Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bread Crumbs Through the Tale



We have for our consideration the first page of a tale entitled “The Acolyte,” and if this opening is any indication the rest of the book is going to be a good one. I like being tugged --- take that any way you want --- and the opening sentences of “The Acolyte" tugged me in:

“No TV,” the stone-faced boy blocking the oak double doors said. “No cameras.” To Moran he looked seventeen or eighteen, nearly a man. The boy glared down the granite steps of the church at the television news crews on the old brick sidewalk. Three cameramen, three on-air reporters.
“It’s going to rain soon,” one of the cameramen said.
“Hey, tough s**t,” the boy said. (edited by blogger)
Slender, about five-nine, he was wearing a stiff white shirt with a polka-dot tie and a navy blue suit, the pants a little too short, Moran thought. The television people knew who he was. He flicked his hands at them and they stepped farther back, out of the path of a few approaching mourners.
Moran, maybe an inch or two shorter than the boy, in his late thirties, followed the mourners around a gray mound of lingering April snow and up the granite steps. “I don’t have a camera,” he said. “Just a notebook. I’m from the Portland Pilot. I’ll just sit in the back where I won’t disturb anyone. All right?”
The boy stared at him. “What’s your name?”
“Jake Moran,” the reporter told him, starting quickly around him through the open doors. “Thanks.”
Moran shivered, feeling the cold dampness inside the stone church, remembering to genuflect before edging into a worn mahogany pew. He had never covered a funeral mass before. He watched the rows of pews in front of him becoming full, writing a rough head count on a fresh page of his reporter’s notebook as the organist played a muted hymn, close to eighty people now. Soon he heard the priest’s voice, a cool monotone echoing off the granite walls. “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.”
The reporter watched him lift his bowed head and open his eyes. Gradually, showing a little dramatic flair. Looking young for a priest, probably younger than forty, with reddish hair and a boyish freckled face.



The author begins dropping breadcrumbs from the first sentence, leading the reader right down the path of the story. There’s tension from the getgo. Why are no TV or cameras allowed? Who is the bossy little punk guarding the doors to the church? In the immortal words of Loretta Castorini, “Who died?!” Why do people care? The author makes me what to know the answers. Additionally, I want to follow the trail of breadcrumbs into the church. Once I’m in there, I can practically smell the incense and the burning candles, hear the faint echo of the priest’s voice a millisecond or so behind what he’s saying. The author reveals just enough to give the reader a picture, but lets the reader fill in some blanks and thus become involved in the story process. Even the (technically incorrect) use of sentence fragments works, and works well.

At some point, I’d like to see more of “The Acolyte.” I have a feeling that at some point down the road, sooner rather than later, I will. Nice work.

11 comments:

  1. I would be drawn in a bit more if some POV issues were resolved. We are obviously supposed to be in Moran's POV, so getting in his head closely is essential.

    The first two lines do that, then we have:

    The boy glared down the granite steps of the church at the television news crews on the old brick sidewalk. Three cameramen, three on-air reporters.

    Now we're in the boy's POV. That's what I call a "speed bump." A reader may not consciously notice it, but it takes him out of the intimacy we're trying to establish with Moran.

    Slender, about five-nine, he was wearing a stiff white shirt with a polka-dot tie and a navy blue suit, the pants a little too short, Moran thought.

    Now here is a chance to deepeb that intimacy, and remove the need to put "Moran thought." GIVE US THIS IN THE POV CHARACTER'S VOICE, e.g.,

    The punk was skinny, maybe five-nine. Stiff shirt made him look skinnier, and what was with the polka-dot tie?

    We would know this was Moran's POV and thoughts without any attribution.

    Moran, maybe an inch or two shorter than the boy, in his late thirties, followed the mourners

    This is a common POV mistake. Moran would not think of himself in these terms. This is the author's voice, telling us about Moran.

    “Jake Moran,” the reporter told him

    Again, Jake would not think of himself as "the reporter."

    The reporter watched him lift his bowed head and open his eyes.

    Again, same thing. We are being "removed" from the heat and intimacy of Moran the character, leaving us detached. I want to be in his head all the way. I would be much more inclined to follow those "breadcrumbs" if I was invested in the character more.

    My suggestion is to re-do this in close 3d Person POV, tight, and do that for the whole book.

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  2. I agree, Joe. This is a good start--strong atmosphere and sense of place. Jim's edits would greatly improve on this. The POV does tend to bounce around not knowing where to land. But the sins this author committed are so forgivable since I get the feeling there's a compelling story here and I would read on.

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  3. I agree with Jim's assessment on POV, both as Joe squared have said, this is a compelling story. The author's natural instinct for bread crumb morsels makes me want to read on. The close third that Jim mentioned would make a better voice for a story that has my attention.

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  4. I am really enjoying this series and learning a lot! Thanks so much for doing it.

    I loved this snippet and definitely want to read more. The author's talent is evident.

    Good lesson in JSB's comments. I see how addressing the POV glitches could definitely make the piece stronger and make every word count.

    Except for the first comment that the line about the boy glaring down the steps being in the boy's POV. I didn't read it that way. I felt I was in Moran's POV. I don't think the boy would refer to himself as the boy if we were in his head. Am I missing something?

    Thanks again for sharing, author, and thank to TKZ for these posts!

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  5. You are, Sheri -- the reporter wouldn't comment on the view of the boy by specifying how many reporters he was looking at, at least not in this way. So far I agree that this is a GREAT start. POV errors aside (which are highly common for anyone), going over this in the rewrite would easily tighten this up. Kudos to the author!

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  6. Great discussion, all.
    That POV thing rears its ugly head again.
    I've found that learning to become the character as I'm writing helps with this very important issue. When I act out the scene as if I were the POV character, the issues resolve themselves, and my readers can hear my character's voice, not my author's voice.
    Good points with these critiques. I love this classroom.
    Paula

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  7. Good job, not much else to say that hasn't been said. I felt the chill in the building, and smoothness of the pews, and sensed a coldness among the mourners. Well written.

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  8. Honestly, I was so caught up in the story that I missed the p.o.v. issue. The three-cameramen, three reporters segment at the beginning could just as easily have been interpreted as coming from Jake's p.o.v.; obviously, however, Jake wouldn't refer to himself as "the reporter," as James correctly pointed out, and all of James' notations would make for a tighter book. I think we all agree, otherwise, that this first page carries the promise of a fine tale. Well done!

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  9. Oh, yeah. WHAT'S GOING ON?? I want more. Excellent writing.

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  10. Thanks, everyone. The praise is heartening, and the comments are on-target and useful. — John Lovell

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  11. I know this is probably very presumptuous, but some commenters said they'd like to read more of The Acolyte (which I am revising), so here is the rest of the first chapter: https://files.me.com/lovell/m55xp3

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