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View Full Version : WARNING: LANGUAGE AND MILD DRUG USE. Summerhill Street - Opening Chapter



2pebbles
January 14th, 2013, 05:54 PM
Hi all. I'm looking for a straight up critique on this opening chapter, so if you've got the time and patience, I'd appreciate the feedback.

An old, rundown building run down even further by several years of student occupation, forty-nine Summerhill Street was the sore thumb on an otherwise presentable street.
The threat of an imminent downpour loomed as Chris rumbled up to the curb in his beat up Corsa - the engine sounding like a tumble-dryer full of spanners. This car had been with Chris since he passed his test five years ago. Stubborn like its owner, it refused to quit.
“Take a breath, Duke,” said Chris, patting the dashboard. “We made it.” He paused for a moment, taking in the terraced house unenthusiastically. “What a shit hole,” he murmured, clambering out of the car. This shit hole was home for the next nine months.
Chris knocked a short beat on the front door, his attention falling to the parched birdbath occupying centre stage on the patio. A moment passed and the front door remained shut. Thunder rolled in the distance. With a new sense of urgency, Chris stepped back from the house and onto the pavement. He dialled a number into his phone and pressed the receiver to his ear, pacing the length of his car back and forth. How hard was the landlord's job? All he had to do was hand over the keys. Chris’ frown grew more defined with each bleat of the dial tone. Finally, a voice barked through the receiver, crackling with distortion:
"Hello?"
Chris stopped pacing, his stern demeanour fading instantly. "Hey, Dave. I'm outside the house. Where're you?"
"I'll be there shortly. The traffic's a goddamn nightmare!"
"Okay, see you in a bit," said Chris, conceding the role of angry to someone who did it better.
"Yep." Dave hung up abruptly, barely giving himself the time to utter the single syllable.
Chris lowered his phone sheepishly - not quite the reprimand he had planned on giving. He glanced around as though checking that nobody had witnessed his weak display, spotting the grocery store down the street in the process. Some junk food would be a nice distraction right about now.
Stood in the confectionary isle of the store, Chris was overwhelmed by choice. He'd decided on chocolate but there were so many different types. He wasn't about to make any rash decisions; walking out of the place with a bag of chocolate buttons only to realise that he actually felt like crunchy chocolate wafer would be a travesty. His attention flickered back and forth across the display. He realised that he was doing it again - turning a simple decision into a drawn out internal debate.
Chris straightened up, his expression becoming one of determination as he reached out towards the middle shelf. His hand hovered over the chocolate buttons for a moment before flopping back down to his side. A grin spread across his face. He'd learned to see the funny side of his indecision a long time ago. It was that or self-resentment.
"I'd go for the wafer."
Chris turned. Stood beside him was a young woman. Her black hair hung to the shoulders, delicate and fine, contrasting with the hypnotic blue of her eyes. Dawn White was captivating. "The texture is more satisfying," she said, drawing Chris in with an understated smile. She'd caught him off guard.
"Was I just thinking out loud?" he asked. Dawn nodded, her smile growing ever so slightly bigger. Chris grinned. "Well, thanks for the advice. I'll definitely factor it into my final decision."
"I'm sure you'll make the right call," she retorted, stepping closer. Chris' pulse flared as she leaned in ...and plucked a chocolate wafer from the shelf, adding it to the other items in her basket.
"You study here, right? At Moorbridge? I think I've seen you about."
"Yeah," she replied, intrigued. "I'm sorry, I can't say I recognise you."
"It's okay. I don't stand out much. I'm a second year."
"Third."
"So I guess you've got a busy year ahead of you."
"Yes, thanks for reminding me," said Dawn, playfully.
A man appeared at the end of the isle. Presumably another student of Moorbridge University, judging by his age and sapless apparel - a light blue shirt in desperate need of ironing coupled with dark jeans, too long in the leg and consequentially frayed. He remained at the end of the aisle, hands in pockets, meeting Chris’ eyes with his.
"Umm, is this your boyfriend or something?" Chris asked.
Dawn turned.
"You said you wouldn't be long. I've got to go to work in half an hour," said the man, sounding like he was asking for a favour. “I kinda, wanted to eat before I went.” Dawn acknowledged his request with a nod and he left in the same timorous fashion with which he had arrived.
Dawn turned back to Chris, exasperated.
"He's not my boyfriend, but I should go. It was nice meeting you ..." she trailed off, allowing the missing piece of information to fall into place.
"Chris." He jumped on his cue a little too eagerly.
"Chris." She smiled as she repeated it. "I'm Dawn. Maybe we'll run into each other on campus or something."
Chris opted for a nod over words. He'd made it this far without embarrassing himself. Dawn began towards the checkout. She knew she was being watched and was in no hurry to leave.
"How 'bout sooner?" Chris blurted out, surprising himself. Dawn stopped, half turning back. Her eyes pierced his as she considered the offer. Whatever she was thinking, she didn't let on, and Chris could only wait for her response, exposed. The moment felt far longer than its weight in time. And then, she approached.
"Where's your phone?" she asked. Chris fumbled around in two empty pockets before getting the right one. Dawn casually took the phone from his grip and keyed in her number. She placed the phone back in Chris' hand. "Now I do have to go."
Chris watched her leave the aisle. He looked to the accomplishment on his phone display. Getting a girl's number had never been so easy. No awkward back and forth. No waves of debilitating insecurity. It almost felt as though he hadn’t earned it. His thoughts were on Dawn as, without pause, he took a chocolate covered wafer from the shelf.
Chris headed to the cigarette counter, handing over the chocolate bar and putting in a request for rolling papers. The till clerk, Ned according to his name badge, was an unshaven twenty-something whose deadpan face was a clear indicator of his disappointment with life. He obliged Chris and scanned the items.
Chris' attention fell upon the notice board on the back wall, in the centre of which was pinned a missing poster. There was a photograph of the missing girl, Jennifer Fuchs. She was delicately featured and, even on paper, her smile would have been uplifting if not for the fact that the picture was taken on the night of her disappearance, imprinting it with an eerie quality.
"That's ninety-eight pence," said Ned. Chris redirected his attention from the poster and placed some money in the Ned’s open palm. Upon stealing another glance at the picture, he recalled having seen Jennifer dancing with friends on some indistinguishable night out. "She's dead," Ned remarked casually.
"How do you know?" said Chris, taken aback by Ned’s complete indifference.
"C'mon. Four months and not a peep? She's dead. Here's your change."
Chris took his change and slipped it into the charity box on the counter.
"Lighten up, Ned," said Chris, taking his items. Ned laughed cynically at the suggestion, calling after him.
"You try working this shitty job. Full time!"
The automatic double doors parted as Chris left the store. He walked back down Summerhill street when a hefty, military green 4x4 thundered past and screeched to a halt outside number 49. Dave emerged from the mud splattered truck. He was a big man, scruffy and rugged. He peered out from between his ushanka and his bushy beard. If he were a car, he'd be his 4x4 - his jacket and hat were even the same shade of green. Chris started jogging to meet him before he opened the door to the house. Dave looked around, hearing Chris' strained breathing before seeing him. Chris slowed and walked the last few steps.
"Hey, Dave," he said, gulping down air in between words.
"Little out of shape are we?"
"I can't really exercise. I have asthma, so ..."
Dave nodded. It was hard to discern his expression from the small portion of his face that was actually visible, but if Chris had to guess, it was currently one of scepticism.
"Right! Let's get on with it then," announced Dave. He stepped to the front door, pulling some keys from one of his many jacket pockets. He unlocked the house and led Chris inside.
The hallway was narrow and led directly to the stairs, permeated by two closed doors. Dave pointed to a box on the wall as he passed it. "You've got your electric metre in there," he said, without breaking stride. He turned through the second door at the end of the hallway and moved through the living room into the kitchen. "Your gas metre is ..." Dave stopped speaking upon realising that Chris wasn't in the same room yet. "Your gas metre is under the sink. Boiler's in the bathroom." Dave gestured over his shoulder. "That's the tour. Any questions?"
Chris thought for a moment. "That was a tour?" he asked. Dave stared back, deadpan. Chris instantly regretted trying to funny. After a moment, Dave spoke.
"I like you, lad. You're funny."
"Really?" said Chris, taken aback.
"You must be! I don’t smile much.”
"Oh. And I missed it."
"See. Funny.” Chris took his word for it. “Right! I've got three more houses to do and I'm running late. Call me if you have any problems you can't fix yourself. Or just put up with them."
"Will do," Chris replied.
Dave made his exit, slapping Chris' shoulder as he passed. Chris remained still, his eyes squinted. He listened to the front door open and close. Finally, the pain of Dave's goodbye slap subsided and he could move again.
Before leaving for the summer at the end of their first year, Chris and his flatmates had decided to let the fates decide who got which room by drawing numbers out of a hat. Naturally, Chris got the one that nobody wanted; the downstairs room. Its unpopularity was perhaps due to the large, street facing window that anybody passing by outside could look through, or maybe it was because in the event of a home invasion, the downstairs dweller would be the distraction whilst the others made their escape. Although Chris didn't initially want the downstairs room either, now that it was his, he was content, just glad to not have his parents constantly recommending he spend his time in a more productive ways. It was his space.
The next few hours crawled by as Chris shifted his possessions from his car to his room, but with each new item, the room became a little more homely: piano, laptop, guitar, books, DVDs and posters to cover as much of the lumpy, stained walls as possible.
Chris stepped back and admired his hard work. Almost done. There wasn't enough space for the last couple of boxes in his car, but they were filled with weights, and dust, so the garage out back would be just fine unless Chris was to be the victim of an ultra-buff gang of crooks.
Daylight had evaporated in the time it took Chris to unpack. He sat in his car, the engine coughing and spluttering as he tried to coax it into operation.
"C'mon, Duke. No drama. Last few boxes. C'mon." The mechanical gurgle coming from the engine ramped up into a full blown rev. Chris grinned and pulled out. He drove down the road, around the Chinese takeaway on the corner and back via the dingy alley that ran down the back of Summerhill Street, separating it from the houses on the next road over.
Chris slowed to a crawl as he attempted to recognise number 49 from the rear. The garage still had its distinguished, head-sized hole in the right of the flimsy double doors. The hole that Dave had said he would fix. At least it made identification easy. Chris yanked on the handbrake. Another wave of thunder shook the skies, closer this time, grumbling like God had skipped lunch, and maybe breakfast too.
The sickly, orange glow from one of the few alley streetlights splashed across the garage floor and walls as Chris dragged open the doors. There was a dented chest freezer against the right wall, and next to it, a sofa that you'd fall into if you were to sit on it. A stack of boxes filled with long abandoned junk, junk that once held meaning, stoically occupied the far corner. The cobwebs on the corrugated roof sheets absorbed the fresh September breeze as the doors opened, coming to life in vacant dance.
Chris hauled the two boxes in his car boot, one at a time, into the garage, stacking them against the other boxes in the corner. The sound of water droplets peppering the concrete roof sheets began to fill the space. Within seconds, the light rain had swelled to a downpour. Chris rushed to his car and shut the boot before retreating back into the garage. He pushed the doors shut and the only light became that which spilled through the hole to form a softly glowing, spectral pillar that divided the space in two. The boundaries of the garage became indistinguishable in the dark.
Chris leaned into the light and drew a silver case from his shirt pocket. He pressed the small chrome button on its side and the lid pinged open, granting access to the contents which he tipped into his free hand: a lighter and a thick, half-smoked spliff. Chris held the crude roll-up to his nostrils and inhaled, savouring the scent of the herb within. This treat had been eroding its way to the front of his mind all day. He ignited the spliff and took a deep drag, the soft crackle of the smouldering marijuana merged with the sound of the falling rain to create a remedial ambience.
Though calming at first, the atmosphere began to turn. Beneath the chorus of the rain was a faint undercurrent of sound. Now that he had heard it, Chris couldn't stop hearing it. For no clear reason, it was unsettling. He concentrated on the sound, trying to isolate it from the distant traffic, from the rain on the roof and the swelling wind outside. Sobbing. It was barely distinguishable, but he could hear a woman sobbing.
Chris' eyes widened. He looked to the spliff in his hand accusingly. A whisper from the dark:
"I'm still here."
Startled, Chris threw the spliff to the ground and barged through the garage doors into the rain. He turned and looked back inside. The shadows were expunged by the tepid streetlight, and the garage was clearly empty.
Chris attempted to laugh it off as his imagination but it didn't take. He was scared. The doors of the garage squealed as he pushed them shut, sealing off the incident.

Jon M
January 14th, 2013, 11:34 PM
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Elizabeth Dawson
January 15th, 2013, 08:57 AM
I feel similarly about the work. To be honest I'm not really sure what the piece is about, the text was too overloaded. This is why Stephen King doesn't really appeal to me though, there could be a murder happening on a street corner and he would spend ten pages discussing the colour and texture of the grass three houses down. That being said, some readers prefer to have everything spelt out for them. Stephen King is mighty popular after all! If you would like to rework the dialogue as suggested by Jon M (which I would strongly consider) this link: The Complete Guide to Writing Dialogue (http://www.novel-writing-help.com/writing-dialogue.html) may help. I spent several months of my early literary life reading a lot of books about writing dialogue successfully, but I think this page sums it up nicely. Apart from the dialogue being a bit of a drag and a need to rework it a bit, I think it will work. You obviously enjoy writing, so I'm sure you will pull it together :)

ECFairWeather
January 15th, 2013, 10:16 PM
Hi 2pebbles!

I'm gonna disagree with the other two replies here. While I'm not a raving fan myself, my sense is that Stephen King doesn't use details frivolously (although not everything he's done has been a hit, I'll agree) - he's more than likely using a technique called foreshadowing or he wants to really set the mood for the reader without having to spell it out. Your details are exquisite, and while in some spots it is a bit tedious and unnecessary to have so much detail, this excerpt was fun to read and I was really able to "get into" it here because you crafted the mood so well. Usually when I'm in a writing workshop or on some other forum giving feedback, my suggestions are usually 1. Flesh out the story 2. Flesh out the character(s). In your case, I was thrilled that for once I don't have to make that comment ;)

However, I think I understand the frustration coming from the others. While your writing and word choice are well-crafted, I think there are some areas that could be chopped down and condensed.


#1.

Chris stopped pacing, his stern demeanour fading instantly. "Hey, Dave. I'm outside the house. Where're you?"
"I'll be there shortly. The traffic's a goddamn nightmare!"
"Okay, see you in a bit," said Chris, conceding the role of angry to someone who did it better.
"Yep." Dave hung up abruptly, barely giving himself the time to utter the single syllable.
Chris lowered his phone sheepishly - not quite the reprimand he had planned on giving. He glanced around as though checking that nobody had witnessed his weak display, spotting the grocery store down the street in the process. Some junk food would be a nice distraction right about now.

My suggestion here would be to get rid of those areas highlighted in red text. Especially the first line, "conceding the role..." - it doesn't make sense to me. I think I understand what you were trying to convey here (that Chris was attempting to stick up for himself but was just puffing himself up for nothing) but the way you showed it didn't necessarily work. Chop this bit down and you still have dialogue, albeit not that interesting to some, that would be indicative of the type of character Dave is: assertive and not much of a conversationalist.

By the way, is Dave an important character further down the road or is he just a "filler", i.e. a character that's there to help the protagonist move from one scene to the next? I enjoyed your descriptions of him but if he's not essential to the story, I'd be bummed about it because you did put in so much effort to bring a character to life who has no real reason to be there. Just a thought...


#2.

Stood in the confectionary isle of the store, Chris was overwhelmed by choice.

I think you mean "standing". This happens again here:
Stood beside him was a young woman.


#3.


Chris turned. Stood beside him was a young woman. Her black hair hung to the shoulders, delicate and fine, contrasting with the hypnotic blue of her eyes. Dawn White was captivating. "The texture is more satisfying," she said, drawing Chris in with an understated smile. She'd caught him off guard.
"Was I just thinking out loud?" he asked. Dawn nodded, her smile growing ever so slightly bigger. Chris grinned. "Well, thanks for the advice. I'll definitely factor it into my final decision."
"I'm sure you'll make the right call," she retorted, stepping closer. Chris' pulse flared as she leaned in ...and plucked a chocolate wafer from the shelf, adding it to the other items in her basket.
"You study here, right? At Moorbridge? I think I've seen you about."
"Yeah," she replied, intrigued. "I'm sorry, I can't say I recognise you."
"It's okay. I don't stand out much. I'm a second year."
"Third."
"So I guess you've got a busy year ahead of you."
"Yes, thanks for reminding me," said Dawn, playfully.
A man appeared at the end of the isle. Presumably another student of Moorbridge University, judging by his age and sapless apparel - a light blue shirt in desperate need of ironing coupled with dark jeans, too long in the leg and consequentially frayed. He remained at the end of the aisle, hands in pockets, meeting Chris’ eyes with his.
"Umm, is this your boyfriend or something?" Chris asked.
Dawn turned.
"You said you wouldn't be long. I've got to go to work in half an hour," said the man, sounding like he was asking for a favour. “I kinda, wanted to eat before I went.” Dawn acknowledged his request with a nod and he left in the same timorous fashion with which he had arrived.
Dawn turned back to Chris, exasperated.
"He's not my boyfriend, but I should go. It was nice meeting you ..." she trailed off, allowing the missing piece of information to fall into place.
"Chris." He jumped on his cue a little too eagerly.
"Chris." She smiled as she repeated it. "I'm Dawn. Maybe we'll run into each other on campus or something."
Chris opted for a nod over words. He'd made it this far without embarrassing himself. Dawn began towards the checkout. She knew she was being watched and was in no hurry to leave.
"How 'bout sooner?" Chris blurted out, surprising himself. Dawn stopped, half turning back. Her eyes pierced his as she considered the offer. Whatever she was thinking, she didn't let on, and Chris could only wait for her response, exposed. The moment felt far longer than its weight in time. And then, she approached.
"Where's your phone?" she asked. Chris fumbled around in two empty pockets before getting the right one. Dawn casually took the phone from his grip and keyed in her number. She placed the phone back in Chris' hand. "Now I do have to go."
Chris watched her leave the aisle. He looked to the accomplishment on his phone display. Getting a girl's number had never been so easy. No awkward back and forth. No waves of debilitating insecurity. It almost felt as though he hadn’t earned it. His thoughts were on Dawn as, without pause, he took a chocolate covered wafer from the shelf.

None of this seems plausible to me. I mean, I suppose it's very common that a boy develops an instant crush on a girl he first sees, but I doubt she would give her number out so easily to someone she just met unless she was either a) promiscuous (and that's a nice way of putting it) or b) really, really, really strange and we're going to get to see that come out later because it's necessary for the story.

If it's the latter (b), then maybe make it harder for Chris to get her attention. Maybe he fumbles with something. Maybe he causes an accident while being distracted by her. I don't think she should be handing out her number at this point, though. It definitely seems out of the ordinary for a girl to do, to me at least.

Additionally, I highlighted words/phrases that I felt were unnecessary or out of place for you to use as a guide for where you could revise.


#4.

The till clerk, Ned according to his name badge, was an unshaven twenty-something whose deadpan face was a clear indicator of his disappointment with life.

Again, this is like the issue I have with Dave the landlord - great detail, but is this character necessary to require this much attention? Food for thought.


#5.

Chris leaned into the light and drew a silver case from his shirt pocket. He pressed the small chrome button on its side and the lid pinged open, granting access to the contents which he tipped into his free hand: a lighter and a thick, half-smoked spliff. Chris held the crude roll-up to his nostrils and inhaled, savouring the scent of the herb within. This treat had been eroding its way to the front of his mind all day. He ignited the spliff and took a deep drag, the soft crackle of the smouldering marijuana merged with the sound of the falling rain to create a remedial ambience.
Though calming at first, the atmosphere began to turn. Beneath the chorus of the rain was a faint undercurrent of sound. Now that he had heard it, Chris couldn't stop hearing it. For no clear reason, it was unsettling. He concentrated on the sound, trying to isolate it from the distant traffic, from the rain on the roof and the swelling wind outside. Sobbing. It was barely distinguishable, but he could hear a woman sobbing.
Chris' eyes widened. He looked to the spliff in his hand accusingly. A whisper from the dark:
"I'm still here."
Startled, Chris threw the spliff to the ground and barged through the garage doors into the rain. He turned and looked back inside. The shadows were expunged by the tepid streetlight, and the garage was clearly empty.
Chris attempted to laugh it off as his imagination but it didn't take. He was scared. The doors of the garage squealed as he pushed them shut, sealing off the incident.


No real comments here - just wanted to tell you that I liked this part and that your crafting here is quite good :)


#6.

Just an overall formatting issue: when you post a large amount of text, could you possibly put spaces in between your paragraphs? I think it would help us all to see your line breaks better (it would certainly help my eyes to read through it better) and it may also help with the pacing.



That's all I've got for now! I hope you keep writing and provide us with more of your story. I'm intrigued, especially by the last part, and want to see where this is going.

Good luck!

~EC


P.S. Talking to your car is not weird. It's a good character quirk. I mean, I do it all the time - mostly to encourage him not to die on me while I'm driving. There's nothing wrong with that! haha ;)

powerskris
January 16th, 2013, 04:19 AM
2pebbles: I'm going to disagree with what everyone says here. I think what you wrote is an incredible start to a novel. I believe that you captured tone and mood effectively. I rarely comment on people's prose because I believe that first drafts shouldn't be posted to the public. However, what I see here needs very little to make it a good second draft, and after that, a great novel. I for one, would love to see the rest of the story. If you would like any further comments, please private message me.

2pebbles
January 18th, 2013, 01:49 PM
Well, first off, thanks for the replies. They were all helpful - for both suggestions as well as complements (winter blues seriously affecting my motivation, so anything to reignite my enthusiasm is very welcome).

Now that it's been pointed out to me, I can see how I have slowed down the story's pacing by overwriting some of the sections. I'm definitely going to try and trim down on some of the less relevant details. The in depth visualization is probably due to me having been concentrating on scripts up until this foray into another form, and when writing a script, you have to consider that it is a story told in pictures. Hopefully I'll adjust.

In response to ECFairWeather's question, Dave and Ned are set to be recurring characters... and Dawn might turn out to be strange as you supposed, but I don't wanna give too much away.

Regarding Jon M's comments: very helpful and honest, though they seem to have vanished from the thread. I would've like to have come back to them.

rotsuchi1
January 18th, 2013, 05:24 PM
this is very good :thumbr: good job