Friday, January 6, 2012

First Page Friday

I'm excited for a whole new year of First Page Fridays. We still have openings in February, so submit your first page now! (Directions in the side bar).

Let's get on to today's submission.

The Entry
Bucket List of Hope

by Debra Erfert

“I changed my mind!”

The tornado-like wind tore the panicked words from my lips the moment I spoke them. The plane’s open door, where the experienced skydivers already jumped from, looked innocent enough when six grown men sat between IT and me. But now the huge, gaping hole seemed monstrously evil. It laughed at me, like it knew my irrational terror as I stared down at the geometric patches of green and brown landscape with my stomach crammed up my throat. I moved to grab the doorframe. The diving instructor attached to my back had other ideas.

We fell from 13,000 feet.

The icy wind stabbed at my skin, keeping me from passing out. I had no choice but to greet death with my eyes open—head on. I looked up. A man from the dive company pointed to his helmet and then waved. My brain clicked on. I paid extra money to have my first experience recorded. With my face pushed back into a perpetual, flapping sudo-smile by the freefall wind, I waved back at the guy. He gave me a thumbs-up sign. I gestured him right back.

Jerry, or Gary, my over-enthusiastic diving instructor, took hold of my wrist and led my fist to a ball. I unclenched my hand and pulled. My backpack fell apart—and then swooshed . . . our parachute opened, stopping our freefall into a gentle descent. That intense fear of dying I had for the past sixty-seconds vanished, and just like that I remembered everything they briefed me on in the pre-jump class.

Above my head, I grabbed the steering toggles in my fists and gently pulled down on the right. I laughed, as we turned clockwise. I tried turning in the other direction. No problem. My heart raced, beating with a freedom that escaped my tenuous grasp for the twenty-seven years of my life.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Happy 2012!

It seems we’re off to a great start this year. This week’s sample definitely has my attention. Opening with dialogue can be a risky maneuver, but in this case, it’s quite effective.

I often take first pages to task for not telling us enough about the narrator, but in this case, the sparse characterization works. The page-turning action generates plenty of momentum on its own. We don’t know anything about this narrator, but we can infer certain things from cues in the text. The voice strikes me as female. If I had to guess, I’d say that this opening scene signifies a moment of real empowerment for a previously inhibited young woman. The story tells us that, at age twenty-seven, the narrator never done anything like this.

Be careful with past tense. There are a few instances of the simple past (“verbed”) that should be expressed in past perfect (“had [verb]ed”). Examples: 1) “…where the experienced divers had already jumped from,” 2) “That intense fear of dying I’d had for the past sixty seconds…,” 3) “I had paid extra money to have my first experience recorded,” and 4) “…a freedom that had escaped my tenuous grasp for the twenty-seven years of my life.” In each of these instances, you’re describing something that happened before something else, so use of the past perfect is necessary.

There are other minor syntactic hiccups that a light copyedit would resolve. But the author accomplishes something important here: natural prose rhythm (thanks to varied sentence length). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It shows when an author reads his/her work aloud.

One last question: Did you mean “pseudo-smile” instead of “sudo-smile”? Just checking!

Thanks so much Debra and Ms. Shreditor. I think we're off to a great start, too. See you next week!


Janice Sperry said...

What an awesome way to start a story. Not something I would ever do. (jump out of a plane)

I throw in too many hads too. I just deleted several from my MS today.

Debra Erfert said...

I would never, ever jump from a plane unless it was on fire and I had no other choice. And then I better have someone like Indiana Jones with his arms around me with the promise of a grand adventure when we landed. Yeah, right!

Thank you so much, Ms. Shreditor, for the critique. I appreciate your expertise on my first page. You totally made my day!

And thank you Julie, for having First Page Fridays. I've been looking forward to having my work critiqued.

Kurt Kammeyer said...

I agree - the sentence structure and grammar need a little polishing, but the author paints a good picture of what it's like to jump out of a plane.

Jon Spell said...

Disclaimer: I have never skydove, skydiven? skydived?

but based on the many re-enactments on TV/Movies, I feel like there's something missing from this sequence:

our parachute opened, stopping our freefall into a gentle descent.

Isn't there a really big yank as you stop falling?

Loved the first page, though. Very exciting and interesting. No idea where you're going with it, but I'm sure it'll be great!

Debra Erfert said...

Jon, I interviewed two people, one young woman and her father, and they both described it the same way. The sudden yank we see from the camera view on television and whatnot usually comes when the sudden pulling apart of the two points of view--the skydiver who pulled his ripcord and the cameraman still falling at 80 to 120 miles per hour. That parachute doesn't come out fully open, it comes out a little at a time, causing some friction before expanding. Legs splay out when the deceleration happens, but the first time jumper just doesn't remember little details like that. Can you really blame them?

And, thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

Michael Offutt, Visitor from the Future said...

After reading your commentary, I hope I made the right decision in opening with dialogue in my book. O.o It definitely works here in my opinion...but I'm fixating on your words that this is "risky".