Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Would You Read On? hosted by Diana Flegal

Dear Reader;
Would you read on? We look forward to your comments. Be sure to scroll down for the name of last weeks courageous author who offered their first page to you for critique. This weeks First page follows:

Shanghai, 1933 / Year of Rooster

Every few minutes, the young female mourner paused from her loud wailing. She wiped her face with a grimy cloth, and peeked curiously at the people crowded along the street watching the funeral procession. This was her first experience as a paid mourner in Shanghai, and Li-ming was hot and sticky in the stiff white mourning robe and hood covering her patched, dirty clothes. But she barely noticed her discomfort as she gazed at the amazing city where she had arrived just yesterday by ox cart.

Several weeks ago, she and her cousin had disguised themselves as boys and run away from their ancestral home in the remote northwestern village of Twentieth Tower Gate of China’s Great Wall. Soon to be married to aged widowers, they both agreed in secret they would rather die escaping than live forever miserable. And so on a moonless night, Li-ming and her cousin fled from the serpentine shadow of the Great Dragon Wall, with their dowry coins stolen from their parents securely hidden in their underwear.

After weeks of perilous travel, they had arrived at Shanghai’s West Gate, dust-covered, hungry, and their dowries nearly gone. There the plump manager of the Shanghai Sang-fu Mourning Company, with a leering smile, offered them food, work and housing. Li-ming had looked briefly at her cousin before nodding a silent acceptance for both of them. She desperately hoped their work as paid mourners would soon erase their impoverished past and, in time, enable them to repay and restore honor to their families.

The two had rejoiced in their hearts at this seeming good fortune bestowed by the gods. And as they hurried past a shrine on their way to the Mourning Company, they did a quick bai bai worship. However, the grimy idol looked back at them with stony silence, and neglected to warn them that paid wailing by day would soon be accompanied by far more unpleasant duties at night. And that now their chances of living for more than a year or two longer were few.

Last weeks victim, I mean author was the brave Vonie Harris. Thank you Vonie for sharing your first page with us.


Timothy Fish said...

I feel like weeping for this author. No, I wouldn’t read on, but there are so many ideas here that I want to be part of a story. Sadly, the author brushes them away quite carelessly.

A paid mourner—I love the idea, but the author does little more than mention it and is on to the next thing. I want to experience it. I want to see the sights and sounds of the funeral. I want some conflict as it is taking place.

Cousins run away together to get out of arranged marriages—again, this is a great concept, but the author has failed to build a story around it. Instead of including this as backstory, the author should begin with the conflict that happened “several weeks ago.” I want to see the conflict happening between them and their family and see those events that drove them over the line so that they ran away.

Arrival in Shanghai—obviously, that had to happen or they wouldn’t be here at this point in their lives, but I want to see it take place. I want to see them struggling to survive and finding work as mourners. There’s lots of untapped story there.

Idol with stony silence—I like that the girls are giving credit to an idol and yet there is a thought given to the stony silence because it indicates a chance that they will turn away from the idol, but here again, there’s a whole story there that isn’t being explored. I want to see idol worship “killing” these girls in some way, so that it is significant when they face the fact that the idol is deaf and dumb.

There’s plenty of potential here, but it is all unrealized, so no, I would not read on.

Anne Love said...

I agree with Tim. But dear author, don't lose heart, you have something really worth working on. This has a lot of potential as Tim pointed out already. So, don't chuck it. Instead, start learning more about craft and use this WIP to learn with.

You will be surprised how much improved your beloved WIP will become when you apply more tools of the trade. I commend you for being brave enough to post this for public critique.

Also worth mentioning, try reading more about point of view (POV). So far, I feel like someone is narrating this story to me--like the Grandpa who reads Princess Bride to his sick grandson before it flips into the actual story! :o) Tim points out, we want to experience it with the characters. So, tell it from the heroine's point of view--and tell us her name right away. We want to BE the heroine as we read, not the grandson, sick in bed, listening to Grandpa read it to us.

Linda Glaz said...

I agree, Anne. There's so much potential here, but there's too much telling for me to feel a connect with the girls. What a rich story to tell though! You have to "feel" for these characters. Get some crit partners who aren't afraid to really dig in and offer their help, then you'll see this jewel shine like it should. All the best with it...

Davalyn Spencer said...

I would read on. First of all, I found Li-ming's name in the third sentence, which is okay, but it would be better used in the very first sentence in place of "the young female mourner." A few sentences have too much packed into them, but that is easily remedied. A couple of usages struck me as not fitting in the storyworld: one is the word "underwear," and the other is "they did a quick bai bai worship." I'd like to see their act of worship rather than read that they "did" it. Hopefully this first page is the end of background information, for I'm ready to read more about what happens to Li-ming and her cousin.

Jeanette Levellie said...

I would read on! I'm hooked to discover what happens to these two girls. The story has excellent potential, and the writer has done some great research.

Millie Samuelson said...

I'd for sure read on. . . I'm a fan of stories about China, especially Chinese girls and women. In addition, I'm someone who likes storytelling narrative, as I've posted here before. And based on my own writing experience, I suspect the author is attempting to quickly create setting, a necessity for most American readers of novels with foreign settings. Yes! The author took me there. . . :-)

Katherine Hyde said...

Nope, sorry. This page is almost all backstory. I think the author has started in the wrong place. The backstory itself sounds exciting enough to be the beginning of the story.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to read more, but first I wanted to say, "Stop. Wait a minute! I wasn't done hearing about that!" (Especially after the second paragraph).

For instance, the reason for their appearance in Shanghai could be included in small doses throughout the first chapter. Maybe one almost faints because she sees someone who looks like the man her parents betrothed her to. But he wouldn't be in Shanghai...would he?

Maybe you have a series here, and the betrothals and flight to Shanghai are in the first book.

You absolutely stirred my imagination. I just wanted more time to enjoy.

Keep on! Please!


Timothy Fish said...


You could be correct about the author attempting to create setting and I totally agree that setting is a needed thing. I actually think that is one of the things this author did very well. The first paragraph is excellent. I’m sure there are things that could be done to improve it, but it leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about where the scene is taking place and what is happening. The problem is that as soon as that scene is set, the author jumps out of that scene and takes us back several weeks, jumps to a few days earlier, then jumps to a few hours earlier. As was mentioned, each of those scenes has potential, but each is a different scene with very different settings.

What I would like to see is for the author to stay in the scene, for the rest of the chapter. If the story requires that the reader know about how they left home, that could be done as flashback in the next chapter, which would be a new scene that I would expect the author to stay in for the length of that chapter. There are other ways it could be handled, but this flitting around from scene to scene is for the birds.

Millie Samuelson said...

Hey, Timothy -- sounds like the author moved you quite smoothly and quickly through the novel's important opening setting of time -- you easily noted the sequence of weeks, days, and then hours. I think that shows some skill on the author's part, don't you? Interesting. . . :-)

Sharon A. Lavy said...

I do like the story concept and would like to see more.

Terri Tiffany said...

What a brave writer to submit! I love the premise--a paid mourner caught me but then she slipped into backstory instead of showing me through the present action. I don't think it would take too much work to really give this story what it needs to make me read on:)

Timothy Fish said...


I’m not sure how I should respond to that. I feel I’ve been given a choice between saying that I was wrong before and saying that this author should burn the quill, neither of which is my intention. Yes, the ability to move a reader “smoothly and quickly through…time” requires some degree of skill and I don’t want to say the author is without skill, but it would be wrong to say that the author moved me “smoothly and quickly through…time.” Quickly, yes, but not smoothly. It seems odd to say this, but the passage gives me the feeling of motion sickness, as we jump from one scene to another.

If the rest of the book is like this first page, it would require a major rewrite to fix. But the author may be able to solve this by deleting the first chapter. The desire to explain everything is usually out of an author’s system by the second chapter.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'd read on. I kept reminding myself--first page. Reading some of the comments above I think folks might have lost sight of that. I bet some of the things mentioned are resolved in short order, beyond page one.

Interest piqued.

Sheila Odom Hollinghead said...

There's potential. I would probably keep reading, but I agree this story should begin earlier.

If the writer wishes to start at this point in time, for whatever reason, she needs to slowly weave in the back story.