First Page Friday #23: Adventure/Paranormal

Thanks for everyone’s support for First Page Friday! I’m glad to know that it’s helping some of you learn more about writing first pages!

I haven’t decided yet if I will continue the series or not. I probably won’t make that final decision for another few weeks. I will try to promote the post and bring in new readers in the meantime, but if my ordinary blog posts continue to outperform First Page Friday, I really need to focus on the posts that are helping the most people.

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

Adventure First 500 – Olive

My body was low to the ground. My legs crouched. My arms were outstretched before me with fingernails dug into the sodden ground with angst. I could feel the presence of my family behind me, waiting excitedly for me to give them a show, but I wasn’t so sure I could.Her eyes mirrored mine. Fixed on me. Burning. Her spine was taut, arched in apprehension of any movement on my part. I was tempted to remind myself that I was only ten years old and barely skilled in anything but fighting my brother, but the desire to please mother and father before it was too late got a hold of me.For all I knew, she had cubs somewhere waiting on her. The thought crossed my mind that I was snatching her away, leaving them to fend for themselves in this cruel world. But in this precise world, a fear of cruelty is what drove me.“Don’t wait no longer son.” my father breathed from behind me. “That girl will kill a kid like you in an instant.”

“Well Tarin, let him get his ass torn apart if he don’t wanna move.” my mother said as if to spur me on, “I’m gettin’ bored waitin’.”

I swallowed hard. Winced at my mother’s sharp words and, breaking free of my parents taunting, thrust myself onto the golden cougar, grappling both of her ears to steer her teeth away from my neck. The cougar shrieked and batted her thick paws at me, only grazing my shirt. Muscles rippled beneath thick skin and deadly-sharp teeth shone in the moonlight.

“He aint strong enough!” my brother, Aloni yelled.

“O’course he is.” mom shouted above my grunts and the cougars cries. “Stronger than your skinny ass anyways!”

“Leave him alone mum, would ya?” I panted, pulling the animal down beneath me so that I could get a good view of her neck. I straddled the beast, obviously stronger than Aloni had thought and laughed manically. I was so overtaken by fear that I wasn’t thinking straight.

At this point, mum would’ve broken its limbs, dad would’ve torn it open from neck to hind legs and Aloni would be dead and bleeding on the mountainside, but I hesitated, too scared to go for it.

“Maybe this is too soon!” cried my father, the panic in his voice making me nervous but I kept on fighting, jumping away from the cougar when she got too close and rolling her over when I thought her jaw was too close for comfort.

“We ain’t no humans, Tarin!” mom said and when I pulled up I saw her fingers around dad’s neck.

“He’s ten, Dahl!” he replied.

I saw an opportunity and I took it. The cougar was on top of me and the only things separating her jaw from my neck were my trembling hands, holding her head away. With her neck bared, I reached up and took a hunk out with my mouth, making sure to really get in there and do some damage. She fought harder. Shrieked like a damned banshee, shaking her head to get free but now she was mine and she damn well knew it.

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.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

Adventure First 500 – Olive

My body was low to the ground. My legs crouched. My arms were outstretched, before me with < This can be inferred. fingernails dug into the sodden ground with angst. < Show that she has angst, but don’t have her come right out and say it. It’s telling, and it also makes her seem overly self sympathetic. I could feel the presence of my family stood behind me < This is stronger because it avoids filtering (see notes below), waiting excitedly for me to give them a show, but I wasn’t so sure I could. < Show that she isn’t sure she could. Her hands could shake, she could bite her lip, breathe fast, etc. 

Her eyes mirrored mine. < “Her” who? Is there a reason to be vague here? Fixed on me. Burning. Her spine was taut, arched, ready to strike in apprehension of any movement on my part < Something like this is cleaner, clearer, and simpler. . I was tempted to remind myself that I was only ten years old and barely skilled in anything but fighting my brother, < This sentence reads as unnatural. She doesn’t need to remind herself of her age. The point is conveying the information to the reader. You just need to find a way to do that more naturally.  but the desire to please mother and father before it was too late got a hold of me.

For all I knew, she had cubs somewhere waiting on her. The thought crossed my mind that I was snatching her away, leaving them to fend for themselves in this cruel world. But in this precise world, < This is cluttering the sentence. a fear of cruelty is what drove me.

“Don’t wait no longer son.” < Oh, it’s a boy! I thought it was a girl. I got the gender wrong in last week’s First Page Friday too! my father breathed from behind me. “That girl will kill a kid like you in an instant.”

“Well Tarin, let him get his ass torn apart if he don’t wanna move.” < The period here should be a comma. my mother said as if to spur me on, “I’m gettin’ bored waitin’.”

I swallowed hard. Winced at my mother’s sharp words and, breaking free of my parents taunting, thrust myself onto the golden cougar, grappling both of her ears to steer her teeth away from my neck. < Too many things are going on in this sentence. Break it up into smaller ones. Give the moment room to breathe. The cougar shrieked and batted her thick paws at me, only grazing my shirt. < It’s not clear to me if you’re saying the cougar hit him with her paw (like the pads of the paw) or if she scratched him with her claws. Muscles rippled beneath thick skin and deadly-sharp teeth shone in the moonlight.

“He aint strong enough!” my brother, Aloni yelled.

“O’course he is.” mom shouted above my grunts and the cougars cries. “Stronger than your skinny ass anyways!”

“Leave him alone mum, would ya?” < So is his brother younger? It seems odd he would defend him while fighting a cougar. I would think he’d be too distracted. I panted, pulling the animal down beneath me < This is a little vague. I have a hard time believing this could be achieved so simply. so that I could get a good view of her neck. I straddled the beast, obviously stronger than Aloni had thought and laughed manically. I was so overtaken by fear that I wasn’t thinking straight.

At this point, mum would’ve broken its limbs, dad would’ve torn it open from neck to hind legs and Aloni would be dead and bleeding on the mountainside, but I hesitated, too scared to go for it.

“Maybe this is too soon!” cried my father, the panic in his voice < I’m surprised that he is panicked since his parents seemed completely callous up to this point. making me nervous but I kept on fighting, jumping away from the cougar when she got too close and rolling her over when I thought her jaw was too close for comfort. < Make this more active by using verbs ending in “ed” and by breaking it up into more movements and actions.

“We ain’t no humans, Tarin!” mom said and when I pulled up I saw her fingers around dad’s neck.

“He’s ten, Dahl!” he replied.

I saw an opportunity and I took it. The cougar was on top of me and the only things separating her jaw from my neck were my trembling hands, holding her head away. With her neck bared, I reached up and took a hunk out with my mouth, making sure to really get in there and do some damage. < Describe what this feels like.   She fought harder. Shrieked like a damned banshee, shaking her head to get free but now she was mine and she damn well knew it.

My Overall Thoughts

As an opening, this is a little vague. There’s sort of an implication that if he doesn’t succeed something bad will happen, but as a reader, I don’t know what the consequence is so I don’t really have any reason to care. I also struggled with establishing an emotional connection to the character and events.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The voice doesn’t seem to fit a child, which makes it difficult to feel like the narration is coming from such a young boy. In first person, it’s important to use the things he notices (or doesn’t notice) as a way to say something about who he is and what his feelings are. Make sure he’s reacting: hands shaking, biting his lip, heart pounding, etc. Otherwise, you can describe how scary the cougar is all day long, but the reader won’t feel it.
  • Spend more time on action and be more specific about what’s happening. Try to engage all of the reader’s senses. Pull them into the scene and paint a vivid picture. Make them feel the cougar’s body heat, the weight of its paw, the smell of its fur.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

There’s definitely the potential for an interesting story! But it doesn’t have an element that really sucks me in, like a great hook, engaging voice, or riveting action. It feels a little flat right now, but I hope my notes above help you change that!

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 – (currently CLOSED to submissions)

See my comments at the top of this post for more information.

About the Editor

Ellen Brock 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 and mentoring.

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20 thoughts on “First Page Friday #23: Adventure/Paranormal

  1. nikkiharvey says:

    I loved the first page, then when I read the comments I was like ‘yeah that would make it better’. These posts are teaching me to write better myself 🙂 I also thought the main character was female at first, so maybe it needs to be made clear earlier that he is male. Also a bit confused by the dad going from fine to worried so quickly.. If he’s changing his mind, maybe make this more of a slow transition or have something specific that makes him change his mind (eg main character gets injured leads to dad starting to worry). From the way it is written, he seems older than 10. The first time age is mentioned seemed not to really go in and I was expecting an older teenager by the time the dad says his age. Having said that, I love it anyway and want to find out what happens with the fight and the mum’s comment that they aren’t human- what are they??

  2. Ella says:

    I never read paranormal, but I would turn the page to see why a ten-year-old boy is fighting a cougar. You’ve got an exciting start. I think that it would be stronger if we had a clearer idea of the scene. At first, all we know is that it’s outdoors (somewhere with dirt); later they prove to be on a mountainside. A few words of setting — e.g., a clearing; a ledge; a mountain pass — would give us something easier to imagine. When reading fight scenes, I always want to know what natural features (rocks, trees, buildings) one could use to one’s advantage, and how close the other people are (are they likely to be in his way? in danger? too far away to help him?).

  3. cassandracharles says:

    Again, I thought the protagonist was female!
    Also, unless intended, the child seems precocious. Especially in comparison to the speech of his parents, his brother. I didn’t think he was 10. Maybe the author knew this; that’s why they mentioned his age.

  4. coldhandboyack says:

    I was also gender confused. It took me a long time to figure out what he was fighting. At first I assumed it was a mythological creature. When I saw the word “cubs”, I assumed it was a bear. Maybe the creature deserves a line closer to the top. “The cougar’s eyes mirrored mine…”

    Not saying I’m any better, but you invited.

  5. Arphaxad says:

    Although I felt the writer has some definite talent, I felt lost the entire time reading this. I had to re-read several sentences in order to make sure it went with what I read after them. It took too much work to read and I would have put the book aside for something else.

    I think Ellen’s suggested edits help and I would be interested in reading this page after the author incorporates the changes they agree with, Maybe that’s a feature suggestion for you Ellen, First Page Friday Updates. Have authors resubmit their page after editing and see how they improved.

    Content question for you Ellen. Do you think the secrecracy people put into their first page is needed? What I mean to say is, I find a lot of writers have been presenting the start of their story like the identity of the character is a secret and needs to be hinted at for a page or two before you tell the reader who it is. They hint at what is going on and tease the reader for a couple of paragraphs before giving up the information.

    As always, well done.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Actually, updates are something I’ve been considering and one is (tentatively) in the works if I ever get my butt in gear and finish it.

      The secrecy thing is not something I think is necessary. Often it’s disadvantageous because it makes the reader work too hard. Secrets are only good if the reveal can live up to the hype, which it often can’t.

      A well-set scene is most often a better choice than secrecy.

      That said, raising questions can be good – like what he is if he’s not a human – however being vague just for the sake of being vague is fairly transparent to the reader and unnecessary.

  6. Donald A. Robinson (@D_A_Robinson) says:

    I have to concur with the “believed it was a girl master character” troupe. For me, the gender confusion arises from the mention of fingernails digging into the dirt, the “her eyes mirrored mine”, and the concern over cubs being left without a mother. All these hint at a female voice (in my mind). I can see how a child (boy or girl) could think of these things, but as I read the passage, I do think of a female character. Since they are not human (and we are not certain), you can exchange the fingernails for claws (if appropriate, again, we are not certain what he is) or something else. This will take away some initial feminine voice. Also as suggested by coldhandboyack, changing the text for “the cougar’s eyes mirrored mine…” will notify the reader a touch earlier about what the creature is, AND will make the speech more unisex/feminine.

    I also agree with the point that the voice seems out of place for the 10-year-old boy, especially when you look at his family’s speech. My suggestions on this are: 1)Since this is past-tense, if he is remembering the event, let us know that this is a memory, or 2) Show that perhaps he is smarter than the average 10 year old (and/or make his family’s speech similar), or 3) Look into changing his voice to match his speech and age.

    I am very curious as to what they are, why he is fighting a cougar, and the name of the main character. Is it Olive? Overall, this does seem like a story that will be very interesting.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      You did a good job identifying what makes the character seem female – I noticed the same things.

      I too was wondering if this was being remembered by an older character.

      Thanks for your comments!

  7. strangewriter says:

    This person has an obvious talent for writing but will have to be ruthless when editing. Ellen, you’re doing a wonderful job in showing writers how to say what they mean.

    My two cents:

    For an action driven scene, the sentences feel overly long and descriptive. Longer, descriptive sentences lend to pause and reflection. In action they risk removing urgency. The first few lines are congested and I felt like they over-explained. ‘Ground’ is also used twice very closely together at the start. Instead of:

    My body was low to the ground. My legs crouched. My arms were outstretched before me with fingernails dug into the sodden ground with angst.

    I would write:

    My body was low to the ground, my fingers digging into sodden earth.

    Please note that this is not an exercise in who can write the shortest sentence. It’s simply removing the clutter. I’ve noticed action scenes that work often get their message across efficiently so a lot happens in a short time, which gives the impression of speed and high energy.

    I also felt the protagonist was a female. I also confused the animal for a bear at the mention of cubs. Isn’t that interesting? Donald A Robinson’s comments are spot on about how to address these assumptions.

    Keep on writing!

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Thanks for your comments! I agree about the first few lines being over described. I’m glad you mentioned that. I can’t fit all my line edits into these posts (I normally use tracked changes and comments in a word processor).

      Everyone thinking the protagonist was female and the animal was a bear just goes to show how much psychology plays a role in writing. It’s the subtle things that are easy to overlook that have unintended implications for the reader.

      • strangewriter says:

        I like the colour co-ordinated system you use, it shows the thought process and explains things really well.

        I’ve been reading about pace recently, hence my focus on sentence length and structure. It’s amazing how much you can drill down on facets of writing craft. I find I learn the most through critiques / feedback. 🙂

        • Ellen_Brock says:

          I’m glad the color coding works – it’s not what I’m used to so it feels weird and less clear to me.

          Yes, when I do line editing I am ruthless with cutting and combining sentences. Action can almost always stand to be trimmer. The problem is that authors try to convey a vision that is too complicated and detailed (far beyond what the reader needs or is interested in) and by using the descriptions, they actually make the action worse rather than better.

          If you spend three sentences describing how a warrior pulls out their sword, it feels to the reader that he is standing in the middle of the battle field for thirty seconds while he pulls out his sword – so slow! The tension gets zapped.

  8. John Hansen says:

    I think the idea behind this first page is to make the reader wonder what kind of creatures the animal and his family is. The fact they are a family and can speak implies they are human but the whole thing about a family coming to watch a 10 year old kill a cougar with his bare hands and teeth (!) … we don’t do that where I come from. And of course the mother at one point say that we are not human.

    But perhaps this intended vagueness drowns in the unintended vagueness which other have pointed out.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Great point, John. It is tough for deliberate vagueness to seem deliberate when buried under vagueness that was not intentional. Clarifying the other elements of the novel could really make the mystery elements stand out in a positive way.

      Thanks for your comment!

  9. Yori Papilaya says:

    I voted this as ‘didn’t like it’ because it confuses and mislead me again and again

    I thought the character was female (again) and facing her sister. But then ‘she’ mention a brother, and then it turned out that the being ‘she’ faced was a cougar, and then ‘she’ was actually a boy. I felt like you didn’t proofread your own work, and put yourself as a reader. Maybe that’ll help.

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