Author Topic: first submission. first chapter, Neo Noir, crime fiction, 1098 words  (Read 1509 times)

Offline gilbert_nathaniel

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My first attempt at writing a novella. This is a work of satire written as a serious noir piece.

1
Once a Year

“Strange!” I was roused by the voice of distress and nearly fell from my perch.

I removed my hat, sliding my feet from my desk and sitting forward all in one motion. Before me stood a tall woman with short golden hair and despite her severe expression and stressed features; she was pretty. (Even as she stared at me with fuming rage.) Her eyes were blue and her clothes were classic and formal with a knee length skirt and frilly white blouse.

“Yes Mrs. Abernathy?” I asked. I could act innocent when I desired.

“What did I tell you about sleeping, having hats in school, and putting your feet on your desk?” She was angry, but I admired the way she held it at bay.

“Um….. Don’t?” I am a master of banter.

“That is right.” She relieved me of my hat. “Now get back to your write-offs.” With that she traveled back to her desk. I wouldn’t call it walking. It is something else; when she is angry she… travels.

Now, I may have already gotten ahead of myself. Mrs. Abernathy is my teacher, my third grade teacher. I go to Benbrook Elementary and Strange… that is my name. You see, my name is Thaddeus Phillip Strange, but because of some crazy tradition, on my mom‘s side of the family people say my name backwards.

Also, I am a P.I.; don’t laugh! I’m serious! I solve cases and bust the bad guys like a cheesy eighties movie… well, not so much. A kid can dream though can’t he? Finally, I’m in trouble. I got suspended from recess for a few days for starting a food fight; so I could sneak into the cafeteria kitchen and find out what they put in the mystery meat. I was surprised to find that it is not meat. I wasn’t surprised to find out that it was not tasty.

Now I am stuck in this classroom with Mrs. Abernathy and the classmates, bless their hearts, and forced to write off the phrase; ‘I will not throw cream potatoes at anyone ever again.’ Then repeat it a bazillion times. My hand started cramping a few minutes before I tried to doze off. I mean, I figured it is not healthy to have hand cramps at nine, so I decided to take a little break, to help preserve my quality of life. Apparently the public school system felt otherwise. I was just grateful that the principal let me do my write-offs early so I could go to recess later in the day.

It was a quarter past noon, spring, and sunny. Light filtered through the blinds, serving as a constant reminder of my mistakes and past choices. At least the AC was on and set to a comfortable level. Still, what I wouldn’t give for a minute or two on the playground.

It was your typical Tuesday morning at Benbrook, with the sounds of children playing out their whimsical fantasies and parents fretting over the completion of said fantasies. It was a quiet place, all things considered, and I got barely one call a month. All of the smaller disasters were in the realm of other’s jurisdiction and it was rare that anything big came my way; once a year mostly… and it looked like that time of the year came early.

Then the sweet sound of the siren’s song pulled me from my self-loathing, singing from the deep and reverberating through the halls. The sound of the bell set me free of my toiling and brought the rest of my grade inside. I stood by the door that led to the playground swapping greetings and high fives until my palms stung. I steered clear of Billy Johnson though… we had a sordid past that was better left for another time. Now, I don’t have many friends but I am a boy of the people.

Last through the door was a girl named Danielle. She was around my age, in my grade, and had brilliant green eyes and red hair. She had never caught my eye before today, but then again, I had never seen her crying, clutching her right arm and escorted by two teachers before either. Something clicked, like it always did when I knew I’d be involved in this within the next couple of days.

I grabbed my note book and a pencil and approached Danielle quickly. Class would be starting soon and I had to get things out of her ASAP. If I pressed too hard, though, the teachers would see me off.

“Danielle… what happened to your arm?” The teachers saw through my, worried classmate routine, but said nothing.

“I fell off of the slide… I think.” We passed from the classroom and into the hallways. Her arm was swollen and red. It was getting worse by the moment.

“What do you mean, you think?” I asked, getting my pencil ready.

“I felt a pressure on my back, then I fell. It was like someone pushed me.” She confessed through tear soaked eyes.

I wrote it down and looked her in the eyes. As a P.I., there is a certain amount of professionalism that is expected, but man… I really hated seeing people getting hurt. That is why I got into the biz, help the helpless and see justice done. The weight of empathy settled in my chest and started a fire I knew wouldn’t be extinguished until I saw this thing through.

“Did you see anyone? Do you have any enemies?” The teachers looked at
me and stopped. They looked puzzled that I would ask a question like that. It was natural, grown ups don’t know what it is like to be a third grader. They were getting ready to take her into the nurses office when she named names.

“I-I didn’t see anyone. Enemies? Robby Benson, Teresa and Stacy, Mac Lacrosse, and Nate Thomas.” She said. Then she was gone.

I wrote the names down and labeled them by how I knew them. Robby Benson, A fourth grade tough guy. Teresa and Stacy were the two most popular girls in our grade.  Mac Lacrosse, Danielle’s brother… odd. Finally, Nate Thomas, a well known bully and hard nose. I reached to adjust my hat when I remembered that Mrs. Abernathy had it. I settled for looking cool in my coat and sighed. Things were not looking up for me.
« Last Edit: November 18, 2012, 01:36:13 PM by gilbert_nathaniel »

Offline Andre Farant

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Re: first submission. first chapter, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2012, 08:50:10 PM »
Hey, Gilbert,


Well, first off, I very much like where you're going with this. I'm a huge fan of Alan Bradley's Flavia De Luce series of books, and your premise at least reminds me of those. So you've got me in your corner so far.

(And if you haven't read any of Bradley's books, go out and grab the first, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie right away. Given your character and subject, it's a must read. You might also wanna check out the movie 'Brick' which is a more serious take on a similar premise, this one set in a high school.)

That said, what I liked about it might be what turns some readers off. The narrator's voice, for example, seems a little too adult for a nine-year-old, even a precocious one. You'll either have to develop a more believable voice, or find a way to explain your narrator's vocabulary (maybe he's been reading Chandler and MacDonald since he was six?). This is especially true if this is meant for an adult readership. If younger, what age-range are you targeting?

Where this particular portion is concerned well . . . if I don't tell you, someone else on this site will, so let's get it done with: you open with the weather which is typically frowned upon unless the weather actually has some bearing on the plot, major significance to the character, or impact on the setting.

In your case, it's a little tough because, once we realize this is a 9-year-old in class, the opening has a greater impact; the image is funny, and borderline adorable. But until then, it comes off as a (stereo)typical noir opening. So you can either hope the reader keeps reading beyond the first two or three paragraphs (not a guarantee, even here), or you can move things along a little quicker.

You could start here:

“Strange!” I was roused by the voice of a distressed angel and nearly fell from my perch.

I removed my hat, sliding my feet from my desk and sitting forward all in one motion. Before me stood a tall woman with short golden hair. She was pretty despite the severe look and stressed features she supported as she stared at me with fuming rage. Her eyes were blue and her clothes were classic and formal with a knee length skirt and frilly white blouse.


Or you could rewrite the beginning, bring those first two paragraphs down to one or two sentences.

As far as the writing goes, it could use some tightening (it can always use tightening) and you've got a few odd turns of phrase, but overall I found it an easy, quick read.

Some spots that kinda jumped at me:

I was roused by the voice of a distressed angel and nearly fell from my perch.

"Distressed angel" just comes off weird, and it's a perfect example of language that doesn't suit a nine-year-old.

I am a master of verbal banter.

Good for avoiding the clichéd "witty banter, but is there a kind of banter that isn't verbal? Maybe verbal judo, or simply banter.  

I solve cases and bust the bad guys like a cheesy eighties movie...

Cheesy eighties movies? As mentioned, this reminds me of noir films more than anything, and those came out mainly in the forties and fifties. In a cheesy eighties crime movie Strange would be paired off with a new kid from another school who made his own rules and, together, they would blow up the supply closet.

Anyway, I'll leave it at that, but I'd like to see this worked up and tightened, see where you go with it.

Hope it helped.

« Last Edit: November 16, 2012, 08:52:20 PM by Andre Farant »

Offline heidi52

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Re: first submission. first chapter, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2012, 06:39:18 AM »
Sorry, I'd be one of those readers turned off by this. MC didn't seem believable as a kid because of the descriptions, the dialog and the references.

the 80's? Seriously? Any 3rd graders you know think or talk about things from 30 years ago?


Offline gilbert_nathaniel

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Re: first submission. first chapter, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2012, 09:47:07 AM »
I probably should have mentioned above that this work is technically a satire of your typical noir flick. I intentionally made Strange much too smart for his own good.

Andre Farant, I really like the idea of explaining why his vocabulary is so advanced. I had honestly never thought about it.

Also, this story is set in modern times. (which I will add to the first post)

Finally, the eighties movie line actually has some bearing on Strange's life later in the novella. Thank you for your time. I will make the changes as soon as possible.

hillwalker3000

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Re: first submission. first chapter, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2012, 09:47:31 AM »
It's a perplexing fact that so many aspiring writers decide to begin their stories with a weather update. If this is relevant or plays a part in setting the scene then it's probably ok, but much of the time it's just a lazy way of starting the story and it's hardly likely to grab our attention.
To your credit I can see this is a deliberate device here to wrong-foot the reader but perhaps you need to make more of it. Make it obvious that you know what you're doing. You're kicking off with the weather because you want to describe it in a more original way than most mediocre writers manage.

You might also consider tightening up paragraph 2 to avoid readers getting so bogged down in your MC's internalised thoughts that they lose interest. I like the teasing line 'I got barely one call a month' but the 'whimsical fantasies' and all they entail were rather irrelevant and distracting.
And I think 'the voice of a distressed angel' fails to hit the mark. I'm assuming 'angel' refers to the teacher's golden hair and attractive features but our first thought is some fantasy, mythical creature.

A couple of minor spots -

Sentence variation is important - length and vocabulary. Five of your first six sentences begin - It was - I was - I was - It was - It was...

I stood by the door that [lead] led to the playground...
and
I settle(s)d for looking cool in my coat and sighed.

I really enjoyed this but I agree with the previous poster - it's well written but I'm unsure what audience you're catering for. Children normally like reading about characters a year or so older than they are but obviously this is pitched at a more mature audience judging by some of your more convoluted phraseology. A 9-year-old prodigy-cum-PI might indeed fit into the gap left by that Potter kid but you need to curb your erudition and try to make the humour more accessible.

H

Lin

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Re: first submission. first chapter, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2012, 09:59:00 AM »
Please don't give an account of the weather to start off an opening paragraph.  It's too cliche and doesn't contribute to the story.  
It was a quarter past noon, spring, and sunny


I also didn't understand the connection is this paragraph
Light filtered through the blinds, serving as a constant reminder of my mistakes and past choices.

Overall you can write and with some tightening up i.e. showing and not telling  eg.Her arm was swollen and red. It was getting worse by the moment. Just needs some practice and knowing what to include and what to delete.

Keep going!

Lin
« Last Edit: November 17, 2012, 10:02:46 AM by Lin Treadgold »

Offline Alice, a Country Gal

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Re: first submission. first chapter, Neo Noir, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2012, 03:36:32 PM »
Pick any six or so of your favorite novels; open them and read the first paragraph. Do they start off with the weather?

Something that stopped me reading and sent me into my own mind, trying to figure out,

Quote
She was pretty despite the severe look and stressed features she supported as she stared at me with fuming rage.

how does a person Support a look or features?
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Lin

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Re: first submission. first chapter, Neo Noir, crime fiction, 1098 words
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2012, 04:51:27 AM »
Please remember when posting a novel on the forums - if you intend submitting this to the publisher, they always ask you if this work has been published elsewhere and you have to sign the contract to say this has not been published before.  Whilst I don't wish to stop people from posting, this is something to bear in mind.  Publishers like exclusivity.


Lin