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Item Reviewed: "The Coroner"
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.
What I liked best
There is much to like in this little tale. The descriptions are vivid, the tension is magnificent, and there's plenty of mystery. It's more-or-less self-contained, but since it's tagged as a prologue, I'm sure it's part of a longer piece. If so, it serves as an excellent start, and will certainly hook readers to keep the pages turning.
Style and Voice
This chapter uses an omniscient narrator, in which the author stands outside the fictional events, looking in. The author knows the internal thoughts of all the characters; in fact, the author knows everything.
This narrative style dominated 19th century literature and continued well into the 20th. However, it has all but disappeared from commercial fiction today. About 30% of all contemporary fiction uses a first person narrator, while the overwhelming majority of the remainder uses third person limited.
Omniscient narration has many advantages, since it lets the author convey lots of information with minimal words. However, no one reads fiction to learn background information. People read fiction for the human connection with the characters: their sorrows and joys, triumphs and tragedies, loves and losses. Narration chills that connection, which is why it's so much stronger to reveal things through the words and deeds of your characters rather than by telling the readers stuff.
In third person limited, for each scene the author chooses one character to provide the point of view. The reader can know what that character sees, hears, smells, and otherwise senses. The reader can know what that character thinks, as well. But the reader has to infer these things about all the other characters through their words and deeds. The idea is that the author places the readers deep inside the head of one character, and then the readers encounter the fictional world through that character in a holistic manner, the same way we encounter the real world. That human connection, done well, will draw the reader into the story and thus into the fictional world.
A novel can--and usually does--have many point-of-view characters, but there should be only one for each scene.
The main character already provides the point of view for most of this chapter, except for interludes where the story stops while the author tells the reader stuff. The opening paragraphs, for example, are all told. He's an awesome character, and one the readers will immediately fix on. But he doesn't appear until the third paragraph, and doesn't really act, sense, or think until the fourth paragraph. I've marked a couple of other places where narrated interludes seem to interrupt the action.
This is really a terrific story. But you could increase the intimacy and immediacy by putting the readers in the head of your main character and keeping them there. That's my main suggestion for this tale.
Great plot, with lots of tension. The plot is simple, which is part of what makes it so effective. He's hunting the dark, rain-shrouded streets for something. He has a goal. When he finds the muggers and their victim, the stakes are high, as are the obstacles--he's outnumbered, for one thing. The tension continues to increase as the obstacles stack up. Great plotting, and great tension.
The nameless main character is fascinating and characters will inevitably want to know more about him. He's a great hook.
Eventually you give your main character a name--Blackcoat--but I'd suggest establishing the name earlier in the piece. It helps to draw readers into his head and will make the prose a little smoother by clarifying pronouns.
Good job here. The oppressive rain and the darkness add to the foreboding. Adding smells to the alley--perhaps from the restaurant or the trash--might be a nice touch.
Adverbs. You don't overuse adverbs (well, there are at least 50 in this short piece), but they show up enough to be worth a comment. You know what Stephen King says about . I think he is correct. Adverbs are often a shorthand in which the author falls into "telling" rather than "showing." I try to use zero adverbs, since otherwise I'd sprinkle them all over the place like fairy dust. I've marked one or more places in the line-by-line comments below where I think you might consider a more precise verb or a touch more description rather than an adverb.
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 really good prologue for your novel. The writing is strong, the main character is full of mystery, and the tension is awesome. You've also got a great hook to force the readers to continue to turn the pages. My main suggestion is to tweak this a bit to keep the focus on Blackcoat and avoid narrator intrusions, but those are minor quibbles. Thanks for sharing, and to keep writing!!!
Your text is in BLUE.
My comments are in GREEN.
If I suggest a re-wording, it's in GRAPE.
The rain fell gently on the streets of Philadelphia. My Comment:
Openings are critical in any work of fiction. Some editors and agents will decide whether or not to read your submission based only on your first sentence.
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.
In this opening, you do a great job setting the scene and orienting the reader. It reads like the start of an excellent news story. But journalism and fiction are two different things. In journalism, we expect there to be a reporter, standing outside events, reporting on them. In fiction, the goal is to draw readers into the fictional world, activating their imaginations, and luring them to collaborate with the author in imagining the fictional world.
There are several techniques to do this. Starting in media res, in the middle of action, is one. Another is to establish the point of view by putting the readers inside the head of protagonist--see my comments above.
So, while the opening is good, I think you might consider tweaking it by putting the main character in the middle of doing and sensing at the very outset, using that to establish the information that's in the opening.
He listened as the rain fell softly onto the brim of the black wool hat he always woreMy Comment: This is one of those adverbs I mentioned. Here, maybe the rain "drizzled," for example, for a more precise verb.
he thought, Why do I do it? Night after night, why do I go out and do this.My Comment: You have correctly used italic when quoting internal thoughts. However, most editors will deprecate thought tags--the italics alone are sufficient to indicate this is an internal thought.
Not being seen was a fairly difficult task. My Comment: This launches a paragraph where the author intrudes to tell the readers stuff. This is important stuff, to be sure, but it's all told as opposed to shown. It would be a relatively simple matter to tweak this so that it's in the POV character's head and still convey the information. You do this, for example, when he thinks about his goggles, but it would be smoother if it were folded into the action--say, he paused to wipe raindrops from the goggles. For another example, he might hitch the black bag on his back and his tools might clink.
Editors and agents tend to dislike these kinds of narrative interludes and call them "info-dumps."
Here we go again, the man thought as he quickly moved My Comment: see comments above on thought tags and adverbs.
What matters is that you're gong to leave that woman alone."My Comment: typo: going, not gong
The dark figure flashed a grin that frightened both the girl and her attackers.My Comment: Author intrudes to state a fact. It would be stronger to show their fear.
Recognition flashed across the boys face.My Comment: typo: missing apostrophe
An audible crunch could be heardMy Comment: Passive voice. It would be stronger to just describe the sound directly.
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!