Friday, June 28, 2013

First Page Friday & An Announcement

Today we have an announcement from Eschler Editing to kick off our First Page Friday.

Greetings, Writerly Friends!

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of the new and improved Eschler Editing! We’ve added some exciting features to our website and made good on our plans for bringing you fantastic content when it comes to everything writing, editing, and publishing related.
Every week we’ll be bringing you a brand-spanking-new blog post on critical topics to get you ready for publishing. Here’s a sneak peak at upcoming content:

·         Writing Craft help for fiction and nonfiction

·         Industry Insights to help you successfully navigate through the confusing and often frustrating world of publishing

·         Thursday Therapy posts to keep you inspired, motivated, and de-stressed when it comes to your writing goals

·         Editor’s Nightstand posts to share what our team recommends in terms of resources, breakthrough reads, and insightful publications

·         Effective + Efficient marketing tips, because we know that while promoting will demand some of your attention, it’s not why you write

Craving insight on something specific? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line here with your requests and recommendations.

Loving our style and have something to contribute? Even better! We’re always on the hunt for guest bloggers on anything and everything writing related. Send us a message here with your post pitch and background info.

And last but not least: We’re kicking off an exciting raffle, just for you. When you join our mailing list, you’ll automatically be entered to win a free hour of editorial help from our team of experts--be it brainstorming feedback, help with your hook or query, or just some free editing!

So be sure to head on over to the new site and sign up for our weekly newsletter (  to get stellar tips and a chance to win!

Hoping to hear from you soon,

Angela and the Team

That sounds so great, doesn't it? I love Eschler Editing and I'm so grateful for the help they give our authors every First Page Friday. Today we have a wonderful entry and I learned a lot about tweaking just a little to really bring a first page up to potential. As always, thank you to our author, JT Spell and to Eschler Editing for all their hard work. See you next week!

The Entry
Silver Mine
by JT Spell

Silver reached for the blaring klaxon of her cell phone going off at 11:30 p.m. These calls are never good. She took a deep breath then answered it.

“Silver here.” She tried to make it sound like she hadn’t just been asleep.

“Good. We have a driver on his way to pick you up from your house. He will probably arrive at oh-one-hundred hours.”

The Chief omitting his opening banter meant a tense situation.

“I guess that means I don’t get a choice on this one? What should I pack, Chief?” She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and rolled gracefully out of bed, an art she had plenty of practice with. She turned on the light and went to the closet. She pulled out her carry-on pack and opened it up on the rumpled bed.

“You know I can’t give you the details over the phone, but I’d suggest picking out some cool weather gear. Also, your passport.”

Passport? I hardly ever travel internationally. What’s going on?

“Chief, I’m putting you on speaker so I can prep while we talk. There’s no one else here.”

She looked over at her golden lab, rolling over and opening one sleepy eye at her.

“Except JJ,” she added. The mature dog whined and complained in a long monologue before standing on the covers, turning around and around and settling back in.

Comments from Eschler Editing

What’s working:
  • You’ve got a cool name for your character. It’s definitely unique. It catches your attention, makes you wonder if it’s a given, nick, or surname. Silver conjures images of metal, knives, quicksilver. This character could be law enforcement, military, or even a supernatural crime-fighter (think silver bullet). At this point, I don’t know anything about what genre I’m in, but your choice of name has me thinking. That’s what you want.
  • I also like your choice of syntax. You’ve got a nice mix of attention getting words (klaxon), words that convey texture and energy (banter, prep), and words used in an unexpected fashion (the dog’s monologue).
  • Finally, you’ve given some interesting hints and clues about the setting and character. We’re guessing at this point, but it seems possible that she’s an officer or agent of some kind, although we don’t know for sure. That’s part of the fun of a story – using little details and clues to build up a theory of what is happening, who the character is, what the problem is going to be. A good writer can give enough clues that the reader can accurately predict some events, and at the same time, keep enough mystery that there’s room for surprise.

Things that need tweaking:
  • The Chief omitting his opening banter meant a tense situation. The first assumption is that this is a direct thought because it is in italics. However, this does not sound like Silver’s thought. First off, the wording is in the wrong tense. Even in a past tense narrative, italicized thought is generally in present tense: The Chief omitting his opening banter means a tense situation.

    If you don’t italicize, this would work fine because readers will recognize that it’s what she’s thinking. But by putting it into italics, there’s an unspoken assumption that we are getting her thoughts in real time, and that is best done in present tense. Secondly, she wouldn’t think like that. It’s too formal. It’s more likely she would think something like: Something’s wrong. The chief never starts a conversation without joking. Or Crap, the Chief sounds tense.

  • Passport? I hardly ever travel internationally. What’s going on? Again, this is not what a person would think. We wouldn’t need to remind ourselves that we never travel internationally, as we would know that. Passport? What’s going on? is enough to give us a sense that she usually doesn’t need it. The whole I hardly ever travel internationally sounds like you are feeding us information (which you are) because we won’t get it if you don’t, but we do. Give your reader the benefit of the doubt wherever you can. It cuts down wordy explanation, and makes the reader think. At the same time, it keeps the opening moving along briskly. Don’t put in any unnecessary verbiage that will bog the reader down.

  • Chief, I’m putting you on speaker so I can prep while we talk. There’s no one else here. This sounds like she is saying it is okay for him to give her information, but he just said it wasn’t. At this point I am thinking she is a spy of some type and I wouldn’t be worried about someone in the room hearing them talk, but actually that the phone was tapped. If she’s a professional, she should be thinking along these lines, and wouldn’t make an amateur move like that. The point of this dialogue is a little lost on me—how does it contribute to plot or character development?

  • She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and rolled gracefully out of bed, an art she had plenty of practice with. She turned on the light and went to the closet. She pulled out her carry-on pack and opened it up on the rumpled bed. She rubbed, she turned, she pulled. This is a trap every writer falls into occasionally. I call it a laundry list—just a list of activities or events, recounted without sentence variation. The good news is that this is an easy writing problem to solve. Just be sure to vary your sentences as you write—using different beginnings, lengths, and structure. Intersperse short, snappy sentences with longer compound sentences. Keep on the active side of the fence, but throw in an occasional passive phrase to keep things interesting. Mix dialogue with action, internal monologue with narrative exposition. Make one sentence lean and mean and fill the next with piquant details. There is a cadence and rhythm to writing, and you’ll add your own style and flair, but once you master this skill, you’ll be able to do it almost subconsciously. And even if you have to think about it from time to time, it will still result in a more interesting, dynamic telling of your story.

  • The mature dog whined and complained in a long monologue before standing on the covers, turning around and around and settling back in.A car is on its way to get Silver and she needs to pack fast. This line made me think that she is watching the dog do all this, but she doesn’t have time. I like the detail in this line, but it contradicts the feeling you’re trying to impress on the reader—that something dicey is about to go down, that time is of the essence, that intrigue is lurking around the corner. This line will be great—after you’ve got the reader under your spell. First you need to focus on increasing the tension, the sense of danger, of something wrong in the universe that must be set right.

  • There is some tension and conflict in this first scene, but it seems more told than shown. Silver doesn’t seem too concerned about this assignment. Even though her first thought is that it’s a tense situation, nothing that follows is tense. It’s great that you are trying to create a sense that something is wrong. Go ahead and crank that up. Be more direct. Give us more usable information. Is she already on a case? If so, maybe she has an inkling of what the chief is going to say. That could be shown in her thoughts.

Another option would be to start with the crime scenario. This story feels like it’s going to be a murder mystery, a thriller, or a spy novel. Start with the crime, the terrorist act, the body, the victim’s last minutes. They all move your story from zero to sixty in three seconds. If you start here with Silver, tell less and show more. Find something besides direct thought to reveal her. How does her body react, or not react in expected ways (involuntary physiology), what are her expectations, can the dialogue reveal more hints at what’s going on without spelling it out?

Your next steps:

You’ve got the potential for an interesting beginning. Little changes can make a big difference at the start of any story. Consider ways to wrap internal thought into the narrative. The best way to do this is simply as past tense statements of fact. When done correctly, this comes across smoothly as internal dialogue without the necessity of using italics every time you want to show what the character thinks or feels about something. For example: “The Chief never started a conversation without at least five minutes of banter—something was definitely wrong.” Statements like this imply what the character is thinking or feeling, without interrupting the flow of the story. Use direct italicized thoughts more to show personality rather than just convey information: use them to show that a character is witty, sardonic, arrogant, funny, or has very unique insights on life. You can slip information in there, but if you aren’t disguising it with more interesting character development and prose, it tends to put up a flag to the reader that you’re using it to sneak info it. Which has the opposite effect of being sneaky.

Next, be sure you are starting the story at the right place. When in doubt, start with murder and mayhem (then the next scene/chapter can be where the protagonist gets his/her mission to save the world—or at least catch the killer); or start with very interesting character development while conveying what’s at stake with saving the world. Your character currently has the potential to be interesting, but her thoughts/actions aren’t yet super unique and intriguing, so this scene isn’t pulling me out of my chair just yet. (If she were to pull a swimsuit from her closet, put on a wig and put in false teeth, and was thinking about whether she could handle plane food so soon after ingesting poison, this character-focused scene would be a great place to start.)

Make sure your characters act logically within the context of the story. (For instance, if they are spies, they need to follow protocol. Silver’s actions demonstrate her awareness of possible surveillance and why important info can’t be shared over the phone.) Be sure not to give unnecessary information that the readers can deduce on their own (such as letting the passport speak for itself), and at the same time, give enough that the story heats up fast (like what profession Silver is in and what the story-worthy problem is going to be).

Finally, become aware of your sentence structure and aim for lots of variety to avoid repetition and keeping things interesting. These steps will help you create an intriguing beginning and keep your readers hooked from start to finish. Best of luck and happy writing!

*Julie's note:  For some reason I was having formatting issues today and I couldn't fix it.  Please don't let that take away from Eschler Editing's great critique.  Hopefully I'll have this figured out . . . soon.  Thank you for your patience.


Debra Erfert said...

Excuse me, I'm having a moment here. *fans self* I'm sure I read somewhere near the middle of the critique that Ms. Eschler suggested throwing in occasional passive phrases. Oh! I love this editor!!! (Yes, I'm using several exclamation points in a single paragraph.)

I agree, Silver is a fantastic name for this character. Great missions are in her future, I'm sure, and I can't wait to read them. Really, JT!

Ms. Eschler's suggestions are excellent. I definitely will bookmark Eschler Editing, and get on her mailing list. Who can't use a free hour of editorial help. Okay, maybe not you, Julie. lol.

Debra Erfert said...

Oh, and switching up the first page, or even the first chapter happens a lot after you've written the first hundred pages or so--after you've discovered where the story is going. I'm a discovery writer. Some label me a "pantser", because I don't outline every chapter, although I do have a general idea of what I want out of the book. After I'm well into the first half, I can comfortably go back and change the opening so it can do a little foreshadowing, or show something exciting that is only mentioned later in the book. That's fun.

Jon Spell said...

Whew! That was quite the critique. I'm going to need a few re-reads to ingest all of that.

I'll just start by thanking Eschler Editing for this in-depth analysis with good points to relish and bad points to improve. Whoa, Nellie. =)

Hmmm. I'll have to talk to my peers about where to start the story. There's a mistaken identity that's important for the first quarter, but showing the murder (?) would kind of ruin that point and in the end, it's really more of a thriller than a whodunnit.

I could see where a single word would interject a lot of help on the first page - you're not the first reader to think she's a spy.

Thanks again, and thanks to Julie for hosting. I'm with Debra - I'll be linking up your page to read.

KaseyQ said...

Wonderful as usual! The advice about the laundry list was really good- I think I do that sometimes. Now I’ll have to go back and check!

Debra, I know what you mean about being a “pantser”. I never thought I was one until I actually started seriously writing my book. I have an outline but then as I’m writing scenes stuff starts happening that I didn’t expect and I just have to go with it. Unnerving, but fun!

Angela said...

Loving your comments--so fun to read everyone's ideas. Thanks so much Julie for letting us read the works of your wonderful followers! Big thanks to Heidi Brockbank on this one--one of our senior editors and our projects manager.
Angela Eschler