Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing 101: Page Critique

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.

First we present the page without comment:


Author: Jenny Kaczorowski
Title: Rivers Underneath
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
1st Page (245 words)

Emma watched a cluster of mourners gather around the fresh grave at the foot of the hilly cemetery, curling and uncurling her fingers into her palms. The black-clad figures clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they didn’t mourn alone. Comfort Emma couldn’t share. Their shock and grief and anger pounded against her, even across the distance.

The wind shaped Emma’s dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away with the back of her hand. She shifted her feet and the frozen dew clinging to the grass crackled under her.

Emma knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.

But she couldn’t.

The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, meant to console, could send her spiraling out of control.

She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw every detail in stunning clarity. The lurid green of the carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead coffin that held her best friend. The sky, the same colorless grey as her eyes, burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.

Her parents were worried. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. She’d nearly self-destructed when Gabriel left four years earlier. And he’d only moved away.

Lily was dead.

Unbidden, an image rose before her eyes.

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.


 



Emma watched a cluster of mourners gather around the fresh grave at the foot of the hilly cemetery, curling and uncurling her fingers into her palms. The black-clad figures clung to one another, finding comfort in knowing they didn’t mourn alone. Comfort Emma couldn’t share. Their shock and grief and anger pounded against her, even across the distance.

The wind shaped Emma’s dark hair into softly waving tendrils and she brushed it away with the back of her hand. She shifted her feet and the frozen dew clinging to the grass crackled under her.

Emma knew she should join the other mourners. She knew they expected her to share in their public display of sorrow. Depending on how deep in POV you want this to be, you could drop “knew”. Example: She should join the other mourners. They expected her to share in their public display of sorrow.

But she couldn’t.

The slightest touch, the slightest betrayal of emotion and she would lose everything. Even a hug, meant to console, could send her spiraling out of control.

She remained frozen, a silent witness to their grief. She saw every detail in stunning clarity. The lurid green of the carpet covering the hole in the ground and the cold, dead coffin that held her best friend. The sky, the same colorless grey as her eyes, Who’s eyes? I assumed Emma’s at first, which made me think this was another POV issue, but now I’m thinking this is a reference to Lily’s eyes which would have more of an emotional impact. On the other hand, we don’t know Lily is the one who is in the coffin yet. burned in her mind. Overwhelming sorrow surrounded her, but she refused to absorb any of it.

Her parents were worried. Not that she blamed them. She’d never handled loss well. She’d nearly self-destructed when Gabriel left four years earlier. And he’d only moved away.

Lily was dead.

Unbidden, an image rose before her eyes.

Michael’s comments: For my personal taste, I prefer a little more action in an opening, but this page is written well enough that I would continue reading. You have a great handle on your craft and you write with such confidence that I’d read further to see where this scene is going. I’m curious what this image is that Emma sees right before the page ends.

The only issue I’d point out here is the POV. In some spots, it’s very close POV such as when she mentions her parents. In other spots, the POV pulls back and we’re outside of Emma’s head (I highlighted those ares). Neither POV is particularly wrong though. But it is something you might want to consider paying a little closer attention to.
I’ll give you a couple of deep POV options below.

Instead of: “Emma watched a cluster of mourners...”
You could try something like: “Emma gazed down at the cluster of mourners from her spot on top of the hill...”

Instead of: “She saw every detail in stunning clarity.”
You could try something like: “Every detail jumped out at her in stunning clarity.”



Lauren’s comments: I agree with Michael’s suggested edits. Bringing the POV in closer would help to make the scene more active. And that’s something I’d encourage you to focus on in general: switching from passive to active.

An opening doesn’t need to have action to be active. Emma is doing a very passive activity: watching, describing, and reflecting. I want to see more of her reaction. I’m not clear on whether she’s in denial about her own pain, or if she just doesn’t want to let it out. If it’s the latter, show show show us what’s really going on inside her!

Another way to look at it is that nothing changes on this page. Well, except the image rising before her eyes, depending on what that is. For an opening to be really compelling, I think there needs to be movement, either internal or external.

I hesitate to give you specific advice since I don’t have the next few pages, but I’m willing to bet something happens, something changes, very soon. And my suggestion is that you move it up. One way to do this might be to delete the sentences explaining that Emma can’t let anyone close to her without fear of breaking down. That would have the added benefit of making the reader curious as to why Emma is staying away from the funeral.

I hope I’m making sense. Please feel free to ask for clarification. Good job with this so far, and good luck tinkering with it!

6 comments:

Michelle Julian said...

I enjoyed this first page and would definitely keep on reading!

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