Friday, May 4, 2012
First Page Critique: ROAD TO ARRAY
By now, we all know the drill. First, the submission in its entirety (the italics are mine), and then I’ll see you on the other side:
Daniel watched the rain drops rolling down the windshield. The drizzle had quickly become a downpour, but he couldn’t use the wipers, couldn’t risk the burr of the engine. The car’s lights were out, and the Crown Victoria hidden in the alleyway where no one could spot it.
He whispered instinctively, then remembered that this time they weren’t using the communication wires. Rick had argued the situation was dicey enough without a guard pointing out the tiny earpiece and microphone. Daniel shifted in his seat. He should have insisted. Not that it would have made a difference. He was a rookie on his first major assignment. Rick had been on the force for a decade. His partner made a decision, and that was that.
Daniel glanced at his watch again. Rick was ten minutes late, which wasn’t very long in this weather, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
“Ah dammit.” Before he changed his mind, he rushed out the door. He was drenched in an instant.
Removing the gun from his shoulder holster, he pointed the Browning .38 at the ground as he slid alongside the apartment building. He and Rick had scouted the area earlier, but he peeked at the entrance again from around the corner. He saw no one. He would have welcomed some security on the place, even a sniper on the roof, to ease the queasy feeling forming in his gut.
My first thought in reading this is that I’ve seen it before—a hundred different times in a hundred different cop shows. I realize even as I write the comment that it’s a tad unfair criticism, because at one level, we’ve all seen elements of every story before. In this case, though, there’s not much to differentiate it. A stronger narrative voice would have helped. Some distinctive action would have helped, too.
When we did this critique exercise last year, I believe it was either Jim Bell or Joe Moore who verbalized something that I had always felt, but had never quite put my finger on: It is always, always, always a mistake to start a story with a weather report. That first paragraph is arguably the most valuable slice of real estate in any book, and I hate to see it squandered with rolling raindrops.
In his haste to bring readers into action, this author neglected to give us a sense of the stakes. Weather is not tension. It’s barely even atmosphere. By placing a barrier of non-communication between the two characters in this scene, the author robbed himself and his readers of an opportunity to care about the characters.
The issue of the “communication wires” bothers me at several levels, beginning with the phrase, communication wires. I’m not a cop so I don’t know their lingo, but that phrase strikes me as not-legit. I was an emergency responder for many years, though, and I know my way around assault operations, and I have heartburn with “a rookie on his first major assignment” getting to make decisions regarding something as essential as the communication protocol. As the senior team member, Daniel is responsible for everything that happens on this op, and he comes off as a real toad when he tries to palm that responsibility off on the new guy.
How, exactly, does one whisper instinctively? Is that really something we’re born with? I think you might have been going for reflexively, but even that’s not quite right. Even more importantly (certainly for Rick), ten minutes is a freaking eternity when an op is in motion. What could Daniel possibly have on his calendar that was more important than pulling his partner out of a jam? (This, by the way, is why communication protocols exist.)
If Daniel preferred to have additional security, why didn’t he call for it? Just because Rick ran off without a radio doesn’t mean that Daniel didn’t have one either. And if firepower is the thing he’s worried about, why the hell is he advancing on the apartment with only a “Browning .38” (whatever that is)? Surely, he’s got some higher-caliber toys in the trunk of his Crown Victoria, and if he doesn’t there should be a reason.I’m sorry to say that this piece really didn’t resonate with me. It read as research-by-television series, and it just didn’t work. Not knowing what lies ahead in the story, I will venture a guess that this part of the story might be better told from Rick’s point of view. Assuming that he’s having a bad day on the other side of Daniel’s suspicions, I propose that Rick’s world view might be more interesting.
Posted by John Gilstrap at 7:26 AM