First Page Friday #9: Literary

Please read the chapter without my notes and record your feedback in the poll before moving on to my critique. This really helps the author. Thanks!

The Submission:

Literary First 500 – By Nicola

Before my mother died, Kenny was not my friend. He didn’t have any friends. No one even hung around with him much. He was okay, sometimes, if there was no one else to play with, but mostly we tried to ignore him.  He lived in another part of the street and didn’t belong to our gang. There were lots of Catholics in our neighborhood so there were enough kids to go around without him joining in; we thought he had a snotty nose and big freckles and his clothes were handed down way too many times.  He had straight, mousy-brown hair that hung down over his eyes in the front and knotted up like a bird’s nest in the back. We would leave him out on purpose, when we didn’t need him for a game, which was almost always.  He would stand a little way back and watch, his hands deep in his pockets, trying to look like he didn’t care, and didn’t really want to join in. He stood, or kept himself busy with the stone beneath his shoe, or the coins in his pocket. And I thought he must have just gone home when the rest of us did at five o’clock on Saturdays, when our mothers stood on the back steps and called out “Dinner! You’ve got five minutes or your father’s going to hear about it.” People still said things like that then.Except, after the excitement of my mother’s death had died down, and after the social workers who made us dinner and did our laundry had stopped coming, then there was no one calling me home. There was no dinner. And then I found something out: Kenny didn’t go home like the rest of us. When all the other kids ran home, he stayed there still, with his tennis ball, or soccer ball, or empty handed, watching the other kids run back up the hill from the park and disappear around the backs of houses.The first time I realized no one was calling Kenny, I was waiting to hear my name, and when I didn’t I waited a bit longer, then ran home anyway. No one called him either, and when I turned at the top of the path to look back, he was still there, looking down at his sneakers.

A couple of weeks later, I didn’t go home either, and Kenny talked to me then. He asked me if it was because a dog bit her—her dying. I told him it was, and I wondered for a long time after that if it was true. I was eight years old. Before my mother died, I had never known anyone who had died.  And, I had never even thought how many ways there might be to die. Dying from a dog bite seemed as good a way as any other. And there were some pretty mean dogs around.

But I didn’t know for sure how she died. And didn’t want to. No one had told me the details. I didn’t know what day she died, or what time it was, exactly.  I never visited her grave; I didn’t know where she was buried. No one told me, and I didn’t ask.

The thing is: it was important not to know. Not knowing the truth made my fictions all the more reliable.

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Literary First 500 – By Nicola

Before my mother died, Kenny was not my friend. He didn’t have any friends. No one evern hung around with him much. < “Much” is a weak way to end a sentence. I would rephrase. He was okay, sometimes, if there was no one else to play with, but mostly we tried to ignore him.  He lived in another part of the street and didn’t belong to our gang. < This sentence feels disjointed and unneeded. I would cut it. There were lots of Catholics in our neighborhood so there were enough kids to go around without him joining in < The flow would be better without this sentence.  ; we thought < There’s no reason to say that it’s what they thought. It just weakens the sentence. he had a snotty nose and big freckles and his clothes were handed down way too many times.  He had straight, mousy-brown hair that hung down over his eyes in the front and knotted up like a bird’s nest in the back. < Personally, I would also cut this sentence for flow and because it doesn’t connect as nicely to the next sentence. Kids might not want to hang out with a poor, snot-nosed kid, but I don’t think they’d care what his hair looked like. We would leave him out on purpose, when we didn’t need him for a game, which was almost always.  He would stand a little way back and watch, his hands deep in his pockets, trying to look like he didn’t care, and didn’t really want to join in. He stood, or < Not needed because we already know he’s standing. kept himself busy with the stone beneath his shoe, or the coins in his pocket. And I thought he must have just gone home when the rest of us did at five o’clock on Saturdays, < This sentence feels disjointed from the rest of the paragraph because it seems unlikely that the narrator actually put any thought into whether or not the kid went home in the evenings, especially since this is a kid they ignored and didn’t like. Rephrasing would help. For example: “I guess I just assumed he went home when the rest of us did…” when our mothers stood on the back steps and called out “Dinner! You’ve got five minutes or your father’s going to hear about it.” People still said things like that then.

Except, after the excitement of my mother’s death had died down, and after the social workers who made us dinner and did our laundry had stopped coming, then there was no one calling me home. There was no dinner. And then I found something out: Kenny didn’t go home like the rest of us. < This sentence is telling as well as vague. How did the narrator figure that out? When all the other kids ran home, he stayed there still, with his tennis ball, or soccer ball, or empty handed, watching the other kids run back up the hill from the park and disappear around the backs of houses.

The first time I realized no one was calling Kenny, I was waiting to hear my name, < There is not a clear connection between this and the previous paragraph. Is this after people stopped calling her home? Is it the first day she wasn’t called? If so, you could restructure this so that the first sentence of the previous paragraph leads into this paragraph (cutting out telling and creating a better flow). For example: “Except one day, after the excitement of my mother’s death had died down, and after the social workers who made us dinner and did our laundry had stopped coming, no one called me home. I waited to hear my name, and when I didn’t, I waited a bit longer, then ran home anyway. No one called Kenny either, and when I turned….” and when I didn’t I waited a bit longer, then ran home anyway. No one called him either, and when I turned at the top of the path to look back, he was still there, looking down at his sneakers.

A couple of weeks later, I didn’t go home either, and Kenny talked to me then. He asked me if it was because a dog bit her—her dying. I told him it was, < I would like a stronger indication at this point that she doesn’t actually know how she died. Restructuring this paragraph and combining it with the next one would be ideal. For example: …dog bit her – her dying. Dying from a dog bite seemed as good a way as any other. And there were some pretty mean dogs around, so I told him it was. But I didn’t know for sure how she died. And didn’t want to…   and I wondered for a long time after that if it was true. I was eight years old. Before my mother died, I had never known anyone who had died.  And, I had never even thought how many ways there might be to die. Dying from a dog bite seemed as good a way as any other. And there were some pretty mean dogs around.

But I didn’t know for sure how she died. And didn’t want to. No one had told me the details. I didn’t know what day she died, or what time it was, exactly.  I never visited her grave; I didn’t know where she was buried. No one told me, and I didn’t ask.

The thing is: it was important not to know. Not knowing the truth made my fictions all the more reliable.

My Overall Thoughts

You said you weren’t sure of the genre. From this sample, I’m going to have to go with literary. You suggested this may be YA, but unless the bulk of the story is told from the perspective of a teenager and contains issues relevant to teen readers, it’s most likely not YA.

Your voice is very engaging and easy to read, which is great, however it does seem structurally disorganized at times.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Make sure that the structure makes sense. That’s really your only issue here. Some tips on structure:
  • Make sure the right information is conveyed at the right time. Don’t wait to convey clarifying information because it requires the reader to untangle preconceived notions, which is hard to do.
  • Don’t break up information of the same topic with other sentences or paragraphs. Group sentences making the same point together so that it doesn’t feel like a point is left and then returned to – this creates a sense of redundancy.
  • Cut out sentences that aren’t needed. Be ruthless. Unneeded sentences really disrupt the flow. Consider carefully what the reader needs to know.
  • Also, watch out for sentences that make the same point as another sentence, even if in a slightly different way. This gives the sense that the plot is stagnating.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3

Though there were some major structural issues, I really liked your voice. I could definitely see the potential in this. It felt like a diamond in the rough, rather than just a hot mess. Focus on line editing as you move forward, and do research into literary fiction if you aren’t familiar with it.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Submit to First Page Friday – Pretty Please! I’m out of Submissions!

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
  • The first 500 words (give or take, don’t stop in the middle of a sentence) pasted into the body of the email.
  • Any links (Twitter, Blog, Goodreads, etc.) that you’d like included in the post (not required).

Please do not submit if you are not okay with your first page being posted, critiqued, and edited on my website.

About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services.

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