Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Beginning 967

Chuck Truett watched from behind dark sunglasses as people streamed in and out of the bank. He sat at a table on the patio of a coffee shop across the street, holding the sports page of the local daily. He folded the paper to an article on the upcoming college football season and slowly sipped his coffee as he alternated reading, scanning traffic, and eyeing the bank.

The sun crashed down without mercy, shattering off cars and pavement. A slight breeze pushed the heat around. Even in the shade of the table’s umbrella, he felt like he might spontaneously combust.

He looked south down San Pablo. There’s a cop, coming north. He glanced at his watch. Three twenty-two. He checked the notepad sitting on the table in front of him, frowned, and made a notation. In five afternoons over the last two weeks, he’d detected no pattern to the passing of the patrol cars at this intersection, other than they did so with some regularity.

A sardonic grin played briefly on his face. Casing a bank. Never in all his life, not even as recently as a month ago, would he have imagined he’d be casing a bank. But desperate times call for desperate measures and all that.

Three twenty-seven. He looked away from the bank, and down at his newspaper. WTF?! His alma mater, Indiana University, predicted to finish eleventh in the Big Ten Conference?! Behind even perennial doormat Northwestern?!
Three Thirty. His eyes shot back to the bank. Time for that teller with the cleavage to come out for her cigarette break. There she is! Right on time, like clockwork. Wabba! Hot hot hot!

Suddenly, a Toyota sedan whipped to the curb in front of the bank. Three men carrying guns and pulling masks over their faces leaped out and rushed inside. Moments later, they rushed out carrying canvas bags with dollar signs on the sides, jumped in the car, and sped away.

Drat. Truett ripped the pages from his notebook and tore them into tiny pieces. He rose, pulled his own mask over his face, and went back in the coffee shop. Desperate measures indeed. 

Opening: Wonderwood.....Continuation: Evil Editor/anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

He made a final tick in his notebook and waddled down San Pablo in the heat.

A snotty kid viewed him with suspicion from her buggy. "Hey Mom, why's that guy wearing eighteen fake beards, six pairs of dark glasses and enough hats to grace a Hollywood movie wardrobe?"


Evil Editor said...

I would dump the second paragraph. It feels like something inserted to up the word count. Or maybe it's just too poetic.

Paragraph 4 might be better in front of paragraph 3.

It's okay to give the time of day in numerals rather than writing out the words, which can lead to problems. For instance, is it correct to write seven o nine or seven oh nine or seven: nine? Plus, readers who see a sentence that says seven eleven or ten four or nine eleven may not even realize you're providing the time.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

First paragraph, past tense, single viewpoint character. I'm waiting for something to happen.

Second paragraph, something happened. The sun fell out of the sky. More confirmation that Chuck's our viewpoint character. (We see his thoughts.)

Third paragraph contains a present tense sentence. I realize "there's" can technically be past tense, but it so seldom is that this looks like present. Also, a minor POV slippage. (We can't see our own faces.)

Fourth paragraph, a larger slip to omniscient or external viewpoint. (Sardonic grin etc. Even if we could see our own faces, we wouldn't describe them this way.) We now learn what the character's doing: casing a bank.

It took too long to find this out.

Also, avoid cliches.

PLaF said...

The sun crashed down, then a slight breeze pushed the heat around. This is an awkward description.

Your story really begins with "Never in all his life did Chuck imagine one day he'd be casing a bank."

Then jump into the action, not more backstory.

Dave Fragments said...

You seem to want to repeat concepts, elements or ideas and pound the reader with them. It distracts and annoys.

For instance:
He looked south down San Pablo. There’s a cop, coming north.
The juxtaposition of the north and south are like directions from a stern lecturer. Simply put, "He saw beat patrolman approaching."

Here's another:
Casing a bank. Never in all his life, not even as recently as a month ago, would he have imagined he’d be casing a bank.
""Never" means exactly that. "Not even as recently as a month ago" repeats the concept and does nothing to advance the story. Then you repeat "casing a bank." By that time, I'm ready to stop. Unless something happened a month ago that is important, don't mention it.

A metaphor that's like Remagen...
But desperate times call for desperate measures and all that.
Not only it it old, it's almost cliche, and you repeat the concept that you explored a sentence before. Think about it this way... When Lincoln said "A house divided cannot stand" (I paraphrase) he didn't have to explain it to the audience. Here we have the thoughts -- I'm so desperate, I'm casing a bank which I never thought I'd ever do" and then adding "desperate times for..." as punctuation of that sentiment, you flog the (now dead) horse again with "and all that."

AA said...

"The sun crashed down without mercy, shattering off cars and pavement." This reminds me of the old cartoons I used to watch, where they'd show figures of speech taken literally. For instance, "Dawn broke." A loud crash, and the nighttime background is in pieces on the ground, showing daytime behind it.

"A slight breeze pushed the heat around." Cartoons again, only this time the anthropomorphic clouds have faces and puff up their cheeks to blow wind out.

"He looked south down San Pablo. There’s a cop, coming north." You mean coming towards him, right? Then why not just say so?

The first paragraph just won't cut it. You have the MC watching, sitting, holding, folding, sipping, reading, scanning and eyeing. That's a whole lot of nothin' going on.

There's more, but the basic problem is that you're still in the "writerly" stage. That is, you're focusing on your writing and not on telling your story.

You'll want something more like this for a first or second draft:

Chuck Truett watched the bank from the patio of a coffee shop across the street. His dark sunglasses were not an affectation, it really was that bright out. Even in the shade of the table’s umbrella, he felt like he might spontaneously combust.

He looked south down San Pablo. There was a cop coming his direction. He glanced at his watch, checked the notepad in front of him and made a notation. In five afternoons over the last two weeks, he’d detected no pattern to the passing of the patrol cars at this intersection.

Casing a bank. It sounded like something from an old gangster movie. Chuck had never in his life imagined doing something like this. Never, until a month ago, when...

Be sure to leave out stuff like: "the notepad sitting on the table in front of him." You wouldn't say, "Honey, I'm leaving through the front door to drive the car to the store to get groceries." People can fill in the blanks.

Wonderwood said...

Hi folks. Thanks for the critique and the comments.

Thanks EE for the info on numerals versus words. I'll make those changes.

I'm going for kind of a noir feel, not sure if I'm accomplishing it or not. This is a first draft, so there will be editing and tightening.

EE, yes, the second paragraph might need to go, or be incorporated in some other way. The verbs are

Dave and AlaskaRavenclaw, I understand the point about cliches, but Chuck's thought about desperate measures is a sarcastic musing, so I feel it's okay the way it's written. AR, good point about the POV. I'll do something about that.

AA, thanks for the effort, but honestly, I don't see how your rewrite improves anything. You have more telling and less showing.

I appreciate the time and energy you all put into your critiques and I'll take the worthy suggestions.

A. M. Perkins said...


On "telling vs. showing": I hear people say this all the time, but I've heard a ton of different interpretations of it - more description vs. less, internal vs. external description, etc.

This is how I always understood it:

Telling: "Bob was waiting for someone at a cafe. Bob was really nervous about it."

Showing: "Carl was only five minutes late, but it might as well have been five hours. A cold trickle of sweat worked its way down Bob's face, and his fingers tapped out an irregular rhythm on the formica counter."

AA definitely used a more direct style - one you may not care for - but even if you don't like the specific rewrite, the advice to be a bit more direct may help.

One benefit in particular: it will get you to the "casing the bank" hook of your opening page quicker :-)

Random thought: If you're going for noir and you want to include some of those over-the-top/colorful descriptions the genre often has, they might flow better if you switch it to first person.

Of course, all this is just MHO - take or disregard as you see fit.

AA said...

Dear author,

I get showing versus telling. But do you really want to show the sun falling out of the sky and shattering on the sidewalk? I know you don't want to just show characters folding newspapers when folding a newspaper has nothing to do with your story.

The problem is, you have not yet gotten to the part of the story where there is anything to show. Nothing has happened yet.

If your main character is nervous about getting caught, by all means show it. Have him tap his fingers or glance up and down the street too many times. Otherwise, there is nothing really happening in this scene. It's a man watching a bank, thinking to himself.

The reason I didn't add any details in my example, of course, is because I don't know them. It's YOUR story.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Wonderwood, I'm not sure any of the suggestions are unworthy.

Wonderwood said...

AR, perhaps I should have chosen a better word. Although I appreciate the suggestions, that doesn't mean they are appropriate for this particular story. No offense intended.

Wonderwood said...

A.M., I did consider first person, but there are two other POVs necessary for the story, so I chose third. I agree, though, the noir voice is better suited for first person.

Dave Fragments said...

NOIR lets all that internal dialog and description make sense. I didn't pick up on that but then sometimes I'm a very poor reader.

Try reading the story out loud as Noir and see how it sounds to your ears, see if it flows smoothly.

The you might want to put thoughts in italics just so the reader know. Try it and see if you like it.

Anonymous said...

Question for AlaskaRavenClaw re: POV - you said the fourth paragraph slipped to omniscient or external viewpoint -- but isn't the entire piece in external POV? I don't see the 'sardonic grin' comment as out of place. (Sincere question, trying to learn)

Wonderwood said...

Thanks, Dave. Excellent suggestion.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous, it's not an external POV because we know what the protag's thinking and feeling, eg

he felt like he might spontaneously combust.

It could be omniscient, assuming we will later be told what all the other characters are feeling. But omiscient viewpoint, where we know what everyone is thinking, is rarely used anymore. It was still common 40 or 50 years ago which means the books many of us grew up on used it.

This is one of those things where a famous writer would get away with it but a writer trying to become famous had better correct it.

Basically nowadays, unless you're being tricky and literary, you pick one (or two or at the very very most and you'd better have a good reason for it, three) POV character(s) and show their thoughts and feelings. But you don't show anything they can't know, like the expression on their faces or what's happening meanwhile back at the hacienda.

(If you are using two or three viewpoint characters, you still stick to one POV per scene.)