Friday, August 10, 2012

First Page Friday

Welcome to another edition of First Page Friday, where national editors critique your first page!  Want to submit?  Guidelines are in the sidebar . . .

The Entry
Window of Time
by DJ Allen

“I have to kill you now. It’s nothing personal.”
Lucia aimed her .38 revolver at the knotted-up muscle and shot a single bullet into the snake’s head. The hot Sonoran desert north of the Arizona-Mexican border supplied her with a variety of vegetation to use as cover, but hiding hadn’t been her idea after their coyote ditched her and the other members of her group.
“I’m sorry I had to evict you, Mr. Sidewinder,” Lucia said, sliding onto the cool, shady sand, “but this Mesquite bush isn’t big enough for both you and me. I couldn’t take a chance that you’d come back if I moved you to another residence. Besides,” she whispered with a small smile on her lips, “snake tastes just like chicken.” 


“What was that?” Border Agent Mark Whittier asked.
Agent Jason Morelli put down his binoculars and stared at his field-training officer. “It sounded like a gunshot!” 
“We better go check it out. Could you tell which way it came from?”
“Yeah . . . from the south.”
Whittier shoved his equipment bag over to the passenger seat. “Very funny.”
“Okay, okay, it was more southwest,” Morelli said, opening his driver’s door. “I’ll take the point.” He grinned and added, “Try not to get lost.”
Whittier got behind the wheel of his four-wheel drive Tahoe and softly chuckled. He lifted the microphone off the dashboard, and held it to his lips. “Take it easy with the new truck, Morelli.”
“You worry too much.”
“And you don’t worry enough.”
“We’re finally getting some movement, and you aren’t excited?”
Whittier let out a deep breath of sudden frustration at his rookie. “Just don’t get careless. Don’t make me regret letting you check out your own truck today.”
“I won’t.”
Whittier kept pace with his rookie for another mile before stopping on a short ridge. Opening his door, Whittier grabbed his binoculars and stepped out on the running board, and swept the hot landscape with his elbows propped up on the edge of the window frame. The high noon heat made the distance slowly dance like looking through the clear flame of a fire.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

The first section accomplishes a lot in just over 100 words. Not only do we know where Lucia is geographically, but we can start to visualize her surroundings thanks to the mention of the Mesquite bush and the contrast between the hot desert and cool sand. It’s vivid without being flowery. The second paragraph, however, did confuse me a bit. There’s a reference to “their coyote,” but we don’t know who “they” are. And who is her group? I think there’s definitely room to flesh out Lucia’s scene.

Expanding upon Lucia’s point of view might also resolve my biggest reservation: the section break on the first page. The readers hardly have time to get acquainted with Lucia before we skip to another scene and another set of characters. You don’t want to overload your audience with too many characters too soon. The section break does create a nice bridge between Lucia’s final threat and the sound of her gunshot, but I’m worried about the point of view shifting after just three paragraphs. It’s certainly possible to write a novel with in-chapter POV switches, but you want to make sure it’s balanced. (Here, Whittier gets nearly double Lucia’s face time.)

The dialogue flows nicely in the second scene, but the POV here needs fortifying. I’m assuming that this is Whittier’s point of view, but there’s little to verify this. Try adding in some of Whittier’s thoughts to make it more immediately clear that he’s at the wheel. We don’t get inside Lucia’s head, either, but there also aren’t other characters in her scene to make us wonder.

A few minor quibbles: Consider changing the dialogue tag in the third paragraph to read “Lucia continued.” This will make it clearer that it was also Lucia who spoke in the first paragraph.  You’ll also want to change “Arizona-Mexican border” to “Arizona-Mexico border.” Otherwise, you’ve compounded a proper noun and an adjective. Lastly, it’s unlikely that Whittier would be opening his door and grabbing his binoculars at the same time, so try adding a preposition to show the progression: “After opening his door, Whittier grabbed his binoculars and stepped out on the running board. He swept the hot landscape...”

In closing, I’ve learned something important from this week’s entry: Never, ever cross Lucia. Mr. Sidewinder, you never stood a chance.

(Sorry for the weird formatting in places.  Sometimes Blogger hates me no matter what I do.)  Thank you so much to Ms. Shreditor and to DJ Allen.  See you next week!


Jon Spell said...

Awesome opening line!

I actually didn't understand coyote either, until the 2nd section with the border patrol. So, the coyote is the man leading immigrants across the border, right?

I don't really understand why she might be hiding and not thinking that a gunshot might be heard. (It wasn't her idea to hide?) I think it might help to clarify in that sentence what's going on.

Debra Erfert said...

I wouldn't trust a sidewinder snake either. My husband was struck by one AFTER he cut off its head.

All great points from Ms. Shreditor. The first three paragraphs do seem a little shrimpy, but considering I live in Arizona, I know the two types of coyotes that inhabit this part of the desert. DJ should clue everyone else in on the two-footed kind with a simple addition of a few words in the last sentence of the second paragraph, I think.

My husband said the meat of the snake does taste a little like chicken depending on how you cook it. Recipes anybody?

Debra Erfert said...

I was looking at that second paragraph again. If DJ added anymore words to it, then it would be in extreme danger of becoming too long.

Opinion--how does anybody feel about starting a sentence with the word "But"? And for that matter, the word "And?" I've had a struggle with this in my own writing, and it seems nobody can totally agree if using those two particular words to start a new sentence is acceptable or it shows weakness in writing.

Janice Sperry said...

I prefer an entire chapter for each viewpoint. Three paragraphs is definitely not long enough. I knew what she was talking about when she referred to the coyote, but I can see how it would confuse others - especially people who don't live in the west.

Debra. I recently asked my mom that very question. She gave me a, you-could-not-really-be-my-daughter look and said no, you can't start sentences with but or and. I say it's alright if it's dialogue. It's really pretty lazy in narrative. But sometimes I do it anyway. And I love my mom. :)

Debra Erfert said...

LOL, Janice!