By Joe Moore
We continue our one-page critique project at TKZ with an anonymous submission called Bullet’s Name.
It was just after eleven on a Sunday morning when God-fearing people were in church and reprobates were sleeping in from reprobating all night.
Jasper Green was waiting for me in a rundown colored roadhouse a few miles outside Salisbury, North Carolina. I parked the well-worn Ford sedan that I’d rented three days earlier for ten bucks a day from a less-than-honest car dealer in Charlotte. I parked just shy of sparkling Dodge coupe with a Carolina plate.
The front door stood open so I crossed the porch and walked into the dim interior. The water-stained ceiling undulated gently like the surface of the ocean. The pine floors were worn paper smooth and the place smelled of spilled beer, cigarette smoke and a hint of a shallow piss pit out back. Some of the dark-brown floor stains looked like residue from blade work.
Green sat like a king with his back in a corner, his black hair pomaded to his narrow skull like sun-baked paint. His right hand was under the table, his dusty brown eyes reflected amused disinterest. A young negress, with a lithe body that gave turned a simple cotton shift into an elegant gown, was delivering a bottle of whiskey to his table when I came in and she looked at me like I was tracking in a dog turd.
In a welcoming gesture, Jasper Green smiled disarmingly and raised his chin to invite me over. When I got to the table, he pointed at the chair opposite and said, “Sit down and take a load off, buddy.”
I would recommend that the writer proofread the work before submission. Even if this is a rough first draft, the writer could have taken a few seconds to make sure this single page was clean and devoid of errors. There are words missing: “the” or “a” before the word “sparkling”, and extra words that don’t belong: “gave” just before “turned”. We are told twice in a row that “I parked”.
Regarding the writing, there’s nothing wrong with using metaphors, similes and strong description to create atmosphere and sense of place. But in this example, there are way too many. Some are confusing and some just don’t work. I don’t think using the verb “undulated” is a good way to describe a ceiling unless you’re drunk on your back staring up at it.
I would bet that beer drinkers love the smell of beer. I would even bet that they would have no issue with the aroma of spilt beer. I think what the writer meant was the odor of spilled beer from a week or a month ago—the smell of stale beer.
I assume the dark stains resulting from “blade work” mean blood spilled from past knife fights. That almost works, but for me it was too obscure.
I would suggest changing “colored roadhouse” to “negro roadhouse”. In today’s politically correct mindset, colored does not have the impact that negro would.
I’ve heard of people described as having a narrow face or even a narrow head, but a narrow skull doesn’t quite put a vivid picture in my mind. Word choice is so important. The word skull, for me at least, has a totally different connotation than head. And is pomaded the right word choice for this setting? The first page may not be the best time to send your reader running for a dictionary or the writer trying to exhibit an extended vocabulary. Remember that you are establishing your voice from page one.
From across the room, the main character could see that Jasper’s eyes were a “dusty brown”, a description I find somewhat attractive for a person the writer is trying to paint as a dark or questionable character.
The sentence that starts with “A young negress” lacks proper punctuation. It also paints a contradiction. This “lithe” girl who turns rags to royalty when it comes to her wardrobe suddenly is assumed to think in terms of turds. A complete turn-off for me.
An overall comment: you cannot describe a character into being good or bad. This can only be done through their actions and reactions. This submission tries to use description to do the job. It may be a sign that the writer doesn’t “know” the characters well enough yet.
Summary: proof read, use economy of words—less is always more, use proper punctuation, and start a story at the moment of impact where the main character is tossed out of his or her comfort zone. Chances are, an agent would not read beyond this page.
What about you? Would your read on?
Download FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.