Saturday, November 24, 2012

First Page Friday---A Day Late, But Not Short

Thank you for your patience.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

And without further ado, here is the First Page Friday critique.  See you next week!

The Entry
by M. Clark

Amazonas, Peru

For what seems like the hundredth time this morning, the gears grind, the bus lurches, and I experience near-death as we round another hairpin curve. Somehow, the bus miraculously doesn’t careen off the cliff, and I don’t die a fiery death. Bug-bitten and exhausted, I stretch and yawn and try not to look out the window. With napping not an option, I reach down and unzip the outside pocket of my backpack and take out my guidebook. Seriously? On the page I randomly open, there is a warning. Since this is one of those guidebooks favored by adventure-seeking, adrenaline-junkie types, it practically screams at me with its large print: DO NOT GO TO THE VALLEY OF THE VIPERS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

Apparently, this valley is a haven for criminals, fugitives, and drug traffickers, all with a complete disregard for basic human rights. Nevertheless, after ten months, two weeks, and however many number of days, I’m not the same girl and oversized warnings in out-of-date guidebooks don’t scare me. Ten months, two weeks, and however many number of days. The length of my father’s disappearance. Besides, I’m not headed to the Valle de las Víboras. Not yet.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

What I like most about this piece is that the narrator has a distinctive voice. First-person narration is popular these days; the adult and youth fiction markets seem awash in “I” narrators. Some are more memorable than others. In this case, the author has created a central character who seems, at least at first glance, smart, sassy, and independent.

The writing itself is generally quite strong. The prose has a nice rhythm and—I’m sure some of you know what I’m going to say next—it would appear that the author has read parts aloud to himself or herself to gauge the flow.

There is some repetition in the final paragraph regarding the length of the father’s disappearance, and I wonder if minor recasting of the text would tighten up the prose and improve flow. You might try something like: “Nevertheless, after ten months, two weeks, and however many days—the length of my father’s disappearance—I’m not the same girl, and the oversize warnings in out-of-date guidebooks don’t scare me.”

In the first sentence of the paragraph, I’d consider toning down the laundry list of unsavory characters. I think that just the word “criminals” would convey your meaning here. A general note to all writers reading this blog: Always be on the prowl for places in your manuscript where you can trim excess words to tighten it up. Publishers often require a certain word count range for their submissions, but you want to make sure you hit that target the right way.

I found the mention of Valle de las Víboras to be a bit confusing. I know enough Spanish to deduce that this is the aforementioned Valley of the Vipers, but the average reader might not. You might want to introduce this phrase earlier, when you first mention the Valley of the Vipers in the first paragraph. Perhaps you could say something like: “Because this is one of those guidebooks favored by adventure-seeking adrenaline junkies, it practically screams at me with its large print: Do Not Go to the Valle de Las Víboras under Any Circumstances. [new paragraph] Apparently, this valley, better known as the Valley of the Vipers, is a haven...”

Overall, though, I think that is an effective opening. It sets up the ominous Valley of the Vipers as a key location and tells us exactly what we need to know about the narrator: that her father has disappeared and that this disappearance will likely be her primary driving force. And, if this first page is any indication, this girl will be no damsel in distress as she undertakes this quest to find what she has lost. 

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