Friday, May 25, 2012

First Page Friday

I planted flowers in my front flowerbed last night.  If you know me, you know that this is a huge accomplishment because I have a black thumb and kill every plant I, well, plant, so I gave up years ago.  This is me turning over a new leaf (teehee) and trying again.  We'll see how it goes.

I'm excited for this week's First Page Friday.  Let me know what you think!

The Entry

Dark Core
YA Fantasy

Chapter One
  
            Saekina woke up covered in blood.
            “No, no, no, no. Not again.”  
            She reached out, her hands trembling, and tried to lift herself up. Her arms buckled under the pressure and she landed with a thud on the ground. 
            Saekina squeezed her eyes shut. She slammed a fist into the floor. She winced at the pain. She needed it though. Pain would clear her head. Help her focus.
            She hoped.
            Saekina opened her eyes. It took a moment to adjust to the darkness of the room.
            She sucked in a breath. A mutilated body was lying only inches from her.
            It wasn’t the only one.
            Saekina tried to even her breaths out. Need to stay calm. Never panic. Those were her most important rules.               
She tried to remember what happened, but her head was pounding and she just felt so bruised and no matter how hard she tried to concentrate, she couldn’t. Part of her wanted unconsciousness to reclaim her. At least that way she wouldn’t have to worry about all this.
            Saekina gritted her teeth and then forced herself to sit up. Her head spun as she did so, stomach churning,
            She took another calming breath before trying to get an idea of her injuries. I probably have a concussion. A few cuts and bruised bones. Nothing too serious.
            Saekina wrapped her arms around herself, trying not to shiver. She sniffled, determined not to cry 
            I don’t have time to sit around blubbering. The police are going to think I did this.
            Saekina glanced down at the dried blood caking her hands.
            Getting caught could not happen. She wouldn’t let it. Not with her history.


Angela's (And Her Assistant Heidi's) Comments  
You’ve Got Our Attention Now

Very fun opening. Gets my attention with the “again.”  I am curious now. The “woke up covered in blood” feels just a tiny bit clich√© in terms of the “shocking opening sentence” but I think you save it with the “again.” You could also just move the “again” to the first sentence.

Saekina is a very cool-sounding name. It sounds vaguely Japanese, and could work well regardless if it is a futuristic or otherworld setting or contemporary/urban fantasy. It is unusual enough to stand out, but not so much that it sounds strange.

Putting the Laundry Away

Sometimes, as we strive for snappy, succinct sentences, it’s easy to fall into a pattern, listing one action or event after another, and before we know it, we have what’s sometimes referred to as a “laundry list” (or alternately, a “shopping list.”)

Note how so many sentences start with the same pattern—this lack of variation in style is so noticeable it draws the reader out of the story. A few examples: Saekina squeezed…Saekina opened, Saekina tried…as well as “she reached out, she landed, she slammed, she winced.”

To remedy this, change up the sentence structure. Vary it. Cut out repetition. And intersperse itemized action with internal dialogue or other hints at Saekina’s emotions and personality. I would suggest cutting much of the focus on her moving various body parts and compress the first five or so paragraphs into two short ones—focusing on the key pieces of information. Much of her physical behavior just gives us clues to the same emotional state, so in that way it’s redundant information and slows down the plot—which you don’t want, because the reader is dying to find out what’s going on, so you don’t want to make them impatient.

Unreliable Narrators

Good curiosity hook—“covered in blood, again.” Now we definitely want to read more, because it’s not your average, everyday experience to wake up covered in blood once, let alone multiple times. Curiosity is great, but remember, one of the cardinal rules is that if the protagonist knows something, the audience should also. Saekina knows what’s up, so let the audience know also. It won’t diminish the curiosity; if anything, the reader will want to know the why’s and how’s.

If Saekina knows what’s up (and it sounds like she does, since she has had a previous experience waking up this way, and since she has a history with the police), withholding that information from the reader means she’s an unreliable narrator. This can be done, as in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, in which the congenial narrator turns out to be the murderer, a fact he hides from the reader until the last chapter. However, employing an unreliable narrator can be risky. Your readers may love the quirky twist it provides, but may equally feel cheated at the reveal, as were many of Christie’s fans. Generally speaking, you’re more likely to stay in the reader’s good graces by keeping your protagonist reliable. Keeping us in suspense for a few lines is fine, great, actually, but don’t drag it on too long. I’m not suggesting you need to reveal the whole mystery—just little bits of it so the reader doesn’t think you’re withholding just to force the intrigue. A great book that reveals little tiny pieces of the mystery in each chapter (while at the same time making each into a cliff hanger/hook of its own) is Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Maybe check it out for study purposes.  

Where in the World Are We?

You’ve got a problem if the reader can’t tell within the first page what genre they’re in. Right now, Saekina could be in a historical, contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, or even a mystery setting. There isn’t enough information for the reader to discern what type of world they’ve entered. The mention of police is the only obvious indicator of setting – but even that could be something in the past (the current word has been around hundreds of years, and the concept for thousands) or sometime in the future. Mainstream is the baseline genre. If your genre is something other than this, you’ll want to tip the reader off right away. Your protagonist’s name suggests something beyond mainstream, so clarify just a bit for the reader—at least establishing whether it’s speculative or not.

The Devil in the Details

In other ideas, I think the overall opening is great—intriguing, etc. But can you give it a little more personality and voice? Can you give us a bit more of the setting, snuck into the scene? Is she in a cave? A condo? A hotel? A kitchen? Is this the future or another world? As noted, our heroine’s name sounds very fantasy-oriented or sci-fi, but “the police” sounds very common to our current world. Can you work in a little more of the world-building (if it’s interesting) so a reader would have their appetite whet a bit more for the story at large? I think doing that would also help make your opening line more unique and not look like a “cheap trick” so to speak.

Go for more description. No, you don’t need to add purple prose. You may decide to be graphic or understated, but either way, provide some detail. For instance, there’s the mention of dead bodies. The location – right now it could be anything from the narrator’s bedroom to the abattoir in a horror film. A few well-placed details will let the reader clearly envision the setting, the situation, and the character – creating a film in their mind.

And then we need a bit more voice. Saekina’s emotional reactions to the pain and the situation are normal (other than her nonchalance and focus on escape, which is good character building), but what is her personality? Is the tone of this book deadly serious, or a little funny? Or sort of darkly sarcastic or satirical?  Work a little more of your tone and her personality (via her dialogue or internal thoughts) into this opening. You want to come on strong in all areas that are critical to hooking a reader/agent/editor.  A strong hook and plot are important for creating marketable books, but voice is also really important if you want to stand out from the competition. Many editors/agents still prefer the italicizing of internal dialogue: I don’t have time to sit around blubbering. The police are going to think I did this. This is no longer a rule in the industry, but whether to follow it depends on how you use voice. Maybe look into when it’s better to or not to.

An Intriguing Start and a Solid End

You’ve got an interesting beginning. You’ve also got a good end to the first page as well, giving us something at stake for the character, with a dire consequence if her goal of escape is not accomplished on time. And it provides a hook for the next page—what is her history, we want to know?

Saekina promises to be a captivating character. With a few more details, some hints at her personality, and a bit of sentence variety, your story will be off and running (pun intended).

 
One possible way to tighten up this scene: 

            Saekina woke up covered in blood.
            “Oh, no. Not again,” she groaned.   
            With trembling hands, she tried to lift herself up, but her arms buckled under the pressure and she fell back with a thud. Saekina squeezed her eyes shut and slammed a fist into the floor, wincing at the pain. Still, it might clear her head.            
            Opening her eyes, it took a moment to adjust to the darkness of the room. She sucked in a breath. A mutilated body was lying only inches from her.
            It wasn’t the only one.
            Saekina tried to even her breaths out. Stay calm. Never panic. Those were her most important rules.               
What had happened? How had she gotten here? As hard as she tried, the past few hours were overshadowed by the pounding in her head. Part of her wanted unconsciousness to reclaim her. At least that way she wouldn’t have to worry about all this.
           Her head spun as she sat up and tried to get an idea of her injuries. Probably a concussion. A few cuts and bruised bones. Nothing too serious.
            Saekina wrapped her arms around herself, determined not to cry. 
            I don’t have time to sit around blubbering. The police are going to think I did this.
            The dried blood caking her hands told her she was almost out of time.
            Getting caught could not happen. She couldn’t let it. Not with her history.



Thank you to our submitter and our editors today.  See you next week!

4 comments:

Randy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debra Erfert said...

I love the name, too. And I'm more than curious what happened in the scene, enough to make me read further. Isn't the the point of any writing?

The critiquing was spot on.

Janice Sperry said...

I find myself doing the unvaried sentence structure all the time. That's why I love First Page Fridays. It helps me with my own writing. This was a fun read.