I'm so excited for this week's First Page Friday. I learned so much! Let's get right to it.
by Gail Zuniga
Xander knew he had to kill her.
Teal flames raged through Snow Cloud, Colorado like sharks at a feeding frenzy.
People ran for cover as the flames spread and swept beneath a pickup truck. When the fire hit the gas tank, the truck exploded, flipped through the air and crashed into a running man. He didn’t even have time to scream.
Xander trudged through the deep snow down the hill and moved into town. Follow the destruction. That was the best way to find her. It always led him right to her. He ignored the humans trying to escape. He wasn’t there for them. His mission was to kill the girl before she could destroy the world. He had failed once, but never again.
Slowly he moved down the sidewalk and peered around the corner. He spotted her half a block away. She stood in the center of town. She looked like a normal slightly chubby teenage girl with pale skin and ink-black hair, but that was just her vessel. He knew her true nature.
She spun around, her eyes darting here and there as if she were looking for someone. Did she know he was there? She turned away from him and he saw a man with a goatee approaching her. She backed away from him—toward Xander. Was this a trick? She wouldn’t worry about a simple human.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Ya ‘ave something that belongs to me," Goatee said, with a thick Irish accent.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
Well, this story certainly knows how to make an entrance. What can I say about the opening line, really? It gets the job done in six words, and you all know how much I love economy of language.
The second sentence, on the other hand, is a bit clunky. The geographic locator (Snow Cloud, Colorado) drives a wedge between the two components of the simile. You might ask yourself if the teal flame simile adds anything to the text at all. All too often, writers contort themselves every which way to create awkward similes where none are needed. How are the flames analogous to feeding sharks? Is it because they’re devouring everything in their path? If the simile must stay, rework it to clarify the relationship between teal flames and feeding sharks.
An aside regarding punctuation of places and dates: When you’re using a town and state name midsentence, another comma needs to follow the state name—i.e., “...through Snow Cloud, Colorado, like sharks…” The same rule applies to dates in instances like this: “He was born on January 1, 1925, to a poor family.” The comma provides an added measure of clarity; without it, separate sentence components collide and create confusion. (My, that was alliterative, wasn’t it?) Please know that I don't throw commas around willy-nilly; Chicago style backs me up on this one.
Make sure to keep both perspective and verb tense consistent. For example, sonsider the following sentence: “Follow the destruction.” This doesn’t read like third-person limited perspective to me, and it deviates from the otherwise past-tense narrative. Is it a thought in his head? It blends in with the surrounding text and is a bit jarring at first read.
The narrative is a bit choppy at times, and some passages need better transitions to create a more logical flow of events/thoughts. I lost my way in a few places because the story flitted between abstract thoughts and concrete action with no transitions to pave the way.
“Goatee” makes for an intriguing development. Through him, we learn that it isn’t just Xander who is after the unnamed “her.” At first glance, though, I thought his actual name was Goatee and Googled up a storm to determine whether or not this was an actual Irish name. I realized my error in interpretation a few moments later, but I think that this may confuse a lot of readers. My advice: For clarity’s sake, ditch the “Goatee” moniker in the dialogue tag and refer to him as “the man” instead.
While we’re on the subject of “Goatee,” I would caution against using too much dialect. It slows the reader down and is, more often than not, more distracting than it is character-enhancing. A simple mention that he has a brogue when we first meet him should do the trick. Readers tend to be smart people; they’ll imagine the accent themselves in future dialogue without having it forced on them.
This brings up a good general rule of thumb for fiction writers: Don’t underestimate your readers. Let them fill in some blanks on their own so that your story isn’t filled with extraneous description and exposition. Part of the art of fiction writing is insinuation—i.e., giving readers enough to go on, but not chewing their food for them, so to speak.
Overall, this first page built some nice tension and introduced not one, but two immediate conflicts for Xander. It could use some copyediting to resolve grammatical errors and the aforementioned clarity issues, but it’s in fairly good shape.
Thanks again to our submitter and for the critique from Ms. Shreditor. I appreciate the insight every week! See you next Friday.