PDA

View Full Version : Necessity



Jay Greenstein
October 21st, 2016, 03:35 AM
I need an answer. What follows are the opening pages of my W.I.P., Necessity. It’s a romantic, multi-country adventure. I’ve included the first few pages, because that’s where a reader usually makes the decision to read or say, “never mind.” And that’s what I need to know.

For good or bad it is what it is. So, I need a reaction: If you found this in a bookstore and began reading, would you make it to the end of what’s shown, or say no before that—and if so, where and why?

Good or bad, I would really appreciate feedback.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Part 1 - Beginnings

Jim Cross stepped onto an empty platform. As the train rumbled away, blowing for the crossing, he looked around. The area was a wasteland of abandoned factory buildings, idled, as time, technology, and the migration of industry to cheap labor markets passed them by. With a sigh, he headed for the plant, a five-minute walk away. It wasn’t going to be an easy property to sell.

As he walked the driveway from the permanently open main gate, he gathered impressions.

The main assembly building was a slab-sided barn of a building, its galvanized metal sides rising over sixty feet into the air, a five minute walk from end to end. Dirt-coated windows lined its upper face, but far too many frames gazed emptily down at him. He watched as pigeon sailed into one, backwinging to land on a nearby beam.

It would be almost impossible to heat, even if the glass were to be replaced.

° ° °


Nearly two hours later, inspection complete, he left the more modern office buildings and headed for the gate. It was now a matter of chewing through the numbers.

He turned the corner of the assembly building and stopped. Two cars and a large step-van were parked front of the main building, but shouldn’t be. Matlock and Sons was supposed to have exclusive rights. Curiosity bent his steps in that direction.

He’d nearly reached the cars when the stuttering roar of what sounded like a machine-gun reverberated throughout the plant, sending flights of glass panes cascading down from the upper levels, as the vibrations dissolved their age-fragile bond to the window frame.

Holy shit! He jumped in surprise and fright, then did so again as shattering glass provided a crystalline echo of the shots.

For a moment he froze, his mind trying to reject what his ears reported: human screams of agony punctuated the gunfire. Then, belatedly realizing his own danger, he spun, seeking sanctuary.

But the closest corner of the building was several hundred feet away, and the vehicles were useless as cover. That didn’t matter, though, because before had taken more than a few steps armed men appeared in the building’s doorway.

Four men, armed with lethal looking weapons came through the door, taking up defensive positions in front of it—lean, hard men, with a decidedly foreign air about their dress and faces.

Jim had time to note this almost idly, as the surprise on their faces turned to anger and their guns lifted to converge on him. He gazed at death almost without comprehension as he waited for the guns to cut him down. It was too sudden, and too far out of his range of what was possible to accept as real, so he stood, sheep-like, blinking in confusion and unable to react.

A barked command brought the world back into focus. A fifth man had joined the original four, and at his word the men brought the guns down from the shooting position to a cradled rest in the crook of their arm. Still, the four weapons pointed steadily toward him.

At a second command, two of the men trotted forward, careful not to block the line of fire. Taking him roughly by the arms they pulled him toward the man who had given the order, caring little if he walked or was dragged.

Two more men exited the building, followed closely by a third, squinting in the light and scowling at the sight of him. This third man wore an expensive suit, the flash of diamonds on his fingers bright in the early morning sun. His swarthy skin and knife-blade nose advertised his nationality as Middle Eastern. A glance at the others showed they were of the same racial type. The word “terrorist” came, unbidden, to mind.

While he stood shaking in the iron grip of the two gunmen, this, their obvious leader, indulged in heated conversation with the man who had stopped his execution. Their eyes never left his face while speaking, and the two men not restraining him maintained a visual sweep of the area.

The conversation ended abruptly, on a note of command, as the leader turned and strode toward the cars. Another command, this time from the man who had halted the gunman, and Jim was searched, quickly and efficiently, then hustled to the step-van. Following that indignity, they tossed him into the rear of the van like a sack of trash. Two of the gunmen joined him, pulling the rear door shut as they entered, to sit on the floor, backs braced against the rear corners of the van and facing him.

He lay where he’d fallen. The stink of fear filled the van—his, for certain, but likely that of the previous occupants, too, now undoubtedly sprawled on the floor of the plant.

Some time later, the third and fourth gunmen entered the front of the van. One of them started the van and slammed it roughly into gear, then drove with a reckless abandon that brought a smile to the faces of the men sitting with him. One of these shouted something to the driver, who responded with a sharp comment. Both laughed, but the driver modulated his pace. The man had probably warned the driver not to be stopped by a local policeman.

How many more people left the building that morning was an unknown. The van had no windows. In any case, his full attention was on the men holding the guns.

Surprisingly, they made no move to taunt or humiliate him further. Not the sadistic bullies the media seems to portray in such a situation, these men were clearly professionals at what they did. They’d been ordered to watch him, and like faithful guard dogs, did no more and no less.

Relieved of one of his immediate fears, he moved to sit against the sidewall of the van, away from the men, uncomfortably bracing himself against the bumpy ride and trying to understand what had happened. In this he was unsuccessful.

Rational thought, or for that matter, any thought, seemed to elude him. Stray stupidities, like the profound wish he hadn’t chosen to take advantage of the plant visit and leave for work later than usual that morning, filled his mind. That idea was the closest thing to a coherent thought that occurred in the next half hour.

Still, even the act of having a gun pointed at you can become boring after a time. Jim’s fear was receding when the truck turned hard left, then slowed, as the ride became more rough. Apparently, they were traveling a secondary road, whose paving was in a poor state of repair.

He tried to keep track of turns and distances as they traveled. He also tried to memorize the faces of his captures—with as little success. Thin faces, olive skin, and a cruel, unsavory look around the eyes was as far as he got. Giving up on tracking their route he returned to studying the men. But in the end, what he took to be an evil look might be his reaction to the difference in facial characteristics between the American norm and that of their country. For all he knew, their people thought them handsome. To his inexperienced eyes though, they and the situation were too strange to do more than classify them as foreign and frightening.

Again the truck leaned as it rounded a corner, more gently this time, to his relief. The pavement abruptly smoothed, and in a few seconds, following several more turns, the truck lurched to a stop. Wherever they were going, they had arrived.

LeeC
October 21st, 2016, 04:01 AM
Running short on time, but I stopped to read this as you didn't seem to be asking for a lengthy critique.

As to a story opening, yes I'd likely read further.

Not what you asked for, but a few too many commas for my taste, distracting slightly.

Also re "That didn’t matter, though, because before had taken ..." I think you're missing a pronoun.

Not bad ;-)

Ptolemy
October 21st, 2016, 04:11 AM
While I do want to read on, nice plot, interesting story, good prose. I do have some comments

At first I got a real 1930's Chicago vibe for some reason. The train ride, walking to the job, etc. The 2 cars and the step van gave me a real "Valentine's massacre" vibe. That may just be my simple mind because obviously it's set later on (2010's?). My suggestion is to give some clues to the time frame. Like the cars, you can make them modern day cars to give the reader an early on effect that it's modern. While the reader eventually clues in that it's modern due to the "terrorist" line, I feel if we could get an introduction to the time frame earlier it might help a bit..

Also it seems a little more telly than showy for me. A lot of commas too, but again that's just me. I guarantee to anyone else it would look fine.

Overall it it seems like a pretty nice piece I wish you the best on it.

DATo
October 21st, 2016, 08:56 AM
Greetings Jay Greenstein,

In the past I have been the sad recipient of several scathing critiques from your pen of my own writing. In my memory I have only agreed with one of them and then only tangentially. As a result I have failed to follow your suggestion that I read your "writing advice" articles because I already felt that they would be of no use to me. Those who have read my short stories and my follow-up responses to well meaning critics would be aware that I am always enormously grateful for any constructive criticism which can benefit my writing and I have always expressed that gratitude severally and without hesitation. I have no patience however with nit pickers who often trash an entire composition because it does not dovetail with their own, preconceived personal tastes or affinities. I was at a loss to reconcile how other readers of my stories were generally appreciative in their responses to my efforts and yet there was always one who could find reasons invisible to myself or the rest of my reading audience to drag my work over the proverbial coals.

But I have always held that niggling doubt which worries at the back of one's neck that you might be right in your critiques of my work. Perhaps it was my own pride which was taking offense at your attacks. For all I knew you could be an accomplished writer whose boots I am not fit to polish. I thank you for putting those doubts to rest with the writing example you have posted above.

But after all you have offered criticism to my work and so I feel it is incumbent upon me to reciprocate in kind. Rather than extending this already lengthly response I will simply refer you to an essay entitled Cooper's Prose Style, by Mark Twain. This will not solve all of the problems I found in your piece ... but ... it's a start.

Ariel
October 21st, 2016, 12:20 PM
I stopped reading in the first paragraph. It's a little too telling for me and the writing up to that point is bland. I'd read further to give a more comprehensive critique but, frankly, I don't think that's what you're looking for.

bdcharles
October 21st, 2016, 01:50 PM
Hi Jay,

First kudos for putting some of your own work out here for crit. It's good to finally get to read some of your stuff.

There were a lot of great, evocative phrases here:
"shattering glass provided a crystalline echo of the shots."
"Stray stupidities"

The first para was good. I got into the desolate cityscape feel, with the whistle of the parting train blowing in my ears; such a great sound - if there was ever a leaderboard of evocative sounds that has to make the top five. I feel like you portray JC (heh, can we expect great things from him? ;) ) well at the start - world-weary - and this mood is reflected in the surroundings.

That said, I didn't make it to the end but then this seems to be in early draft stage. I suppose this site is in many ways a nonideal audience because you're writing for writers here, not readers, and - well, you know what a pernickety lot we can be. But I'll comment anyway:

I would think about some of your word choices. Some people have mentioned excess commas and I am inclined to agree. Eg:

Jim Cross stepped onto an empty platform. As the train rumbled away, blowing for the crossing, he looked around. The area was a wasteland of abandoned factory buildings, idled, as time, technology, and the migration of industry to cheap labor markets passed them by. With a sigh, he headed for the plant, a five-minute walk away. It wasn’t going to be an easy property to sell.

That third sentence was a bit of a struggle for me. "Idled" - I get what you're saying, but should it not be "idling" or "left to idle" or something, because as it is, the operative word of the sentence is "was" - the fact of something existing. Have that thing interact with other things. Then you can reduce the was count and still have the setting the way you want it; eg:

Jim Cross stepped onto an empty platform. As the train rumbled away, blowing for the crossing, he looked around at the wasteland of abandoned factory buildings, idling in a steady decline as time, technology, and the migration of industry to cheap labor markets passed them by. With a sigh, he headed for the plant, a five-minute walk away. It wasn’t going to be an easy property to sell.

With this:
"As he walked the driveway from the permanently open main gate, he gathered impressions."
I should hope so, otherwise he's not going to be much of a point of view holder! Is he actually noting down impressions, in a clipboard for instance? Let us know. Then he could bang it against his leg or something to suggest his state of mind. If not, then let us be him for a bit; give us the impressions and we'll note them down.

Also, how would he know if the gate is permanently open when he's only just got there. Want permanence? Stack an old tire and a tangle of weeds up against it so we can tell that it ain't gonna be closing any time soon, and has probably been untouched for quite a while. You don't need exact numbers - just enough of a general sense.

With this:
"Nearly two hours later, inspection complete, he left the more modern office buildings and headed for the gate. It was now a matter of chewing through the numbers.

He turned the corner of the assembly building and stopped. Two cars and a large step-van were parked front of the main building, but shouldn’t be. Matlock and Sons was supposed to have exclusive rights. Curiosity bent his steps in that direction."

I would be inclined to consider having that moment as your start, simply because otherwise we kick things off with a warehouse inspection and run straight up against a two hour break. Now, I have a hankering to go to Detroit and do some urban exploring. I'm well aware that this is a terrible idea so in the absence of that I would be happy to do it vicariously - via the medium of photography and, yes, books, so: take your train whistle and crumbling urban no-mans-land and slot them in here somewhere without pause for a coffee break or health and safety tour or anything. I want to be amid the dereliction, just now cognizant of the threat. The way it is now, we are left with a sense that his conflict is against poor insulation, summed up by "It would be almost impossible to heat, even if the glass were to be replaced dot dot dot"

Alternatively - take us on the warehouse inspection but really take us there. Make it the adventure I want to have. Have JC scrambling up some rusty girders, clipboard in hand, when he hears something - a bang of falling metal for instance. He freezes. The sound is not repeated. Strangely there are no sirens in the distance - he could almost be in a deserted concentration camp - but nonetheless he continues noting down fixtures and fittings (what little there are that haven't oxidized to nothing) when there it is again. A car door - no doubt about it now. They shoudn't be there - no-one should; Matlock and Sons was supposed to have exclusive rights.

I think the biggest issues for me were word choices and level of detail. I wanted more stuff around for him to explore (as I say above) and the motions to be conveyed more vividly. eg:

"Curiosity bent his steps in that direction."

I can't remember curoisity ever having bent anything of mine to anywhere - except maybe my ear to a thrumming train track. You are God in this world. Yes, you need him over there, but you can rhumba him the whole way there if you want. You can have him clamber over any object you care to drop in his way. And you choose the objects to reflect the mood. If I was him I would be feeling at least a morbid curiousity; probably some fear, a lot of excitement, and if I saw a gaping hole in the debris-strewn floor of the building, I would doubtless peer in. My leather brogues (can't think of the brand right now, but they're brown - suggesting a certain everyman quality to me) would knock fragments of concrete into its black depths as I struggled over the mountain of shattered masonry from the collapsed ceiling far above, and towards the noise.

Another issue of word choice:

"But the closest corner of the building was several hundred feet away, and the vehicles were useless as cover. That didn’t matter, though, because before had taken more than a few steps armed men appeared in the building’s doorway."

To me it would matter like hell! I want it to matter!

Another:

"Giving up on tracking their route he returned to studying the men. But in the end, what he took to be an evil look might be his reaction to the difference in facial characteristics between the American norm and that of their country. For all he knew, their people thought them handsome."

You know, I think this guy might actually just save us. He seems so incredibly unflappable that even a gunshot to the face would be but a mildly interesting event to him. But seriously, pick his voice - choose what type of person he is, or what mindset he is in, and write to that. And why not feature the men - are they craggy, Slavic, what? As it is, you say that he is fearful; it's just I'm not sure if I believe you!

Anyway hope this helps. Thanks for the read :)

Jay Greenstein
October 23rd, 2016, 03:43 AM
Thanks, all.

Sleepwriter
October 26th, 2016, 03:51 AM
I cant tell what time period we are in. Though with the term "terrorists" i would assume something recent. The story so far is not my cup of tea, so i would not read further. I continued to the end, because i was hoping for something to grab me.

You do have some nice descriptions though.

CrimsonAngel223
November 2nd, 2016, 09:01 PM
Could be a little better with showing not telling but it was good regardless.

Olly Buckle
November 16th, 2016, 10:29 PM
nit.
He watched as a pigeon sailed into one, backwinging to land on a nearby beam.



Both laughed, but the driver modulated his pace.Moderated?


How many more people left the building that morning was an unknown.Was unknown to him rather than 'an' unknown, presumably they knew.


Still, even the act of having a gun pointed at you can become boring after a time.

'Still, even having a gun pointed at you can become boring after a time.' the act is pointing the gun, that is them, not him, he is passive.

Sorry, not what you were asking, but I hope it helps some. Would I read further? Well, it is not really my sort of book, I read mostly non-fiction, but if it were , yes, I think I would continue. Two small points, firstly as I read the first line I assumed he had missed the train, the second line put me right, but it was a stopper right at the beginning. Secondly, might it be better to open with gunfire and armed men, then explain how he came to be there? A description of a deserted factory estate does not make a great beginning, though admittedly you don't make a meal of it.

All the best, Olly.

Jay Greenstein
November 16th, 2016, 11:01 PM
Thank you. No matter how many times you edit...

Thanks to the comments here I've trimmed it further, so he discovers the cars when he passes the main building, trimming the setup to basic scene-setting.

Book Cook
November 17th, 2016, 10:03 AM
Tsk tsk, Jay. Practise what you preach. I see a lot of telling here. Also:


That didn’t matter, though, because[,] before he had taken more than a few steps​[,] armed men appeared in the building’s doorway.

Alright, you missed the pronoun. That's not the issue. But the missing commas are, at least to me. Whenever I come upon a complex sentence that is missing a comma/s, I need to go over it again. I've found that even the big names are guilty of this.

JustRob
November 17th, 2016, 02:06 PM
I got lost right at the beginning. I assumed that Jim Cross stepped onto the platform from the direction of the booking hall just in time to see the train rumbling away because he'd missed it. The text took some time to correct that initial impression but by then I had the feeling that if all the writing needed me to recap on what I'd already read to make sense then it would be hard work. When a reader opens a new book they are starting a journey, so in retrospect it was quite reasonable for me to assume subconsciously that the protagonist was also.

I didn't make this up just to be awkward. All my life I have been both plagued and blessed with a mind that often sees things from a different angle to many other people. It's like one of those optical paradoxes where an image can be seen two different ways and the mind randomly flips from one to the other once both have been seen. I always seem to get the other before the one though. So, now that I've mentioned it, who else sees the opening that way? They say that the opening is all important but this one seems to have a flaw.

Fair comment Jay?

P.S.
Here's some more analysis of my interpretation of the opening. "Jim Cross stepped onto an empty platform." "Empty" implies no other people and also no train. That sentence doesn't mention a train, so there is none in the reader's mind yet. The next sentence explains where the train is, not at the platform (as the reader already knows) but rumbling away, so Jim had no chance of catching it. My initial perception was logical given the order in which the information was provided, which painted the wrong picture. Yes, I think it is fair comment.

Olly Buckle
November 17th, 2016, 11:02 PM
Yes, as I mentioned in my post that was exactly how I saw it, Rob, though I think I caught on sooner, literal minded old men ?