Monday, July 4, 2011

First Page Shooter #8

I did this FPS a little differently than before.  First I've pasted the original First Page, followed by some initial thoughts.  Then I edited the First Page, followed by my overall thoughts. My notes are in bold purple, and my additions to the text are in bold red. Then, to really show the difference, I included the Edited First Page, followed by my closing thoughts. This isn't something I will necessarily do every time. In this case, I really wanted to show that you can cut without losing the core of the scene.

I hope it's helpful!


CHAPTER 1

On the Thursday before leaving on my road trip, I finally got to see Holly again. There she was just standing in the hallway as I stepped out from Intellectual Property. Since I had been regularly checking her schedule online, most recently only an hour earlier that morning in the library, I automatically assumed that she was waiting for me. There was no other reason for her to be standing around like that on the fifth floor.
Of course, I realize now that this should have registered as odd. It was still only the first week back and, Holly would have never waited around just to be nice. Especially not after all the things I had said the last time we saw each other. But after months apart and thinking of her every day over summer break, there she was and when she looked up and started walking toward me, my heart started beating wildly and I could barely even contain my excitement.
Her face, arms and legs were sun tanned golden and her hair was longer, highlighted with lighter shades of brown but other than that, she looked the same. So I really can’t explain why something about her had also looked different as well. Not in any real way, just unfamiliar somehow, as if we were meeting after a much longer absence. At the time, I didn’t think much more of it than that, but since then, I must have replayed that memory at least a hundred times, searching for some clue or insight into the mystery that is Holly Levasseur.

Initial Thoughts: We don’t learn if the narrator is a boy or a girl at any point.  And in fact, we don’t even know if the narrator is talking about a friendship or a romantic relationship at all until the end of paragraph two—even then, I’m not going to assume it’s a boy.  It depends.

In that particular case, a query would clear this up (or the flap copy of a book).  But going hand-in-hand with my other comments, this narrator gives us absolutely no sense of who he/she is as a person.  All we know about him/her is his/her obsession with Holly Levasseur and that he/she is taking Intellectual Property.  That’s it.  You don’t have to give us an info-dump of his/her backstory, but something in the way he/she speaks or observes, or something else about what he/she has done since seeing Holly last might clue us in to what type of person he/she is. 

Also, all of this goes on for much, much too long.  The entire sentiment can be boiled down to 2-3 sentences, giving you much more room on the first page to let us get to know the narrator.  (See comments on cutting below)

Editorial Notes:

On the Thursday before leaving on my road trip (to where? A small detail like that could tell us a lot about your narrator), I finally got to see saw (“got to see” is a more passive way of saying “saw”) Holly again. There She was just (cut adverbs like “just” almost always—it makes the language clunkier than it should be) standing in the hallway as I stepped out from Intellectual Property (this might be only me, but I know what an IP class means—means he/she is a law student.  But that’s because my husband is a lawyer.  Would the average reader know what this means?). Since I had been regularly checking her schedule online, most recently only an hour earlier that morning in the library, I automatically assumed that she was waiting for me. There was no other reason for her to be standing around like that on the fifth floor.(None of this is necessary to move the action forward, especially since you explain why in the next paragraph.  This type of introspection that goes back and forth like this on the first page just slows everything down.  You would have lost me by now.)
Of course, I realize now that this should have registered as odd. It was still only the first week back, (misplaced comma—comes before the “and”) and, Holly would have never waited around just (I would keep this one “just” because you’re purposefully qualifying her actions with it) to be nice. Especially not She especially wouldn’t (this is a grammar fix—keeping everything in the same tense) after all the things I had said  (Give us a specific.  It will tell us more about the narrator and his/her relationship with Holly.  Something like “Not after I called her a whore the last time we saw each other.” Or whatever it is that works for your storyline.) the last May (? Give us the detail and then you don’t have to make the language clunky by explaining how long it’s been: “after months apart”—see rest of notes.) time we saw each other. But after months apart and thinking of her every day over summer break (it reads like you’re forcing this detail in here so we know exactly what months they were apart, but it makes the storytelling too meandering and clunky.  Let us find that out later. See below.), there she was, and when she looked up and started walking toward me, her face, arms and legs were sun tanned golden and her hair was longer, highlighted with lighter shades of brown (I moved this up from below to tighten). My heart started beating beat wildly (again, “started beating” is a passive way of saying “beat”) and I could barely even contain my excitement. (The wildly beating heart shows us that he/she’s excited.  No need to tell us here, too. It’s redundant.  And it slows the scene down.)
Her face, arms and legs were sun tanned golden and her hair was longer, highlighted with lighter shades of brown but other than that, she looked the same. So I really can’t explain why something about her had also As she got closer, my smile wavered. Something was different. (This is an example of how you can reword to be more active, and to keep the pacing up, but obviously the exact wording would be up to you and would have to fit with your story.)looked different as well. Not in any real way,(what does that mean? “Not in any real way”?  It must be in a real way, or he/she wouldn’t have noticed, right? Confusing.) just unfamiliar somehow, as if we were meeting after a much longer absence. At the time, I didn’t think much more of it than that, it hadbeen an entire summer after all, but since then, I must have replayed that memory at least a hundred times, searching for some clue or insight into the mystery that is Holly Levasseur. (This would be a much, much stronger ending if we knew up front that she was dead now, or exactly WHY the narrator is looking back on this moment.  We lose the punch that you’re going for because nothing about this seems mysterious at all—it’s only you telling us that it is.  Show, don’t tell!)

Overall Thoughts: The opening line and closing line of this scene are just “meh.”  But without even knowing this story, I can tell that there is potential for them to pack much more punch.  Also, as stated above, the whole moment goes on for much, much too long, and we don’t get much out of it except: He/she is seeing Holly after an entire summer, when they clearly had a fight.  That’s it.  Unless we’re going to learn more information, this should only be a couple of lines.

Without knowing the entire story, it’s hard for me to rework it, but I’ve included the final write up below, taking my notes into suggestion, so you can see how much quicker the pace is.  It leaves you a lot more room afterward for us to learn more and hook us in!  And to hopefully add a mysterious feel to it all, so that the last line makes sense and leaves the reader dying to turn the page.  A couple of the details I added just as examples on how to give details without making it clunky, and keeping the transitions smooth.  Obviously it would depend on the story!

Final Edited Page:

On the Thursday before leaving on my road trip to Alaska, I finally saw Holly again. She was standing in the hallway as I stepped out from Intellectual Property, her green eyes fixed on me.
Of course, I realize now that this should have registered as odd. It was still only the first week back, and Holly never waited around just to be nice. She especially wouldn’t after I called her a whore last May. But there she was, walking toward me, her face, arms and legs tanned golden and her hair long, highlighted with lighter shades of brown. My heart beat wildly.
As she got closer, my smile wavered. Something was different. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, it had been an entire summer after all, but since then, I have replayed that memory a hundred times, searching for some clue or insight into the mystery that is Holly Levasseur.

I was able to take this sample from 263 words, to 154 words, without losing what the heart of the scene is.  These are the things that editors and agents are looking for in a first page (in no particular order):

Voice/Style

Pacing

Good Writing

In the original version of this, we didn’t get a good sense of the voice because there were almost not specifics about the narrator—nothing that felt inherently him/her.  The pacing was also very slow, giving too much vague information and at times too passive.  Those two things tie into the writing and whether or not the editor/agent deems it good.  So it’s so important to nail it!  And of course, carry it through.

-JV

15 comments:

Jeff King said...

That is a great example... thx for sharing it with us, and thx goes to the author who submitting the work.

Anna said...

So helpful! Thank you for taking the time to do that. My business degree hasn't helped my writing much and I feel like I got a great lesson right now.

Jodi R. said...

Wow - thanks for making such an effort to show us EXACTLY what you were thinking!

I agree the writing could be tightened up but I liked some of the detail - it made the MC seem really sinister to me. The obsessive details about how Holly looked, schedule stalking, etc. - and why does Holly look angry? Oh yah - MC's so obsessed that s/he momentarily forgot that s/he did/said something really bad to Holly this summer and... I don't know - MC just seemed blinded by the Holly and not thinking clearly. I totally figured Holly had sought MC out to tell him/her that she had a restraining order and had talked to the boss/Dean, and MC better stay the eff away from her... or something!

I'd keep reading!

And I thought IP was a work department - in a government office, or a research setting. Law school makes sense though.

Thanks author and agent!
Jodi R.

Kristy Shen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Super Happy Jen said...

Still can't tell if the narrator is male or female. :)

Perri said...

This is wonderfully helpful. I'm going to go back and revise my own opening now. Thanks!

Sam Wood said...

I also assumed Intellectual Property was some sort of business, and imagined everyone to be older until you clarified that it was a class. Since I thought it was a business I was wondering how the narrator could look up her schedule online... silly me!

Jodi R. said...

You can check a co-worker's schedule online in many workplaces if the office uses shared electronic calendars and scheduling. (Maybe not their specific meetings, but at least blocks of time when they're busy...)

It didn't occur to me at all that this was a school sched - we used a stone tablet, chisel and hammer last time I went to school!

Me said...

Strange timing - In the last two days I've written a critique of a short story (3,000 words) where the sex of the narrator is never given and only hinted at about half-way through.

It can have a huge impact on a story where the relationship between narrator and object of desire is a central theme.

Jo-Ann said...

I'm impressed! The original version was ok, but not gripping. It's interesting to see what a difference tighter writing can make!
Back to the grindstone.

Em-Musing said...

You are awesome! Redacted from: Your showing us how to make writing tighter therefore making the writing more effective was well done.

Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks, Joanna. Nothing can compare to real world examples.

Rachael Harrie said...

This is such a helpful critique Joanna. Thanks for giving us this insight into the way our first 250 words will be read when we query (and showing us ways to tighten our words).

Sheila JG said...

Great post. This is extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing your insights, and thanks to the author, too!

Stephsco said...

This is really helpful. It must have taken you awhile, but hopefully you can link back to this post in the future to demonstrate how to edit for stronger introductions.

I think it's hard for us to see these type of edits in our own writing, while it can be clear in someone elses. It's a short amount of space to establish voice, pacing and characters, but it highlights that every word counts. When it's done well, you don't notice it because you're engaged in the story.

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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.

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