Wednesday, December 16, 2009

36 Drop the Needle

TITLE: Secret Eh-gent
GENRE: Commercial fiction

This is the beginning of chapter one:

Sfeff was sitting in a sidewalk café in the tenth arrondissement the first time he saw the man, and right away he knew something was off. From the way the man walked and dressed, he was clearly not from the tenth, the home of immigrants, dreary commercial zones, and porn shops. Yet he didn’t have any of the tourist props, like a shopping bag or a camera. And in a Paris neighborhood of decaying nineteenth-century apartments and graffiti-covered public housing, the man was wearing a navy blazer, a white oxford shirt, and beige slacks. His clothes, his graying hair and his round glasses made him look like a lawyer, Sfeff thought. Or a guy asking to be mugged.

But the man looked so relaxed, he could have been strolling the left bank. He crossed the street and approached the café. When he was a few steps away, he asked Sfeff, “Excuse me, are you American?”

Sfeff thought it over. He was American. Also Canadian. But admitting either was risky nowadays—especially after what the Americans had just done. While he decided on an answer, he looked at the man again. On a day threatening rain, the man didn’t have a jacket or an umbrella. What was he doing on a dingy side street in a bad neighborhood? Was he gay, and trolling for sex? An ex-girlfriend’s irate father? The man fit none of those descriptions. And that bothered him.


  1. I like the way you have posed a number of interesting story questions and developed a little tension in the opening. I don't really feel any danger however; it's the allure of a mystery.

  2. Agreed with DCS. It feels like more of a mystery, rather than a sense of danger.

    I also liked how you've conveyed a sense of place by describing the stranger rather than Sfeff looking around him. He clearly knows the area, and what belongs and what doesn't.

    I do want to know more about the protag and what he - as an American and Canadian - is doing in Paris, but I'm guessing that will come in a bit later.

  3. This scene leaves a lot of questions posed by the MC. It's interesting, but I agree that it doesn't have a feeling of danger.

    Actually, it doesn't build tension for me as it progresses, just idle curiousity. Perhaps it could be tweaked a little bit more to make those questions posed by the MC more important, with a little more at stake to indicate that they need to be answered.

  4. It's the opening of chapter one. I am more interested in why Sfeff, the MC, is on a dingy street where one could possibly be mugged, outside, when it's about to rain, then I am the man. Why so much about this guy? And Sfeff seems to be in no hurry. He has plenty of time to mull things over. I'd crank it up several notches.

  5. The sentences is the first paragraph are all quite complex (I had to read the first one a few times to understand it). Other critters have told me that, in general, it is easier to build tension with shorter, less complicated sentences. IMO, I'd start with something shorter like,
    "The moment Sfeff saw the man, he knew something was off."

    I agree that it builds more mystery than tension. The MC (that's whose eyes we are using to see) seems curious about the man's identity. He doesn't seem tense. If you want the MC to be tense (and you might not depending on the storyline), I'd suggest you give the MC a physical reaction to the man's presence. Sweating. Goosebumps. Heart beating fast.