Hi everybody,
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.

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Well as I tried to say earlier, Bodypractor, this is a crime fiction site, and so we assume it's crime fiction when we're offered a piece of writing. We talk about literary fiction here sometimes, though, and yes, there are different expectations and conventions for such works. Given you've mentioned Murakami, here's the opening paragraph to 1Q84:

The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta—probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music.


Now I think that even with literary fiction you're always going to find a hook in the opening paragraph, and in the above it's IMO the simile, which says to me both that Aomame is a person of unusual insights or perspectives and that you the reader can relax and enjoy the text because you're in the hands of an accomplished author.

This is my first week in the forum and I have to thank you for welcoming me this way. It is very interesting for me to read the varied feedback . Even if I do feel frustrated about the very few replies to the real, initial question that was about STYLE! "Please, please, please" (as used to say the GREAT American author James Brown), let's get it on: A, B or F? ;-))

If I refer to my high-school literature teacher, she used to say: the first quality an author should get is to be able to listen and understand what people say around him. Well, my initial point was really a question about the WRITING style. You should have take it as a STYLE exercise, nothing more and nothing else.

Now, I have to say that I'm truly enjoying all of the replies. I understand your points about style Vs stories Vs hook Vs no-hook Vs best-selling Murakami Vs Indie authors, etc. I even do share some of them. On the others, let's consider I'm learning from you and this is the best value you can give me: knowledge. Then, there is humility...

I don't know if the follwoing elements would help some change or enrich their perspective:
- Emilio is not the hero of the story at all. The author actually uses this intro to wrong-foot the readers. But I'd better stop here coz I don't want to be a spoiler for those who would read the text in the end.
- Another important thing is that it is a short-story, not a novel.
- The last thing to take into account is that it is more a NOIR piece of fiction than a SUSPENSE type of fiction. Really, no bomb or global threat here... Genre comes into consideration here. But you're right, we are in a Crime forum.
- I did not write those three texts, but I have to admit I like their narrative. Should I feel ashamed for that? Just kidding, I'm being sarcastic and this is part of my personality... sometime. Yes, those texts truly remind me those of the GREAT Rampo Edogawa. They bring up something special IMO, which is a subtle way of entering a story, wrong-footing the readers, letting him know there is nothing so special and "no hook" (as some here noticed with good reasons)... till some sophisticated perversion. I've also heard from dozens of other people (including a successful Californian hard-boiled fiction author - who could be compared to you guys in terms of profile, isn't it?) who really liked them and asked to read more of it.
I agree there is a huge difference in-between a purely crime novel and a noir short-story. Noir deals with crime, naturally. But it goes deep down into the black heart of crime, that is, the reasons that bring crime into a person’s life. This is what I like in Noir: it is also about real people trying to live their lives (such as Emilio). And I agree, I guess most of us here know hot to create a hook of some sort in a few lines: let's put a time constraint here, a major danger there, a conflictual tension on the left, a life-threatining choice on the right... May be it is more subtle and challenging to gain readers without using such recipes.

This is only my personal view. Please no offense or judgement here. All I know is that in terms of business success in the book industry, you should certainly forget about all of what I say ;-)))

My initial question has not been answered truly yet. I have to admit that English is NOT my mother tongue. Si please forgive me if I sometime sound like a straight shooter. There may be a cultural difference here in enjoying language. I already asked the same question to native American English speakers: what version? I was so surprise to see 40% of the people answering their prefered the F version, while the others split in-between version A and version B.

Now, should you want to give you opinion, I would not like to influence you. But even for me, as a non native speakers, version F sounds very readable, but ene too readable. Too proper and academic and my words are making sense to you here. Version A has a special slangish appeal. The author seems to enjoy being creative with words, with a minimalist tour de force in being able to gove powerful images with a few rocking words. I just wanted your feedback on that. Some likes Dirty Harry. Others do prefer Superman. Whats your style? ;-)

I don't think I'm going to solve your problem.  Your not being a native speaker may be part of it.  It's not easy getting a feel for a foreign language.  It takes many years of study and wide reading of books in that language.  You seem to have some Japanese background  Edogawa Rampo (Edgar Allan Poe) is an early Japanese mystery writer who based his works on American noir writers.  I read one of those novels.  He is very derivative.  Murakami, of course, is not.  She does her thing and is original and stylistically very good, though one has to guess at this since she has been translated.

The three examples you gave aren't finished enough to be judged stylistically.  Every small error throws the reader off.

But I stand by what I said earlier:  a writer writes in the style that is most congenial to him or her and fits the genre and content of the book.


On any forum, you get to ask the questions.  You don't get to dictate the answers.  What we are all trying to tell you is that picking a style is unimportant.  Telling an interesting story is.  Forget style, that is just polish on the end product.  Write from the heart, not another writer's work.  I don't want to see a Picasso painted by Joe Smoo. I want to see your painting.  Yes study others, don't write like them.

I will give you an answer to your question.  I don't like any of the three because you haven't given me a reason to like one of them.  Unless you are going to sit on every bookshelf and explain your story to reader, you have to do it in the story itself.  These long winded bloviations explaining what you want means you aren't listening to good advice.

You say this is a short story.  All the more reason to write tight and not waste a word.  Plunge me directly into the story.  If a short story was a candy bar, give me the candy, not the wrapper.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  George V. Higgins book The Friends of Eddie Coyle starts with this sentence:

Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.

That is a great stuff.  I want to know why, what guns, who the hell is Jackie Brown.  If you haven't read Higgins, you should.  The Friends of Eddie Coyle is considered one of the top ten of all time.  I picked this book, because the style takes time to understand (it is written in at least 90% dialogue).  But that was a choice Higgins made.  Did he influence me, yes, do I write like him, no, 

Relax, know that all of us are trying to help you.

I know that 5 or 6 people in a forum do not represent the voice of ALL. I'm writing a bit myself and I would tend to be really influenced by your advice on putting a hook within the first sentences or so. By the way, thank you all for trying to help me and making this community alive.

Still I'm a bit lost. Why? Simply because I know for sure that "the text where you see no hook" has been accepted for publication by TWO publishers. I mean real publishers. But the author has a preference to go the indie way...Do you think this is a 'genre thing' or 'reading and writing crime novels' has turned you into readers filtering a book by the speed at whih it reveals its first hook? ;-)

As such, I don't know if the "put a hook in your first sentence" must be considered as an absolute truth or not. It is true that I'm quite influenced by Japanese and French literatures. The hook-rule seems not to be obeyed by most of their writers. Murakami (he is a MAN by the way) himself does not seem to use it extensively. Edogawa also. By the way I.J. Parker, what do you exactly mean by "derivative"? Is it to be understood as pejorative? Or can it be considered as a compliment to the author? Would you know of similar derivative authors in American literature? I'd be REALLY interested in getting some names, if the do exist, which I'm sure they do.

Have all of you learned the ropes of 'Crime writing' in 'How to write' books? How-to books really are an American cultural trademark. I think it has more goods than bads. As such, what would be the 5 or 10 books you would recommend me reading to improve my writing and hook-management? ;-)) I mean How-to just as literary works?

There are publishers and there are publishers. It's hard for me to believe that even a legitimate small press would consent to publish a short story that opens in any of the three styles offered. They're all over-written, despite the dullness of the scene described. (Or perhaps what we've been offered are translations from another language and something has been lost in translation?) Just my opinion, of course.

I don't know of a single crime fiction how-to book that's any good. I know of several how-to books on how to write literary fiction that are very good and with advice that by and large applies to crime fiction authors too. My personal favorites: (1) The Art of Fiction by John Gardner; and (2) The Art & Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall. Both authors of these how-to books were very good novelists themselves.

This isn't a matter of a hook or not.  It is a matter of sophisticated  reader who does't want to read something that doesn't interest them.

This isn't a matter of rules.  It is a matter of  people who work all day and want to be swept away to a different world.  Some pick TV and others (bless their souls) pick up our books and read.  We owe them the best book we can write, not some esoteric BS about the style of relatively obscure writers.  

You are doing what many rookie writers have done before you.  You are fighting the truth because you believe in your work.  That's good, but what you have simply isn't interesting.  Relax, listen to the advice.  Hooks are there to give the reader a reason to keep reading.

believe us.  The reader of most fiction knows what they want to read.  You said you were trying to write a hard-boiled, noir short story.  These genres have elements that are expected by the reader.  The joy of writing these stories is pleasing the reader.  And they reward you by buying your next work.  

One more example of a great noir opening.  This is from Walter Mosely's, great noir novel Devil in a Blue Dress.

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Jappy's bar.  Mosely goes on the describe the white man.  This isn't a hook, its a reason to read on and find out about the narrator, Jappy, the white man, and why it's unusual to see a white man.

You can fight the truth or not.  Write what you want.  Please yourself or the reader, your choice.

I think what this thread underscores is why it isn't a good idea to post excerpts and ask for feedback. That's best reserved for a dedicated writing group familiar with members' styles. There's also a more bird's eye view of the writer instead of quick one-off impressions.

Bah humbug. Objectivity towards the prose is easier when you don't know a thing about the author. I've been in my share of crit groups, both online and in meat space, and familiarity can become a problem.

I'm not saying this is the best site for feedback because it's not set up for that structurally as an online site for critting would be.

Fair enough. I agree with your last point, though.

There is none of the samples shown that i would choose over the other, but if mixed up right for there is something in there. I like how descriptive you are, but some of the language is a bit weak and passive. 

"His soaked seat reminds him of one of those big, disgusting sponges you find in kitchens."

The sweat soaked seat reminded him of the rancid sponge in his kitchen sink. He shifted uncomfortably at the thought. 

I'm not a published writer so I'm sure others could offer better examples, but I hope you see what I mean. 


That's good.


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