05 January 2009

First Page Entry

**page deleted per author's request**

First a disclaimer: I'm doing this game as an editor. I'm trying to let you all in on what goes on in our heads as we read (or, well, at least mine). I participate in a lot of critique, and that's a different animal. In critique, I spend a lot of time with the person's pages, figuring out what's working and what's not. I often know beforehand what the writer is trying to accomplish, so I can focus on whether they achieved that or not. I go into critique knowing it's not a finished product and expecting changes will be made.

Not so, editing. When I read my slush, I expect to read the best story possible, polished and finished. I expect it's already been read by people who will tell the author the truth (one of many reasons I don't crit my slush--it should have already by vetted by others). I'm not looking for reasons to reject, but I don't spend a lot of time figuring out how to fix a story either. Reading slush is not critique. It's editing.

It sounds harsh; it might sound like I'm slamming every story I read. Actually, I spend a lot of time thinking: Not for E-Spec and move on. Why do I move on? Because I'm actually looking for a reason to take a story. Call me an optimist that way.

So, I'll be frank. The structure of a few of the sentences in this piece bothers me. Sometimes the link between ideas are confusing, sometimes it's passive voice, and sometimes the subject needs to come first.

Subject-verb-object is an editor's dream, really. Solid, traditional structure is like a clean window; I can see right through to the idea. I see sentences here that feel like the author may be trying for voice and atmosphere--especially the early ones-- but they just ended up confusing me.

As for the plot, why don't we know why she can't go into the forest? Well, okay, the POV character doesn't know, but why doesn't he tell her? More importantly, why doesn't she ask? Older, wiser beings Who Know Stuff But Don't Tell is tired trope. Often, an early reveal will add to the tension of the story--if it's a good secret, that is. Right now, though, all I got are singing trees and I'm thinking "How bad can singing trees be, anyway?"

Think of the first page as roughly the first chapter of a book. By the end of a first chapter in a novel you should know the protag, their problem, at least one obstacle in their way (it's AWESOME if that obstacle is the antagonist). Plus it's cool if we get a little "by golly I'm going into that forest anyway" so we know our marching orders are coming from someone who's going in with both guns blazing. What's missing from this page are details of the problem and to some extent, a clear antagonist (though if we believe Dad, the trees might be it).

Because I had to read a couple of sentences a couple of times and because I don't know what the problem is and because I've got 50 stories in my inbox right now, I'd probably not read on. I really don't mean that to sound harsh. There may be potential here. But I don't see it in on the first page.

Thanks so much for playing along and keep them coming! A note on my slush: my goal is to get through all my stories by Friday, and our cut-off is today, the 5th, at midnight.

1 comment:

lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for playing, author! We appreciate it. This piece has some interesting ideas. Kudos, author! :)
I really like the singing forest. The "Great Wolf" is intriguing. Some of the phrases are really nice such as squirming the toes around in the dew.

I have to admit, however, that I agree with Editor Betsy in that I would not read more. The first several sentences are just too confusing. Author, you need to consider getting a critique group.

This story may be suffering from "started-too-early-itis". If the author has started later, with
The forest sang to no one else, only her.
She had to know.
She stood on the forest's edge, barefoot so she could sink her toes into the thick grass and squirm them around in the early morning dew. She loved the way the quickly disappearing wetness tickled her toes.
'Can you hear me?' she called.
No one answered. She knew they were listening though, knew it from the expectant hush blanketing the air.

I would be much more enthusiastic. Actually that's quite nice. It makes the reader wonder why the forest sings only to her. It includes the nice characterization of the squirmy toes.

Good luck with this story, author!