Friday, July 1, 2011

First Page Friday

First of all, HAPPY CANADA DAY!! If possible, you should all go have Shreddies for breakfast with a Caramilk bar for a morning snack. I know I want to. Canadian food is the best! O Canada . . .

In First Page news, if you thought I was up in the night about agents and the first page, last month, national agent Victoria Marini from the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency participated in a first page contest where the winner was awarded a request for a full manuscript and at least a partial critique.

From merely submitting the first page.

So, yeah, agents think first pages are pretty important, and that’s what First Page Friday is all about. Helping you, the author, have the most stellar first page possible. If you’re interested you can read about the First Page Contest that was held here

So, on to this week’s First Page Friday!

The Entry
by Anonymous

I ran along the walk way, trying not to slip on the slick cement sidewalks. my long, auburn hair was getting splattered as my head bent against the rain pelting down on me. My hair was undoubtedly flattened now and I had to work later that afternoon. It rarely rained in Arizona so this storm was unexpected and I had no umbrella. Who had time to watch the news for the weather reports? My book bag was tucked under my arm as far as I could get it in a vain attempt to keep my school books and music dry. My history class had just ended and I had only ten minutes to make my mad dash from the Classroom Office Building, across campus, and down Orange Mall to the Lyric Opera Theatre for my class on musical theatre.

"Oof!" I cried, as I ran right into someone, also hurrying head down to get out of the rain. My arms flew out on either side of me to try and keep myself upright rather than landing in the mud. Unfortunately, my bag fleww off in the process and skidded to a stop several feet away.

"Hey!" a deep voice exclaimed.

I looked up to see deep brown eyes staring at me. I stared back a moment before sucking my head, feeling my cheeks redden. I grabbed my book bag from off the rain-soaked ground where it had landed. "Sorry," I muttered as I desperately brushed at the mud now clinging to my bag.

A throaty chuckle filled the air. I glanced up in surprise. The man was laughing! As I looked quizzically at him I noticed that he seemed a little older than the average student at Arizona State University. He also wasn't carrying and books, just a slip of paper. His blond hair was very curly and slightly longer than I was used to seeing, but then I was also used to clean-cut LDS boys at the Institute Building. he had a very nice smile, it lit up his whole face. When he smiled his deep dimples showed. I loved dimples.

"Maybe you could help me?" he asked in a lilting English accent. I loved English accents. I loved anything English. It was at the top of my list of places to go someday. I had my passport ready should the occasion ever present itself.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

This story starts with a pretty standard “meet cute,” as they’re often called. In other words, the would-be romantic partners collide in some comic or adversarial way to kick off their love story. It’s a classic convention of both romance novels and movies because, when done right, it works. In some ways, it’s the opposite of an information dump; the story simply begins without extensive, pace-killing exposition, and the writer fills in the blanks as the story progresses.

What compromises this opening is the first paragraph. It throws an awful lot at us at once without building much momentum. It feels frenetic. Consider cutting some extraneous detail from this paragraph and making a smoother segue into the story-defining collision.

There is also some awkward verb choice (e.g., her bag skidding to a stop). I read and re-read the following sentence: “I stared back a moment before sucking my head, feeling my cheeks redden.” I’m not quite sure what the intended meaning is here.

I want to emphasize the importance of submitting work that has undergone thorough proofreading. An agent or editor might not read past “walk way,” which should be one word, or the lowercased first word of the second sentence. Later, the narrator’s bag “fleww” off. Another sentence—"he had a very nice smile, it lit up his whole face.”—needs capitalization and, at the very least, a semicolon to eliminate the comma splice. (My suggestion: “He had a very nice smile that lit up his whole face.”) An error-laden first page signals a lack of effort on the author’s part, so don’t undermine all those months/years of hard work by submitting a raw cut.

I like that this story features a non-standard LDS love interest. His hair’s a little shaggy. He’s sporting a very desirable accent. More importantly, he fulfills a need within the narrator as her potential ticket to the U.K., her dream destination. These are interesting plot elements. While British accents, dimples, and shaggy hair alone can’t sustain reader interest across hundreds of pages, they are attention grabbers on a first page—particularly in a genre often populated by clean-cut white Americans. Just make sure that the hero’s attractive physical attributes aren’t the only interesting things about him. I’ve seen many stories fall into this trap: the authors think that all they need is a British accent and—poof—they’ve created the next romantic superhero. Writers have to dig deeper than that if they want their characters to make a lasting impression.

Thank you to Ms. Shreditor and to our entrant! See you next week.


Debra Erfert said...

Happy Canada Day to you too, Julie.

Ms. Shreditor’s gentle critique hit all the high points I would have, with a few exceptions. I don’t like the Brit. I don’t care if he had a cute accent, and if the MC had thoughts of how much she loved this or that while picking herself up out of the mud, then all my desire to read any more just dripped off the bottom of her wet book bag. It was an unnatural reaction. She should’ve been mad and not infatuated with someone who didn’t show any sympathy. More than that, he laughed at her. I would’ve slugged him.

Sorry, Anonymous, but thanks for putting your first page out there for us to learn from.

Jennie said...

Happy Canada to you, Julie!!

Jon Spell said...

I have to confess - the British accent would do it for me, too. Or Australian, French, Spanish or even Deep South. Maybe even Canadian, but it takes a while to determine that, eh? Isn't the lead actress from Castle Canadian? Yowza!

I'm going to guess "ducking my head" instead of "sucking my head". ;)

Debra, I'm going to agree with you. Her reaction before he speaks should be one of outrage, but then maybe it melts when she hears his accent?

In related news, I submitted my whole first chapter to the most grueling editor on the planet - my wife - and, boy, did she, um, give me some stuff to work on. Oof! I'm thinking maybe wait until the 2nd draft to show her the rest. =)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks for the Canada Day wishes Deb and Jennie!

Jon, I love an Australian or English accent. *sigh* And you are right, the lead actress on Castle, Stana Katic, as well as the lead, Nathan Fillion, are both Canadian. Did you hear the latest Castle spoilers? I CANNOT WAIT for the season opener. The first few minutes sound amazing!!

Charlie Moore said...

Interestingly, my first thought was this sure is a long first page. My comment would be for this writer to take these comments and suggestions to build a new first page and resubmit it. I am sure Julie wouldn't mind that. Or Ms. Shreditor, either.

Julie, my grandparents (maternal) are buried in B.C. I loved those Revello (probably spelled wrong) ice cream bars. They were popular in B.C. anyway. And those chewy caramel candy bars.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Charlie, you are making me hungry! And of course, anyone is allowed to re-submit. Thanks for bringing that up. :)