Friday, May 20, 2011

First Page Friday

Welcome back to First Page Friday. I am so grateful to all of you who took a chance and submitted your first page. We will be featuring them on the blog in the order in which they were received, just so we are fair to everyone. And there's still room for more. If you have friends who might like to participate, tell them about us! (And just a reminder, first page submissions should be double-spaced in a 12 point font, just how it would be if you were submitting to an agent/editor.) You can send your submission to

The Entry

Ninjas and Knives
By Kimberly VanderHorst

Most teenage girls would scream if they woke up to find a ninja assassin in their bedroom. Alexandra just grinned. Finally, someone thought she was important enough to kill.

Judging by the ninja’s heavy tread, he had more muscle than skill. She watched him hunch over and edge closer to her bed, noting how he nearly tripped over a stack of her textbooks. He might be wearing the traditional black garb, but no way was this guy the real deal. What a shame. She could use a challenge.

Manhattan’s city lights poured through her windows and reflected off the small knife he held. She barely held in a laugh. What a goober this guy was, coming after her with a knife. Did he really think that would be enough to take her down?

Slowly tensing her muscles, Alexandra drew her legs up into a crouching position, rolled onto her feet, and leapt off the bed. The springiness of the mattress gave her just enough lift to come down on his head. One swift chop and she disarmed him, his knife skittering uselessly under the bed. She dropped to the floor behind him and enjoyed the way his stance shifted, exposing how vulnerable he felt.

And then the ninja began to glow, his dark clothing eerily backlit by the green light pulsating beneath his skin. He turned to face her, smiling like a jack-o-lantern. Crap.

“The knife was a decoy, little girl. Just to get you close. You’re coming with me.”

The light spread onto the surface of his clothing, green flames that licked down his arms and gathered in the palms of his hands. She threw herself into a roll but it was too late; one of the flames caught hold of the sleeve of her nightshirt. She smacked at it, but the fire quickly spread, engulfing her in a halo of sickly green.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

The Good: Where to start? The author tells us more in the first sentence than many authors manage to tell us in an entire chapter of information dumping. All we need are twenty-nine words to convey that this is a young adult story about ninjas—and that our narrator-to-be has a sharp sense of humor, even in times of crisis. The writing is fresh. It’s distinctive. The narrator is immediately interesting, and that is no small feat for a first page. I’ve read plenty of bestsellers whose narrators failed to be interesting after three hundred pages.

Take note, new authors: There is economy of language here. No flowery, overdone turns of phrase, no fluff or filler—and, mercifully, no information dumps. We learn things about Alexandra in slow increments through subtle cues in the story—the textbooks by her bed, the Manhattan lights through her window. The variations in sentence length create a nice, natural flow. If I had to guess, I’d say this author reads passages aloud to herself. Which you all should be doing, by the way. It’s amazing what slugs you can unearth when you read your own writing out loud. Forget slugs—I think I’ve dug up some snakes in my own writing that way.

Bonus points for using a semicolon correctly in the last paragraph. A lot of authors would have comma spliced and called it a day.

The Bad: There are some participle issues here. Example: “Slowly tensing her muscles, Alexandra drew her legs up into a crouching position, rolled onto her feet, and leapt off the bed.” She can’t do all these things while simultaneously tensing her muscles. There needs to be a sequence of action here. Perhaps recast like this: “She tensed her muscles slowly and drew her legs up into a crouching position, rolled onto her feet, and leapt off the bed.” Another offender: “One swift chop and she disarmed him, his knife skittering uselessly under the bed.”

Also, watch verb choice in descriptive passages. There was something that rang a bit awkward about flames licking down Alexandra’s arm or catching hold of her sleeve.

The epithet “goober” didn’t quite work for me. It seemed a little too innocuous, too silly given the circumstances. After all, this ninja has just accosted her where she lives. Referring to him as a “goober” dissipates the tension when the stakes are at their highest.

The Ugly: Last week’s sample hinted at needing a developmental edit, which involves extensive rewrites and sometimes a reconfiguration of the entire structure. There really is no ugly here. The writing is structurally sound; any issues are of the copyediting persuasion.

I’d like to thank Ms. Shreditor for taking time out of her busy schedule this week to critique for us. And I'd also like to thank Kimberly. It sounds like a great story start!

See you next week!


Kimberly said...

Thank you so much, Ms. Shreditor. I'm amazed that you were able to pick up on the fact that I read my work out loud to myself. Very impressive!

I'm going to take what I learned from "The Bad" section and polish things up today. Here's hoping Alexandra is on bookstore shelves some day.


Stephanie Black said...

Great excerpt, Kimberly, and thank you, Ms. Shreditor. Love these critiques! They're so helpful.

Sarah said...

What I like most about this excerpt is the set up for the whole book -- the character, the world. It's all set up in less than a page and you're already wanting to know what comes next.

Luisa Perkins said...

Well done, both Kimberly and Ms. Shreditor!

Debra Erfert said...

Writing action is a difficult task. I picture the scenes in my head when I write them and also when I read, so I understood Ms. Shreditor's critique. I will keep it in mind when I read over my ms just to make sure I don't have any movements that can't be done simultaneously. But they do slip by, no matter how vigilant we are, that's why we need honest critiques.

Great post, Ms. Shreditor!

Jordan McCollum said...

Awesome, Kimberly! I really liked this page when they read it at Simulating the Slush Pile and I'm happy to find out it's yours!

Jon Spell said...

Looks like a fun story in the making! I really like the voice of the character.

LisAway said...

Great first page and great critique! (as a side note, and a matter of personal opinion, I quite liked the "goober". It's not a word I use or like, but I thought it was an excellent contrast to the situation and showed that a) this is not an adult, and b) she really felt no threat, which makes the sudden glowing of the ninja and that first foreboding of danger all the more surprising. Just my very unprofessional and non-editorial opinion. :)