I've had my two pennyworth of feeding back on other people's work so thought I should post something to see if I'm on the right lines or not. Any feedback gratefully received - always a bit scary doing this....
This is part of a RomCom - this is the chapter (very short you'll be glad to know) where I introduce Natalie to the narrative. It mainly is about a male protagonist but at some point he will meet Natalie and return her diary that she left on a train. The diary contains all her intimate thoughts and fears and by reading it he thinks he knows her and kind of falls for her, but of course he doesn't really know her at all, and she doesn't take too kindly to him reading her diary!! But all that is way in the future, this is where we first meet her...here goes...
I like this, Danny. Some great lines: 'arse-a-gram' for example. And the finish was a real shocker - in a good way. A couple of the 21st century references are from the 20th century (women threw themselves under racehorses and burning their bras). There's some issues with the formatting too (the indents are not all correct). But it's a nice start. Keep it up.
Hi Danny, thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this, some good banter. For me personally it is a little heavy on dialogue. The dialogue is good but maybe you could use a little scene setting to break it up, items and noises from around the office space would help illustrate the scene for the reader. Hope this is helpful.
Hi Danny. Some minor technical issues aside (formatting mostly, as Neal points out) this bowls along in a very easy-to-read way. The dialogue is naturalistic in tone and funny, especially the second conversation between Natalie and Clare. It could be tightened and reduced a bit, perhaps; this occasionally reads like a verbatim transcription of conversation, which doesn't always work on the page. Or, as T.J. mentions, kept at the same length but broken up a bit with thoughts or actions.
I confess I found myself questioning the believability of the scene at first. Unless they had a very relaxed and easy relationship, no experienced manager would risk speaking to an employee like this. And I was wondering why Natalie was seemingly so unperturbed by the inappropriateness of the conversation. But then, of course, the 'sting' at the end gave the reason why the scene plays out like it does.
I would make one small observation which occurred to me on the first reading and was strengthened by a second reading. I can't help feeling - and this may just be me, of course - that although Natalie is your point of view character and your first person narrator, the scene has a slightly 'male' tone somehow. It's difficult to tell without further context of course, but I wonder if it might work even better if Natalie had a more distinctive narrative voice?
As I say, difficult to tell with a short excerpt like this. It's an enjoyable scene though, and I hope that Natalie ends up with a better specimen than Steve seems to be!
As Jon mentioned, this reads very much as male-voiced, even though your PoV-narrator is supposedly Natalie.
There are also a lot of the common mistakes that get flagged in most feedback requests. So, rather than list a ton of them, I'll just break down your opening lines…
'Natalie, is this a picture of your bum?’
Too verbose. "A picture of" is irrelevant. Who would say that? It is implied. If you were holding up a picture of something, asking about it, you wouldn't reference the fact that it is a picture of the subject. You would ask if it is the subject. Direct. Clean.
Also, it's flat. There's no personality in this. How is he asking the question? Is he leering? Is he excited? Ashamed to be asking? Nervous? Most of which would simplify to "Natalie, is this…?" plus an action.
Hard to argue with a single-word line like this, though depending whether the subject is named in the previous line, a stronger reaction may be required. If not, a reaction to the body language in Steve's behaviour.
My boss Steve slid an A4 piece of paper across his desk toward me.
Argh. You said this isn't the beginning of the book. So we can assume Steve has been introduced elsewhere. There's no need to tell us he's her boss. There are other spots where this could be inserted, such as when she's considering him.
Likewise, telling us the paper is A4 is a waste. It's a photocopy (ok, we only learn that in the next paragraph, but it's quickly evident) so the size is assumed. And no one will have a piece of paper shoved towards them and think: oh, wow, that's A4-sized. It's just a piece of paper.
‘Does this derriere belong to you?’
Belongs on the same line as his action.
I peered at the grainy photocopy not quite knowing how to respond. ….
Peer? That's a studious action. It's utterly incongruous here. (It's an example of the male-voice coming through. A man might, even when not wanting to display such, peer at a photocopy of a woman's rear end.)
And grainy? Maybe if this was set in the '80s when photocopies were grainy. But that's not a reality of modern offices.
We are also lacking the kind of visceral reaction that a woman will feel if her boss calls her into the office and basically asks: "Are you a slut?"
Yes, I've just ripped apart the five opening sentences. And it all, pretty much, comes down to believability. Or the lack thereof. You need to really get inside your PoV's head to make a scene like this work. You also need to get inside Steve's head. And then step outside both to analise how those two forces would impact each other when a photocopy of an arse shows up.
And while your twist at the end is interesting, a good zinger, it likewise fails the believability test. That is a detail that would very much play into Natalie's reactions and responses to Steve. She would be thinking about that from the very beginning. As soon as Natalie knows what the initial question is about, her daliance with Steve will be a key driver of the conversation.
I really liked it! I am sorry I can not help you with any editing suggestions. I have no experience in editing yet. But I liked it. It was easy to read, I was pulled in and I really want to know what happened next. 🙂
Like the others here, I really liked the set-up here, and the revelation in the closing sentence is brilliant :-) Steve as a character didn't seem very realistic, but from a 'comedy value' point of view, this wasn't necessarily a weakness, and I therefore felt it was forgivable. But like Alisa and Kelly, I enjoyed it enough to want to read more :-)
I agree with what T.J. said about balancing the amount of dialogue with some scene-setting info.
I also agree with John's and Rick's comments, so won't go over those again.
Re: the 'maleness' of the POV (which it definitely has here), though, here's one way towards addressing it. Instead of saying: 'women threw themselves under racehorses, (well at least one of them did) and burned their bras' - which separates you from the gender you're talking about - say: 'we threw ourselves under racehorses (or at least one of us did) and burned our bras.' Most females would be more likely to do this instinctively, so your choice of nouns and pronouns here grates straight away as an inauthentically female voice.
These references to stuff from so many years ago, though, does make the speaker sound 'old'. My suggestion would be - if you want/need her to sound younger - to think of more contemporary 'cultural symbols and indicators' she can reference as proof of female power and equality... Jacinta Ardern? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Greta Thunberg? Malala Yousafzai? Or for lighter options... a female Dr Who! :-D
I’m with the others on how this is punchy and playful and “more’ish” in its vibe. I’ve always been tickled by the idea of falling for some strangely discovered “part” of someone (as in a diary or letters or old home movies found in a box). The gap between who we are in our private pieces/places and who we are in the world is so interesting… So is the idea of being seen in our vulnerability. I hope to see where this story takes it all!
In general, I share the previous thoughts about “voice” and have what may be a slight variation on the ideas about dialogue. Personally, unless I am being taken somewhere fantastical or historical where I need the information to situate myself and understand everything, I don’t enjoy a lot of description of place or action unless it directly affects my understanding of the characters or the moment. What do I mean by this? I’ll jump right to examples because I always learn better that way myself... I beg forgiveness in advance for playing with this material and for the way I wind up framing the characters through my choices! I’m really just wanting to help illustrate some of what has already been offered about how we can play with understanding of character and with “psychic distance” (I learned that language in this group, lol!) through description, gesture, and contextual cues.
“Does this derriere belong to you?”
“I beg your pardon,” I blurted as Steve used one well-trimmed, obsessively clean fingernail to push a photocopy over to my side of his enormous and immaculate desk [a way to let the reader know a few key things about Steve and his managerial style, his person, with just the gesture of sliding the photocopy over]. Hadn’t my mother’s generation [grandmother’s? Not sure how old this character is supposed to be] thrown themselves under racehorses and burned bras so that I didn’t have to talk about this? Aren’t we deep into the heart of the #metoo movement? I shouldn’t have to look at half-baked pornography with my boss before I’ve even had a coffee [tea? Could even add something in about how Clare had said she would make her a cup before she’d been summoned and it would be getting cold – this is a way to introduce Clare early and could give us a little feel for how Nathalie’s mind is not really in this meeting.].
“It’s black and white. It could be anyone’s bum.” I pushed it back toward him with only my middle finger, hoping he would notice [now we know a little something about how she feels about him and can feel a bit about her personality].
“Well it’s not mine, is it?” He laughed, “I don’t wear short skirts, black tights and G-Strings.” I let his hideous hammer-on-pipe office clock tick into my growing irritation and hoped my silence would be contagious [as Rick already mentioned, the sound of the clock can become an anchor for the reader’s sense of tension in the scene and knowing that Nathalie finds it ugly augments the sense of voice].
‘What was that about?’ Clare had covered my coffee with a plate, the angel, and picked out one of the good Danishes before the marketing department had savaged the box [this tells you something about Clare’s thoughtfulness, about the office dynamics].
‘Arses.’ I sipped the gratefully strong blackness of my coffee then took a bite of the Danish, releasing a moaned and muffled ‘thank you’ over toward Clare’s pod [again, little details that, in this case with my choices, make it clear that Nathalie isn't afraid of bitter drinks and isn’t shy of talking with her mouthful but that she is also someone who says ‘thank you’].
‘He wanted to talk to you about arses?’
‘Mine I think. Somebody left a photocopy of their bum on his chair, probably on Friday.’
Clare tore a tiny bite of her Danish off and nibbled at it like a bird [more info about Clare with just a gesture and still feeling like it’s through Nathalie’s eyes].
And, Kate, do you think it's always true about description anchored to people or story?? I've always thought it was just my bias... I feel like there are authors out there who are lauded for their capacity to 'set the scene' in ways that may not seem as "tethered" to people and story and I've just always been an impatient child about it because my first love was film & tv and I'm used to the camera doing it for me so I don't have to read all the damn description, lol.... I dunno'...
I genuinely enjoy the "there's not enough of it" line. In my head she says it entirely without shame (which is probably why I pictured her making out with a Danish as she says it, lol).
Honestly, aside from these little but often useful tweaks, and tied to some other comments by previous reviewers, the only thing in this scene that truly “took me out” of the otherwise bouncy and entertaining vibe, was the word “surreal.” I don’t know a woman who has gotten into her late teens, no-less her 20s, without experiencing rank sexism and inappropriateness in form way or another. Sadly, it isn’t surreal. It’s bitterly normal and downright banal. . So, my wish for this scene – and for Nathalie in general as we get to know her – is to lean into that truth. Own it. She’s obviously going to have her own take and thresholds as all women do – and I really liked that her inner monologue made it clear she *didn’t* feel humiliated but said she did by way of expedience and having some kind of upper hand (it tells me a lot about her) – but I guess I just don’t’ feel like this would be surreal to her. From what I can glean of who she is, it is more annoying than uncomfortable, more wearying and irritating than oppressive, and just generally complicated by her history with her boss. Ultimately, there is a LOT of juicy stuff here which, again, is why I’m definitely curious to see where it all goes!
I truly hope that the examples I’ve offered are more useful than annoying and if you do have a go at a rewrite based on any of this, I hope you will post it with whatever else you share next so I can have a quick boo :)
<wiping brow> PHEW! I always feel a bit nervous playing with other people's writing but some of the best, most educative feedback I've ever received came when people mucked about with mine, lol. I appreciate your graciousness and I'm grateful it seems like it might be useful.
I really liked it Danny. I like the tone and the pace and I immediately want to know more of Natalie's story.
I'm impressed by the editing notes made by others in the comments and since I can't hope to add anything of equal use, I shall simply say that having read this I would want to read the rest of the book.
I liked it. Neal has got a point about the 21st century references being 20th century and the indents are a bit too vicious for me. Just looks a bit harsh. I don't think you need more than 0.5cm. I'm not an editor and sometimes I think people look beyond the readability of someone's writing. At the end of the day we're telling a story, not sending a message. Office culture like this is real, maybe not as much as it was, but it is still around and I think you managed to put the reader in that office because it was an uncomfortable experiences for Natalie. Everything can be tweaked, as I'm finding out, but whatever the story it has to be readable, and I think this is.
I just read Lost and Found. Our colleagues have covered commenting on your style Danny, so I won't, but where does it go from here? Why is (Natalie) in brackets in the title. Are you going to write an intro for each character as part of the story?
There are four main characters in the story, told mainly from a man's point of view which I haven't done for a while, his daughter and an undercover policewoman who caused all sorts of carnage when she infiltrated his job and his life. It's complicated but hopefully in a good way - time will tell I suppose...I'm working on something else at the moment but hope to get back to this in the new year..