First Impact: WANDERERS by KayC

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. 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 the first page of a YA fantasy from KayC. My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

First Page
It wasn’t a white feathery cloud, the sort that danced around in the sunlight on a spring afternoon. It was flat, and dark, and moved with intent.
This is a little too much description
for me. It slows things down. I wanna
know what the cloud is.
Rhanee stood on top of a bare knoll as the mist sank towards her. In the distance, a crimson moon followed its smaller white counterpart over the rim of a mountain range. Behind her the sun sank toward the horizon.
What does the image of her grand-
mother have to do with the creepy
cloud that's trying to grab her?
The leading edge of the cloud reared up and wispy tentacles slithered towards her. She swallowed as an image of her grandmother, lying in the hospital bed with staring, blank eyes, flitted through her mind. Her legs began to tremble. It was too late to change her mind, too late to run.
What barrier?
She clutched her arms to her chest and scrunched her face in concentration. The air around her shimmered and a translucent bubble appeared. Her arms dropped to her sides as the mist crept around the glassy surface of the barrier.
I really want to know what she's
talking about.
She chewed on her lip and sighed. But I’ve got to do it now, before I really lose my nerve. She clenched both hands until her fingernails dug into her palm. Be brave. The adults are too afraid, but I’m not! She clamped her teeth and released the barrier. Sweat broke out along her forehead as the cloud closed in and began to wrap around her. Wave after wave of despair washed over her.
Be brave. She sucked in a lung full of air and lifted her chin. “What are you? Where did you come from?”
No answer.
The swirling mantle thickened. Icy shards of grief and longing stabbed at her, burrowing like frenzied worms. Rhanee swiped at a tear as she dropped to one knee. I didn’t think it would be this bad.

Adam's Thoughts
Writing? Solid. Voice? Great. I've got nothing to say about these things.

My problem here is I don't know what's going on. Normally that wouldn't be so bad, but the problem is that the narrator does know what's going on, and I feel like she's not telling me. She knows what she's there to do. She knows about the barrier (that I guess she made?). She knows what the cloud is, or at least thinks she does.

And because I don't know, I'm not in there with her. I don't feel her fear, because I don't understand why she's afraid, or what she thinks the cloud is going to do to her. I don't know her goal or the stakes or anything.

So my suggestion is don't be afraid to explain things. You don't have to explain them in paragraph one, but by two or three, I want to know what Rhanee thinks the cloud is, what her understanding of it is. Not all of it, but enough so I can follow the rest with her.

What do the rest of you guys think?


Matthew MacNish said...

Was this pasted from Word or something? The font looks all over the place.

Anyway, sorry. I'll read it now.

Matthew MacNish said...

Okay. I like this, but like Adam, I do have some points.

- Unless a comparison is really vivid, or incredibly clever, I don't want to know what something isn't. Show me what it is (this is especially jarring in the very first sentence like this).

- Towards is technically correct, but it always bothers me. I always prefer toward instead.

- If she's on top of the knoll, wouldn't the mist sink away from her? Doesn't mist settle toward low points in the ground?

- Are the mist and the cloud the same thing? Because that is not immediately clear, but later it seems like they may be.

- Is the bubble really translucent? Not transparent? If that's definitely what you mean, it's interesting.

- If the bubble is some kind of magic she's doing, you need to make that clear. I'm making a very vague guess here about the bubble and the barrier being the same thing - a spell of some kind.

Now, I must say, there is some great writing here. Some powerful, vivid imagery and description, but the problem is they're not placed properly. Try to open with action, with things happening. Then, once you've given the reader a chance to get grounded in a scene, and to care about a character, you can start slowly pulling them into your world with lovely descriptions.

And of course all silly rules can be broken, just make sure if you do, it works.

Adam Heine said...

I'm not certain, but I think toward/towards is an American vs. British English thing. So it's probably a non-issue.

Steve MC said...

The second paragraph got me befuddled in that the sun's dropping behind her and the moons are sinking in front of her. That's possible, but for us on Earth we're used to them moving in the same direction, and having two moons by itself clearly shows we're not on Earth.

The grandmother image didn't seem to fit, but I think she's saying that's what happened to her - she tried to contact this cloud in the same way.

And I got that the barrier meant her energy barrier, and I like that part 'cause it shows she can protect herself from it, but chooses not to for some reason.

"Scrunched her face in concentration" doesn't have the right tone, so maybe "frowned" or "squinted."

I'd be okay with not knowing what's going on as long as we found out in the next paragraph or two. But it'd be better to back up a page and show her climbing the knoll, maybe doing some magic as thinking about what she's going to attempt. Build up the drama and let us connect to her before the cloud comes in, which is cool and deserves a build-up like that.

Steve MC said...

About toward/towards, two interesting graphs:

Matthew MacNish said...

Looks like it is an across the pond thing, which is odd, because I usually prefer Britishisms to Americanisms (spelling of grey, for example).

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I am completely random with when I use toward/towards, backward/backwards, etc. but I believe the "s" is the Brit version. Apparently, I'm half Brit.

Back to the story...

Actually this emotive but unclear opening is one I see A LOT in YA manuscripts, and I think Adam nailed it when he said "don't be afraid to tell us what's happening." There seems to be a sense, sometimes, that there's more drama/mystery when things are hidden from the reader, but that almost always doesn't work in practice. It's possible to do an opening like this, but you would need something else to ground the reader and get them hooked/sympathizing with the MC. But that's considerably more difficult to write. Telling us straight out what the MC's problem is will motivate the reader to want to see how it gets solved.

Beautiful, evocative writing, though!

Michelle said...

I agree with Adam and Susan. Don't be afraid to put backstory, worldbuilding, and setup in the opening. It would help us understand a lot better.

Also, the first two paragraphs seem like they need to be flipped (my opinion only).

Great writing and voice though. I would definitely read on.

Patchi said...

Maybe it's just me, but I felt like I was reading chapter 2 without chapter 1. I would suggest writing the previous scene and see if it's a better place to start. Even if you cut it in the end, it will help you ground this scene.

Laurie Gienapp said...

I felt uncomfortable, reading it... yeah, kind of agreed that there was too much description in the 2nd paragraph, but somehow that wasn't quite the problem.
But as soon as I saw Michelle's comment about flipping the first two paragraphs, I went back and re-read it that way... in my opinion, that makes a huge difference, and solves a lot of problems.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Regarding the Towards vs Toward thing, it is an across the pond thing, but more northerly areas will use the british spelling (ie Canada, here in MN etc)

Onto the crit.

I'm with Adam. I do think the writing is strong, as is the voice, but i just don't know what's going on. Usually i'm okay with things being vague, not explained right away as long as i'm grounded in some other fashion, but here i'm not. I don't know who the MC is, i don't know the setting or time period, i don't know what's up with the cloud and mist, or the bubble or barrier, which leaves me just confused.
If you can find a way to ground us in at least one of these details, it will carry us through the rest of it.

Good luck!

The Dieselpunkette said...

I'm with Adam on this - graceful voice, lots of emotions, but it falls flat for me because I'm confused. The detail description is evocative, but it's not grounded with anything meaningful, and I think I'd need that right on the first page to make me turn the page. It wouldn't take much, just some quick clarifications in the narrative about what the adults are afraid of and what the viewpoint character is doing.