Wednesday, September 5, 2012

first impressions



 Well, here we are again. It's the beginning of a new month and time for first impressions, brought to you by yours truly and Dianne Salerni. Today we have the first page of a YA contemporary from Kate Brauning. My comments will be in purple and be sure to pop over and see what Dianne has to say by visiting her blog.

CHAPTER ONE


     My mom was a pothead in college. I'm convinced this is how we got to where we are now. I’ve seen her college pictures- denim shorts and waist-length braids. A guy-stopping smile.
     People say we look alike, but I don’t have the smile or the hair. I do wear jean shorts nine months out of the year, but I refuse to do the braids. Braids make redheads look like Pippi Longstocking.
     I was wearing jean shorts the day I first saw Sylvia. I was glad I’d chosen them that morning, since they look good on me. Sylvia Young walked across the grass to our roadside produce stand, each step of her sandaled feet bringing closer the ruinous end of my contentment. I knew she was bringing the ruinous end of my contentment because I saw Marcus tilt his head. Do you mean the repeat this phrase? Just asking.
     He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He tilted his head that way any time he saw my tank-top tan line or I wore an above-the-knee skirt. I narrowed my eyes.
     “Hi,” she said. “I’d like a cabbage and six tomatoes.” Just like that. She wanted a cabbage and six tomatoes. Here's another repetition.
     Marcus arranged them in brown paper bags. He carefully creased the tops of the bags. Ordinarily adverbs should be limited but I like it here because it shows that Marcus is being especially careful, which is no doubt why our narrator is narrowing her eyes.
     “Are you from around here?”
     Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she was.
     “Just moved from St. Joseph. I’m Sylvia Young.” She smiled. She was dark haired with gorgeous high cheekbones and she seemed perfectly friendly (an ambiguous word. Be specific. Is Sylvia pretending to be friendly? Is she genuinely friendly? Or is only genuinely friendly to Marcus?). My contentment exhaled its dying breath.
     “Going to Manson High in the fall?” He handed her the bags.
     “Yep. My dad is going to teach science.”
     I smiled. Manson High went through teachers with alarming regularity. “Four bucks.”
     “Sorry?” Sylvia turned away from Marcus. “Oh. The vegetables.” She handed me ones and looked over the radishes. “This looks like great produce. (this doesn’t sound like something a teen would say. If I was 15-17 and sent to buy veggies at the local farm stand and came a cross a cute guy I wouldn’t have been paying much attention to the veggies, know what I mean?) Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed to Marcus as she said it.
     “Every afternoon,” he said. A ten-acre hobby farm produced a lot of vegetables. I don't think we need this information - imo.
     “Okay, I’ll see you in a day or two, then.”
     I was pretty darn sure she wouldn’t be coming back for the radishes. Lol.


Technically there's nothing wrong with this first page but if you look at my highlights you'll see that there's an excess of passive voice which means there's a lot of telling. Having just begun to read the book, HOOKED by Les Edgerton, I'll offer a piece of his advice:

"Summary doesn't convince anyone of anything." and "Your goal [as the writer] is to evoke an emotional response that hooks the reader, and telling absolutely won't get it."

These are Les' words, not mine, but I believe him because even though it's stated that the appearance of Sylvia spells the end of contentment for our narrator, I don't believe it because I don't feel it. I suggest rewriting this page using a more active voice. That doesn't mean all passive verbs have to be eliminated but I think eliminating those passive 'to be' verbs in this first scene will make it a lot more interesting.

I hope this helps but don't forget, this is just one person's opinion. Let's see what everyone else has to say.And don't forget that comments enter you into next weeks drawing for the great give away.


19 comments:

  1. Not all "was's" are passive, but Marcy's right that replacing an "I was wearing" with an "I wore" would make the voice more active.

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    1. very, very true. In fact, the word 'was' is quite necessary! I was just pointing out how many on this first page alone. Getting rid of a few draws the reader in further into the narrator's world which was obviously quite nice until Sylvia came along.

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  2. Passive words like 'was' used to frustrate me, but it's forced me to find more creative ways to construct a sentence.

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    1. Oh, I still do it, but either I catch myself on the second read through or one of my crit partner's does. I have one in particular who is particularly good at pointing out ALL my passive verbs.

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  3. I have a hard time with passive/active voice as well. :)

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    1. So do I Libby. If not for my crit partners, my work would be riddled with passivity.

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  4. Nice passage and critique! Yes, those pesky "was" verbs, and yes, a lot of them could be more active. I do like the tone in this passage, the wry comments and dry humor. I especially love this line: My contentment exhaled its dying breath. Nice!

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    1. I agree! The narrator definitely has the sort of sense of humor I appreciate.

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  5. I agree the passive voice should be edited, though I actually like the repetitive language. It gives me a good idea of the age of the MC. What I did not get, though I probably would have if I could have kept on reading, was the lines: "I'm convinced this is how we got to where we are now." Where they "were" either figuratively or literally, does not come up. Instead, Kate moves on to Silvia. So, was it the mother's former pot head tendencies what caused Silvia move on in,(no) or were those habits why the MC was stuck selling cabbage and tomatoes in a farm stand? I really like the first line (passivity aside), but I'd like it to connect me more to the story.

    Aside from these comments and those above, I'm intrigued and would like to read further.

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    1. I agree. I liked that first line, too but I'd like it better if it connected to what immediately follows.

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  6. I am intrigued with the characters. At first I thought Marcus was with Sylvia. Good set-up-and I enjoyed the main character's inner dialogue.

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    1. Yes, I agree. I could definitely feel her growing jealousy.

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  7. Well said, Marcy. I do that "was" crap too, dammit!

    I enjoyed the characters too. Great job, Kate.

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    1. It takes a lot of practice to get out of that habit and into the habit of using active verbs. I'm still working on it.

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  8. You can reflect a repeated phrase as dialogue, more active that way.

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  9. Good page! I liked the characters. I wonder if you could skip the whole jean shorts thing though - it's got a nice voice and it gives backstory, but it doesn't really seem connected to the actual story. Just a thought. You've got a nice voice!

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  10. I like these characters-and any reference to Pippi Longstocking makes me smile-I was her for at least 3 Halloweens. But I digress. I think Marsha's suggestions are right on, but I do like the 2nd repeated line. Great last line! Good luck:)

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    1. Thank you for your dissenting opinion! I'm actually a little pleased when someone disagrees because it helps us all realize that opinions are very subjective and ultimately we all have to to decide for ourselves what works and what doesn't. Thanks Robin :)

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