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 …
Though Diana Gallagher be but little, she is fierce. She’s also a gymnastics coach and judge, former collegiate gymnast, and writing professor. Her work has appeared in The Southampton Review, International Gymnast,The Couch Gymnast, and on a candy cigarette box for SmokeLong Quarterly. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and is represented by Tina Wexler of ICM Partners. Her debut novel, LESSONS IN FALLING, releases September 8.
Diana’s upcoming release …
When Savannah Gregory blows out her knee – and her shot at a gymnastics scholarship – she decides she’s done with the sport forever. Without gymnastics, she has more time for her best friend, Cassie. She’s content to let her fun, impulsive best friend plan a memorable senior year.
That is, until Cassie tries to kill herself.
Savannah wants to understand what happened, but Cassie refuses to talk about it and for the first time, Savannah has to find her own way. The only person she can turn to is Marcos, the boy who saved Cassie’s life. Being with him makes her see who she could be and what she really wants: gymnastics.
But Cassie doesn’t approve of Marcos or of Savannah going back to gymnastics, and the tighter she tries to hold on to Savannah, the farther it pulls them apart. Without Cassie to call the shots, Savannah discovers how capable she is on her own – and that maybe her best friend’s been holding her back all along.
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Diana’s first page critique …
I’d like to see a line or two before this bit of dialogue to set the scene in Annie’s POV, introducing us to her mental/emotional state.
I’d move this paragraph up to follow “she’s clean,” showing us who’s speaking. The big goon that doubles as the school rent-a-cop waves the piss test-stick in front of my face like I just won the lottery. His black face is shiny with sweat. This is the only character whose skin color is mentioned in this passage; consider if this is necessary information. He’s nervous and twitchy, like he expects me to go all Joker on him and make my yellow number two Ticonderoga disappear up his nose.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I growl and toss my hair over my shoulder. I sink deeper into my old army jacket. He’s waiting for me to write up my statement on the legal pad he dropped in front of me.
He’s gonna be waiting a hell of a long time. Nice! Enjoying the voice here.
“Her urine might be clean, but if she’s dealing in dealing in or dealing? this poison, she’s got to be using it too.” Principal Jack-off waves at the twenty dollar bags lying on his desk. Bags that I hid in my backpack, ready for delivery after school to a half dozen loyal customers.
What does he know? Battery acid? Drain cleaner? Antifreeze? A little confusing – “what does he know?” seems to imply that Annie thinks he’s onto her as she lists those three things, versus “what does he think?” which implies that he’s just speculating. I know what’s in that stuff. It’s my own personal brand.
You won’t catch me using it to clean a toilet bowl.
“Where did you get the meth, Annie?”
Where? That’s a complicated question. In my life, that’s like asking me what I ate for breakfast. Crank’s my life. Not by choice. Never by choice. Great! I like the touch of vulnerability when she’s forced to look inward, which contrasts nicely with her defensiveness when confronting the other characters. This is the first moment where we really get to see more of Annie, and as such, I’d like to see her occupy the first line of the story rather than the cop.
A knock on the door. Two big-as-the-doorway, Pennsylvania state cops fill the tiny hall outside J-O’s office like monstrous gray thunderheads blocking the last rays of my sunshine. I really like “the last rays of my sunshine.”
I think this sample is compelling and engaging! Strong voice, plenty of conflict, and the sense that there’s more than meets the surface with this drug bust. Great work!
Kevin is a self-proclaimed dreamer and a kid at heart. When he’s not writing or reading, he is coaching soccer or helping with homework. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife, two extraordinary boys, and dogs. He is also a co-founder of the Middle Grade Mafia blog.
Kevin’s recent release …
The Extraordinary Sam & the Adventurers’ Guild
Cover illustrated Dora Mitchell
In EXTRAORDINARY SAM, Sam Miller seems like an ordinary 12 year-old boy, but the discovery of a mysterious box from his missing grandfather changes his life forever. He soon finds himself in a strange world full of adventure and magic where he must battle pirates, giant spiders, and an evil tyrant. To survive, Sam must overcome his fears, solve the riddles, and most of all, be Extraordinary.
Kevin’s first page critique …
I’m not sure if it was the creak of the steam running through the radiators or the scrumptious odor of bacon frying that awakened me. (First line doesn’t draw me in. Could use some pop/action to have the reader feel what the character is experiencing. There are many ways to describe the character waking up and experiencing those first moments where your body and mind haven’t fully connected to being in the real world.) Sniffing the promise of breakfast in the air, and not wanting to risk the cold planked floor just yet, (These seemed a bit contradictory to me. The cold floor would want me to snuggle in, but the smell of bacon would have me jumping out of bed, mouth watering.) I snuggled deeper into my comforter. I love bacon.
Bacon? That means Dad’s cooking.
“Dad!?” (the use of the exclamation point and question mark is a bit much for me. Adding a dialogue tag will be more effective in expressing her emotion.)
I leapt out of bed and shiver-shuffled my feet (this action descriptor took me out of the story) into my fluffy slippers and tore out (this action feels like it doesn’t feel consistent with rest of story. Could be something like “and rushed out of my room, the slick soles of my slippers sliding on the hardwood floor. Something that paints a picture for the reader, have them experience the dash with her) for the kitchen. I rounded the corner and there he was, Lawrence Saint (Ellis) (name is a bit awkward. Do his friends call him Ellis? Reader can maybe guess this is her father, but not 100% clear with this being the first time meeting him in the story. Could do something like “Lawrence Saint, the guys at the pub call him Ellis, I call him Dad. That would be a good end of paragraph in my mind, working the turning of bacon earlier into sentence “there turning a perfectly…bacon was Lawrence…). turning a perfectly cooked piece of Irish saddleback bacon.
“Dad! That bacon is for the cookbook! It took weeks to get here.”
Ellis turned towards me and flashed his signature smile. (Move dialogue up to tie it to Ellis.)
He pulled another piece from the frying pan and laid it on paper towels to drain. (here is another opportunity to have the reader feel like they’re in the room – “He lifted a thick slice of crispy bacon from the iron skillet—drops of grease dripped back into the pan, making tiny spitting noises on the hot surface. He laid it on several sheets of paper towels that he stationed next to the stovetop to drain with the others.)
“I added another pound to your order when I saw it. I haven’t had this bacon for a long time.” (Needs a dialogue tag to signify who is speaking)
I shrugged, stole a piece, and ate it. (Shrugged doesn’t seem like the reaction I would have expected. Nodding, smiling, something that shows she is relieved that he thought of ordering extra for the two of them to enjoy).
“Ohmygosh! That’s so good.” (Move up as reaction to eating in previous sentence, thus tying it to the girl. The “Ohmygosh!” sounded like a valley girl in my head – very fast. Could keep if accompanied with nonverbal clues to her experience tasting the bacon or slow it down “Oh. My. Gosh! That’s so good.”)
Ellis took (took seems a bit plain here. He maybe could break off a piece from piece draining or picked up a small piece that had fallen onto the counter) a small piece and popped it into his mouth.
“Nice texture.” (Move up to join his tasting. Nice texture seems a bit cold sitting by itself, which is fine if it fits character, but with what you reveal about the character in next paragraph, there could be nonverbals that show him noticing the texture, but missing the days he could taste the food he prepares. Moments with his daughter that he misses dearly)
I winced. (wincing seems not to match emotion I would think would come with this scene. Something along the lines of “my shoulders slumped and I stared sadly at the crackling bacon in the skillet. My dad lifted my chin with a finger and shot me a slight smile to let me know everything was okay.”) My dad is a great chef, was, anyway. He lost his sense of taste after a tonsillectomy. They (who is they? They say his not having taste is a positive thing for being an editor of cookbooks and the loss of taste has him connect with the authors he edits? I am confused here. Is he even better than he was? Just need clarification of the reasoning he’s even better) say he’s an even better cookbook editor because he understands what the author is trying to accomplish. The problem? (Maybe new paragraph with the “problem”?? Is he required to make each recipe? If it is a problem, it seems counterintuitive to the previous sentence.) Dad has to cook the recipe, and without a sense of taste he can’t. (Even though this makes his job harder, it seems like a time where the father and daughter share/bond. Also, I would think he could still follow the directions in the book, but not able to see if it meets the taste test. Nikk could be there to tell him if it needs more salt or if garlic would round out the flavor) That’s where I come in. I cook the dishes to see if they’re okay. I’m Nikk, his daughter. I’m 13 but I grew up in the business. (cooking, editing? Don’t think this is needed) I learned the difference between a velouté and béchamel while other kids were eating paste. (is this last part a personal introduction to the reader? Could play with this part and the order to give it personality. Suggestion is move her name after “where I come in.” Her saying she is his daughter is a bit redundant at this point. Her age could be tied into last sentence by saying something like “Even though I’m only 13, I learned the difference…around the age other kids were still eating paste.”)
I am not sure the direction of the rest of the story, but I think this story has strong potential. If the author can work on giving us a clearer picture of Nikk’s personality (especially being 1st person) and defining this relationship through nonverbal/reactions, the reader will better connect with the story and characters. Currently, I don’t have enough to go on to care about her. Also, I don’t have any idea of where this is. Small descriptions can paint a picture of a struggling family who only has the dad’s cookbook editing to provide for the family or if he has done very well with his talent and they are in a nice neighborhood and the kitchen has everything he needs to make these dishes. Be clear and be specific so reader sees the plate of bacon and hears the pop as it cooks.
Thank you, Diana and Kevin, 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.