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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

You can help First Page Friday succeed by sharing the posts across the web. Thanks for your support!

***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. Cassandra Charles says:

    I liked this, but I do agree with the analysis. I got a bit lost in it all. For a first scene in a book, it would be too chaotic. There’s not enough focus on Claire.
    On another note, in regards to your editing services, Erin, how far in advance would you have to book your services?

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Thanks for your comments Cassandra!

      8-10 weeks in advance for a full edit would be ideal. I can sometimes squeeze people in (which is why I’m working so many hours right now!). I currently have one open slot in May that I’m expecting will fill in the next couple days and three open in June. I will schedule as far in advance as a writer wants, but payment is required to hold the spot. Thanks!

  2. Kate Sparkes says:

    I agree that the hook could be stronger, but I gave it a “really liked it” because I wanted to keep reading. I don’t usually get that from these first page samples. 🙂

    Seriously, what’s BRN?! And I love that there’s an app for that.

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

    I’m not really a paranormal romance (or any romance) reader. I will say that the light humor and antics of the girls (especially Claire) were carrying the passage for me. I was hoping for something exciting when you mentioned that the idea of ghosts did not scare Claire. Maybe that excitement just didn’t come up in the first 500 words. Maybe you can follow up that opening showing (or at the very least telling) why she is not afraid of ghosts.

    I will agree with the POV critique. I think if it was limited to Claire or was in her own First Person, you could really push in her personality and more of that humor through her voice. I’m only saying this because I really did love the statements like “Ask it to bring you a boyfriend.” Would love to see her musing to herself about how silly her sister and friends are.

    I checked off “Liked it” mostly because of that humor. If the voice and characters continue with that humor, I would actually check this off as my first “paranormal romance” book read cover to cover. 🙂

  4. Denise Drespling says:

    Thank you, Ellen, for all of your wonderful comments! I had hoped you would like it more than a 2, but hey, that’s part of the game. In fact, you provided me with material to write a fun blog post about dealing with rejection 🙂 (http://www.denisedrespling.com/3-steps-to-rejection-recovery/)

    So, let’s just say I’ll be doing some serious editing and likely will contact you at some point about some editing services. This page went through many skilled hands and eyes and they did not catch the things you did, so that gets you a shiny gold star in my book.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Hi Denise! I liked your blog post, and thanks for the compliments! You will get there. Don’t worry. First pages are the hardest things to write. There’s so much to balance! I’m really glad my comments helped you. I will be cheering you on, and I fully believe you can get this where it needs to be!

      Take care! Happy editing!

  5. Hailey says:

    I have nothing against this story in particular, but it kind of annoyed me that Claire was referred to by her full name right off the bat. I’ve seen it a lot, and it never seems realistic to me. When I switched from homeschooling to public school, it took me months to get used to using my full name to say who I was. I just don’t identify with my last name that much. It took me until maybe 2011 to start giving my own characters last names at all.

  6. Jennifer S says:

    I just discovered this blog and First Page Fridays. For someone who is trying to break into the editing industry, your blog is informative and so professional.

    I’ll admit, this is the first First Page Friday entry that I’ve read, but I really enjoyed it. I’m definitely going to look through the other entries. I’m sad to hear that you might have to cut First Page Friday from your blog. I’m finding it to be a valuable resource and good exercise for editing. Anyway, perhaps you would consider doing First Page Friday once a month? I’d hate to see this gone completely.

    I voted for Liked It. The first line did grab my attention, and I was expecting immediate fulfillment. I thought maybe something would happen during the slumber party (and it seemed to near the end of the scene), but the gasp near the end didn’t match up with the impact the first line made at the beginning. To be fair, it was only the first 500 words of the first chapter, but in the YA genre, you really have to hook the audience right away.

    One challenge when writing teen girls is capturing authenticity in their interactions with each other. I’m not sure if you were purposely presenting them to be annoying and frenetic, but it seems as if it was supposed to serve as a contrast to Claire’s personality. Who does math homework during a slumber party? Again, it was only the first 500 words, so maybe these characters have room for more development. I like it so far, but I would hate to see these girls portrayed in a shallow manner.

  7. Denise Drespling says:

    Thanks for your thoughts! I agree that this a valuable feature, and I’m sure having lots of people commenting will help Ellen decide whether or not to keep it! 🙂

    You’re right, there’s a lot more that happens by the end of the scene and certainly more than a gasp. Claire is not part of the slumber party, it’s her little sister’s. But then, I hoped that you would have gotten that already, so I definitely have some adjustments to make! I’ll be reworking that first paragraph…again…since others also agreed with you that there wasn’t enough fulfillment of that hint. Thanks!

  8. Hailey says:

    Ellen, I just finished reading through every single first-page critique. I voted on most of them, and commented on a handful. Hopefully that helps your ‘not enough views’ problem.

  9. PinkLed says:

    I like how brutally honest you are. My first novel is a work of fanfiction and I have two wonderful beta readers who spend their precious time evaluating my chapters before they get published. But I wish I had someone like you that wasn’t afraid to destroy my story (and ego). I think rebuilding from the ashes of a harsh critique only serves to make a story stronger.

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