See you next week!
by Ellise Weaver
Just yesterday, Miss Carly Blakemore had arrived at Huntington Manor, and already she hated it. Why must I have chosen this post above all others! Because there had been no other governess postings, she reminded herself. Humph! She paced around her room in an effort to calm herself. “He is intolerable!” Pacing didn’t seem to be working.
Her situation was pitiable, yet so many like her found themselves in this same situation. Like her sister.
Carly sat on the settee and contemplated her sister’s governess position. Was she as miserable as herself? Dear Father! Please, no! Please, bless Susannah to be happy. Please, bless her to have a wonderful situation. Mine is only wretched because I work for a… Carly didn’t dare finish her thoughts. Instead, she continued her prayers in earnest.
Only her second day, she considered how insufferable her time here at this manor might become. Oh! I must pray more! Her latest battle had become sore from the knowledge that her new master only wished to study her over these next few days in order to obtain a feel for her; in other words, she might not keep her position.
“He is going about this all wrong! Doesn’t he know better?” she stomped her foot. Why did he have to watch her as if she was some laboratory experiment? Couldn’t he see that she was a good person? That she would teach his children well? She felt wretched. How could she function in such a household? Would she even be given the chance to try?
“This is maddening!” To think she could still be sent from here was too much. There was no other place for her to go. How could she endure this constant worry? Carly knelt and prayed for what seemed like hours. She must not give up hope in all that she had overcome. She must believe in the answers to prayer that she had already received.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
This first page relies heavily on italicized thoughts that give us a first-person glimpse into Carly’s mind. I would recommend using this device sparingly, because a reader can get whiplash from a narrative that sways back and forth between perspectives. In the first paragraph alone, we have two italicized thoughts. These are distracting at a time when it’s crucial to snare and sustain reader attention. In the first instance, it feels like the wrong sentence gets the emphasis. It might read better like this: “Why had she chosen this post above all others? Because there were no other governess postings, she reminded herself.” I’d strongly suggest ditching the “humph” altogether. I’m not sure this is the first impression that you want your heroine to make. The emphatic indignation (plus her frustrated one-liners and foot-stomping) makes her feel a little histrionic, almost as if she is throwing a tantrum. I’m sure that’s not the intention here, so try not to overdo it when describing her frustration.
Back to perspective: If scaling back the first-person perspective feels uncomfortable or even unnatural, that might be a sign that the entire story should be written in the first person. I may have to dodge tomatoes on this one. I know that people have mixed feelings about first-person narratives, but plenty of great books have been written in the first person. Sometimes, a story simply demands it. [Aside: The Japanese have an entire subgenre of books written in the first person called “I-Novels.”
Think hard about characterization. This first page does offer up some key biographical details about Carly: her trial position as a governess, her faith, her disdain for her master, and her separation from her sister. However, I wonder if Susannah is introduced too soon. We get only a paragraph of Carly’s story before the attention shifts to Susannah, a secondary character who is not immediately present at this stage in the story. Susannah does fulfill a greater purpose here: Carly’s prayer about her tells us how unhappy she is in her new position and how much she dislikes her master. Still, later paragraphs re-emphasize these points, so consider moving the first mention of Susannah elsewhere to keep the first-page focus on Carly’s immediate conflict.
Make careful use of dialogue on a first page. We get a few exclamations from Carly (i.e., “He is intolerable!”; “He is going about this all wrong!”; and “This is maddening!”). These one-liners lend voice to a frustration we already know exists, so I’m not sure they’re necessary. If Carly is alone, there’s no need for her to say much out loud.
My guess is that Carly will fall in love with her difficult master. The story has a Jane Eyre kind of vibe. Novels starring would-be lovers who initially dislike one another have kept the romance market healthy for centuries. I hammer home this point a lot, but it bears repeating here: Make sure that your characters are distinctive and that you offer a unique spin on charted territory. There is nothing wrong with taking on an age-old storyline; there’s a reason Jane Eyre–type stories still sell. But developing a fresh take on an old idea can be challenging, so call upon beta readers to highlight elements that might be cliché. Beta reading and manuscript critiques take time, but they pay huge dividends. Your book will come away from the process much closer to the finish line.