Friday, August 17, 2012

First Page Friday

Thank you to everyone who submits their stuff for First Page Friday.  I am so excited each week to see the critiques.  If you would like your first page done, the submission guidelines are in the sidebar.

The Entry

She Came From The Hill
by Janice Sperry

Nothing thrived at the far end of the park. Even laughter died at the first stunted tree. Clay could have skipped the shortcut had Alex, who had the communication skills of a bad WIFI connection, called an hour earlier.  Proper packing takes time. In five months he’d get his license and could drive around the park. Five months never felt so far away.

Clay tightened the straps on his heavy overnight pack and pedaled up the dead forest path. His tires kicked up dirt, making the air thick with dust. The place felt off, like shadows were waiting to jump at him from behind the brittle trees. It was completely irrational.  He pedaled faster anyway, his feet moving with the rhythm of his pounding heart.

The creepiness clung to his skin like cobwebs, even after he left the park in his dust. It was time to give up Ghost Watch. The show was making him paranoid. He coasted down the road and skidded to a stop in Alex’s driveway. His friends were scattered around the yard, none of them in uniform. Clay straightened his scout shirt.  They needed to take scouting more seriously.

Alex aimed a small camcorder at him and pushed a button. Light flashed in Clay’s eyes, blinding him.

Clay shaded his eyes with his hands. “Alex!” 

“The enhanced light works!” Alex turned it off, leaving Clay seeing spots.

“What’s the camera for?” Clay got off his bike and dropped his pack at his feet.

Alex shut the tiny screen, leaned forward, and whispered, “The camera sees what we can’t.”

“Like what?”  Mr. Walters never let them leave the campground at night, no matter how quietly they sneaked out of the tent.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

The first paragraph of this sample starts off strong and then gets a bit disjointed at the end. The opening two sentences create an eerie, desolate tone. Then, Clay observes that he wouldn’t have had to rush if Alex had called earlier. The narrative shifts momentarily to the present tense to tell us that “proper packing takes time” before reverting to the past. Keep the verb tense consistent, and consider whether or not Clay’s musings about his future license provide a strong enough hook for the reader. There needs to be more at stake from the outset than Clay’s inability to drive.

The next few paragraphs read a lot more smoothly. They tell us that Clay is a scout of some sort and that the boys are engaging in some sort of ghost hunting activity. I really liked the matched momentum of Clay’s pounding heart and his bike pedaling.

I’m a bit confused on a few points, though. The story tells us that Clay ends up in Alex’s driveway. Alex does a quick demo of the camcorder’s enhanced light function and suggests that the equipment can see what the naked eye can’t. Clay asks for clarification, and then we’re left with a confusing sentence about Mr. Walters, who remains unidentified and hasn’t been mentioned previously, and the campground. Are the boys about to go on a scout camping trip? (Clay’s backpack, mentioned in the second paragraph, hints at this, but we don’t know for sure.) Is Mr. Walters their scout leader? If so, the narrative needs to make this clearer. Otherwise, the last sentence feels out of place, as it doesn’t link up at all to the dialogue that precedes it.

A few syntax-level notes: I would change “skills” to “abilities” in the third sentence; otherwise, it’s a somewhat awkward analogy. A WiFi connection wouldn’t have skills. Also, change “could” to “be able” in the second-to-last sentence of the first paragraph.

As you proceed, think about the story you plan to tell. Why is this Clay’s story? What’s at stake for him personally? Ultimately, make sure that Clay stands out in his own story. Alex, a secondary character, left a stronger impression with me. Otherwise, the pacing, setting, and dialogue are quite good!


Janice Sperry said...

Thank you Ms. Shreditor. The proper packing takes time line was interior dialogue. How does one differentiate internal dialogue from narrative? He thought sounds clunky and italics bothers me. Anyone know? Should I have set it apart in its own paragraph?

Kate said...

Make the interior dialogue into a question: Didn't he know proper packing took time?

Jon Spell said...

I feel like I've read this before. Did you submit it as a story on Julie's blog-birthday-bash?

That, or it reminds me of Super 8.

Janice Sperry said...

I submitted it to First Page Friday before. It was a few hundred drafts ago. First pages are not my friend.

Debra Erfert said...

I love, love the first line. It is among the most top ten memorable opening lines I've read. I know this because I've been tussling coming up with my own first line.

I went to the world wide web and looked up "famous first lines in novels" and found THE most important works in history--according to literary people, and have decided that "Nothing thrived at the far end of the park" fits right in there with "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Really! They are both dark statements that could embody endless possibilities of tragedy and even death. And take the second sentence: "Even laughter died at the first stunted tree." That brings the ominous foreshadowing to a sharp point--something bad will happen there before the story is done!

I love Clay already. He's a scouter! And he wears his uniform with pride. All of his 8 or 9 years of scouting experience will probably come into play during his adventures. One problem, I suspect, will come when he rushed to pack his backpack too quickly and he forgot something very important.

We all have our problems with tenses, and we sometimes rely on our beta readers and editors to catch these.

Just as a curiosity, my husband was in Gettysburg last year, and he had a friend take his picture at a historical spot. The sun was just setting, and the whole place was getting really erie. After Mike got home and downloaded the pictures onto his computer, he was showing me all the pics when he came to that specific photo. Instead of just him leaning against this low, rock wall, a boy dressed in a uniform was standing behind him. Mike's boss swears (and he's a religious man!) that the boy wasn't there when he took the picture. And neither man had seen the boy before or afterward. Yeah, "the camera sees what we can't."

Janice Sperry said...

You just made my day, Debra. Thanks. I have beta readers, but none of them ripped it to shreds as I hoped. I need to find some new ones.

Awesome creepy story. I would love to see a picture like that. :)

C. Michelle Jefferies said...

My husbands friends were going mine exploring a few years ago and took a few pictures as they were getting ready to enter the mine. There's this eerie mist in all of the pivtures. While the day was overcast there was no fog or low lying clouds in the area.

I need new beta readers too. If you fins out how to get some please share the secret.
Like the first line alot.

Jon Spell said...

I can volunteer as a beta reader. I've done some of such work for a couple of the Frog Bloggers. I'm not professionally trained or anything, so, caveat emptor. =)

jon dot spell at gmail

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