Friday, April 20, 2012

First Page Friday

I took into account all of your suggestions yesterday and I contacted some writer friends. You will not believe the amazing prizes we will be offering for my blog's first birthday! Books, critiques, character naming, I've got it all. I'm so excited. Thank you all for your opinions.

As you all know, it's First Page Friday! I just wanted to remind all of you why we only do one page. When I was at a writer's conference, there was a panel of agents and editors who all agreed that if the writing doesn't catch their attention by the first page, they reject it. That's why I started First Page Fridays so we could make our first pages the very best they can be by having them critiqued by two amazing national editors. I know I've learned a lot over the past year of reading First Page Fridays and I hope you have, too. So, let's get right to it.  

The Entry 
by Rick Fowler

It was her silent affirmation that kept her from going completely insane. Rachel knew this weekend would be fine. After all, hadn’t Tom headed to their Upper Peninsula cabin to ice fish with his buddies for the past twelve years without any hint of trouble? Yet something was bothering her. Maybe it was just the snowy forecast, the call for “unusual weather”, that the local station had predicted that had her on edge. Then again, maybe it was the fact that Tom had left far earlier for this excursion then in years past, and she hadn’t had the chance to kiss him goodbye.

“Ah, I’m just being silly. If something important happens he can get to a phone”, and she shrugged her shoulders and headed out the door and into steady, wet January snowfall. “God, winters suck”…

This, the final weekend of a Michigan January brought with it howling Canadian based winds and enough snow to keep the plow guys in overtime heaven. Outside the small Upper Peninsula cabin swirls of wind whipped snow began to pile up against the sliding doors on the northern exposure of the cabin, and crystal formations began to take shape on most of the single pane windows.

There was a soft glow from the interior of the sixty-five-year old structure and every so often a whoop and a groan emanated from the occupants inside. The weathered, cedar door, the main entrance to the cabin, was pushed open and the accumulating snows caused some resistant at first. Eventually the door opens and a figure emerges clad in long underwear, a black down vest with boots and a brown wool hat pulled tightly over the ears.

“It’s a fricking blizzard out here! This is what they call a slight chance of snow? Fricking weatherman!” Tom hollered to no one in particular. The man struggled against the wind and gusts until he reached an area clear of the stoop and the door, and relieved himself quickly. After cursing the weatherman, nature and his inability to maneuver through the building snowdrifts, he struggled to the front porch. After making a few swipes with the sole of his boots, he opened the slightly warped door and entered.

“Holy crap, Tom! What did you do-fall in a snow bank?” Kevin, one of the other inhabitants of the cabin asked as the man shoved his way in from the elements.

“You won’t believe the amount of snow that has fallen in the past hour. It’s a raging blizzard. We’re not getting out of here tomorrow.” Tom brushed the wet globs of snow from his hat and then from his damp underwear as he made his way into the lower level of the cabin. “I should have just taken a leak inside. Now I’m freezing.”

With the gloomy assessment of the weather situation made to everyone inside, Tom headed for the wooden table, which served as the dining area on most nights. “Okay, the good news is we brought enough wood in, we have a fridge full of cold ones and enough food to feed an army for weeks. The bad news? We aren’t getting out on the ice tonight and probably not tomorrow. You guys won’t believe the intensity of that wind.”

Kevin opened the doors to the fireplace insert and threw in an aged log from the pile by the hearth. “So! We have food, drink and stories to tell. What’s the matter with that? If we don’t get out tomorrow who cares? Hey Kenny, get some more wood in will you?”

Buzz, had been busy respooling an ice reel in the living room, but was now listening to the conversation in the other room. “Hey Tom, did you bring the cards? Let’s get a game going. C’mon, clear off the table, get the chips and let’s pop a couple of cold ones. I’ll be done with this in just a second. If we can’t get out on the ice, let’s at least play some poker.”

The hurricane winds continued to pound the log cabin and the drifts took on the appearance of mini-mountains as they swirled up and around the cabin and onto the roof. The only signs that permeated life from this domain was the smoke exiting the chimney which was quickly rushed away by the mounting winds and the yellow soft rays illuminating over the table which now housed four ice fishermen turned poker players.

Kenny got up and rubbed the now frosted windowpane free to look out at the wintry scene. “Blackjack, blackjack, does anyone know any other games?  

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

This week’s sample provides me with a valuable opportunity to revisit submissions guidelines. I pasted the text from Julie’s e-mail into Microsoft Word and found that it was single-spaced and about a page and a half long. The word count is 763.

I’m actually grateful that this sample weighs in at the equivalent of nearly two and a half pages in a printed book (assuming fairly tight text layout and minimal white space, or 320 words per page). Here we’ve stumbled upon a teachable moment.

In most Shreditor columns, I dissect the text itself to address issues of continuity, characterization, plausibility, syntax, spelling, and grammar. A clean first page, after all, will likely score points with an acquiring editor. However, if you don’t want to end up in the slushpile before the editor has read a single word, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve read the submissions guidelines carefully. Julie’s submission guidelines for the weekly critique column call for one double-spaced page. It’s difficult, therefore, to assess this as a first page, as this sample is actually two and a half double-spaced pages.

The writing is quite descriptive and paints a clear picture of the inclement weather, but this sample could benefit from a strong copy edit. There are a lot of grammatical and punctuation issues that distract from the overall quality of the writing.

I’m struggling with the structure. Rachel’s section seems somehow detached from the rest of the sample, more like a prologue than part of the first chapter. Most of this excerpt unfolds from Tom’s point of view. You might consider pulling out Rachel’s segment, expanding it, and turning it into its own chapter. I’m generally not a fan of prologues, so I wouldn’t advise the use of one here. But characters needs to make a strong impression from the beginning, and that’s difficult to accomplish when the story starts with a short scene featuring one character and segues abruptly into a longer scene featuring another.

While we’re on the subject of perspective, let’s talk about Tom. While we’re privy to Rachel’s thoughts and feelings about the storm, there’s a narrative chasm between us and Tom. Although his point of view commands much of the first few pages, we experience none of his thoughts and feelings. We learn nothing about him. Instead, we meet Kevin, Buzz, and Kenny in rapid succession without proper introductions. The story first mentions Buzz and Kenny as if we somehow already know them, with no transitions or introductory details to help acquaint us with them. Only Kevin gets a proper introduction as one of the cabin inhabitants.

My comments are running long this week, so I’ll sum up here: 1) Reconsider the structure of this story. Multiple character perspectives can be a beast, so it’s important to nail down a cohesive structure early on. Some writers find it easier to switch perspectives from chapter to chapter instead of from scene to scene. This structure minimizes reader confusion and allots the principal characters equal face time. 2) Regardless of which character kicks off the story, he or she must make a strong first impression. Expose the reader to the character’s mind as you did with Rachel. You know your characters more intimately than anyone in the world, and the first page should be a first step toward helping the readers get just as close. 3) Pay close attention to submission guidelines if you want to steer clear of the slushpile.

Thank you so much to everyone who participates each week. You are much appreciated. See you next time!


Debra Erfert said...

About halfway through I felt it was running too long, and knowing Ms. Shreditor for almost a whole year now, I figured she'd bring up the length as being a significant problem. Thank you!

I agree with Ms. Shreditor about leaving off Rachel's POV at the beginning. Those two paragraphs could easily come in elsewhere. And if they were there only to let the reader know that the weather being unusual, then it is redundant after Tom says the same thing. I also got lost when the POV changed and there wasn't a clear signifier that it had changed scenes.

The introduction of characters is always difficult, but enjoyable. I love giving them "life" with a quick physical description or quirk, just enough to lift them off the page a little as they talk.

"Whiteout" (Yes, I gave it a title--can't help it!) sounds like an exciting, and very cold, adventure filled with frostbit toes and lack of contact with the outside world.

Randy said...

The prologue definately dragged the start of the story. I agree with the others that it should be left out.

Dialogue between the guys is catchy enough, but I don't get a feel for what kind of story this might be. It seems kind of light and airy for a serious survival in the snow sort of story. (Although slasher flicks often start out this way.)

What is it about a bunch of guys snowed in at a cabin should grab our attention? Whatever that is - you probably want to include right away so that the reader continues reading.

KaseyQ said...

I caught a change in tense at the end of the fourth paragraph as well- goes from past tense to present tense, but changes back in paragraph 5.