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Sunday, April 29, 2012

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Today's first page critique is entitled: DEAD ON THE VINE. My comments follow, but overall I think today's piece raises issues specifically dealing with voice, setting and tone...more on that after the piece:

            Chief TR Henderson tried to maintain an appearance of competence and dignity as he approached the conference table for the meeting, but the chair groaned when he sat down, and Commissioner Dale Kirkpatrick flashed him the stink eye. Splendid. He was still at the top of her Stink List.
            “You’re late.” Commissioner Rick Petit didn’t bother looking up from his notes.
            “My apologies,” TR replied. “I stopped to help a disabled on Second Ave.” The smell of coffee and croissants called to him, but he resisted. Instead, he tried getting comfortable on the metal folding chair. It wasn’t going to happen. The commissioners all sat in padded chairs, forming a firing squad on the other side of a conference table the size of Rhode Island, and they stuck their mammoth chief of police in a folding chair. Classy.
            Kirkpatrick maintained her narrow-eyed glare, now directed at the fresh spot of motor oil on TR’s shirt.
He couldn’t be more delighted with the attention.
            Petit finally looked up. “Thanks for coming. You know this isn’t easy for any of us.”
            TR nodded.
            “The drug problem is growing worse.” Petit glanced at his notes before continuing. “We want to know what you’re doing about it.”
            Simple enough question. “Officer Mendoza is—”
            “What are you doing about it?” Kirkpatrick demanded.
            “I put my best officer on it,” he responded. “Mendoza’s got fifteen years of experience dealing with—”
            “That’s great,” Petit said, “but what’s he doing now? When’s he going to arrest Lester Rowley?”
            TR sat back and fought to keep a smile from cracking. “We have no proof that Lester Rowley has anything to do with the drug trade at the high school.”

My comments:
Overall, this first page didn't grab me. I found the tone a little inconsistent and the humor unsure of itself. The use of 'stink eye' and 'stink list' and asides like 'classy' are, I assume, designed to create a slightly smart-arse/wise guy tone but I didn't really get that - instead it seemed a bit juvenile given the caliber of the men in the room (all police commissioners). I also didn't really understand where we were - it sounds like a board room, with coffee, croissants and a massive conference table - yet all the commissioners are in comfy chairs and TR gets a metal folding chair (? really? I couldn't picture this) and it was a metal chair that groaned when he sat down in it (which seems a very un-metallic word - wouldn't it squeak, clang or grind?). 

The dialogue also seems unsure of itself - why does Petit say "You know this isn't easy for any of us"? Surely a drug problem at a high school is hardly an overwhelming issue and also why does TR fight to keep a smile from cracking when he says there's no proof Lester Rowley has anything to do with the drug trade? Again, as a reader I am unsure whether this is supposed to be serious, slightly tongue-in-cheek or what. So far the author's voice and tone aren't clear to me. Nor is the setting (apart from a generic conference room that I couldn't really picture). I need to be able to visualize the setting as well as the characters not merely be told that the Chief of police tried to 'maintain an appearance of competence and dignity' - how? What did he do? Did he straighten his jacket, look wisely over his glasses?? I had a hard time picturing him or the other commissioners in the room.

Though this first page had references to some kind of ongoing issue between TR and  Commissioner Dale Kirkpatrick I don't get a sufficient sense of tension to care - nor am I really compelled to read on as yet. In short, I think this first page needs a clearer voice and tone, a stronger sense of place and character and a big dose of drama and tension. At the moment it feels too uncertain and too passive to be compelling.

What do you think?


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