First Impact: The Show Must Not Go On by J. Kaitlin Adams

Time for another First Impact critique. But first: July's winner, who gets to choose between $10 for Amazon/B&N OR a 20-page critique from me, iiiiiiiis . . . Stephanie Scott! Congratulations, Stephanie.

And for August, we have a special prize: a 10-page critique from my agent, Tricia Lawrence! To be eligible, all you have to do is share your thoughts in the comments of any First Impact post this month. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

If you want your material critiqued, send it to firstimpactAE@gmail.com. Details here.



Thank you to Kaitlin for submitting the first page of her YA fantasy. Keep in mind all this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it.

Any in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end.


Opening Page
Right from the start, I'm interested
in this strange relationship she has
with her parents. Nice.
My talent was about the only thing that made my parents happy. And But in my sixteen years of experience, I had learned their happiness usually ended in my suffering. So when they called my name for dinner, their voices high and excited, a hard knot formed in the pit of my stomach. I walked into the kitchen where they sat at the table, holding hands and smiling. The knot in my stomach grew.

“Lori,” Mom said, “sit down.”

I stayed where I was. Our best silver platters were piled high with fish, chicken, and rice. Fruit and rolls topped our porcelain bowls. And our crystal pitchers were filled to the brim with tea. Eating well was not rare for us. Eating for a family of ten was. I had spent the past five hours outside, practicing my talent, unaware Mom was cooking such a feast.

“Your mother and I,” Dad said, “have decided-”

This felt a little strange to me, since
she had just called Lori down to talk
(presumably). Maybe if she just called
her for dinner at first, instead?
“Wait until after dinner,” Mom said.

“Why?”

“She’ll need a full stomach. It’ll be a lot to take in.”

Dad squeezed Mom’s hand and grinned. “Right. Sit down and eat up, Lori.”

Not sure how I feel about this simile.
I like that she's relating her value
to something in the scene, but then it
breaks when the fish's parents are
brought up.
I hadn’t seen Dad that happy in ages. Any appetite I had had left, disappeared. I sat, and after they filled their plates with food, I didn’t touch any of it. They exchanged a glance. It wasn’t like the food was poisoned. If I died, my talent would die with me, and then I’d be about as valuable as the platter of dead fish were to their parents. I just figured the longer I took to finish dinner, the longer I could prolong put off what they were about to tell me.

Minor nitpick: In the last paragraph
it sounds like she's not going to eat
at all. This almost feels like giving
in to me (even though I know it's not).



I put a couple of bites of fish and a roll on my plate. Even after my parents had eaten all their food, I still had most of the fish and half a roll left on mine. They watched me, their hands still eintertwined, hardly able to control the twitching of their lips. Mom’s free fingers drummed the table. Every few minutes or so, Dad sighed, as if that would hurry me along.

I pinched off a piece of my roll, about the size of my fingernail. I looked at it, turned it over, smelled it-

This made me laugh out loud.


“EAT!” Dad yelled.


Adam's Thoughts
There's a lot of interesting stuff here: a wry voice, a strange relationship between Lori and her parents, a mysterious talent, and an even more mysterious announcement.

The voice really drew me in. It's not just Lori's snark about her situation -- I've seen that before -- but also the almost comical actions of her parents that make me like them (even though they somehow make the protagonist suffer).

My only real complaint about this is that even after 370 words (yes, I do count -- if people start going overboard regularly, I'm going to have to cut them off ;-), I still don't know what any of the mysteries are. Not that I want everything explained up front, but I feel like we could get there sooner, or at least get some hints here and there, like a puzzle to solve.

But it's really hard to say, because this is only the first page, and for all I know everything is answered in the next line. But hey, the sooner you can hook the reader with your cool gimmick, the better, right?

Anyway, that's just my opinion. What do the rest of you think?

NOTE: Kaitlin has a revised version in the comments. You are welcome to critique either one.

11 comments:

Kaitlin Adams said...

REVISED VERSION of THE SHOW MUST NOT GO ON

*I had revised my first page a couple of weeks ago, after I sent it to Adam, so please see below for the latest version. Any suggestions/lashings are welcome. Adam, can't thank you enough for doing this!

***

My talent was about the only thing that made my parents happy. And in my sixteen years of experience, I had learned their happiness usually ended in my suffering. So when they called me for dinner, their voices high and excited, a hard knot formed in the pit of my stomach. I walked into the kitchen where they sat at the table, holding hands and smiling. The knot in my stomach grew.

“Lori,” Mom said, “sit down.”

I stayed where I was. Our best silver platters were piled high with fish, chicken, and rice. Fruit and rolls topped our porcelain bowls. And our crystal pitchers were filled to the brim with tea. Eating well was not rare for us. Eating for a family of ten was.

Dad cleared his throat. “Your mother and I,” he said, “have decided-”

“Wait until she sits,” Mom said.

I didn’t sit, and I didn’t touch the food. It wasn’t like it was poisoned. If I died, my talent would die with me, and then I’d be about as valuable as the platter of dead fish were to their parents. But if they were going to wait until I sat to tell me what they were about to tell me, I’d stand for the rest of my life.

They exchanged a glance and then looked back to me.

Dad sighed. “It’s time,” he said.

I leaned against the table and tried to soften my glare. “Time for what?” I asked, even though we all knew I knew.

“We’re registering you in the Talent Show,” Mom said.

My teeth clenched together. Our kingdom, Easten, held Talent Shows four times a year, every season. If a child’s talent impressed the judges, the parents were rewarded. If the child didn’t impress, the child suffered the consequences.

I had never performed before, and I didn’t think my parents would ever register me. I guessed every kid thought that until their parents cooked a big feast and told them it was time.

Matthew MacNish said...

Some questions:

Do her parents really hold each others hands while they eat? Not impossible, but it seems strange, and that's the impression I got from this page.

Is "topped" really the right verb for something sitting in a bowl? To me, it made it sound like the bowls were upside down or something, with the fruit sitting on top of them.

Is the dead fish's importance to their parents really the figurative comparison you want to make? I don't think fish have the closest relationships with their offspring, so I think the simile would pack more punch if you just mentioned the dead fish, and left their parents out of it.

Anyway, other than those minor things, I would read on in either version of this first page. It seems like a cool mix of a somewhat normal life, in a clearly fantasy world.

Rena said...

I agree with Adam, I'd like to have a clue about something by the end of this excerpt. I'd like to know what her talent is. Lori knows, and it seems like we, your readers, should know something about it.
Also, I'm missing some other things that could be hinted at quickly. Are talents common? What sort of talent is it? Is she a superstar gymnast or a spell casting witch?
Do her parents have talent, or is she muggle born? Is that why they are milking her for her talent?

I also sort of feel like we should know what the character wants by the end of this piece. I know this is a lot, but it just seems like we should know if Lori just wants to be left alone, or if she's dying to move away from home and go to college (does college even exist in this world).
I love the interaction of the parents, but I sort of feel like we need some motivation from these characters, otherwise this scene is awkward because we (your readers) don't know who to root for. 370 words into a scene like this and we should know who wants what from whom, or have some good guesses.

I hope that helps. I love the voice, and there's a lot of good stuff going on here. Good job. Voice is really hard to get right, so you've done a great job there.

Bane of Anubis said...

Hi Kaitlin, the writing's definitely there (though I do agree w/ Adam about that fish simile).

My biggest issue is this mysterious talent. When I'm outside practicing basketball, I don't say I'm outside practicing my talent. You're obscuring a known quantity from the reader, which often feels forced (particularly in 1st person) and can be frustrating (and is one of the issues I often find in some of my writing). Mystery's more about the unknown to the protag (and how they react to it).

The conflict in this scene is how the character interacts w/ her parents, what they want from her, and how she feels about this (as Rena more eloquently pointed out). The mystery of her talent (and my frustration at not knowing what it is) distracts from the conflict, IMO.

Overall, though, the writing's really solid. Ironing/balancing out details is always a pain-in-the-ass, but you've got a strong foundation.

Adam, no need to enter me in the contest.

Victoria Dixon said...

I agree, I'd like to know SOMETHING about her talent. Is it supernatural or playing the nose harp, for instance? ;D It changes the tone of the story and helps us see where we're going. I also thought it remarkably strange the parents were sealed together at the palms.
That said, I HAVE been forced to perform and feel an enormous amount of sympathy for your protag now. LOL

Stephsco said...

Thank you SO much to Adam for drawing my name from the comments section. The critique comments were wonderful and extremely helpful.

As for the excerpt, I liked it. The opening few paragraphs are great, it read smoothly and the voice is there.
Right away I want to know about the mysterious talent and what her parents want to say. I get they're hesitant, but it's a bit agonizing to go through another few paragraphs on eating and food (which was set up so wonderfully) to wait. Maybe the rest of that conversation is shortly coming, but it might help to just move it up and have her pry the news out of her parents rather than wait. In such a short excerpt, we tend to get picky, maybe those details will show up soon after, but it may be worth considering.

Sounds like a good read. Nice work!

Stephsco said...

I just now saw the revised version the top comment. My apologies! I read the other comments after I post so I don't get influenced by others' opinions. I think the revised version flows a little better and still keeps the voice :)

maine character said...

With the first version, I'd nix “Wait until after dinner" and everything after - it's a long wait in which nothing happens, and I was skimming to see what happened next.

So good going on the rewrite.

About the "as valuable as the platter of dead fish" phrase, a platter of dead fish is actually sort of valuable, and so you might say, "as valuable as the fish heads in the garbage."

Also, it doesn't sound like she actually has a worry about being poisoned (which would be really dramatic), so you might move that phrase to the part about being judged for her talent. You know, "If I didn't impress, I'd be about as valuable to my parents as..."

The writing is good - very clear and with a good voice. I'd keep reading if her talent was interesting.

Kaitlin Adams said...

Hi everyone- I just want to thank you so much for all of your constructive criticism and encouraging comments! You all are awesome. This has helped my perspective drastically, and I'm getting on all of your suggestions pronto! Adam, thanks again for doing this!!

The Dieselpunkette said...

I only read the revised version, but I like it overall. I want to know what the MC's talent *is*, and that would make me read on - though that's probably something I could glean from the back cover, I imagine. If it's the premise of the story, it may not help to be secretive about it here, since it will probably be a point you use to sell the story.

But you're doing a good job of building up tension - framing it in the beginning with the opening foreshadowing, then with the parents sitting her down in a formal setting.

Jennifer said...

Hi, I'm a little late to the game. I really liked the voice in this and I think the second version is better than the first. You bring me in better at the end, explaining why the Talent might be important to her parents. I get a feeling this is a dystopia, though I'm not sure if we're in a parallel earth or some other world altogether. I don't think that is important right now, but I should find out soon after this.

I stumbled over the idea of " Eating well was not rare for us. Eating for a family of ten was." Because I found myself trying to figure out if her family had ten. If you're trying to show her parents are wealthy already, maybe you need to be more direct. The description of the crystal and abundance of food and nice dishware, maybe a comment about how these were her everyday dishes and others didn't have those.

Otherwise, I would be looking to keep reading this book. Nice job.