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Whose idea was it to broadcast the screen-sized faces of the dead to the farthest shadowy corners of the school’s auditorium. Everybody knew they were gone. Why emphasize the obvious even for the sake of a memorial. And why no rain on this
joyless day. Never a good Texas thunderstorm when you needed one. Instead, sunlight poured through the ribbon of windows high along the back wall.
It fell across the podium where Taryn stood, making it too bright to read the first name on the list. When she finally focused through the glare to speak into the microphone, the name echoed across the vast room. All eyes riveted on the screen behind her as the name and the face went straight to the heart of each student, parent, faculty member, and community leader standing at attention. The ornate school bell, a class gift thirty-four years prior, clanged long and deep at the side of the stage where it swung in its polished-wood stand.
Chelsea, leaning heavily on crutches at a second podium across the stage, recited the next name on the list. Again the old bell sounded and with it muffled sniffles that began at the front and rippled through the crowd.
“Kayla Carter.” Taryn spoke the third name to the back wall, avoiding the eyes of Kayla’s parents who stood with her own mother and father in the front row. Why had she agreed to do this? Even if she was alone in this nostalgia-ridden place, she
wasn’t comfortable speaking the names of the friends she’d lost out loud. She kept her eyes on the paper in front of her. Some were friends, some friend-like. All on the A-list as Jen liked to say. In fact, so A, they were considered A plus because they were cheerleaders.
Except for Blake. How many more until his? Taryn glanced down the list. She had scanned the names as soon as the principal handed them to her, immediately volunteering to go first before Chelsea had the chance to speak up. If duty required
Taryn’s participation in the ceremony, she certainly didn’t have to let Chelsea announce his name.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
At 357 words, this sample is a bit long for a first page. Keep in mind that a lot of publishers request double or 1.5 line spacing in manuscript submissions, so you will want to plan your first page accordingly. (And, in all likelihood, the page will break midsentence, so don’t worry too much if this happens in your submission. It’s natural.)
The first paragraph baits the reader with a series of rhetorical questions. However, I found myself distracted by the choice to punctuate them with periods. Was this intentional? At the very least, I would recommend using a question mark in the first sentence. A question can make for a powerful opening line, but this one loses something with the declarative terminal punctuation.
I like the choice to characterize the physical setting by what it isn’t (i.e., portraying the narrator as unnerved that it's so sunny on such a mournful day). The use of light is quite effective here: It blinds the narrator, and it defies the overwhelming physical and emotional darkness in the room by pouring in, unwelcome, through the windows. This juxtaposition creates a sort of literary chiaroscuro that leaves the door wide open for all manner of symbolism.
I was confused as to why the first piece of dialogue was the third name called. Is Kayla Carter of particular importance? Why not start with the first name on the list?
We already know that something tragic has happened at this school, but then the narrative sinks in its claws for a second round when we learn that there is a guy on the list whose loss is particularly painful to Taryn. Even meatier, the story establishes an immediate rivalry between Taryn and Chelsea. The reader is left wondering what happened between them, who Blake was to them, and how all these teens died. Was it a school shooting? Automobile accident? Natural disaster? The fact that I’m asking these questions is a sign that the first page has done its job. I know enough to want to keep reading; I care enough to wonder about these unanswered questions.
There are some minor proofing issues on this page, but nothing egregious. The text could use a very light copyedit for clarity in a few places (e.g., the A/A-plus/cheerleader exposition, which I found to be a bit muddy). Otherwise, this excerpt is in great shape.
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