Friday, July 13, 2012

First Page Friday

Well, since it's Friday the 13th, this is either a scary post or a lucky one.  I'll go for lucky. Thank you so much to both the submitter and the editor who go to such effort to help us all learn and improve in our writing.

The Entry
by Anonymous

My mom was driving me to my dad’s house in Michigan. I am going to live there with him for the rest of high school because my mom married a man who’s job had made him move around a lot and she wants me to have a more stable life. So here I am, on my way to some boring state that has no surfing like California does to live with my dad, who I usually only see for a few weeks in the summer. 

My dog Happy barked from the back of the SUV. “Be quiet Happy!” I shouted at him but then felt bad. Moving was hard for animals too, he was probably scared.

“So how do you feel about moving to Michigan to live with your father?” asked Mom as she came to a stop light.

“I don’t know.”

“Well you will like it, I think. Chris and I will come visit you when we can, and you can come visit us for breaks. I think this is better for everyone.”

Better for you, I thought but didn’t say. I had wanted Mom to be happy and if dumping me at Dad’s condo for the rest of my teen years was the way to do it I guess I’d go along with it. She’d have much more fun seeing new places with Chris then she would listening to me talk about dumb boys.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

There are some compelling elements here, but there are also some issues that compromise the effectiveness of this first page. For starters, we have a very generic opening sentence: “My mom was driving me to my dad’s house in Michigan.” Sure, this is an important detail, but is it important enough to merit placement in the all-important first sentence slot? My instinct is no, that there needs to be a stronger opening here.

There’s a good balance between exposition and dialogue, but the dialogue itself falls a bit flat. The mother’s initial question to the narrator feels a bit forced. Would she really wait until now to ask this question, when they’re already en route to Dad’s house—and would she phrase it in such a stiff way? Make sure that, if you’re using dialogue as a mode of information delivery, it rings true to the characters, the scene, and the situation. Otherwise, the dialogue isn’t much more than a thinly veiled information dump.

The story gets compelling in the last paragraph. At this point, we get a very real reaction from the narrator regarding her situation, a reaction that injects her with a healthy dose of humanity. Here she is, uprooting her entire life because she thinks it will make her mother happy. It’s vaguely reminiscent of several popular books, including the Twilight saga. [Aside: If this is to be a YA romance, make sure to find good beta readers. You don’t want your story to fall prey to some of the clichés and tired tropes that have arisen in Twilight’s wake.  If this isn’t going to be a romance, pretend I never said anything. The trend is such in YA right now that I assume everything is going to be a romance.]

A few details rang false to me. Why are the narrator and her mother driving from California to Michigan? It strikes me as odd that the mother, who seems anxious to unload both daughter and dog, would choose to drive over two thousand miles when flying would probably be easier for all involved. Also, I assume they’re making the trip on major interstate highways, so the presence of a stoplight tripped my radar. Have they pulled off the highway for some reason? Perhaps clarify for the reader. This may sound nitpicky, but these are the details that keep me up at night when I’m line editing a manuscript.

The narrator’s reaction to the barking dog jarred me at first, but then her subsequent acknowledgment that Happy was probably as scared as she was made it poignant. Both of them are justifiably on edge.

Lastly, this piece needs a strong copyedit. There are a lot of grammatical, punctuation, verb tense, and spelling issues (including the dreaded “then” vs. “than” in the last sentence). You want all of your manuscript to shine when you submit it, but if you have to give extra attention to any part of your story, let it be the first page. You don’t want to scare an acquiring editor away from a great potential story with careless errors right out of the gate.

See you all next week!


Janice Sperry said...

I agree with Ms. Shreditor on the first sentence. It's not super catchy. Find the place in your story where something defining happens. Does she meet a cute boy? Is there a creepy guy living down the street? Does her father's house explode? That would be the place to start. You can work in the mother later on. It's not interesting enough to start your story with. You do have some great stuff here. Happy is a cute name for a dog. Good luck!

Debra Erfert said...

That first page is super scary to write. How do you grab the reader's attention without using a gimmick yet keep it within the boundaries of the storyline?

I automatically assume there will be romance, too. But then I write romance into everything.