First Page Friday #34: Historical 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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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!

Historical Fiction – Pam Portland

Jack and Clementine occupied plastic, folding chairs under the portable tarp that covered the simple grave site attempting to ignore the sideways gusts of rain the wind blew, which added wet misery directed towards them.  Master Sergeant David York’s death, while not unexpected, left the two teenagers huddling against the rain and against the exasperating task of tackling adulthood immediately.  Admittedly, Clementine had the advantage of years over Jack and having a far better recollection of the process of burying a parent, yet the assistance from the military family support network primarily covered the procedures, rather than the emotions of the day’s experience.  While thankful for their presence and assistance during his final days, which she felt assured would end with this service, her appreciation measured insignificantly against her fear and uncertainty of the life now ahead of her and her brother.

In roughly a few months, she expected, about the time the paperwork and probate hit full swing, she would already have turned eighteen and be able to control legally the responsibilities she had managed for years.  Ever since her father had first been hospitalized following what had been anticipated as a brief outpatient procedure to remove a small mass, she kept the household running while her father continued his military responsibilities and the daunting task of managing and regulating his health.  Procedures, paperwork, therapies, treatments, medicines, and maladies filled their lives and now twenty-two months later, Clementine would be flying solo in her business obligations and her brother’s care.

Jack, however, still had four months until he could receive his driver’s permit, three more years of high school studies, and a lifetime with no one to serve as a mentor to him.  Clementine, despite her involvement otherwise, tried always to be just a big sister to him.  From packing lunches to paying for school field trips from her father’s account, she took care of the matriarchal duties, but not with the effort of a parent, but rather out of sibling affection.  She inherited and honed the role over a decade when their mother’s misdiagnosed symptoms left her lying alone at home after collapsing from a coronary illness.  When the school bus brought brother and sister home from pre-K and second grade respectively, Clementine accepted her first adult responsibility by calling her father and then the emergency responders.  She grew up quickly after that, not that the world noticed.

After her death, the remnants of the York family managed through their last relocation back to their parents’ original hometown, despite the fact that their father had no blood ties in the area.  Their parents had met here while her mother attended college and her father was beginning his military career.  While participating in an informational career fair in the student union, David saw Carrie, who had hoped to find an internship at the end of her freshman year.

 

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.

Historical Fiction – Pam Portland

Jack and Clementine occupied plastic, folding chairs under the portable tarp that covered the simple grave site attempting to ignore the sideways gusts of rain the wind blew, which added wet misery directed towards them. < There is adjective overload in this sentence. It’s also quite a long sentence for readers to start with. Opening with shorter sentences can help the reader slowly digest what’s going on. Introducing too much in a single sentence (the characters, setting, weather, and mood) can be overwhelming.  Master Sergeant David York’s death, while not unexpected, left the two teenagers huddling against the rain and against the exasperating task of tackling adulthood immediately.  < “Exasperating” makes me think of a teenager huffing and puffing over something insignificant. It doesn’t seem like a serious enough word here. Admittedly, Clementine had the advantage of years over Jack and having as well as a far better recollection of the process of burying a parent, The second half of this sentence doesn’t quite connect to the first well enough for me to feel that “yet” works here. > yet the assistance from the military family support network primarily covered the procedures, rather than the emotions of the day’s experience.  While thankful for their presence and assistance during his final days, which she felt assured would end with this service, her appreciation measured insignificantly against her fear and uncertainty of the life now ahead of her and her brother. < You’re doing a lot of telling. Could you show how she feels based on her expressions, movement, behavior, etc.? She could grab her brother and hold him tight. She could bite her lip. She could struggle to look at the grave. There are lots and lots of ways to portray emotion here without just stating (telling) it.

In roughly a few months, she expected, about the time the paperwork and probate hit full swing, she would already have turned eighteen and be able to control legally the responsibilities she had managed for years.  Ever since her father had first been hospitalized following what had been anticipated as a brief outpatient procedure to remove a small mass, she kept the household running while her father continued his military responsibilities and the daunting task of managing and regulating his health.  Procedures, paperwork, therapies, treatments, medicines, and maladies filled their lives and now twenty-two months later, Clementine would be flying solo in her business obligations and her brother’s care. < You’re dumping info on the reader. I want to experience what Clementine is experiencing right now. I don’t want to be told about what’s going to happen and what’s already happened unless it’s tucked into a scene about what’s currently happening.

Jack, however, still had four months until he could receive his driver’s permit, three more years of high school studies, and a lifetime with no one to serve as a mentor to him.  Clementine, despite her involvement otherwise, tried always to be just a big sister to him.  From packing lunches to paying for school field trips from her father’s account, she took care of the matriarchal duties, but not with the effort of a parent, but rather out of sibling affection.  She inherited and honed the role over a decade when their mother’s misdiagnosed symptoms left her lying alone at home after collapsing from a coronary illness.  When the school bus brought brother and sister home from pre-K and second grade respectively, Clementine accepted her first adult responsibility by calling her father and then the emergency responders.  She grew up quickly after that, not that the world noticed. < The reason info dumps like this don’t work is that everyone has some tragic or traumatic back story from their lives. Tragedy itself isn’t significant, shocking, or captivating. It’s the characters that make us care about a novel’s tragedy, but that can’t happen before we know anything about the characters and before you – the auth0r – endear the character to us.

After her death, the remnants of the York family managed through their last relocation back to their parents’ original hometown, despite the fact that their father had no blood ties in the area.  Their parents had met here while her mother attended college and her father was beginning his military career.  While participating in an informational career fair in the student union, David saw Carrie, who had hoped to find an internship at the end of her freshman year. < Readers don’t need a history of the entire family, especially before we know anything about the characters and especially when the back story is not vital in understanding the scene.

 

My Overall Thoughts

There’s not much going on in this opening. After the first two lines, nothing is shown because nothing happens in the moment. There are lots and lots of books out there about orphaned teenagers. You’re not demonstrating what’s unique about this one.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Cut way down on the telling and info dumps. You can’t suck a reader into a story with information about the past. Readers get sucked into stories when they care about the characters, which means you have to show the characters doing, saying, thinking, or feeling something worth caring about.
  • More things should be happening “in the moment” of the scene than in the past. Check out this article about how much back story is too much. Work on hooking the reader into the story by showing what’s happening as Clementine and Jack attend the funeral. There is so much potential for strong emotion here and for showing their personality traits.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

The writing didn’t stand out as good or bad on a technical level. I didn’t find myself getting sucked into the story due to the info dumps and telling.

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***

Due to the amount of time it takes to respond to each email and due to the volume of submissions received (I booked 4 months in about 2 weeks), I am changing the submission and selection process for First Page Friday for my own sanity as well as to increase the quality of the series.

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).

To Submit, send the following information to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com or if you have trouble with that email address (as has been the case for some of you lately), send it to editorbrock@gmail.com:

  • The name you want used on your post (real name, pseudonym, or anonymous)
  • The first 500 words (Don’t stop in the middle of a sentence, but don’t add sentences above and beyond 500 words)
  • Any links you want included with the post (website, Amazon, GoodReads, Twitter, etc.)

Title your submission email: SUBMISSION: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you don’t tell me your genre, I cannot choose you for First Page Friday so please include it!

If you need to update or revoke your submission, title your email: UPDATE: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you are also interested in my editing or mentoring services, please send a separate email from your First Page Friday submission so that I can address it promptly. I will only open as many submission as it takes for me to select a first page, so I probably won’t get to your email for several weeks.

I will not remove First Page Friday critiques after they are posted, so please do not submit if you are not okay with your work being publicly critiqued on my blog.

I ask that you please comment, vote, and share First Page Friday posts from other authors. It’s courteous to both give and receive help. Thank you!

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

087

Help First Page Friday Succeed!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

14 thoughts on “First Page Friday #34: Historical Fiction

  1. Silvie Monk says:

    Slow down, Pam! There is no way I would be able to remember all of that exposition. Is any of that important, in the end? I’m reminded of the plays of the ’30s when the butler and maid are setting the table, gossiping about all of the characters we are about to meet. I personally like it when authors slip exposition in when I am laughing or crying or both. It becomes invisible, but memorable.

  2. trazanacho says:

    The first sentence was difficult to read – I caught myself analyzing it instead of reading it. Second sentence – don’t use ‘against’ twice in same sentence. Drop ‘Admittedly’. Hmmmm…. OK, I just bulled through the first paragraph – it feels like an info dump. I think that’s why it felt really wordy [much more tell than show]. I’d rework it so I’m identifying with the characters instead of reading their life story in one paragraph.

    I take it back – the whole piece felt like an info dump. I got tons of background, but I never got to see or feel or connect with the characters. The only personal connection I felt was their sitting in plastic chairs at the funeral. I’d really want more than that.

    You mentioned elsewhere that this was going to be a time travel piece – obviously 500 words doesn’t let you get into any of that. I’m intrigued by your description, but not by the piece submitted. Perhaps all of this info could be introduced by funeral attendees talking among themselves and the kids reacting? I noticed there was no dialogue at all – toss some in.

    You’ve obviously gone to great lengths to create a plausible backstory [I assume for providing motivations for your characters]. But if I don’t get to know the characters, I’m not going to remember any of the backstory. Maybe you can set aside each of these nuggets as post-it notes and introduce them as situations arise in the story where the background becomes important for us to know.

    Right now it’s overwhelming.

  3. Lara Willard says:

    I echo all the comments above but challenge you to read your sentences aloud. Even better, print out two copies, have another person read one, and you highlight each of the awkward parts on your copy.

    Hearing someone stumble over your words is the best method for diagnosing diction problems. (Hear that alliteration there? It’s obnoxious. It should be rewritten. But I’ll leave it to prove my point.)

    Remember that this is fiction, that it is literature. It isn’t an essay. Unless your narrator is a politician, cut every unnecessary word.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s