27 July 2009

First Page Entry #3

Hi. First, a word about formatting. Typesetting is the editor's job. We get some crazy-like formatting in our submissions. Some writers lurve them some typesetting, so we get bold, capped titles and pretty italic bylines and squigglies instead of # scene breaks. Please remember, everything you do to your manuscript, we have to undo.

Em-dashes and two spaces after semi-colons make it easier on our tired eyes.
Things like underlining rather than italics make it much easier to find. (My personal most hated is _word_ because it requires annoying deleting.) We ask for industry-standard formatting to make it easier for writers, so please read our guidelines.

Ok, here goes with another First Page Contestent:

Eternal Amusements

Each time Jewel promised herself she’d remember, but she never did.

It started the same way; standing at the turnstile holding a ticket made of stars. It shined so brightly she couldn’t read what it said. Jewel handed it to the clapping monkey who waved her through. She passed under the arched entrance and took in the carnival music, the giggling of children, and the sound of roller coasters whooshing through the air. Now she remembered.

“Welcome back,” said a park greeter who resembled Jewel’s mother. The woman’s cotton candy pink lips stretched and spun into a smile.

“Thank you.” Jewel continued on, leaving the woman and the memory of her mom to dissolve like warm sugar into the sunlight.

“Would you like a map?” asked a man with white cheddar popcorn teeth. She inhaled his hospitality, relishing the fresh popped smell.

“No, thank you. I’ve been here many times,” she said confidently.

Jewel walked past the merry-go-round. The blasé faces rotated along the circular track; their scenery never changing, their ride lacking excitement.

Under her breath she uttered, “Never again.”

There's some evocative imagery here--the ticket made of stars, the clapping monkey, the popcorn teeth and warm sugar in sunshine. Unfortunately, I have no idea what this story is about. The first line in particular bothers me. I'm not crazy about enigmatic hooks. In my experience, too often it means the premise and story problem isn't solid enough. But I think it's an easy fix. Simply state what it is she won't remember, if that does in fact relate to the story problem. (I'm thinking it had better relate, being the first line and all.)

I'm going to pick out another line because it holds both showing and telling. For the record, I don't disapprove of telling, nor this line. I just think it's an interesting opportunity to study a subtle difference.

The blasé faces rotated along the circular track; their scenery never changing, their ride lacking excitement.

The first two clauses are showing - pure description. T
heir ride lacking excitement leans more to the telling camp, because it makes a judgement call for the reader. This writer is good enough to not rely on much telling because of demonstrated skill with description. But back to my disclaimer: sometimes it's easier to tell in a short story because we don't have a lot of real estate to move the plot along. That's a writer's judgement call.

Overall, even though the description puts me in the scene, not knowing why Jewel is there makes it tough for me to care. Writing is communicating. A story is a contract that claims: here is a problem and I'm going to give you a rollicking ride to its resolution. Don't keep secrets from the reader. Be specific. Show action that provides pertinent, solid information. Set not only the scene--which is done well here--but the premise for the story.

Thanks so much for sending this in! I've got lots more coming up, so stay tuned!


David E. Hughes said...

I agree with Bet's analysis. We see lots for stories with first lines with the mysterious "it" (e.g. "it happened" "couldn't believe it" "it was too good to be true" "it was so horrible"). This does not have the word "it", but remember [it]." Is implied. This technique isn't necessarily bad, but it rarely makes a story stand out.

I also liked the imagry in this, but my concern was I wasn't solidly grounded enough to know what the imagry meant. Was this a dream or the real world? Were the sights unusual in this world or common? As a reader, I wasn't sure how to react to any of it.

Thanks for submitting, author. I appreciate your willingness to go under the microscope!

Anonymous said...

I am curious about two things you've brought up in the comments:

1. Enigmatic beginnings.

I like these. They can make me see the philosophical question right off,
the contemplation point.

So I would be interested in learning more about what you think works or doesn't work with such beginnings in detail so I can understand your thinking better.

2. Is there a link to standard formatting for short stories and novels? I see and hear of all different format styles. Is there a universal one?


Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Maybe it would help to say,
"Each time Jewel promised herself she’d remember what awaited her in Heaven, but she never did."

That was on the fly, and can def use some work, but at least it might clear up where Jewel is and that this is not the "real" world.

So sorry if my formatting was bad. :( It's my first submission and I thought I followed guidelines but I will go back and study them.

Thanks for the input everyone!

Deb Smythe said...

Knowing we're in heaven helps a lot. I assumed we were in a dream sequence. Heaven is much more interesting! It also clues the reader in as to genre. I was thinking horror for some reason, but "heaven" says fantasy.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

The line about heaven helps. :)

I could do a whole post on enigmatic begginnings but short version is that we buy more commercial fiction than literary. We like our story to come first. Dave and Lesley, care to chime in?
I'll find a link to formatting and post it on the sidebar.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

This link covers it in great detail.

You can also read our sub guidelines at http://electricspec.com/submissions/submitting-fiction/

lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for playing, author! We appreciate it. :)
As for the enigmatic first line...It's enigmatic. I don't know what Jewel can't remember, but I'm willing to find out. However, a little later she seems to remember although the reader never finds out what it is from what's written here. :( Also why have her "never remember" and then remember only a couple lines later?

Some of this writing is very good.
Personally, I really liked the ticket made of stars, and reference to Jewel's mom (what's the significance?). I also enjoyed the popcorn hospitality. :)
I did not like the simile "dissolve like warm sugar into the sunlight" because I didn't understand it.

This piece reminds me a little of Kelly Link. :) I would keep reading.

As for ElectricSpec conventions, we do pretty much require a plot arc, meaning the protagonist has some issue/problem and tries to solve it and then succeeds or fails. Good luck, author!

lesleylsmith said...

If I wasn't clear, enigmatic beginnings are fine with me--within the plot arc convention. :)

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I didn't say anything from the email, but since you mentioned it here in comments, congrats on making your first sub to a magazine, even if it's just for our little game! Opening your work to critique and thinking it over is the best way to grow as a writer.

Our sub guidelines used to be a lot more specific than they are now. I need to make a link to a pdf for an example, I suppose, and post it on the site. Would that be helpful? (They're really very simple formatting guidelines and become habit almost immediately.)

Honestly, we're not going to turn down a fabulous story that's formatted wrong, though. It's just a strike that doesn't really have to be there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the guidelines link.
However, I also need to know about using # as opposed to ~ between scenes and things like italics or underlines, etc?

If you know of a standard, I would be really glad to be more informed.


Betsy Dornbusch said...

Ok, I'll write a post. :)

David E. Hughes said...

Karen-- the new first line in the comments is much better. It's more grounding and helps set up the context of the story.

Anonymous- I like it when we know of the issue right off. The problem comes where the problem is stated too generally. For example, "I was walking down the street, minding my own business, when it happened." He author then stalls on revealing the "it" trying to create tension in the piece by withholding information. As an editor, this can get pretty tiresome.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I love the imagery here. The language is wonderful. My only distration is the first line saying she doesn't remember - ever. And then the last line of the very next paragraph says she does remember. That actually made it hard for me to enjoy what I was reading.

writtenwyrdd said...

I thought the scene was very well crafted and vivid and interesting...but I would have liked to know what was going on. I have to agree that the problem was the enigmatic opening, which doesn't define the event she's supposed to remember. I took it either to be a dream, some sort of journey the character takes in her sleep.

I'd have liked to see more of this!