Day Four of July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors… Roselle Kaes & Jeanmarie Anaya
Welcome to the July 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 …
Roselle Kaes is passionate about food and her Chinese-Filipino heritage. Inspired by her late great grandfather, she wrote HUNGER as a tribute to him. She completed the manuscript with major revisions and the help of her critique partners. She is a graduate of Humanities and History at York University. When she is not writing, she is embroidering, illustrating, and chasing after her husband, daughter, and fluff beast of a cat on the north shore of Lake Erie.
Silence echoed around the empty waiting room. (This opening line lacks punch/dynamic power. You want something memorable and something that sets the tone for the rest of your MS. Write an impactful and unique first line to catch your reader’s eye.)
What the hell had possessed her to think she could do this? Possibly the most important meeting in her entire life, and she’d chosen to come alone. (When you start off with a tense situation or anything that puts your MC into a stressful corner, you want the reader to have stakes involved to get the biggest payoff. Right now, since it’s the beginning, we know nothing about Bree yet for the payoff to happen. Context would have been a bit more preferable in the opening. I’d almost want to start your MS with the great internal monologue you have below.)
‘Brianna Mills?’ asked a woman, popping her head around the door.
Bree forged a smile, one she’d practiced far too many times. ‘That’s me,’ she answered, her voice sounding a little too cheerful.
‘I’m Mrs. Newman, one of the post adoption team members here. Can you come this way, please?’
Mrs. Newman walked along the corridor to another room, as drab and unwelcoming as the waiting area (This is telling. You need a description here. Right now, the setting is very nebulous. You would want sensory details- anything to establish a descriptive setting that puts the reader right into Bree’s world), and seated herself behind a large desk piled high with papers.
‘Please take a seat, I won’t keep you a moment,’ she told Bree while rummaging in her paperwork and files.
Bree wondered for the tenth time whether she was ready for this. All she hoped to learn was the reason why her birth mother gave her up for adoption. She held no regrets about being adopted, or harboured any animosity towards her birth mother, but still the question had always been there, nagging away in the back of her mind. (This is a great insight into her character and may be the perfect place to start with the MS.)
‘I’m afraid,’ said Mrs. Newman, looking up from her paperwork, ‘this is going to be rather disappointing… and a bit odd, if you don’t mind me saying.’
Bree raised an eyebrow but wasn’t surprised. Lots of things in her life had seemed odd; weird even.
Jeanmarie is a YA Contemporary writer represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. She’s a University of Michigan grad (Go Blue!) who somehow missed receiving her Hogwarts letter and has never gotten over the disappointment. You can find her on a beach in NYC, with a book in hand, wishing she could surf as well as her daughters.
Buffered under my fortress of blankets I’m safe, no one can harm my soul here. [Ooooh, this is a good first line. It’s certainly compelling. I’m wondering exactly what might harm her soul, and how. As I continued reading, I came back to this line and reread it—and now I wonder even more about that last phrase’s meaning. It’s even more intriguing. Great job with that.]
My heart races, while my throat tightens. The sound of the dragon in full rage-mode makes me wish I had magical powers one reads about in fantasy novels. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near that lucky.
No, I’m your typical sixteen-year-old girl, with a dragon for a father, that’s all. [I really like this sentence. It’s in a great spot, pacing-wise, too.]
Dad’s not your stereotypical dragon, he’s really a human man, [Using the phrase “stereotypical dragon” makes me think he IS a dragon…just not a stereotypical one. And of course, my mind is filling blanks by thinking he’s part human, part dragon. It’s such a subtle difference, that one word—stereotypical—but it has deep consequences. I’m unsure whether these are literal or figurative references. For purposes of this crit, I’m going to assume this he is, literally, part dragon. I sent my feelers out to Brenda Drake and she did mention that this is an Urban Fantasy entry, so I’m inclined to believe that he really IS a dragon. If he is, then fine. All is well. If he is NOT, then my advice is to be careful here. If he is not a dragon, and you’ve only been speaking figuratively, then those figurative references seemed very real to me. In that case, I’d be unsure whether to fear her father. Again, this problem is only an issue if he isn’t actually a real dragon. In that case, you’d need to revisit some of that figurative language and see if you could reword it (for example, removing words like stereotypical) to reflect the situation better.] but in my mind that’s what I call him. It’s the only way to make sense of who he really is. He’s a beautiful person. Dad shines on the outside, to people who know him superficially, like a dragon’s scales. [I’m not convinced you need this paragraph. To be honest, if it were placed anywhere else in the manuscript, I wouldn’t give it much thought. It’s written well, and the imagery is very pretty. However, you have to be so careful on that first page to really trap your readers, pull them in, and orient them in the scene. A paragraph like this sort of borderlines on “telling” versus “showing.” Everything in it (though well-written) seems like something I would otherwise be shown through action and dialogue in the next few paragraphs, which you seem to do really well. (Some of that great dialogue comes up next—in the form of a fight between the parents.) It’s action/dialogue like that that will do a better job of pulling the reader directly into the scene, rather than telling them what the main character thinks of another character. A little of that sort of telling is okay because it exudes voice (and yours is very strong), but too much on the first page and you risk losing the reader.]
But, the smoke-and-fire he breathes when he’s behind closed doors is enough to make anyone hide under their bed.
“Shut Up Mel, I swear if you don’t–” My parents [parents’] words collide outside my door, and I scoot further under the covers.
It’s highly unlikely they’ll make an appearance in my room, but you never know. When the dragon’s loose, anythings [anything’s] possible.
The first time Mom tried to explain to me what bipolar was it made no sense. By the 500th time I wanted to yell. Just because a doctor says it’s a disease doesn’t make it any better. [<–This is a great line.]
Sometimes, it’s worse. [Same goes for this. J These lines have a great dose of voice. The main character comes across as sad, and feeling hopeless, and maybe a little reflective over her father’s illness. And yeah, this is “telling,” but it’s a perfect example of using information judiciously in a way that conveys details through voice, and it’s also placed far enough into the page that I’m not bored by it. I’m starting to care about the main character and her opinions, and that’s great! ]
I see Dad’s heartbreak when he isn’t having a moment. It kills me inside to watch him go through this.
A moment–HA–If only, life would be so easy.
Funny how panic heightens every sense. Intense moments, my life’s full of them.
First of all, congrats on a great first page, and kudos to you for putting your work out there. I know it’s hard to receive blind crits from people you’ve never met and whose work you aren’t familiar with. It takes courage. Good on you!
As far as your entry goes, I’m certainly compelled to keep reading. The main character’s fear is apparent and you’ve done a good job of showing that by using simple actions here and there (like scooting lower under the covers, buttressing herself under a blanket fort, etc.) Great job with that. By the end of the page, I’m still very much intrigued by how you’ve toed the line between the literal and figurative elements to her dad’s illness/dragon-ness (for lack of a better word, LOL!). The insinuation that certain things or people can “harm her soul” (as it implies in the first line) is also stuck in my head. I’d keep reading for those two reasons: finding out what her dad’s deal is, and who’s trying to harm her soul.
While I really enjoyed the figurative language about her dad, as I noted above, and don’t think you should get rid of it, per se, note that I was unsure how it played together with reality. I think you might want to clarify those spots with a few choice words that answer the question or at least allude a little more heavily to the answer.
Great job! Looking forward to seeing how you do in Pitch Wars!
Thank you, Roselle and Jeanmarie, 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.