First Page Clinic: sudden death in the slush

WH: Darkness Surrounds
Darkness surrounded his senses.
Odd word choice. It’s jarring to try to imagine darkness “surrounding senses.” And I don’t want to try, I want to read and enjoy.

Fear wrapped around him like a blanket too tightly wound. His breathes were shallow and quick. He wanted to cry out, but he had to be quiet. He had been told time and again what would happen if he made a noise.
Creepy (and that’s good), but I’d quit reading here. The wordiness of the first line combined with the misspelling in the second don’t bode well for the rest of the page, much less the novel. (Mistakes happen, but on the first page, they just can’t. It’s like showing up for a blind date without your wallet–there’s just no incentive for giving you the benefit of the doubt.) That’ll sound awful, but it’s true. Screening slush has to be quick or we’ll never get through one day’s worth of submissions. I’m going to keep going (it’s First Pages and all), but it’d be over by now in the real-life slushpile.

He heard shouts and raised voices. Both? He had to remain quiet. This could be a really powerful, key part of your scene-building, but it’s wasted here by being fed to us. Let your reader see how afraid he is of making a sound by his actions. We won’t feel his terror until we’re engaged in the character and the story, and bland narration does not achieve that connection. Then he saw a splinter of light through the wall. He went to it and peered out. Hoping that what he saw would calm his fear.  Watch that sentence structure. While I’m all for flexibility, can you imagine saying this to someone as it’s written?
His father was being attacked by a group of men. More bland narration. This language does not match the action it’s describing. His father’s being attacked? Holy shit! Make this a scene; it’s reading like exposition. They were dark apparitions More, dammit! More! like the soulless Aine his mother talked about in his bedtime stories. I’d work this into some background scenes. Let us listen to the stories with him. They overwhelmed his father. That’s it? As his father was dragged away he glanced at the wall in which Alaman was hiding. The young boy saw eyes the color of a storm at sea, Watch descriptions like this–it’s really hard to see the color of people’s eyes in the best conditions, and distracting to read in an action sequence (that’s not an extreme face-spitting closeup) and a face tear streaked and twisted with sorrow. Then his mother fell on her knees, like a limb that falls lifeless to the earth and shatters. I like this, but it doesn’t match the scene in tone or pacing. It interrupts more than it contributes to the energy we’re going for here. Even as she wept her jaw was set and her eyes burned with fierceness. He cried out as she was struck and the dark figures looked to the wall.

Wood groaned as the panel was ripped away. Hands reached in to drag Alaman outside. Terror gripped Alaman I don’t care, because I’m not feeling his terror. Tell me more; scare me. as he was dragged from his house to the cart filled with boys his age. His  arms and legs struck out, earning him a blow that sent his world spinning. He was placed roughly Junk that adverb. I want to see the roughness, not hear about it. into the wagon with the rest of the boys.

A whole lot of first drafts have to be killed with fire. Do that and don’t look back!

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Call for First Pages

Let me see that first page (250 words) of your novel. Please change any identifying details you don’t want the internets to read, and use a name/initials and a title you don’t mind me sharing.

I’ll post it with my comments, reviewing it in a slush-reader mindset and marking where I’d stop reading, if I would.

If you think slushy considerations don’t apply to you, be warned:

Agents get slush too–and their piles are even bigger. Uglier, too, I hear.

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a New Word Order

Here it is, a real live website with my real name on it, professional-like. I have another, anonymous, publishing blog, but this one will contain fewer colorful metaphors and more…names. I hope you like it.

What’s coming

In addtion to writing and publishing Q&A, I’m going to offer a First Pages clinic here where I’ll share my thoughts as I read, treating the material as a slush reader and giving you an idea of how your work might be received.  Not actual slush, mind you, but my readers’ submissions. I’ll publish a Call for Pages terrectly.

Why the avenging?

Because this really is a grand adventure. And I’m feisty, I guess. I feel a massive overprotectiveness toward new writers that comes from wading in slush for so long–it pains me to watch them flounder in Publishingland, a confusing and sometimes scary place. And I have a wicked bloodlust for scam lit agents and other predators, so expect to see a lot about that.

I’m also an adult who reads comic books. Yeah, that’s right. I’m a literary anti-snob who loves mass market fiction, and who’s always been dissatisfied with the variety of reading material available to me and later, with publishing in general. Personally, I hope to one day work on anthologies of “street” literature from all over the world, broadening literary horizons in a lateral direction rather than the usual “upward” trajectory that bookworms (aspire to) follow.

We all have our aspirations. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to help new writers develop and navigate the publishing world. So bring on the questions. For right now, enjoy this TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie, who I’ll flatter myself in thinking shares some of my feelings about books.

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