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  1. #1
    Dave S

    first page

    If a book started this way, would you continue to read? Any feedback appreciated.

    The rain was falling steadily in the foothills east of Sacramento. I drove through the wet gloom, hoping to make time, but I’d already been on the road for almost three hours, and the weather was not improving. Ten miles up the grade, the rain turned to snow, slowing my progress until a man in a yellow slicker and a cap with a Caltrans insignia flagged me over to the side of the road. “You got to chain up,” he said.

    I pulled on my coat and stepped out into the flurries. The temperature was in that indeterminate range where it was cold enough to snow, but not quite freezing. I lugged my chains out of the trunk, along with a tarp, channel locks, and a pair of canvas gloves, and went to work on my front tires. I finished without too much trouble, and was putting away my gear when I noticed the late-model Ford station wagon that had pulled in behind me. A man lay on his back in the muddy slush, struggling with a set of chains. He was wearing an Indiana Jones brown leather jacket that looked two sizes too small, and his hands were wet and red. He pulled himself out of the muck, looking around in despair. I could see a woman on her knees in the passenger seat of the station wagon, her arms flailing, facing two crying toddlers in the back.

    “Trouble?” I asked. The man threw up his hands.

    “I was expecting there to be some of those guys that install chains for twenty bucks,” he said, shaking his head. He was chubby and balding, and his face was flushed from his efforts.

    “Let me take a look.” I laid out my tarp next to his car. There were cable-style chains hanging off his front tire.

    “Hey, you don’t have to. I’ll pay you,” he said, pulling out his soggy wallet.

    “Naw, that’s allright,” I said. I finished his first tire quickly, and was moving the tarp to the other side of the car when a white Chevy 4x4 truck came roaring around the bend, its four oversize, off-road tires spitting out chunks of ice and gravel. The driver set the truck up in a four-wheel drift, and came within six feet of where we were standing, spraying slush and dirt all over both of us and our cars. A dude with dirty blond hair stuck his head out the passenger window. “Get a 4x4, losers!” he yelled, and backhanded a partially full Coors can in our direction. It skipped off the hood of the station wagon and skidded through the scree into the pine trees. I wiped my face, staring after the truck for a license plate number, but my view was cut off by the chubby man, who was sprinting after the truck. He reached down, grabbed a handful of slush, and hurled it in their direction.

    “Freaking punks!” he screamed.

  2. #2
    Stacy Copping

    Re: first page

    "The rain was falling steadily in the foothills east of Sacramento."

    My humble suggestion would be not use the word "was" in the first sentence. Actually, "was" and "were" are used far too many times throughout the page.

    Your writing style is reminiscent of a movie I can't remember the name of. The author's character turns out to be a real man who hears her narrations as he trudges about his daily life. What is the name of that movie?

  3. #3
    Keith Bouchard

    Re: first page

    The one with will ferrel?

  4. #4
    Paul Harris

    Re: first page

    While one passage does not a novel make I think it is well-written. I would take with a grain of salt arbitrary advice such as don't use “was” in the first sentence. What I find curious is that my agent, who is a highly regarded professional with much experience never actually tells me how to write. She never says use this word or don't use that word. Instead she asks what I am trying to convey and then works me around to alternative possibilities. Her view is that I’m the one writing the book and not her. Yet this board, primarily composed of people who want to be writers are always telling other people how to write and I'm always curious about what qualifies them to make value judgments that are more indicative of their approach to writing than some hard and fast rules to which all who dare write must adhere.

  5. #5
    Dave S

    Re: first page

    At times I've seen some good advice on this site, but other times I'm left scratching my head and saying "Huh?" This was the case on the comment about using "was" and "were" too often. When writing in the past tense, as most novels are, these words are not only unavoidable, but natural. I don't know why one would seek to avoid their usage. I picked up a handleful of novels sitting around my house, and almost every sentence included these words.

  6. #6
    Paul Harris

    Re: first page

    Hence the aforementioned grain of salt. There are rules governing the format of writing but I believe that the emotion of writing is an individual thing and what are words but a tangible expresion of emotion?

  7. #7
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: first page

    Dave S,

    I liked it enough to keep reading another page or two.

    I do have some comments. Feel free to ignore them.

    Consider finding a way to give your reader at least a hint about your protag in the first page. Not his bio. Not necessarily even his name or occupation, but something to quicken the reader's interest in him. Right now we know he's headed east from Sacramento and that he can install tire chains. Mebber give us a bit more.

    As to "was" and "were" I don't agree with Stacy that you used them way too much. I do think, though, that your writing can be more immediate if you remain aware of using the words. Some examples (not all of which have to do with was/were) that might make your writing even stronger---

    Steady rain fell on/in the foothills east of Sacramento.

    He wore and Indiana Jones...

    I saw a woman...

    I thought there'd be some guys who install chains...

    Cable-style chains dangled off his front tire.

    Hope these ideas are useful. Again, feel free to dismiss them.


  8. #8
    Keith Kirchner

    Re: first page

    Dave S.:

    Using was/were makes sentences wordy. I understand their use; sometimes they are inevitable. There are, however, some instances where other words could have been suited better (see Smiling Curmudgeon's post- he provides a short adequate list). Using words such as was/were slows down a sentence and/or a passage. From what I was reading, it seemed like it was (gasp!) intended to be more urgent. Using more active verbs would have done this, and in my opinion, made it better. It may not be an issue where you used them excessively. It's an issue that you used them when other words could be much better qualified. Take it or leave it.

    Paul Harris:
    You are right in saying word choice is completely up to the writer of the work. These choices are made out of what emotions they will strike in a reader. But what emotions are aroused by the words "was" and "were"?

  9. #9
    Mo S

    Re: first page

    I have to say, your writing is quite good. You really did an excellent job of painting a picture. However, I would like to read more. What you did post left me wondering exactly what the point was, but in a good way.

  10. #10
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: first page

    I'd have to know more about the story before I could decide whether it would be worth reading on or not.

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