Friday, October 5, 2012

First Page Friday

So excited it's Friday because then we get another installment of First Page Friday!  If you would like your first page critiqued, please submit your double-spaced 12 point font first page to  We have two spots in November left.

As always, thank you to Ms. Shreditor and to M.R. Buttars for submitting.  I really enjoyed this piece.  See you next week!

The Entry
The Mark
by M.R. Buttars

Twelve-year-old Keera Shanksy sat staring out at the clear April sky above her. Her teacher’s droning voice faded further in the background as her thoughts lifted her above the uncomfortable desk and out the dirty, glass window.  She soared through the clouds, thrilling in the feel of their cool touch brushing against her skin. Surrounded by the azure sky, she breathed the crisp scent of freedom. She flew through the rays of sunlight that danced around her as the wind whispered in her ears.
She, the most powerful Lithian in the Universe, could fly to the stars if she wished. In the distance she caught the faint outline of the moon that was always present, even in the glaring light of the sun. She could almost hear its silvery voice shimmering across her mind and skin. She reached for it, hungry to answer the call she felt deep within. Her fingertips stretched forth and. . .
Her thoughts plummeted, with a sickening thud, back to harsh reality where she, a completely powerless Lithian, was in danger of flunking her Creatures of the Universe class. Not again, she thought with a small groan.
Bracing herself mentally, she met her teacher’s stern scowl. Ms. Peters loomed over her like a large bird of prey that had just spotted a particularly tasty morsel. Keera tried to swallow the lump in her throat and think what Ms. Peters had been asking. 
It had something to do with some sort of magical creature, obviously. Desperately, Keera glanced down at her large textbook, latching onto a picture on the cover. A large ball of fur stared up at her with wide, innocent topaz eyes. Of course! She remembered discussing moogleloofs.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This was a really whimsical piece. What really struck me about it was the wealth of sensory imagery. In the first paragraph alone, the author evokes sight, sound, smell, and touch. We smell the “crisp scent of freedom”; we feel the cool touch of the clouds against her skin; we hear the wind whispering in her ear. This highlights the all-important distinction between showing and telling. If the author had just told us that Keera was daydreaming in class, the scene might have felt generic. But this author makes it vivid with by touching upon multiple senses.  

I’ve written often about the importance of narrative momentum. A story needs to hit the ground running from the first sentence, and if it stops to ruminate on extraneous details, it will never get off the ground. In this story, there is immediate momentum. In fact, thanks to her vivid imagination, Keera gets off the ground immediately as her thoughts lift her above her desk and out the classroom window. This physical (or imaginary, to be more accurate) movement in the story keeps the reader moving.

I love how Keera’s self-image is so different in her dream world and in reality. When she’s flying through the clouds, she’s “the most powerful Lithian in the Universe.” When she’s being chastised by her teacher, she’s “a completely powerless Lithian.” This juxtaposition is really effective.

I do have a few comments regarding technical elements. In the fourth paragraph, Keera’s thoughts plummet “with a sickening thud.” The verb “plummet” denotes fast downward movement. We need another verb make actual impact (i.e., create the thud). Something like “Her thoughts plummeted and landed with a sickening thud...” might do the trick.

Inner thoughts are tough to execute in a story. In most cases, you want to express these in the first-person present. So Keera’s italicized thought in the last paragraph would read, “It has something to do with some sort of magical creature, obviously.” There may even be a way to rewrite it as third-person narration instead of as inner dialogue.

Lastly, be careful with nomenclature when writing a fantasy story. Names in this genre tend to be offbeat to enhance the magical feel, but it’s very easy to get carried away. I really like the name “Lithian.” However, when I first read “moogleloofs,” I was immediately reminded of “muggles” and “Hufflepuffs” in Harry Potter.

Otherwise, there’s not much I can pick apart here. The writing is generally clean and flows nicely. This one feels just about ready to me. 


Debra Allen Erfert said...

I always admire a writer who can bring in other senses into their writing. It gives me a 3-D view of their character and scene. I've had dreams about being able to fly, only I'm afraid of heights--even in my dreams, and I start crashing. I'd never get as high as the clouds or be able to know, or even imagine what they would feel like against my skin. I guess I'll just read about it instead.

Writing fantasy must be difficult, especially having to make up imaginary names. I have a hard enough time coming up with real names for my characters. :)

Rob said...

I really liked this opener. I was interested to read Ms. Shreditor's comments about how to deal with internal dialogue. I've wondered exactly how to handle that several times! It seems obvious now, but it had never really occurred to me to try and put it into 3rd person.

Anyway, a really interesting read. Thanks for sharing, M. R. Buttars, and for the insights, Ms. Shreditor!