First Page Friday #33: Contemporary Women’s Fiction

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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

Contemporary Women’s Fiction – Kaylee Nicole Ward

Nothing prepares a human being for loss: that’s what I tell people. Time heals wounds, they would respond. Not scars, however, rarely scars. I’m covered in them. They stripe across my thighs and the inside of my elbows, they leave light dents in the nook of collarbone. They make a shiny home under my jawline. They tell horrid stories that would only normally be heard from convicted criminals. I’ve been trying to see past my own reflection, the little black girl made of barely skin and bone and dark sunken eyes, but that’s always easier said than done. My social worker, Ms. Patty, was trying to make me feel better about my first foster home. She was chattering away about my new parents. As usual, I wasn’t listening. I was watching out the window. The world seemed bigger than it had in years. I felt small.
“Ms. Patty,” I finally spoke up from the backseat of the car.
Ms. Patty looked in the rear view mirror, eyes wide. It still always seems to surprise her when I say anything at all. I’m not entirely sure why. However, I think it has something to do with the fact that everyone thinks I’m broken or something. “Yes, dear?”
“Please stop talking.” Once it came out it felt too harsh. Though, it got the point across.
Ms. Patty’s eyes saddened, but she nodded. I contemplated apologizing, but decided against it. I knew she would instantly feel better and begin rambling again.
The sky is dark today, grey clouds hovering low. I couldn’t see the setting sun on the horizon and all the colors it would paint along the edge of sky. I wish I could. I lost my sense of time inside the rehab center. I bit down my nails and let every withdrawal symptom known to man hit me like a train. Ms. Patty was still watching me, but I was too focused the sky.
“The sky is dark today,” I finally said out loud. I wanted the statement to mean that I was upset by this, but I don’t think I executed it properly.
Ms. Patty smiled at me through the mirror. “It is. I suspect rain this evening.”
I nodded. I didn’t want to rain on my first day out. I didn’t want the world to be dark and gloomy. I thought I would hear the birds sing, smell the sunshine and feel the heat beating down on my skin. I bit at my nails and watched the clouds roll around along the darkening skyline. The car smelled of lemons and was fabricated with leather. I don’t know anything about cars, but I guessed it was on the older side of the spectrum. It made a funny rattling sound as it rode and the windows didn’t go down all the way.
“Will they like me?” I asked.
Ms. Patty rose an eyebrow. “Who?” 
“The foster family,” I said.

 

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. (Author is already using italics, so my comments are going to be underlined this week)

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

Contemporary Women’s Fiction – Kaylee Nicole Ward

Nothing prepares a human being for loss: that’s what I tell people. Time heals wounds, they would respond. < Quotation marks or italics would indicate to the reader that “Time heals wounds” is not simply narration. “Would” does not agree with the previous sentence. Think about it like this: “When I tell people, they would respond.” That sentence is incorrect. Not scars, however, rarely scars. I’m covered in them. They stripe across my thighs and the inside of my elbows, they leave light dents in the nook of my collarbone. < With the underlined section, I have a hard time understanding what sort of scar this would be. They make a shiny home under my jawline. < Are we still talking about scars or do you mean bruises? Usually scars aren’t “shiny.”  They tell horrid stories that would only normally be heard from convicted criminals. < Do you mean that she got the scars by committing some kind of crime? My first thought is that maybe she murdered someone and got away with it (but maybe I have a dark mind)? I’ve been trying to see past my own reflection, the little black girl made of barely skin and bone and dark sunken eyes, but that’s always easier said than done. My social worker, Ms. Patty, was trying to make me feel better about my first foster home. < I didn’t expect this to be a girl young enough to be in foster care. Now I’m thinking that she was abused rather than that she committed a crime, but that makes the line about criminals a bit confusing to me – what does she mean? I’m also wondering how old she is. She was chattering away about my new parents. < I wouldn’t expect a foster child to refer to foster parents as “new parents” since foster care is generally temporary. As usual, I wasn’t listening. I was watching out the window. The world seemed bigger than it had in years. I felt small.
“Ms. Patty,” I finally spoke up from the backseat of the car.
Ms. Patty looked in the rear view mirror, eyes wide. It still always seems to surprise her when I say anything at all. I’m not entirely sure why. < Is this story being narrated while Ms. Patty is still her social worker? If not, present tense doesn’t make sense here. However, I think it has something to do with the fact that everyone thinks I’m broken or something. “Yes, dear?”
“Please stop talking.” Once it came out it felt too harsh. Though, it got the point across.
Ms. Patty’s eyes saddened, but she nodded. I contemplated apologizing, but decided against it. I knew she would instantly feel better and begin rambling again.
The sky is dark today, grey clouds hovering low. < This seems to be flipping back and forth between past and present tense randomly. This is present tense, but the next line is past tense. I couldn’t see the setting sun on the horizon and all the colors it would paint along the edge of sky. I wish I could. I lost my sense of time inside the rehab center. I bit down my nails and let every withdrawal symptom known to man hit me like a train. < I’m not an expert on rehab centers, but I believe she would not still be having withdrawal symptoms if she was released. Ms. Patty was still watching me, but I was too focused on the sky. < Isn’t Ms. Patty driving the car? It doesn’t seem like she could’ve watched her for this long without wrecking.
“The sky is dark today,” I finally said out loud. I wanted the statement to mean that I was upset by this, but I don’t think I executed it properly.
Ms. Patty smiled at me through the mirror. “It is. I suspect rain this evening.”
I nodded. I didn’t want it to rain on my first day out. I didn’t want the world to be dark and gloomy. I thought I would hear the birds sing, smell the sunshine and feel the heat beating down on my skin. I bit at my nails < She already bit her nails in the previous paragraph. This feels like the same description placed too close to the first one. and watched the clouds roll around along the darkening skyline. The car smelled of lemons and was fabricated with leather. I don’t know anything about cars, but I guessed it was on the older side of the spectrum. It made a funny rattling sound as it rode and the windows didn’t go down all the way. < The wording here makes me wonder if she is younger than I originally thought.
“Will they like me?” I asked.
Ms. Patty rose an eyebrow. “Who?” 
“The foster family,” I said.

 

My Overall Thoughts

I see potential in this for a great voice, a really captivating character, but I don’t think it’s there yet. I spent too much time waffling about who she was (her age, initially) and what was going on (abuse? drugs? crime?). Sometimes things come across in ways writers don’t intend and perhaps that is the case here. It may be clear in your mind, but not on the page.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The voice, behavior, and descriptions would be stronger if they worked together to tell us something about her personality. She opens with describing her scars, which indicates to me that she is wounded and that she feels it defines her enough for it to be her first description of herself. Yet later, she says “everyone thinks I’m broken or something” like she does not believe it’s true. So these two elements seem to be working against each other in establishing a clear picture of her personality. Does she or does she not see herself as wounded? Why does she struggle to see past her wounded appearance only to turn around and seem to not understand why others would view her as broken?
  • You have the opportunity to describe the scars in a way that really hints towards something (perhaps that’s what you’re trying to do?), but I found myself confused about the connection she draws between the scars and criminals. The location of the scars on her thighs and arms suggests self harm, but the jawline and collarbone scars seem more like physical abuse. Yet later when drug use is mentioned, I began to think that perhaps her scars are track marks? I would either keep this deliberately vague (simply mentioning that she has scars) or I would choose locations and descriptions that clearly indicate their source.
  • Watch your tenses. They jump around a lot, which will be a red flag to agents and editors.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

I’m intrigued enough to want to read on, but I would prefer to have a much stronger understanding of her age and the source of her scars. The tense issues will likely turn off agents and publishers.

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 OPEN to submissions)

***Please read this entire section before submitting***

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Submissions will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and I will no longer be scheduling posts in advance. I will review submissions once a week and choose a first page that I feel provides the best learning opportunity for readers. This means that as much as I would love to respond to every submission, you probably won’t hear from me if I don’t select your first page. It also means that I may select your first page months after you submit it (you are responsible for updating or pulling your submission as needed).

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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. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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12 thoughts on “First Page Friday #33: Contemporary Women’s Fiction

  1. Anonymous says:

    The text needs a lot of correction but some places are excellent. Also, I instantly understood that she was referring to her scars when speaking about convicted criminals. The scars are the ones who tell the story about the evils done to her. Maybe one has to go through an unhappy childhood to understand that though… I know I understood immediately.

  2. Juan Zung says:

    I think the “would” in the second sentence, though grammatically incorrect, flows well in my ear. So it didn’t bother me. In general, I enjoyed the voice of the narrator. I felt a tension between resignation and diffused hope which worked to keep me engaged.

    Technically speaking, I prefer when writer’s give dialogue separate paragraphs instead of incorporating it into larger prose. But that’s just a preference.

    As others have commented, it was confusing trying to place the age of the narrator, both through her voice and the story details.

    And yes, scars can be shiny. I have relatively light skin (Asian) and I had a big shiny scar on my knee for years as a kid. So, when I read that bit, it not only made sense, but was evocative.

    My 2cents on the repeated “nail biting” scene, I think it could work if the repetition was acknowledged. But having it show up twice on a page makes me assume that there is some storytelling significance to it, setting up a “promise” that I will later expect to be delivered on.

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