Author Topic: Half of Chapter One. Literary Fiction. 2.3k. Please Critique(:  (Read 154 times)

Offline zacharydover

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 9
     Hello all,

I am looking for feedback on the first chapter of the first novel I am attempting writing.
Its a bildungsroman and follows Casper Cutlas as he attempts to find a "vocation" in life, i.e something he feels pulled too. The first chapter is below. Please tear it apart, I am an english major and have grown accustomed to the praxis. Thank you all.






 Chapter One


      I had always expected myself to be someone who didn’t settle down to the life I grew up in. I craved variety in life and grew bored with the vanilla flavor by the time I was thirteen or fourteen. When you are born into a good life it takes years to fully realize the blessing you inherited, and such a realization only occurs when you mature into an age that can make a true distinction between a good life and a bad one. Of course, maturity comes on a case-to-case basis. For some, maturity comes easy and is attained sometime around high school graduation, for others it takes longer for that process to be completed. Personally, for me, I realized my blessings early, due to growing up in the church. I was always thankful for the life I had been granted, for I was taught the awareness to be so. Yet, after my college graduation, I became perplexed by the innate need for more and the Christian principle of paralysis. 

     For a long while I was stuck in the sprigs of spring. There was no direction that I seemed to be pulled too and for a year I traveled the country visiting my friends. Traveling was an illusion. It gave me a sense of direction—physically. Really though, through that period, like a ceiling fan, I was suspended in motion. Eventually, as I lay on the grass and contemplated the big questions of life, those questions raised to forget that inevitable mortgage, my parents began to quietly push me to a life that wasn’t dependent on their dime. Even my own sense of detached responsibility, which was more so a liberty loaned by privilege than a selfish thing, began to stir. I understood thoroughly that I owed my parents a secure life lived. So, using my parent's connections, by Fall of ‘19 I was a tenured teacher at a high school in the small suburban town I seemed unable to escape from.

     I had a good deal then, something I took for granted. I was making 50k a year without a phone bill or any other bills to pay besides a car payment at three hundred a month. Further, I had become well-liked by the student body and respected by the older members of the faculty for my ability to percolate literary interest in my juniors. Still considered a member of the younger generation, I understood the ideas and beliefs of my students. This gave me insight on which buttons to push and which books to teach, which would ultimately percolate that interest spontaneously. Opening with a quote from a writer or a person of good literary repute, the tone in the classroom would be set, which was always a harmonious chord of independence and belief in self as I would tell my students that those quotes and these books we’d read were spoken and written by someone who was once like them. Then, we would begin that day’s lesson, which was always more or less the same. The lesson I taught to my students' day in and day out was to use the subject matter of my classroom to sharpen their worldviews. I pleaded with them to add these ideas to their tool belts. The poetry in some of the books I taught would provide the empowering part of the lesson, for each author I taught held an optimistic belief in the world without failing to illustrate the issues it faces. My students loved this type of education. It kept them engaged because they realized they had skin in the game. And by mid-semester, they had grown to view thinking not as something dull but as something useful. My students became acquainted with the power of imagination, arming themselves with its unique ability to create solutions. Finally, in closing, I would remark that, first and foremost, trust the beliefs you hold over everything, and that part of doing so, in maintenance, is to enjoy your youth, for the sprigs of spring will soon yellow. 

      Even amidst a successful beginning to a meaningful and worthwhile career, I couldn’t shake the clash between an appetite for more and a staunch belief in paralysis. I began an effort to decide what was more moral to get my feet moving. After a few weeks, I concluded that it wasn’t a tale of morality, for as Americans we are taught to pursue happiness—at least some of us are—and as a result the selfishness of those two words when combined are omitted.  But I also knew that those two words when combined are used to illustrate the American Dream—something believed to be buried underneath soil and marble. However, such a dream isn’t exactly dead. For normal people not born into the gentry of America, the Dream is simply a secure life in a nice home surrounded by nice people whose children attend nice schools: something entirely attainable, perhaps more so today than ever before. My parents for instance attained the Dream themselves. So, the question then became: what does one do if one is born into the Dream? My first instinct is always to build, so as to compound the blessings I was given. But that meant, for me, a rather affluent life was required. I was free to pursue individual achievements, which would lead to building a structure on the foundation bequeathed to me. Still, such a thing seemed selfish to pursue. Yet, at the same time, to carve my own path as my parents carved theirs, that path was the only path left to walk upon. Soon I realized I had to choose between more or the same. Which was right, I hadn’t a clue. 

     It took me four years to decide. Four years of thought, every day, regarding the same question. In that time the magic of my first classes soon faded—the students became faces of the same, for each person is more similar than they realize. For every class clown, there is a bookworm, and for every bookworm, there is an astonishingly intelligent cheerleader. Each archetype of student required roughly the same combination to become unlocked as their predecessor did; it was easy then. I had grown into form as a teacher. After a few years, the only distinctions of note became the names, which is, I suppose, the purpose of such a concept... names. I began to feel like an assembly line worker: giving the products the necessary adjustments so they sell and are of worth to someone. More so, my subject matter never changed because the curriculum stayed stagnant. This issue was particularly taxing as I would be reading Delillo or Johnson privately, and if I found their ideas at all relevant to what we were discussing as a class, I had no way of introducing those authors because they didn’t fit the bill. Once the mythical quality of teaching was gone, I had an epiphany that I had already made the choice between paralysis and the more: I had stayed a teacher and by failing to choose a direction, by default, I chose paralysis. This realization was catastrophic; I was routed by the conviction that I would die in my classroom. And so, the summer before my fifth year of teaching, in a fit of passion, I notified the necessaries of my intent to quit. Like a vessel leaving behind a languid harbor for the embrace of a storm-ravaged sea, I ventured west to the decadent constructions of Los Angeles. 

    The thing about Los Angeles is that, underneath the bright neon lights, there is a load of graffiti. The hills are clothed in concrete. The lone flower sticks out defiantly. Santa Monica, a beautiful shore and a tourist trap full of affluent members of society, a haven for bums seeking shelter from mid-western rain. The beauty of The City is not found in the grandeur of it, but in the arresting contradictions that are ubiquitous; it is everything and nothing at all, all at once. 

    Upon my advent, I had no true vocation. Thankfully, Los Angeles was the perfect place to find one. In Los Angeles vocations take the place of seasons; instead of the weather turning, the desires of its inhabitants change. The City is a wardrobe of hats and coats, and one size fits all and once you get bored of that ensemble you just go back and pick something else out. At this stage in my life however, I had no intention to wander without a direction once again—the security of my former idyllic life created a much-needed standard, and with it, the tip of an arrow. In my first stroke of liberty, I was able to decide I wanted to be a writer. I had always possessed a restlessness only curbed by creation of some sort. Los Angeles awakened that drive in me. 

     I would drive past people of all types. Some were small. Some were big. Some people were fat, and others were thin. Each of them strode on concrete. Each of them drove on asphalt. And each of them were shaded by shadows created by skyscrapers that seemed to breach the sky. Each of those people who stood and strode underneath the shade of steel became subjects in the first pieces I began writing. 

   At first I started small; I would take a person I saw somewhere on my drives, and I’d imagine who they were: what they desired, why they breathed. These stories were not romances, comedies, nor tragedies, but an attempt at invention. The stories failed miserably. None of those pieces were ever published and soon I became disheartened and began to wonder whether writing was the correct path to begin upon. 

    Paralysis took hold of my hand again. My heart became rigid with concern as I began to realize that the life I had had was a good one. These concerns took form in my dreams. I was visited by a phantom who had no body, only a face of smoke. The eyes were holes that revealed the space the rest of the mass had occupied. It had a single, lifeless hand that reached for my pelvis. Its touch was like fog rolling in from the sea. Its breathing was timid, as if I was what it needed to continue being. Each time this phantom made an appearance, I would awaken, still dreaming. And I would wait five seconds, praying it didn’t notice my stir. Then I would lurch and attempt to push the face into my bed smothering it until its breaths were no longer timid. I would always wake up on my stomach, feeling as though I had fallen from the ceiling. But the phantom was there; I was as sure as the sun shines. I could feel it as I feel the pen in my hand as I write this sentence. Nevertheless, I hated the phantom. But an odd thing happened after a few visits: I was gifted with a sense of urgency. I began to write more than I slept; I began to read more than I ate. Today, I thank the Phantom. 

     One day during this period of isolated sessions, I stepped outside the void into the summer sun. Around noon I lunched at a small French café and had a cheese omelet with two slices of sourdough on the side. At two o’clock I went to a movie; I allowed myself popcorn and an Icee. Around five o’clock, I caught dinner at the CPK in Hollywood; I had a BBQ chicken pizza and a few drinks. I had forgotten the solid taste of beer and the extreme taste of whiskey; I hadn’t drunk alcohol since college; and soon my heart exhaled.  I began to fancy myself a few more drinks and made my way to a bar a few blocks down from my apartment which was on Sunset. I spent a few hours there and made a few friends whose faces escape me now. After a fifth shot and a fourth beer, my mind became stuck between the acute awareness that comes with an evolving buzz and the encroaching obtuseness of drunkenness: I had reached my limit. So, I stumbled out and was met by a burst of sea breeze. It was then that I began to hear a voice call to me: there, there, in a whisper moving through the wind. I asked: where? And the voice said: there, there. The Seabreeze went east, and I went with it, drifting away from the Whiskey and towards the sunset end of Sunset. The voice continued calling but I ignored it. The breeze was my motor. I looked to the sky and watched the clouds drift. The stars were absent; there wasn’t a twinkle in the sky. The only source of light came from a fat marble moon that looked more like a cataract eye. Underneath its gaze, I stumbled on. My vision became distorted. All I could see before me was a never-ending concrete boardwalk that misted away into nothingness. The cars honked and buzzed by, like waves falling and receding. The breeze beat on. After a while, like a flower flitting upon the wind and then falling upon soft grass, I dropped onto the doorstep of a mirage. A pathetic building stood weakly before me. The shingles were peeling away like sunburnt skin. The paint on the eaves was chipped and flaked. The door—a blue one with a gold knob—was covered in graffiti. And the windows on the north and south sides were barred. But on the door, a sign hung, and it read: The Surf, Literary Review. And underneath that sign was another that read: Now Hiring, Inquire Within: Weekdays 9-5.



 
« Last Edit: April 30, 2022, 06:00:46 PM by zacharydover »
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed" - Some Guy

Offline Clarius

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1608
Re: Half of Chapter One. Literary Fiction. 2.3k. Please Critique(:
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2022, 05:41:06 AM »
You're an English major. I'm not. I read as widely as I can. That you quote Hemmingway at the bottom of your posts suggests we've been exposed to the same influences as I myself have. We've both of us developed our own styles. Mine is influenced by advice offered by those writers whose work I enjoy. I assume your style evolved in a similar manner. Yours is not a style I'd enjoy reading, but that's a personal choice on my own part. There might be people who'd enjoy this. I'm just not one of those people. I believe it's called target audience. There's are the maxims I try to adhere to.

"Omit needless words." - Strunk
“Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” - Twain
"Write to express, not to impress." - Orwell (amongst others)

You say this is a bildungsroman, a novel dealing with one person's formative years/spiritual education. For me, the premiere example of such is Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Some would argue Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye deserves that particular accolade. Personally, I choose Lee over Salinger because the older I get the more annoying I find Holden Caulfield (guess I'm turning into a grumpy old man). Maybe compare either of those with yours and ask yourself if this is the way you want to go. Yours seems to be a throwback to an older style of writing, the style of Melville's Moby Dick sprang to mind upon first reading. Classics don't always sit well with a modern audience.

There's a maxim in writing that one should begin halfway down the page. Your halfway down the page (IMHO) - your exciting incident - is in the last paragraph, when your protagonist comes across that job advert. All that comes before that reads like the notes a writer might make to flesh out the character in their own mind. If that information needs brought out I assume there'll be a job interview scene coming up. Maybe there's a place for (some of) it in that scene.

All of this is my just my own opinion, and you know what they say about opinions. You can take it or leave it.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us

 - Robert Burns

Offline zacharydover

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 9
Re: Half of Chapter One. Literary Fiction. 2.3k. Please Critique(:
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2022, 06:08:56 AM »
@Clarius I appreciate the feedback.

Style is a tough thing, and I have a long way to go before I really develop one, so I appreciate that you acknowledge i have one.

What took you out of the narrative? Was it primarily the note-like opening?

I too cannot stand CTR. As a sophomore in HS, I thought Holden was the premiere protagonist in a novel, until I met Stephen Daedalus and Anna Karenina (Vronsky as well, although not protag). As for Bildungsromans, the ones I most enjoyed were This Side Of Paradise and The Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man. The latter is the greatest performance in the sub-genre in my opinion.

Going back to “style” I prefer modernists to postmodernists as they write more of meaning rather than meaninglessness. With that said, I appreciate the Melville “comparison” although Moby Dick is a bit more… wild and much more intelligent.

What words did you feel unnatural to the  prose?

Which parts gave you the impression I was writing to impress?

What target audience do you have in mind?

Your feedback is much appreciated as I really don’t have the knowledge necessary to assess my work. I can only say it sounds good and is mostly logical (which is half the battle). I’d like to ask you to answer those questions I’ve asked as a favor from one writer to another. Seriously. What’s wrong with this chapter? I know there are flaws. I just don’t know how to find them as I don’t know what I’m looking for. Thanks again(:





« Last Edit: May 01, 2022, 06:26:18 AM by zacharydover »
"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed" - Some Guy

Offline Clarius

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1608
Re: Half of Chapter One. Literary Fiction. 2.3k. Please Critique(:
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2022, 03:58:42 PM »
What's wrong with this? Not much. I just don't like this style of writing. Me. One person on a planet inhabited by billions. Some will like this, some will loath it, and most just won't care. This is a novel? A work of fiction? Where's the character? Where's the voice? Right now what I hear is a valedictorian delivering a speech from the lectern. Every word polished and perfected. What's wrong with this, you asked. It's too good for its own good. If I was asked to guess I'd say you're still writing for your college professors, in the style you knew you had to develop to get past them. School's out. Who do you want to be as a writer: Dan Brown, or Salman Rushdie? Take that first line.

I had always expected myself to be someone who didn’t settle down to the life I grew up in.

^ this is internal monolog, right? Does your protagonist speak like this? Dialog, both internal and external, needs to be appropriate to the character. It needs to sound like something they'd actually say, and something they'd actually be able to say. Here's a couple of quick, rough first draft attempts of my own.

Growing up, I always figured I’d blow this one-horse town the first chance I got.

Was he was a kid growing up in Loserville Missouri Jordon Wright always promised himself the last thing he'd do before he hauled ass out of there would be to take a good long piss on the steps of city hall.

Small towns suck. By which I don't mean this was a terrible place to grow up in - not like one of those places where they're always fighting each other over something someone did a hundred years ago - but that it has a gravity and inertia all its own that, if I'm not careful, will hold me here and suck me down like I watched it do my old man.

You are a good writer. You just need to figure out what kind of writer you want to be. And to do that you need to figure out who your audience is, what they want from you, and how to best give it to them.

I belong to several writers forums. You stand out from the herd.

Good luck.
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us

 - Robert Burns

Offline JinShei

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 4
Re: Half of Chapter One. Literary Fiction. 2.3k. Please Critique(:
« Reply #4 on: May 13, 2022, 04:03:19 AM »
I have a BA in English so I'm probably coming from the same direction as you. I too enjoy the classics and during lockdown I thought I'd write a novel. I read all the time. I've read great stuff and I've read very poor stuff that still got published. Surely I could write something that was publishable?

Well, the first thing I learned when I'd written my 80,000 words and got a family member who is a screenwriter to read it is that:

Story is everything.

And this piece, although showing that you have writing ability, has no story yet. It is 2.3K words to say I came from privilege, I didn't want to follow the path expected, I became a teacher, I left, moved to LA and decided to write. 

I made ALL of these mistakes. I put in clever little wordplays and used big words where simpler words would have been better but my words failed to do what they were supposed to, which was:

Move the story along.

Does the reader need to know that the character ate a cheese omelette with 2 slices of sourdough on the side? Is this going to be crucial to the plot later on? Does it matter it was around noon? Does it matter it was a French restaurant? Does it tell the reader something about the character? If not then why is it in the story? Your entire last para is not story, it's a bullet point list of what the character did one day. You've dressed it all up, but it's still a list, not a story. So think about what you want to say and then just say it, don't tart it up. No one has ever said the moon looked like a cataract eye. There's probably a reason for that!

What happens if you put the end of the chapter at the beginning? Try it and write the story from that point as for me that was really the first thing that happened in this piece.

I understand you are going for literary. I was too! But literary is a hard sell nowadays and agents are less likely to pick up a hard sell. So, is your ultimate goal to be published?

If it is then remember, readers will read a book that reflects their own life experiences. They will recognise the themes in your book - being young and not knowing what you want to do with your life, wanting to get out of a dead end town, feeling the weight of expectation upon them or the feeling they must live up to some kind of standard set by their parents or their peers. Yes they've read it before but your job is to give it your own twist so write from your experience. No one else has had your experience and that is what will make your work unique. They need to feel strongly for your protagonist so they will care what happens to him. After 2.3k words I still have little idea of what makes this guy tick. I know what he did every minute of one summer day though...

Know your characters inside out. Know what they would do in any situation so that whatever you write about them is authentic. Find your voice and write in it. I think you've made the same mistake I did which was, in my screenwriter cousin's words, "writing in the way you think a novelist writes". He went on to say that when I "forgot" to write that way and used my own voice it was far better!

I'm now rewriting. And he was right...

If you've not read them I would recommend Dorothea Brande's "Becoming a writer" and "Story" by Robert McKee.

Keep writing!