Friday, November 2, 2012

First Page Friday

As all of you know, Hurricane Sandy blew onto U.S. soil this week and left thousands without power, heat, and basic necessities.  I have many friends and some family on the East coast and I've been anxiously monitoring their well-being.  Ms. Shreditor is one of those friends.  She still has no power, but has found shelter and is okay.  My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this storm.

Because of her situation, Ms. Shreditor was unable to do First Page Friday this week, but Jordan McCollum graciously stepped in.  I appreciate everyone who has helped make this blog feature a success.  I hope you tell your friends about it.  We still have one opening in November.

On to First Page Friday!

The Entry
by Karen Edwards

Journal Entry: Tuesday, December 14
The kid looked like a dog sh*tting razor blades and no wonder; it was nut-numbing cold out there last night. Mid-December, thirty-seven raw degrees and raining, and here’s this kid in jeans and a nylon windbreaker, head down, staring at his shoes.
I was worried for the kid, that’s why I pulled over. This was in Bad Axe past the tracks, at the corner of Oak Street and Vine. I opened the driver’s side window half-way and called out, “Hey!”
He looked up and I waved him over. He crossed the street and stopped two feet from my van.
 “Are you okay?” I asked. I tried not to look at the snot running out of his nose.
 He took a step closer. “Maybe. Are you a cop?” Shivering.
“Nope,” I said. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” he answered, hands shoved deep into his blue jean pockets, brown hair plastered to his head.
He didn’t look all right to me.
“Do you want to come in for a minute to get warm?” I felt sorry for the kid; that’s why I offered.
“You sure you’re not a cop? You have to tell me. I think it’s the law.”
 “I’m not a cop,” I said. “Hop in.”
“Okay, then.” He walked around the van to the passenger side, climbed in and pulled the door shut.
 “It’s not the law, you know,” I said, cranking up the heat. “Cops work undercover all the time.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot.” He smiled and rubbed his hands together in front of the heater vent.
 He looked all of fifteen, not that it mattered because I wasn’t going to do anything. Wouldn’t. For one thing, I don’t mess with jail bait. For another, I prefer the ladies.
I waited for him to say something else and finally, he did.

Jordan's Comments

The Good

This piece has great voice! It grabs you right away and gives the reader a sense of "authority," that this character (and the author) is confident in himself, and in his story (I'm assuming the narrator is a man) and how to tell it. You set up an interesting situation here, and I really want to know what the kid says next!

I love this mode of storytelling. As a journal (as with a letter), this is classified as an epistolary novel, which gives you license for all the interpretation and introspection your readers can stand ;) . The challenges with an epistolary novel, however, are that some readers find recounting of full scenes less realistic in epistolary fiction (though by and large few have a problem with it). It can be also difficult at times to switch or differentiate between the mode of hindsight/reflection and recounting in-the-moment thoughts.

Since he's obviously writing about this after the fact, we know that the narrator survives to write the tale, which might be somewhat problematic since readers might have a hard time believing the character is ever in true danger if he lived to tell about it. I mention this specifically because it feels like you're setting up a mystery or suspense novel with the setting and the voice, although that may not be the case, and often the main character's jeopardy plays a big role in that genre.

I just wanted to note that I especially liked the voice when the character says "Wouldn't." It feels so natural, because that's how so many people speak.

The only real line edit problem I noticed is the echo structure between "I was worried for the kid, that’s why I pulled over." and "I felt sorry for the kid; that’s why I offered." It's fantastic for a character to have regular patterns of speech and turns of phrase that we can recognize in their voice--but using them so close together here feels too repetitive.


Obviously this is a personal decision, but be aware that some readers (even in the national audience) are offended by swearing, especially in the opening line. Perhaps those readers aren't who you want in your audience, and you might be setting the tone of the piece. If you're going to turn off a portion of your potential readership in the opening line, just be aware of that possibility.

I want to be able to assume that the narrator isn't a pedophile without being told that. The problem with stating it out right in this way is that it can almost come off as if the narrator is "protesting too much." One possible way to handle this might be through dialogue with the kid, since I'm sure if this is contemporary, that at least crosses the kid's mind. Then simply "I prefer the ladies." I believe the default setting for most adult men (although we can't be sure of the narrator's exact age) isn't under-aged girls, and the need to specify that comes off as if it's actually crossing his mind. Since the narrator has the benefit of hindsight here, 

One other challenge with all first person stories is working the character's name in early. I'm hoping/assuming he'll introduce himself to the kid soon, so we can have a name for both characters. No matter how well we know the character's voice, there's always a little something extra that comes from anchoring that voice into a person with a name and a physical appearance. And that's always a challenge in first person!


Julie Coulter Bellon said...

For some reason Karen's comments aren't going through, so I promised her I would post it for her.

"I want to thank you, Jordan, for stepping in and providing me with such a thoughtful, insightful critique. I appreciate your kind words, too. And I thank you, Julie, for so generously extending an opportunity for writers to receive feedback from people who really know their stuff."

Thanks, Karen!

Jon Spell said...

Does the van have the words "Free Candy" scrawled on it? ;)

I agree with Jordan about the voice. It's very entertaining, and as much as I'm squirming thinking of it, I really liked the phrase "nut-numbing cold." Now that's cold!

What DOES the kid say? =)

What does the narrator do, P.I.?

(It's been a while since I was a teenager. Could one reasonably fit his hands deep into his jeans pockets?)

Jordan McCollum said...

Oh, I really like seeing that I didn't finish at least one sentence/paragraph in there. But the thoughts are already in another section, at least. The irony!

Glad to help, Julie and Karen! And great questions, John. I assume this kid isn't wearing skinny jeans ;) .