Thursday, October 24, 2013

First-Page Critique – The Pink Motorcycle

by Jodie Renner

Here’s our first-page submission for today, with my comments at the end.

The title is The Pink Motorcycle.

Why did they hurt me? What? Pavement. Rough and warm, I know this, the heat feels good against my aching body.
 
“Rae? Rae Lynne?”

They’ve come for me. No! Not again. No.

“Hey watch out with that.”

Blinking the sleep from her eyes she was surprised to see her brother standing over her. “Billy, I’m-I’m so sorry. I must have…” She set the screw driver down sucking in a deep breath. Her hands shaking. Sweat dampened her shirt, she shivered, chilled and frightened she swallowed the rising bile. The nightmare lingered, leaving her off balanced. She breathed through it the way the psychiatrists had told her. 

“They took him away.”

Staring at the ceiling she blinked dry eyes, gritty with the need for tears. She did not cry. She couldn’t allow it. Taking a deep shivery breath she returned her attention to the motorcycle.

“Rae, did you hear me. I said they took his body away.”

“I heard you.” She rummaged through her tool box. Sucking her lips between her teeth. She kept her head down forcing the grief away.

“Come on Rae, I’ll take you home.” He knelt beside her crowding her with his need to comfort her.

HERE’S THIS SHORT EXCERPT AGAIN, WITH JODIE’S COMMENTS & EDITS INTERSPERSED, PLUS GENERAL IMPRESSIONS AT THE END: [,* = added a comma]

Why did they hurt me? What? [I don’t really get the “What?” Maybe “What did I do?” or "What happened?" or ...?] Pavement. Rough and warm, [I’d make it a period here: “...warm.” or “Pavement under me, rough and warm.”] I know this, [or maybe “At least...”] the heat feels good against my aching body.

“Rae? Rae Lynne?”

They’ve come for me. No! Not again. No.

“Hey,* watch out with that.”

Blinking the sleep from her eyes,* she was [the switch from first person to third seems a bit jarring to me... Maybe stick with first person? (e.g., ...from my eyes, I was...) Or put the first-person, present tense thoughts above in italics to indicate direct thoughts.] surprised to see her brother standing over her.

“Billy, I’m-I’m so sorry. I must have…”

She set the screwdriver [one word] down,* sucking in a deep breath. Her hands shaking. [“Her hands shook” or “Her hands were shaking.” Or: Sucking in a deep breath, she set the screwdriver down, hands shaking.”] Sweat dampened her shirt, [I’d put a period and cap here.] she shivered, [and period and cap here] chilled and frightened,* she swallowed the rising bile. The nightmare lingered, leaving her off balanced [feeling off-balance]. She breathed through it the way the psychiatrists had told her.

“They took him away.” [Who’s talking here?]

Staring at the ceiling [ceiling? I thought she was lying on pavement...? If she’s in bed or on the couch or whatever, would it feel rough and warm under her? And why would she be holding a screwdriver in her house?] she blinked dry eyes, gritty with the need for tears. She did not cry. She couldn’t allow it. [Maybe say why not?] Taking a deep shivery breath,* she returned her attention to the motorcycle.

“Rae, did you hear me? I said they took his body away.”

“I heard you.” She rummaged through her tool box [Okay, so she’s in her (or a) garage? I’d make that clear as soon as she wakes up, where she is. And if she’s in her/a garage, would the floor feel warm under her?]. Sucking her lips between her teeth. [Attach this fragment to the one before (or after) it with a comma.] She kept her head down,* forcing the grief away.

“Come on,* Rae, I’ll take you home.” He knelt beside her,* crowding her with his need to comfort her.

COMMENTS: This short opening definitely incites my curiosity! If you can clear up some of the confusions, I think it will make a gripping opening. I'm intrigued by the references to hurting her and the psychiatrist and taking the body away and her grief about that. I'm already empathizing with Rae Lynne and starting to worry about her - an excellent sign!

I definitely want to read more, to find out about Rae Lynne and Billy, and what's going on with them.

Maybe keep brainstorming to see if you can come up with a more compelling title?

Thanks for submitting this first page for a critique. I look forward to seeing this book in print! Good luck with your revisions!

P.S. One alternate possibility for the beginning, just to give you some ideas:

Why did they hurt me? What did I do? Where am I?

She was lying on pavement. Rough and warm, the heat felt good against her aching body.
 
“Rae? Rae Lynne?”

They’ve come for me. No! Not again. No.

“Hey watch out with that.”

Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she was surprised to see her brother standing over her.
...

Related links:

Those Critical First Five Pages

Set up Your Story in the First Paragraphs

Open Your Novel in Your Protagonist’s Head

12 Do’s and Don’ts for an Amazing First Page

More first-page critiques by Jodie

25 comments:

  1. Jodie, a related question. (I like what you did to this excerpt, it makes it much more readable.) I've heard that agents roll their eyes over books opening from a dream or a character waking up. Apparently, it's the most overused and cliched opening they see. Have you heard this?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree, Leslie. It's been done too much. But this one is so short - it's not like we get sucked into a great long dream, thinking it's real, then the person wakes up and we feel cheated. Since this one's just a few lines, I'm fine with it. We don't know the details of the dream, and when she wakes up, it's not to an empty room with nothing happening; it's to a tense and intriguing situation.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I didn't like this opening. It required me to care too much for a character I don't know. These openings where the main character is somehow disoriented (see Leslie's comment above) do bring you into the action quickly but it leaves the reader as disoriented as the character. Start a little later in the action, where we can get some hard information.

    Also, the name Rae Lynne is too close to Raylen, as in Raylen Givens.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I liked the tension and mystery in this piece, but I got way too confused. I kept having to read back to figure out if I read something wrong the first time. I thought she had been in an accident. Maybe that's what the dream was about. I found the shift from first to third person confusing and jarring. When I get that confused I put the book down because it's a lot of uneccessary work. Without the confusion, I would have kept reading.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was confused as to what was a dream sequence and what was real. And where is she lying? Lots of intriguing hints here but clarification on the setting is needed.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was also confused by where she was, who was speaking, and what they were talking about. On the plus side, the narrator seems sympathetic and engaging, even if we don't know exactly what's going on. I'd suggest that in a first manuscript, one should avoid opening with a character waking up from a dream. It's a bit cliche, and liable to be a negative for some screeners.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, Kathryn. I agree that it's engaging, though.

      Delete
  7. Ditto everyone on the confusion issue. At first I thought she was regaining consciousness after being injured (because of the opening line). But then "she blinked the SLEEP from her eyes" so I am now thinking she was asleep and dreaming (the "nightmare lingered.") But then, as far as I can tell, she's holding a screwdriver and goes "back to work" on a motorcycle. So did she just blank out for a moment? I love misdirection...it's one of a writer's niftiest tools...but this is just confusing. I like that the writer is trying to play with our minds a little with this opening but I think it misses. And without attribution, I also had trouble figuring out who was speaking in a couple places, particularly "Hey, watch out with that." I thought this was the woman speaking but then thought maybe this is Billy? And he feels threatened by the screwdriver? Why? Did she branish it at him?

    One more thing I couldn't figure out: Did she pass out on the floor of a garage and then Billy found her? If so, why is the first thing he says to her "“They took him away.” Logically (and dialogue must always be logical) he'd ask if she's okay or if she passed out or why she's lying there staring at the ceiling holding a screwdriver?

    I love a mysterious beginning as this writer is presenting but a scene still has to adhere to its logic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your very thoughtful, articulate contribution, PJ! There are a lot of areas of confusion that need to be clarified in this opening, so readers don't get annoyed.

      Delete
  8. Jodie - I liked how your revised it - the italics made it clearer when we're in her head as opposed to outside it. I was intrigued but also confused at the start - but I think you're suggestions helped clarify and provide a more gripping first page.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with all the comments posted so far, and I was also confused by the location, the screwdriver and the dialogue attributions. (Also noticed the POV shift.)

    I do agree this has potential, but does need some work to create a smoother and more engaging experience for the reader. Right now, it's a bit "jerky".

    And, for what it's worth (maybe absolutely nothing), I would encourage this author to explore other title options. I'm guessing this story is some sort of mystery, given the dark mood and the dead body. If so, a mystery titled Pink Motorcycle would confuse me even further. It's unlikely I would buy a book titled Pink Motorcycle unless it had a killer cover.

    Thank you for sharing your sample and allowing us to comment. I wish you all the best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Diane! I appreciate your contributions. I also suggested the author brainstorm for a more intriguing title - I agree with your comments about this title.

      Delete
  10. I agree with Eric. I was confused as to exactly what was going on and where it was happening. But I do like Jodie's corrections.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Roll with the other comments. Italics is all that is needed to deal with the POV shift. I'll add a couple of smalls.

    I get a feeling that she is regressing to something, like an abduction. You are setting up my anticipation and I won't be happy if there isn't something very juicy to follow.

    A few little language things. Some stuff I think is regional, so if you are trying to call up a certain feel, a couple fall a bit flat.

    "Blinking the sleep from my eyes . . . " Okay, where and when I grew up, "sleep" is the gritty sand in the corner of your eyes after you have been asleep for quite a while. So, that is how I interpreted it.

    "She set the screw driver down sucking in a deep breath." (And I got this same crit) These two actions don't seem to go together in this order. It doesn't read smoothly. I am also in "Club Put." You don't sit things down, you don't set things down, you put them down. I really think that is regional. And, screwdriver.

    Also, after she put down her screwdriver, she is rummaging in her toolbox. She needs something different than the screwdriver?

    She was asleep on the floor of a garage that is apparently not the one attached to her house "I'll take you home Rae . . . " implies travel." She managed to hold onto her screwdriver through the whole thing. Was she sitting next to the pink motorcycle? Standing? Does this happen often? No one seems surprised.

    That last sentence has three "hers" in it.

    Minor nits, but the actions seem forced and jumbled. Maybe just a niggle of backstory. "Damn, the spells were getting closer together. The meds weren't helping," or "It had been over a year, she'd thought this would never happen again."

    I dunno. Interesting premise, but I'm not hooked.

    Terri

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lots of good points, Terri. Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. It's actually not completely clear to me that this is a dream opening. It's clear that the writer knows what he/she wants, but has done a poor job of making it clear. So busy trying to sort it out that I didn't have time to develop any affinity for the character. Agree with the comment that the story should start at a later point, where maybe it's more understandable.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yes, she could have passed out...? And maybe her brother just thought she was daydreaming or dozing...? Hmmm.... As we've all said, too many vagaries and questions in the reader's mind at this point to make a good hook into the story.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I was confused and irritated at the style. I didn't care enough for the stakes they were trying to raise. I didn't even know how many people there were or which of them were real! I only read the entire passage so I could comment on it. I would have stopped halfway through otherwise. :/

    ReplyDelete
  16. Excellent notes, Jodie. I learn so much from critiques. Big thanks to the brave author for submitting.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Thanks, Julie! Yes, the author was brave, but since we haven't revealed their name, I think he/she got a lot of great ideas here for revising the opening! I have a bunch of first-page critiques over at my own blog, too, Resources for Writers. (links above)

    ReplyDelete