Friday, September 30, 2011

First Page Friday

Welcome back to First Page Friday! We have an international entry this week that includes leprechauns and the lush land of Ireland. Let's get right to it.

The Entry

Irish Aria

by Anonymous

Lightning crashed overhead as I look into the dark and dreary night. My eyes reflected back at me through the window and I clutched my stomach tightly. I had eaten too much macaroni and cheese that Grandma made with a special blend of cheddar and american and now I regretted it, for soon this jet plane would take me to Ireland where my birth mother lived.

“Git ’way frum tha’ winda’” Gramma snapped as she walked into the room.

“Grandma you scare me, did you tell Uncle Joey about the flight schedule so that he can pick us up for a ride to the airport?”

“Don’cha be questionin’ me girl. You jus’ mind yesself.” She walked over and shut the curtains. “Now git yer hiney to bed. Brush yer hair in tha’ morning, its all snarlaroo.”

So I got in bed and Grandma read me from my favorite book Goodnight Moon, then I thought about how fun it would be to take college classes at the University of Northern Ireland. I couldn’t wait to see all the green there. Maybe I would even find a leprechaun! I’d always loved leprechauns.

The plane took off and my stomach rumbled. I wonder if they make macaroni and cheese in Ireland or if they use some weird Irish goat cheese.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Embedded in this excerpt is an interesting story—the story, I assume, of a girl who leaves the life she knows to seek out her biological mother. I wondered why she lived with her grandmother, where her father was, and whether this was her maternal or paternal grandmother. Make sure to clarify this somehow without digressing into an information dump.

What troubled me most about the text was the chronology. The first paragraph suggests that the narrator, whose name we never learn, is already on the plane (“for soon this jet plane would take me to Ireland…”). Then, the inconsistently named Gramma/Grandma tucks her in and reads her a story. Then, there’s an abrupt jump to the plane taking off. Reading this page, I experienced a sort of literary vertigo. The story seems to flit between the past and present at random. This is confusing to readers.

The author should consider characterization carefully. Gramma’s dialect makes her seem downright cartoonish. I assume that she raised the narrator and is important to her; however, the dialect makes her seem short-tempered and domineering. Is she always this way, or does the dialogue cast her in a worse light than intended? And why is she reading a children’s book to a young woman who appears to be of college age?

I’d also like to address the Ireland factor in this story. The title is Irish Aria, and we know that the narrator is planning to take college courses at the [fictional] University of Northern Ireland. Does the story actually take place in the autonomous Northern Ireland or in Ireland proper? It’s important to make this clear. Northern Ireland, with its history of political unrest, would make an interesting choice. Writing a rich multicultural story, however, requires much more research than this. The narrator talks about green landscapes and leprechauns, which doesn’t reflect even a cursory skim of Wikipedia’s Northern Ireland page. This dismissive characterization of Ireland/Northern Ireland would likely insult Irish readers, as cultural stereotypes are wont to do. It would be like someone writing a book with a Greek protagonist who eats baklava all day. It has to feel more authentic than that.

This also needs some copyediting work to eliminate tense inconsistency, verb choice issues (lightning doesn’t crash), cluttered sentences, and extraneous details. Do we really need to know about Gramma’s digestive tract–disrupting mac and cheese at this juncture?

Make every word of your first page count. You’ll have the time and space later to divulge more mundane details, but you don’t have that luxury on a first page. You have ten seconds, give or take, to catch an editor’s attention. So trim the fat—or the macaroni and cheese, as the case may be.

Thank you to anonymous and to Ms. Shreditor for their participation and time. As always I appreciate everyone who contributes to First Page Friday. See you next week!


Janice Sperry said...

Posting after Ms. Shreditor is like getting to a feast and finding everything has already been picked over. I don't think she missed anything.

I love Ireland. The culture, the stories, the green landscape. It's the place I dream of going to when someday rolls around. So I love your setting.

I too was confused as to where your character is. I wondered if there was a bed on the airplane for a while. I think you were going for a flashback, but it's too soon for one of those. Is the information so important that it has to be on the front page? Does it need to be in the book at all? Work that info in later. Is the airport the right place to start? Maybe you could start with her in Ireland.

I was thrown off by the Goodnight Moon story too. How old is this girl? Very confusing.

i'm erin. said...

Wow Ms. Shreditor! Excellent comments, gives me a lot to think about...and that's not even my wip.

Sarah Pearson said...

I'm with Janice, I had a few points in mind but naturally Ms Shreditor picked them up first :-)

I'll content myself with saying thank you to the person who allowed their page to be critiqued.

Randy said...

A first page of a story needs to really draw the reader into it. Having the character go to bed right away is not going to accomplish that. Looking out the plane window as it takes off or, even better, as she lands in Ireland would be a much more exciting start to the story.