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  1. #1
    Stephen Holak
    Guest

    Feedback on Chops

    Based on feedback from an earlier post, I've decided to post a scene snippet from the first draft of a fantasy novel that's roughly one-third finished. *I* think the project's going well, but there are times when I'm tempted to post some prose and decide whether it's worth finishing, or if I'm wasting my effort. This is one of those times. I'd like some feedback on my chops.

    It's out of context, so I'll give enough background to avoid complete confusion:

    [--Jordan Parish, the story's protagonist, has just driven to his father's estate and confronted his grandmother (Lena) about info his lawyer and a PI have uncovered that suggests that 1.) both Lena and Jordan's pregnant wife (Melanie) were adopted under strange circumstances, and 2.) Lena and Melanie's family (the Whittakers), may have spread money around to hinder the investigation into Melanie's disappearance six months prior.
    --Jordan's confrontation, coupled with a strange event, force Lena to agree to reveal most of the mystery to Jordan.
    --Before Lena can get very far, they're interrupted by a frantic call from Chase Whittaker, Jordan's childhood friend and Melanie's brother, about intruders on his estate. Lena connects the strange event with the attack at the Whittakers, and urges the reluctant Jordan not to call in the police, but to run over to the Whittakers and help Chase. She admits Chase is involved, and asks Jordan to bring Chase back when it's over, when she'll explain everything.
    --Jordan has some limited martial arts experience; Chase is an Iraq war army vet with a few "souvenirs" from his service days, like a rifle and night-vision binos.
    --Both families are wealthy and powerful, and live on a (fictional) Outer Banks NC island near Roanoke Island, on adjacent estates.
    --Jordan has just run about a half-mile through a growing storm (an artifact of the strange event) over the rough terrain separating the two estates; the scene opens as Jordan approaches the property.
    --The passive verbs in the fifth paragraph are deliberate.
    --For the sensitive, there are a few expletives, but most of them seemed to be auto-bleeped.]


    "I'm close," Jordan said quietly into his cell phone.

    Chase's reply crackled through the low hiss of storm interference. "Whereabouts?"

    Jordan squinted against the rain at the silhouette of the Whittaker mansion's roof, a dim smudge over the treetops backdropped against black, rolling storm clouds. Chase had extinguished all inside and outside lights, cloaking the estate in an eerie gloom broken only by the occasional flash of lightning.

    "Somewhere out to the north and west of you, I think." Jordan conjured up a mental image of Chase's view through night-vision equipment, a distillation of countless CNN video clips of nighttime battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    "Raise your hand in the air, slowly. I'll try to pick you out."

    Jordan winced as he raised a bruised and stiff arm -- his shoulder poked through a tear in his sodden shirt. He had run barely a hundred yards from the Parish house before his clothes grown uncomfortably heavy. It had taken Jordan longer than he had expected; the afternoon had grown dark enough that the stretch of ungroomed ground between the two properties became an obstacle course navigated between lightning flashes. In the limited visibility of the storm, rocks, gullies, sand dunes and low brush that might have been back-of-the-hand familiar to Jordan as a child posed as hazards, and he had found himself painfully picking himself off the ground three or four times during his run through the storm to the Whittaker's estate.

    "I've got you," Chase said. "You've got a hostile about 50 yards south of you. Near the gate."

    "A hostile," Jordan muttered to himself. "Christ." He peered in that direction, but saw nothing. "What do you want me to do?"

    "Come in closer, take him out. You should be able to move in under the cover of the storm noise if you're careful."

    "Take him out. You think I'm some kind of Delta Force commando or something?"

    "Come on, Jordan, you know your @!#$. Just karate chop him or something. What good is all that training if you can't use it?"

    "Are they armed?"

    "Can't tell. But probably."

    "Great."

    Jordan worked his way carefully in the general direction of the gate, keeping to the sparse grove of trees that screened the estate, using the cover of dark to scurry quickly to the next tree or bush, and the occasional flash of lightning to pick his next movement. He kept the phone pressed against his ear.

    "You've closed it up," Chase said. "Maybe twenty-five yards now. I need you to get him, and one more, then I can take out the rest."

    "****ing Jack Bauer," Jordan said under his breath.

    "What was that?"

    "Nothing."

    Jordan scurried to another tree. The next time lightning flashed, he thought he saw a dark figure crouched to the left of the closed gate. "I think I see him." He shook his head. "This is crazy. I think I'm gonna 911 this."

    "No! This is not for the cops, Jordan, trust me."

    "This is just going to end in a cluster-@!#$."

    "Please just do this for me. Please."

    "And you'll explain it all to me later, right?"

    "Ah, I'll explain some of it . . ."

    After a long moment Jordan sighed. "I'm going to go quiet while I move in get myself killed. I'll call you in a minute, if I get lucky."

    "Ten-four. Thanks, buddy."

    "And Chase?"

    "Yeah?"

    "We have a lot to talk about after this is over. You and Lena and I. About the whole Melanie thing. Lena was about to tell me a long story when you called. I'm sure you were in it."

    After a few seconds of silence, Chase said, "Ten-four."

    "Now shut the @!#$ up." Jordan slipped the phone into a pocket and moved closer.



    [clicks "post" and ducks . . ]



  2. #2
    Tony J.
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Over all, I liked it. I hope your opening is as intriguing.

    I stumbled over the third line, which started "Jordan squinted...." I had to read it a few times. I think it could be cleaned up by dropping some of the extra description. Most of us know what a bad storm looks like, so maybe focus more on his actions and that sentence will read much better.

    The dialogue was humorous, at least to me... and if something bad/intense is about to happen, humor is one of those things that make the thrills more potent. My favorite line:

    "Come on, Jordan, you know your @!#$. Just karate chop him or something. What good is all that training if you can't use it?"

    I'd consider losing the second sentence, because it kind of killed my chuckle when he qualified his statement.


    Anyway, just my two cents.

  3. #3
    Stephen Holak
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Thanks Tony. That third line was quick attempt at setting, and to be honest it jumps out at me as not-working-and-awkward, but I didn't want to get bogged down on finding the perfect scene stage-setting snippet in a first draft. I do find that when I edit after some time has passed --especially when it comes to dialog -- I wind up chopping it back quite a bit.

    I'm glad humor comes through in the dialog; although I'm not *trying* to be be overtly funny, scenes between Jordan and several characters he's close to always seem to come off my fingers as funny -- and I let that flow a bit for color. (He grew up with Chase, close as a brother, and you know how sibling rapport can be.) Jordan's 24/7 no-nonsense-screwed up tight as a drum (he never had much of a sense of humor, and for God's sake his pregnant wife's been missing for half a year and everyone starting to focus on *him* as as suspect, escalating his frustration) From Jordan's perspective those characters are inappropriately cavalier in serious situations; the bi-directional frustration at the other party's behavior just leads (me) down the funny rapport trail.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  4. #4
    Sam Fletcher
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Thereís something wrong with this writing. I canít quite put my finger on what it is, but thereís something wrong with it. I lost interest almost immediately. The pace seemed plodding and overly wordy. The characters seemed like they had been cut whole-cloth from out of a Jean Claude Van Damme movie. So, here is my best analysis even though I donít think this really gets to the heart of the problem.

    1. You spend too much time meditating on the past rather than living in the present. The entirety of the sixth paragraph, beginning with ďJordan WincedĒ is talking about what he had been doing rather than what heís doing now. All of that description of a past moment simply slows down the action and appeal of this present moment.

    2. I got no sense of danger or risk from this passage. In order to make this interesting there needs to be some possibility of being caught. There needs to be some goal to be gained and an accompanying possibility of loss. Whatís the danger of engaging in this kind of behavior? What will happen if it all goes terribly wrong?

    3. In these few paragraphs you make numerous references to television. You talk about CNN video clips, Jack Bauer and Delta Force operatives. This simply gives me the impression that you are writing a book based on things youíve seen off of television. Other than what youíve seen from an action movie do you know anything about what Delta Force really means? Also, with the references to television programs, will anyone understand what youíre writing 20 years from now? Will anyone even understand your reference to Jack Bauer then?

    4. Youíre right, you do use a lot of profanity. From your first use of profanity to your last use there are a total of 271 words, with five of those words being profane. By my count you use fvck three times, sh!t once, and Christ once. Profane writing is usually bad writing. If you must depend on profanity to make your story work then thereís something wrong with it that profanity isnít going to fix. Profane words are specialized words that bear a certain impact. But when you use the words over and over then that impact is lost.

    5. The biggest drawback in this writing is that I donít really like your characters and I donít care what happens to them. I donít quite know why I donít like them. But part of it may be that they donít feel real to me. They seem like cardboard cutout characters running around in the dark pretending to be commandos. In order to like them they have to do things that I can relate to. Maybe one of them forgot his belt and has to keep pulling up his pants. I canít relate to that, it makes him seem human. Maybe one of them is chewing gum and has to find a place to put it. Maybe thereís a motion sensor light on the mansion that they have to be careful about. There must be something that makes me want to keep on reading. And for me, I just wanted to get to the last word so I could stop reading.

    Maybe someone else will be able to offer a more probing analysis. I still think thereís something wrong but I canít quite get to the bottom of it.

  5. #5
    L Bea
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Stephen,

    I have a few thoughts:

    - Jordan said quietly into his cell phone. Instead I'd use whispered or some other quiet verb. The cell phone thing bugs me a little. Not the fact that they're using cell phones but that he is holding it up to his ear. Doesn't he have a bluetooth or something? That just seems more practical with this type of scene. If he's got night vision equipment, he's certainly got some sort of an ear piece too. Not a deal breaker of course, but it annoyed me here and there.

    -Not crazy about eerie gloom. Gloom to me is more emotional and doesn't paint the literal darkness I think you're trying to portray.

    Jordan winced as he raised a bruised and stiff arm -- his shoulder poked through a tear in his sodden shirt. He had run barely a hundred yards from the Parish house before his clothes grown uncomfortably heavy. It had taken Jordan longer than he had expected; the afternoon had grown dark enough that the stretch of ungroomed ground between the two properties became an obstacle course navigated between lightning flashes. In the limited visibility of the storm, rocks, gullies, sand dunes and low brush that might have been back-of-the-hand familiar to Jordan as a child posed as hazards, and he had found himself painfully picking himself off the ground three or four times during his run through the storm to the Whittaker's estate.

    This paragraph needs work. First, the em dash isn't correct in the first sentence. You're not interrupting anything. Make it two sentences or use a semicolon.

    - He had run barely a hundred yards....before... I think this sentence is awkward all the way through. Perhaps: He hadn't run a hundred yards before... And "clothes grown uncomfortably heavy" is incorrect. Had grown or grew or just became. Is there a better way you can show his clothes are heavy rather than just telling us? When he runs a hundred yards, he grunts, stumbles, does something to show us that he is really struggling and in pain.

    -In the limited visibility of the storm, rocks, gullies, sand dunes and low brush that might have been back-of-the-hand familiar to Jordan as a child posed as hazards, and he had found himself painfully picking himself off the ground three or four times during his run through the storm to the Whittaker's estate.

    This sentence is kind of a mess. In the limited visibility of the storm, THE rocks...

    But I'm not crazy about the long list of landscape there. I'd simplify it more. Then you separate that with a comma and say ... and he had found himself. Huh? I had to read it again to catch the flow though it really doesn't flow well. Don't like painfully picking. Just picking or you could use another verb like scraping or something that connotates it's difficult and painful. And no need to mention again in the same sentence he's running in the storm. You already said that at the front of the sentence. But again, rather than narrating and telling us how difficult the terrain was, how difficult it was for him to maneuver it in pain, show us his movements. Allow the reader to conjure it up using more of the 5 senses.

    One last pick is that I don't think Chase should launch into the whole you owe me an explanation about Lena and Melanie and company. He already told Chase he owes him an explanation in general and I think that's where you should leave it in this setting. He's going to KILL people. Hardly a time to start getting on your soapbox about the other stuff. Let him do his thing and you can thread that stuff in later, after the bad guys are gone.

    - I didn't get a sense of danger necessarily, though maybe we're not quite there. I felt that they were a little reckless talking to each other if there really were bad guys lurking. And I worried a little when the one guy raised his hand to show where he was that it would get blown off by a sniper and since we don't get a sense of how "bad" these bad guys are, maybe someone needs to get shot at or something needs to happen to wake us (and your characters) up to the fact that -- hey, we're in deep doo doo.

    This drew me in somewhat. Sometimes it's hard to get drawn into a scene when you haven't read from the beginning and gotten into the heads of the characters yet, but I enjoyed the interchange between these two guys [mostly]. It needs work, but you already knew that. I wouldn't throw it out. I'd tweak it and see where it takes you.

    Just my opinion,
    ~Bea

  6. #6
    Gary Mitchell
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    I enjoyed reading the snippet. It is hard to judge something taken out of context, but I liked the dialogue, and humor. The scene didn't convey intensity to me, but you could introduce some now that they aren't chatting back and forth. I read some excellent advice that others have written. Sorry I cannot give more. I find myself writing in short sentences like a third grader when in these forums.

  7. #7
    martin shaw
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Reads well Stephen... easy to follow(same as) Good good good!!!

    Keep up the great work; I cant really fault it.

  8. #8
    junel ;-)
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    I enjoyed it.

    My only contribution will be that i'm guessing it's pretty fierce rain out there. So I wouldn't be expecting him to be using his cell phone in that type of weather:

    1. It would get wet and not work.

    2. The storm may interfere with service/reception.

    I personally would love to see the first chapter.

    Any chance?

  9. #9
    Lea Zalas
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Stephen, I like the story so far. Take what everyone is saying and finish writing your story. And then edit and polish away.

    Also, I live in NC. It's really hard to get cell phone reception outside of most city limits, at least here in the southern central region. Can you get a signal on an island in the the Outer Banks? My husband's in the Merchant Marines and usually once they're 1 mile out of port, his signal is gone.

  10. #10
    Stephen Holak
    Guest

    Re: Feedback on Chops

    Thank you, everyone, for your time; I appreciate the feedback. I have obviously have some issues, compounded by the out-of-context scene and character development that takes place over the preceding hundred pages, but what I've distilled here is that:

    -- the dialog is OK, but
    -- scene / setting and movement is clumsy and needs some research and re-work. Some of that will come with editing, and a lot will come with practice.

    Overall, it tips the scales a bit more toward soldiering on with the project, which is what I'm going to do.

    TY all again.

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