Wednesday, December 3, 2014

First Impressions - Lemon Smiles

Today's First Impression (in which author Dianne Salerni and I critique someone's first page) comes from Timanda @TimandaJWertz. LEMON SMILES (working title) is an MG fantasy.

            Hiding in Lord Jarib's storage room may not have been my best idea ever. (lol. Great first line) When I ducked inside, I was sure no one would see me squished in a dark corner between winter robes that smell of cedar and valerian. At least, I was sure before another slave trundled in to straighten up. He’s so close now I could poke him with my crutch. I hold my breath, but if he gets any closer he’ll hear my heart thrashing like a crocodile in a fishing net.
            I try not to think about what will happen if I'm caught. Lord Jarib could beat me just for being in this part of the house. And if he knew the real reason (can we know the real reason or is it going to be revealed shortly?) I snuck in he'd do a lot more than that.
            The door thumps closed, and I count to twenty to make sure he's really gone before I suck in a deeper breath prickled with irritation. No one was supposed to be here now. Lord Jarib doesn't have nearly as many slaves as his uncle, and I purposely waited for a day when I knew his wife would drag most of them with her to the bazaar. Right now, the kitchen workers are busy preparing dinner at the other end of the house, and everyone else should be at the river washing the bed linens.
            I creep to the door and listen to the hum of silence for a few minutes before nudging the door open. The hall is empty now. I take two steps out of the room, but my crutch pounds too loudly on the stone floor. I cringe at the echo. I can't take any more chances, so I tuck it under my armpit and limp for the last room—Lord Jarib's study. By the time I get there, my left leg is aching, but no one has come to investigate.
            The room is small with a single square window, a table and chair, and some leather scroll cases leaning against the stone block wall in one corner. I limp to the table and light an oil lamp so I can see what I'm doing. Sheets of papyrus curl at the edges, held down by map weights in three corners and a glass inkwell at the top. An expensive blown glass stylus pokes up from glittering black ink. Lord Jarib doesn't hide his penchant for extravagance very well, which is what I'm counting on.


My first thought is that the mix of tenses confuses me in the first paragraph, especially since the rest of the first page is in present tense. My second thought is that I don’t know the sex or name of the narrator or anything else about him or her. I’m not an MG expert but I think kids need to connect with characters right away if they’re going to keep reading and I think the reader need to know more about the narrator – like why he’s there, what he’s after, and especially, how he’s feeling. Is he scared? Is his heart beating fast? Is he sweating? Does he work in this house somewhere or did he sneak onto the grounds? How old is he? All this info could be woven in with the description and serve to elicit sympathy with the reader which in turn will up the tension in this first scene. Does that make sense?

Readers, what do you think? Any thoughts? And Timanda, thanks so much for submitting! I hope my thoughts are helpful. And don’t forget to go see what Dianne thought of this page!

That's it for First Impressions this month but we do have openings for January of anyone is interested.Check out my sidebar for the FAQs and see you next week with something interesting :)


  1. I did feel the tension, but agree that we don't know anything about the narrator. Or why he's there.

  2. I really enjoyed this excerpt and think Timanda can work this into a best seller. What I read has "it," whatever "it" is! Observations: I was surprised that this is for YA. The powerful first sentence is pure genius but needs to be followed up with some character identification. No slave hiding from his/her master would risk the clunking sound of crutches on a floor. The character should reposition the crutches before entering the hall. I thought the study had been beautifully described, then fiddled with too much when the lamp was lit. If there's enough light to describe the room, there's light. Also, why light a lamp that can cast shadows beneath the door? Think this should be re-worked. "Sheets of papyrus curl at the edges. . . " This is a jagged sentence. Suggest cutting it at "edges," then following with a sentence about the weights. The mistress doesn't "drag" anyone with her. The slang is too casual for slavery's brutality.

    Sorry to be so picky, but of the many manuscripts (and e-books) out there, I think Timanda's got a handle on a really powerful story. It just needs some tough, nothing personal, strictly business editing.

  3. it was a fun text, but didn't leave me want for more after the first passage

  4. I won't bore you with more crits from me. I think the above comments hit it, plus Marcy's observations. But I really do like the working title. Title's always get me.

  5. I loved the opening but without something to connect me to the narrator, I felt bogged down in detail by the third paragraph.

  6. Interestingly, I assumed it was a woman's voice.
    I was sucked in early and would love to see more of this.

  7. I do like the voice; but yes, it is awfully gender nuetral and I believe many youngsters first want to know who the narrator is right away. You did well at setting up a bit of society, but I also wanted to know if this person was a slave, on this farm or the other, or if the person broke in on behalf of another master entirely.

    Nice, tight writing and well edited. A good scene, if this was not the opening of the first chapter.

  8. I love this one by Timanda! I think Marcy did a great job with the crit, and I already left a comment on Dianne's blog. :)

  9. I don't have anything new to add to the criticisms that have already been offered, but overall, I really love this piece. Great descriptions and great use of language. Like Elephant's Child, I assumed the character was female, and would definitely continue reading.


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