Friday, April 22, 2011

First Page Shooter #2

Here is the original query by itself:

There were seven of them, plus an angel.

Arine shivered in the cold night air, wishing she wore something more than just a t-shirt and jeans. Her wavy blonde hair kept her shoulders and upper back warm, but otherwise didn’t help much, and it itched.

The mountain cave they’d finally found to hide in had rocks and branches and other debris strewn all around. She wished they’d been able to find something with more room, but this was the best they’d been able to find. Oh well, discomfort was a small price to pay for freedom, and the satisfaction of having rescued the angel from the stupid evil jerks at the institution.

Arine shifted her position on the cave floor, adjusting her grip on the unconscious angel in her arms, hoping to share body heat. Then she looked around to see how the others were doing.

Fiore’s tongue poked out the side of his mouth as he tried to make a fire with a couple of branches. He kept tossing his head to get his thick black hair out of his face. His deep brown eyes were narrowed, focused on his task. He’d been at it fifteen minutes already, though, and Arine was freezing.

“Hurry up with that,” she told Fiore. He shot her a bruised look. It was the same stupid sulky-hurt expression he made whenever anyone commented on his inability to wear clothes that didn’t clash horribly. But he did have a wretched sense for colors.

******
Here is the query with notes (my comments are bolded):
There were seven of them, plus an angel.
Joanna: This is a strong opening line, but who is “them”?  You don’t have to say it immediately following this line, but you shouldn’t wait too long to clarify that all of them are hiding together, because it isn’t exactly clear without rereading it a few times.

Arine shivered in the cold night air, wishing she wore something more than just a t-shirt and jeans. Her wavy blonde hair kept her shoulders and upper back warm, but otherwise didn’t help much, and it itched.
Joanna: This line felt like a forced description and stopped the forward momentum immediately for me.  Do we need to know that she has blonde hair at this exact moment? It’s also a little distracting because you mention that it itched, and I’m not sure why it itches, and you don’t explain it immediately.  I’m assuming that it’s because she’s dirty and in a cave? But either way, all I’m thinking by line 3 is “Does she have lice?”

The mountain cave they’d finally found to hide in had rocks and branches and other debris strewn all around. She wished they’d been able to find something with more room, but this was the best they’d been able to find. Oh well, discomfort was a small price to pay for freedom, and the satisfaction of having rescued the angel from the stupid evil jerks at the institution.
Joanna: This whole paragraph is clunkier than it needs to be, and in one or two areas, a little redundant.  Try combining all of the information we—the reader—need here into one strong line, or two more concise strong lines.  Something like:

The cave they discovered on the mountainside was dirty and cramped, but perfect for hiding from the jerks at the institution. And discomfort was a small price to pay for freedom.

If you clarify sooner that all 8 of them are hiding, you won’t need to mention the angel again right here. 

Arine shifted her position on the ground cave floor, adjusting her grip on the unconscious angel in her arms, hoping to share body heat. Then she looked around to see how the others were doing.
Joanna: That last line is very passive.  You don’t need to tell us that she looked around to see how they were doing—the reader doesn’t need that prompt unless the character is doing something really out of the ordinary.  Instead, just go into how they’re doing.  Something like:

…hoping to share body heat.  The others weren’t fairing much better.

Fiore’s tongue poked out the side of his mouth as he tried to make a fire with a couple of branches. He kept tossing his head to get his thick black hair out of his face. His deep brown eyes were narrowed, focused on his task. He’d been at it fifteen minutes already, though, and Arine was freezing.
Joanna: There is a lot of body description crammed into this paragraph.  You want to have some description, of course, but keep it to just a couple things at a time.  In reading this paragraph a few times, I would suggest cutting the tongue poking out the side of his mouth—it’s almost a little too comical, and it’s not as important as learning about what he looks like.  You already say that he narrows his eyes, “focused on his task” which is really accomplishing the same thing as the tongue description, right?  You’re trying to show us that he’s concentrating. Unless Fiore is going to be the comic-relief type.  Then you might want to keep the tongue line and cut the eyes narrowing.  I don’t know the story enough to really make that call. 

Also adding that last part makes it seem like you’re disputing what came before it, which you really aren’t.  We already know that she’s cold and attempting to get some body heat from the angel.  No need to repeat it yet again here.  Her dialog shows us this well enough in the next paragraph. 

“Hurry up with that,” she told Fiore. He shot her a bruised look. It was the same stupid sulky-hurt expression he made whenever anyone commented on his inability to wear clothes that didn’t clash horribly. But he did have a wretched sense for colors.
Joanna: In reading this paragraph here, I can’t tell what kind of tone you’re going for with this story.  Based on the first couple of paragraphs, I would say more serious.  Based on this one, I would say much lighter.  Are you planning on a bit more of a chick-litty type voice?  Either way, the comment about the clothes feels out of place because it takes us out of the moment, which is them, hiding out in a cave, freezing, with an unconscious angel.


Joanna's Takeaway:


Overall, not a bad opening, and I probably would have read on another page or so to see if I could get a better grasp on the tone the author was going for (obviously if I've read a query, I might have had a better idea already--or maybe not--and I could see if the writer was staying consistent to that).  If it continued this way, with conflicting tones and not giving us some of the information we need to keep us interested (why are they hiding out? who are they hiding from? why do they have an angel with them?), I would have probably called it quits after a page or two.

26 comments:

arbor16 said...

Your comments are so helpful--and I know this takes time away from your day job. I, for one, am deeply appreciative.
Shelley

Josin L. McQuein said...

My first thought, from the voice, was that this was in Arine's close POV, because it sounds like an attempt at a teenage girl's voice. It threw me out when the writer flipped to something that sounded more like a shift to Fiore. (The voice changes toward the end of the passage.)

If this is Omni, then the voice needs to be more distinct so it sounds like a separate entity from the involved characters. If it's 3rd limited on Arine, then you might try writing a bit in 1st to get a better handle on the rhythm (it works for me).

It is an interesting set-up, with the idea that these 7 are taking care of an unconscious angel, when usually the angel would be the stronger character.

(btw - how, exactly, does someone bruise a look?)

Sarah Laurenson said...

This format is easier for me to get a feel for the original and then really see the critique. Very helpful. Thank you so much for doing this first page shooter!

Even though I'm not big on angels, this one interested me. She's sarcastic and "sticking it to the man". If it were in a bookstore, I'd read on a bit to see where this was going before making a decision on buying it.

Some good suggestions on where to trim the fat. And those were helpful for me to see as well.

Good job, author.

S.P. Bowers said...

Interesting opening. It has the potential to grab attention.

I think it was a little scattered though. There were details we didn't need to know yet that were just distractions from the story. (What is up with the itching hair? I wasn't sure if her scalp was itching or if the hair was tickling her neck and shoulders. Though if that is the case how could it do that through the t-shirt?)

Also there is some repetition. In the second paragraph you use the word find/found three times in two sentences. Combine sentences and trim the repetition.

Once you tighten this up you'll have a gripping beginning.

Tracey Neithercott said...

This critique was so helpful Joanna. Thank you!

The description of the hair threw me off, especially the itching. Why would hair itch over the T-shirt?

I was pulled out of the story at the very end. I'm not sure how clashing clothes fits into this scene. It seems like a strange place to describe his lack of fashion sense.

Otherwise I was hooked by the first sentence and want to read more to find out why the angel is unconscious and what the institution is.

Beth said...

Outside the little problems Joanna memtioned, what bothered me most is that the single most interesting aspect of that scene -- the angel -- is never described. We don't even find out it's unconscious and in her arms until the third paragraph, which forced me to have to readjust my hazy mental image.

I would suggest starting with the angel in her lap--making that the second paragraph after that opening line. And give us some visuals! Then pan out to include the other characters.

This has the potential to be a very intriguing opening, but you need to focus on the right things in the right order.

(And thanks, Joanna, for so graciously including the unedited version first.)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Starting with the unconscious angel is a good idea. Maybe a simple combination of things like:

There were seven of them, plus the unconscious angel.

-or-

There were seven of them. Eight if you counted the unconscious angel in Arine's lap.

That way the reader knows straight off that something unusual's up with the angel and it's not there to save the day.

Livia said...

These are fantastic edits Joanna. I'm struck by how trimming away some of the extra details makes such a big difference.

Zan Marie said...

Though a bit redundant, this has hooked my attention. I'd read on to see if the writer kept me turning the pages.

Thanks, Susie. This is a very helpful exercise and I know you've got more than enough to do.

Stephsco said...

The format w/out editing first, then w/ bolded comments works well.

I like the idea of reworking the unconcious angel to the front. That brings the point in right away. My guess is that the writer wanted to establish character traits early on, and invented sentences around that, rather than working it into the scene (thus the hair itching). I agree, you can add some descriptors, but don't sacrifice setting and purpose of the story for too much character physical description.

I think it takes a little playing around with first pages to get the right balance of action, purpose, setting and characters.

Miranda White said...

Hi, I'm the writer of FPS #2! :)

Thank you so much for this, Joanna, it's amazing and helpful and I really appreciate it! I feel like I've learned a lot, and I'm definitely going to apply that to the whole ms, not just the first page.

And thanks to everyone who's commented so far, too! I'm so grateful for the feedback. :)

T.L. Bodine said...

All these angel stories! I kind of want to get my hands on some now, seems like a fun genre.

I'd definitely be interested to read on, but I agree with all the aforementioned comments, especially about focusing early on the angel and delaying the other introductions until later. So often a writer gets wrapped up in introducing characters in a flood of all the details we mean to say about them! I've definitely been guilty of that too.

Thanks again for doing this! Can't wait to see the others posted.

earth said...

My impression was that the author is trying to give us a description of the two characters without seeming to do so. Arnie's description - her clothes and hair is alright, except for the part from 'but otherwise didn't help much...' as it doesn't add anything to the story. We know she's cold.
Fiore's description - his eyes and hair - I have no problems with. But the way his clothes are introduced sounds forced.
There also are unnecessary words which could be deleted, so you could add critical information, like - what are they doing with that angel?
You characterized the MC well and I would like to read more and find out what she's up to.

Anne said...

I like that you posted the original submission first and then went back and added your comments on the 2nd go-around. Helps so much to have a 'before' and 'after' comparison. I love, love, LOVE that you're doing this! Such a great learning tool. Thank you.

Jeff King said...

I can’t really add anything that the other commenter’s haven’t already stated. Just remember we can always be better than, and never stop writing.

Lora said...

This is such a wonderful learning tool, and I so appreciate all the work that goes into preparing and sharing all of this with us. Thank you!

Mesmer7 said...

I thought the first line was too ambiguous. I couldn't tell if the "seven of them' referred to to a group that contained the POV character or a group the POV character was confronting.

Vivian said...

This thread is really helpful. It's great to know what people are thinking when they read the first page. I have to say though, after the first two queries I'm a little tired of angels. Are they the new vampires or something?

Stacy said...

This is such a helpful post! While my genre is completely different, it's very interesting to get an editors take on the opening page and to see the kinds of things you're looking for.

In regards to the writing, I do think it's got potential, but I also see the merit of the comments. As another poster said, always keep writing!

Melissa Cutler said...

This is a great concept, but I have a heroine problem with this opening. Other than the first line/paragraph, the heroine complains about something in every single paragraph. From the cramped quarters of the cave, the "wishing" for things in two paragraphs, "hoping" for something in another paragraph, and going on and on about how cold she was and the other guy's lousy fashion sense. If she's really fearing for her life, or the angels life at the very least, then would she really be thinking about Fiore's fashion sense or wishing for a more spacious cave? It made her harder to root for and lent a tone of immaturity to her point of view.

That being said, those points are fixable. I love the concept and have faith that this will be a fascinating manuscript once the kinks are worked out. Thank you for putting it out there, fellow writer!

David said...

This writing is coming along. I was interested (even if my mind wandered at times), and I would probably read more even though Sharon Shinn's angel stories are the only ones I've ever read.

This is a good place to be as a writer--a little TOO descriptive--because it's easy to learn to cut and pair down. You know what helps for that? Reading Raymond Carver. Read five of his stories, then try to edit down to his level of description. When you can make one word dance like his, the writing will become more focused and compelling.

Good luck.

Sheila JG said...

I'm really curious about that angel, so good job there. It's subjective, but I agree with Melissa that your heroine isn't coming across as sympathetically as she could. For me, her repeated use of the word, "stupid" made her sound a little immature. But I'm sure that's just my pet peeve. It's a word I've struggled (somewhat in vain) to eliminate from my kids' vocabularies.

The critique was very instructive. Great points.

Thanks for posting, and good luck!

Laina said...

Okay, I'm tired and sick, but when I read the first line, I right away think, "There were five in the bed and the little one said..."

But yes, very intriquing premise.

ClothDragon said...

"There were seven of them plus an angel."

Immediately, I picture a dark road, lone girl on one side facing off against seven of some nebulous "them" -- and an angel. Without further description to help me, I picture a random assortment of girls and boys in t-shirts and rough jeans. The angel in my head is the masculine sort, hovering a little behind the seven humans, with large feathery wings spread wide extending over his head. He's bare-chested to keep me from having to figure out how an angel gets his wings into a shirt -- even one with special-made wing holes.

Then I have to start my mental picture over again at paragraph three.

It's always more difficult for me to keep reading when I have to start over and re-imagine the opening scene. -- But that may be all my issue since I'm not sure where the dark street, slight fog, and street lamps, a little too far apart, came from to begin with. :)

Margaret said...

I have a question: How likely would you be to request more material based on a sample that needed substantial editing but that had an intriguing foundation? Contextualizing critiques--even if just once in a while, and with just a few words--would be a tremendously helpful dimension. (I don't want to add to the More, More, More! cry; you guys are already doing a huge service. Just sayin'.)

Mike Koch - Protect The Risen said...

I always thought the opening sequence should jump off the page showing how smooth and creative a writer I could be. Hence why I shoved tons of "extra" words in it, much like this writer has done. I was trying to impress the reader. Unfortunately, I forgot or was ignorant of the fact that I actually needed to get to the point fast. I needed to let the reader know why the heck they would want to read the book in the first place. I needed to stop being so vague and tell them without a doubt the voice, character, setting, plot, conflict, and tone. Having said that, a good hook still needs to be written giving the reader confidence that they are not wasting time reading further into the next pages. Good luck with the balance. :) Plus thanks to this blog, I get a good deal of my understanding of things from it.

Search This Blog

Loading...

Popular Posts

Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?