Thursday, November 3, 2011

Writing 101: Page Critique - Ciara

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.

Congratulations to Ciara for being our very first page critique. First we present the page without comment:

Author: Ciara
Title: Untitled
Genre: Contemporary YA
1st Page (273 words)


I’m pretty sure my sister had decided to become a pagan or a Baptist or something before she off’d herself so I don’t know why we were having a Catholic funeral. I don’t believe in hell and she didn’t either, obviously, but I wonder when I see all these sad puffy eyed faces how many of them believe she’s burning now. Everyone says with their wringing hands that it’s such a waste but how long would she have to stay miserable to satisfy them? Maybe they only remember how she used to be before she got lost.
Our house is empty now of all the sombre tourist mourners paying to gape at our tragedy with their thoughtful lasagnes and endless pots of coffee. The ghost of condolences and morbid curiosity is hanging in the air on their stale cigarette smoke. But we’re alone now in this house separated by the gulf of our secret thoughts. Every day since she died has been leading up to the funeral and now that it’s all over I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I don’t know if I’m allowed to go back in our room. My stomach turns over remembering how I used to wail about the unfairness of having to share a room with someone who would try to make my bed while I was sleeping in it and wave my own dirty socks in my face as proof that I never pick up after myself. I’ve been sleeping on the sofa since she died and no one has told me to go to bed so I guess that means I’m not supposed to.


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 red line edits and then our overall comments after the jump.


I’m pretty sure my sister had decided to become a pagan or a Baptist or something before she offed herself so I don’t know why we were having a Catholic funeral. I don’t believe in Hell and she didn’t either, obviously, but I wonder when I see all these sad puffy eyed faces how many of them believe she’s burning now. Everyone says with their wringing hands that it’s such a waste, but how long would she have to stay miserable to satisfy them? Maybe they only remember how she used to be before she got lost. Consider giving a brief example here. We're just getting to know these characters and have no context on which to base how much the sister had changed.

Our house is empty now of all the sombre redundant tourist mourners Maybe reverse: mourning tourists? paying who had paid  to gape at our tragedy. Ending the sentence here gives it more of a punch. with their Thoughtfullythey brought with them dishes of lasagna and endless pots of coffee. The ghost of condolences and morbid curiosity is hanging in the air on their stale cigarette smoke. Nice! But we’re alone now in this house separated by the gulf of our secret thoughts. Consider breaking this paragraph up. Long paragraphs read slower than short ones. Here is where we would break it. Once again, ending the paragraph here gives it a little more punch.
Every day since she Name? Is there a reason the POV character never mentions her sister's name? died has been leading up to the funeral and now that it’s all over I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. We understand what you're saying in this sentence, but it reads awkward. Consider revising. I don’t know if I’m allowed to go back in our room. What makes the character think this? Also, paragraph break.
My stomach turns over. remembering how If you want this to be deep POV, you don't need "remembering". I used to wail about the unfairness of having to share a room with someone who would try to make my bed while I was sleeping in it. You can break these into two sentences. and She would wave my own dirty socks in my face as proof that I never pick up after myself. I’ve been sleeping on the sofa since she died and no one has told me to go to bed so I guess that means I’m not supposed to.

Laruen's comments: I am compelled to read on--you want to send in your second page for critique, too? ;) Good job immediately setting the reader up with a question we want answered. I find the opening disorienting in terms of time and space. From the very beginning, I figured the first scene would be at the funeral, but then it’s actually after the funeral, but I’m not sure how long after... I would like to see something concrete right away, an action or a line of dialogue happening in the present. This happens to be something I’m often guilty of when starting stories. I take a couple paragraphs to explain How We Got Here and then it’s awkward for me to transition to the actual opening scene.

I love the level of emotional detail you were able to fit in here. It speaks volumes that the MC didn’t even know for sure what religion her sister was. I can tell they weren’t close, and that brings up plenty more questions.

Good job and good luck!



 
Michael's comments:  My style of critiquing is to ask a lot of questions. I found that asking questions helps more so than simply pointing out issues.

Great job on the POV character’s voice. I learned quite a bit about who the MC is and also the sister whom I’m very intrigued to learn more about. You’ve raised some interesting story questions as well.

The biggest issue with this page though is that I’m having difficulty picturing where the POV character is in relation to the scene. What is the character doing? Are they lying on the living room couch or in the kitchen scarfing down that lasagna? I’d like to see this house a little bit more so that I can become grounded in the setting. You don’t need more than a sentence or two right now, and show it through the main character’s actions.

I’m also having a hard time getting a sense of what the character wants in this scene. The funeral is over, so now what is the character up to? We need some kind of hint as to where this scene is going. Otherwise, there is nothing carrying us through the scene. The MCs thoughts about the funeral and her sister are not enough for this reader.

I’m not exactly sure what “thoughtful lasagna” is. Did you mean that some of the mourners thoughtfully brought dishes of lasagna as a comforting gift? Did the MC appreciate the gift(s) or not?

The character says, “We’re alone now…” Who is “we”? The main character and their parents? MC and mom? MC and dad? Aunt and uncle? Consider adding just a word or two to tell us more about who “we” is.

Is the POV character male or female? I guessed female since they shared a room with the sister before she died. Plus the voice sounds like a girl--not trying to sound sexist, but I’m forced to guess because the MCs sex is not explicitly stated or alluded to. You don’t have to go into a deep description of how the main character looks. Just a brief sentence letting us know whether we are in the head of a boy or girl.

Describing the mourners as tourists is an interesting word choice. Initially, I thought it was an incorrect word choice, but in hindsight I’m wondering if the POV character and her family are famous or celebrities of some kind since the mourners paid to come to the funeral.

That raises another question about the funeral. Who charges money for people to attend a funeral? Even celebrity funeral services are usually for family only. In some cases, the public may be permitted to a free viewing of the body. Maybe paying for funerals does happen in real life and I just haven’t been exposed to it. Also, this could be an intentional part of your setting. Bottom-line is: I am curious about it. What makes these people or the dead girl so popular that people would pay to attend the funeral?

How does the POV character feel about the fact that people paid to attend the funeral and that somebody actually accepted the money? It comes across as something normal to her or expected. If that isn't the case, consider including a word or sentence describing how she feels about that.

It comes across as if the POV character wasn’t close with the sister because she didn’t know what religion the sister practiced. But if the two of them shared a room, how could they not be at least somewhat close? Why would they even share a room if they weren’t close? If these are the kind of people who are interesting/popular enough that people would pay to attend their funeral, why would the sisters be forced to share a room anyway? I imagined that they lived in a mansion because I thought they were celebrities. That may not be what you intended, which is why we need to see more of this house through the MCs eyes and also we need to know more details about the MCs family. Just sprinkle in a few key details. No need to over do it with an info dump.

Did everyone smoke at the funeral/wake? Who smokes during a funeral/wake? If the mourners paid to attend, shouldn’t they have had the courtesy to refrain from smoking? Or did the MCs family not mind the smoke? Again, this could be intentional to your setting. Maybe in your story it’s customary to smoke at a funeral. Just be aware that some readers (like me) aren’t familiar with this custom.

Keep in mind that I’m just asking questions here. I’m not saying anything is wrong with these concepts. Nor am I specifically suggesting that you must cut or add anything. But you must be aware that these are the kinds of questions readers will ask when getting to know a story for the first time. For some of these you might want to provide an answer. For others you may not. And some of these questions you may have already planned to answer as the story progresses, which is perfectly fine. Everything can’t fit on the first page and you shouldn’t try to cram it all in there either.

Without reading the rest of the story, I can't definitively say you should address all these questions. But my first point regarding the character’s actions and goals in the scene is something I think you should really keep in mind as you revise. That is your chance to really bring this page to life.

6 comments:

WriterGirl said...

GOD my huge comment was just erased by the internet demons!!

This is my page and you've both raised such great points for me to think about and I so appreciate it.

The pay for funeral thing- What I meant was the (extremely cynical) idea that at a funeral people you barely know turn up with plate of sandwiches or lasagne in exchange for being able to gawk at tragedy up close. Obviously I need to clarify that in my writing though.

I am genuinely taking all your points on board. I can't believe I didn't even clarify that the MC is female. What a ditzy thing to miss out on!

I also appreciate the time and space issue, I think you couldn't be more right. I'm assuming the reader can see what I see without describing it! Rookie mistake I'm sure.

Lauren Hunter said...

Rookie mistake, maybe, but I'd bet people who have been writing for decades still do it now and then. ;)

Michelle Julian said...

For what it's worth, I thought the MC was female and I knew what you meant by "pay" to get into the funeral by your references to the food people bring as an "offering"

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