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 …
Juliana writes Middle Grade and Young adult fiction. Her writing is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of the Stonesong Literary Agency. When she’s not writing, she can be found exploring the Appalachian Mountains with her family and dog, learning how to rock climb, and teaching Kindergarten.
Juliana’s first page critique …
Some boys blink or stutter when nervous, but Skyler got the gift of the streaming snodberry. Like his freckled cheeks and pea-green eyes, it was a family trait. Which is why, as his cousins clobbered him for three days straight, Skyler showered them with snodberries. While this introduction has an interesting voice in it, I think it could be better placed and moved to a later point. You’re telling us information rather than really setting the scene. I actually had to read this paragraph threw a few times purely because I’d never heard them called “snodberries” before. If I were you, I’d spend these very important, precious words setting details.
Chad, his oldest cousin, flinched, and said, “Stop sneezing!” Chad squeezed Skyler’s arms and pinned him to a trash-glacier near his mother’s tin shack. What tin shack? We have to be careful that we don’t have objects popping up out of nowhere. This is why it’s so important to set the scene first.
Sandwiched between Chad and the frosted dock, Skyler squirmed and tried to blink flakes of snow off his lashes. Ahh, so it’s winter. That’s an important detail. His two younger cousins Brad and Tad circled, shoulders low, swaying like gorillas. Their fathers had named them Bradley and Thaddeus but the short names fit better. They all rhymed with mad. You can move these last two lines to a later point as it’s not currently adding anything to this scene. Keep us focused on the MC.
Chad raised a fist to Skyler’s face. “Give us the cheese!” Cheese? What exactly is the situation that’s taking place?
Achoo! Skyler couldn’t help it. A web of boogers splashed across Chad’s face.
“Grrr.” Chad shirked off the spittle. His rusty curls unfurled like snakes around his head. Excellent imagery!
“Get off me!” Skyler yelled, wishing he had spent more time downtown with the little thieves and Newsies. Little thieves and Newsies? I’m not sure what that all refers to. They had no parents either this makes me assume that Skyler is an orphan, but you mentioned his mother’s tin shack earlier (reading back, I think this confusion might be due to a pronoun error)– but they had bigger, meaner, bossier kids to keep them safe. Like Skyler, a lot of them slept in nests of hay on the ship docks. Some of them were pirates. OH! This is the first hint that we’ve gotten that this might not take place, now. I’d assumed this was taking place in the suburbs somewhere in 2015.
“Give it!” Chad kneed him in the tallywags.
Oof! Skyler hated it when he did that.
One day, Skyler would make his cousins walk the plank!
“Where’d ya hide it, Germ-S-spray?”
A lot of the confusion that I’m experiencing in this first page is due to not grounding the reader in the world/situation right away in the first lines. You’re providing details, such as where he sleeps and his snodberries, but nothing about where or when this scene is taking place. Otherwise, great voice and I adore mention of pirates!
Jami has interned for Entangled, Bree Ogden, and a big NYC agency, handling extensive amounts of slush, evaluating manuscripts, and a myriad of other tasks with aplomb. Along with her day job, she also freelance edits as part of Chimera Editing. In her rare spare time, you’ll likely find her reading for pleasure or relaxing in her patio garden, waiting for the hot peppers to ripen, or geeking out about KT Hanna’s upcoming debut and the sequels.
Jami’s first page critique …
Whenever I think of my grandmother, I will always remember her scent, an amalgam of Finesse shampoo and Martha White flour. (This line doesn’t really hook. It seems to internal, ruminating flashbacks before we have any sense of what is going on.)Lou was always a fleeting panache of oversized dresses and lard, filling my belly with carbohydrates and fried things that you can only get away with in the south: fried cornbread, fried bologna, fried tomatoes, fried catfish, and fried okra (The fact they’re all fried is established before the colon, you don’t need to say fried with everything,. It makes a very repetitive feeling rhythm). If it wasn’t doused in buttermilk and cornmeal and plopped into a sizzling skillet of bacon grease, it wasn’t worth eating. How else do you think I got these thighs?(What thighs? Who’s thighs? For all we know at this point, she chopped them off a vagrant! We need to know the character better for this to mean anything here.) (I would break this paragraph here.)My mother, a mean wisp of a thing with a rotting liver, calls them my “Tennessee thighs.” It sounds endearing (Not to me, it doesn’t! Implying your thighs are as big as a whole state isn’t sweet.), but you’d have to hear how she says it to understand what I mean. For my mother to love me, she’d have to dump her favorite bottle of gin, which has been as present as a sibling in my life since I was a toddler. I didn’t drag around Care Bears or Strawberry Shortcake. (This dates her to being a child from the mid to late 80s, which may date this story wrongly. Make sure these details add up with the time period you want the story set in and the character’s age.) “Tori, go into the kitchen and get me a damn glass, will you?” I waddled to my mother in my too-full diaper and chafed bottom, offering her my sippy cup that she filled to the brim with Beefeater and Seven-Up. It was the only time she ever smiled at me.
That’s why I lived with my grandmother
and have since I was three. Well, lived, technically, since she’s now six feet underneath the ground where I sit. The earth is raw, wounded, the baleful clouds above me threatening to let loose their tears and grieve along with me. The earth is raw, wounded. The baleful clouds above threaten to let loose their tears and grieve along with me. (Trimming some excess words for better punch) “Be brave, Victoria.,” she’d wheezed, just before death stole her away Those were the last words my grandmother said to me before death stole her away. (This line has an odd kind of reflexive structure with the dialogue before it.)
There’s such a beautiful sense of voice in this, on a line level there’s not much for me to pick at! Most of the trimming comes from eliminating passive words (like have been) or repetitive words that don’t add to the rhythm. You have a lovely voice going in parts and what sounds like a heartfelt family story. I think your challenge is balancing the southern speech pattern with the bits of elaborate prose in a way that won’t make either sound false.
But I feel like this is starting too early, in a way that feels telling. We don’t get a sense of the character, or story, or any idea what the conflict is until later. I would start with “The earth is raw, wounded. The baleful clouds above threaten to let loose their tears and grieve along with me.” Lure them in with that first, then “Grandma Lou was always a fleeting panache”… and go from there. Wrap back around with the “Be brave” to rejoin where you left off. That way, there’s a sense immediately of loss and fond reminiscing, but it has the tension from the grave.
Any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!
Thank you, Juliana and Jami, 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.