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 …
Stefanie Wass writes middle grade novels from her home in historic Hudson, Ohio. A member of SCBWI and finalist in the 2012 National Association of Elementary School Principals Book of the Year Contest, her nonfiction credits include the LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, Seattle Times, The Writer, Cleveland Magazine, Akron Beacon Journal, This I Believe, Cup of Comfort, and 15 Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. This will be Stefanie’s second year serving as a Pitch Wars mentor.
Stefanie’s first page critique …
T-Day Chapter 1
May 2, 2017
Callie, recorded playback
If you’re asking me to go back to the beginning, it all started with his digging. After my Mom died, there was so much to do that we just watched Daddy and waited. We were still reeling from her cancer. No remission. No hopeful, cloud-parting skies. Daddy spent a month at home on bereavement leave and then he walked out to the back of our ten acres with a shovel and stayed there. My older brother, Davey, and I were worried, of course, but we were too busy with the laundry and cooking and bills and everything else we’d been doing since Mom got sick. When Daddy didn’t come inside the next morning, I took him a sandwich and a pitcher of sweet tea. I was just fourteen then, but I think now I should have said something. We should have asked him to stop. We should have asked for help. I think your readers will be more drawn into the story if you skip this backstory and start with Daddy digging in the backyard. The reader will wonder what he’s up to and will want to read on. Show Callie’s worry instead of telling us about it. Maybe she’s wearing Mom’s wedding rings…some sign that Mom isn’t around anymore. Instead of telling the reader that Mom died and Dad is acting strange, SHOW this. Get right into the action and open the novel with Dad digging holes in the yard.
Daddy was sitting near the edge of a six by six pit and staring at a mound of dirt. White salt lines Not sure what “salt lines” are. ringed his sticky shirt like a tree stump. His usually tan skin had a sheen of pink beneath the grime. His hands were blistered across the pads Good description! Can she see the bottom of his hands from where she is standing? like he’d placed his palms against a steaming radiator cap and twisted. Davey had warned me to leave him alone. Show this. (“Leave him alone, Cal,” Davey said, his lips tight.) I approached Daddy slowly, calling out that I’d brought him lunch. I’d like her to do this in real time. (“Daddy, I made you a ham and Swiss. Your favorite.”) When he didn’t turn or respond, I placed the plate next to him and sat down.
“What are you digging?”
I always like to consider the following questions when reading novel openings:
- Who is the main character? (I think her name is Callie, but you might want to include her name in dialogue. Not sure of Callie’s age.)
- What do you know about her? How? (I know that she is dealing with loss and a father who is still grieving. I know a lot of this through backstory. I’d recommend showing instead of telling, so the reader is more drawn into the action of the story.)
- What is happening? (There isn’t any action until the second paragraph, when Callie walks out to her dad and brings him a sandwich. If you started with dirt flinging through the air, perhaps a muddy clump hitting Callie in the shins, then the reader would be more likely to read on.)
- Is there a conflict? What is it? (I’m not sure, other than a hint that Dad is unstable and Callie wants him to stop digging. I’m not sure if this is the main problem of the story…Dad’s instability, which Callie might try to help.)
- What is the overall emotion conveyed? (I’m not left with an emotional response. This could be strengthened by showing Callie’s internal/external responses to Dad’s constant digging. Does she ball her fists? Drop the sandwich when Dad refuses to look at her and instead keeps digging? Show her frustration.)
- Would you keep reading? (If you eliminate the backstory and open with the backyard scene, I’d keep reading. I’m curious about Dad’s mental state .)
I hope these suggestions were helpful! Thank you so much for the opportunity to read your work! 🙂
Holly Faur grew up traveling all over the western U.S. and Germany pretending each long car ride was by covered wagon. She now lives in her birth state of Michigan with her husband and four little ruffians where she writes modern historical fiction about wonderfully complicated people. She also reviews books for the Historical Novels Review, keeps a garden, and can’t live without her Wellie boots. Her heart belongs in England, so her boys have promised to take her one day. She is represented by Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary
Holly’s first page critique…
July Workshop: A: Martin
The cachet of being Ann Wagner, the University cheerleader alum, obviously evaporated when my Dallas sweetheart disdainfully dumps me. If you’re going for present tense, I’d change to “evaporates”, or switch to “dumped” for past tense, but you’ve managed a lot of info in one line. Wallowing in self-pity at Texas’s (perhaps preference, but I read that much easier with the ‘s) facsimile of Betty Ford, I expect a quick fix to shore up other insecurities brought on by my parent’s lofty expectations until one night I envision my self-portrait with a husband and children. I’m honestly a bit lost here. What lofty expectations and how do they weigh her actions? I also get the feeling from this line that the portrait isn’t what she has in mind, but then she’s off marrying in the next sentence. Could be me. With that revelation, I’m instantly self-cured and rush home to Little Rock, immersing myself Self-cured to me means she doesn’t need this A.A. anymore (Betty Ford), so why is she immersing herself in yet another, local A.A? She’s coming off a bit flighty, and this makes her hard to like. IF we’re supposed to like her 😉 into the A.A. chapter packed with upper crust alcoholics that which includes Clay Dunningham, a handsome and charming architect with a funny wit and beautiful blue eyes.
Two years later while we’re signing our marriage license, I notice Clay’s twelve years older than me instead of the five he claimed. But I love him and overlook his little white lie. She must love him very much indeed! I hope we learn more about those two years that have passed, and why she didn’t notice all these things. I’m not sure whose side I’m supposed to be on yet. I also ignore our wedding reception pianist’s sudden disappearance after the second song, accepting the explanation he’d had a gallbladder attack. I feel horrible for the poor guy, but I can’t let his problem overshadow my lovely reception at the antebellum mansion where events are coveted invitations. Amazing place for a wedding!
Fifteen minutes later the pianist is running into Lisa’s Hair Salon on the other side of town. Who is telling us this?
“I’m in shock! You won’t believe whose wedding I just ran out on!” he screamed. I’d go with another verb here. Screamed means pain, fearful, to most. Can he “yell”? If we are present, you’ll want to change to “Screams/yells/squeals”.
“Whose?” Is this Lisa? I’m assuming this from where he ran off to, but we don’t know for sure, and she has a few lines.
“Katherine’s! You know, he would come to our parties all dolled up and flirt with everyone!” Here’s where my naivety with LGBTQ is going to show. Moving from “Katherine” to “He” in the same line threw me off, since it was the same character talking. I expected them to keep with the female orientation once he started with it. If this is how it should be, keep it. I want to root for a good person trying to make it in a honest LGBTQ story, and painting Clay as deceiving (the 12 years, known for dolling up and flirting—so he’s not too scared to show who he is) is making it tough.
“Oh, you mean Clay,” she laughs. “I thought he was more into men than women!” Clay is certainly hiding A LOT! Also, this person (Lisa?) makes the unexpected orientation switch for me smoother.
“Exactly! Well, he just married some little rich girl!”
We are certainly plunked down in the action from the start! I wish I knew a bit more about these people, something to sympathize with. I assumed we were in Ann’s first person narrative, but then it switches abruptly to the pianist’s. Unless Ann is observing all of this first hand, I’d see what you could do to make it easier on your reader to keep up.
I know Betty Ford is in Texas, so saying she’s at “a copy” kinda’ threw me. IS she in Betty Ford, or another, lesser known A.A.?
Kudos to you for tackling a challenging story line and very complicated characters! Thanks for putting your work out there and I wish you the very best.
Thank you, Stefanie and Holly, 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.