First Impact: Through the Wormhole by Mairead Ahmad and Jennifer Van Haaften

— July 18, 2012 (9 comments)
Time for another First Impact critique. Remember you are eligible to win $10 for Amazon/B&N OR a 20-page critique from me if you share your thoughts in the comments. Your critique doesn't have to be long, just useful!

If you would like your material critiqued, send it to Details here.

A huge thanks to Mairead and Jennifer for submitting the first page* of their MG sci-fi. Keep in mind this is just my opinion. If it doesn't feel right to you, ignore it.

My in-line comments are to the right, overall thoughts at the end. Line edits are in red, and highlighted text is usually something I referred to in the in-line comments.

Opening Page

Loving the chapter title.

“Flute!” The word echoed down the bright blue hallway, followed by a resounding thud.

I feel like there's a lot to keep track
of. Are they in a school? Hospital?
Skidding to a halt several feet ahead, Zak turned, his suit sparkling in the light. His uncle Aztar lay sprawled face down on the copper tiled floor. A clipboard hovered above his head, slowly spinning.

The two untagged dialogs in a row
are making me wonder who's talking.

I do love this world bit though.
“Uncle A!” A dull groan was the only answer. Zak’s day was not going according to plan, not that they ever did. Although, when he thought about it, his days never went according to any plan of his making. He sprinted back to Aztar’s side. Medic-bots had already been activated and were rushing toward them on spidery legs.

It's not immediately clear to me
these refer to the nanocomputers.
That made this whole paragraph a
lot to take in.

“The nanocomputers?” Aztar asked, scrambling to a kneeling position, knocking the clipboard with his head. Zak grabbed the clipboard, the devices were still attached. He checked both two-inch square computers with the name Herman imprinted on each wristband.

“They’re fine!” Zak’s voice cracked. “Come on! Anyana is flipping her lid.” But even as the words left his mouth the medic-bots were swarming over Aztar, scanning him, and looking for injuries.

I love this.

"Aztar grumbled" feels like dialog
tag overkill to me.

I feel like this paragraph should be
broken in two after Aztar's last
“I’m not hurt!” Aztar said as loudly and clearly as he could, swiping at the bots as more jumped up to poke and prod him. “I hate this new medical experiment,” Aztar grumbled. “Six more months of these….medic-bots running around the Singh Complex and I’ll be ready to explode.” One of the bots jumped onto Aztar’s shoulder, making him leap up. It started scanning his face, repeating the phrase, “Nasal contusion, possible concussion…..scanning, scanning.” Aztar shoved it off his shoulder, it landed easily on its six legs. Aztar shook his pants to keep more from climbing on him.

“He’s not hurt!” Zac yelled,. “Go dormant!” He watched them slink away looking rather crest-fallen, if that was possible for a machine. He wondered if it was even possible for a computer-operated machine to care about its job.

Adam's Thoughts
I'm really enjoying the voice and snatches of world-building so far. I would keep reading, but I'd be concerned about a couple of things:
  1. Wordy jokes lost in wordiness. I notice a general tendency here to use 2-3 sentences where one will do, especially around the jokes (like the two I red-lined here). I think the whole thing would benefit from some ruthless trimming, but the jokes most of all. Brevity is the soul of wit, right?
  2. Grounding the reader in the world. I really do love the world-building bits here, but be careful you don't pound the reader with too much too soon. Guide them into the strangeness gently.
  3. Exclamation marks. I count 7 in just 300 words. I think only the first two do any work, especially with dialog tags like "Aztar said...loudly" and "Zac yelled" (and actually, even those dialog tags are probably unnecessary...).
But that's just my opinion. What do the rest of you guys think?

* On a random note, I love how the first three First Impact entries have covered the three main types I asked for: queries, back-cover copy, and first page (in that order, no less). Well done, guys! Now I don't suppose anyone has a 1-page synopsis for me to look at?

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  1. MG SF!! *swoons*


    The MG voice is fantastic, something that is often really hard for adult readers to master - so you've got that going on in spades. And I love the tech bits, but Adam is right, you need to ease us into this world. I think of it like a microscope zooming out, one magnification at a time. Start focused in on one thing that is similar between our world and this - something readers can hang onto immediately that helps them ground in the world (a human interaction, a bumbling kid, an "I'm late for class again!" feeling); then zoom out a step in the next sentence/paragraph and add a tidbit that says "Whoa! We're not in Kansas anymore Toto; that class is on the MOON!" Rinse; repeat; and before you know it, you're deep in the story, with a reader confident in your authorial abilities.

    p.s. I agree that you don't want to repeat your repeats, repeatedly. Especially for the MG audience - they intuit like crazy.

  2. This has got a great, confident narrative voice which makes me want to keep reading, even though sci-fi isn't always my thing.
    Perhaps because of my lack of familiarity with the genre, I do wish the details were a little more specific, had something to set them apart from the generic sci-fi picture I have in my head.
    For some reason, the overall mood of this was confusing me. Probably that's cleared up by the next page, but right here I started thinking they were in grave danger, then it seemed to go more lighthearted, then seemed like grave danger again. While I love drama laced with humor, I'd be careful that it doesn't draw us away from the tension.
    Overall, though, very cool. I love the character names. ANd that narrative voice, like I said, is just great.

  3. Overall, I love this. I completely agree the MG voice is superb, and I love the whole irreverent tone.

    I do have a few problems though, which are line with what's already been mentioned.

    The opening line is kind of fun, but really doesn't provide the context I would like to have to ground me in the seen. It can be fine done this way, if you clear it up soon after, but you kind of don't. Why would he yell "flute" when he tripped, and where the heck are they, anyway? Try to ground your reader in a setting at the same time you introduce your characters.

    Also, the paragraph with Uncle A speaking twice, broken by two separate (and somewhat heavy handed) dialog tags, and followed by the bots also "speaking," really bothered me. I don't think it's a rule or grammar, more a choice of style, but I can't handle it when two different characters have dialog without breaking to a new paragraph. I'm really uptight about stuff like that.

    Otherwise, I think this is off to a great start!

  4. I really really love the voice in this and once you introduce medi-bots, i'm totally sold. I would definitely keep reading.
    But i'm also quite confused and ungrounded. Like Adam said, some tightening and cutting will do wonders with grounding your reader, but also i think i need more explanation as to what's going on. It starts off with "Flute!" and then his uncle's on the ground and i really don't know how he got there. Did someone throw a flute at him? And is it the musical instrument? Or a glass? I really have no idea what Zak and his uncle were doing, nor how his uncle ended up on the floor.

    But, like i said, i'd keep reading for sure. Just some clarification and tightening and smoothing will do wonders for this.

    Good luck!

  5. Wow! Loved this.

    Is FLUTE the f-word in that place? It's not clear. I don't know that you should start the book with a word we don't know. I thought he was calling someone's name. After I read the whole thing and went back, I realized the uncle was cursing while he fell.

    In the next paragraph you say:

    Skidding to a halt several feet ahead, Zak turned, his suit sparkling in the light.

    I think you need to fix two things here. Make it clear and cut the POV break.

    Skidding to a halt, Zak turned back to see what his always flustered uncle was cursing about this time. Uncle Aztar lay sprawled face-down on the copper tiled floor. A clipboard hovered above his head, slowly spinning.

    The reason I say this is that it would clear up where Zak is and it clears up what "flute" means. And it cuts the pov break where Zak notices his suit sparking. He's not going to notice his suit sparkling in the best of times, unless it's a suit he doesn't normally use, but especially not going to notice the suit sparkling when his uncle has just fallen.

    I agree with Adam on the three lines he cut. I would also urge you to replace "the Singh Complex" with "here" because why would the uncle specify as if the nephew didn't know where they were?

    Loved the little midic-bots. Loved when one spoke.

    The second to last paragraph should be broken into three--the uncle speaks, then a graph break when the bot jumps on his shoulder, and another graph break when the uncle knocks the bot off his shoulder. Each new actor or speaker should start a new graph. (IMO--I don't know if that's a real rule, but it makes the story so much more clear.)

    The third paragraph should be broken into three paragraphs I think, and the fourth paragraph should be broken into two. (the fifth could be added to the fourth since it's the same actor/speaker, I think)

    To cut and tighten:

    scanning him and looking for injuries can be stated SCANNING FOR INJURIES.

    Dull groan could be just GROAN.

    Sprinted back could be just SPRINTED.

    OK...didn't mean to write so much. sorry. But I really liked this so I went back to read a second time.

  6. I think we know who won the entry for today. Hint: it's Sally.

  7. If I were an agent, I'd ask for this on the chapter title alone. :)

    I also wasn't clear on where they are, and like Sally, I thought Flute was a person's name at first.

    But this is so fun! I love the little medic-bots looking crestfallen and slinking away.

    Adam, I'm trying to visit every person who commented on my MSFV's Success Story. Hi! Great blog, and keeping to MSFV's spirit of helpful & supportive feedback.

  8. @Beth: Thanks, Beth! Authoress is one of my inspirations for doing this :-)

  9. Hey, folks, thank you for your comments! I am so sorry I didn't get back to this sooner. On this day in July, I was preparing to head to Iowa for a 520 mile bike ride in seven days. Then when I returned we were down on our project, on writing in general. Then I didn't check the email for several days, then I realized Adam had sent an email that dumped it in my spam box and I only just discovered it today. In the meantime, we've started a MG steampunk. I am glad the voice is there. Your info will be very helpful, but it is hard to go back and revise, yet again. I can see where all that does make sense, so thank you for your comments. I just keep wondering, when do we stop revising and get to send it out to agents. It never quite seems done. So frustrating.