Friday, November 18, 2011

First Page Friday

For some reason I have hiccups today and it makes it weird to type and hiccup. Anyway, let's get right to Ms. Shreditor's critique today. This is a good one!

The Entry

by Mario Almonte

Severe winter storm warnings closed businesses early in Manhattan and left the city to the occasional, lost traveler. An ambulance navigated the empty streets, and inside that ambulance I sat and watched Theresa. She rested on a stretcher and I held her hand, but I do not believe she knew that I was there. She was adrift in her private world of pain, confused and startled by the shadows that floated above her.

Theresa shuddered, and while a paramedic pushed a needle through her bruised flesh, a second one felt her bloated stomach and remarked that the baby’s heartbeat still sounded strong and steady deep inside. Theresa didn’t hear that. She was gritting her teeth and fighting the pain inside her.

I tried to hold her attention, hoping that my moral support could ease her suffering. Yet, I was wondering how much my presence really meant to her – until tonight, I had not seen her in more than half a year. I was wondering whether she had called me, as she crawled in agony on the floor of her apartment, her clothes steeped in blood where a metal rod had whipped across her stomach repeatedly – whether she had called me because she remembered me as the only true friend she had ever known in life, or because she knew it would obligate me to care for her and her unborn child. She knew I would do everything and go through every possible inconvenience to save them.

The rhythmic throbbing of police lights bathed the faces of the paramedics. It reminded me that we were being followed to the hospital; that other people also had questions about Theresa, and soon they too would demand their own answers.

Ms. Shreditor’s Comments

This is an intriguing first page for me because it hits close to home—literally close to home. I live quite close to Manhattan, and one of my best friends currently lives on the Upper East Side. The first two sentences offer up a fairly realistic depiction of the city during a blizzard, but I would think that the snowstorm would have to be already in full swing (i.e., with significant accumulation on the ground) for the streets of Manhattan to be empty. Moreover, if businesses had just closed early because of storm warnings, wouldn’t there be a flood of foot traffic to the subways and train stations, not to mention a steady flow of cabs? It would also take a pretty monumental snow accumulation forecast (like the freak October snowstorm that recently pummeled the northeast) to close Manhattan businesses before the white stuff actually started to accumulate. Lastly, I would imagine that plows would be out in full force if the snow had already started.

While we’re pondering the depiction of Manhattan here, let’s consider the opening lines. They’re descriptive, but I don’t think they pack quite the punch that an opening sentence should. Perhaps reorganize the paragraph to make a stronger first impression, because there is plenty of material in this sample that could make for a compelling hook.

There is something lyrical about certain turns of phrase in this piece. Take, for instance, the second sentence: “An ambulance navigated the empty streets, and inside that ambulance I sat and watched Theresa.” It's haunting. It manages to be poignant with very sparse language, and this should serve as a reminder to writers everywhere that you don’t have to manipulate the reader by piling on adjectives and flowery turns of phrase to pack a punch.

What I found particularly striking about this excerpt was the absence of sound imagery. This, paired with the emptiness of the city streets, lends a certain somberness to the introductory paragraphs. Strangely, I assumed that this took place at night (perhaps because this first page paints such a dark scene); then, of course, I realized that if businesses had just closed early for the day, it must still be daytime.

The story establishes some potentially meaty back-story between the narrator and Theresa. They’ve been estranged for six months, but the unnamed narrator is still willing to rush to her aid—and not without a certain amount of resentment, as suggested by his/her use of the word “obligation.” This brings up another point: I have no idea whether the narrator is male or female. Some kind of cue to the reader would help establish a character who is, at the moment, a blank slate. Why does this story unfold from his/her point of view and not Theresa’s? Remember that perspective is important, and consider whether or not the right character is telling this story.

So there are some perspective questions that you’ll want to consider. The narrator’s role must be defined early on. There must be something monumental at stake for him/her to justify making Theresa secondary during her moment of crisis. But the writing is good. Really good. It’s dark, haunting, and at times chilling. There are some minor syntax issues (e.g., the semicolon in the last sentence that splits an independent and dependent clause), but nothing egregious. It's off to a great start.

Thanks so much to Mario and Ms. Shreditor. I really enjoyed this one! See you next week!


Debra Erfert said...

Chilling is right. And dark. I re-read the page and imagined it from both POV's--male and female. It would work either way. A male POV could be an ex-love. A female could be a best friend who disapproved of her relationship and deliberately kept her distance. I see the scene at night because of the police lights flashing inside the ambulance. You can't see them unless it's dark outside. Intriguing story.

I love first-person POV by the way. It's fun to read, and really fun to write, although a little bit more difficult to show other's emotions.

Great critque, as always, Ms. Shreditor. It took courage to submit, Mario, but very exciting when we get to see our words in print, huh?

Jon Spell said...

Julie, this is my sure-fire hiccup removal process.

I cup my hands together, put my elbows on my desk, then put them over my nose and mouth. I close my eyes and focus on breathing. I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, deep breaths. Never takes more than 15 seconds.

This page is very cinematic. I can totally picture this as an opening scene to a movie. In my mental version, there _are_ sounds not depicted in words as the POV mentions the ambulance (sirens, driving sounds), the attack, the police lights. It's very gripping!

Janice Sperry said...

For hiccups I take a deep breath and drink ten swallows of water. Then I leave the cup sitting on the counter half full. If I dump the water out the hiccups come back. lol.

The first page is very well done. I wanted to know more. I don't read a lot of contemporary so that's a pretty big compliment. I'm always amazed at what Ms. Shreditor comes up with.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Well, I'm glad none of you suggested I stand on my head and drink a cup of water upside down. LOL I will definitely try those ones next time Janice and Jon.

Thanks for the comments everyone. It was a well-done piece for sure.

Sarah Tokeley said...


You should stand on your head and drink a cup of water upside down ;-)

I loved this page, I would really really like to read more of it.