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

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ap123

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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.
I like this, and I would read on (once you clean up that first sentence, bc it does read like "A priest, a rabbi, and a monkey..."), which is all you need those first three sentences to do. Hook. I might switch laughing stock to failure, but that's personal taste. My first assumption is that weed refers to marijuana, that it doesn't is fine. I don't need or want the first three sentences to tell me the whole story, only that this is a voice I can settle into for 1 or 2 or 5000 words, and that there is, in fact, a story.
 
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First three sentences for your consideration. Note that this is from a YA story. (I've already applied some suggested edits to this and have posted the revised version in a separate message below.)

The study circle had descended into chaos, and it was completely unacceptable. First off, with the unce-unce and manic laughter bleeding into the living room, I could barely think—much less copy my pilfered lab notes. Second, labs were due fricking tomorrow, all these rich kids blowing off steam after class clearly indifferent to passing Chemistry or ever getting a big-girl paycheck.
 
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mrsmig

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First three sentences for your consideration. Note that this is from a YA story.
If you put your excerpt in a quote box, it won't transfer when a critter hits Reply, forcing them to cut and paste, as I did below. Just set it off with a couple of blank lines, and you'll be fine.

The study circle had descended into chaos, and it was completely unacceptable. First off, with the unce-unce and manic laughter bleeding into the living room, I could barely think—much less copy my pilfered lab notes. Second, labs were due fricking tomorrow, all these rich kids blowing off steam after class clearly indifferent to passing Chemistry or ever getting a big-girl paycheck.

I wasn't crazy about the first line. It's telly, and not only that, you show exactly what you told in the following two lines, and far more effectively. Your third line reads as a run-on; not even a semicolon after "tomorrow" would make these two independent clauses connect. (You didn't, perhaps, force your fourth sentence into your third in order to abide by the rules, did you? 😇 )

The somewhat clunky construction aside, I enjoyed the voice, which gives a strong sense of the narrator's frustration and anxiety. If you cleaned up the extraneous stuff, I'd probably read on.
 
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If you put your excerpt in a quote box, it won't transfer when a critter hits Reply, forcing them to cut and paste, as I did below. Just set it off with a couple of blank lines, and you'll be fine.
Fixed!
I wasn't crazy about the first line. It's telly, and not only that, you show exactly what you told in the following two lines, and far more effectively.
Interesting! Cut it outright.
Your third line reads as a run-on; not even a semicolon after "tomorrow" would make these two independent clauses connect. (You didn't, perhaps, force your fourth sentence into your third in order to abide by the rules, did you? 😇 )
Sort of yes and sort of no. I had previously had those combined for voice purposes, and then I grudgingly split them apart because of grammar, and then when I saw the three sentence limit here, I took that as an excuse to smash them back together the way I liked, grammar be damned. But I totally take your point here. Will keep them together and cash in some of my em dash allotment...
The somewhat clunky construction aside, I enjoyed the voice, which gives a strong sense of the narrator's frustration and anxiety. If you cleaned up the extraneous stuff, I'd probably read on.
Thank you! I really appreciate the feedback. All incorporated now.
 
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mrsmig

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Fixed!

Interesting! Cut it outright.

Sort of yes and sort of no. I had previously had those combined for voice purposes, and then I grudgingly split them apart because of grammar, and then when I saw the three sentence limit here, I took that as an excuse to smash them back together the way I liked, grammar be damned. But I totally take your point here. Will keep them together and cash in some of my em dash allotment...

Thank you! I really appreciate the feedback. All incorporated now.
By the way, please don't go back and alter your original post. It makes things confusing for other people reading the thread. If you want to put up an edited version, you're welcome to do so, but just make a new post rather than change the old one.
 
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By the way, please don't go back and alter your original post. It makes things confusing for other people reading the thread. If you want to put up an edited version, you're welcome to do so, but just make a new post rather than change the old one.

Oops, okay! I'll will go back and un-edit it and then re-post the edited version. Thanks for your patience with me.
 

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Revised version of my opening sentences:

With the unce-unce and manic laughter bleeding into the living room, I could barely think, much less copy my pilfered notes. Labs were due fricking tomorrow—all these rich kids blowing off steam after class clearly indifferent to passing Chemistry or ever getting a big-girl paycheck. But to be honest, had I known then I was about to find myself dead in a dumpster, I might've been in less of a hurry to leave.
 

Bing Z

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Revised version of my opening sentences:

With the unce-unce and manic laughter bleeding into the living room, I could barely think, much less copy my pilfered notes. Labs were due fricking tomorrow—all these rich kids blowing off steam after class clearly indifferent to passing Chemistry or ever getting a big-girl paycheck. But to be honest, had I known then I was about to find myself dead in a dumpster, I might've been in less of a hurry to leave.
Critical issue: Not sure if the 'dead in a dumpster' is just sarcasm; if not, it contradicts the first sentence. Because of that, I'm confused. If the MC is truly going to end up in a dumpster, I would like to see either: the story starts at the dumpster, OR, do not forebode right away (otherwise I will skip everything until the time she is sent there), but show us how she gets there.

Nitpicks:
a) if the notes are pilfered, why the need to copy? And what does copying notes have to do with lab?
b) the Chemistry sentence has grammatical problem and I cannot understand the whole thing.
 
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Critical issue: Not sure if the 'dead in a dumpster' is just sarcasm; if not, it contradicts the first sentence. Because of that, I'm confused. If the MC is truly going to end up in a dumpster, I would like to see either: the story starts at the dumpster, OR, do not forebode right away (otherwise I will skip everything until the time she is sent there), but show us how she gets there.
Thanks so much for your critique, Bing Z! Could you say a little more about how "dead in a dumpster" (not sarcasm, BTW) contradicts the first sentence? Is it just that one wouldn't (presumably) be thinking if dead? My intent with the final sentence was: 1. An attempt to hook the reader, and 2. Maybe a little genre signalling—letting the reader know that this is not a garden variety slice of life YA novel. Sounds like that may not be landing as intended though? (Previous drafts started directly at the dumpster, but I changed that so as to first establish the characters and setting a bit before jumping right into the inciting incident.)
Nitpicks:
a) if the notes are pilfered, why the need to copy?
Answer in subsequent paragraphs of the manuscript...
And what does copying notes have to do with lab?
These are lab notes. I hoped that connection was clear even without repeating the word "lab." Guess I'll have to work on that!
b) the Chemistry sentence has grammatical problem and I cannot understand the whole thing.
I suppose adding "were" before "clearly" would help? Maybe a little less punchy that way but more grammatically correct. Also I suppose I could strike the "Labs were due fricking tomorrow" phrase entirely or merge it into the first sentence.
 
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Revised version of my opening sentences:

With the unce-unce and manic laughter bleeding into the living room, I could barely think, much less copy my pilfered notes. Labs were due fricking tomorrow—all these rich kids blowing off steam after class clearly indifferent to passing Chemistry or ever getting a big-girl paycheck. But to be honest, had I known then I was about to find myself dead in a dumpster, I might've been in less of a hurry to leave.
There is a lot of good here: a poor kid trying to study while the rich kids study, and moreover a poor kid who's about to get murdered. And well done on the 'big girl paycheck' to signal the MC's gender.

Caveats:
1. unce-unce -- I am guessing that is supposed to portray a sound, similar to "the bang-bang of a hammer" or "the splish-splash of a toddler playing in a puddle" or "the blurble-blurble-argh of a drowning person", but honestly I have no clue what the sound is supposed to portray. Or how to pronounce it (untz? un-say?)
2. bleeding into the living room -- bleeding implies a trickle, a leaking. An annoying background sound. I think if you want it to imply that the sound is deafening, you'll need a different verb. Flooding, hemorrhaging, hammering.....
3. bleeding into the living room -- if she's in the living room, where is this big party happening? I would expect the party to be in the kitchen and living room, and she'd be.... in a back room somewhere? Toilet? Closet? Back garden? And whose house is it anyhow?
4. Agree that sentence 2 reads a bit awkwardly. I'd break it up into two.
5. had I known then I was about to find myself dead in a dumpster -- this is a double edged sword. It's the equivalent of flinging a grenade: it sure as heck gets the reader's attention and signals where the story might be going, but it also can seem a bit gimmicky and delete the suspense in the upcoming scenes since the reader knows what's gonna happen.


 
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There is a lot of good here: a poor kid trying to study while the rich kids study, and moreover a poor kid who's about to get murdered. And well done on the 'big girl paycheck' to signal the MC's gender.
Thank you for all the point-by-point feedback!
Caveats:
1. unce-unce -- I am guessing that is supposed to portray a sound, similar to "the bang-bang of a hammer" or "the splish-splash of a toddler playing in a puddle" or "the blurble-blurble-argh of a drowning person", but honestly I have no clue what the sound is supposed to portray. Or how to pronounce it (untz? un-say?)
It may be too niche/dated of a term: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Unce
2. bleeding into the living room -- bleeding implies a trickle, a leaking. An annoying background sound. I think if you want it to imply that the sound is deafening, you'll need a different verb. Flooding, hemorrhaging, hammering.....
Wasn't necessarily thinking it was deafening, just super annoying. But you have interesting alternate verbs here! Will have to think on this.
3. bleeding into the living room -- if she's in the living room, where is this big party happening? I would expect the party to be in the kitchen and living room, and she'd be.... in a back room somewhere? Toilet? Closet? Back garden? And whose house is it anyhow?
Excellent point. Was kind of just skating by hoping that'd go unnoticed. So, good eye!
4. Agree that sentence 2 reads a bit awkwardly. I'd break it up into two.
Will do! (Maybe move the "due" fragment to merge into the first sentence.)
5. had I known then I was about to find myself dead in a dumpster -- this is a double edged sword. It's the equivalent of flinging a grenade: it sure as heck gets the reader's attention and signals where the story might be going, but it also can seem a bit gimmicky and delete the suspense in the upcoming scenes since the reader knows what's gonna happen.
Yeah, I agree on all counts. The thing I was struggling with is that the first chapter is laying some groundwork, and yet I feel I need to gimmick the reader into reading on. (One might argue if the groundwork is that boring, it needs to be cut... Personally I think the groundwork isn't boring at all; it's just less exciting at first blush than a dead body.) Also: I think the reader won't know exactly what's gonna happen based on this massive reveal grenade, even if they think they know what's gonna happen. That's my hope anyway.

Thanks again!
 

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It may be too niche/dated of a term: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Unce

The thing I was struggling with is that the first chapter is laying some groundwork, and yet I feel I need to gimmick the reader into reading on. (One might argue if the groundwork is that boring, it needs to be cut... Personally I think the groundwork isn't boring at all; it's just less exciting at first blush than a dead body.) Also: I think the reader won't know exactly what's gonna happen based on this massive reveal grenade, even if they think they know what's gonna happen. That's my hope anyway.
Oh. I think it's not the term that's dated, but me. 2003 was waaaaaaay after my clubbing days!

You need to grab the reader within the first few paragraphs with something. Anything. An unusual voice; a cool setting; an interesting character; a funny phrase. I reckon you've got that with the poor kid/rich kids empathy grab. The first scene needs a bit more, needs to continue to engage the reader. You can do it with the promise of a dead body, but there are other more subtle ways. Grenades are not a must.

However, if you can set up the reader's expectations that she'll get killed and then come back to life (as a vampire, ghost-y thingie, demon, zombie, whatever) and will either exact revenge or become a vigilante to save other kids from the same fate, as is common with this trope, and then do something completely different (dunno, maybe she becomes a sentient dumpster?), by all means proceed!
 
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Bing Z

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Thanks so much for your critique, Bing Z! Could you say a little more about how "dead in a dumpster" (not sarcasm, BTW) contradicts the first sentence? Is it just that one wouldn't (presumably) be thinking if dead? My intent with the final sentence was: 1. An attempt to hook the reader, and 2. Maybe a little genre signalling—letting the reader know that this is not a garden variety slice of life YA novel. Sounds like that may not be landing as intended though? (Previous drafts started directly at the dumpster, but I changed that so as to first establish the characters and setting a bit before jumping right into the inciting incident.)
Right. In the first sentence the MC is living a typical schoolgirl life. In the third, she's about to die in a dumpster. They point to very different events. You may want to pin a single theme/tone right at the start.

IMO, the effectiveness of a bombshell foreboding is overstated. It often works in an excerpt, but when your story is out (depending on outlet), readers usually read the blurb before reading the story. So what you really need is to portray the characters and the setting effectively and efficiently (ie don't make your readers wait too long for the dumpster event or they may think you've cheated.)
 
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Right. In the first sentence the MC is living a typical schoolgirl life. In the third, she's about to die in a dumpster. They point to very different events. You may want to pin a single theme/tone right at the start.
I was hoping that the discordant note made the reader really sit up and take notice. Like, thinking to themself: Woah. This is ... unusual. But I totally see what you're saying about tone. It's a thin line to walk, and I may be falling off it...
IMO, the effectiveness of a bombshell foreboding is overstated. It often works in an excerpt, but when your story is out (depending on outlet), readers usually read the blurb before reading the story. So what you really need is to portray the characters and the setting effectively and efficiently (ie don't make your readers wait too long for the dumpster event or they may think you've cheated.)
Yup, understood. FWIW, the wait is around 2k words. So not too long, hopefully! Anyway, I appreciate your feedback. I'll try to weigh whether the foreboding is worth it here. (I imagine that will ultimately be for critique readers of the first chapter to tell me once they get through it.)
 

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I was hoping that the discordant note made the reader really sit up and take notice. Like, thinking to themself: Woah. This is ... unusual. But I totally see what you're saying about tone. It's a thin line to walk, and I may be falling off it...

Yup, understood. FWIW, the wait is around 2k words. So not too long, hopefully! Anyway, I appreciate your feedback. I'll try to weigh whether the foreboding is worth it here. (I imagine that will ultimately be for critique readers of the first chapter to tell me once they get through it.)
This approach does seem to be used more often, and more successfully, in YA. So maybe it's a YA thing?
 
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I'll play:

"I’ve always loved watching their eyes.

It’s not the innocence, necessarily. I wouldn’t go out to a park and stare at kids’ eyes or anything. That would make me a disturbing individual."
 

Bing Z

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I'll play:

"I’ve always loved watching their eyes.

It’s not the innocence, necessarily. I wouldn’t go out to a park and stare at kids’ eyes or anything. That would make me a disturbing individual."
I would read on.

A couple of considerations:
a) swap 'their' and 'kids'' in first & second lines, respectively. I think opening with watching kids' eyes is more impactful than some unknown/ambiguous eyes.

b) maybe instead of saying "that would make me a disturbing individual," have "that would be disturbing" or something that more directly stress the protagonist's uneasy feeling.
 

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