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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Prelude to a Prelude

An unnamed woman of indeterminate age—having either survived a broken love affair or poised to embark on one—settles into her shabby beachfront apartment. Based on the title, we may reasonably assume the latter.

The title raises other issues. Though not protected by copyright, and though there’s no law requiring them to be original, you want to take into consideration whether a title has too much wear on it. A quick search at Amazon reveals no fewer than 49 products with this title, best known as that of Craig Luca’s 1988 drama, irrespective of which the phrase itself is common enough so that—unless used ironically—it may strike some readers as trite.

Like the title, the direct, inviting first line promises a love story. By making the sentence its own paragraph, the author increases its portentousness, suggesting that this meeting will be fateful and may result not only in one or more broken hearts, but in tragedy.

The implied point of view in the second paragraph is that of the protagonist about to park her car in front of the cigar shop housed in the building where she lives. But the sensory details provided here are not, or would not seem to be, part of her experience of the present moment: i.e. can she be parking her car and hearing the “clacking of the wind” simultaneously? Does she see “neat white boats bobbing” as she maneuvers her Ford? If the purpose of fiction is to create experience for the reader, it's important for the author to know whose experience is being reported. Is is that of an omniscient, objective narrator, or that of a specific woman parking her car? It can’t be both.

In the next or third paragraph, with the point of view settled into that of the main character, we are able to enjoy the wealth of sensory details—the clicking of sandals against pavement, the color of the evening sky, the calm “rushing” of the bay. Sounds, sighs, smells— all generously and judiciously evoked. The writing is richly atmospheric. At the end of the same paragraph, however, the POV slips again, with the reader being told about the quality of the apartment beyond the “cheap and thin door,” though the protagonist has yet to open the door and enter that experience. Why not describe the interior of the apartment from her POV once she has entered it, and not before?

The third and fourth paragraphs build on the sense of mood and atmosphere established in the second, with details of setting grounded in the character’s sensual experience: she sees the sun setting, she smells the salty air, she hears the lapping of waves. So far, beyond the vague and rather coy reference to “all her worries,” nothing in the way of a conflict or plot has been suggested. Which is all right, provided that the writer does indeed have a story to tell us about this woman, and provided that the status quo of her daily existence, so lovingly established here, is disrupted within the next few pages as readers will have every right to expect.

Which raises several questions. Is this where the story begins, or where it ends? Has the fateful meeting already occurred, or does it lie in store? The implication of the opening sentence is that we will soon bear witness to the fateful encounter by way of a dramatic scene. What has just been stated or summarized will now be shown or dramatized.

If that's the case, unless the front doorbell is about to ring (with our protagonist sipping Chablis on her balcony), perhaps it would be wiser for the author to state more specifically in that first sentence the circumstances the fateful meeting ("They met in a bar in Atlantic City,"), and start her tale accordingly: not with protagonist wallowing in her apartment, but at a bar the evening in question. What's being dramatized here? A fateful first encounter, or a woman's routine existence in her shabby Atlantic City digs?

Or has that fateful meeting already occurred, along with the attended love affair, in some past to which this scene is about to flash us back? If so, then what we are being presented with here is the frame of a story, and not the story itself. And that flashback will have to be motivated.

In any event, based on the quality of what I’ve read so far, I would keep reading.


  1. Thank you very much for your feedback, it's been tremendously helpful. It's so useful to have a fresh eye on my work for once!

  2. You're very welcome. Let others know.