Today is the last day to enter my contest to win a first chapter critique from Ms. Shreditor. If you haven’t heard of my contest, here is the short version:
My new novel, Ribbon of Darkness is launching in stores. To celebrate, I am offering the Kindle edition for $8.88 this week only. Help me spread the word about my new book!
You can tweet, Facebook, blog, or Google plus about me, my book, and the pre-launch Kindle price. You can also like me on Facebook or become a follower of my blog. If you do ONE of these things you will be entered into the drawing to win one of my titles. If you do THREE of these things you will be entered into the grand prize drawing of a first chapter critique by Ms. Shreditor. You can get all the details on last Monday's post.
Thank you to all that have entered so far. I will be announcing the winner on Monday morning.
Let's get to this week's shred!
by TJ Bronley
Chills squirmed down my back as I walked into the brightly lit office, a room I’d never entered before. Covering most of the wall across from the door hung a bulletin board with dozens of pictures pinned to it—the troublemakers of Frontier High School. Gouges spotted the others two walls, making me wonder whether those students put them there or if the stories of the school’s resource officer slamming kids against the sheetrock were true. I didn’t want to know which.
I took a rickety metal chair wishing Officer Keller had some information about my sister Lizzie’s kidnapping. My eyes met his. Their gray color always made me feel cold and frightened me—now more than ever. I couldn’t lock onto them for long, so I looked up, above his balding head at the pictures of the other students. There was actually a picture of him mixed with the others, those same eyes staring at mine.
“Your parents will be here shortly, Elijah. I know the school is on lockdown, but the officers will make sure they come here.” His calm voice sparked more squirmy chills. He smiled at me, an attempt at helping me relax. He pointed to a cooler with some paper cups on it. The discolored carpet around it made me wonder how many times someone had knocked it over. “Please help yourself to some water.”
I went to the water cooler, grabbed one of the cheap paper cups, and filled it. Even though I knew I wasn’t in trouble, I didn’t want Officer Keller speaking to me. I sat back down sipping slowly. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, replaying the events of the past few weeks.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
The first sentence presents us with an immediate problem: verb choice. Make sure to weigh verbs carefully before using them. Can a chill squirm? We think of a restless child or uncomfortable person squirming, but not something unseen like a chill. Even on a metaphorical level, this doesn't quite work. It is better to use a mundane verb than a more "interesting" one that muddles your meaning. On the other hand, saying "a chill ran down my spine" would be cliché, so you might reconsider how you want to express the narrator's dread.
There are also some deeper syntax problems. Consider this: "Covering most of the wall across from the door hung a bulletin board with dozens of pictures pinned to it." I did a quick count of prepositional phrases (e.g., "of the wall," "from the door," et al.) and found six (I included "across" by itself" in my count). Cluttering up your sentences with too many prepositional phrases can make them difficult for the reader to follow. The verb "hung" is also out of place here, too, given the participial sentence opener. You might recast/simplify: "Across the room hung a large bulletin board pinned with dozens of pictures." I would recommend a thorough copyedit for clarity and word choice.
There are some great little details woven into this first page, like the discolored carpet that "made [the narrator] wonder how many times someone had knocked [the water cooler] over." I loved that. Just make sure to specify at first mention that it's a water cooler, because I thought at first that it was the kind of portable cooler that holds food and drinks. I concede that "cooler" may be a regional variation, though. Heck, in some places, people call water coolers "bubblers."
This first page raises a lot of questions for me: Whose bulletin board of troublemakers is it: the principal's or Officer Keller's? If it's Office Keller's: The school is on lockdown, so I'm assuming the kidnapping just happened. Would he have had time to assemble this bulletin board so quickly?
But the first pages also raises some intriguing questions: Who took Lizzie? Why? Is it significant that the resource officer has a reputation for physical violence? Is this a clue?
There is ample opportunity for mystery and suspense here. What I like most is the sense of foreboding as Elijah sips his water and waits for his parents to arrive. This first page does a great job of amping up the suspense and making the reader wonder what role Elijah will play in this story. The devil is in the syntactic details.
I'd like to thank both TJ for his submission and Ms. Shreditor for her time. This is a very busy time of year for her and I'm grateful she still makes the effort to help writers on this blog.
See you next week!