This is a sample of an analysis I did for a client.
HEAT by J.M Moeller
Analysis and Recommendations by D.G. Speirs
Matt, I understand the ideas what you were going for. A film noir / Chandler-esque sensibility into a high school setting has possibilities. And I like that we have our first glimpse here of the change in the heroes’ path. But still… you’ve really not done a lot to make Luke a very likable hero. So far, there isn’t much here that makes me want to root for this guy. It’s not that he’s had it rough from a family point of view, or that he’s a particular outcast, except by choice.
Think about why we root for the Raymond Chandler, San Spade heroes – because even despite their tough guy exteriors, they were paragons of virtue. We knew what they stood for in the end. Right now, I really don’t get much of a sense of a moral compass from Luke at all. He has protective and potential romantic feelings toward Jill, loyalty towards his best friend Robert, ambivalently tolerant feelings toward Greg and Megan, and a good home life… that’s it. He’s judgmental of everyone else, and everyone else is pretty much found lacking.
Somehow, you are going to have to make me want to root for this guy. And just because something weird is happening to him might not be enough. He will, at some point, actually have to do something selfless, which so far seems to be completely against his nature as you’ve written him.
But, then again, it is only Chapter One. The plot will thicken, I’m sure.
And now, to individual line edits and suggestions.
I reluctantly slap it with a heavy right hook, rolling out of bed and onto the floor, landing on my feet, ready to fight the day.
Too many “ing” verbs (rolling and landing). I recommend changing it to read:
I reluctantly slap it with a heavy right hook, roll out of bed and onto the floor, landing on my feet, ready to fight the day.
A few seconds of rubbing my eyes and trying to crack my neck and I jump into the shower to begin the morning ritual.
Too many “ands” here… try this to convey the same meaning.
After a few seconds of rubbing my eyes and trying to crack my neck, I jump into the shower to begin the morning ritual.
I give it my best shot in and look myself in the mirror.
You describe yourself in the mirror the next paragraph, and how you fit into your society (which, by the way, does not sync with the way your character acts later in the book, but we’ll get to that a little later). But I don’t get a sense of how he feels about himself as he sees himself in the mirror. He’s what – 14? 15? Every 14-15 year old has something they wish they were, or weren’t, some imperfection they focus on. The tough guy, Chandler persona may be his way of dealing with the world around him, the hard-boiled shell to protect himself, but his inside needs protecting, and as a reader, we get to see that insecurity – we pay the price of admission when we buy the book. So what is it with Luke? Even if you don’t show us the whole thing right here, do you at least give us a hint, either in the mirror or in the room? What’s Luke’s?
“…but I’d been slowly changing that into action movie posters and pictures of cars and fighter planes and the sort.”
When you’re writing a 14-15 year old, even one who is Raymond Chandler or Sam Spade, you have to watch phrasing. No 14 year old is going to say ‘the sort.’ Ever. If they do, I’ll give you a dollar. “Stuff like that” or something similar. You phrase it like that, it drops your character out of character – and your audience starts to doubt. It’s the easiest way to lose them.
All us bus kids file through the grey metal double door to the back of the school, shuffling our feet and murmuring, cattle. The real pinch point is right at the door, where some crazed salmons realize that they left something in their car, or wanted to talk to someone outside, or want to go grab a smoke somewhere before it’s too late, pushing against the grain without any sort of excuses to why or where they’re going. I break through the choke, making myself as small as possible and just pushing through the chaos of voices. I swing left after the choke and find myself in the middle of a darkened hallway with one overhead fluorescent light flickering on and off.
This is excellent imagery here – but watch your verb tenses here – present (Realize, want), versus past (wanted). Also, choke used twice so close – is there a synonym for this you could use? If not, it’s probably ok.
This is the back of Thomas Jefferson High school, home of the ROTC and Band rooms, both cloisters unto themselves and needing membership to enter into, the hallways were deserted as everyone else had other places the wanted, or rather, needed to be. I see a familiar shape sitting on the wall. A tall skinny frame with bushy hair sitting on the top.
Ummm. OK, I’m a little confused here. We were outside. Now we’re inside, in a deserted hallway, dimly lit with a flickering fluorescent bulb and here’s a guy sitting on the wall. Not against the wall. Not beside the wall. But literally ON THE WALL. Because this is literal – you wrote that.
The fact we go from hugely crowded space to instantly deserted hallway is sort of… well… let’s color me mildly incredulous, but you rely on that device a couple of times. It may seem good for mood, but it feels a tad unrealistic.
Robert and I take up our usual posts at one of the planters on the end furthest from the stage as other kids from buses start setting up for their day, all taking posts at all their usual spots like the change of a nightly guard. It was business as usual.
The imagery of the usual “manning the walls” is excellent – I like it. Actually brought to mind an old Chuck Jones cartoon of a sheepdog and a wolf who punched a clock together at the start of a business day, went about the business (wolf trying to steal the sheep, sheepdog basically pounding him), them breaking for lunch, etc. It was routine, normal, same time everyday sort of feel. This scene has that same type of flavor.
That said, don’t repeat posts. Find a way to rework this sentence so that it comes out that all of you are taking up posts. It might be as simple as:
Robert and I take up our regular posts at one of the planters on the end furthest from the stage as other kids from buses start setting up for their day, all taking their spots like the change of a nightly guard. It was business as usual.
“Would all students please report to the auditorium for an assembly.”
How very polite of them. Your administrators ask. At my school, they just told us – All students report. Is this school that much of the kindler and gentler model or not?
I squeeze through the hallways of the school, bumping into folks like an old lady at the supermarket. Lockers, like cholesterol, had recently choked the arteries of the school after parents had protested against the heavy book loads that were piling up in backpacks and hands, and the school board, in a typical fashion, had decided not to cut the amount of books, but to install large industrial brown lockers. Everyone was bumping elbows and grumbling and generally getting pissed off at each other.
This just feels really awkward. I kind of know what you were going for here, but the thing with Chandler is, even at his most prosaic, his intention was clear – he cut through to the focus of the moment.
In this paragraph, go crowds, books, protests, lockers, crowds. Don’t introduce the lockers as the cause for the crowds until the last part. One of the elements of noir is futility. This is an illustration of that.
I walk out into the dingy, echo-filled halls of the school.
Again, it’s between periods, so how is it empty? Or at least, why do I get the sense from you that it’s empty, especially since you’ve just come from a classroom filled with other people? Is this a sense of isolation you’re trying to convey with your character? If so, it’s a mixed message, and thus frustrating to the reader.
She was into drawing, art, and good movies.
A perfect opportunity to insert a Chandler-ism here:
“…and not necessarily in that order.”
Personally, I heard it second hand from one of the squaddies that she got it because she didn’t always agree with how things were being done and was loud about it.
OK, here’s a spot you need to turn up the Chandler a bit.
She got whacked/dropped/punted/canned/curbed/booted/etc.
Choose something more colorful than just “it.”
I would often get lost looking at it during classes, thinking of epic battles between warriors and wizards, and the women they would woo.
“Luke, are you even listening to me?”
“Jill, what’s the point of this?”
There needs to be some sort of indication that Jill has, in fact, broken Luke out of his reverie – a guilty look, an annoyance on his part for a moment for no longer being where he was happy, something. Luke had been in a good space, Jill brought reality crashing back in. Show it.
“I’m telling you all this because I’m worried that you’ll turn out to be a bum for the rest of your life… I guess I think you can do better. I hear how you talk. You’re not stupid, just disinterested.”
I was guilty as charged.
And here we are… I read these words and went “YES!”… And then went “NO!” Because all that followed was:
“I’ll think about it, okay? Look, what are you doing tonight? I’ll come over and study Spanish, alright?”
My Gods, man, is he made of stone? He didn’t react! Remember when I said we paid the price of admission? This is a price of admission moment. He admitted he was GUILTY – a significant concession. What did he do when he did that? How did he react physically – did he look away, shift his gaze downward? Shift his weight for one side to another? His hands get a little clammy? He did something here…Show me!
Jill’s was harder for me to read, so I liked to try and practice on her as much as I could.
“What should I wear to the dance?”
“Pants and a shirt that buttons. Ask your mom.”
Mostly blank, she didn’t care.
“Mind if Robert and I come? We could go check out that new X- Men movie.”
“I don’t know, let me ask Meg.”
A forehead wrinkle. Megan didn’t like Robert, so I thought this one would be a good baseline.
“Who are you and Megan going with to the dance?”
She immediately looks slightly panicked, a little like she was expecting this.
This is another good sequence for you. A couple of things. Keep the analysis/conclusion pairs as two sentences. That means that:
Mostly blank, she didn’t care.
Mostly blank. She didn’t care.
She immediately looks slightly panicked, a little like she was expecting this.
Would read like this:
She immediately looks slightly panicked. A little like she was expecting this.
The extra period adds a longer pause when reading the sentence, which gives more gravity and thus more weight to the phrasing.
“Watch where you’re walking” he torts.
“Torts” is not a word regarding a statement, although you might consider it, working backward from the root of the word “retorts.” No such luck, though. To retort is to, in fact, file a suit against someone in court in response to one they filed against you – hence a response, or a “retort.”
I recommend you find something else.
So, there you are, your first chapter in the books. You have a good start.
- Review once more your protagonist’s physical reactions to his interactions
- Since you have chosen to adopt a noir tone, I’d recommend the following reading:
- – “The Big Sleep,” “The Lady in The Lake” by Raymond Chandler
- – “The Thin Man,” The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett
- – “Fade to Blonde” by Max Phillips
Finally, go back and review your noir tropes in general, to see how they are lining up with your story.
Excerpts from Heat (c) 2011 by J.M. Moeller Used by Permission