It’s been interesting to read the comments over the last couple of days. Sunday night, I critiqued Ginny’s first paragraph. (More on that in a minute.) Monday night, I went to a local writer’s group meeting (and got to see one my loyal blog readers, Camille, in person instead of on-screen) but got home too late to blog. Today I’ve been working on a special project on a tight deadline, so haven’t checked in to the blog until just now. In the meantime, my loyal blog readers have been busy making comments here. A few responses before I critique Dale.
Are you still writing, Randy? You share about so many things you’re doing. I can’t imagine how you do it all. Do you keep a daily count of words or pages? I’m only asking because I’m waiting on your next book.
Randy sez: Yes, I’m working on a proposal now. Actually, the proposal is done and my agent loves it, but I’m still polishing up the first few chapters. Things are going slower than I’d like, because of course I’m doing a LOT of teaching these days, and also have some other projects going on that I consider important. That’s one reason I work so hard at managing my time better (not to mention managing that pesky money).
Ginny wrote, in response to my critique of her paragraph:
On the technical note, I used “nanosecond” because this “explosion” turns out to be something other than what we, in this four-dimensional world, call “nuclear.” It’s the “instant” (hence, faster than microseconds) re-making of the world that happens when Christ returns to set up His new kingdom.
A TECHNICAL, SCIENTIFIC QUESTION FOR YOU, RANDY, IF YOU HAVE TIME TO ANSWER: CAN THERE BE MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF “NUCLEAR” RADIATION? IF MY “EXPLOSION” ORIGINATES FROM OUTSIDE THIS FOUR-DIMENSIONAL WORLD, COULD THE RESULTING RADIATION BE CALLED “NUCLEAR”? OR IS “NUCLEAR” TOO SPECIFIC A TERM?
Randy sez: OK, that’s a bit of an unexpected twist. It’s quite possible for physics to get screwed up and change everything, and that would be something like an explosion. It would presumably move at the speed of light. Physicists years ago did consider the question of whether some sort of phase transition could happen that would propagate at the speed of light, throwing us into a different vacuum and thoroughly rearranging reality in the process. That’s a disaster! But it’s not much of a story, because no characters would survive it.
In your case, you’re not talking about a nuclear explosion, but neither is it exactly a phase transtion to a new vacuum. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m wondering if it’s limited to earth, and if so, why? If it can extend out into space, then it would presumably whack our heroes in the space ship at roughly the same time the cutoff in the transmission happens. (That pesky speed of light again.) I would say you can do whatever you want here, but just figure out the rules and be consistent.
Now, on to critiquing Dale’s first paragraph:
Jeremy Crowther turned the corner onto Freeman Drive and saw his house for the first time in a year. His first thought was that nothing had changed. The same cracks ran down the edges of the same beige stucco walls. The same wet magnolia leaves overflowed the same sagging, moldy gutters. The same brown patches of dirt fought the same brown patches of grass for control of the same brown yard.
Randy sez: This is very good! We are in Jeremy’s head from the get-go. There is no cheating here–Dale is not withholding information from us. But he’s doling it out to us at a speed that makes us want more. That’s not easy to do. It’s very easy to tell too much or too little at the start of a story. Let’s look at what we know:
1) We know Jeremy’s been away for a year.
2) We know the house isn’t in great shape.
3) We know Jeremy knows he’s not going to win any Architectural Digest awards.
4) In short, Jeremy is a very ordinary-sounding guy, except for that missing year that’s been mysteriously taken out of his life.
But we don’t know why he’s been gone. That’s good. It arouses the reader’s curiosity in a natural way. This is a hard balance to strike, and Dale struck it well. If I opened this book in a bookstore, I’d absolutely read the whole first chapter. This is good writing, and I can’t see one single thing to gripe about.
Notice Dale’s use of “The Rule of Three” here. “The Rule of Three” says that if you’re going to repeat something, say it three times, not just twice. If you say it twice, it feels like you made a mistake. When you say it three times, it’s clear you meant it. Dale has three sentences that start with “The same . . .” It has a good strong rhythm to it.
Dale, you get an A for this paragraph.