Below are 3 versions of an extract of a hard-boiled, noir crime story. I won't tell you more (classical vs. punchy style, flow, readibility, creativity...).
All I want to know is: which version would inspire you a "WHAOOO, I WANT TO READ MORE" feeling? A, B or F ? What's your guts feeling?
Rome, one pm, one scorcher Tuesday. On Coliseum Square the traffic crawls and jerks bumper to bumper, four inches at a time. The windshields spit back the iron darts of an angry sun. The air is thick, the drivers sweat buckets. They suffocate. The weather girl had forewarned them, but old habits die hard. So on the day, the pollution chart records an all-time high, and moods boil. «Sonofabitches» and «fuck you’s» detonate in the damp air. The hotter heads step out of their cars onto the boiling tarmac and weak pushes turn to limp shoves before they return to their cars in the exhaust gas stew. At the wheel of his decrepit red Fiat Uno, Emilio has given up trying to peel off the wet shirt clogging his pores. His soaked car seat reminds him of the big fat filthy dish sponge of the kitchen. Pulling an all- nighter doing dishes while the fat cats party. If only he was loaded. Electric windows and air-con, for a start. Emilio turns the handle to roll down his bent window that sticks to try to get some air. It’s all for nothing. His lungs chug-in gasoline. The car horns howl him blind. Suddenly, BAM ! Rear ended by the car behind.
Rome, 1.00 PM, 13h10, scorching Tuesday. On the Coliseum Plaza, cars packed-in bumper to bumper, tight. Windshields glint off the metallic sparkle of an angry sun. In the blast-oven heat, drivers mop their brow in vain, stifling. The weather report said it all, but old habits die hard. Then, another nice hit on pollution peaks curve, and tempers flare. « Son of a Bitch » and other « Shut the fuck up, asshole! » billow out in the moisture. The most feverish get out on the burning asphalt, lazily nudging, then sheepishly get back into their vehicle through the exhaust gas breadline. At his decrepit, red Fiat Uno’s wheel, Emilio doesn’t even try anymore to unglue his shirt from his oozing pores. His seat soaked in sweat reminds him the big, filthy kitchen’s sponge. One more night on the tiles bussing tables and stuff whereas tycoons had fun. If only he could afford. Electric windows and air con, to begin with. Once again, Emilio manually cranks down his skewed window and gasps air. Forget it. His lungs snort diesel. Horns blindfold him. Without warning, it’s a BAM ! The car behind rammed into him.
Rome. 1:10 PM, on a Tuesday in the midst of a blazing heat wave. Around the square of the Coliseum, traffic is inching along at a snail’s pace. The windshields of the vehicles reflect the blinding metallic luster of the sun in anger. In the heat-laden air, drivers suffocate. The weather forecast had warned citizens if the inevitable temperatures they were in store for, but old habits are hard to break. Suddenly, tempers erupt, and shouts of “Son of a bitch” and “Shut up, asshole” ring through the sticky air. As the words settle down to the baking asphalt, the drivers hang their heads and sheepishly return through the exhaust-filled air to their vehicles, ashamed at what the sweltering heat has turned them into. Emilio does not even attempt to remove his sweat soaked shirt before getting back into his dilapidated old red Fiat. His soaked seat reminds him of one of those big, disgusting sponges you find in kitchens. Another sleepless night, then it’s back to work to wash more dished while the wealthy are out dancing the night away, dirtying up even more dished for him to wash. If only Emilio had money. For starters, he would have electric windows and air conditioning. Sighing, he turns the crank on his window once again in hopes of getting even the littlest of air. It is a waste of time and energy as his lungs immediately fill with the choking smell of diesel and numerous other odors that vehicles emit. All of a sudden, BAM! Emilio’s poor little red Fiat is hit from behind by another car.
Umm, this doesn't sound like Rome, the traffic around the Coliseum, or Italian drivers. My experience is that the peculiar design of the traffic pattern at this place (at least 3 major roads converge into a large open, paved area, means that Italian drivers drive like maniacs, criss-crossing the "square" in all directions. And while Italians will become vocal, they also honk and shout in Italian. Let's have some Italian.
I'd start with the BAM! myself.
A, B or F was the question? ;-)
Neither, to be perfectly blunt.
Yes, the adage for scenes is: start as late as possible, end as soon as possible. I suspect you've started too early.
That first sentence (in all three versions) has to provide a hook IMO, not a time and weather report. And as for the rest of the paragraph, it's just a guy in traffic. Why should the reader care? There isn't a hook to be found not only in the opening sentence but in the rest. Maybe if Emilio was trying to get to a bank heist and was late. Maybe if there was a dead body in the trunk. You get the idea. (This is Crimespace after all.)
If this is the first paragraphs, then none really moved me.
I had fifty minutes until the bomb was scheduled to explode. Fifty minutes until dozens of innocent people would die. Rome's traffic made it almost impossible to cross town in time and the boiling heat didn't help either. A Carabinieri cruiser pulled up beside me. I could read the cops lips, follow me. I did.
Now that's a hook.
Whaooo. Very interesting feedback here, I mean on both sociological and writing standpoints. I have to thank you for those valuable feedback. I won't consider the replies of 3 persons as representative of the whole world of Crime fiction writers, but I would like to underline that not all books have to start with a hook right from the first sentence.We all know about the recipes, but life sometime needs variations. You may not consider Balzac (French) or Murakami (Japanese) as Crime fiction writers, but those guys have proven they can get a readership and create interest... without delivering a real hook before you've read 10 pages or so... Their world slowly penetrates you, line after line. Aain, this is another world... and I understand some writers (or readers) may be looking for codes. Please take no offense. My purpose here is based on the fact that I had the exactly opposite feedback in another writing forums where people said they truly like the narrative and wanted to know: what's next? I guess it really depends on your personality more than on your readings preferences...
But to come back to my initial question - which was not really about the narrative behind the texts - I was actually trying to get feedback from your preference in terms of WRITING STYLE. Yes, style. James Ellroy vs Raymond Chandler Vs Pahlaniuk Vs James Frey Vs well, you' ve got the point. From the text above, I see one very classical, academic writing style. Another one which sound less slangish, may be provocative and experimental. A third one... Well, I don't want to give my opinion on that here. I was actually trying to get yours. Again, I already had feedback from other places/people and I'm so surprise you really can't get find a majority of people "voting" for the same text. May be that's why life is so exciting: diversity of opinions, styles and preferences. 'Regular people' do prefer standard recipes where mad dogs are not afraid to poison themselves. Again, that's what I like...
Thanks for your honesty and generous feedback.
You'd be smart to listen to these people. You have not hooked the reader -- with story, character, or setting. Traffic and heat, even getting rear-ended, are not as interesting as you seem to think, and fun word combos do not substitute for clarity of story. All three graphs are virtually the same, all producing the same reaction from most readers: nothing is happening. We don't care what happens next to Emilio. We don't know anything interesting about him.
You are not as far away as this all sounds. Take Emilio and put him in the story higher, make him the one experiencing the traffic and heat, delaying him, worrying him for some reason, then get him doing something that's mysterious or grabbing. Work on story, not style. JMHO.
Yup. Writers develop their own style in time. How you express yourself is what is comfortable for you. There are too many other things to keep in mind to experiment with styles.
Every comment I've ever read from famous authors has said essentially that once they'd achieved a certain level of proficiency they stopped imitating the works of authors they admired and simply focused on communicating in the most effective, efficient way possible, and from that their style emerged and never gave style another thought.
Or they just have someone else write their work for them, then go fishing.
Good point, jack. There's not a great deal of difference between the three, even in the style. One man's opinion, but I became skeptical as soon as i read the references to the "angry sun," however it was phrased. It's a little purple.