Author Topic: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.  (Read 2306 times)

Offline landmersm

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Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« on: August 13, 2019, 10:29:21 PM »
I'm working on something and trying to figure out if this is a good first chapter. It sets up the MC and his situation, but I can't decide between it and something else I have going. Wondering what people thought. . . . . .

Is this it?

James sat still in the driveway of his home, engine off. He had noticed a roaring sound coming from the right rear tire shortly before pulling in and cursed aloud to himself. Three months. He had taken his truck to that crook Binkley three months ago and had him replace that wheel bearing. The roar told him he would need to find a new crook.

He sat in the driveway, in the dark, and looked at his house. He couldn’t go inside. Not just yet. He couldn’t face his family. Not right now. He needed a moment.

He loved his family. God, did he love them. They were the only thing keeping him sane, keeping him going. He and Caitlyn had been marred for nearly ten years. She was a more beautiful woman than a guy like him had any right being with, and he knew it. He had been in love with her the moment he saw her and had never stopped. Not even for a moment. She was an amazing mother, too. How she just always knew what to do and what to say flabbergasted him. Caitlyn was all that he could ask for in a wife, too. She supported him in all things, always stood by her man as the old song goes. James had even begun basing his decisions on what she would do in certain situations. She was his rock and guide stone. He knew that during the last couple of years, he would have been lost without her.

Sweet Kate, twelve next month and already talking about boys. Smart as a whip. Straight As. All sorts of academic awards. On top of that, she was very good at soccer, too. James didn’t know much about the sport but enough to know Kate scored most of the goals on the middle school team and knew a sixth grader doesn’t normally play with the eighth graders unless she was really good. James was a football to be honest, but his daughter loved the other version of it, so he started watching it on TV and keeping up with her favorite team, the Atlanta United. At least he wouldn’t sound too dumb when she asked him about it.

Caitlyn said their daughter had already started her period, which meant one more thing to worry about. Teenage female hormones were right around the corner, and James had no earthly idea how to handle that. (Thankfully Caitlyn was there.) Sweet Kate had always been his special, baby girl. Always would be, he told her. Even when she was grown up, married, and with a family all of her own she would still be his little girl. He just wished she would slow down for a little while longer.

Little JJ was something else. Rambunctious? Was that the word? The seven year old was always doing something. They certainly didn’t have to worry about him being overweight. He ran off everything he ate. He was always in trouble, too. Not for anything bad. Just boy stuff. Playing when he should have been sleeping. Sneaking toys to school and taking them out during class. Climbing the neighbor’s tree. Riding his bike through the other neighbor’s yard. Good, wholesome, boyhood stuff. He was the spitting image of his father. Poor thing, James thought with a smile. There had been a couple of phone calls from and visits to the school, but nothing serious. He wasn’t a bully or anything. JJ was just more interested in playing than learning. Again, more like his father than his mother in that regard, too.

No. James didn’t stay in his truck a few extra minutes because he didn’t want to see his family. He stayed because he needed those precious few moments to put on his happy mask. Work was a madhouse, his boss an asshole. He always demanded more and more and more, yet there was never more pay. The company had been struggling for years, and the wages had remained stagnant. He tried to find other work, but he was fast approaching that age where companies quit hiring. Sure, age discrimination is illegal. “Bullshit”, James said out loud. No one is going to hire a low level manager/supervisor in his mid forties. They knew that person would expect a certain amount of salary, and companies were quickly becoming unwilling to pay. Why should they? They could hire some dumbass straight out of college and pay them next to nothing for the same job. The grads didn’t know any better. So, James was stuck, and he stayed in his truck for another minute.

Last year, Caitlyn had lost her job. She had been a customer service rep for a chemical company in town that manufactured cleaning supplies. Caitlyn had always been good at placating the irate customers who didn’t get their shipment on time or got the wrong one altogether. She had been promoted to leader of her group and was doing well. She didn’t make as much as James, but it was close. Together, the two of them did alright. Until, that is, Caitlyn found out her supervisor had a kickback scheme going with a couple of customers. Before she could say anything, her supervisor falsified some papers and made it look like Caitlyn had been the one getting the money in return for fake claims. It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but the water had been muddied just enough so that Caitlyn had been terminated in order to save face for her boss and the company. She spent she spent the next six months unemployed until she found another  business in another town who would hire her. Her commute was long, and it took time away from her family, but it was a second paycheck coming in when they desperately needed one. That six months had put a huge dent in the family savings, and they were still recovering. So, James stayed in his truck for another minute or two.

His phone buzzed. He looked at the text. It was an automated message from his bank. He bi-weekly paycheck had been deposited. James looked at the total, and stayed in his truck for another minute. Even with all of the overtime he was working, the total was not enough. Through the windshield he could see the roof with the sagging gutter on the side of the house. It needed to be fixed. Close to that spot the roof was a little soft. A couple of shingles had been knocked loose and flown off to god-knows-where. James had put up new ones, but not before some rain had gotten underneath the others. Insurance company wouldn’t even send someone to look at it. They had filed a claim two years ago when a tree fell on their fence and were told too many claims could result in a cancellation. God forbid an insurance company should do what they get paid to do. Another minute in the truck.

Caitlyn’s SUV was parked in the carport. It need four new tires. At least the two rear ones. Good ones were around a thousand for a set. The car itself was wearing out, too. It was leaking oil. Nothing bad, and he kept a close eye on it, but it was going to need repair soon. The laundry room door – on the carport – was open. James could see the little bit of water on the concrete where the washer leaked. Both it and the dryer were well past their prime as was the water heater next to them. Just one more minute.

James looked down at the console in his truck. Stuck inside the little container was a letter from the mortgage company. Another late notice. Yesterday, the water had gotten turned off because he had forgotten to go by and pay it on his way home. It was back on again, but they had to bathe with jugs of water from the Dollar Store up the road for a night.

So, James stayed in his truck another minute.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught movement. He looked up at the large bay window showing into the living room. There, stretched out across the back of the worn out sofa, JJ was waving at him. Unbeknownst to JJ, Kate was sneaking up behind him. She gave him a playful shove and pulled him back down. She jumped up onto couch, knees in the cushions before her mother could stop her, and waved at her daddy. She beckoned him to come inside.

James opened the door and left his vehicle, mask firmly in place. He walked into his house with a smile on his face, for he truly was happy. His wife and two beautiful children were here. He loved them with all of his heart, and he would do anything to give them everything they ever needed and some of what they wanted.
He prayed the mask wouldn’t slip. No child should ever see their father cry, he told himself as he opened the door and entered the kitchen.
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Offline aliciakay

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2019, 10:19:02 PM »
I really liked the first and last parts of this chapter.  I also thought your sentence structure was clear.  The fondness the main character had for his family members came through very clearly in his  descriptions of them.

I felt like there were more examples offered than were needed to make the point that the subject was in financial distress.  The phone message from the bank, in particular, seemed a little "contrived" coming at exactly this moment and seemed "overdone" to me. 

I think that I would be more inclined to keep reading if there was some hint of what is going to unfold next.  For instance, perhaps rather than just showing us that the main character loves his family and is in financial distress, there might be some hint of what is to come, a bit of a teaser to encourage the reader to keep going.

Offline smion

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2019, 06:33:38 PM »
Overall I think this is very well written. James's voice comes through clearly and you make it easy to feel genuinely sympathetic towards him. The descriptions of his family are warm and put me pretty clearly in his head.

I think you use short sentences to good effect, but I might tone them down just slightly in the second paragraph. I know the structure reflects the character's thought progression, but five four-word sentences in a row feels a bit much.

I would also edit a bit for details and concision - a few parts feel like they go too far and take the reader out of the moment - e.g. I've never had a bank that included deposit amount details in an automated message for security reasons; James said he worked more and more but never got more money, but later he says he gets overtime pay - you might want to clarify that he never got a raise; the logistical details of Caitlyn's firing bogged me down a little. I wish I could describe it more clearly than "general cleanup," but I think that's where you're at.

Offline Jaden_Michael

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2019, 11:35:15 PM »
It needs a little editing, but I think it’s really good! I think some of the details could be added later, but I totally get why you did it. The family description was really good as was the info about the different stressors. I think the scene is very relatable, because who hasn’t done exactly that? Sit there and breathe and try to pretend everything is okay and be the rock they all need. I would say maybe add a couple physical descriptors of the stress? It is all in his head and with that is still really strong. Maybe have him look at his hands shake or lowering his head and taking several shaky breaths? Just something to bounce back from him thinking about how amazing his family is and then transitioning back to the physical signs of stress. I know I have done the same thing many times...psyching myself up And trying not to fall apart myself. I don’t know which one is better since you didn’t show them both, but I think it is a good start!

Offline Bajan_Maxrevus

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2019, 01:03:05 AM »
James was a football, to be honest, but his daughter loved the other version of it, so he started watching it on TV and keeping up with her favourite team, the Atlanta United.

Outside of this line that popped out at me, this was a good read. It identified the major stressor of the MC and what I figure will become the driving force of the major conflict he will face. It's very relatable and gives a good description of the MC's family and the love he has for them. The only place I can suggest improvement is if you can add any physical signs of the weight of the situation bearing on the MC. It would add more emphasis in my opinion.

Offline Kit

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2019, 11:53:18 AM »
I enjoy your writing.

I liked the third paragraph, with the short sentences.  I felt his tension and wondered what his tension was about.

I didn’t see the need for the first paragraph, the one sentence question, because I didn’t think the rest of the writing really answered that question.  Maybe it was too vague a question.

I agree with the others that your descriptions of his family clearly show his love for them and adds to making him a sympathetic character.   But it felt like too much bad luck befalling the family, at least written all at once. 

Now, personally, I would have liked to see JJ’s behavior descriptions without labeling it as “boy stuff”.  It not only seems cliché to me, but I have done comparable things as a former girl.  Don’t rat me out, lol.

And maybe the MC watches soccer so he can discuss it with Kate, not so he can answer her questions.  She knows the sport well enough to play with the big 8th graders; her asking questions takes away some the agency that you gave her.

The story captured my attention and made me want to read further.  (Also curious about what else you had going.)



Offline jadynm1234567

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2020, 01:09:50 PM »
So overall, very well written. Great sentence structure, great description. I just have a couple of suggestions. I'd make the paragraphs that describe his family shorter. I know it's fun to describe the characters all at once, but it's best to show them in little bits throughout the book. For example, maybe instead of explaining all of his daughter's academic achievements right away, you could have the dad walk into her room and notice all the trophies. Instead of explaining in detail the son's toruble making, he could walk in and notice that he has a bruise/cut of some sort and have this sort of exchange;
   "And where did that come from?" My boy's mischievous little grin lit up his face. 
    "I was this close to being to the top of the tree dad, this close!"
   I completely understand that you're including these paragraphs because he's thinking about them, but if his kids are a big part of the book it's nice to learn their traits in action or dialogue. It also makes the chapter flow easier, and less block paragraphs. You're doing awesome, keep it up!

Offline 10xrower

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2020, 01:55:22 PM »
I enjoyed reading your chapter.  You did a great job of setting the scene for a struggling father trying to provide for his family.
As with any passage, I have a few suggestions for you.  I hope you don't mind a few words from a new member!

First of all, while the setup for the main character is good, the part about the mechanic detracts from the focus on the family.  If you were to use that later in the passage, it may flow better.  It also seems like there is too much description of the other family members all at once.  I'm not even sure what the main character looks like, but I have a detail by detail picture of what Caitlyn and JJ look like.

Next, the information about the home improvements that need to be made could be condensed into a couple of sentences.  I don't think it's essential to know that the insurance company is crooked at this point in the story.

Lastly, the way the people are described is great.  Again, if we know the daughter is twelve, we don't need the extra information about how she's a handful, we can infer that.  Great descriptions are needed strategically, not all at once.

Hope this helps out!


Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2020, 07:08:11 AM »
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the way you have written this opening chapter.

But. . . the set up takes way too long. The main character's never-ending love for his wife, his amazingly beautiful children, so much unnecessary detail at this stage in the book - it's laid on too thickly and is a case of too much too soon. We're also told right from the start about pressures at work and financial difficulties - yet I didn't really feel the story had taken that important step forwards. I was waiting for something to actually happen but it didn't. 100% set-up with no payback is a huge risk, given that many readers scan the opening few pages before deciding whether or not to continue with a book.

Information dumps are the bane of new writers and are best avoided, especially in Chapter 1. I feel you've presented us with a massive info dump here. My advice - keep writing for now and keep the plot moving forwards. Most of us realise we don't need our original opening chapter once the book is finished. It's often an aide-memoire for the writer's benefit and nothing more.

For the record, I honestly believe this is where your story starts:
No child should ever see their father cry, he told himself as he opened the door and entered the kitchen.

Offline Jung_Love

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Re: Working Title ~1500 words. General fiction.
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2020, 04:27:33 PM »
I found this really easy to read, and the main character's situation was immediately relatable. I liked the repetition and flow, and could picture the scene vividly. I assume it's intended to be a bit of a slow burn. I must admit, I was hoping for some kind of escalation or surprise, even though there was conflict in his career and family situation. I was interested in where the characters go from here.

As others have mentioned, I think there's almost too many details where a hint would keep things moving along and build some intrigue.

Sweet Kate, twelve next month and already talking about boys. Smart as a whip. He just wished she would slow down for a little while longer.

I think that is almost enough to establish who she is, and how he feels about her.

When Caitlyn is introduced, I feel you could imply a potential tension between them. It seems like she is basically perfect, and he is lucky, but struggling to manage. How would that affect them as a couple? Or are things not what they first seem?

I realise James is in his head, but I wonder if it would be worth describing what he is doing as he waits and thinks - like posture, body language, or senses might convey his mood. What noises was the truck making as the engine cooled. What is his coping mechanism for the stress of making ends meet?

And a couple of nitpicks; I feel like the names get written rather a lot, when we can tell by context on a few occasions, and the word "mask" is used 3 times. Twice near the end. I feel like you could use a different word or expression.

While it's easy to sympathise with James, I think many readers would like to see a little more conflict, for example if he was ruminating on a specific conversation or action, or a major hook to end the scene, but there are many positives with what you have here. I guess I would recommend looking at which sentences stand out the most, and focus on those.