Friday, March 15, 2013

First Page Friday

I am so glad today is Friday because that means another First Page Friday to read.  I always learn so much and hope it's helpful to you, too.  Thank you to Ellise and Ms. Shreditor for their time and effort.  If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, please see the sidebar for instructions.

See you next week!

The Entry
The Governess
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. 


Weaver Reads said...

Actually, I appreciate the feedback here. I knew it wasn't working just right. I have since determined that the entire story is in need of a fresh re-write. But thanks to Mrs. Shreditor, I have some great pointers to consider. For those of us who really do want to get it right, these critiques are invaluable.

Question: What is a beta reader? Yes, I'm putting myself out there with this question, I'm sure. :) But it doesn't help if I don't know, right? :)

Thank you, Julie and Mrs. Shreditor!

Janice Sperry said...

A beta reader is another set of eyes. Try to find a critique group or find someone who does a lot of reading to read your manuscript and point out problems.

The character does a lot of reflecting on this page. If the information is important enough to mention on the first page, then you should consider starting with the incident instead of thinking about the incident. Open with the scene where the new master crushes her dreams or whatever horrible thing he did.

Weaver Reads said...

Thank you, Janice, for answering my question. I would LOVE a critique group... Trouble is, nobody else seems to want to join one. ;)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

For my books, I have a group of beta readers that I send my manuscript to and they point out the weaknesses. Then I clean it up and workshop it with my critique group. Then I have another group of readers to read the finished product one more time for proofing errors etc. Beta readers are a really important first step for authors.

At a writing conference I was at, a group of amazing national agents and editors told us that the first page has to be stellar or they will toss it. I think that's the same for readers for the most part. If I download a sample that doesn't grab me in the first few pages, I won't buy the book. That's why First Page Friday is so good for me. I always learn a lot. :)

Weaver Reads said...

This would be amazing, Julie. I'm guessing there is a monetary investment here to get people to read your work? Or do people come out of the woodwork? :) I don't see this happening for me (besides my family reading it--which wouldn't be the best plan).

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Well, I've been in the publishing business for a long time and have built up contacts, so no, it doesn't cost me money. But you can do it, too. If you attend writers' conferences, you network with people there. You can join several different writing organizations like ANWA, or your local writing community also has a lot of groups you can connect with to find critique groups and beta readers. Here's a link to some in different states:

It's well worth your time to get beta readers and critique groups. After publishing eight books, I can tell you my writing has improved by leaps and bounds with honest critiques, as hard as they are to hear.

You can also hire editors, which does cost money. I have suggestions in my sidebar for great editors and Precision Editing gives a free ten page edit to see if you're a good fit with them.

Food for thought anyway. :)

Weaver Reads said...

Julie, I really appreciate all your help and guidance. I'm way out of my league. I'll probably just re-write and self-publish with what I decide I'm happy with.

My problems are not necessarily common. I have no money to work with and very little energy or time to devote. In fact, since I started homeschooling (will next year too--hopefully the last), I've virtually stopped writing. It's been difficult to stop, but necessary. Anyway, with no money to purchase 'help', I'm on my own. Thanks anyway. I hope you don't feel like I've wasted your time. I'm learning a lot in these ways. :)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Of course you haven't wasted my time. I have eight children and really do understand how it is to have very little time and energy. We do writing sprints on Wednesdays sometimes and we have built a little bloggy family here so I hope you'll join us now and then if you're up to it. We're always happy to help a newer author. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Even finding a critique partner could be helpful for you and then you could trade reading for her and it would be free. I hope the opportunities come along for you. :)


Weaver Reads said...

Thank you, Julie. I hope they come as well. I've helped many, many other new authors, like me, by critiquing and giving input. In fact, I'm helping two re-write their books simply because they are not solid stories yet. Not that my help will matter much, but I'm hoping it will. However, I have never had this kind of return on my time and energy, except from my sisters. Quick reads of maybe a first chapter with critiques have become my only avenue of bettering my writing. Boy! Have I learned a lot just that way. I never knew about the Point of View (POV) thingy until I put my stuff out there to be critiqued. I have appreciated what I have recieved so far. I'll keep up the writing as I can. What I'm finding, honestly, Julie, is that my own gut feelings are the best on writing (not necessarily on grammar, mechanics, etc.) I've come full circle from where I started five years ago. Yes, its improved, but the bottom line has been that what I originally had was better than what it's become. Sad reality. Not in story development, mind you, but in how I originally worded each chapter. I've listened to so many opinions that I've lost my voice. That's the primary reason I'm starting over. I want my own voice back. I know the story very well now. I will write it with that knowledge behind me, as well as applying what I've learned from those gracious enough to share their knowledge and findings. Thank you for yours!!! :)

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

You are very welcome, Ellise! :)

Debra Erfert said...

Going from one of Ms. Shreditor's critiques, I need to have something clarified. Recently I was told that the use of italics to show ones internal thoughts is not encouraged anymore--in fact it is discouraged. I still see them in newly published books, yet when I (very nearly) argued that it would be very confusing if the story being told in 3rd person POV suddenly had a few words in 1st person POV without it being shown in italics. I wasn't just (firmly) told this by one writer, but by three published authors at the ANWA conference last month, two of which were giving classes.

What do you say? What would Ms. Shreditor say?

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I emailed Ms. Shreditor and here is what she said about it:

"Where I work, it is our house style to italicize thoughts, particularly in memoirs and other narrative nonfiction. I haven't heard anything to the contrary, but go with the prevailing style preferences in your market of choice. Remember also that style guidelines vary from publisher to publisher. I know of several in the northeast that still express internal thoughts in italics. It seems like a matter of individual publisher preference, so I'm afraid I can't advise strongly one way or the other based on my own editorial experiences. If a lot of editors are telling you not to include italicized thoughts, rethink your usage of the device. But even if editors say that it's okay, use it sparingly."

Hope that helps a bit! :)

Debra Erfert said...

So in other words . . . it depends! Thanks, Julie. I appreciate the trouble you went through to find my answer. And you really did find me an answer even though you might not think so.

Personally, I like the use of italics to show internal thought, when used sparingly, but if there are too many, then I'd rather write it from the 1st person POV. I love writing in 1st person anyway.

Robert M Starr said...

New to the site and reading older posts may make my comments untimely, but, perhaps, another late arrival may stumble across them.

I can understand Weaver's frustration and weariness, but writing is work (sometimes very hard work). Criticisms hurt and finding your own voice is usually a process and by-product of writing. I used Louis L'Amour's voice in my first story without knowing what voice was. A friend won a contest with a story he wrote using Sue Grafton's voice, and she presented the award to him.

Helping others with their writing can sometimes be frustrating, especially when those people fail to reciprocate. But mutual efforts can be very beneficial. A book I helped to edit recently won the non-fiction Grand Prize in a book contest. After another author wrote an extensive critique of my novel, Until Shiloh Comes, the resulting rewrite led to a Certificate of Merit as a finalist in the fiction category of the same contest.

I learned to appreciate good books through reading. I am learning to write good books by writing. When someone suggests a way I can improve, I evaluate the suggestion, then I do the rewrites in my own voice.

Regarding italics for internal dialogue, I've not seen it done any other way.

As for writing in first person, one of my stories demanded it. A Walk in the Wilderness is the story of three people struggling to survive a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. It is told from the perspective of the pilot, a non-believer struggling with bitterness at the faith of his passengers, two sisters who appreciate his efforts on their behalf yet place their trust in God for rescue. A jungle survival expert out of his element in the frozen wilderness, the pilot must hide his resentment to keep morale high, so the internal conflict in his coming to faith must be told first person, as much in his narration and occasional internal dialogue as in conversation with the two young ladies.