Friday, April 19, 2013

First Page Friday

It's Friday so that means another installment of First Page Friday!  Hooray!  A day when we can sit at the feet of a national editor and learn how to polish our work.

Thank you so much to Ms. Shreditor and to Peggy for their hard work.  If you'd like to have your first page critiqued, please follow the guidelines in the sidebar.

See you next week!

The Entry
Choices Made
by Peggy Anne Allred

Two years ago, I made a choice that would forever shape my future. I could have chosen the easier path, full of family and friends, living in the peace of Camelot’s third age.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I agreed to go back in time.

Legends said that the Annihilation filled with the world with death and destruction, crushing human civilization so thoroughly that archaeologists still labored to find history within the stories that survived.

But hope was also in those stories, tales of the second age of Camelot when King Arthur and the Knights of the New Dawn rode forth to return honor, justice, and chivalry to the land.

That sounds exciting. Important. Noble.


Moments ago Merlin told me a secret about legends and stories. He said that living during a time of legends just proves how wrong they are and that even supposedly accurate histories could be very different than you expected.

I’m not sure why he chose to tell me only moments before sending me back to the 21st century. Had he feared that knowing would turn me from the harder path? Or did he hide this truth because he himself had come from the future?

It’s too late to ask.

As I stand in a tangle of spells that glowed brighter every second, I wonder which path I would have chosen if Merlin had revealed his secret when this began. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter anyway. The spell is cast, my choice made.

I hope it was the right one.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

First, I’d like to address the use of verb tense in this piece. In most cases, you want to pick the present or past (or, if you’re feeling really experimental, the future) tense and stick with it. However, a skilled writer can shift between tenses. Here, we have a narrator who exists in the present and reflects on the past, and the writer is able to navigate pretty efficiently between the two. However, there are some hiccups. The beginning of the piece tells us that the narrator made his or her key choice two years ago, and at the very end he or she wonders if that choice was the right one. However, the casting of the spell (which I assume to be the choice made two years ago) unfolds in the present tense. This page will need some tweaking to address these tense issues.

One trend here concerns me: the use of short paragraphs. This can be a very effective mode of suspense building when used sparingly. However, it can become more of a tic when used to excess. You can build suspense effectively in other ways—with language, with sentence structure, even with punctuation—without constantly interrupting the flow of your narrative with short paragraphs.

With that in mind, consider restructuring/consolidating the first three paragraphs. Here’s my suggestion: “Two years ago, I could have chosen an easier path, full of family and friends, living in the peace of Camelot’s third age. But I didn’t. Instead, I agreed to go back in time.” Notice the changes to the first sentence. I cut “I made a choice that would forever shape my future” because it’s somewhat cliché and implied in the text that follows. Restructuring this way emphasizes at the outset that the narrator was once at a crossroads.

One copyediting note: Avoid “different than.” “Different” isn’t a comparative adjective; therefore, it shouldn’t precede “than.” In most cases, something is different from something else. So you might recast the sentence this way: “...accurate histories could be very different from what you expected.” The syntax in this sentence is a bit muddy overall, so consider trimming unnecessary words/phrases so that the reader cannot mistake its meaning.

Reimaginings and retellings of classic tales are hot right now, particular in the YA market. This reimagining of Arthurian legend can work if it 1) reflects a fluent knowledge of the original story, 2) provides a fresh take on a classic character or plot point, and 3) manages to be more than just fan fiction. (Though perhaps the meteoric rise of repurposed, “pulled to publish” Twilight fan fiction nullifies my third point. But that’s another column for another day.) If you haven’t done so already, consider reading other retellings to get a sense of how other authors have navigated charted territory. The writing here is generally quite good, so the challenge will be offering a fresh-but-faithful take on a classic.


Shanda Cottam said...

Sounds like a book I would enjoy reading. Great start, Peggy!

Jon Spell said...

This sounds like the sort of book Connie Willis would write. =) I am a little confused about the tense as well. This fragment : "sending me back to the 21st century" could be interpreted as back into the past, the 21st century (told from some future time) OR (told from the past time) as back to my normal time in the 21st century.

Fish out of water stories can be lots of fun. Connecticut Yankee, anyone?

Has potential. =)

Debra Erfert said...

Thank you, thank you, Ms. Shreditor! I'm not a fan of short paragraphs, and you just validated my point. There is a place for them, but a steady diet won't do!

Please forgive my ignorance here, but what is future tense? I've seen that used twice in a singe day, and I have no idea what it is. Or maybe I do, but I don't realize it.

Jon, I loved A Connecticut Yankee in King Author's Court with Bing Cosby. *sighs*

Peggy :) said...

Thank you, Ms. Shreditor, for the wonderful critique. I very much appreciate you taking the time to give feedback on all the First Page Fridays submissions. I always find your comments quite valuable.

If you just happen to read the comments, I'd love to know what you think about making this first page in present tense. (With the exceptions, of course, of when she is describing events in the past or the future. Note, the rest of the book is in past tense.)

Julie, my thanks to you, too. It is really great to get feedback like this and it is, of course, thanks to you. :)

@Shanda Cottam - Me, too! That's why I'm writing it. :)

@Jon Spell - Thank you for the compliment! (i.e. The Connie Willis comment.) I suspect that the back of the book would clarify the 21st century issue. But in case you were curious, this book is a young adult urban fantasy and the main character is from 1500 years in the future. :)

@Debra Efert - Super quick story hooks seem to be really big in YA right now. More white space is often desirable in YA as well. This first page with its short paragraphs is something of an experiment designed to snag the reader. It may be changed quite drastically by the final draft.

Future Tense - describing something that has not happened yet, but is expected to happen. In English, the verb is usually preceded by "will."

Example: Next month Ann will be sixteen years old.