First of all, I wanted to announce the winner of my Awesome August blog hop that I ran earlier in the week. The winner of a signed copy of my new novel, Ribbon of Darkness, is:
Temperance, if you will send your snail mail address to email@example.com I will get that right out to you. Thank you to everyone who entered.
Can you see yourself snuggled up in your favorite chair, with a soft blanket, a new novel, and a decadent dessert at your side? If you can, then why haven’t you entered my new contest that started yesterday? Book Night in a Box. Easy to enter. A fun prize that the reader in you really wants. You should totally do it. See yesterday’s post for details.
As you all know, it’s First Page Friday! Yay! And our beloved Ms. Shreditor is back in fine form. Just a reminder, if you would like the first page of your manuscript critiqued by a national editor, please submit your double-spaced 12 point font first page to firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s get to it.
Funny Tragic, Crazy Magic
by Sheena Boekweg
I’m not supposed to say anything about what happened. I promised.
However, I never promised I wouldn’t write it all down.
Don’t worry, Giara. No one will ever read this. Once it’s all down, I’ll light it on fire. I just have to get it out of my head.
No one would believe it anyway.
In case it does get out, in case someone decides that this pile of paper might mean something, it never happened. None of this is real. Nothing like this is even possible.
That cover it, Giara?
My name is Larissa Alvarez, and right now I am sitting in a mental hospital. I know… cliché, right? If I was making up this story I would have started it in a better place, but that isn’t where the story starts. That’s where it ends. Try not to forget that while you are reading.
I guess it started when I met Joe.
No, actually, it started earlier than that. It all really started on the day my parents died. I was in my room. Billy Joel was playing on my CD player, my freshly vacuumed carpet clinging to my toes as I stood in front of my mirror. I kept messing with the transformation rune, but I couldn’t get the shape right, so my hair frizzed up in the back.
My parents were in the kitchen talking about the price of ground beef. I’m sure my little sister was in front of the television and Dora or something equally depressing was on the T.V.
Ms. Shreditor’s Comments
Right off the bat, we know that this is an epistolary novel (i.e., a novel in letters), and right off the bat, we know that the story we are about to hear will test our willing suspension of disbelief. Can we trust what this narrator is telling us? If she isn’t supposed to divulge what happened, will she tell us everything or leave out some bits? The beauty of it is that we can’t be sure. You may not know this about me, but I love unreliable narrators. Their stories can serve up the best kind of ambiguity.
I rather like the fake-out tactic in the last two paragraphs. First, Larissa lets it drop that the story began with Joe (someone I assume will be pivotal to this story). Then, she backpedals to the day her parents died. It’s a one-two punch of vital information without needless dumping. One caution: When digging into the past for pertinent story details, be careful not to get stuck there. Sometimes, it can be difficult to steer a story back to the present from a narrative digression. That is when your story is most vulnerable to the literary pest otherwise known information dumping.
To resolve some of these potential past-present issues, you might consider experimenting with the story’s structure. Should the epistolary text appear as separate chapters so that the reader can readily discern between past and present? This will keep you from swerving indiscriminately between verb tenses.
I would ditch the participial phrase in the third sentence of the last paragraph (“…my freshly vacuumed carpet clinging to my toes as I stood in front of my mirror”). This syntax doesn’t create a clear, logical progression. Try recasting: “Billy Joel was playing on my CD player, and my freshly vacuumed carpet clung to my toes as I stood in front of my mirror.” It’s a simple fix, but it does wonders in terms of clarity. You might even try something more radical: “I stood in front of the mirror with my freshly vacuumed carpet clinging to my toes and Billy Joel playing on my CD player.” Misused participial phrases, like information dumps, are common literary pests. Work on exterminating them from your writing.
I like that both author and narrator are clear on where the story begins. Larissa asserts her credibility when she says, “If I was making up this story…” We can’t be sure that she’s jotting down things exactly as they happened, but at least we know that her intent is to tell the real story.
I’d like to thank Ms. Shreditor and Sheena for their participation today. I know I learned a lot! See you next week.