Saturday, February 7, 2009

First Pages: YA / Wrack

Tom lay on the ground under the trees, wet. Soaked to the bone from the saltwater swim.

“No,” Tom groaned. “No,” trying to block out the fact that he was alone.
I'm confused.
(This is not necessarily an unforgivable thing, so near the beginning, but I'm not going to put up with much more of it.)
He knelt on the forest floor, then stood up. His fourteen year-old body felt tiny, like a matchstick in a swimming pool, dwarfed by the towering evergreens and endless seascape. The cold breeze chilled him but he barely noticed, still numb from the shock of the accident.
I'm not sure I buy this description. People are often aware of the difference in size between themselves and the world, but to my own instinct, they're more likely to feel the world is big rather than that they are small. Each person is, to himself, an entire cosmos.

I still don't know what's going on here. If I were reading submissions in one of my grumpy moods, I might have stopped already.
Grey-black clouds covered the late-August sky. Rain fell lightly but steadily. Six-foot waves pounded the shore on the outer coast of Blake Island in the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. The rocky points framing the cove to the north and south were awash in a white froth, an angry sea.
Oh, that would definitely be the end. The author seems to have given up working the setting into the narrative and has just plonked a paragraph of description in. Many of your readers will be giving up around now.
Eighty miles of rugged coastline separated Tom from the nearest town, plus two ocean crossings each about five miles long, possible only by boat in the frigid water.

Tom shivered as he stepped out of the forest. He placed his hand just above his eyes, and searched the water. A narrow strip of slanted, rocky beach separated him from the big, white-capped waves that broke to the horizon. Behind him the dark green forest dripped.

He paced the short beach, slipping and sliding on the wrack of wet sea weed that made up the strand line closest to the forest. He stopped where a small stream carved its way toward the sea.

“Dad!” he yelled. “Dad!” His shoulders collapsed. No sign of him here. Nothing. He’s gone.
Finally! Some indication of what's happening.
Tom looked toward the water again. He couldn’t even make out the rock reef in all those waves. The reef that had turned their two person kayak into scraps of fiberglass. With the rudder they would have cleared the reef, Tom felt sure of that.
There's clearly some good tension to start off this story, but you're giving up its power to compel your readers forward by burying it in a bunch of (a) setting-description that could come later and (b) obscurities about your main character.

You don't have to lay all your cards on the table, obviously. But being unwilling to admit you have any cards until the reader antes up by reading several paragraphs is no way to play.

13 comments:

Merry Monteleone said...

I got very interested toward the end...

He paced the short beach, slipping and sliding on the wrack of wet sea weed that made up the strand line closest to the forest. He stopped where a small stream carved its way toward the sea.

Here is the first paragraph that I visualized the story clearly. I could see the character trying to keep his balance while searching the coast line.

That doesn't mean that you should cut everything before-hand, but for me, this is where I became invested as a reader.

:)Ash said...

Merry said what I was going to say :) So, "ditto."

Is Wrack a play on Wreck? If so, I like it!

Good luck, author! Boy stranded without Dad in freaking Alaska!That could definitely be the beginning of a good story.

Paul said...

EA, thanks for the comments. Here's a revision. And, I'm thinking about your comment regarding Tom feeling small as opposed to the world feeling big. For me personally, when I'm in big wilderness I've been very aware of just how small I feel.
Thanks again for the helpful critique.


Tom lay on the ground under the trees, wet. Soaked to the bone from the salt water swim.

The pounding waves. The rock reef. His father’s head bashed against the rocks.

“No,” Tom groaned. “No,” trying to block out the fact that he was alone.

Tom knelt on the forest floor, then stood up. His fourteen year-old body felt tiny, like a matchstick in a swimming pool, dwarfed by the towering evergreens and endless seascape. The cold breeze chilled him but he barely noticed, still numb from the shock of the accident.

Eighty miles of rugged coastline separated Tom from the nearest town, plus two ocean crossings each about five miles long, possible only by boat in the frigid waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Tom shivered as he stepped out of the forest. He placed his hand just above his eyes, and searched the water. A narrow strip of slanted, rocky beach separated him from the big, white-capped waves that broke to the horizon. Behind him the dark green forest dripped.

He paced the quarter mile long beach, slipping and sliding on the wrack of wet sea weed that made up the strand line closest to the forest.

“Dad!” he yelled. “Dad!” His shoulders collapsed inward. No sign of him here. Nothing. He’s gone.

Tom looked toward the water again. He couldn’t even make out the rock reef in all those waves. The reef that had turned their two person kayak into scraps of fiberglass.With the rudder they would have cleared the reef, Tom felt sure of that.

Tom shivered again.If only that rudder cable had held. Or, if they hadn’t gone on the trip in the first place.

For years his father had been threatening to take Tom on a kayak trip. But his mother had repeatedly refused to go on any more wilderness trips. So this August when his father told him they were going, just the two of them, Tom didn’t know what to say. His father’s eyes were full of determination. And Tom had agreed to go—not wanting to let his father down.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there's too long a period of confusion before the reader can engage with the action. In the original and in the rewrite, I think you'd do better to delete everything before "Tom shivered." And put the "Eighty miles of rugged coastline" paragraph farther down. It might even fit right after what you've given us as the rewrite: "... not wanting to let his father down. Now, eighty miles of rugged coastline ... "

I also agree that it's a promising beginning and an interesting setting.

anotheranon said...

Paul --

(please take my comments with the grain of salt with wich they are intended.:))

I think this story has loads of potential. Great setting. Interesting premise. Kudos for that. For me, this new last paragraph (in the comment section) doesn't fit well with the sense of panic and place you've set up:

"...For years his father had been threatening to take Tom on a kayak trip. But his mother had repeatedly refused to go on any more wilderness trips. So this August when his father told him they were going, just the two of them, Tom didn’t know what to say. His father’s eyes were full of determination. And Tom had agreed to go—not wanting to let his father down..."

I wonder if the MC -- who at this point doesn't even know if his father is dead or alive -- would be thinking about his father's eyes "full of determination" or the fact that it was "this August" when his Dad asked him to go? Why is his Dad "threatening" to take him on a trip in the first place?
That sounds ominous, like it's not father/son bonding, but more like a punishment?

It might better serve the panic you've already set up to say:

"Dad!" He called. We shouldn't have come, he thought. Why did we come? The town was eighty miles away, he knew. Two oceans to cross. Why did we come, he thought. "Dad?!"

(feel free to ignore my advice -- so hard to judge without reading the entire ms, you know? :))

Joanna said...

The last paragraph of the revision feels true to me, and also brings me much mroe vividly into the character. Granted, thinking about how the trip started might mot be the most practical response to this disaster, but it's probably what I'd do.

And I've certainly felt small when out in wild places. That seems real too.

Some parts still seem a bit wordy. Just for instance, "He couldn’t even make out the rock reef in all those waves. The reef that had turned their two person kayak into scraps of fiberglass" would read more smoothly (to me) if it was made into one sentence; "In all those waves he couldn't make out the rock reef that had..."

Anonymous said...

You're doing a little too much "telling" -- even in your rewrite.

Edit, edit, edit. Cut out the things that are unnecessary. You're a good writer, but something that happens with good writers a lot is that they fall in love with their work and can't bear to delete anything.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree you have a terrific premise.
Perhaps you may take a small break from writing and editing, and go read a couple of books that are along similar lines? Island of Blue Dolphins; Hatchet....That's all I can think of right now.
Forgive me if this is wrong or I'm overstepping, but I think you are too close to this, and taking a break for a bit may help....

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Tom lay on the ground under the trees, wet. Soaked to the bone from the salt water swim.

The pounding waves. The rock reef. His father’s head bashed against the rocks.

“No,” Tom groaned. “No,” trying to block out the fact that he was alone.
The above section doesn’t quite ring true to me. I’m not buying it as the reader.

Tom knelt on the forest floor, then stood up. His fourteen year-old body felt tiny, like a matchstick in a swimming pool, dwarfed by the towering evergreens and endless seascape. The cold breeze chilled him but he barely noticed, still numb from the shock of the accident. (On a more practical note, this kid’s gonna have hypothermia soon if you don’t get a fire going pretty soon… hope that’s around the corner.)

Eighty miles of rugged coastline separated Tom from the nearest town, plus two ocean crossings each about five miles long, possible only by boat in the frigid waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Tom shivered as he stepped out of the forest. He placed his hand just above his eyes, and searched the water. A narrow strip of slanted, rocky beach separated him from the big,(Take out the word big… we get that from the white caps) white-capped waves that broke to the horizon. Behind him the dark green forest dripped.

He paced the quarter mile long beach, slipping and sliding on the wrack of wet sea weed that made up the strand line closest to the forest.

“Dad!” he yelled. “Dad!” His shoulders collapsed inward. No sign of him here. Nothing. He’s gone.

This doesn’t make sense because you said his father’s head was bashed against the rocks earlier.

Tom looked toward the water again. He couldn’t even make out the rock reef in all those waves. The reef that had turned their two person kayak into scraps of fiberglass. With the rudder they would have cleared the reef, Tom felt sure of that.

Tom shivered again. If only that rudder cable had held. Or, if they hadn’t gone on the trip in the first place.

For years his father had been threatening to take Tom on a kayak trip. But his mother had repeatedly refused to go on any more wilderness trips. So this August when his father told him they were going, just the two of them, Tom didn’t know what to say. His father’s eyes were full of determination. And Tom had agreed to go—not wanting to let his father down.

I think you have the premise for a great story. In my opinion, you could start with Eighty miles of coastline and cut the last paragraph. That’s my two cents and obviously just a suggestion. You definitely have the makings of an intense and interesting book. Good luck!

BuffySquirrel said...

Wrack is a great word with lots of relevant meanings. However, wrack ashore is strictly speaking dried seaweed, not the wet stuff.

/pedant

BuffySquirrel said...

The editor in me wants to tighten up those two opening sentences. Bad editor, I know; I don't feed her enough.

"Tom lay under the [some?] trees, soaked to the bone from his saltwater swim."

(I suggest "his...swim" rather than "the", because to me it makes it more personal)

Anonymous said...

Is the first pages clinic closed?

Laurel said...

I did some white water kayaking in my younger days and the kayaks never had rudders. We steered them with paddles(double ended oars). Have kayaks changed?