First Page Friday #27: YA Paranormal Romance

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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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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!

YA Paranormal Romance – Denise Drespling

The idea of ghosts did not scare Claire O’Neill. She’d seen them before, and it was no big deal. With mild amusement, she observed her younger sister, Tara, and her friends as they scooted into a circle on
the basement floor and attempted to contact a spirit. Bright pink candles filled the air with sickening strawberry and illuminated their glittering purple nail polish. Only thirteen-year-old girls at a slumber party would consider it entertaining to conduct a séance between makeovers and chick flicks.

“Oh, great spirits,” Tara said in a voice deep and spooky, “speak to us. Give us a sign that you’re here.”

The lights did not flicker. They heard no strange noises. Not so much as a well-timed clap of thunder convinced the girls a spirit had joined them. Claire rolled her eyes and returned her attention to her homework.

“It’s not working,” Jessica whined.

Emily shrugged. “Maybe all the ghosts are busy.”

“Hey, Claire.” Tara pulled away from the small circle and approached her sister, who sat on the couch at the back of the basement. “How do you do a séance?”

Claire glanced up. “Pretty sure you need a Ouija board.”

Between ninth grade math problems, bits of the girls’ conversation floated to Claire. How would they get a Ouija board? Draw one? Print one from the internet? Dig the old one out of the attic?

“There’s a free app!” Liz tapped the screen of her iPad several times and set the device in the center of the circle.

The girls crowded together. Elbows and knees tangled over cries of discomfort.

“Ow!”

“Watch it!”

“You poked me!”

The circle tightened until they each touched the iPad with two fingers. Claire stifled a snicker. They looked like a wiggling lump of bouncing hair and neon clothing.

“It’s moving!” Emily said.

“What’s it saying?” Tara asked.

“I… M… H… R… I’m here!” Liz said. “It’s spelling out, ‘I’m here!'”
Right. Claire knew how these things worked. Someone always moved it, then claimed they hadn’t.

“Where are you?” Jessica asked the spirit.

Tara smacked her arm. “It just told us. It’s _here._ Duh.”

“What should we ask it?” Jessica said.

Claire muttered a response to herself. “Ask it to bring you a boyfriend.”

Tara again used her spooky voice. “Oh, spirit of the basement, tell us your name.”

“No, never mind,” Claire mumbled again, “Bring _me _a boyfriend. You’re all complete morons.”

“B… R… N…” Emily said.

“Well, that’s stupid,” Tara said. “B-R-N doesn’t spell anything. We must have a dumb ghost.”

Claire heard an exasperated sigh beside her. She looked toward the sound, but saw nothing unusual. The room remained dim, lit by candlelight and a lamp. A pile of pillows, blankets, and backpacks sat
in a heap against the wall. The flat TV on its wooden stand was an empty, black window. Her notebook lay on her lap, the half-finished math homework staring up at her from the page. Her pencil waited
patiently in her tight grip.

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.

YA Paranormal Romance – Denise Drespling

The idea of ghosts did not scare Claire O’Neill. < This has the possibility of becoming a strong opening. She’d seen them before, and it was no big deal. < This sentence sort of fizzles what could have built to an exciting opening. It’s too vague and flippant to be intriguing. I don’t know the story enough to make a good suggestion, but try for something with a lot of hook. Something “meaty” that makes readers HAVE to keep reading. With mild amusement, she observed her younger sister, Tara, and her friends as they scooted into a circle on the basement floor and attempted to contact a spirit. < This sentence could rely more on showing. Bright pink candles filled the air with sickening strawberry and illuminated their glittering purple nail polish. < Orange words are adjectives. Too many are crammed into this sentence. Only thirteen-year-old girls at a slumber party would consider it entertaining to conduct a séance between makeovers and chick flicks.

“Oh, great spirits,” Tara said in a voice deep and spooky, “speak to us. Give us a sign that you’re here.”

The lights did not flicker. They heard no strange noises. Not so much as a well-timed clap of thunder convinced the girls a spirit had joined them. < I don’t know what POV we’re in here. It reads more like omniscient than like Claire’s perspective. Claire rolled her eyes and returned her attention to her homework.

“It’s not working,” Jessica whined.

Emily shrugged. “Maybe all the ghosts are busy.”

“Hey, Claire.” Tara pulled away from the small circle and approached her sister, who sat on the couch at the back of the basement. < This definitely does not feel like it’s coming from Claire’s POV. “How do you do a séance?”

Claire glanced up. “Pretty sure you need a Ouija board.”

Between ninth grade math problems, < If she’s in ninth grade, that would make her sister only one year younger than her. I expected the age difference to be much more significant. bits of the girls’ conversation floated to Claire. How would they get a Ouija board? Draw one? Print one from the internet? Dig the old one out of the attic?

“There’s a free app!” Liz tapped the screen of her iPad several times and set the device in the center of the circle.

The girls crowded together. Elbows and knees tangled over cries of discomfort. < This sentence doesn’t read right. Almost like you’re saying “Elbows and knees tangled because of cries of discomfort.”

“Ow!”

“Watch it!”

“You poked me!” < Why/how would someone get poked when they’re sitting in a circle?

The circle tightened until they each touched the iPad with two fingers. Claire stifled a snicker. They looked like a wiggling lump of bouncing hair and neon clothing.

“It’s moving!” Emily said.

“What’s it saying?” Tara asked.

“I… M… H… R… I’m here!” Liz said. “It’s spelling out, ‘I’m here!'”
Right. Claire knew how these things worked. Someone always moved it, then claimed they hadn’t.

“Where are you?” Jessica asked the spirit.

Tara smacked her arm. “It just told us. It’s _here._ Duh.”

“What should we ask it?” Jessica said.

Claire muttered a response to herself. “Ask it to bring you a boyfriend.” < Claire is getting lost in this scene. At first I thought this was one of the girls around the Ouija board.

Tara again used her spooky voice. “Oh, spirit of the basement, tell us your name.”

“No, never mind,” Claire mumbled again, “Bring _me _a boyfriend. You’re all complete morons.” < I had to read this three times to understand who she was saying “No, never mind” to.

“B… R… N…” Emily said.

“Well, that’s stupid,” Tara said. “B-R-N doesn’t spell anything. We must have a dumb ghost.”

Claire heard an exasperated sigh beside her. She looked toward the sound, but saw nothing unusual. < I would shorten this whole paragraph to something like: “She turned, but there was nothing but the cracked cement wall.” Most of the details included in the paragraph feel irrelevant, sort of like a “laundry list” of details.  The room remained dim, < “Remained” seems like a strange word choice here. Did she think it wouldn’t remain dim? lit by candlelight and a lamp. A pile of pillows, blankets, and backpacks sat in a heap against the wall. The flat TV on its wooden stand was an empty, black window. Her notebook lay on her lap, the half-finished math homework staring up at her from the page. Her pencil waited patiently in her tight grip.

 

 

My Overall Thoughts

I think you’re losing track of who this story is about. There’s more focus on the little girls than on Claire. The reader should feel like they’re sitting right next to Claire, not looking at Claire from the circle of girls. If you think of your narration as a camera – the camera is in the wrong place, which is also making the POV read a bit off.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Claire’s sister and her friends read more like ten or eleven to me than thirteen, especially in the dialogue.
  • This opening has a sort of “name soup” going on – way too many names for a first page. It was hard to keep track of who was who, especially when we didn’t sit with Claire long enough to attach to her.
  • Claire needs more personality. She’s currently reading a bit like a stock “big sister” character rather than a strong lead. One of the primary goals of the first page should be to attach the reader to the main character, which comes from emotional closeness (the character wants something the reader can sympathize with) or by being proactive (the character is trying to accomplish something tangible the reader can root for her to achieve).
  • The POV needs to be more clearly established. If this is third limited, stay tighter on Claire and give the narration more of her voice.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

There’s just no hook here for me. Ouija board scenes have been done lots of times and this one isn’t introducing a new or unique element. The opportunity to create a strong hook about Claire seeing ghosts in the first paragraph fell a bit flat. And Claire herself does not play a prominent enough role in the opening. Had the opening paragraph been eliminated, I would’ve felt that this was a story about the little girls rather than Claire.

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.

Connect with the Author

Links:

http://www.denisedrespling.com/
https://www.facebook.com/DeniseDrespling
https://twitter.com/DeniseDrespling
plus.google.com/+DeniseDresplingAuthor

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6209436-denise-drespling

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently CLOSED to submissions)

The future of First Page Friday is uncertain. These posts don’t get as many views or shares as my other blog posts, and they get just a fraction of the views of my videos, so I’m considering applying the time I normally spend on First Page Friday towards something with a wider appeal. I’m still undecided. It will depend on whether views increase over the next few weeks.

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***A few people have emailed asking if they can have a private first page critique. I am more than happy to do that, but due to being completely booked (I’m working 10-11 hour days!), I have to charge $25 for private, offline first page critiques. Thanks for understanding!***

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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24 thoughts on “First Page Friday #27: YA Paranormal Romance

  1. connie says:

    Instead of over cries of discomfort, would amid cries work better? I really liked your voice and to me that’s the main objective when writing a novel. The rest will come with a little more tightening. I wish you the best Denise and btw I got that she was not included in the slumber party but for those who didn’t, what about adding a babysitting element?

    • ddrespling says:

      Hi Connie! Something like that would work better. I have restructured my first chapter and most of what was on this page is no longer. The whole part about them wiggling into a circle is gone. I’ve actually decided to go with 1st person instead, which allows me to bring Claire’s voice out even more. It’s going well so far! I just have to rewrite the whole thing in new POV 🙂 Thanks for the comment!!

  2. connie says:

    Ellen, I enjoyed your critique. I am currently writing a novel and can use a good editor. I struggle with both grammer and viewpoint. Perhaps we can work together in the future.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Thanks Connie! I’d be happy to work with you. Just email when you’re ready! I schedule about 4-12 weeks in advance depending on the time of year and size of the project.

      Thanks for commenting on FPF!

  3. Holly Dolly says:

    “Only thirteen-year-old girls at a slumber party would consider it entertaining to conduct a séance between makeovers and chick flicks.”

    When you talk down to or about your characters or use a sexist term like “chick flicks” it makes readers not enjoy your writing. Be nice to your characters! If they deserve ill treatment or comments, put it in the dialogue of another character, not in the narrative.

    On the other hand, filling the opening scene with dialogue is a plus.

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