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 …
Marty Mayberry writes anything from young adult sci-fi to adult historical fantasy. When she’s not dreaming up ways to mess with her character’s minds, she works as an RN/Clinical Documentation Specialist. She has a BA in International Affairs in German and an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. She lives in New England with her husband and grown children, as well as three neurotic cats and a geriatric chocolate lab. Give her a long walk on a powdery beach, an ancient ruin to explore, or a good book, and her life’s complete.
She’s represented by Jessica Watterson of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency.
Marty’s first page critique …
Always keep a suitcase packed. That’s rule number one for being a foster kid. <<If you really wanted to get the reader’s attention with the first sentence, then combine these into one strong sentence. Rule number one for surviving foster care is always keep a suitcase packed. It’s especially the case for me. <<You can voice this up a bit more because this line is a little flat. In the past fifteen years, I’ve been in twenty-three homes, fourteen schools and four jail cells. Just got out of cell number four last month. <<elaborate a bit here…you’ve got my attention, but you’re almost overloading me with facts instead of showing me who your character is. My current foster mama insisted on nabbing me out prior to the arraignment despite the fact that I told her I wouldn’t mind spending the night—saving her the trip. Wouldn’t be the first time. <There’s a lot of information in this paragraph. While world building is great, it’s often better to ground the reader in a character first, especially if you can do it with voice.
So three weeks and about a dozen stern lectures later, including two from my oh-so-pleasant case manager, Foster Mama and I sit side by side in the highly esteemed Carmen County Courthouse located in the prime of bustling Archibold, Kansas, ready for the hearing. <<Break this up. It’s really long and you’re giving us a lot of information all at once. Again, not the first time. Last time I got sixty hours of community service. Read: sixty hours with a bunch of kids who think they’re thugs wearing dirty orange vests and stabbing trash on the side of 435. Deep, sweeping bows to the community for that—I hope they felt served. <<The only thing I’ve learned about the character so far is that he/she is in foster care and on probation. You don’t always need to make the reader care for or sympathize with the MC, but sarcasm can come across off-putting. Attitude isn’t always the best voice to pull the reader in.
But this time is different. This time they’re pushing juvie, which might not be so bad. Hell, I might even have the gumption <not sure this is a teen word to unpack my suitcase there. <<in juvie you don’t get your things…baby lockup = no suitcase No sense in filling up a closet now if a two minute phone call could land me someplace else tomorrow. << Is the MC is throwing the blame on the foster parent? Just want to make sure this is the impression you want to give the reader. Juvie would at least have some permanence.
When we arrived at the courthouse a full hour ago, it was no surprise that my lawyer wasn’t yet here.
I wonder if you’re starting your story in the right place. Most of this page is backstory and while it’s sad backstory, it’s not unique enough to make me eager to read more. If you showed incredible voice, it might help.
Consider slowing down and filtering in the backstory over a number of pages, rather than just one. Conversation between the MC and foster mother/judge/lawyer, with internal voice could bond the reader with the MC.
If you can give us an idea of the MC’s sex, that would be helpful.
Try to make the scene more active and your page will come to life.
All the best with it!
Catherine Scully is a writer, illustrator, and graphic designer with her work featured in magazines, anthologies, and in Simon and Schuster’s Young Adult book Winterspell by Claire Legrand. Catherine is currently working on THE SPARROW CURSE, a southern gothic horror series for Middle Grade.
As the Young Adult Editor for the Horror Writer Association, she runs a blog at yahorror.com called “Scary Out There: What is Horror in Young Adult Fiction?” with multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry, which was featured on CNN.com in an interview with R.L. Stine. She’s also a member of the YA Scream Queens, a group of nine women who write horror for kids and teens.
When she’s not writing and illustrating, Catherine can usually be found practicing on her drums, trying to master sewing a new steampunk outfit, or watching Totoro with her son.
Catherine’s first page critique…
Seconds before Signora D’Agnelli’s Alfa Romeo exploded from her driveway, the roar of the V-10 engine reached Raj and me in our hiding spot among a grove of oak trees. Gravel pelted the mailbox as usual, and flew across the country lane. In the twilight, the blurred image of her red car shot past us.
(In this first paragraph, the wording is changing the immediacy of the scene. I found myself questioning exactly we are seeing or hearing first. If you instead word it as, “The roar of Signora D’Adnelli’s V-10 engine shook the oak trees where Raj and I hid, pelting gravel at the mailbox as her Alfa Romeo flew past,” it is much clearer that the characters are hearing the car before they see it. With this wording, we also feel what they are feeling. Try to use the five senses wherever makes sense and is possible to immerse your reader into the scene!)
Signora, as we called her, had just turned seventy. Like everyone else in Italy, she drove with a complete disregard for traffic laws.
(If you’ve already named her Signora, why are you naming her Signora again here? The naming only makes sense if her full title was somehow different before. With the second sentence, this is an example of telling instead of showing – we could see her pass through a stop sign or traffic light without stopping, almost hitting a pedestrian. We get a sense of character and can draw our own conclusions by showing character instead of explaining “Signora is a bad driver” as an aside.)
With his eyes locked on the rapidly disappearing taillights, Raj jumped to his feet. “Only nine of those cars were made, Sasha,” he said in French.
(What is the main character’s name? There must be some sort of dialogue here to reveal that in the first page so we know whose story this is. We also don’t need to know Raj’s eyes were locked on the car. We know that already because we are in first person, seeing what they see. It’s already mentioned they are hiding and watching Signora, unknowingly. You could simply have Raj jump to his feet and be perfectly fine!)
“I know that because I heard you the first hundred times you told me.” I tugged on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. “A little help?”
(We don’t really need “I know that.” It clunks up the dialogue here. People typically speak in clip, as in, they don’t say complete sentences all of the time or it would sound too formal. Is your character formal? Informality and clipped speech can imply friendship. For example, having your lead say, “I heard you the first hundred times” implies a different intimacy than “I know because I heard you the first hundred times.”)
Raj bent down and finished unburying continued to dig up the ladder we’d stashed beneath a carpet of damp leaves the night before from beneath a pile of damp leaves. I snagged one end and he took the other. A chill from the cold metal seeped into my thin gloves. We crept from the shadows and crossed the driveway. Signora’s majestic villa rose in front of us on a hill, dark except for a single lamppost in the front garden.
(“I snagged one end and he took the other” is not engaging. We don’t really see the scene or how they pick up the ladder. For example, is one taller and one shorter? That would make them carry the ladder in an interesting way. Likewise, “crept from the shadows” doesn’t really paint a picture. Instead, try to say where they are going to versus where they are coming from because you already mentioned a bit about what their hiding place looks like. Is the driveway sunlit? Is it pavement or just gravel? This will enrich and deepen your scene so we can see the entire setting, not just where they are hiding. What does her villa look like? What color is the paint, the windows? So much is missing here that could paint a picture of Signora as a character, and also the attitudes of your main characters towards her wealth – envy or garish?)
After cutting across the grass we followed a stepping stone path around back to a patio. Exotic plants and decorative rocks surrounded a lagoon-shaped swimming pool, giving the impression we’d accidently wound up at a Caribbean resort.
(We’re still not seeing the scene here. Even if you don’t want to go for a ton of wordy description, it’s hard to see the plants, rocks and grounds. Your readers may not know what a Caribbean resort looks like, so you must describe it to them)
I propped the ladder against a stucco column while Raj pulled his laptop from his backpack.
(Did he have the backpack when he dug out the ladder? That might make the job cumbersome.)
(Overall, I’m intrigued to read more. I love a good mystery and you’ve effectively dropped us into the action! I think with these few tweaks, you’ll be golden. You’ve chosen a great place to start your story and I would continue reading if I were sent this submission for Pitch Wars. Unfortunately, without immersion through the five senses, deeper description, and character names, it won’t stand out in the slush pile as well as it could. I really wish you the best of luck with revising this because I’m seriously intrigued!)
Thank you, Marty and Cat, 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.