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Item Reviewed: "Tara. Chapter 1"
Author Lady TJ
Reviewer: Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
As always, these are just one person's opinions. Always remember Only you know what is best for your story. I've read and commented on your work as I would try to read my own. I hope you find something here useful , and that you will discard the rest with good cheer.
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What I liked best
Creating real, breathing characters is hard to do. Hitchcock said that the audience--or readers, in our case--cares about the characters. The plot, he continued, is there to give the characters something to care about.
So, by far the things I liked best about this chapter are the two characters. Both are three-dimensional and believable. Tara, in particular, is sympathetic, with clear goals, stakes, and obstacles--more on that below. An air of mystery--almost a menacing air--hovers about Jordan. She's clearly got her own goals, but we haven't learned what they are yet.
Goals, stakes, and obstacles are the building blocks of tension and plot, so you've also got the foundation for a great plot here.
Overall, then, I think this is a strong opening chapter. As you'll see in the line-by-line remarks below, I had a number of tweaks to suggest, but the creativity you've shown here is impressive. Certainly, this chapter will engage readers and make them want to know more about these two friends.
For Tara, she's got two basic problems. First, she's still in mourning for the lover that died five years ago. Second, she's now engaged to a wealthy suitor, but she's told him nothing about her depth of feelings for the lost love. This sets up conflicting goals--dealing her consuming grief and with her fiance. Her future is at risk, so the stakes are high. For the moment, the obstacles are interior.
Jordan, on the other hand, has secrets. She also appears to be concerned about her friend, but at the same time she's a bit heartless in the face of Tara's grief. This gives her a suggestion of menace. Her concern about her friend is also a bit shallow, since she doesn't even listen during Tara's heartfelt poetry reading. So, on balance, Jordan appears poised to be an obstacle Tara will have to overcome.
In addition to the plot threads involving Tara's lost love and her fiance, there's the thread of her career as a poet, and strong suggestions of problems with her mother. There are lots of opportunities for conflict here.
Then, there are the several suggestions of mystery surrounding Jordan. I like these subtle references, leaving us guessing as to what is going on. I sense a plot twist coming, probably late in Act II.
A hook is something that forces readers to turn the page to find out what happens next. Certainly, you've got two compelling characters. But an effective chapter will end with a hook that grabs the readers and forces them to keep reading. I've found this blog helpful in thinking about hooks in my own writing.
Style and Voice
The first half of the chapter is third person limited in Jordan's head, while the second half is third person limited in Tara's.
There aren't really any slips--no head-hops, for example. But there are a couple of author intrusions, where the actions stops while the author tells the readers stuff. Editors and agents call these "info-dumps," and they interrupt the natural flow of events in the here-and-now. It's almost always better to find a way to convey the information through the words and deeds of the characters than through author narrative.
Modern era, probably Los Angeles.
The opening scene in the bathroom and the later scenes at Irving's and Free Versed all have good descriptions. However, the descriptions all feel like the author is standing outside the story, describing the setting. As above, it's better if you can somehow internalize these descriptions things that the POV character is seeing and otherwise sensing. This takes practice and thinking through what the character thinks and feels as they enter a new venue, but it's well worth the effort.
I usually find things to whine about here, but your grammar appears impeccable to me.
I do have a suggestion on paragraphs. Many times, you will one character speak and then, in the same paragraph, you will describe the reaction of the other character. If the other character speaks, you correctly start a new paragraph, but if the reaction is silence or a gesture, you tend to put it in the same paragraph as the original character's speech. This isn't wrong, but it can make it harder to keep track of who is doing what.
Thus, I'd suggest that you put the speech of character A in one paragraph, and the reaction (or non-reaction) of character B in another paragraph. That makes it easier to follow the give and take of the conversation.
Just my personal opinion
One way to think of telling a story is that it is a guided dream in which the author leads the readers through the events. In doing this, the author needs to engage the readers as active participants in the story, so that they become the author's partner in imagining the story. Elements of craft that engage the readers and immerse them in the story enhance this fictive dream. On the other hand, authors should avoid things that interrupt the dream and pull readers out of the story.
This is a good opening chapter. I found lots of minor things for you to think about, noted in the line-by-line comments below, but that doesn't detract from the many strengths of this chapter. The dialog is smooth and credible, the characters are intriguing, and there's good tension. I also liked the air of mystery surrounding Jordan and Tara's apparently unresolved issues both with her lost lover and with her mother. Use whatever of my suggestions you find useful, but do keep writing! This shows talent! Thank you for sharing!!
Your text is in BLUE.
My comments are in GREEN.
“You’re still in love with a dead man,” Tara’s friend Jordan said.My Comment: This is a pretty good opening paragraph. It starts in the middle of action, you name your POV character, orient the reader in place, and establish a basic conflict to resolve--why is Tara in the tub in the first place? But I have at least one suggestion.
Your opening is your best opportunity to draw readers into your fictional world, to induce a dream-like state in which your words guide their imaginations. The readers become the author's active partners in imagining the fictional world, in a state of suspended disbelief. In crafting the opening of any story, it's the author's primary task to launch this fictional dream. One way authors do that is to establish the point of view, so readers experience the fictional world through the POV character.
That brings me to opening with a character speaking. Generally, it's better to first establish that Jordan is the point-of-view character by having her interact with her surroundings or sense things. By opening with her speech, we don't know whose point-of-view we are in--Tara, Jordan, or maybe even someone else. We know who is speaking, but we don't know whose point of view hears the speech. Thus, I'd start with some sensation as she enters the bathroom--maybe she steps on soggy towels on the floor, or maybe there's the scent of lavender in the bath water--something to put the readers inside her head. It could even be the slosh of water that draws her attention to the occupant of the tub.
Saying she "watched" Ta in the tub is certainly one way to do this, although it's also a subtle form of telling. Usually, it's better to first establish the point of view. Then you can directly describe what she watched--direct description being more immediate and intimate that the indirect "she saw/watched/heard" or otherwise sensed. If you want to emphasize she watched, you can always have her react to what you just described.
“Are you trying to make yourself sick or something?” she asked. Her friend didn’t respond.My Comment: The rule on dialogue is that each time a new person speaks, you start a new paragraph. Here, Tara doesn't speak. She doesn't answer. But Jordan takes her lack of an answer as a response. Indeed, you start Jordan's next line of dialogue in a new paragraph. Just for clarity--and for emphasis--I'd consider putting the second sentence here in its own paragraph. The same comment applies to the rest of this little exchange and, as noted above, elsewhere in the chapter.
“Whenever all of this is over, meet me at Irving’s.My Comment: From context a few lines down, I infer that Irving's is a coffee house or other establishment and not a friend's residence. Adding, "There's a reading tonight" here would resolve that moment of uncertainty. (I see later that Irving's is a bar, and reading takes place elsewhere, so even my initial inference was wrong. Readers are fragile creatures and easy to confuse, so I'd advise clarity.)
As Jordan was getting ready, she could hear her friend’s cries. My Comment: "She heard" is like "she watched" above. Also, Jordan seems a bit heartless here. I don't know if that was your intent or not.
Irving’s was a city landmark, known to locals as the “place of healing”. To others, it was just like any old bar. My Comment: Author intrudes to state a fact. This disrupts the here-and-now flow of events.
Jordan was an average-sized, average kind of person.My Comment: Author intrudes again, stating facts.
She was in her early twenties with skin like brown sugar and sweet butter mixed in.My Comment: The antecedent to "she" would be Jordan, even though it's clear that you mean the newcomer. I'd be specific here and say "The newcomer was in her early twenties..."
Also, this would be a natural place to have Jordan mentally contrast her own appearance with the newcomer's--a way to sneak in the description above that fits with the flow of events.
“You look good dry, girl!” Jordan said. Tara laughed as she skimmed the drinks and flipped over to the page with the chicken.My Comment: So the newcomer was Tara!! That wasn't at all clear.
Free Versed was a little hole in the wall spot in Culver City, My Comment: Author intrudes again to state facts.
She wondered if Jordan was going to stop by.My Comment: So the POV has shifted here to Tara. I'd suggest establishing the new POV immediately after the break--the three ***s. See above--put the readers in Tara's head by having the description of the bar begin with her interacting with and/or sensing her surroundings.
If I suggest a re-wording, it's in GRAPE.
I only review things I like, and I really liked this story. I'm a professor by day, and find awarding grades the least satisfying part of my job. Since I'm reviewing in part for my own edification, I decided long ago to give a rating of "4" to everything I review, thus avoiding the necessity of "grading" things on WDC. So please don't assign any weight to my "grade" -- but know that I selected this story for review because I liked it and thought I could learn from studying it.
Again, these are just one person's opinions. Only you know what is best for your story! The surest path to success is to keep writing and to be true to your muse!
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