First Impact: A QUESTION OF FAITH (first page)

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where I take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, etc. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

Last week, we had a YA paranormal query from Nicole Zoltack. This week, we're looking at the first page of that manuscript. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. Everything here is just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.

First Page
I like this image.
The attic door was always secured and padlocked, but now the stairs hang down into the hallway like a lolling tongue from a particularly dark and dusty mouth.

"Crystal! Why aren't you doing your homework?" Mom stands at the top of the stairs, her arms crossed, two trash bags dangling from her hands.

My chance to finally see inside the attic thwarted. Of course. Mom's the attic ninja.

"I wanted to see—"

Mom hurries down the stairs. "Can you take these bags down to the living room for me?" She forces a smile.


She hands me the bags, then lifts the steps, closes up the attic and locks it before I can even get a glimpse inside it. Now I'm even more curiositycurious to go up there.

Not sure if this last line is supposed
to be internal thought or what.
After another glance at the attic, I do as she asks and drop the bags near the living room desk. Wonder what's inside them.

My temple tingles. Great. A headache. What else could go wrong today? I rub my eyes and sit down in front of the computer when Mom comes into the room.

"I'm sorry for snapping. You just caught me by surprise." Dust is sprinkled throughout Mom's dyed hair, covering her strawberry blonde strands with gray.

"What were you doing up there?"

"Just a little cleaning. There's so much crud up there it isn't funny. I don't know why I kept so many doubles of pictures… We're lucky the house hasn't caught on fire, but at least I'm making some progress."

"Do you want me to help?" I ask eagerly.

"Oh, hon, you don't want to go in the attic." She shudders. "There are mice up there."

Ah, the mice. Her mMom's reason for locking the attic. Or excuse for keeping me out.

Adam's Thoughts
This is a great opening, Nicole. It's got a clever voice and just enough tension to keep me reading.

I . . . can't think of anything bad to say. If the next few pages move as well as this starts, I think you've got the beginning of something good.

But who knows, maybe one of our more-intelligent-than-me readers can give you something to improve. Thoughts, guys?


Valerie said...

Overall I really like this first page because it introduces several mysteries all at once: (1) what is in the attic and (2) why won’t her mother let Crystal near it? I especially liked “Ah, the mice.” Clearly it’s not the first time Crystal has heard this.

The only thing I’d like to point out is the paragraph about the sudden headache. After that one mention, I don’t get the feeling that it’s bothering her. Although maybe you mention it in the first line of the second page or later throughout the scene, in which case forget I mentioned it. If not, maybe you need a better transition between this and the preceding paragraph. Or perhaps the “[w]hat else could go wrong today?” should be made clearer. Is not seeing the attic part of what had already gone wrong? Although I understand Crystal is curious to see, so far it doesn’t come off to me as something gone wrong yet. If it refers to something else, maybe consider moving it to a spot where it is directly relevant. And when you have a headache, it makes little sense to use a computer—at least as far as I’m concerned.

(On a side note, I highly doubt I’m more intelligent, Adam. ;))

Matthew MacNish said...

The idea of a locked attic is so intriguing by itself that I would read on based on that alone. I mean, who locks their attic, right?


I really can't find anything to nitpick, except for the minor points Adam has already made.

The one thing I would want is more italics for internal thoughts. But, this is all first person narrative, so that's not a rule, just a style choice, so it would all depend on your editor.

Laurel Garver said...

This has great intrigue, and makes me want to keep reading.

My comments on the internal thoughts would be to try to not distance the character from them by labeling them. Rather than "Wondered what's inside them", make the thought direct: "What's inside them?" For more voice, name some possibilities to show us how Crystal's imagination works. Like this: What's inside them? More pictures of lakes and trees from vacation? A decade of Christmas cards? Syrupy love letters from Mom's poet boyfriends of old?
--You get the picture.

Ditto with the line, "now I'm even more curious to go up there." That's Distant and telling. Instead, show the feeling viscerally. How does it FEEL to be curious? She might describe it as magnetic pull or as a wish for wire cutters.

Deniz Bevan said...

Ooh, now I'm curious!

Deniz Bevan said...

If I had to nit something, I'd sort of wonder what kind of garbage (if it is garbage) is in those bags. Seems odd to bring them into the living room, no?

Patchi said...

I really like the setup. My only nitpick is why did she not look inside the bag? Wasn't she curious? I would have done that instead of sitting at the computer... and probably get caught by Mom before I got very far.

Steve MC said...

Like Deniz and Patchi, the only problem I had was with the bags.

I couldn't get an image if they were full or not, especially if the mother is holding them with "her arms crossed, two trash bags dangling from her hands." That sounds like they're empty, instead of hanging heavy at her sides.

The same when she's handed them - if she's curious, she should be feeling how heavy they are, jiggling them a little, or even peeking in when she sets them down. Anything to get some sense of whether what's in them is clothes, old books, or crystal balls.

Beyond that, good mystery and voice.

Victoria Dixon said...

Really like the voice and the enticement of attic adventures - and Ninjas. LOL My one question was, why is she SO interested? Has she heard noises? Seen something strange? It could be a one-sentence oddity that tells the reader why Crystal is so eager to go help clean in a dusty, mice-ridden environment. Otherwise, I have a hard time believing she'd WANT to.

Unknown said...

When I first read this, I had the feeling that it was a MG novel because of the voice and the apparent helplessness of the main character. If the MC is a teenager, why is it so hard for her to figure out what's in the attic? This was unclear to me. But maybe this is made clearer in the following pages...the extreme lengths her mother goes through to keep the attic locked, etc.

Also, I was bothered by the first paragraph. At first I was confused because I imagined this a stairway with a door in a wall, not stairs coming from the ceiling. I think what gave me that impression was the fact that you mention the door being padlocked. How does one padlock a door on the ceiling? Perhaps this could be your way to show the lengths her mother goes through to keep the attic hidden - she stands on a chair to lock the ceiling door each time, etc.

I also thought it strange the MC does not peek inside the bags. Also, the part about the headache is also disjointed. I have the feeling you mention this part to show a passage of time before Mom comes into the room. You could do this instead with a little internal dialog about the MC's curiosity (see other comments above for good suggestions).

I has a lot of potential. Good luck with this! :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Thanks, guys!

And she does peek in the bags. That's on the next page. :)