The intention behind this opening page is to describe the relationship between the protagonist/narrator and his friend - who will later become the tale's antagonist; additionally, I want you, as the reader, to be able to visualize the humanized movements and interactions. I essentially want some opinions on whether or not this acts as a good introduction, without revealing too much to the reader where the story is headed (yet).
“C’mon man, you’ve gotta check this out,” my flatmate called to me from across our cramped apartment, “this is some real freaky shit.” I peered down the short hallway toward his bedroom after palming a small handful of chips from the cupboard. I could see him hunched over his desktop monitor through the open doorway, his form silhouetted by some unhealthy blue-grey glow. I chuckled slightly as I stuffed several triangle-shaped snacks into my maw, likening the image of my friend to some strange goblin crouching over a terrified child.
“What is it now?” I mumbled light-heartedly, trying to pry cheese-flavored crumbs away from my teeth with an orange-stained tongue. This was the third time within the hour that he had tried to grab my attention, and I was quickly growing bored with such a routine. He broke his gaze away from the back-lit screen he sat in front of, turning slightly to meet my own eyes.
“Look at this,” he replied excitedly, his hand reflexively gesturing toward a still snapshot that sat upon the display. He leaned further backward in his chair, allowing my own gaze to meet the silent motions of a strange woman within the frame of his computer. The scene wasn’t unmoving as I had originally assumed; instead, the background sat unchanging as the frail figure stared forward blankly - her only action taken to blink every few seconds as if on a loop.
“What of it?” I managed to stammer, my eyes still fixed to the woman’s pale face. There was something oddly disturbing about the short video that I couldn’t quite place my finger on; perhaps it was the way the darkened background made her frame stand-out more than usual. Instead, it could have been the manner in which her jet-black hair ringed her face, outlining her jawline and drawing your attention directly into her eyes.
“Do you realize what this is, dude‽” He somehow expelled all of his excitement in one breath as he strained to sit upright once more.
“I honestly don’t know - some kind of creepy GIF you found on Reddit?” I raised an eyebrow in amusement, in an attempt to cover my confusion.
“No, dude.” He scoffed, shaking his head and shooting me a look as if to say, ‘You know I only go on that website to fuel my porn habit.’ He sighed somewhat heavily, then allowed his enthusiasm for the situation to take hold once more. “This is the bad side of the internet.”
“What, like that weird part of YouTube you get to when you watch videos for too long?” I smirked cheekily, trying my best to make light of his serious tone.
“This is serious - the dark web. Freakin’ Onionland, man.” An eery smile crept across his face as the words spilled from his mouth, his eyes soon scanning for a button to close the webpage.
“Isn’t that where edgy teenagers go to order drugs and pretend to be hitmen or something?” I realized as I spoke that I knew next to nothing about the darknet, save for the information that I had inadvertently gathered from several horror stories that I read or listened to online.
“Honestly, you’re not far off,” he chuckled in response. His cursor finally found the tiny “X” hidden in the corner of the video, revealing behind it a website that almost resembled Wikipedia. ...
Let me know what you think - honest criticisms are welcome! I know it's not a complete story, but I would like to revise this section first if necessary.
So mechanically you’re fine. But stylistically you’re shooting yourself in the foot. You’re writing like this is a movie. But it’s not a movie: it’s written word. When writing you’re meant to use words to put an idea, or an image, into someone else’s mind. The trick with writing is keeping things brief: words, unlike the details in a picture, are consumed one at a time. There’s a rhythm and a pace that means you have to select for details but present them in a way that doesn’t overextend the pacing or else people get bored.
With a movie, you can physically control every detail and let the audience choose what to focus on, knowing/hoping that the overall effect of each shot will achieve the desired goal. Want a stormy scene? Shoot a stormy scene: maybe the bins blow over, an umbrella flies past the camera, rain and wind whip past, flags on poles go crazy in the gale, leaves and other detritus are tossed into great big whirlwinds. You capture it all, put it on a screen, and the audience absorbs it in a fraction of a second and they do so automatically.
But with writing? You don’t have that control. No one will read the same paragraph and construct identical mental images. What you have to do—and this is the challenge—is you need to use words to put the overall idea of what you want and you need to do so quickly. An important concept is “trusting your audience”. You can go into agonising detail but you’re going to bore the shit out of people pretty quickly. So let’s say you want to convey an old house: pick two or three details and then move on. Don’t stick around. Yellowing walls, creaky floorboards, patches on the wall where photos once hung but now lie smashed on the ground. That’s it. That’s all you get. You start prattling on about skirting boards, curtains, individual pieces of furniture, lighting, fireplaces, mantles, hearths, rugs, and I can guarantee you, people are switching off and reading something else. Pick two or three details and move on. Get going. You have so little time to grab someone’s attention you can’t sit around painting every agonising little detail just because you have an image in your head and you desperately want it to go into your reader’s head exactly the way you want it.
That’s never going to happen and pursuing it will destroy your reader’s interest. In this case here, you are trying to exact incredible control of the minute details of a person’s habits, movements, and speech. It’s boring.
As a writer you have surprisingly little control over the image in someone’s head, but you do have a lot of control over the emotional content of a scene (something movies can’t do as well). So use that emotional content to shape the image, not the other way around.
So here’s what you actually have.
My roommate called me into his room to show me a clip of a girl with dark hair, blinking at the screen.
So that’s a great introduction. Everything else? Filler. The verbal equivalent to potpourri. Go back through this story, take a handful of details, and put them back in. The orange tongue? I liked that. Details like that, slipped in here and there, will work wonders. You just need to be about 95% more ruthless about you do, and don’t, choose to let in.
Also that’s not even touching on your propensity to overcomplicate things to the point of sheer silliness:
I stuffed several triangle-shaped snacks into my maw -> Dude’s eating nachos and he’s described it as “triangle-shaped snacks”. That’s a bit much, don’t you think?
Not trying to be a dick here. You’re a talented writer, you just need to chill out and get to the point. Remember, every word you write needs to do at least two of the following:
Advance the plot
Go back, carve this thing to pieces, put it back together at like 2-300 words and then write the rest of the story. Let’s see what you’ve got. You’ve got some decent talent, and I’d like to see you back here with the rest of it.
I just want to start by saying both "wow" and "thank you" - this was incredible constructive criticism, and I didn't think anyone could go into as much depth as you did with just one Google Doc page of an introduction. Also, there was no "dick-ish-ness" taken, but it's serious thinking like this that I needed.
I more-than appreciate your comment, and I will definitely take everything you said into account. I honestly think I have a couple issues in my writing style, one of which being that I have been inspired by the Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien - where he clearly goes into the depth that I have here, but I definitely agree that it can get boring. I believe I'm also trying to pad out the story's length artificially without realizing it - and hopefully I will be able to correct this now. I'll keep the workshop updated with more once I get there!