Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First Page Critique - Max

Today's first page submission comes from Max. Thanks so much for the entry!



Synopsis:

'Lily Watterson is dead, but she has a plan: she’s going to find Death and ask for her life back. However it’s a dangerous world Lily’s found herself in, where monstrous creatures feast off spirits and the ghosts of children are used as streetlamps. It’s going to take all of her courage to get the second chance she so desperately wants.’



Excerpt:

1


Further down and further in



Lily Watterson died in her school-clothes. She had been dead for over three hours, though it felt like longer to her.



L I L Y W A T T E R S O N



The air was crisp and the roads were icy. There was little to suggest the world would break.


“Lily, up. Up for school.”


“But I don’t like school...”


Mum yanked away the pillow and said: “You don’t want to be late, Lily-pad.”


This was true. In a perfect world Lily wouldn’t be late because she wouldn’t even go, for she would be too busy exploring the park, uncovering treasures hidden in the trees, in bushes, and buried under snow. When she brushed her teeth in the mornings, an adventurer stared back from behind the bathroom mirror (the thought never failed in making her feel warm).


When others looked at Lily, though, they saw a girl far too small for ten years old. Dirty blond hair, blue eyes, a quiet sort of face. Lily vanished under your nose. If you were silent enough people’s gazes slipped over you.


She was secret.


In the car Mum said: “Amy’s mother rung. Why didn’t you tell me about the party this Friday?”


“I, I forgot.”


Lily stared out of the window. She’d never been a good liar.


As the car pulled up beside school, Mum brushed her daughter’s face a last time. And there, creeping up Lily’s back like a spider, a chilling sensation as though something huge had just happened, something enormous; yet goodness knew what.



What I liked: I have to start out by saying that I love the synopsis. I think having the spirits of children as streetlamps is a fun and incredibly creepy idea (my critique partners know that I'm a sucker for creepy stories, especially MG). Very Neil Gaiman-esque. Your writing is strong in terms of grammar/sentence structure, and within a page you've managed to create a protagonist who I'm rooting for. This is of the utmost importance - your audience needs to connect with your main character, or else they won't continue reading. I also get a real sense of Lily's age (even without you mentioning the fact that she's ten years old). Again, capturing the "voice" of a protagonist in the 10-13 age range is very difficult, and although Lily and her mother only have a few lines of dialogue I can already imagine her as a fifth grader.



My overall critique: In my opinion (and I'm aware that others may disagree with me), I think you're starting the story in the wrong place. Although your first line is intriguing, you've still broken one of the top unofficial editor rules for first pages: never begin with your main character waking up in bed on a seemingly normal day. It's cliche, it's been done a million times, and it annoys the hell out of editors/agents no matter how good your writing is. Since we've already established that Lily is dead, the rest of this page reads as some sort of flashback. I would therefore suggest one of two options (keeping in mind that I don't know anything about the rest of the story):


a. Start your book off with Lily in the afterlife. Don't just give us two sentences, then switch back to when she was alive...I'm honestly more interested in what it's like now that she's dead. Save the flashback with her mom for later when your readers are invested in Lily's character.


b. If you want to keep the flashback, I'd suggest choosing a different scene....again, the whole waking up thing is a turnoff for editors.


As someone who has written a book set entirely in the afterlife, one issue you're going to run across in the novel as a whole is stakes. If your character can't die or get injured, what's at stake? Keep this in mind when you're writing, because it's difficult to keep up the tension if the reader isn't honestly worried about what will happen to Lily.



Little things:

~"The air was crisp and the roads were icy. There was little to suggest the world would break." In these two sentences you have three "to be" verbs: was, were, and was. You're a stronger writer than that. "To be" verbs are weak and passive, and if at all possible you should try to replace them with stronger words. For instance, "The air was crisp and ice slicked the roads" gets rid of one "to be" verb without changing the meaning of the sentence.

~'Mum yanked away the pillow and said: “You don’t want to be late, Lily-pad.”' Replace the colon with a comma.

~'In a perfect world Lily wouldn’t be late because she wouldn’t even go, for she would be too busy exploring the park, uncovering treasures hidden in the trees, in bushes, and buried under snow.' You used the word "would" three times in this sentence. It might be fine here, but just be conscientious of word repetition, as it disrupts the flow of your story.

~'The thought never failed in making her feel warm.' I'd change 'in making' to 'to make,' as it sounds less awkward.

~'Lily vanished under your nose. If you were silent enough people’s gazes slipped over you.' You utilize the second person in these two sentences, but you seem to refer to two different "you's." 'Lily vanished from under your nose' indicates someone in Lily's presence, while 'If you were silent enough people's gazes slipped over you' refers to Lily herself, but through a generalized statement. Linking these two sentences together is rather confusing. If you don't need to use second person (which you don't here), I'd suggest taking it out.

~'In the car Mum said: “Amy’s mother rung. Why didn’t you tell me about the party this Friday?”' Again, change the colon to a comma.

~“I, I forgot.” Change the comma to an ellipsis to convey stuttering.

~'As the car pulled up beside school, Mum brushed her daughter’s face a last time.' I'd change it to "one last time."

~'And there, creeping up Lily’s back like a spider, a chilling sensation as though something huge had just happened, something enormous...' You need a word between the comma after "spider" and the word "a". I'd suggest "came".

~'Yet goodness knew what' sounds awkward.


Overall I really enjoyed this sample, and once again, I love the premise! Can't wait to see where you take this. If anyone else wants to add to/dispute my critique, feel free to do so!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this- it’s very refreshing to get an honest critique for once... that’s kind of hard to get from close friends and family...

    And like I said I’ve never been happy with this opening (at the time I thought it was important to show what her life was like before she died), so I’ve taken your advice and just deleted it. The story read a million times better now.

    Thanks again! =)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Spot on, Kate. You have a fabulous eye for critiquing.

    Very intriguing, Max. That's the kind of story I'd read.

    ReplyDelete