8 thoughts on “Going Public – Story Test Review”

  1. Hello Deborah and Gerry!
    Happy to see your work here. I am taking some time to go through and look at story test questions to see how your pages look. I’ll post feedback here this week, but also would like to ask that you bring one copy of your pages to our in-person gathering on Saturday, so that we can do a deeper dive into the work and discuss.
    Stay tuned!

  2. Gerry,
    You have a lot of things working for you quite well right out of the gate. For starters, a very compelling opener: this is the kind of powerful beginning that will grip readers right off the bat. There is a very strong sense of the story’s adventure, and the pacing is also good, which, for this genre is even more important. Thrillers are the kinds of books that we do not want to put down. That means, never give the reader a dull moment to pause for a WC break. 😉
    Some things that are not yet completely clear, or can be strengthened:
    1) I am not yet certain who the main character is. As much as possible, we want to get that person on the first page or very immediately thereafter. It can’t be Jon’ell (unless this is set up as a flash-forward), and the next person who we learn by name is Ray, and many readers will likely want to cling to that person. However, we soon meet several other characters, but none of them seem to be the main driver of the story, so it is hard to know who to latch onto as a reader. If it is Greg, see how you can continue to put him in the driver’s seat, at least as far as POV goes. So, for example, if he is with SpecOps, name him on p. 1, or show how he is somehow in charge of sending the team in with the first action. A general note on characters, especially upon first mention, try to introduce them with a bit more context and physical description. We need to see their personalities come through, more so than their names and titles: we want to know what their personality types are, their attitudes, and their motivations.
    2) The reader may not easily have a full sense of the main character’s goal, (partially due to not quite knowing who the main character is); although in Greg’s case, it seems clear that is is to save Special Ops. I think if this aspect can come more from Greg’s instigation (I think it’s Ben who says “we have to fight back”), it will become clearer.
    3) Narrative voice is coming along, especially with the pacing and the authentic language and terminology. This can also be strengthened in other ways with clearer storytelling. But I do think you will have a flow and style that readers of this genre will enjoy.
    4) Overall level of skillful writing will also be improved once some of the above items are more clearly resolved. Additional areas to look at are some of the same things we’re looking at in the shorter paragraph work we’re doing: how to tighten and strengthen the message, avoid unnecessary or redundant words, avoid over-explanation.
    5) I noticed a few grammatical errors.

    -Some good vivid moments
    -Dialog is fitting for the genre; however, can be improved upon with further development of individual characters
    -Genre is evident throughout
    -New information is on every page (there is no real “drag” or “lag” here)
    -I do want to read more, but first I want to know more about which character I am going to “invest” in as a reader

    As a homework assignment, I recommend taking one of Joseph Wambaugh’s books, and looking at his first 10 pages. Apply our story test to his work and see how he does it. How many characters do we meet? When do we learn who the main character is, and what his goal is? How does he introduce new people? Is there a way he uses voice or pacing or narrative style that you really like? Steal it! Make it your own.

    1. Thanks Monique,
      I hear you loud and clear. It is taking some time for me to get the concept straight, but I think my head is getting screwed on correctly now. lol. I have rewritten the first 10 pages, trying to focus on 3 “sets” of characters, partners if you will. SFPDs Greg and Benjamin (Greg is Benjamin’s protégé); Channel 7 TV News crew Ray and Bob; and FBI Special Agents Charlene and Louis. I do this because cops, FBI Agents, and news crews typically work in partnerships. I’ve pretty much eliminated other characters by name, except for Jon’ell and his mother Jessie and sister Joy’ell. Maybe I need to pare the characters down even more. I agree that I must be a little more descriptive of my characters. I did that somewhat in the rewrite but I must do more. All-in-all your suggestions are spot on and thank you. I tried to repost my first 10 pages but my repost doesn’t show up as yet. By the way, I’m probably going to need some personal editing of my story chapter by chapter after our class concludes. Thanks again, Gerry

  3. Deborah,
    A strong set of pages here: most notably in the richness of the period and place. Truly lovely descriptive language with clear visual and sensory elements that really enable the reader to see, hear, and even smell the world around Annie. The style of your narration also feels fitting of the genre, and inviting in the way that a long read with a cup of tea in a cozy chair should be. Nicely done.

    Taking a closer look at specifics:
    1) Your opening is strong, especially with narrative voice and richness of setting.
    2) On page one, you drop enough hints and details that give nice windows into Annie’s character that are also suggestive of her strengths and weaknesses. Even the way she dresses tells us something about her personality: great!
    3) In terms of her goal, in the immediate situation, it’s clear that she is meeting up with siblings she hasn’t seen in a long while, but why, and what her intentions are remain to be seen. I like the hint of “the young lad” we will meet–so this is a nice strong hint of some unusual kind of relationship that may be connected to the greater goal, and keeps us intrigued and reading. As a general note, the “goal” doesn’t need to be overt, but as long as there are hints of it or some kind of foreshadowing, that is good.
    4) Likewise, with the sense of the story’s adventure, you have laid the groundwork here that suggests quite a bit of mystery that needs to be resolved. You also do a nice job of setting up the “fish out of water” aspect of Annie finding herself unfamiliar in familiar territory (a running theme for the story).
    5) Your narrative voice is really developing nicely. In many ways, it’s like fine embroidery–paying attention to the little details of this time and place and world–that is fitting for historical fiction. In other words, your voice is matching the genre in a nice way. Keep pushing in that direction.
    6) Your writing continues to sharpen and improve. It’s coming down to little things, like looking at redundancies, or unnecessary explanations that can be tightened, trimmed, or reworked elsewhere. For example, “‘I’m sorry,’ Annie apologized” is repetitive. In such cases, choose one, or turn “apologized” into a different verb that may suggest “how” she is doing so. (If she “snapped” or if she “laughed” we might see that she is really annoyed, or doesn’t take it seriously, for example, and you are giving the reader new information about deeper context.)
    7) Pacing is good, and fitting for this genre.
    8) I didn’t detect any overt grammatical errors.

    -many vivid moments and memorable scenes
    -good narrative voice and fitting dialog
    -genre is clearly evident
    -new information on every page keeps the story moving forward nicely

    Yes, I would like to read more. One thing I’m curious about is the larger sense of goal or adventure or larger “problem” of the story. Although, that said, we do see some of it is coming through with hints and suggestions that we will learn more soon, so that keeps the reader compelled to learn more.

  4. All,
    After our work session last Saturday, I rewrote the entire first chapter (first 10 pages) of my book, taking into account the editorials provided on the web site and during the session. I thought the work session was very helpful in getting the writing concept down, at least in my noggin. In my rewrite, I included a revised annotated outline at the beginning of the manuscript and I broke down the manuscript into two scenes with location and date. These features are for my purposes in keeping on tract and would not be in a submitted manuscript, although I might want to keep the location and date but not the term SCENE ONE: or SCENE TWO:.
    Bill, I updated my first ten pages pdf manuscript but the updated version does not show in the Story Test Review. Did I do something incorrectly?
    I see that I am more than likely going to need some personal editing support as we move beyond the current class. We can discuss at one of our meets.
    I really enjoyed our last work session. See everyone at the May 23rd Drop-In. Mary and I will be camping at Lassen and I can’t make the May 16th session.

  5. I have revised and posted my third attempt at Chapter One, “Serrano Street Diversion.” It is twelve pages rather than the ten pages called for. Click on the pdf post to view the latest. Tried to be a more descriptive with the main characters. Comments would be appreciated.

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