Friday, June 7, 2013

First Page Friday

So excited it's Friday.  I'm hoping for a long relaxing weekend with my new novel.  I'm glad Ms. Shreditor talked about dialogue today since that's something I'm working on in Bart's story.

As always, if you would like your first page critiqued please follow the guidelines in the sidebar.  Thank you to Kara and Ms. Shreditor for their time and effort.

See you next week!

The Entry
A Gate Called Beautiful
by Kara McKenzie

Claudia pushed a tangled mass of dark hair behind her shoulders, eyes fixed on the road leading to Capernaum, the small fishing town on the Sea of Galilee miles north of Jerusalem. Leaning against a large boulder in a rock-strewn area, she gripped her cup tighter, while people walked past toward the synagogue for afternoon prayer. Her voice rang out from sunken cheeks.

“Alms! For the poor! Alms! For the poor!” she cried. When she received no response, she smiled at the people on the clay-packed trail, a yearning in her eyes.

Her smile drew wider despite the hot, muggy day. Could one of them look this way? An ache struck deep within her eager for a smile, or to hear a soft-spoken word. She touched the twisted foot that made her unclean and smoothed out the folds in her wrinkled tunic and frowned.

Hearing a familiar voice from behind, she smiled and spun around expectantly. Baruch? She thought it was her friend by the sound of his voice, his enlarged chest making it difficult for him to breathe.

“How much in coins this day, Claudia?”

The beat of camels hoofs clomping along the road, sheep bleating on their way to the temple for sacrifice and the soft jingle of coins dropping into beggar’s cups half-drowned out his voice. “Not many, Baruch. And yet I’m hoping Adonai, the Lord, will provide. Although I wasn’t expecting much, after fifteen years of living on the streets and knowing how it is. They seem to take little notice of us.”

She averted her eyes from Baruch’s misshapen body covered in muddy, ragged clothes and a frown drew across her brow when she noticed the cloth tied to his feet with a piece of rope for sandals.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This sample’s greatest strength is its descriptiveness. The author taps into multiple senses to craft a vivid opening scene. There are hooves clomping, coins jingling, and masses of dark hair. However, I think that the first paragraph could be stronger. The first sentence is a jumble of details; in one breath, we’re meeting Claudia and getting a quick geography lesson about the area. The most compelling detail we get in the first paragraph is Claudia’s sunken cheeks. I’d suggest moving this character-defining detail to the beginning, as it will pique reader curiosity right off the bat.

While we’re on the subject of the first paragraph, I want to point out how important it is that descriptions be to scale. The first sentence indicates that Capernaum is “miles north” of Jerusalem. This doesn’t accurately depict the distance between the two—Capernaum is roughly 120 miles north of Jerusalem, which would have made for a very long journey back when this story takes place. As I’ve mentioned in past columns, you never want to leave your reader with the impression that you’re unfamiliar with the location of your story, so make sure to fact-check even the smallest geographical details.

Another detail in the story confused me. The fourth paragraph says, “She thought it was her friend by the sound of his voice, his enlarged chest making it difficult for him to breathe.” Why is Baruch’s chest enlarged? Why exactly is he having trouble breathing? This isn’t immediately apparent, so consider revising for clarity. Similarly, the “ache” in the third paragraph needs to be tweaked. As the sentence currently reads, the ache feels eager for a smile, which isn’t possible. You might say, Eager for a smile or a soft-spoken word, she felt an ache deep inside.

A note about dialogue: Sometimes, knowing when to cut off dialogue can mean the difference between speech that sounds realistic and speech that sounds like a veiled information dump. In the sixth paragraph, Claudia talks to Baruch about how she wasn’t expecting much from the passersby after fifteen years of living on the streets. If the narrative is any indication, Baruch is a close friend she sees on a regular basis. So the last two sentences feel a bit superfluous here. You might try recasting like this: “Not many, Baruch. And yet I’m hoping Adonai, the Lord, will provide, although I wasn’t expecting much.” Claudia had lived on the street for fifteen years and knew how it was. Passersby rarely noticed her and Baruch. This tweaked version conveys the same information as the original without bogging down the dialogue with background information that close friends wouldn’t bring up in passing conversation.

There are some compelling elements on this first page. Claudia appears to be the classic underdog heroine, the kind of character that will always resonate with readers. I’m not certain where this story is headed, so I think it’s important to lay down a strong hook in the first paragraph. Readers don’t have to know exactly where they’re going on the first page, but it helps if they’re emotionally invested in the person who’s going to lead them there.


Unknown said...

I appreciate Ms. Shreditor's comments, and I appreciate how easily she was able to suggest changes and repairs to Kara's opening. I've read the entire story and watched as Kara has revised and rewritten the book from beginning to end. I love the story, which is now in front of an editor. I hope that editor finds it worthy of whatever additional work is needed to polish it for publication. Kara's scene of Claudia seeing Jesus, as He carries His cross to Golgotha, is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever read.

Debra Erfert said...

I also appreciate Ms. Shreditor's comments. I now understand how to use dialogue better, and more importantly, when not to use it.

Unknown said...

Thank you Ms. Shreditor. I appreciate so much getting this review for, "A Gate Called Beautiful", as it was so very helpful and all of what was suggested made perfect sense. I have already made changes and feel the book is better for it.

Shanae Branham said...

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