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Trygve
March 29th, 2014, 05:10 AM
​ (1302 words) I generally like thrillers and crime novels, and I prefer to write in third-person limited.This is the first chapter of a story that just didn't seem to work at all until I switched to first person, which I struggle with, from the point-of-view of a female character, which I've never attempted. I also like to start right in with some action and weave in the back-story as I go, but I couldn't get the characters to the scene of the real action on day one without some setup, and I fear I've committed the unforgivable sin of being boring. What I'm really not quite ready to admit is that this may end up belonging in the Romance section. Any critiques would be appreciated
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“Mom said we’re on a mission from God.” Karen had her head turned so I could hear her from the back seat. The speedometer needle in Dad’s old tank was closing in on seventy-five miles per hour.

“Please just watch the road -- or is this a death mission?” I unbuckled my lap belt and scooted up to lean on the back of the Lincoln's front seat, my head a floating passenger between my two younger sisters.

“Relax, Julie. This is North Dakota. The road doesn't bend until we reach the highway.” Karen was at least looking ahead now, into the arc of light that poured over the undulating gravel road and the snow ridges that whirred by on either side. Flat clouds of snow drifted across the road in bunches like ghosts sneaking across no man’s land in some frozen war of attrition.

“Oh, I know it’s North Dakota. It’s minus forty degrees without the windchill, and it’s ten o’clock on a Tuesday night, and we’re like the Blues Brothers on a mission from God; except that they wouldn’t push a ‘78 Lincoln this fast down a gravel road.”

“And there’s three of us,” Cindy said. She half-turned toward me from the passenger side of the front seat. “And we don’t have those black hats -- fedoras, right?”

I looked at Cindy, the middle child, the blonde sandwiched between two brunettes, between the straight arrow and the wild child. On her way into the world, she must have intercepted an extra quantum of light. Her blonde hair glowed, and her blue eyes made Karen and me wonder if we should call our eye color something else. Cindy was the exception to the rule of middle children having to compete for attention. Karen and I learned early on that the best way to get what we wanted was to have Cindy ask for it, especially where any man other than our father was concerned.

“Yes, they were fedoras, but we’re getting off-topic. I don’t understand how this insane girls’ night out is a mission from God. Are we going to stage a hold-up and use the money to save an orphanage?”

Cindy smiled, and I was reminded that she also got the deepest dimples and highest cheekbones. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “Mom has declared it a mission from God because Jake is at the Bearded Barley with his brothers, and Mom is one hundred percent sure that God and Mother Nature and maybe even Satan want the two of you together.”

“And how does Mom know who is at the Bearded Barley tonight?”

“Because our husbands are there,” Karen said. “And our husbands are there because Mom told them to be there. And Jake is there because his brothers dragged him out for the night. You wanna know why they dragged him out for the night?”

“Because your husbands are friends with Jake’s brothers and you have all conspired to bring the two of us together?”

Karen nodded and began to slow the car as the stop sign at the highway intersection glowed red and silver in our headlights. “I guess you really are the smart one, but it was less of a conspiracy than just a bunch of worker bees following the Queen’s orders.”

I let my head drop onto my forearms atop the back of the leather seat as Karen made a rolling stop and turned left onto the highway. I couldn't believe I’d been out-maneuvered by a woman who did not even know how to send a text message.

“Does Jake know that I will be there?”

“Oh, no!” Cindy said. “Mom made it very clear that this should be a surprise for Jake. She wanted it to be a surprise for you, too, but she knew that you’d ferret it out before we got there.”

“And I suppose Jake’s parents know about this as well?”

“His mom, at least,” said Karen.

“Great, and everyone expects Jake to immediately be smitten with me? Do you realize that I have been up since four-thirty in the morning, Eastern Time? I’m going on my eighteenth hour without sleep after a four hour night. I barely had time to change and freshen up before Mom was shoving us out the door on this emergency romance mission. This might have worked for me a decade ago, but my thirty-six-year-old face isn’t quite so resilient.”

The warm, dry air in the car wasn't helping. My eyes felt hot and grainy.

“And did anyone even stop to consider that I might not be interested in Jake? I do have a boyfriend, you know.”

Karen laughed. “You’ve had a lot of boyfriends, sister, and how many have we met? Zero. That’s probably because Jake Larson stole your heart twenty years ago and neither of you even knew it. I’ve seen your face a hundred times when his name has come up, and there’s no way I’ll ever believe that you’re not interested.” She had the car back up to speed on the highway. We still hadn't encountered another vehicle. Probably, the only sound for miles was the combined hum of the Lincoln’s gas-guzzling engine and its tires rolling over smooth asphalt.

“Okay, let’s assume you’re right. I mean... I’ll even admit that Jake has always held a place in my heart, but that doesn’t mean the feeling is mutual. He was married and had a son. Does anyone really think he’s going to take one look at my tired face and decide
it’s time to make a fresh start?”

Cindy handed me a fabric clutch with a brass clip at the top. “You’ve got about twenty minutes to work on your face, Jules. There’s a compact with a light and a good collection of makeup in there.” She paused and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “You don’t have to worry about knocking Jake dead because you did that a long time ago. His brother, Erik, said that Jake has framed copies of all the magazine cover shots you got on your little excursions together, and he has a binder full of magazine covers and
other photos you had published after he left for college.”

I held the compact in my left hand and a wedge of makeup sponge in my right. The eyes in the little round mirror worked hard to fight back tears. I cared that this man cared about me, and now I cared about what might happen when I saw him. Sobbing on his
shoulder didn’t seem like the winning move, but I couldn’t fight fatigue and emotion at the same time. I needed a pratfall or a pillow fight or about ten hours of sleep.

Karen had caught sight of my face in the rear-view mirror. “Don’t worry, Julie, a quick walk in those minus sixty wind chills will have you rosy-cheeked and clear-eyed in no time.”

“I hope so.”

“By the way, you should also know that Jake’s marriage wasn’t all that great for quite a while before his wife left him. ”

“And his ex has remarried and been divorced twice in the two years since then,” Cindy said.

“Wow, you guys are like the Jake Intelligence Agency. Do you have his house bugged?”

Cindy shook her head. “Jake’s mom just likes to talk my ear off, for some reason. She’s a first-class complainer and an even better gossip, and Karen has little birds who tell her all the things people reveal when liquor has loosened them up.”

I was feeling like a pawn in my own love life. I finished my makeup, slid back into the plush leather seat, closed my eyes, and saw the swans.

Ari
March 30th, 2014, 05:23 AM
'lo Trygve. Thought I'd return the favour (:

First thing. Please keep it in Crime and Thriller! Murders are much better than kissing.
Second thing. So far, it's seems quite ordinary. It is well written but there's nothing that makes it stand out, either for better or for worse. There's a lot more dialogue than I'm used to.
If I was reading this I'd have picked it out because I felt in the mood for a good murder, and there's nothing yet that would have made me stop reading. So, you get points! Plus, ordinary is not a bad thing. A lot of people like it, I think.

One sentence I want to highlight is this:
"In all my years of working as a photographer and as managing editor at a fashion magazine, I had never come across anyone with such impossibly blue eyes..."
And at once I went, "oh, I have! Elijah Wood!" which knocked me out of the story. Not sure if that would happen to anyone other than me ^_~

Trygve
March 30th, 2014, 06:39 PM
Thanks, Ari. I actually wanted to start this with Julie in a near-death experience, but it started getting clunky when I tried to show how she and Jake got to the scene. So, I went back to the night before to bring them together and set the scene for the next day. I've heard the rationale for writing a beginning, a middle, and an end and then cutting out the beginning and the end, so my thought here was to write a beginning that may just end up being an exercise in characterization and dialogue.

The sentence you quoted bothered me, but for a couple different reasons: 1. It's straight-up narration and 2. It contains the adverbs impossibly and naturally. I usually search a rough draft for "ly" and try to cut them all out.

I may have to re-watch an episode of 'Wilfred' to check the blue eyes thing. I was thinking of a relative who is often asked if she is wearing colored contacts.

I have two plot lines diverging in a yellow wood here: one happily-ever-after and one where Jake is murdered but Julie does find peace and grows from the experience. I don't think I'll know which way it's going until the characters take me there. I didn't even know their names until I started typing. Funny thing is that I know that the last two words of either plot line are "Central Flyway."

This is also the first time I've typed a first draft. I usually blaze through them longhand on legal pads and then type them in, often revising as I go. I figure it will save time if I can get myself to think onto the computer screen, but I'm definitely feeling some beginner's soreness.

stormageddon
March 30th, 2014, 06:59 PM
Too well written for me to pick out much v.v one thing I will say, if you have a character explaining their exhaustion in dialogue, you don't need to put it in the narrative as well, so I'd cut "The fatigue was getting to me. My eyes felt hot and grainy." as it's unnecessary. And I've already run out of things to say :p
Unless I've missed some horrendous mistake, it's really good~
And I know what you mean about beginner's soreness with writing on computers; I've just started myself e.e

thepancreas11
March 30th, 2014, 08:16 PM
I'm going to echo Ari to start: you've included this in the Crime and Thriller section, but there's not much here to suggest that's where it is. I like the idea of establishing the characters before you throw them pellmell into murders and near-deaths, but if you go too far back, you end up in a place where there's not really any action. The best thrillers I find have subtle ways of teasing out the suspense even the in the places where there seems to be nothing really going on. Something you might consider is that romance in and of itself breeds tension, especially when there's another woman involved.... If I had to guess, his ex-wife is going to come into play here. If that's the case (and even if it's not, frankly), you really shouldn't gloss over all that background about his kid's death and her going crazy and so forth. That's something that could really start carrying the plot for you to start. That's something that could introduce a little mystery.

Another reason why your story might be dragging is that you tend to include details that really suit no purpose. "Radial" tires, for example. Why bring that up? You want to dissect a piece like this, removing the excess. A thriller or a crime drama's lifeblood comes from the importance of detail and the brevity of the prose.

To that end, I think it's not a bad story at all. I actually rather enjoyed it. You need to toy with what makes it special, what you can bring to the table of the genre, but you've got a natural way of writing. I will say, be careful not to slip into your own voice when writing (i.e. "front and center").

Trygve
March 31st, 2014, 05:40 AM
Stormageddon: Thanks, I do want something other than ellipses to establish a pause between the two pieces of dialogue, and I think I've come up with something better than a simple restatement of her fatigue. I'm glad that I'm not the only one transitioning from longhand to typing. One thing I've noticed is that I'm more tempted to pause and revise when I should just be getting words on the page.

thepancreas11: Totally agree with you on removing the excess, and you made a good catch on the "front and center" -- I guess I haven't heard that phrase much outside of the military circles I've traveled in. Thanks. I also felt like the part about the death of Jake's son was awkward and I will probably change that and let it come out in more detail between Jake and Julie.

Ari
March 31st, 2014, 06:19 AM
Oh, I see. So it's an extra beginning...

"I have two plot lines diverging in a yellow wood here: one happily-ever-after and one where Jake is murdered but Julie does find peace and grows from the experience."
Hmm. I have nothing wrong with happily ever after. Just so long as someone gets murdered and there isn't too much kissing. But just personal stuff... If you write put up more, I'll definitely read it!

Trygve
April 1st, 2014, 02:28 PM
Thanks, Ari. I've written another 1500 words and have a better idea of where it's going. I feel like I should offer more (helpful, I hope) critiques before I post the next installment. There are a few more things to edit on this first part, but I think it's time to make progress on the story and revisit that later.

Missingtrees
April 19th, 2014, 06:44 PM
Hi
Good story - just a couple of points (which I hope are helpful!) I've been reading about editing and am in that frame of mind, so apologies if I get carried away......

Why would she unbuckle her seat belt if she thought they were on a death mission?
I'm not sure you need some of the words in here, for example, speedometer needle, is needle required
I agree with Stormageddon, too!

I enjoyed reading this, and I don't know where you're going with it, BUT, it feels like there is going to be a car crash, or a man in need of help so they stop an he turns out to be a murderer .......

Look forward to reading the next bit!

Trygve
April 20th, 2014, 09:38 PM
@ Missingtrees,
Thanks for the feedback. Here's a link to Central Flyway ch.2 (http://www.writingforums.com/threads/146229-Central-Flyway-Ch-2-(1700-wds)) . There are a couple reasons I had Julie unbuckle and move. First, to get her sister to stop looking back to talk to her. Second, to highlight two things: 1.That she's come home to a place where she feels like she's safe and can trust people; and, 2.That she has sort of reverted to the way she felt and behaved when she was a teenager. A woman in her mid-to-late thirties would have grown up largely without any seat belt laws in North Dakota, and the first laws only covered the driver and front seat passengers. Also, it's exceedingly rare to see law enforcement on those rural roads.
As the story goes on, she will learn that in the rural area where she grew up, both man and nature can be dangerous, and there won't always be someone there to save her. She'll also find that not everyone (and particularly not law enforcement) can be trusted.
If you look at the next part, be aware that I have already made several changes incorporating what others have suggested in their critiques.
Thanks again, and I'll take the speedometer needle suggestion under advisement for when I return to do more editing.

Missingtrees
April 21st, 2014, 10:01 AM
Ah OK, I understand! I suppose some of this is down to the difference between North Dakota and the UK - but it makes perfect sense now. :)

Recon
April 21st, 2014, 10:25 PM
Very nice writing, Trygve. I haven't had a chance to look at Chapter 2 (apparently, I don't have permission to follow the link), but from what I've read so far I have generated a few comments:
1. You are a very good writer, prose-quality-wise.
2. I noticed you don't seem thrilled with this introduction, but remind yourself that almost any novel you pick up at the library takes roughly twenty pages (at a bare minimum; most take far more) to "start getting good." You've used about five, so when you reach chapter six or seven, you can start worrying about whether you have enough action yet. Your writing quality is fine throughout and I feel like a good exposition is one of the hardest parts of a novel to write.
3. You do a very good job staying on topic. That will really help you in terms of action writing, where suspense and fast pacing are key.
4. Nice pacing, by the way.

Trygve
April 22nd, 2014, 01:32 AM
Thanks, Recon. I'll check the link. If you joined in the last couple of days, it may take another day or so to get access.

Recon
April 22nd, 2014, 03:03 AM
That's probably it. I'm still in the new members category.