing in this life" does that make the following phrasing work better?
  • Producing "absolute terror" is problematic, IMO. It feels like you're reaching a bit because absolute terror isn't typically a thing one "produces". I get that you're going with some rhetorical assonance with the previous sentence, so maybe just pick a different verb that works for each of farming, pity, and absolute terror?
I was going for exactly that. Any suggestions for something that works for all three?
  • Absolute terror is kind of vague. It does make me want to read on a bit to find out what it is, but something about the term also strikes me as kind of edgy in a teenager-y sort of way.
Yeah. I don't want to sound like a teen edge-lord.
  • Blaming the weed: This struck me as kind of unexpected. I don't think of weed as ever producing terror, except perhaps in the paranoid delusions of the one consuming it. So if the absolute terror isn't real and just in the old man's head, that removes a bunch of the oomph from the previous sentence.
The weed being referred to here isn't marijuana, but I was afraid folks would make that assumption. And I don't think that point would be cleared up anytime soon in the text to come. I was debating using the nickname "Devil's weed" to create distinction. Or I could go with the name Jimson weed.
  • Overall: This is nice and punchy, and I like the voice. I think with some tweaks it could really pop.
Thank you!
 

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I hadn't even considered the similarity to the classic joke set up. I was trying to keep the sentence structure a little varied from the usual and felt that this version was a little punchier. But I also see what your saying with it sounding like the set up to a joke.
FWIW, I think clarity is super important in the first sentence, because you're trying to orient and pull in the reader. Always room to vary sentence structure later on!
Thank you for the nod to my dry attempt at humor. But yes the phrase laughing stock does contradict the notion that he could only produce pity. But laughing stock will is accurate. He is the butt monkey of the town at the start of our tale. Hmmmm. Do I change pity to contempt? That doesn't seem quite as lowly or wretched.
Yeah, I like "pity". It might even cause the reader to start to sympathize a bit, which is one sure-fire way to make them feel close to a character. But it sounds like pity just isn't accurate as the only thing he could produce, to mrsmig's point.
Using his would be the more expected. In fact, I think that's what I originally wrote. I think I neither to use "his" there or change the wording of the previous sentence. If I wrote "capable of producing one thing in this life" does that make the following phrasing work better?
Hmm. No, I think it's actually better as you have it. I see what you're going for. Maybe it's the (intentional) repetition of "life" that's bugging me. I unfortunately don't have any great suggestions here. You could lose "in his life" in the first sentence, but then you'd be giving up the punchy connection between sentences.
I was going for exactly that. Any suggestions for something that works for all three?
Here's what I'd suggest: Come up with something more specific than absolute terror, and then try to pick a verb that fits that. Alternatively, or in addition, you can actually switch verbs mid-stream. For instance (contrived example): "... Old Man McAllister was only capable of producing one thing in his life - pity. Until the last week of that life when he also collected horrors from the deep."
The weed being referred to here isn't marijuana, but I was afraid folks would make that assumption. And I don't think that point would be cleared up anytime soon in the text to come. I was debating using the nickname "Devil's weed" to create distinction. Or I could go with the name Jimson weed.
Oh, wow, yeah. This totally reads as marijuana to me. (And I expect to a bunch of others as well.) I think that's going to be a hard expectation to fight. Even "Jimson weed" or "Devil's weed" would make me think of good ol' Mary Jane. So maybe go with something completely different. Examples: "creeping stinkweed", "the blight taking the crops", "Jimson's ivy", etc.
 
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Unimportant

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Oh, wow, yeah. This totally reads as marijuana to me. (And I expect to a bunch of others as well.) I think that's going to be a hard expectation to fight. Even "Jimson weed" or "Devil's weed" would make me think of good ol' Mary Jane. So maybe go with something completely different. Examples: "creeping stinkweed", "the blight taking the crops", "Jimson's ivy", etc.
I assumed marijuana as well. I'd suggest going with the correct name of whatever plant features in this story.
 
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