Friday, January 13, 2012

First Page Friday

Can you believe it's Friday already? And the start of a long weekend. I think I really need that and I'm looking forward to some down time.

Let's get right to First Page Friday!

The Entry

by: Anonymous

Dean and Laura’s parents ran away on a Wednesday.

When eight-year old Laura came to breakfast that morning, still in her pink flannel nightgown, only Dean was at the table. A bowl of cereal sat in front of him, but he wasn’t eating. Already eleven, Dean was old enough to stay up until Jack Paar’s Tonight Show came onto their new color television, but not old enough to watch it.

“Why are you eating Rice Krinkles?” Laura sat across from him. “Mom said we’re supposed to eat grapefruit every day until juice is coming out our ears.”

Dean’s only response was twisting his bowl until the spoon made one perfect, complete rotation. An empty Coca-Cola bottle filled with sticks and loose string sat next to him on the table. Despite nearly six months of fatherly encouragement, Dean had never shown much interest in trying to assemble the scraps into a boat.

“Where’s Mom?” Laura took a grapefruit from the bowl at the center of the table. “Why didn’t she wake me up this morning?”

Dean shrugged, but Laura hadn’t expected him to answer. Their mother called him a quiet soul. Their dad said he needed to develop more confidence. His teacher sent notes saying he was very bright and she hoped nothing was wrong at home.

Laura put the grapefruit back. “She’s not still asleep. I already checked.”

Dean jabbed his spoon around the bowl, sinking sugar-coated Krinkles one at a time. “You want some?”

Surprised, Laura looked up. “What?”

Dean stood, and stepped toward the cupboard.

“Dean, you just talked, and no one even made you. What’s going on?”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

Before I explore some of the larger concepts in this excerpt, I just want to comment on how clean it is. There are very few technical items I would mark with my trusty red pen. (There needs to be a hyphen between “year” and “old” in the first line of the second paragraph. I would also delete the comma in the second-to-last paragraph, because what follows the comma is a dependent clause.) Otherwise, it’s pretty clean. Well done!

I liked that so much of the characterization here is accomplished via insinuation. We learn about Dean from what others—i.e., his teacher, his parents, and Laura—say about him. He is quiet and lacks confidence. He doesn’t speak much. And, perhaps most troubling, life at home appears to be rough. I also really liked the “old enough to stay up, not old enough to watch” statement. It highlights that, at eleven, Dean is at an awkward, transitional age.

Laura’s comment about the Rice Krinkles raised a question of character consistency for me: If their mother wants them to eat grapefruit for breakfast every morning, why does she keep sugary cereal in the house at all?

Also, be careful not to head-hop. We experience certain bits from Laura’s point of view (“Laura hadn’t expected him to answer”) and others apparently from Dean’s (“Dean was old enough to stay up until The Jack Paar Tonight Show came onto their new color television, but not old enough to watch it”). My instinct is that this is a third-person omniscient story, so we are experiencing both Dean and Laura from a narrative distance. Just make sure to delineate clearly between their points of view rather than flipping constantly between them.

I did some fact checking regarding The Jack Paar Tonight Show, originally known as Tonight Starring Jack Paar. Make sure to use the correct title for the year this story takes place. Color TV didn't start to become mainstream in the United States until the late 1960s, and The Jack Paar Tonight Show only broadcast in color between 1960 and 1962. Unless Dean’s parents are particularly well off, it seems unlikely that they’d have a color TV set in the early 1960s.

One last issue: I was having a hard time getting a handle on the parents. They seem pretty supportive, but we know from the get-go that they’ve abandoned their two children. These two things may not be contradictory (perhaps the parents didn’t actually run away), but they appear so at first glance. This is just something to consider when establishing the backstory.

I’m dissecting so much of this story because I think it has a lot of potential. The writing is very strong, and I find Dean’s character intriguing. It can be tough to write in a past era—even one we’ve lived through ourselves. So make sure that historical references are plausible and, most importantly, correct. But, most important of all, just keep on writing.

Thank you to our submitter and, as always, to Ms. Shreditor! It was a great critique this week. See you next Friday!


Janice Sperry said...

I thought the same thing about the cereal but it can be easily fixed by saying Dad's sugar cereal. This is very cute. I would definitely read more.

Debra Erfert said...

I wasn't sure whose POV this story was being told. Omniscient makes sense, I guess. Interestingly, I remember the first time we had color television in our home. (Yes, I'm that old!) I was a little girl, and I was not allowed to stay up and watch Johnny Carson, but I could hear his voice coming from the set and my dad laughing. After I was married, (Carson had a 30 year run) I did get around to watching him, and laughing at his quirky sense of humor. When writing, keeping little details of timeline in check is really fun. Google search is only a click away.

Ms. Shreditor's critiques are always enlightening and educational.

Michael Offutt, Visitor from the Future said... fact check too? That's an amazing critique of a first page.

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

The author is having a bit of trouble posting a comment for some reason, so I am posting their comment for them that they emailed to me:

"Thanks for a great critique. You've given me some very useful insight. FYI - the story is set in the spring of 1962. For the most part, the contradictions you picked up on are exactly what I hope readers will notice. Obviously I still need to work on making them intriguing, rather than confusing. Again, thank you Ms. Shreditor, and thank you Julie for this fabulous service!"