I just want to thank everyone who has submitted to First Page Friday. It is exciting to see the entries come in and to be able to provide a forum for writers to get their work critiqued. I am also glad to have such a talented editor as Ms. Shreditor who takes time out of her incredibly busy schedule to offer critiques and help those who are looking for honest feedback. Thank you all!
Just a reminder that submissions are critiqued in the order in which they are received, so be patient, your turn is coming!
Today Ms. Shreditor quotes Led Zeppelin in her critique so let’s get to it!
Kylee pulled her knees tighter into her chest and tightened the grip of her arms around them. The cold of the cement she sat on was creeping through her worn jeans, chilling her flesh. Cold was seeping through the worn-out tennis shoes as well. Her socks had too many holes in them to hold any of it out. How had she gotten herself into this mess? What was she going to do now? A snow began to fall, gently drifting onto her hunched shoulders.
A car pulled into the parking lot, its headlights playing across the side of Kylee's bent head. Kylee didn't notice it. She remained in her hunched position, shivering. Where could she go? She had nothing anymore. Her car had broken down finally on the freeway several miles away and she had managed to walk this far, but could go no further. This rest stop, somewhere outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, was her last stop.
The muscles in her stomach tightened again, frightening her. What did it mean? Nothing? Trouble? There was no one to ask. Her dad had never been around at all, he had left Kylee and her mother when Kylee had been only days old. Her mother had died three years ago leaving fifteen year old Kylee on her own. She hadn't told anyone at school that her mother had died. She hadn't wanted to go into state programs for underage children and been put into foster care. Bad stories went around about teenage girls in foster care. Kylee didn't want to find out first-hand if those stories were true or not. She had lied about her aunt moving in. She had no aunt. At least none she knew of. Once she had graduated, she had left her tiny town on the Texas/ Louisiana border and taken off across the country looking for work and a place to call home. Six months later, here she was, stranded at a rest stop, watching happy families drive by, cars full of smiling faces and wrapped packages.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
What struck me most about the first paragraph were the two questions toward the end. These are pressing narrative concerns, and the writer’s task is to make readers care about the answers. My first instinct was to move them up after the first sentence to create a more immediate urgency. Readers, what do you think?
I’m interested to hear what the cryptic “last stop” comment means. Has Kylee given up on life, or does she simply mean that she has nowhere left to go? I was a bit unclear on the set of questions following the mention of stomach cramps. The first question reads, “What did it mean?” Should this read, “What did they [i.e., the cramps] mean?” Is she distressed because she has no parents to consult about her physical symptoms and is worried about her deteriorating condition?
I ran into some willing-suspension-of-disbelief issues in the third paragraph. Kylee’s father walked out on her family immediately after her birth. A bit extreme, but not outside the realm of possibility. But then we learn that Kylee’s mother died three years ago, and she “hadn’t told anyone at school.” This is an incredible stretch for me. We’re to believe that Kylee’s mother died in a state of such complete social isolation that not one member of her community knew, that Kylee had no friends or relatives who would have found out? It’s understandable that a girl her age would be terrified of foster care, but the utter secrecy surrounding her mother’s death feels contrived. It feels as if the writer may have been trying to force the details to fit a rigid storyline concept (i.e., Kylee hacking it on her own for three years while finishing high school).
There is another key issue in this paragraph: Kylee lies about her aunt moving in. If no one knows that her mother is dead, why would she need to lie about an aunt living with her? And, that aside, what adult would just take her at her word without checking up on her? These plot holes need resolution.
The passing cars with their families and gifts are a poignant symbol of what Kylee is missing. I’ve inferred from the cues in the excerpt (the cold weather and wrapped packages) that this is the holiday season, a particularly lonely time for someone in Kylee’s position.
One technical issue: Avoid comma splicing—i.e., joining two independent clauses with a comma. An example: “Her dad had never been around at all, he had left Kylee and her mother when Kylee had been only days old.” When both parts of the sentence can function independently as complete sentences, punctuation stronger than a comma becomes necessary to separate them. A semicolon works in this case, but there are some instances that might call for a colon. (See the first sentence two paragraphs above. Note that, depending on a publisher's house style, the first word of an independent clause following a colon may or may not be capitalized.)
So there are some issues to iron out and some plot holes to fill, but the story certainly has merit. The first page raises some intriguing questions and presents a potentially fascinating character with a "whole lotta [baggage]," to paraphrase Led Zeppelin.
Once again, my sincere thanks to everyone who participates in First Page Friday. See you next week!