Friday, July 19, 2013

First Page Friday

Today's First Page Friday sample was so interesting to me and Ms. Shreditor's remarks made it doubly so. I can't wait to hear what you think of it.

If you would like your first page critiqued by a national editor, please submit your double-spaced 12 pt. font first page to with First Page Friday in the subject line.  There are two openings for August.

As always, thank you to Ms. Shreditor and to our authors for their time and effort.  See you next week!

The Entry
An Uncommon Blue
by Ryan Hancock

There are three unspoken rules in high school rugby.

1. Your team members are family.

2. You support your family.

3. This support must be shown periodically with an affectionate slap on the backside.

After four years as the starting right winger, I had almost gotten used to this.

Almost. At least I no longer felt the urge to bloody my teammates' noses when they tried it. But in the middle of the hall? No way. During school hours my glutes were off limits.

I whirled around to explain this to whichever of my idiotic team members was behind me.

Instead, I found myself face to face with an attractive redhead.

“Hey, Bruno,” Drea said with a smirk. “Ready for the test?”

I opened my mouth but no sound came out.

Even with her super-short hair, Drea was stunning. Before last summer she’d often been mistaken for a boy. But that all ended when puberty hit. With both fists.

I recovered from my embarrassment enough to nod.

She leaned against the lockers. Her face reflected the light from her blue palm as she twisted an earring. “History should be a breeze compared to pre-calc. I wanted to stab myself in the eye when I got to that section on antiderivatives.”

I grunted and fumbled with my combination.

Without warning she came up close and spoke in a half-whisper. Her hair smelled like coconut. “I know someone that likes you. If you hurry up with that lock, we might have time to talk before the final.”

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

I’ve read this first page several times to collect my thoughts. At first glance, it looks great because it’s clean as a whistle. I might tweak the punctuation here and there, but there aren’t any egregious proofreading errors. The author clearly took the time to proofread this before submitting, a vital step in the submission process.
When I read through the second time, my inner developmental editor awoke and started evaluating the structure of the sample. Before long, I was mentally rearranging various components of the story to create a stronger opening. The issue here is that the first page throws two hefty plot points at us without lingering on either one for long: rugby and Drea.
Starting the story with the three rules of high school rugby suggests to the reader that this is the master plot in this book. Is this correct? If not, if Bruno’s relationship with Drea (and the unnamed girl who has a crush on him) is actually the main event, then you might consider opening with that and weaving in the rugby later. As is, we get only the briefest of primers on the narrator’s status as a rugby player before the story rapidly diverts into Drea’s orbit. This makes the rules of rugby at the beginning feel a bit gratuitous—more like an attempt to engage the reader with a Fight Club–esque breakdown of rules than an actual gateway into the story.
I tend to be a character-driven reader, and I don’t feel like I really connected with Bruno. If we clear away the rugby and his crush on Drea, what do we know about him? This is actually a good gauge for all writers of fiction. If you strip the story of its external plot points, what is left of your protagonist? Is there some meaty internal conflict? Where does this person’s humanity lie? His weaknesses? These are seeds you want to plant from the very beginning to give the reader an immediate understanding of the person driving this narrative bus. Right now, Bruno is somewhat of a blank slate.
At the line editing level: Be careful not to develop what I call the “one-liner” tic. I counted ten one-sentence paragraphs on this page. This can be a hard habit to break. You’re trying to build up the level of suspense, and paragraph breaks can certainly punctuate the story at key moments. But you should rely on this tactic sparingly. The mounting suspense has to come from more than just strategically placed paragraph breaks.
I’d recommend revisiting this first page and thinking about the most important things your reader needs to know from the outset. I’ve been tough on this week’s sample because I want to coax it out of its YA romance boilerplate and into something that will stand out on a shelf. This author writes well, so it’s a matter of turning this into a rich, fully realized first-person story. 


KaseyQ said...

Great first page, and I never fail to learn something new on First Page Fridays! Awesome.

Debra Erfert said...

I always learn something very useful on First Page Fridays' submissions. This one is no exception. Great critique!

Jaida Hancock said...

This is Ryan's wife. He is still at work and unable to comment right now. But, he wanted me to relay his gratitude for this indispensable advice. Thanks so much for taking the time. :)