The above picture made me laugh. I don't know why, but it put me in a comedic frame of mind. I hope that was your intention.
Compton, Los Angeles, California
The street lights were the only thing lighting the sidewalks, apart from the store signs that hung beside the buildings. The humidity was high, making sweat glisten my face, almost as if I'm nervous. I was nervous, holding a hockey mask, similar to that of Jason from the Friday The 13th movies, with a 9mm in my other hand. It's best if I don't explain how I got a hold of a pistol.
Right off the bat we've got unstable imagery. The street lights were the only thing lighting the sidewalks - apart from the store signs. You've wasted a lot of words to undo your image here. If the street lights are not the only thing - which here, they're not - then don't imply as such. Also it falls a bit flat to me. Instead, I'd consider the point of view here - judging by the next sentence, it's first person. Great ( i like first person, when done right). Now lets put the reader in your head from the off.
I walked down the sidewalk, golden-yellow light flickering from the streetlamps. A neon sign buzzed overhead, offering One-Hour Photo processing, despite the store being shut at such a late hour. Humidity was high, which wasn't unusual in the City of Angels, but walking down one of the countries most notorious gang-dominated neighborhoods, holding a hockey mask in one hand and a 9mm pistol in the other perhaps, didn't help. I was sweating, my face glistening as my glossy skin caught the light. I was nervous and I glanced at the pistol in my hand - best I don't explain how I got hold of that.
I think the above Rewrite puts us in the shows you the character immediately, and paints the scene while in his head - if it's first person, it might not work showing a scene to us before meeting our protagonist - not saying that's always the case, but here, i felt it was. I liked the part about "best if i don't explain how i got hold of the pistol" - adds an element of mystery and something human to the character, which is good. Already I can imagine him telling me this.
The Compton night was as empty as every other. Why would anyone walk in the dark streets of this crime-ridden neighborhood? Why would anyone be smart enough to be in the neighborhood? How exactly is the night empty? (are the streets deserted - if so, why? ) Compton - gang central, correct? This sentence is not giving me that vibe. Imagine i have never heard of it. What might i imagine? A suburb, detached houses, driveways and lawns? Tell us about the neighborhood - briefly though. Why is it empty? (come to think of it, would it really be empty? would there not be a gang presence at all? - would your character try to avoid certain corners/streets?) Why wouldn't anyone walk alone in the dark streets? "Why would anyone be smart enough to be in the neighbourhood?" - wait a minute, why would anyone be stupid enough, surely? At this point the reader needs more - we need something for reference. Show us your character's thoughts (we're in his head after all) - has there been any crimes here lately? Any murders? are murders common? Drug deal? Police raids? Shootouts? Muggings, rapes?
I walked towards a bodega (what's this?) on the end of the street I was roaming in, one of the only sources of light in the trail. Firstly I'm not sure what a bodega is (i might be embarrassing myself here). I would remove the word "roaming" because, to me, that implies a lack of purpose. Wandering. Drifting. The character's holding a gun and a mask - he's got to have a purpose, so have your narration reflect that. Is he walking fast, or sneaking? Trying to hide the gun, or not caring? (come to think of it, why is it not hidden?).
One of the only sources of light in the trial. Firstly, it's not one of the only sources of light - there's the street lamps and surely the odd car, shop signs etc. Instead, perhaps state how its bright lights beckon to you, drawing your in with promises of warmth and comfort (again, i don't know what a bodega is so I've no idea what I can write to make it appealing). Lastly, "trail"? Now i'm thinking "are we in the mountains?" We're in east LA, right? What trail? Arent we on a road? Street? Sidewalk. Keep your language consistent and keep it simple. If it's a street, call it a street.
There was some civilian life walking around, even standing outside of the bodega, but it doesn't worry me. Getting closer, my heart basically pounded against my sternum, I can see the pounding in my eyes with my vision jumping with every beat.
Earlier you pretty much told us the night was empty. I thought that meant the streets were deserted. Now they're occupied. Inconsistent imagery can confuse the reader, but worse, it can make them lose faith in the writer and lose interest in the story. Why? Because it feels like you don't even know your scene. So, is the area empty, or occupied? You say civilian, which is an interesting choice of words. It tells me that these are NOT gang members - but again, you've also said why would anyone be in this neighbourhood... Consistency. Also if we're approaching the "bodega" (some clarification as to what it is would be nice in the narration), surely we'd see the people outside - earlier on the streets could be empty except for the few outside the bodega.... It's like a poorly coded video game where NPC just spawn out of nowhere - they're not already part of the scene, just dropped in at the last minute. Remember, whatever your character can see, we can see, and surely he would have seen the people ahead of him - especially if he's nervous.
Basically - why is that word there? It detracts from the impact of the sentence. "My heart pounds against my sternum." - short, snappy, to the point. Adding basically turns that into a flat, boring sentence. The word doesn't add anything.
"I can see the pounding in my eyes with my vision jumping with every beat." - this i liked. Split that and the heartbeat into 2 sentences - short sentences=tension. So far, to me at least, this is the strongest image - because I have witnessed that a lot. You're not just telling us his heart's beating fast or hard, you're showing us. Well done.
Reaching the entrance, I stuffed the gun in my khaki's right pocket, hoping no one saw it. Why wasn't it there to begin with? I like the imagery, of him holding it, but why is he doing it this way? surely it'd be much better to have the gun hidden from the off? We need a reason why he wasn't already hiding the gun. The store had an A/C, quickly eliminating the sweat off my face. Two things, one's a personal preference; i don't like seeig "A/C". Two reasons behind that; where I'm from, that means "Alternating Current". Secondly, I find it lazy. Air conditioner is fine, and eliminated any confusion, too. Now, i can let it slip, because this is first person, and, well, is this how the character would talk? If so, then it adds character, i suppose, but I wouldn't usually do it this way.
Second point - Sweat would not be eliminated that quickly. More often than not, you'd continue sweating for a moment. What you should show instead, is that the airconditioner unit makes him cold - damped your hand and put it in front of a cold breeze, a fan or fridge. Feel that? show us that.
The clerk was a female, petite and white. Easy for me. She smiled at me as I roamed the store, possibly a disguise for her fear. Again, there's this "roamed" word. So far I'm not getting the impression that he's wandering aimlessly, but there's this word. Choose your words carefully, and consider their meaning and implications. We're in a store, so is there a queue? Are you in the queue? are you browsing the shelves?
Next she smiles at you. Nothing wrong there. "possibly a disguise for her fear" What fear?! Is she working in a vat of spiders? Why would she be scared? Just because a man came into a store? Why? Is it the mask? If she's scared over this man, it'd show, surely - shock. The gun's hidden, and the mask is in your hand (if he's going to rob the store, what's the point of the mask - he's been seen...). I feel you're trying too hard to foreshadow what's to come, by saying about her fear, but at this moment, I see no reason why she would be scared.
I'm not exactly the most innocent looking guy you'll see. The stubby stache above my lips makes it seem like I'm a druggy, thug along with my dreads, giving me a more musty appearance. My clothing also consists of mostly baggy flannels with khakis or cargo shorts. I think some of this we should be told earlier in the story. Also, why would a mustache make you seem like a druggy ? A lot of people have mustaches. Also I'm not sure if i like the shortened version of mustache but that's just me. This whole passage feels a little forced though. This is the problem with first person - it's difficult to describe yourself. Usually in third person, we'd see the guy, and see what he's wearing. As first person, it feels very strange to suddenly focus on his clothes.
what I'd suggest is rewriting this bit (or bearing this in mind), to him walking through the door, and the clerk seeing the hockey mask. THEN she'd look a bit nervous (remember we only see what the character sees), perhaps try to hide it. Maybe we look up at one of those spherical mirrors and see our reflection, or maybe the woman's reaction makes us think about our clothes. (also: Khaki OR cargo shorts? Make your mind up.)
The woman was beautiful though, and my thoughts were to not hurt her in any way. That is if she didn't refuse to do my directions in what I was there to do. Money was my priority this night. Robbing the store was my objective. I'm not sure you need to tell us what you've got planned. It's pretty obvious and spelling it out like this is a little patronizing. Hinting is more powerful than stating at times, and there's still that tiny doubt which makes it better. It's nice to see the man's intentions of not hurting her - okay, so he's not an asshole, that's good because we need to connect with him. I continued to act as if I was looking around for anything, in the candy aisle. Again, this should be stated earlier. I think that's what you meant by "Romaing" but i don't feel that was the best word for it. Still nice to show us you're browsing and trying to appear normal. A man walked in, wearing a lot of red and a cap placed in a position only I know gang bangers would wear it. He was obviously a member of the Bloods gang. I hate those scumbag hoodrats, but I grew up beside them. I'm not a gangster myself, I run alone.
He walked to the counter and asked for a pack of cigarettes and lottery tickets, it was the perfect time for me to get myself ready. I slipped my mask on, the stuffiness in my nose making me want to take it off. Bare in mind that this man's face has now been seen. I don't know if that's intentional, though. And I slipped my hand in my pocket, feeling the algid (???) weapon touch my palm. I waited for the gangster to get his sh*t and leave, watching him grab the box of reds and ticket as he limped his way out of the store. Reds? Why's he limping? Did he limp in? Is he hurt?
It was the time. I completely pulled out the 9, and dashed to the counter. Now this is one thing i HATE. I do NOT like seeing "9" in fiction. nine, is how you spell it. It's lazy and doesn't look good. Spell your words. Also, I'm aware what a nine is, and again, i think we're getting in character by its usage. "The" and "completely" need to go. They're not needed. Cut the fat.
Raising the gun up to the woman's face, it took her some seconds to figure what was happening as I aimed the gun to her face. It felt strange but I felt mighty. sh*t's going down, so have your prose reflect that. Cut these sentences up. You also say the same thing twice - that's a no-no! This is where it's crucial that you omit any necessary words. Be to the point. (also what's happened to the mask? did i miss something?)
I brought the gun up to the woman's face. A few seconds passed until she realized what was happening. I felt powerful. She quivered.
“Gi-Give me the f*cking money in the register!” I said nervously, sh*t, even my attempt on trying to look hard failed. I liked this, I'm feeling this guy's NOT a tough guy, NOT a hardened theif, but a scared kid.
She didn't conform. so I pushed the gun closer to her face in which and she backed up. She whacked my gun out of my hand as she also grabbed my wrist, pinning it down on the counter surface. The bitch must've practiced this for a long time. She repeatedly banged my arm on the wooden overhead, sharp pains jolting on my arm. I pulled hard, forcing her head to fly forward, as she banged her head on the counter.
I did not see that coming, although some of the language here is ineffective. "Conform" I'd have used comply, instead. I'd break this sentence up, too.
I ran to my gun, picking it up from the ground and quickly rose it up to the woman, as I saw her leaning on the wall behind her. She was in pain from the hit, rubbing her temple. I walked behind the counter, as I grabbed a handful of her blonde hair, pushing her off the wall.
BLONDE HAIR - tell us this when we enter the store! Also take another look at this passage. Is this the best you can write this? Can you tidy it up at all? I think you can, it feels a bit awkward.
“Look bitch, open the register and I won't blow your f*cking brains here!” I yelled at her, but it wasn't me talking. “I mean... Just open it, please... Come on!”
“O-okay, just don't shoot me...” she pleaded as I dragged her towards the register.
“You stupid bitch, trying to break my arm and sh*t... f*ck you.”
She quickly pressed on some numbers I didn't see on the rusty register as and it lunged open. I threw the woman down on the ground, placing my shoe on her arm raspingly, basically standing on it, only to not make the bitch escape. I think this sentence can be broken up. Keep things short. Raspingly? Again there's this "basically" that needs to go, too. Grabbing some large wads of cash, I placed them in every pocket I have. Had - keep your tense consistent. Past tense=had. I left the change though.
After I cleared out almost all of the register, I grabbed the woman again, forcing her against the wall behind us as I rose my gun to her face.
“Now... Give me the tape.” I said tensely, it didn't feel good doing what I was doing, but it was the only choice on getting cash.
I thought to myself at that moment, I thought to myself that I robbed a store. For money I robbed the store. Nice, but out of place. You're breaking up the action. Better to show you walking to the room, looking out the store, seeing the street, seeing the people outside, worrying if anyone's calling the cops etc. Keep the tension going. The woman walked me to the backroom of the store, a TV with a VHS recorder stood beside a computer. as I walked to the VHS. Clicking the eject button, the tape slid out. I grabbed it with my hand where I held my gun, dropping the tape on the ground and stomped on it, breaking it into some portions of plastic and some negative film hanging out. I tapped the eject button, the gun still pointing at the gun at the woman. The tape slid out and i snatched it with my spare hand. Try to tidy it up a bit. smooth things out.
(bear in mind that if she's made one attempt, now's the PERFECT time for her to make another attempt to grab the gun. Why is she not doing this? HAve you put enough distance between you and her?)
Better that he takes the tape. The negative reel can still be used. is this intentional?
“Okay... Now, what do you want to do after this... Are you going to tell police? Or am I going to have to kill you-”
I still couldn't believe I was talking like that, a death threat to this beautiful girl who's hair I was tugging. She looked at me with her deep, blue eyes staring me down. The only thing I didn't like about her is that I know that she's some little brat who probably listens to that skank Britney Spears.
She stopped me from talking after I told her I'd have to kill her if she talked. She begged me to let her go.SHOW US! Don't tell us. I couldn't trust her. I heard of a way to keep people from talking, not murder but instead damaging goods. Pulling her hair back, her face leaned behind her body, with her collar in the air. I put my gun back in my pocket, curling my now free hand into a fist, and I swung down. I punched her throat as gurgling screams sounded out with blood gushing out of her mouth.
“F*ck!” I screamed, knowing that I think I killed her.
I dropped her body, and before leaving the backroom, stomped on her pretty face until she passed out, or died. It felt wrong again. Too wrong. I ran out the room, and saw a man was waiting infront of the counter. I knew he'll check what's happened in some moments. I pulled my gun out behind him, raised it up, and shot him parietal. (???)Dashing out the store, the humidity hit me again, as I slipped my mask off dumping it in a trashcan in a backalley behind the store. You never told us you put your mask ON... or did you? I don't think you did.
From the backroom/VCR onward, it felt rushed. The killing of the woman was uncharacteristic, but it FELT out of place. Apart from "it felt wrong" it didn't seem to fit. I'm not even sure why he did it. Was it heat of the moment?
I think you told us too much and you should have shown us. The return to the humidity was a nice touch, but until then it.. i dunno, i just didnt feel in that scene at all.
F*ck, was all I can think of that night. It was the beginning of something, special..
Then there's the amateur acts - carrying the gun and mask in gang territory - it's amazing he wasn't already shot. Not putting the mask on until he was in the store - his face is exposed, and he gets the tape, so what's the purpose of the mask? I got a sense that it was simply an oversight, but also i might have been you showing him as having no idea what he was doing - something i think you could have played up on more. Ditching the mask behind the store, leaving the tape... all mistakes, really, that might be intentional, but they didn't FEEL like you meant them.
So that was the prologue for this story. Any questions, criticism, and suggestions are welcome to make sure I improve with this project. First of all, I chose 1999 to set it in only because I felt like all the sh*t that happened in that year with the pop culture nonsense had to include some gritty sh*t. Plus, Eminem was awesome during those years. And Columbine... And other stuff.