Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Would You Read On? hosted by Diana Flegal

It is time once again for First Pages, Would You Read On? We look forward to your comments on the following First Page:

Her foot was on the landing when she heard it, a message only the densest mother could fail to get-the sound of, Sara's bedroom door clicking shut.

At the top of the stairs, Karen's resolve failed and she hesitated, heart pounding, while she reminded herself to breathe. When exactly had she given away her authority to a sixteen-year-old? It was a rhetorical question; she didn't need an answer, she needed to make it through the next five minutes without an argument.

Behind the door, a Mozart sonata drifted into the hallway, harmonic vibrations to ease the civilized soul. Take a breath. What on earth was she doing, skulking in the hallway like a burglar in sheepskin slippers? Easy enough, one tiny nudge on the door. One-tiny-nudge. But she might as well be trying to push good-old Clara, parked in the garage; her limbs were paralyzed with fear, or weariness, or whatever the grief counselor called it, ennui. She wasn't even sure how to spell it, but the counselor said she had it-and Sara agreed.

Outside, a late-afternoon squall was blowing across Puget Sound, creasing the air with a grating noise, like fingernails on a blackboard. Nothing to worry about, Tom would have told her, just the Port Orford cedar scraping the final layer of paint off the side of the house. But Tom wasn't here; his opinion didn't count.

Tension drove pins into her brain as she considered her options: knock and risk another battle or simply retreat and let her daughter be late again.

Expunging her trepidation with a ragged sigh, she closed her eyes and gave the door a nudge.

The Big Reveal:
Last weeks First Page was shared by author, speaker and educator; Davalynn Spencer. Thank you Davalynn for offering your first page for our critique.
Here is the author's response to your comments:
Wow! You have no idea how excited I am about all the comments! (I know--I've already used too many exclamation points, but I'm really stoked, as my daughter would say.) The remarks are exactly what I was hoping to get, as in what works, what doesn't, what questions are unanswered, what doesn't seem believable. Thank for offering this venue; it inspires me to hone my work.


Timothy Fish said...

In a word, no. It seems like the author is trying too hard. This passage is ladened with simile. I trudged through this passage like an explorer through the deep jungle. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The voice in my head is screaming, “Get on with the story already!”

I would suggest a rewrite, but there isn’t enough here to go on. About the best I can come up with is “Karen heard her daughter’s door click shut. The metallic sound sent chills down her spine.”

This passage also has the problem of too much backstory and it ends with resolution. The conflict here isn’t between Karen and her daughter, as the author seems to assume. The conflict is between Karen and herself, so when Karen makes a decision and pushes the door open, the conflict is over. This is a very bad thing to do on a first page because the reader needs to need to know what happens next.

Kathryn Elliott said...

No. While I see where the author is trying to go, I have trouble following the path. (Then again, I am directionally challenged.) Simpler, concise language may help. And I will say it again, bravo for sharing your work. It shows real determination – you’ll get there!

Davalyn Spencer said...

I would read on past this page to see how Sara reacts. The poor relationship between mother and daughter interests me, and I like the question, “When exactly had she given away her authority to a sixteen-year-old?” However, if the story continued with the same heavy dose of metaphor and backtracking, I’d stop. The clutter distracts. I liked the graph with tension driving pins into her brain as she considered her options, but the next graph with “expunging her trepidation” was too much. “Ragged sigh” says it without saying it, so I believe this author has the ability to pare down and tidy up. (Thanks for taking the risk and sharing.)

Melissa K Norris said...

Maybe she should start this scene during a fight w/ her daughter, to show us their relationship, instead of the telling here. I agree w/ cutting some of the backstory and similes. (I love good similies, but have learned too many really do slow the story.)

I think w/ a rewrite is in need. Keep going, author! I do recommend James Scott Bell's book Self-Editiong and Revision for the Fiction Writer.

Katherine Hyde said...

Probably not. The situation is one I can get into, but the writing is overdone, repetitive, trying too hard, not trusting the reader enough. These are typical beginner faults, so I would encourage the author to keep working and pare her writing down to the essentials.

Timothy Fish said...

I don't know if this has to start with a fight, but I do think it needs to start sooner. After looking at this a few more times, it does appear that there's more here than I originally thought. I would like to see it go a little more like this:

Two plates lay on the table--untouched. Karen looked at her own. She knew she should eat, but she could wait. How long had it been? An hour? Two? She dialed Sara's number. Still no answer.

Her gaze fell to Tom's new jacket, hanging from the back of his chair, waiting for him to grab it on the way out the door. She should find a good home for it. At least, put it away. But not now. Not until the tears stopped coming. She hated herself for thinking that day would ever come.

She dialed Sara's number again. No answer. The soup was long cold. How long should she wait before she called the police? They hadn't called her. That was a good sign, but she could be in a ditch where no one could see her.

The bolt grated in the lock and the front door opened. Elation filled her as Karen caught a glimpse of Sara's figure. The girl closed the door, turned, and climbed the stairs.

"Sara," Karen called after her, "I've got supper ready."

Karen heard the click of the bedroom door.

She pushed her chair back from the table and followed her daughter up the stairs. She could hear the faint sounds of music coming through the closed door.

Karen knocked on the door. “Sara.”

No answer.

Karen turned the knob and pushed it open. Sara, who was stretched out across the bed, looked up at her.

“Sara, you’re late.”

“I told you I would be.”

Karen didn’t remember it.

“I’ve got supper ready.”

“I already ate.”

Karen knew she hadn’t. “Come downstairs anyway. Your father isn’t home yet…” Karen caught herself, but she knew it was too late.

“He’s not coming home, Mom.” The concern showed in Sara’s eyes. Sara sat up. “Let’s see about supper, and then I want you to go to bed, okay?”

Millie Samuelson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Millie Samuelson said...

HEY -- I want to read on right now! :-)
I've read the above comments and say DITTO to most everything Davalyn Spencer said (including the thanks to the author, plus I add a thanks to Davalyn for her last week's excellent Read On). In addition, I reluctantly agree with a "ragged sigh" (mine) to the "expunging her trepidation" comments. But oh, how I love classy words like "expunge" and "trepidate."
One more thought -- in addition to the general suspense, the variety in paragraphing was effective, and kept me reading easily.
This is "my kind" of storytelling! :-)

Anonymous said...

Yes, I would read on. I was cheering for Karen to get the inner strength to open that door. And. Then. She. Did. I want to know what happens next. That struggle would be even stronger with some paring (ennui, expunging trepidation, rhetorical question--in that paragraph, get straight to the need to get through five minutes without an argument). But it's in there. It's in there!

Blessings, Voni

kathryn J. Bain said...

I wouldn't read on.

You've begun your story too soon. "When exactly had she given away her authority to a sixteen-year-old?" would make a great starting line. But as she's thinking it, have her knocking on her daughter's door.

Timothy Fish said...

I actually like "Her foot was on the landing when she heard it" as the starting line, even more so than "When exactly had she given away her authority to a sixteen-year-old?" My problem is that I think the author is too quick to tell us what "it" is. "Her foot was on the landing when she heard it," is like a dissonant chord in music; the reader expects it to resolve. We have to resolve it eventually, but we can use the fact that the reader is waiting for it to resolve to our advantage. As it is, it resolves poorly. Perhaps I'm just, as the author put it, dense, but the click of a door doesn't seem significant. I hear doors click shut all day long and it means nothing. This is one of those things that we need the context to make it significant.

Consider this:
Her foot was on the landing when she heard it. Such a little sound, but the meaning was clear. I want to be alone. You have no right to tell me what to do. I'll hide in here and you stay out there. Sara had said nothing and yet she'd said everything when she clicked the door shut.

Here, we resolve "it" with the same sound, but we delay long enough to introduce conflict into the scene. We hooked the reader by causing him to ask what "it" is, but he'll stay around because he wants to know what caused the conflict with Sara.

Sheila Odom Hollinghead said...

No, I wouldn't read on. I was confused the first time I read it. I had to reread for it to make sense.

Upon rereading, I think the main problem is confusion of POV. I would say to go with the simile-filled writing, just strengthen Karen's POV.

Just one example: Behind the door (Karen's not behind the door so this is out of her POV), a Mozart sonata drifted into the hallway, harmonic vibrations to ease the civilized soul.

I would rewrite as: From behind the door, a Mozart sonata drifted into the hallway. What should have been harmonic vibrations to ease the civilized soul did nothing to ease Karen's anguish.

One other thing--I would not introduce Tom or Clara (the car?) on the first page. Keep to two characters to help simplify.

Hope this helps!

Timothy Fish said...

Interesting. After rereading it, I can see where the POV might be confusing. I didn't pay much attention to that when I read it. Maybe it's a guy thing, but I took it to be all in "the mind's eye." When I think about where music is coming from or think about the weather, I always see that place in my head, so it seemed natural to me that the narrator would refer to it in that way. But I do see where that could be the cause of confusion for some. As such I wouldn't say the confusion is because of POV instead of to much simile, but in addition to.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

I would read on. After reading the other comments I had to go back and re-read. I would read on. And if edited I would probably read longer.

Anne Schroeder said...

I'm Anne Schroeder, the author whose first page appeared October 12th. I'm so sorry that I was on a long roadtrip to Canada and totally spaced out on this HUGE event.

I've never had a harder beginning and your comments will help so much. Thank you all so much.