Friday, September 20, 2013

The Last First Page Friday

It is with some sadness that I announce today is the last First Page Friday.  We have been down in submissions for a while and we didn't have any others for the month.  After consulting with our amazing editors, we came to the conclusion that this feature has run its course.  (We've been doing it for over two years now.) I have learned so much and have been so grateful to the authors who have submitted their work and to Ms. Shreditor, Angela Eschler, and Heidi Brockback.  I really am indebted to these women for donating their expertise to help aspiring authors. I will miss working with them.  

I'm not sure what will replace First Page Friday yet, so if you have any ideas, let me know.  Thank you for being such great bloggy friends.  

See you next week!

The Entry
by Kasey Tross

Kate opened her closet door and pulled out the garment bag. She laid it on the big canopy bed and unzipped the front to check its contents, trying to ignore the muffled undertones of the intense conversation going on in her parents' bedroom next door. Half the time she preferred it when they just yelled so she could at least hear which issue they were arguing about.

She pulled out the bib number from her last horse show and tossed it onto her desk, then fished around in the bottom of the bag for the rest of her show clothes. She found them crumpled up with her boot socks inside her black velvet helmet. Catching a whiff of their aroma, she wrinkled her nose, and tossed the bundle into her dry cleaning basket to be sent out the next day. As she zipped up the now empty garment bag she heard a door slam, followed by quick footsteps across the hallway's hardwood floor. Her door flew open and her mother stormed in.

Kate glanced up in surprise as her mother walked right past her into her closet. Kate's leather luggage set began hurtling out of the doorway, and she had to jump out of the way to keep from getting bowled over by the bulky suitcases coming at her.

"Mom, what are you doing?" she asked in alarm.

Her mother marched out of the closet and began picking up the suitcases from the floor and heaving them onto the bed. "Pack," she said. "You need to pack. We're leaving."

"What are you talking about?" Kate asked. "What do you mean we're leaving?"

"We're leaving," her mother repeated. "We're moving out."

Heidi Brockbank from Eschler Editing Comments

First Impressions: 

You’ve got some great elements that have potential for a strong start. The primary one is the fighting parents. That creates instant tension. Young readers will be able to empathize with Kate’s situation, and feel concerned at the situation of a possible divorce or separation. That could definitely get their attention. Kate is also a character with some intriguing personality traits, but with a little creative rearranging, you’ll be able to add more pizzazz to the start of your story. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Clear up the confusion:

When someone pulls out a garment bag or suitcase, the first thought is that they are packing. So I had to go back over this a few times to get that Kate is actually unpacking. Which was confusing when I thought she was already packing, and then her mother tells her to pack. If Kate is just getting back from a trip, why put the bag away before she unpacks? Or has it been awhile since the last trip and she is just now getting around to unpacking? But that doesn’t track if she needed her horse-riding gear for lessons or practice. So you’ve got some logistical issues to rethink and clarify.

Getting Hooked:

Nothing terribly wrong with your start, but it doesn’t dazzle yet. We’ve got a teenage girl (I’m assuming, but you don’t give much indication, so reader is left to guess) whose antagonist parents apparently are splitting up. That’s inferred. If that’s wrong, you’ve got to clarify things for the reader. We have no idea how old Kate is. Her mom comes in and starts packing for her, which would seem to indicate she is too young to do it for herself, but the tone suggests teenager. There is a sense of too much telling. Kate does this. She does that. The mom storms in. It comes across as rather matter of fact. What you need is something to make us care more about the character and what is happening. In order to make that happen, we need more context, and it would be helpful to get Kate’s thoughts. (The only place we get them right now is in the first paragraph when we get her reaction to her parents’ fighting.)

Capitalize on Your Strengths: 

The first sentence lacks intensity. A better place to start may be with the parent’s arguing. What are they arguing about anyway? You’ve given a hint of Kate’s response—the parents obviously fight a lot, to the point where Kate has gotten a little blasé about the whole business. A fight is a natural curiosity point. Who hasn’t eavesdropped on an argument? If someone in my family is having a fight, everyone else always has ears to doors, trying to figure out what’s up. Why isn’t Kate doing that? If this is a more intense argument than usual, Kate would notice it.

What’s different about this fight that suddenly the parents are quits? Something must be different, because even spouses that are hostile and used to fighting won’t get out of their comfort zone unless there has been some escalation in their hostilities. So you could use that to crank the tension and conflict.

Show and Tell: 

Perhaps you could show more about Kate. Did she win the horse show? Why do her parents fight? Does she think it is about her (whether that’s true or not)? Is it about money? What if they are fighting over her and her horse shows? She is careless with her horse stuff which makes me think that she doesn't really care about it, but that it is more of a burden to her. She tosses her bib on the desk, her clothes are crumpled and dirty for who knows how long. There is also a lot of activity that is unnecessary, when we would rather have Kate’s thoughts: She opened the closet and pulled out the bag, she laid it on the bed, she zipped it back up, etc.

What we do know about her: Kate is a bit sloppy. She left her dirty clothes in a bag in her closet for who knows how long? And yet she has a dry cleaning basket in her room? That is an interesting contradiction. While you don’t want to slow the impact of your opening with too many extraneous details, any information that gives insight into the character or the situation is always helpful at the start. And conveying this information by helping the reader see it through the main character’s eyes is even better.

Next Steps: 

Inject some tension, conflict, and curiosity into the opening, especially the first sentence.

Show more—the parents’ fight would be a good place to start. And give more conflict.

Give us more of Kate’s thoughts and reactions. Give us a better picture of what is happening and why. Have the parents fought her whole life, or is this a more recent development?

Give us more info about Kate. Is she an only child? Does she have siblings? Is she rich? Is money tight, and stuff like the riding lessons has only put a strain on the budget? Besides a bored resignation to her parents’ fights, what else does she feel? Even if your parents have a pretty stable, happy relationship, I’d guess most kids absolutely feel sick when their parents fight. This is a subject I think everyone can identify with Kate with on some level, so use that to your advantage by getting the reader inside Kate’s head and heart and letting them experience her thoughts and feelings.

How else could you start the story? Kate coming in from a riding competition ready to share her victory, only to find her mom has already packed the bags? Kate’s mom picking her up from the airport with her packed bags already in the car? Kate coming home to walk right in on the argument? And maybe pausing in the entry way and hearing some of the confrontation?

Give us more info, period. Unless we know more about Kate, her parents, their conflict, and what spurs the mom to decide to leave, it’s hard to care deeply about the story.

I can see lots of exciting places you could take this opening. Put some of these suggestions in place, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much stronger you can make an already promising start. Good luck and happy writing!


Rebecca H. Jamison said...

I'm sorry to see First Page Friday go, but I can see that it's the right move. The editors critiqued me twice, and I learned a lot each time. Plus, I learned from the other critiques. Thank you for doing it!

~T~ said...

How about Last Page Friday? Ha, ha...

Thanks for doing this. I've learned a lot. After two years, my own first page is no closer to being ready to critique, but someday I'll remember all the good advice!

KaseyQ said...

Awesome! Thank you so much for the critique, and I’m sorry that I am the last victim- er- volunteer! Your suggestions are great and I am excited to play around with it and see how I can make it work.

By the way, I hadn’t really thought about how she treated her riding stuff as making it seem like she didn’t care...that’s just how my riding stuff always ended up after my competitions, LOL! That’s why it’s so important to have another point of view. ;-)

KaseyQ said...

P.S. Julie, thank you so much for offering this here on your blog. First Page Fridays was one of the internet’s hidden gems for writers, and I just wish more people would have taken advantage of it because it’s AWESOME! I’ll miss it!

Debra Erfert said...

Has it really been two years? Wow! It has been an amazing run. Your editors have given us some wonderful critiques. I've learned so much. I'll truly miss First Page Friday. This was a great way to have that contact with a national editor.

Kristine Nielson said...

I'm sad to see it go, too. I suppose I'm part of the problem, though, as I never submitted a page for critique. Big thanks to you, Julie and to the editors for doing this. Two years is a good, long run.