Friday, February 12, 2010

First Page Friday, #1

Thanks to a brave soul, we have our inaugural batch of first pages up for critique!

It's all yours, folks. Let give some feedback.

“A GPS with the right directions would be helpful,” Nathan grumbled. The warehouse holding the supplies for his charity should be directly ahead, not the empty lot he found instead. Turning down the next street, identical graffiti-covered buildings stretched into the distance. He resisted the urge to pull over and re-configure the gadget his older sister Rachel insisted he take.

Nathan cringed as he drove through the narrow street littered with large dumpsters and homeless shelters. A group of men huddled close against the brisk wind, warming their half-mitted hands around a smoldering metal can, wisps of smoke billowing out around their shapes, casting their shadows wide against the buildings behind them. Nathan wished he had something to give them. If had found the warehouse, his van would be full of clothing he could hand out. He hated not being able to help. Just because God could turn a blind eye to those in need didn’t mean he would.

Nathan glanced at the clock on his dashboard. Five o’clock. Even if he did find the warehouse, it was likely closed. Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, Nathan decided to head for home.

“Worthless piece of garbage,” he said, turning the GPS off while making a u-turn.

Dusk was starting to settle, stretching the shadows across the empty street. He half expected the street lights to come on, until he happened to glance up and realize why they stood dark. If any glass remained on the street lights, he couldn’t see it.

He stretched his stiff shoulders, not relishing the thought of the long drive home. He flexed his toes inside his dress shoes, wishing he’d worn his running shoes instead of being concerned about his appearance. He had promised Rachel earlier that he’d be at her house in time for dinner. With a two hour drive ahead, he’d be lucky if his sister didn’t feed his meal to the wild cats living in the mountains behind her house.

On his way out of the maze he lost himself in, a blood stained man staggered into the middle of the road, teetering back and forth as he tried to gain his footing. Nathan jammed his foot down hard on the brakes. He scrambled out of his vehicle, frantic to reach the man before he fell onto the road.

“Are you ok?”

The man toppled over, landing in Nathan’s outstretched arms. Nathan staggered back from the impact, the deadweight body sagging against his chest.

Catching his balance, he eased the unconscious form onto the cold road. Dry heaves racked Nathan’s body when he swiped at his forehead and saw the blood smeared all over his hand.


Sarah said...

First of all, the writing itself is polished. I like that. Here are some areas I would look at:

I heard something last year at a first pages panel that stuck with me: driving isn't action. It's something we often blank out on, even when we're doing it. You may not want to spend your first paragraphs on driving.

The descriptions are good- stretching shadows, etc. However, I had little sense of how the streets affected Nathan, so the describing them didn't add much to the story. Was he scared? Nervous? You mention cringing and his reaction to the homeless men, but I didn't feel I grasped what he was experiencing.

I felt like I knew something about Nathan when I got to this sentence. "Just because God could turn a blind eye to those in need didn’t mean he would." I want more of that. Frustration with a GPS and pity for the homeless is fairly universal. That sentence made Nathan an individual to me.

Hope this helps!

Sarah said...

Frustration and pity are universal, I mean.

'Scuze me, please. I seem to be having technical difficulty with my subject/verb agreement. : )

Brenda said...

I agree with Sarah, I think the writing is polished and your descriptions are good. I wonder if you've thought of leading with the second paragraph instead? You mention the GPS later and I think your description in the subsequent paragraphs do more to set the scene.

One thing I was a little confused about was the van. Is he driving a van or is he picking up a van? In rereading I presume that he is driving one, but you may want to just add an adjective or something to describe it?

I'm also wondering about the use of the word "homeless shelters." To me that conjures up images of a building with beds, but I think you're alluding to makeshift cardboard shelters, yes?

Other random thoughts...I like the phrase about God turning a blind eye. Wonder why Nathan is wearing dress shoes? Some description of his thoughts around seeing the bloody guy before he jumps out of the van might be good. He's lost in a bad neighborhood and doesn't seem particularly worried about that, but a bloody guy is a whole new level. I'm also not sure the dry heaves would be immediate? I'd think panic/horror would supercede all. One thought regarding what Sarah said is to lead with the bloody guy and you can set the scene as Nathan aids him and looks around desperately for help or tries to get a cell phone signal, etc.?

All THAT said, I think the first page is hard, hard, hard. Hope some of the above is helpful!

Michelle said...

I agree about the driving, but it may work because the character is lost and there's a lot of description of where he is, rather than just mindless going down a highway.

I saw a couple of places where there was some pronoun confusion.

"On his way out of the maze he lost himself in, a bloodstained man staggered into the middle of the road..." Does the "his" refer to Nathan, or is it the bloodstained man who is lost? Read it aloud, and you'll see what I mean.

There is a similar problem with the last sentence. Did Nathan swipe at his own forehead? How did the blood get there?

I might also take out a couple of the unnecessary adjectives. We already know dumpsters are large, for example.

I've got a strong sense of place and tone in a short time. You've ended with the mystery of the bloody man, which is a good hook.

Lisa said...

I like what you've got here. I agree with others that the descriptions set the scene well. And the bloody man...way to get right to the action!

What I'm missing is the sense that I know what Nathan is experiencing. I don't mean that you need to add a bunch of stuff about what he's thinking or to tell us that he felt such-and-such. What I mean is that I don't get a sense of him worrying about being late to the warehouse, which in the 2nd pp he decides is probably closed anyway. Wouldn't he be worried about that from the very beginning? Or anxious about being in such a bad neighborhood? Or does he do it all the time and is used to it?

Also, I didn't get a feeling of defeat from him when he decides to go home. It felt like he had come a long way, and I want to feel his frustration, not just with the GPS, but with the whole situation.

I've recently found in revisions of my own that looking at my verbs can do wonders for accurately conveying the emotional content of a scene. Drumming his fingers makes him seem bored or indecisive.

Let's look at other verbs pertaining to Nathan: grumbled, resisted the urge, cringed, drove, wished, hated, glanced, decided, half-expected, glance, realize, stretched shoulders, not relishing, flexed toes. What do these tell us about Nathan and his state of mind in this scene?

Once the bloody man appears, Nathan's actions do a better job of conveying his thoughts/emotions.

I love the line about God because it tells us so much about his character, and like Sarah, I wanted a bit more of that.

Oh, and about the blood smeared on his hand...I assumed that when he raised his hand to swipe at his forehead, he saw the blood that got there from catching the man. I didn't think it was confusing.

All in all, you've got a compelling start here, and I would definitely keep reading to find out what happens, not only with the bloody man, but also with his relationship with his sister and his wavering faith.

Thanks for letting up have at you!

Tess said...

A brave soul indeed. I'm just impressed with Sarah's knowledge of the subject/verb agreement and Michelle's of pronoun placement. These girls ARE good at grammar, aren't they?

Some great feedback here. And, you've done well with your first page. I like the setting and I'm intrigued by what Nathan is doing ... who he's trying to help and how he ends up with a (possibly) dead body on his hands.

There are some generalities in your writing that would be stronger if you brought them down to a more specific level. Let me give you one example of what I mean:

" he drove through the narrow street littered with large dumpsters and homeless shelters. A group of men huddled close against the brisk wind, warming their half mitted hands around a smoldering metal can..."

It is a really nice image - but phrases like 'a group of men' actually remove us from the intimacy of the action. Too broad and general.

Instead, might you write something along the lines of...

He looked out across the shadowed street and saw a homeless man huddled up against a crumpled dumpster. Nathan tried to look away, but the man's gaze was too strong. It pulled at Nathan, making him feel like...

okay, that was lame - but I hope you still get my point. Bring the action down to one person against one person and the scene will be more intriguing to your readers.

Still, I'd turn the page and I think you are well on your way here. Having the courage to put your work up like this is proof that you will go far! I take my hat off to you.

Joan said...

I like that you give his purpose for being in the “bad section” of town and by doing this let us know Nathan is a good person.

Nice touch to throw in some modern day technology.

Suggested change - not the empty lot he found instead. To - not the empty lot he saw.

In 2nd paragraph you did a good job of setting the scene.

You wrote - If had found the warehouse, - are you missing the word he?

I think the following sentence would be stronger broken into two - He flexed his toes inside his dress shoes, wishing he’d worn his running shoes instead of being concerned about his appearance. – Change to - Instead he had been concerned about his appearance.

I found this line difficult to read - On his way out of the maze he lost himself in …