Friday, October 21, 2011

First Page Friday

There is only two more days to enter to win a copy of my new novel Ribbon of Darkness. Click here if you haven't done it yet!

I also got another review and interview! Click here to see what Sheila thought of Ribbon of Darkness and the answer to her question of whether there will be more adventures for Ethan and Kennedy.

Now on to First Page Friday. For my new followers, every week we have a national editor critique a first page submitted to me by email. If you would like yours critiqued, please submit your double-spaced, 12 pt font entry to

The Entry
Shadow Keeper

by M. K. Yarbrough

After the flash of lightning, I waited for the peal of thunder, but instead, a long pitiful shriek echoed from outside the house. A shiver rippled through me, making my flesh prickle. I threw back the covers and crawled from the bed.

Thunder crashed overhead as I searched for the pullcord in the heavy folds of the curtains. I yanked them open, but only a black void stared back at me. Dark storm clouds blocked all illumination from the stars and moon.

I cracked open the window and pressed my ear against the mesh screen. No shrieking howl, no gusting wind, not even a drop of rain on the patio outside disrupted the silence.

A bolt of lightning streaked across the sky and the night turned bright as day. I squinted to shield my vision from the burst of light, but not before glimpsing a shadowy figure lingering at the edge of our yard near the alfalfa field. A mournful howl ripped through the air and mingled with the clap of thunder. The creature twisted lower to the ground and disappeared into a clump of oak trees.

A cold chill snaked up my back. I blinked my eyes. Was that an animal, or a man scurrying into the cover of the trees? Not certain what I’d witnessed, I scratched at the stubble on my neck while backing away from the window.

“Ow,” I yelped when my foot scrapped against a sharp object. I hopped around on one foot while rubbing at the heel of my other.

“Brendon?” my little brother mumbled from the upper bunk.

“Yeah, Stevie. It’s me. I think I just stepped on your dinosaur.”

“Give it back,” he said in a sleepy voice.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This story employs the classic thunderstorm opener to establish instant suspense, but it manages to dodge the dreaded “it was a dark and stormy night” cliché. I actually learned a new word when I was contemplating the usage of the word “peal” to describe thunder. My first instinct was that this wasn’t quite right; I think of a peal as a ringing sound. But the dictionary led me to “thunderpeal,” or a clap of thunder. So thank you to this week’s author for leading me to a new word!

The writing is generally quite strong. I like that the author varies sentence length; it leaves me with the sense that he/she reads passages out loud to gauge how well the text flows. As we all know, I endorse this practice wholeheartedly.

I worry a bit about the pacing here. The thunderstorm imagery feels somewhat heavy-handed in the first four paragraphs, but the shadowy figure in the yard makes for a heart-pounding moment. Then, however, the tension breaks suddenly when Brendon steps on the dinosaur toy, which isn't a particularly suspenseful interruption. Also, did you mean that his foot “scraped” against a sharp object?

So the page achieves a certain level of suspense, but Brendon is still a blank slate to me. Our only real clue is his stubble; I'm guessing that he's in high school. We witness the thunderstorm and the shadowy figure through his eyes, but we never experience what’s behind those eyes, so to speak. Because we don’t learn anything intriguing about Brendon himself, it’s difficult to connect with the story at this point. Also, consider voice when writing from your narrator’s perspective. Would a teenage boy say something like “...making my flesh prickle”? You want to be sure that your syntax always reflects your narrator’s age, personality, gender identity, and intelligence level. It means that, while you're writing, you're going to have to live inside your character's head so that you don't commit the literary equivalent of slipping out of an accent in a theatrical performance.

One last thought: Having a character staring out the window presents a real opportunity for some stage-setting introspection. Try incorporating some of Brendon’s thoughts into his observations of the thunderstorm outside—in a way that hints to the reader what matters to him, what internal issues this story might address for him. Bring him onto the scene in a manner that creates a stronger, more memorable first impression. Readers need to feel intrigued by a character to follow him across 200+ pages of story.

Thank you so much to everyone who participates by submitting, critiquing, or commenting on First Page Friday. I've learned so much from all of you. See you next week!


Jon Spell said...

I'm sorry, but I was unable to suspend my disbelief when reading this sentence:

“Brendon?” my little brother mumbled from the upper bunk.

The older brother ALWAYS takes the top bunk! It's like a law or something. =)

I enjoyed this passage quite a bit. Has a very Halloween-y feel to it. I particularly like the last line. :)

So, "pitiful shriek", then "shrieking howl", then "mournful howl". Are we supposed to assume it's a werewolf, or is that just what my imagination conjured?

Debra Erfert said...

It's what my imagination got out of it, Jon. I love dark and stormy nights, and having this first page around Halloween is great. I didn't consider the points Ms. Shreditor brought out until I read them, but then I agreed with each one. I'm sure if we were to read the next page we'd learn even more about the young man, and maybe even a little bit more about the creature hiding in the trees. *shivers*

Sarah Pearson said...

As usual I'm here too late to contribute something original, so I'll just say thank you to the contributor, and to Julie for doing this :-)

Sarah Pearson said...

Oh, and to Ms. Shreditor of course!

Marilyn Yarbrough said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments on my novel. I'm working on my sequel to Shadow Keeper. The new novel is Shadow Curse. Maybe I'll send the first page for it soon.
P.S. As a kid, I had a bunk bed and hated the top. It was too hard to get into and too hard to make up everyday.