First Impact: RACHEL ON FIRE by Vanessa Shields

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we 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 this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have a logline and first page for a YA Contemporary from Vanessa Shields. My inline comments are to the side, with overall thoughts at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

The bit about him killing his parents
hooked me. I wonder if that couldn't
come sooner.

I'm less sure about the last line.
On the bus out of town, it takes one kiss with Tom to ignite sixteen-year-old Rachel’s love. She’s ready to uncover the truth about Tom, the blue-eyed loner, who is rumored to have killed his parents in a house fire. Through a series of fiery firsts that uncover Tom’s scarred story, Rachel falls courageously in love. True love is real.

First Page
I was following this until the last
line. Then I felt out of the loop. Why
does she feel like something's up?

I watched my older brother Alex fidgeting with his university acceptance letter. He was speechless, for once. In fact, we all found ourselves happily silenced. My parents took a sip of their coffees. Then my mom put her hand on my dad’s shoulder. Suddenly, I felt so far out of the loop I couldn’t even see it.
“That’s great. Really great,” my dad said. He looked at my mom. We all looked at my mom. “Actually, we’ve got some news for you guys, too.”
A bad feeling in my guts stood at attention.
“We’re selling the house,” my mom said. A little sob slipped out of her mouth, which she quickly covered with her hand.
“What?!” I barely had enough breath to say the word.
“We don’t need to live in this big, old thing with Alex going off to school,” my mom said.
“Hey, Rachel, it’ll be okay,” Alex jumped in.
“Will it?” I glared at my mom. I couldn’t believe what my ears were hearing.
“Did you know about this?” I looked at Alex. His eyes found my mom’s, and then he nodded. Guilt shaded my family’s faces a bright hue of red. I pointed at them dramatically.  
“You all knew about this! How could you not tell me?” I was shouting. I wanted to run out of the room, but my legs were concrete heavy.
“We should have told you Rachel,” my dad said.
            I still felt like there was part of the loop that wasn’t being revealed.

Adam's Thoughts
I'm intrigued by the mystery, but I feel a little disconnected from the character. Nothing stands out to me as "wrong," but I think it's a combination of little things:
  • The sentence in the first paragraph where she feels out of the loop, but I don't even know what signals she picked up on that made her feel that way. I'm still trying to get grounded in these characters and the acceptance letter and what that means.
  • I think there's something lacking in her reaction to the news. Plenty of emotions are shown, but why is this so bad for her? What does this house mean for her? (Part of this might just be me: I don't personally identify with the issue because I've never felt that way about a house.)
  • It also might be that nobody else seems to have any emotions (with the exception of when her mom covers her sob -- that part's great).
  • Like the first "loop" sentence, I'm not sure what signals she's picking up on to make her think they're hiding more from her.
I'd read on, for sure, but if nothing changed, eventually the characters would be having All The Problems, and I would be like, "So?" And you don't want that.

What do the rest of you guys think?


K Callard said...

I agree with what Adam said about not understanding why she feels out of the loop (both times).

I think maybe you need some more interiority. This is a first person POV so we can really get inside her head. When she says "Will it?" you could follow with something like: How can it be okay when (insert character's reason for being upset).

Also, maybe a bit more context - are they just leaving the house or are they moving farther, to a different school district, say? That would also color the MC's reaction.

And, a minor nit-pick, Dad says "we've got some news for YOU GUYS..." If Alex already knows, maybe he should just say "We've got news too."

Hope this helps. Good luck.

Patchi said...

These are just my thoughts... My first reaction was that the delivery of the news about the house felt abrupt. No one seemed to be congratulating Alex, the conversation just shifted to the house. If there is a connection (or if Rachel's parents want her to think there is), someone can say "We might need to sell the house." Rachel can go all emotional and then discover it was a done deal from the start and she was the only one out of the loop.

Good Luck!

Matthew MacNish said...

I think you could probably end the logline right after the word "fire." Like Adam, that right there was all I needed.

Adam covers most of what the first page needs, but here's some points from me.

- Rachel falling out of the loop didn't bother me, since it seemed it would be explained shortly.

- The bad feeling should be in her gut not guts.

- "I couldn't believe what my ears were hearing," threw me. Maybe just "I couldn't believe my ears?"

- "I pointed at them dramatically," threw me too. Who describes their own pointing that way? Unless it's meant to be a little sarcastic? Would that fit with the narrator's voice for the whole novel? If it was sarcasm, I didn't pick up on it.

Otherwise, I agree with Adam. This is off to a decent start, but you could stand to dig a little deeper with these characters. Make us feel what they feel.

Kristen Wixted said...

I completely agree with Adam's comment--what is she picking up on to feel out of the loop in para #1? I feel like this beginning is only hinting at some really interesting stuff, and not showing it to us. And the hints aren't big enough to really get me interested.

the logline has a good hook but there is a lot of "love" in there that seems unnecessary. Maybe not so many mentions of it.
And I have no idea how the logline and the first page are going to connect. That troubles me a little bit. I would like to see some mention of the impending move or the recent move in the logline, so we know where we're headed. To ground us.

All in all I think you're pretty close.It'll be in great shape after this critique I bet. Good job!

AuthorVanessaShields said...

Wow! Thank you everyone! I agree with you that the 'loop' line poses an issues. What's happened is I've taken out so many pages (chapters, in fact) previous to these first 250 words in an attempt to get into the action and conflict of the MC. I've since taken out even more, and pushed the story beginning to when Rachel is at the bus station leaving, and she meets Tom.
Doing this, I believe, takes away all the confusion/hinting at the conflicts and puts us right into the action.
Thanks for the 'guts' vs 'gut' point. I'm a 'guts' girl - meaning I add the 's'!
Indeed, Rachel is sarcastic (defence mechanism) and it is not showing through as the first 250 words show in this version.
i'm very glad that despite these 'issues' you are all intrigued enough to want to read more. PHEW!
I will definitely be re-submitting. I look forward to you responses then as well!

Sarah Ahiers said...

I felt the logline was too long. I'm with Matt on where you could end it to make it more succinct. It also seems like there's a lot of character names in it. There are 5 names in 4 sentences, which is just a lot and it kind of clunks things up.

As for the first page, i don't feel very grounded. I don't know who these people are, and i don't understand why the MC is so angry or even what any of them are feeling or why. I think you could fix a lot of this by backing up a little, and doing some character building before the ball is dropped about the house being sold.