Saturday, October 22

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Inspirational Romance Opening Work?


Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Three

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through November 12.

This week’s question:

Does this partial scene opening work?

Market/Genre: Inspirational Romance

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Connie Pappas stepped out of Chicago’s August heat and entered her father’s restaurant through the back door, when a feeling of unease gnawed at her. The dim light and the vacant, black-cushioned chair where he sat at this time of day concerned her. Since his heart attack he worked on the books here daily without fail.

Still, she could smell the roast leg of lamb baking so the restaurant wasn’t closed, but the dining room lights weren’t on. How unusual, this close to opening The Greek Key for dinner.

With a rush of adrenaline, Connie whizzed through the swinging doors into the main dining room and switched on the lights. There near the corner table her father sat in a wooden chair, head in hands with his elbows pressed down on the blue and white tablecloth.

She hurried toward him. “Dad. Are you all right? What’s the matter?”

He lifted his head and stared straight ahead with a distant gaze. “He’s dead.”

Her pulse rose. “What?” Connie’s voice rose to a feverish pitch. “Who?” She slid into the chair next to him and squeezed his hand.

“Angelos,” he replied in a fractured voice. “Had a stroke working in the garden.”

Connie’s eyes misted over and she hugged him. “Oh, Dad, I’m so sorry. Such a special man to you most of all, and so many of us.”

Grief for the sweet, gentle man she remembered in Greece, as well as for her father poured over her.

“He’s the last connection from my childhood there. The funeral’s coming up and the house and day shelter need attending, too, since they’re in my name. I called the doctor, but he recommends for me to stay home.” He opened his palms toward her. “How can I not go?”

My Thoughts in Purple:

Connie Pappas stepped out of Chicago’s August heat and entered her father’s restaurant through the back door, [when a feeling of unease gnawed at her. The dim light and the vacant, black-cushioned chair where he sat at this time of day concerned her.] feels a little tellish, but this is a good spot to add more internalization Since his heart attack he worked on the books here daily without fail.

Still, she could smell the roast leg of lamb baking so the restaurant wasn’t closed, but the dining room lights weren’t on. How unusual, this close to opening The Greek Key for dinner.

[With a rush of adrenaline,] perhaps show an internal thought here, or touch a little more on how she’s feeling to help raise tensions? Connie whizzed through the swinging doors into the main dining room and switched on the lights. There near the corner table her father sat in a wooden chair, head in hands with his elbows pressed down on the blue and white tablecloth.

She hurried toward him. “Dad. Are you all right? What’s the matter?”

He lifted his head and stared straight ahead with a distant gaze. “He’s dead.”

Her pulse rose. “What?” Connie’s [voice rose] both her pulse and her voice rose, so perhaps rephrase one to avoid the repeated word to a feverish pitch. “Who?” She slid into the chair next to him and squeezed his hand.

“Angelos,” he replied in a fractured voice. “Had a stroke working in the garden.”

Connie’s eyes misted over and she hugged him. “Oh, Dad, I’m so sorry. Such a special man to you most of all, and so many of us.”

Grief for the sweet, gentle man she remembered in Greece, as well as for her father poured over her.

“He’s the last connection from my childhood there. The funeral’s coming up and the house and day shelter need attending, too, since they’re in my name. I called the doctor, but he recommends for me to stay home.” He opened his palms toward her. “How can I not go?”

The question:

1. Does this partial scene opening work?

Almost (readers chime in here). I like the setup, there’s clearly a problem and some worry to draw readers in, and the conflict will probably come from Dad wanting to go to the funeral. All the right pieces are here. But I’m not yet connecting to Connie so I’m not feeling her fear or concern about her father or the one who died. I just don’t know these people well enough to be concerned about them. This is a great example of a book where the cover copy would likely make a big difference in how this opening page is viewed. If I knew more about the overall story, I’d probably have a different opinion here.

I’d suggest adding a little more to show Connie’s personality. A line or two of internal thought might be all you need—just something to help me connect with her as a person. I can see that this death upsets them, but as a reader I wonder why I should care. There’s not enough overall context for me yet to invest in these characters and want to root for them.

Overall, it’s well done and I wouldn’t be surprised if many commenters like this as is (this is all very subjective, so it could just be me). It has everything a good opening should, it’s just not grabbing me quite yet. But I don’t think it would take much at all to fix.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

9 comments:

  1. My only thought(as a reader) is the first sentence should be two:

    Connie Pappas stepped out of Chicago’s August heat and entered her father’s restaurant through the back door. A feeling of unease gnawed at her.

    Adds a bit more suspense instead of being buried within the other description of the restaurant and weather.

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  2. Or "Connie Pappas stepped out of Chicago’s August heat and *through the back door of* her father’s restaurant. A feeling of unease gnawed at her."

    That "back door" felt a little tacked on at the end, as if it were backing up out of the sequence of how things happened to get one more fact in. Things like that are easier to spot in a first sentence.

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  3. I thought you did a particularly good job in two difficult areas: You got in a LOT of backstory, without it feeling like backstory. Same with description. I can visualize the restaurant, even the smell. Especially her father "in a wooden chair ...on the blue and white tablecloth". In one sentence, I could see the dining room clearly, as well as see his mood.

    In the last paragraph, the first sentence really moved me, but the shelter part took me out for a moment.

    I agree that I'm not connected to Connie yet (more so to her father). Since this is a "partial scene", maybe include more internalization in this part (even before she enters the restaurant?) and end the first page with "He's dead." I'd definitely turn the page to find out who died. - not so much whether he could go to the funeral or not.

    These were the observations of an amateur(but a well-studied one)! I envy your ability to make sentences do double duty - background, description, and emotion.

    Thanks for sharing - I learned from you.

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  4. I concur with Janice. I sense a heartfelt story here that deserves to have the few instances of telling replaced with showing. Too, those places offer the opportunity to jumpstart our introduction to Connie. I sense a loving character there and the sooner you can convey that to the reader the better. This is an excellent start.

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  5. Using the restaurant as the setting seemed awkward when talking about the death of a person who died in a garden. Maybe their home where Angelos worked would be more natural. Or changing Angelos into a cook.

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    Replies
    1. I didn't make it clear Angelos lived in Greece. Thanks.

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    2. I didn't make it clear Angelos lived in Greece. Thanks.

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  6. I can't thank you all enough for your most helpful comments!

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  7. Everyone'a given a lot of great comments, so I don't have much to add. Just be careful of too many prepositional phrases in one sentence. It gets hard to follow, and eventually readers will skip over text that reads like "there's a flea on the tail on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea".

    ReplyDelete