Greetings & first scene of WIP for critique. 893 words.

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Rufus Coppertop

Who pinched my --ing harp?
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Jan 23, 2010
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Melbourne
Greetings to everyone here,


My WIP is set on a parallel earth in a Roman empire that never collapsed. The MC's are Nathan and Donald, a pair of 12 year old cousins. The first few scenes are really about character intro and showing a bit of their world as well as giving a bit of minor conflict to keep the reader interested while the plot proper starts to kick in and the main conflict is revealed.


In this scene, we only meet Nathan. The most important thing I want to know is, would you would actually keep reading, or is it too boring?


At a technical level, in the beginning, I have a series of extremely short paragraphs. The effect I'm hoping for, is one of urgency. Does this actually work?








Nathan spotted a twelve year old girl in a burgundy bustle dress, crossing the cobblestones a block and a half away.

His heart leapt as he recognized her.

Rufina!

He took off up the street, running past a temple.

A bookshop.

A sweet shop.

Slowing down, he swerved to avoid a group of factory workers and craftsmen on their way to work.

He picked up speed again and sprinted past the temple of Mercury.

The hardware shop.

The police tower.

His boots pounded.

Ahead was the post office corner.

Closer now.

He was almost there.

A gaggle of alchemists in robes and skull caps spilled out of their guild house ahead.

“Look out!” he cried and tried to stop.

He skidded on the pavement and overbalanced.

Plunging forward, he flung his hands out to break his fall as the largest of them caught him.

“Good morning, Master Entwhistle,” said the alchemist, steadying him.

“Morning,” Nathan panted, recovering his balance. He glanced at the corner and back to the alchemist. “Sorry sir! Thank you!”

He took off again.

“It’s only a quarter past eight, you know!” the alchemist called to him as he reached the corner.

He spotted Rufina across the street and halfway down the block.

“Oh thank you gods!” he said to himself.

She was admiring the fashions in a clothing shop.

Nathan leaned against a fluted lamp post to get his breath back. After a steam lorry went by, he crossed the street and called out to her.

“Rufina!”

She looked around as he approached and waited for him.

“Hello Nathan,” she said. “Have you been running?”

Nathan nodded. “Yeah, I saw you crossing the street. I’ve got something to ask you.”

“It’s nice to know we’re almost on holiday,” she said.

“I’m just glad we don’t have to lug books around today. Hey, Rufina! Could we maybe …?”

“Meeting Donald?” she asked cutting him off.

“Yeah,” said Nathan. “I’m a bit early. Thought I’d wander up to his dad’s workshop. Listen, would you like to …?”

“Nathan!” she said, “you have to get him to take the day off. It’s holiday break-up, yeah? It won’t matter.”

“But why?”

“The Zimmerman twins,” she said, referring to a pair of fourteen year olds in their class.

“Oh right,” said Nathan with a sneer. “They’re going to beat him up, I suppose.”

“Yes, they are. Definitely.”

“Rufina,” said Nathan, “Those idiots are going beat him up every day.” Raising his hands, he shrugged. “Never seems to happen though.”

Go on! Ask her!

Nathan wiped his palms on his trousers. His stomach was fluttering. “I don’t suppose you’d like to …”

“It’ll happen today!” Rufina said. She stepped closer and glared intently at Nathan. “They’re leaving school for apprenticeships.”

“But their dad’s the woodwork teacher!” Nathan said. “He’ll get into trouble too. Rufina, could you and I …?”

“So you haven’t heard the news?”

“Oh!” Nathan slumped his shoulders and sighed. “What news?”

“He resigned yesterday. He’s popping in today to give us our marks and that’s it.”

The woodwork teacher had almost lost his job once because of his sons beating up other boys. Because of Nathan and Donald’s social status, he had never concealed a dislike for either of them.

Nathan’s eyebrows shot up as the implication sank into his mind.

“Uh oh!”

If Zimmerman was no longer officially a teacher, he could not be held responsible for what his sons did at school today.

“How d’you know?” Nathan said.

“I was sitting behind them at the electric theatre last night. Overheard them talking between news reels.”

“And?” said Nathan, shifting a little and motioning with a hand. “What did they say?”

“Well,” said Rufina, “Odo said, we can beat the crap outta Highpa tomorrow. Dad said so.”

“Gods, he’s a total *******, isn’t he?” said Nathan.

“He is,” said Rufina, nodding. “And anyway, so then Gaius said, the little pansy’s asking for it, mincing around in those flash, high pants and getting top marks for everything.”

“Bloody hell,” Nathan said with a low voice. “I’ll let him know.”

“He’ll probably come anyway,” she said. “You know what he’s like.”

“Do I ever!” Nathan rolled his eyes. They were only going to have three classes today but marks would be read out loud at the end. The gods themselves would need to put in overtime to stop Donald turning up for that.

“Uhm, Rufina …”

She reached out, touched his bare forearm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’ve got something to ask you, Nathan.”

Nathan felt as if his heart skipped a beat. “Really?” Hardly daring to breath, he smiled. “What?”

“Do you think Donald would go out with me?”

Nathan forced the smile to stay on his face as he crossed his arms. “Ah, maybe.” Shifting his weight onto his right foot, he uncrossed his arms and tried to look relaxed. “You like him?”

“Gods yes,” she said. “He’s bright, handsome and such a classy dresser.”

“Oh,” said Nathan, letting the smile drop slowly. “Yeah well, that’s why Odo and the others pick on him.”

“They think he’s gay,” said Rufina. “Dunno why it matters to them.”

“Jealous of his brain,” said Nathan. “Either that or class envy or something.”

“Probably. Anyway, let him know.”

“Course I will.”

“And ask him if he likes me!” she said.

“Absolutely.”

Yeah, right!
 
It's like a list, or a poem, at the beginning. Doesn't really work for me and I couldn't read it all. It feels sort of... jumpy. Is it for young adults?

(Welcome to the forum, by the way. :))
 
Welcome, Rufus, have you thought about introducing yourself in the Introductions room, tell us a bit more about yourself and get accosted by a giant spider, a dragon and maybe the odd wolf? Sorry, I'm putting you off the idea, now, aren't I :D

Ok, welcome, then :p

:D
 
Just a quick comment for now (and welcome btw). I thought technically it worked OK, I got the sense of urgency, and I did read to the end. The problem I had with it, is that the situation of character A who wants to ask out character B but is delayed from doing so before B reveals that she wants to go out with character C (hmm, there must have been a quicker way of putting that) is rather cliched. If you're writing for 12-year-olds or younger -- I'm guessing so, because of the age of the MCs and the whole piece has a very "young" feel to it -- it might not be such a problem, but even so it would be nice if you could think of some way to get in a fresh angle.

I thought you were pretty successful though in getting the background info across in Rufina's interruptions.
 
Hi Rufus, and welcome. So brave to arrive and post on your first day! Well done, you...

You haven't asked for a full critique, so I'll stick to what you wanted: would I keep reading? Absolutely. I have to admit to skimming the bits about the bullies and the punch-ups that were coming, because I wanted to stay with the two main characters in this scene. Not sure it was distracting, but part of my brain was going 'get on with it' and the other was saying 'this could be an important setup for the story'. So I'd find out later.

But. I found the interaction between Rufina and Nathan great to start with, and (in my humble opinion) it went on too long, and it was starting to become irritating. I got very quickly that he fancied her - your intitial set up, the way he raced after her, his heart beating etc all told me that he wanted to ask her out (or whatever), and the first two - what would you call them?- misunderstandings? - between them were very good indeed. But then it kept happening, and, for me, it lost its power, moved away from drama to melodrama and was in danger of becoming music-hall comedy.

You show teenage angst very well, but you're hammering the point with Nathan, I'm afraid. I have to admit to thinking 'why would he want her, she's sooo thick'. And she's not listening, she comes over as fluffy, almost brainless. The kicker at the end is perfect, though ( I have a feeling this happened to you at some stage in your teens, it smacks of real experience - hope writing it down has given you some closure....) sorry, been marking too many psychology papers recently...

Where were we? Oh, yeah, the put-down at the end. It is great, but I'm now convinced she is an airhead. Is that what you intended? But Nathan comes over really well.

I had no problem with the way you formatted it, and I agree with you that short sentences keep up a sense of drama/tension. One small nitpick: your opening line gives the game away that he knows her because you tell us he spotted a 12 year old girl... P'raps this might inject more of that urgency you want, because it's a very descriptive opening line you have at the moment:

Nathan's heart leapt as he recognized Rufina crossing the cobblestones a block and a half away.

This way, your first verb is an 'urgent' one. Not sure the colour and style of the dress is necessary just here. Then you'd carry on with the chase, the slip, and maintain the urgency.

But I enjoyed it. Good work.
 
Thanks for the feedback everyone!

Interference - good idea. I've taken your advice and posted up an intro.

HareBrain - the cliche factor didn't occur to me but I'm glad the interruptions worked in giving some info. That, as well as pissing off Nathan was exactly my intention.

Boneman - I can see what you mean about melodrama, but yes, it is an important thing to set up what's coming.

Mouse - Can I trespass on your generosity and ask where it was that you found you couldn't keep reading? Is it the short paragraphs / listyness that put you off?

Or is it just that this particular story isn't your thing? I've found on the "Absolutewrite" forum that there are pieces that a lot of people thoroughly enjoy which I just cannot get into at all.
 
Yeah, I think it was the list-like-ness (?!) of it that put me off, because in my head I was reading it in a sort of stilted way. Plus, I tend not to critique longer stuff on this forum anyway, because I don't have the attention span for it and feel like I'm not giving the person's work justice if I can't go through and read it all - though I will comment sometimes with things that stand out to me.

I stopped reading at 'he was almost there' because I glanced down and saw how long it was, and that it was all short paragraphs. But that doesn't mean that it's badly written or anything like that!
 
While I didn't stop reading, I did skip ahead until I was sure all of the listing was out of the way.

I gather from previous comments from you and other posters that the conversation with Rufina is supposed to be extremely frustrating from the standpoint of Nathan. If that is your intent, you've done it very well. I'll go ahead and assume it's just a case of infatuation with her - like Boneman said, she comes across as fluffy and brainless. I find myself disliking her character at this point.
 
Does this work better?



Nathan’s heart leapt as he spotted Rufina crossing the cobblestones in her bustle dress, a block and a half away.

Hoping to catch her, he took off up the street but had to swerve to avoid a group of factory workers on their way to work.

He picked up speed again and sprinted past the temple of Mercury, the hardware shop and the police tower.

With boots pounding on the pavement, he was charging towards the corner when a gaggle of alchemists in robes and skull caps spilled out of their guild house ahead.

“Look out!” he cried and tried to stop. He skidded on the pavement and overbalanced.

Plunging forward, he flung his hands out to break his fall as the largest of them caught him.

“Good morning, Master Entwhistle,” said the alchemist, steadying him.

“Morning,” Nathan panted, recovering his balance. He glanced at the corner and back to the alchemist. “Sorry sir! Thank you!”

He took off again.

“It’s only a quarter past eight, you know!” the alchemist called to him as he reached the corner.

He spotted Rufina across the street and halfway down the block.


And yes, Rufina is definitely meant to be a fluff head. Part of the reason for his present infatuation with her is so that he can have a little bit of conflict with his cousin Donald who is going to cop a beating from some bully boys at school.
 
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It's like a list, or a poem, at the beginning. Doesn't really work for me and I couldn't read it all. It feels sort of... jumpy. Is it for young adults?



You took the words out of my mouth, Mouse. It IS just like a list, and I really don't care for that either. Now don't get me wrong-it CAN work that way. But not as individual paragraphs. This is a fantasy and/or scifi story you're working on here, Rufus, not a grocery list.


It seems just interesting enough as to pique a sufficient reader's curiosity once we get beyond the town description, though. I'm not sure if you'd be able to keep it going long enough, though, because as I said, it was JUST interesting enough, and reader's curiosity fades if it starts out weak the way it did here. So the advice I have is, describe the town in longer paragraphs with sentences containing more than three or four words, and get back to it then.
 
It seems just interesting enough as to pique a sufficient reader's curiosity once we get beyond the town description, though. I'm not sure if you'd be able to keep it going long enough, though, because as I said, it was JUST interesting enough, and reader's curiosity fades if it starts out weak the way it did here. So the advice I have is, describe the town in longer paragraphs with sentences containing more than three or four words, and get back to it then.

Thanks for that, I'll be able to spend some time on it in the next few days and will put up a revision to see what people think.
 
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