Friday, October 7, 2011

First Page Friday

I had such a great time yesterday at my writer's conference and I'm going to be sharing some of the stuff I learned on the blog next week. It's going to be fun!

But until then, here is this week's First Page Friday entry.

The Entry
So You Don't Want to be an Evil Sorceress

by Janice Sperry

Mysty dreaded her birthdays, especially the part where her grandparents came for cake and presents. The cake was great. It was the presents that made her want to crawl in bed and hide. Her fifteenth birthday present was probably still scurrying around in the sewer somewhere hissing and terrorizing the smaller natives.

She pulled a sweatshirt over her damp hair and shuddered. It already felt like the longest birthday ever. She stared at the clock for a moment before she realized that the dots weren’t blinking. Her sweatpants slid to her ankles as she scrambled across her bed to check her clock. A tiny stick was crammed in the set time button. She checked her watch. Four minutes until the school bus arrived.

“Dominic!” she screamed.

Laughter. He didn’t even have the decency to wish her a happy birthday.

She slipped her shoes on and ran to her bathroom, tying her sweatpants as she went. Toothpaste splattered on the sink as she brushed her teeth with one hand and her hair with the other. She dropped her toothbrush on the counter and untangled her hair from the brush before pulling it into a soggy ponytail. Painful red spots grew on her nose and chin. Lovely.

A horrible smell oozing from the massive black cauldron greeted Mysty in the kitchen. She wished her parents would update the kitchen and removed the bundles of smelly herbs from the ceiling. But that might encourage her mother to cook so Mysty never said anything.

“Why didn't you wake me?” she asked when she reached the kitchen. “I'm going to be late. I don't have time for breakfast.”

Her mom, Cindy, tucked a shiny black curl behind her ear and handed Mysty some black toast. “I sent Dominic to tell you to get moving half an hour ago.” She folded her arms and glared at Dominic, who was suddenly very interested in his breakfast.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

This sample’s greatest strength is its voice. It’s funny. The varied sentence length creates a nice rhythm. Do be careful not to string together too many short sentences, as this can make your writing too staccato. I am currently working on a manuscript that contains a lot of short, clipped sentences. While this technique can be effective in certain narrative situations, it should be used sparingly.

There are some subtle touches throughout this excerpt that exemplify the art of characterization-by-showing. The black toast illustrates Cindy’s lack of culinary ability. The hissing fifteenth birthday present is a masterful piece of insinuation. We can only guess at what creature might scurry and hiss, but whatever it was, it wasn’t a fluffy little bunny. We also learn from the “painful red spots,” which I assume to be acne, that Mysty is in the throes of puberty.

There were some elements that confused me. For instance, the phrase “soggy ponytail” was a bit jarring. I might call my hair “soggy” if I’ve just come out of the shower and not yet wrung out the water. But Mysty’s hair, which is referred to as “damp” in an earlier paragraph, likely hasn’t gotten wetter in her mad dash to catch the bus. I also had to read the sentence about the stick in the alarm clock a few times to understand what had happened. I think I understand now: Dominic was able to stop the clock by keeping it stuck in “set time” mode. This might benefit from a light revision for clarity.

My biggest problem with this page, however, is that it doesn’t build enough momentum. While Dominic’s prank creates some immediate suspense as Mysty rushes to catch the bus, this opening doesn’t set up longterm tension. I wonder if this could be reworked to introduce a measure of tension or conflict right off the bat—enough to root readers in the narrative and keep them turning the pages. I wouldn’t want to dismantle what is here; I’d just want to leave readers with a clearer sense of what they’re in for.

Thank you to Janice and Ms. Shreditor! Lots of things to think about. See you next week!


Janice Sperry said...

Thank you Ms. Shreditor and Julie. It's nice to hear that I'm as funny as I think I am. Finding the perfect way to start this story has been really hard. This gives me a lot to think about.

Jon Spell said...

It does mention the damp hair earlier on, actually.

I wonder who makes the cake...

I have to confess, I'm not fond of the main character's name, particularly when the brother and mother have fairly common spellings. Would Misty work as well? Feels a little odd to identify mom's name there, too.

I agree that the voice is fun. "Lovely." =)

Debra Erfert said...

I love humorous stories, and the glimpse into the creepy kitchen filled with a cooking cauldron and bundles of herbs hanging around tickles our imagination at what makes up Mysty's life. Great critique, Ms. Shreditor!

(Love the timing of this critique, Julie. Very Halloweenish)

Jennie said...

I think she only needs to point out that she particularly dreads her sixteenth birthday because her parents have been making too much of a fuss over it and that spells trouble. Of course I might be a bit biased. I've read an earlier draft of this book and laughed all the way through it.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I think the hissing fifteenth birthday present is hilarious.

I will say something about the set up felt more middle grade than YA, but I can't put my finger on it. Still, definitely great voice.