It's a happy day. :)
On to First Page Friday!
The Heart of Nimble Woods
by Joey DeLeen
Jack had dragged his friends in and out of trouble so often they had worn a groove there, one they knew by heart. So when he asked them all over, with that blithe tone in his voice, just to hang out, you know, like old times, each of them suspected that he was up to something, just as Jack knew they were suspicious.
But work is boring. School is boring. They were ready for a little bit of trouble.
And all Jack had to do was keep them there, in his room, long enough for the magic to happen.
He wasn't exactly sure what the magic was going to look like. But, he did know that it was going to be awesome. Better than that incident last year with the homemade explosives. Better than the time they’d filled the school swimming pool with frogs. Way better than Rick-Rolling the entire student body during the principal’s address.
It was going to top all of that. And it was going to happen at exactly 3.42pm.
Unfortunately, when he called Steve and said, let's all hang out at my place, Steve said, lunch, you reckon? And Jack thought, sure, why not, a late lunch will do and said yes.
Somehow lunch had turned into a barbecue, when Zac mentioned wistfully that he hadn't been to one all summer and Daiki agreed to bring a salad.
Which was fine, except that everyone arrived early to help. They'd all been lolling around his room since they'd stuffed themselves at noon after Steve announced he couldn't wait any more and threw all the sausages on the grill at once.
They'd played a few games on Jack's Xbox. They'd teased Steve about his girlfriend. Zac and Steve had bitched about a recent rugby game. And Daiki had casually mentioned his acceptance to some fancy overseas art school at least twice.
The talk was quieter now, winding down, and Jack was worried. It was only 3pm.
He studied his friends as he sat cross legged on his bed, toying with a roll of paper and trying to think of a way to keep them there for another half hour.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
I like the opening sentence of this piece. It establishes a clear dynamic between Jack and his friends, and it piques reader interest enough to lure them deeper into the story. However, why would Jack’s friends be suspicious of his invitation? This isn’t immediately clear to me. Have they not spent time together in a while (as “like old times” might suggest)?
Another strength here is the 3:42 p.m. element. What kind of “magic” is going to happen at that time? How does Jack know it’s coming? These are the kinds of questions that a reader should be asking at the beginning of a story—ones that demand further reading for answers.
The sequence of events toward the end of the piece confused me a bit, though. Steve invites his friends for lunch, and the story mentions that “lunch turned into a barbecue.” The details that follow don’t illustrate clearly enough how the lunch becomes a barbecue. Do several different phone conversations take place? First we have Jack on the phone with Steve, then mention of someone named Zac, and then mention of someone named Daiki. It’s a lot of new characters to introduce in a very tight, three-sentence space.
While we’re on the subject of this section, the dialogue that segues into the barbecue is a bit hard to follow. We have two pieces of dialogue (Jack’s and Steve’s) in the same paragraph without quotation marks, and then we get Jack’s inner thoughts about the late lunch. I’d recast this paragraph to eliminate the dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, I’d love to see more of it. The story goes to great pains to set up the barbecue, and the reader experiences so little of it. I know that the story needs to get to 3:42 p.m. rather quickly, and this creates a nice measure of suspense. But I fear it hurtles toward its chronological goal at the expense of character development. We could learn a lot about Jack, Steve, Zac, and Daiki at a barbecue. What’s so tease-worthy about Steve’s girlfriend? Are Zac and Steve rugby players or rugby fans? And what kind of art school has accepted Daiki? A summer program or university? Details like these would make the characters much vivid to the reader. Right now, the story tells us a lot without showing us much. Instead of bringing the story to a halt at 3:00 p.m., nearly an hour before the mysterious event, you might want to use the window of noon to 3:00 p.m. to your advantage.
When I’m editing a manuscript, I generally advise authors to avoid references that will “date” a story, unless said story takes place during a concrete moment in history. Most of us know and love (or love to hate, or hate to love) the Rickroll meme from a few years ago, but twenty years from now, it will likely be a faint memory. Even now, the reference is somewhat dated. The young adult readers of the future won’t be able to connect with an obscure flash in the pop culture pan. So give your story added staying power by dodging such references. The cheap chuckle now isn’t worth the “dated” feel that will come later.
Lastly, there are some syntax-level issues that a good copyedit would resolve. There’s one instance of tense inconsistency (a brief shift to present in the second paragraph) and some choppy phrasing here and there. The text is in pretty good shape overall, but copyediting would put some added polish on it. And that’s the name of the game: polishing your story to give it the best possible chance of success.