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Monday, May 31, 2010

Paragraph Review Four - Untitled by Monica


First, the paragraph (or page, really) without commentary:






 Have you ever had the feeling that something was about to happen? You’re not sure if it’s good or bad, but all the same, you know its coming. What if there was something that you had to do, some mystical mission that you just had to accomplish? Do you think you would know what it would be? Would you even know where to look?

   Well, let me tell you, things are not what they seem. The signs that are trying to lead you in the right direction can only be ignored up until a point. That’s where I am now. At the point of no return, the point where I am standing at the other end of a pistol while some guy yells at me in Spanish about how I stole from him. I keep telling him that he has the wrong person, but he doesn’t listen. My face is void of expression as I plan my line of attack.

    After ten years of being a mercenary for higher you learn how to keep your cool under pressure. It felt like it was a whole other lifetime ago. It’s moments like these when you know God is testing you. I try to live a good clean life, you know. No more killing. No more drinking. Well, not as much drinking, but I think God knows my heart is in the right place. Most of the time I can ignore the fuck faces who try to start shit. But right now, this motherfucker is getting on my last nerve.


And now, with thoughts:


   Have you ever had the feeling that something was about to happen? You’re not sure if it’s good or bad, but all the same, you know its coming. What if there was something that you had to do, some mystical mission that you just had to accomplish? Do you think you would know what it would be? Would you even know where to look?

(Have you ever had the feeling you were being drowned in rhetorical questions?  There's a reason you don't start queries with one, let alone five.  The same for a book.

Save for the 'mystical mission' question, this feels like someone's left a Watchtower pamphlet on my doorstep.  I haven't the vaguest idea what this book could possibly be about - nor is there any motivation here for me to care.  It could be anything from signing up for the right car insurance, to local computer repair - but mostly it makes me think of late night evangelism on the public access channel.  Trying to get me to buy something, but not doing a very good job of it.

I'd dump this entire paragraph.)



   Well, let me tell you, things are not what they seem.

(Good, because I'm perfectly happy with my current phone company.)

 The signs that are trying to lead you in the right direction can only be ignored up until a point.

(All signs right now are pointing to 'stop reading', so there'd better be a different one soon.  So far there's been half a page of nothing.  I'm guessing that this book is supposed to be in the vein of Christian or 'inspirational', but at this point I'm completely guessing based on the repetition of 'signs' and 'right paths'.  Beyond that,  I couldn't tell you if this is supposed to be a memoir, how-to, fiction, etc.

I won't go into the sophomoric sentence structure at this point because there are so many other issues.  Were I reading for pleasure or information, I'd have passed by sentence one.)


 That’s where I am now.
(On the highway?  Because seriously, I have no idea what's going on.)


 At the point of no return, the point where I am standing at the other end of a pistol while some guy yells at me in Spanish about how I stole from him.

(Ok, I lied - this sentence is an awkward mess.  I'm not sure whether this is the start of the story, or another extended metaphor either.)

 I keep telling him that he has the wrong person, but he doesn’t listen.

(The beginning of the story.  First person present is a tough nut to pull off well, and this writer isn't doing it very much justice.  We have an unknown protagonist, in an unknown place, possibly speaking Spanish, who may or may not have stolen, um, something.)

 My face is void of expression as I plan my line of attack.

(A protagonist who can look at themselves from the outside, apparently. I've got nothin'.  There are absolutely no emotional cues, no visuals, no input whatsoever to connect with the reader.)

    After ten years of being a mercenary for higher you learn how to keep your cool under pressure.

(Unless this mercenary has wings, it's for 'hire'.  A flub this basic and obvious, combined with the missing comma in this sentence, says the writer has a long road ahead.  We've also jumped voices, and the character is now speaking directly to the reader, another trick that's hard to do well, and not working here at all.)


 It felt like it was a whole other lifetime ago.

(What 'it'?  Being held at gunpoint? Stealing something?  We've jumped completely out of the scene, before ever being in it.)


 It’s moments like these when you know God is testing you.
(Aha! This is supposed to be Christian or Inspirational.  Beyond that, I still haven't the vaguest idea what I'm reading.)


 I try to live a good clean life, you know.
(Like mercenaries are known to...

I can't figure out if the writer is trying to tell a story, or make me take that Watchtower pamphlet.)


 No more killing.
(Ok, so what does this hired gun DO, then?)

 No more drinking. Well, not as much drinking, but I think God knows my heart is in the right place.
(This is an awful lot of explaining unnecessary crap to the reader while the character is presumably being held at gunpoint.  It's called an 'info dump' and needs to be edited out.)


 Most of the time I can ignore the fuck faces who try to start shit.
(The profanity here feels really forced and out of place, and is still more of an aside to the reader than the thoughts of the character.)

 But right now, this motherfucker is getting on my last nerve.
(This is the first sentence where I've felt the presence of the character, rather than the author.)



This has a LOT of problems, the two biggest ones being the info dump and the author insert.


For readers unfamiliar with the terms:

An info-dump is pretty self explanatory - it's a whole bunch of information or asides that have absolutely nothing to do with what's currently happening, and that the reader doesn't need to know at that point in the story.  It most often appears in high fantasy, where the writer is so proud of every bit of world building that they have to share every single note with you;  or in historical fiction, where the writer tortured themselves learning every small detail regarding a time period and wish to subject the reader to the same.  

If your name is Neal Stephenson, you can get away with it.  Otherwise, knock it off.



An author insert is where the author emotes on a topic or situation, rather than the character.  It pulls the reader out of the story, changes the voice, and is generally considered one of those 'things that shall not be done'.  

In fiction, one important thing to remember is that people are reading to be entertained.  If they happen to learn something on the way, cool.  They're generally not reading fiction to learn one writer's personal views on anything, read political manifestos, or to be preached at.  If the writer happens to be good enough to get a message in there somewhere, cool. (Terry Pratchett is a wizard at this. He is also an extraordinary writer.)


This would be a hard pass with zero qualms - there's just too much wrong.  The writing feels stilted and unnatural - like reading a high school essay - it feels like the writer isn't yet comfortable with the basic rules of writing in English.  (I do not know if English is the writer's native language.)

I give props for attempting a couple of very difficult gags, even though none of them worked.


What I would advise, is not to worry so much about trying to send a message.  Worry about crafting an interesting story full of well rounded characters.

Thank you, Monica, and best on your writing journey.

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