Day Eighteen of July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors… Dee Romito & Monica Bustamante Wagner
Welcome to July’s First Page Workshop with some of our past and present PitchWars mentors. From a Rafflecopter lottery drawing, we selected many wonderful writers to participate in the workshop. Each mentor has graciously critiqued a first page for one lucky writer. The writers are anonymous. Follow along all month to view the first page critiques. We welcome comments and further suggestions, but please keep them kind and respectful.
Here are the next two mentors and their critiques …
Dee’s first page critique …
I don’t like dead chickens. Or dead anything, really. It’s a long story. The issue here is that we don’t know the connection between the first few sentences and what happens next. You might want to consider starting with the line about the deer staring at her instead. A little mystery is great, but you don’t want your reader confused. Anyway, that’s probably why I found myself perched on top of a rickety ladder at 5:42 a.m. in front of a billboard along Highway 191 just north of Moab, Utah, on what promised to be another cloudless, sweltering day in July. Careful starting out describing the weather- although if you rearrange things, it’s fine in the second paragraph.
The deer on the billboard was staring at me. His eyeball was the size of my head, so no matter where I moved, it followed. This creeped me out almost as much as it did whenever I ventured into our garage and all of Dad’s glassy-eyed elk and bison heads tracked my every move. Nice job giving us information in an interesting way. 🙂
“Hurry, Lizza!” Brooklyn called up to me. She was holding the ladder, and I have to say, she wasn’t doing a very good job. The soles of my Toms were worn, so they slid around on the metal rungs every time I even breathed. I was sure I’d fall any minute and end up as 191’s latest road kill. Good details with the Toms and the setting.
Without answering, I sprayed a final coat of white over the massive letter “O” that spelled out my last name. I feel like “spelled out” could be adjusted a little to make it clearer. Maybe “that finished off my last name” or “topped off my last name”. There. Done. Dad’s stupid sign, the billboard he’d bragged about over dinner every night for a week, was greatly improved. No going back, now. I could only hope that Clinton Crapo, aka Moab’s most recently licensed and certified taxidermist, would never know who sabotaged his sign.
The ladder shook and I dropped my paint can and screamed. Give us a little more here for a bigger effect. Make us nervous for her. Maybe something like, “Turning toward Brooklyn with a thumbs up wasn’t a good idea. I let out a scream as the ladder shook and my paint can dropped twenty feet to the ground.”
Mónica Bustamante Wagner was born in a Peruvian city by a snow-capped volcano. Growing up, books were her constant companion as she traveled with her family to places like India (where she became a vegetarian), Thailand (where she *almost* met Leonardo di Caprio), France (where she pretended to learn French), and countless other places that inspired her to write. Now, Mónica lives in Chile with her husband, three boys, eleven hens, and stray dog.
Check out her NA debut series FROSH, coming from The Studio/Paper Lantern Lit, Oct 20, 2015:
During welcome week at Hillson University, the FROSH will hit the fan.
Type-A aspiring journalist Ellie plans to take freshman year by storm. But hell-bent on breaking a huge on-campus scandal, she risks becoming one herself—and getting the mysterious, heart-melting QB in serious trouble.
Grant, star quarterback and charismatic chick-magnet, is hiding a life-altering secret. The last thing he needs is an overeager (absolutely adorable) journalist asking questions. He’s got a reputation to protect.
High-society legacy student Devon is ready to catch the football hottie of her dreams. If the tabloids feature her with the “it” boy on her arm, her tainted past will be buried—or so she thinks.
Charlie, pre-med, is done being the sweet and funny guy that girls like Devon ignore. But if he tries to impress her with a new edgy, spontaneous attitude, will his heart end up in the emergency room?
FROSH intertwines the stories of Ellie, Grant, Devon, and Charlie in Mónica B. Wagner’s sexy NA debut series, about falling in love and falling apart.
Add FROSH on Goodreads!
Mónica’s Page critique:
Hi! Thanks so much for letting me read your page!
This is what hell looks like.
I’m not sure what genre this book is, but this opening made me think maybe this was an urban fantasy (is that right?). And for one second, I didn’t know if she meant it literally (like it would be a book about demons and hell) or if she didn’t. As I read on, I realized she didn’t, but the fact that I stopped to wonder this, makes me think that maybe you could use a stronger first line—first lines are important. It’s always awesome if they have a hint of conflict (which yours has) a hint of setting, and something unique to your character and his/her voice. I know, first lines aren’t easy!
I stare out the window of Dad’s Ford Explorer. Along the curvy road, dilapidated double-wide trailers that look like they belong in some independent film version of a horror flick, litter the sparse lawns. An old couch, unused tires, and even a rust-stained toilet lay strewn next to one particularly neglected trailer.
Oh, I love all the details you have here. I can get a clear picture of this place now, which makes me wonder if you even need that first “hell” line. I also like that you let us know where the POV character is from the get-go. The only suggestion I have for you here is to watch out the rhythm of the sentences.
Take a look at the cadence of this sentence I made up:
The thin cat entered the big house and sat in wicker chair.
See how the modifiers affect the rhythm? That changes if we say something like:
The cat entered the mansion and sat in my chair, curling against the wicker.
So, I would try and cut a few adjectives, and leave the ones that really add something, and give us a nice visual. Quick example: Along the road, trailers so dilapidated that look like they belong in some horror flick, litter the sparse lawns.
“Please tell me no one lives there,” I mutter.
I would love a little bit of interiority. Is she feeling sorry for them, and she says this because it breaks her heart a little? If you give us more interiority here, we’ll get more why she sighs at her dad’s comment. That would make the reader empathize more with her, without risking the chance of having her sound spoiled.
Dad glances in my direction, his mouth set in a firm, disapproving line. “Now, Hailey, try to remember that these people aren’t as fortunate as you and I have been.” His eyes grind into me, like a pestle trying to turn me into bits of shame. “They do the best they can.”
Not sure about the pestle comparison, because I can’t picture eyes like pestles. Or actually, I am picturing eyes like pestles and the image in my brain is a little weird. But it might be just me!
I sigh and turn back to the window as another trailer comes into view [how does the trailer come to view? Because of her perspective?], this one even more unkempt. Amazingly enough, one of the occupants is sitting on the sagging porch steps blowing a cloud of smoke into the humid summer air. The man is grease personified. Like if someone wrung him out, they’d have an entire vat of frying oil. I wrinkle my nose and look down when I make eye contact with him. Suddenly, my nails are desperate for attention.
“How long until Mom joins us?” I ask, digging at one particularly bothersome cuticle.
I would like to empathize a little more with Hailey by now. I think it’s nice when characters are flawed, and that gives you a lot of room for a character arc. Which is always great. But then, if these flaws aren’t shown with interiority, you might lose the reader because they can’t empathize. That grease comment about wringing the man and get a vat of frying oil? Some people might feel like they don’t sympathize with it. Then she wrinkles her nose at the man, like she can’t stand him, and then she’s looking at her nails, a gesture some writers use to show vanity. So, I say it’d be nice to dial that down, or to really dig deep into her character and show interiority and show how she’s flawed and why. Another thing writers do to make people read and don’t mind the character being unlikeable is to hook them with a conflict or with some sort of humor.
Mom’s been gone for weeks now. As a broadcast journalist, she jet sets around the world while Dad acts as homemaker extraordinaire. Not that I’m knocking my dad’s skills. He can make a mean BLT sandwich.
I like this last bit of story. I like that there’s a sense of loneliness and that she’s stuck with her dad while her mom travels around the world. It hints conflict and that is nice! I also like that she doesn’t sound whiny that her mom is away. Beware, though, about adding too much info like this, and making the info beat too long. Some readers might even forget that she recently asked a question.
Overall, I like that you’ve ground the reader well, and I could really picture where they are, and, like I said, I love that her family isn’t perfect and we realize that in the first page. I am curious about what she’s doing there with her dad, and that’s why I would keep reading. I would keep an eye for the likeability factor, and watch out for the rhythm of sentences. And I hope that right after that sample, you jump into dialogue or something else, so that the facts she’s giving about her family doesn’t sound info-dumpy if they get longer. I wish you luck with this! I hope it gets published soon. =)
Thank you, Dee and Monica, for your critiques. Interested in more first page critiques? Come back tomorrow for our next two critiques by Pitch Wars mentors, and while you’re here, check out our June posts for our mentors’ query critiques. And get ready! The Pitch Wars Mentor Wishlist Blog Hop starts August 2 with the Pitch Wars submission window opening August 17.