We have one spot left in November's First Page Friday so if you submit today, you can have it critiqued the last Friday in November. So hurry! Tell your friends!
And thank you to Kristen for her submission and for Ms. Shreditor's hard work. See you next week!
A Second Chance
by Kristen Morie
The day the world ended started just like any other.
I fought to keep my eyes open during calculus at eight in the morning. That weekend had been fun, but I probably shouldn’t have stayed up so late each night. The obnoxious flickering bulb above my head in the lecture hall wasn’t helping.
Then again, it was college. I was supposed to have fun and stay up, wasn’t I? And fall break was starting. I would get to go home tomorrow on my first vacation after starting at the University of Rutland, in Vermont.
I regarded the guy next to me sleepily, surprised that he knew my name. He clearly hadn’t shaved in a while, and he was staring at me with wide eyes. “What?” I whispered back. The professor droned on about derivatives.
“Is it bad if your heart beating makes your vision flicker?”
I stared at him for a second before it clicked. “That’s the bulb.” I pointed up, stifling a laugh. “Not your heart.” Although it was probably bad that his heart was beating that fast, but I figured he was freaked out enough.
He looked up too. “Oh.” I sighed, wondering how high he was, and went back to fighting to stay awake through Calculus and the writing class that followed. Gray skies shone through the windows. I missed the sun.
I didn’t see the sky again until I entered the academic quad, heading over to the dining hall for lunch. I was planning on meeting my roommate Elsie, who was going to bring over Matt. I grinned at the thought of it. Matt was a great-looking guy, and it was about time I found a boyfriend in college. Being alone was starting to suck, parties or not.
My phone rang in my pocket and I was about to answer it when someone shouted. I looked up, as everyone else was.
“What the hell?” the bearded guy said aloud as he left the building behind me. The sky pulsed green.
“Tornado!” a girl shouted, a midwestern twang in her accent. Do we even get tornadoes in Vermont?
Then fire and ash struck from the sky, a boulder the size of a car slamming the ground next to me.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
The first sentence certainly makes a big splash. It lets us know right off the bat that something big is on the horizon, but it feels somewhat cliché. As I read this first page, my developmental editing instincts kicked in and I found myself restructuring the page so that the story opened with the fire and ash falling from the sky. The existing first sentence is a generic scrap of foreshadowing, but the fire and ash are vivid. Of course, restructuring in this fashion would eliminate the classroom scene, so it’s a tough call to make, especially if the bearded guy is going to be a central figure later in the story. If you decide to keep the structure as is, rework the first sentence so that it stands out on a shelf of other post-apocalyptic YA fiction.
This first page makes effective use of minute details. The flickering bulb is a really effective device. It reads to me like a subtle harbinger of the imminent chaos, and I like it much better than the “end of the world” anvil at the beginning of the chapter. There’s also the “tornado girl” and her midwestern twang. (Note: You can delete “in her accent” in that sentence. It’s implied in the “twang.” Similarly, you can delete “aloud” from “said aloud” when the bearded guy speaks. Again, it’s implied by the word “said.”) Infuse the story with lots of details like this. They make for a much more immersive reading experience.
I’m assuming that the University of Rutland is a fictional setting. If memory serves me, the only college in Rutland is the College of St. Joseph. (Incidentally, I drove through Rutland just a few weeks ago.) I initially questioned the idea of a fall break, as this wasn’t the norm back in my day. Some quick research told me that a lot of colleges have been adding them, though, so I learned something new!
Consider doing more to root your reader in the setting. As Raquel is walking across the quad, mention the Green Mountains or, if it’s early October, the fall foliage or the first frost. (Also, in case any readers wanted an answer to Raquel’s unspoken question in the second-to-last paragraph: A tornado touched down in Vermont earlier this year. It’s a rare event, but even the northeast isn’t immune to twisters.)
Lastly, I think that Raquel needs more dimension. All we know about her is that she’s stayed out late partying and that, for reasons unclear, it’s “time” for her to find a boyfriend. If readers are to connect with her character, I think she has to aspire to something more than a romantic relationship. She has to bring something of her own to the table for two reasons: 1) to differentiate her from the sea of nondescript heroines in the YA marketplace, and 2) so that any romantic relationship in her future doesn’t fall flat. There has to be more at stake for her internally than a vague desire to find a boyfriend. It goes without saying that you care deeply about your heroine, so the name of the game is bringing out the pieces of her (both good and bad) that will resonate most deeply with readers.