Here is this week's First Page Friday submission.
by Sonia Crawford
Teresa gasped as she fell. This is going to hurt, she thought as she tumbled to the ground, the castle walls a blur beside her. She wished, not for the first time, she had paid more attention to her self-defense teacher. Instead, she had been too eager for the offensive moves and less concerned about protection. Thud! Teresa landed on her back and felt the air explode from her lungs. Stars whirled on the edge of the darkness closing in on her sight. ‘So this is what it feels like to pass out’ was her last thought.
Teresa groaned as her body and mind got reacquainted. “Welcome back,” Elaina said. “How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been run over by a stampede of horses,” Teresa responded. She groaned again as she tried to sit up. Elaina came to assist her.
“You were lucky,” Elaina said. “I can’t believe you fell on the only place that could have prevented your death. That gorse bush wasn’t even that big. How you managed to plant yourself right in the middle of it...Well, let’s just stick with – you were lucky.”
Teresa thought back to how she had gotten here, where she was now. It had been a long, hard process, but it had been worth it. “When can I leave,” she asked.
“Tomorrow, if you don’t have any other symptoms.”
“What do you mean other symptoms?”
“You mean besides being unconscious and barely breathing? Let’s see - your eyes were rolled back up in your head, your face was white as a bleached sheet, and your lips were purple. Head and back injuries are not something to take lightly, Teresa. You should be dead. That fall should have killed you. I don’t know why you were up there, but I know Deke will want to have a full report when you are back up on your feet. In fact, you might want to fake feeling ill a couple more days, just to let his anger have more time to dissipate, before you go talking to him.”
Angela's Critique (with special thanks to editing assistant Heidi Brockbank)
This starts off with immediate action. We meet the heroine in mid-fall. She has a wry sense of humor – of course it’s going hurt, falling off a castle. It could even kill you, depending on the situation. You’ve got a lot of questions buzzing in the reader’s mind by now. Is Teresa a spy? Was she on a secret mission? Why was she taking self-defense? Now that you’ve kindled the reader’s curiosity, let’s look at some ways to fan the flames.
Curiosity Kills More than Just Cats
Curiosity is great, but it’s easy to cross the line into vagueness, something you definitely want to avoid. Here are some places where an ounce of clarification will prevent readers from losing interest in the story:
· Teresa wishing she had paid more attention to self-defense teacher—this line creates potential confusion. An initial impression may be that she was undergoing self-defense training in the castle. We don’t get another clue until the end of the page, where we hear about Deke. Now more confusion sets in. Since Elaina doesn’t know what Teresa was doing “up there”, we think it must not be something simple and obvious, like training. And why Deke would be mad that she fell is another mystery. This could be the start of a good hook, but we need a little clarity so we’re not floundering around, trying to get a foothold on the scene. Adding a line, or even a few words, could help the readers understand what is happening before they jump to wrong conclusions.
· Also, who is Elaina? Just a line subtly describing her at some point—“My sparring partner turned me over” or “My roommate smiled and…”—would give us a better handle on her relationship with Teresa. Readers want to know where they are and who they’re with. Creating intrigue with those details is great, but usually that means you need to give us something solid with a twist, not something overly vague.
· What is the time frame for Teresa regaining consciousness? Was she out for only a few minutes or much longer? Another question related to the time is if the location of the scene has shifted. It seems probable that it has, but there are no details for the reader to draw a definite conclusion. Teresa could still be at the foot of the castle, being helped by Elaine. Or she may have been transported to a hospital or someplace else, and hours or days may have passed. I’ve never been knocked out, but I would think the first things I would want to know upon waking was how long I’d been out, where I was, and how I’d gotten there.
· Don’t be afraid to spell a few things right out. It won’t hurt the suspense, but it will help ground the reader securely in the story. At the same time, give a little detail on the physical things – Elaina’s looks or Teresa’s, for instance. Not something that interrupts the scene, but complements it, giving us insight into the psychology/history of the girls as reflected in their visages/apparel, etc.
· Elaina sends mixed messages in her reaction to Teresa’s fall. Initially, she seems nonchalant about her friend’s brush with death, like it’s an everyday occurrence. A few minutes later, she seems more concerned. Their relationship is unclear. Does she care about Teresa like a good friend? A colleague? Also, Teresa seems to be asking Elaina permission to leave. Does Elaina have authority over her? Perhaps she’s a doctor? Since almost dying would be a bigger deal to most people, perhaps you can show a compelling reason why it isn’t to these unique people? Remember, you want solid with a twist to create the intrigue, instead of being too vague.
· I don’t know why you were up there, but I know Deke will want to have a full report when you are back up on your feet. Wouldn’t she be asking why Teresa was up there? Their relationship—and her level of concern—is ambiguous, and thus less interesting. Elaina doesn’t seem overly interested, so we don’t feel it either. If there’s a reason—because Teresa is a super ninja tough girl or whatever—then explain it so we understand.
A Word about Words
Thud! Teresa landed on her back and felt the air explode from her lungs.
So the prose here could be a bit more interesting. For instance, this sentence is sort of redundant. The sound can serve as the act of landing—and we learn a few lines down she landed on her back, so keeping it visceral is more interesting: Thud! Air exploded from her lungs.
Another thing to watch out for is redundancy in the dialogue tags. There are only two people talking, so we don’t need lots of tags. You can increase the “voice” by cutting out redundancy and choosing some interesting details to focus on in the descriptions.
‘So this is what it feels like to pass out’ was her last thought. Get rid of the quotes. Either use italics or nothing. If you go with italics, you can trim the sentence even more: So this is what it feels like to pass out. Teresa seems to be more of a conservative voice, so using italics on the thoughts is fine. The thought in the first paragraph doesn’t use quotations or italic, so you’ll want to adjust it so the style you pick for internal dialogue is consistent throughout the story.
Overall, the setup is interesting. I do want to know what Teresa was doing up in the castle, why and how she fell, who she is and what she is going to do next. This seems like it could be the beginning of a cool Covert Affairs type story, with a smart, savvy heroine that’s ready for any adversary. But I think I’d be a lot more excited and intrigued about it all if I had more solid details in which to lose myself in this interesting new world. You don’t need to tell all in the first few pages, but you want to give enough information that we can accurately picture what is happening and what the basic setting and character relations are—and what’s at stake (not knowing enough details makes it hard for there to be something at stake—something for the reader to worry about). Be on the watch for extraneous words, and keep your sentences lean and energetic, which will help keep the pace of the story moving forward with intensity, guaranteeing your readers’ attention.