Day Ten of July’s First Page Workshop with Pitch Wars Mentors … Jenna Lehne & Kate Karyus Quinn
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 …
Jenna Lehne is a writer/reader (heavy on the reader) from a small town just outside of Calgary, Alberta. She spends her days hanging out with her new baby, Jasper, lurking on twitter, patting the dogs, and bugging her husband. In her stolen minutes, she absorbs all things horror and drinks all the tea.
Jenna’s first page critique …
Usually I can’t hear them fighting, but something’s different today. They’re louder, more forceful. Tension fills the air Fills the air in her room? Or where her mom is at?, forcing me to pull my headphones off, put my book down and sit up. If the fight is intense enough for her to hear it with her headphones are on, then it’s something I’d want to read more about. Is she hearing a car pulling up and her Mom already starting to freak out? Since we don’t see the fight until after this paragraph, I’m not getting a good idea of what is disrupting the MC. It’s not that I really want to listen, I have to. Living here’s like walking a tight rope, one misstep and BAM – you’re falling. That’s a great line. Things get ugly fast and I have to be ready for it.
“Where the hell have you been all night?” Mom’s voice echoes through the foyer, and the front door slams.
“Who the fuck do you think you are? I’m a grown man. I can do what I want, when I want.” Mom’s boyfriend yells back. The “when I want etc.” makes the boyfriend sound like a teenager.
His name is Derrick, but his friends call him Derk. As for me, I call him Jerk, but not to his face. I’m not stupid. And saying Jerk has “friends” is a huge exaggeration. Most of them are on his payroll. Saying “on his payroll” makes me think mob/mafia. Are they all a bunch of mobsters or are do they just work for him at a restaurant or something? They put up with him because they want a paycheck. I put up with him because of Mom. Though, getting some cash for dealing with his drama would make it a whole lot easier. This made me laugh. Cash for drama would be fantastic.
“I’m supposed to be your fiancée,” Mom says. Above it says Derrick is her boyfriend, but here it says they’re engaged. Does the MC just not want to accept that her mom is supposed to marry this guy?
I can’t help but roll my eyes. Mom parades around with that rock on her finger like it’s supposed to mean something. I’m gathering your MC hasn’t had many positive male role models in her life. But love in real life is nothing like it is in the stories I read. Some heroic guy risks life or limb for the woman he loves. Yeah right. The male role models in my life have been either cheaters or manipulators — usually both.
Good job and thanks for putting your work out there You’ve hooked me enough that I’d keep reading so I could , at the very least, find out how the fight ended.
Kate Karyus Quinn is a chapstick addict with a love for live theater and a BFA from Niagara University to prove it. After growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, Kate left her hometown for Southern California and film school, where she earned an MFA in Film and Television Production from Chapman University. After finishing her degree, she moved with her husband to Knoxville, Tennessee. However, she recently made the move back home, with her husband and two children in tow. She promised them wonderful people, amazing food, and weather that would… build character. Kate is first and foremost an avid reader and unapologetic booknerd. Although, she mostly reads YA and romance, she often samples different genres in her constant search for the next great read. Kate is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
Kate’s recent releases …
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Kate’s first page critique …
Mars, 2149 Very cool!
Tek tugs at the collar of his jacket. Something about wearing a QEC uniform makes him itchy all over. Though, he has to admit the damn thing is comfortable. It fits him like a second skin. This is the beginning of your story. The very first thing we see of your character. Of your world. Is this the very best image/moment? It doesn’t tell us much. You dangle bits of info – like QEC uniform, and it’s itchy – but you don’t tell us anything more to further draw the reader in. You don’t want to infodump, but you can safely give a bit more information without falling into too much info territory. And finally a cliché in the final sentence.
Out of habit, Tek crouches to blend into the shadows in the alley across the narrow street from 47 Trinity. The three-foot sconces, hanging on either side of the steel double doors, make the entrance glow in the dimming afternoon light.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Carlo asks, his deep voice resonating across the buildings. Okay, so on first pages, I like to think of movies and how they start and how they intro characters and settings. Often they’ll start with a wide shot – sometimes a super wide – like a helicopter over a city, or the exterior of a spaceship. It basically says: this is where we are. You are doing the opposite. Instead we are getting micro bits of info. We start out super zoomed in on a uniform. Then out a bit to an alley. Finally, the camera shifts to show us Carlo. I’d argue that by doing this you’re making the reader do too much work. In the first paragraph I imagined Tek was walking, but then when in the second paragraph he crouched I had to stop and reset. Then I imagined he was alone – until Carlo spoke.
“There’s no going back now,” Tek responds, I think this dialogue is meant to raise the stakes, but it doesn’t because we have no idea what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. taking a deep breath, then another as the synthetic atmosphere of Mars leaves him breathless for a moment, like he just swam five kilometers back on Earth. The gentle gravitational pull makes up for the low levels of oxygen. Every step, every movement is effortless. This stuff is great – I want more of this info about where they are and how the world works. “Wait, here. I’ll be back in twenty minutes.”
“And if you’re not?” Carlo shoots a glance over his shoulder to make sure they’re still alone.
“Head back to Resolana. Make sure you leave the city before dark,” why does he need to leave the city before dark. Tell me more! Tek warns.
“You got it. I don’t care to find out what curfew drones think of this getup,” Why? What will the curfew drones do? Carlo says. He flexes his biceps, pulling at the leathery fabric near the waist. Then adds: “Hurry, we still have to see about your dad’s payment.”
“Yeah. I just hope all this was worth the risk.” Tek sighs.
“I trust your dad.”
So, it’s hard to know where to start a story. Usually it takes me more than a few tries to find the best spot. A lot of times stories will start too soon with too much everyday waking up, getting ready, blah blah blah that isn’t necessary. You didn’t do that, which is great. You start right in the middle of the action, but I think if you backed it up just a bit, just to settle the reader more solidly in the scene, then everything you have written here would work so much better and all the sorta ominous dialogue would truly resonate and help build tension. Even something as simple as:
The synthetic atmosphere of Mars leaves Tek breathless for a moment, like he just swam five kilometers back on Earth, as he bounces along the narrow alleyway, pretending to feel confident, like he belongs there in the borrowed QEC uniform. But he feels exposed in every way, knowing if one of the curfew drones catches him in the stolen uniform they’ll fire first and ask questions later. The gentle gravitational pull makes up for the low levels of oxygen. Every step, every movement is effortless. Although it doesn’t feel that way today. At last he stutters to a stop as he catches site of Carlo at their agreed upon meeting place, deep in the shadows across the narrow street from 47 Trinity. The three-foot sconces, hanging on either side of the steel double doors, make the entrance glow in the dimming afternoon light.
Okay, this is sloppy and off the cuff, but I think you get the idea. From there you can explain why Tec is there (not in dialogue – just his own internal thoughts can lead there) and then get to the dialogue with Carlos. Or you could even start further back – have Tec leave his home (showing us what that looks like) and make his way through the city – giving a feel for it. Maybe someone is following him to add some tension. Or maybe the tension is in how he has already done something that means “there’s no going back now.”
Of course, there are tons of ways to start a story and this isn’t the way you have to go. But you do what to ground the reader a bit when first jumping into the story.
Thank you, Jenna and Kate., 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.
Want a critique or books from our Pitch Wars mentors, some awesome authors, agents, and editors? We’re putting together an auction and posting it this weekend to help one of our mentors save her home. To read more about this campaign, go here: http://www.gofundme.com/we4dv4m