Looking for a little advice
I am working on the "show vs. tell" aspect of my writing and was hoping I could get a little feedback on these two potential openings for my latest novel:
Test Opening One
Jen drove along without much care for the outside world. Her husband warned her against such things. He was a worry-wart anyway – always telling her to be aware of her surroundings. “I’m not worried about how you drive honey; It’s the other guy you have to be careful of,” he’d say. She sang full force. A child of the nineties, Champagne Supernova was one of her favorite songs. She turned up the radio to better harmonize. She belted out the chorus just slightly off key. She was running late tonight. Her boss kept her late at the office to make a few minor corrections to the annual report that was supposed to be in and completed two days ago. It was done now and she was glad to have the thing behind her. She was drumming her hand against the top of the steering wheel when the sound of a mariachi band erupted somewhere deep within the recesses of her purse. It was her husband Grady’s ringtone. He was probably wondering where she was. She’d called home earlier and told him she would be late, but promised she’d call again when she got in the car and was on her way home – she had forgotten the latter. He was probably freaking out; thinking she had been in an accident or something worse. She plunged the one hand she didn’t need for driving deep inside the bulky brown leather bag and fished around in the bottom for her phone. Lipstick…no…compact…no…cell phone…ahaaa! Jen’s hand reappeared and in it was her pink and white shrouded iPhone. She hit the “Accept” button as she put it up next to her ear. Wind whooshed in through the half-down window of her SUV. Her blonde hair billowed in the 55 mile per-hour generated breeze. “Hello…Hello,” she shouted, trying to overcome the blasting wind. “Hold on…I can’t hear you…let me roll up the window.” Jen reached down and held the control until the window was all the way up. “Yeah, hello. Ya still there? I’m on the way…” “Good, you didn’t call. I was getting worried,” he said. “Yeah, just left. I was in such a hurry to get out of there I just forgot.” “No biggie – just worried. You know how I am.” “Yeah, I know how ya are,” she said.
Test Opening Two
Interstate driving always made me nervous. I wasn’t so much worried about my own driving abilities, as I was the bad driving habits of others. A metallic blue Dodge Charger shot by me in the middle lane, whipping in and out of the thick traffic. I caught a glimpse of the tag as I gave the hat-backwards driver the finger. He didn’t even look up to receive the gesture, but flicking him off made me feel better. I hoped he was headed back to Georgia. Just because the son of a bitch was in a rush to get home for Thanksgiving didn’t give him the right to drive like an ass. My nearest neighbor was a brown Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight. The driver had been chain-smoking the entire distance I’d been behind her and was now flicking ashes into the nearby median. The rusting beast was spewing blue smoke from the tail pipe and sputtering hard. Its back seat occupant, a shirtless blond boy aged no more than five years, was unbelted and leaping back and forth from one side of the car to the other. It was just one of the miles of cars that lie between me and my destination. Orlando traffic is a bitch on a regular weekday afternoon at five o'clock. It was especially bad on a weekday afternoon on the eve of a long holiday weekend – especially along the I-4 corridor. Jen sat next to me in the passenger seat. She was playing Angry Birds on the iPad and mumbling under her breath about the “damn pigs.” I wasn’t sure what one had to do with the other, but I rarely understood anything she was talking about. We’d been married for ten years, so she was lucky I listened to anything she said. I checked the backseat. My daughter Savannah was sporting her pink clad ear buds and was thumbing through her iPod – probably listening to Dr. Usher or one of those other singers I was constantly getting onto her about because of the offensive lyrics. Savannah caught me looking at her. I smiled. She rolled her eyes and went back to doing whatever. She had a lot of attitude for a twelve year old. I refocused on the road. A little red Miata had taken advantage of my inattentiveness and squeezed in between me and the Brown Olds. Good for him. He can choke on the exhaust for a while. My fingers tightened around the peaks and valleys of the charcoal colored leather-wrapped steering wheel. Sweat pooled on my forehead and I’d begun to feel a tightening in my chest. Stress would be the death of me if I didn’t learn to get a handle on it. I was rubbing my knuckles against my chest to ward off the pain, when I noticed a green and white street sign mounted high above the roadway just about a half mile from where I was sitting. I could make out the words WALT DISNEY WORLD, but couldn’t see how many miles I was from the exit. By now I had caught up to hat-backwards guy. He was banging his hands against the steering wheel of his grid-locked Charger and yelling at a blue-haired old lady who’d cut him off. I rolled past him in my grocery-getter just in time to come to a complete stop myself. The tortoise wins again. “Hey.” I nudged Jen. “Uh-huh?” “Can ya see what that sign up there says?” She strained her eyes against the sun-bleached windshield. “Uh…it says uh…Walt Disney World.” “Yeah, I can see that. Can ya see how far it is till the exit?” She strained her eyes again, this time moving to the edge of her seat as though the extra two inches were going to help. “Uh…nah..I uh…I can’t see that part.” I slid down a little further in the driver seat and let out a sigh. This was a bad idea. I heard the sound of tires screeching and my attention switched to the traffic across the median. It was beginning to bottleneck and was becoming increasingly more dangerous the longer I watched. The back-up, which started way up at the last exit, extended for almost a mile where it met a blind curve. I was glad to be traveling west and not east. The east bounders, the ones coming around the curve, couldn't see what was ahead - their view blocked by an FDOT construction crew and two massive overpass abutments. With each additional car, the danger increased.
In opening one, you devote about one-and-a-half manuscript pages with your protag stuck in traffic. In opening two, you spend about three ms pages with your protag stuck in traffic. I don't think an agent will find either one compelling.
Your dialog formatting is incorrect. Proper format is to start a new paragraph for each line of dialog, even if it's a one-word statement. Run together like you've done is difficult to follow.
Mix up your sentence structure. In Opening One, you've got She sang..., She turned..., She belted..., She was.... The rhythm is a killer.
There are other issues too, but I'm past my bedtime. Maybe others will offer a deeper critique.
gridlocked, not grid-locked.
Jayce and Leslee,
Thanks to both of you for taking the time to read over my material. Jayce: I get it - your basic message is to get to the point. I was thinking the same thing, but needed to hear it from someone else. As far as the formatting, I just started running it all together. I read a book that told me to do it that way for the sake of "flow". I don't like it either. I will go back to the old way - the way you suggest. You say there are "other issues." I would be interested to hear what other issues you are referring to - I really want to make sure I get this right and not waste the time of countless agents.
Hook. Hook. Hook. Hook.
#2 Hook, have you got that idea yet?
What you have in test one is fine, IMHO. If that came on page 2, after the hook is set, I would have no issues at all. I think it is quite good, I wish I could do that. I do have difficulty with the repetitive starts to sentences, Ya just gotta keep looking to get others, they can't be contrived, they just have to have some variety.
Get the formatting of text in the forum worked out.
I nearly gave up b4 I read a word. It is damned difficult to read.
As you can see in Jayce's piece, formatting is dead easy. It is a real pain that the forum doesn't hold the format when you copy and paste but if you want us to read it, best you help us out in a simple way. IT IS THAT IMPORTANT!
Splitting the dialogue is critical as well. I followed it and didn't need the He said, She said bits since with only two characters is was clear as to who said what. BUT split it line by line. IF you got to submit your work to ANYONE, including us, you lose brownie points immediately with poor format.
POLISH is a word people use a lot here and that doesn't just cover the story, polish your presentation. Just cos we are in the biz won't let you off since we all know about the problem and can get around it.
Don't think me harsh, when you come here and ask, you will be told. We got our ears boxed until we fell into line. It is a very big part of the game. I never read vers 2 cos of the formatting. See, it has cost you already.
They are equally boring. Sorry. Where's the point? Why isn't something happening? What is this supposed to be about?
The first version is about a woman driving home late from work, singing to the radio, forgetting to call her husband on the way, though she told him she would because he's a worrywart. Then over the loud song she's singing along to on the radio, she hears her cell phone ring, knows it's her husband from the ringtone, and when they make contact, it's just to say that her worrywart husband is worried.
You are a detailed writer, which is fine, although I'm not sure how the details enhance the story.
She plunged the one hand she didn’t need for driving deep inside the bulky brown leather bag and fished around in the bottom for her phone. Or, she plunged her free hand into her bag, fished out her phone and answered. Simple, and I still get a picture of her getting a phone out and answering it without the clicking "Accept" and describing the phone, the bag's contents, and what she must do to answer it. If I were to fish out my phone, I wouldn't think about what my purse looked like or what my phone looked like while doing it.
Version Two - Lots of description about the drivers on the road.
My fingers tightened around the peaks and valleys of the charcoal colored leather-wrapped steering wheel. Very detailed, again, and I don't know how this contributes to the story. The driving, the drivers, his wife and daughter doing their own things, lead up to trying to read a Disney World sign to determine how far away the exit to DW is. Maybe there's going to be an accident in the bottlenecked, blind curve of lanes going in the opposite direction that will affect this man and his family.
There's not much exciting happening, no conflict, no big question raised to keep reading to find out what happens next. You should have these elements on the first page, first couple of pages. Cut to the chase, so to speak.
I hope this helps and it's just my opinion. Others may disagree. Gonna shoot some fireworks. Happy New Year! Good luck!
A mistake often made when new to writing is thinking that every single thing needs to be described. It is NOT important in the slightest to know what colour something is, or what it is made of. We don't need to know the pattern and fabric of people's clothes. If you write well and make us care about a character and a scene, and if the action/conflict is interesting, the reader will put the world together for themselves.
First thing for you to do: Cut out every adjective you have used. Every one. Then read it again. If you absolutely think you can't live without a single adjective, then add with a tiny butter knife, NOT a trowel!
Well I would offer few input, which are my personal opinion
1. I prefer the Test Opening One and I shall talk about that only
2. I would not use "worry-worts" explanation for husband in the beginning; in fact I would push the phone-call / conversation to the top of the paragraph and then explain the husband's worry-wort behaviour, in the subsequent lines
3. The next paragraph should pick up from the husband’s behaviour......if that is where this story is going........
Hope this helps