Thursday, November 17, 2011

Writing 101: Page Critique - Emberchyld



Every Thursday the Writing 101 crew, Michael and Lauren, will critique a page from a novel. If you'd like your page critiqued, please fill out the Writing 101: Page Critique Form. Read the previous submission.

First we present the page without comment:


Author: Emberchyld
Title: The Desired
Genre: YA Paranormal
1st Page (242 words)


“You are so important, Sara. To me and to the world,” He whispered, as the sky above us flamed in a lightshow unlike any I’ve ever seen.

No one ever told me that my world would end in a medieval castle halfway around the world from my parents, my school, and my best friend.

No one ever told me that I’d have to choose between two people who I loved—and that my choice would probably mean life and death.

No one had told me that my life would be anything but normal, that the summer before my senior year would be anything more than a tan, a few great photographs, and a lot of good memories.

No one told me that I would be the one who had to save the world.

I wish they had. I would totally have slept in this morning.

Chapter 1
The summer before my eighteenth birthday was supposed to be quiet and normal. Well, about as normal as a summer can be when you’re shipped off to hang out on your grandparents’ farm in Europe while the rest of your classmates get to go to the shore or Philly or Florida. But, still, I wasn’t expecting anything special. Jog every morning, take a few photos for my blog, prep some of my college applications, drink lots of espressos at the local internet café.

Yeah, things never seem to turn out the way that you want.



What say you, readers of Paper Hangover? Did this first page intrigue you enough to read on? Please keep your criticisms constructive. Always be polite and considerate of the writer. Michael's and Lauren's line by line edits and then our overall comments, after the jump.




“You are so important, Sara. To me and to the world,” He whispered, as the sky above us flamed in a light show unlike any I’ve ever seen.

No one ever told me that my world would end in a medieval castle halfway around the world from my parents, my school, and my best friend.

No one ever told me that I’d have to choose between two people who I loved—and that my choice would probably mean life and death.

No one had told me that my life would be anything but normal, that the summer before my senior year would be anything more than a tan, a few great photographs, and a lot of good memories.

No one told me that I would be the one who had to save the world.

I wish they had. I would totally have slept in this morning.

Chapter 1
The summer before my eighteenth birthday was supposed to be quiet and normal. Well, about as normal as a summer can be when you’re shipped off to hang out on your grandparents’ farm in Europe while the rest of your classmates get to go to the shore or Philly or Florida. But, still, I wasn’t expecting anything special. Jog every morning, take a few photos for my blog, prep some of my college applications, drink lots of espressos at the local Internet café.

Yeah, things never seem to turn out the way that you want.





Lauren’s Notes: Let me start by saying that I love everything under the Chapter 1 heading. I’m already endeared to the narrator. Her (I think?) plans for the summer are easy to relate to but also tell us a little bit about her. We start off with a small sense of loss that her plans were disrupted. Well done.

Take what I say next with a grain of salt, because it’s heavy on the personal preference. Destroy the prologue!!! No mercy!!!!! Okay, to explain, I just don’t like those in medias res from the climax prologues. To me they feel like a cheap trick, like the author didn’t trust his/her story enough to pull me in on its own.

From a more technical standpoint, I don’t think you’re putting your best foot forward with the prologue. I don’t hear your voice in it, and it seems relatively generic. (I ain’t gonna be compelled by life-or-death decisions I until I care about the MC and the people they love.)

So, there’s my vote--kill the prologue, and you’ve got an intrigued reader. :) Good luck!





Michael’s comments: I’m not one of those people who has an automatic disdain for prologues. I think they have their place, and when done well, they can enhance a story in ways a first chapter can’t always do.

But with that said, I’m going to have to agree with Lauren. I don’t feel as strongly as her about killing the prologue per se, but I don’t have any suggestion on how to improve it. So, killing it might be a wise decision. However, now that you have two opinions of how it isn’t working, you could potentially figure out how to make it work.

First of all, I actually loved the way the prologue ended. “I would totally have slept in this morning.” Despite not knowing much about the circumstances surrounding the protagonist, I thought that line was a great character moment.

But here’s why everything that came before it didn’t work for me: I didn’t have enough invested in the character to care about her predicament--which I also didn’t know much about. I understand why it is written the way it is. You’re raising story questions. And the conflicts of her world ending and the difficult choice she has to make could potentially be intriguing had I gotten to know the protagonist first. But as presented, the reader doesn’t know what’s at stake so it comes across flat. The reader hasn’t had the chance to bond with the main character so that they can root for her to overcome those conflicts.

Now as far as Chapter 1, I had difficulty understanding why the main character doesn’t think going to her grandparents farm is normal. Also, I’m not sure why she doesn’t want to be there. This may be something you address later, but the reader needs a hint for us to be as invested in the main character’s plight as she is.

Consider a sentence or two hinting at why the character feels the way she feels about spending the summer at her grandparents. There’s no need to go into an info dump because you’re going to show this later. All the reader needs is a hint for now. Without it, the reader is left wondering why her summer can’t be quiet and normal with her grandparents instead of feeling as if we understand exactly why it won’t be quiet and normal. Not everyone goes to their grandparents farm for the summer, but it’s not such an outrageous thing that it would be considered an abnormal thing to do.

Is it not normal for the main character? Does she not ever visit her grandparents, but this one summer her parents mysteriously sent her there?

“The summer before my eighteenth birthday was supposed to be quiet and normal.”
Was her life, previous to opening of this story, not so quiet or normal? If so, give us a brief sentence hinting at why she wanted and expected her summer to be quiet and normal.

Are her grandparents loud and not normal? Are they eccentric and annoying? Give us a hint as to who these grandparents are since we are about to meet them. If we should be dreading living on this farm along with the character you have to provide concrete examples as to why we should feel that way so that we can feel that way. If we are meant to be intrigued by these grandparents and their farm, give us a reason why so we can, in essence, be intrigued. Do this in no more than a sentence or two.

Don’t forget to provide an emotional experience for the reader who needs to feel one way or another about your character(s).

Did the MC have any major plans for the summer that were interrupted? I know she mentioned jogging and taking photos, but she can do those things on a farm. They’re not so special that she can only do them at home. And drinking lots of espressos doesn’t seem like a huge loss either. Maybe it is an intolerable interruption to the character, but it isn’t presented that way. What if she was drinking the last bit of her final espresso as she was thinking this? That would be an opportunity to show her really missing it. What if she ordered a couple more and froze them to take with her to the farm? (I’m not much of an espresso drinker so if freezing them is a ridiculous notion, please don’t mind me. I just want to help you generate ideas.)

Everyone can relate to having their plans interrupted, but it doesn’t come across as if she planned anything special for her summer. So it doesn’t feel to the reader that her summer was interrupted at all.

Consider mentioning something special that she had planned to do for the summer, something that she could never ever do on a farm in Europe. It can still be something quiet and “normal” such as: she might have wanted to watch her entire DVD collection with her boyfriend, but the farm doesn’t have electricity or her boyfriend. That’s just an example of the direction you could potentially go. And a single sentence just like that would be all you need to get the point across.

This is needed because if she wasn’t expecting anything special for her summer, how did it not turn out the way she wanted? Those are two conflicting ideas.

I hope this helps. You have my best.

4 comments:

emberchyld said...

Thank you both so much for the critique!
About two days after submitting this, I went on a revision binge and completely chopped out my prologue-- so I'm really glad that you validated my decision to kill it. (someday, I'd love to resubmit the prologue-less first page)

I appreciate all of your other comments and look forward to everyone else's thoughts.

Susan Francino said...

I think you were right in your decision about the prologue, but the last three sentences of said prologue were good and could be your new opening sentences. (I would rework the "No one told me...." sentence a little, but other than that, I think it would be a strong beginning.)

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