Tuesday, March 24, 2009

First Pages: MG / Yeller

Ben opened his eyes. Darkness pressed against him.
Bit of a cliche.
The whole world tilted and spun.
How can he tell, if he's blind?
He tried to reach out into the space in front of him, but he couldn't lift his arms.
He tried to wiggle his toes, to roll over. He realized that he couldn't move at all. He felt his chest tighten.
He gasped for air. Was he trapped? He remembered the museum shaking and rumbling, then collapsing. How long was I knocked out? He thought. Is anyone looking for me?
"Help," he yelled. "Help me! I'm over here!"
Everything started shaking again. Something slid off his face. White light stabbed his unready eyes. He squeezed them shut and yelled again. The room lurched wildly from side to side, like a ship in a storm. In the distance, he heard a buzzing sound. He thought he heard footsteps and voices.
I'm confused about where we are and what's going on. And you know I have a low tolerance for that.
Ben opened his eyes again, slowly this time, so they could adjust to the light. The first thing he saw was the machine.
Isn't he covered in rubble? What machine? How did a museum collapse on him and not crush him?
It was covered in dials and buttons and threaded through with strange tubes.
Wait, it's a familiar enough machine to get the article "the", but the tubes on it are strange? Hasn't he seen this machine before?
A rainbow of wires cascaded from the top of the machine, then ran along the wall and through a hole in the ceiling. Some of the wires and tubes looked like they'd been yanked loose. One tube hung limply, pouring red liquid onto the floor. Is that blood? Ben thought. My blood?
That's it. I'm lost, and getting fed up with feeling lost.
He'd never seen so much blood before. It made a shiny red lake that spread quickly across floor. Why was it spilling everywhere? Why didn't anyone come and make it stop?
The room slowed down, until it was hardly moving at all. Then the people in blue came swarming through the door. They shouted to one another. One put a cuff around Ben's arm, another examined his eyes. A large group of them gathered around the machine, poking and prodding it. Ben tried to understand what they were saying, but their voices buzzed together like a cloud of gnats.
Nurses! Ben thought woozily. Those must be nurses! I'm in the hospital. His throat felt dry and scratchy. He glanced at the machine. He must be hurt pretty bad. "Where are my parents?" Ben rasped. "Are they okay? Am I okay?"
The room trembled again. An Aftershock! Ben thought. That thing at the museum – it must have been an earthquake.
Ok: starting in the action = good. Starting where your reader can't tell what any of the action means = not so good. Maybe clarifying this will only be a matter of adding a little and subtracting a little. Or maybe it will involve starting again. Why not back up to when the museum starts shaking?

10 comments:

Deirdre Mundy said...

Eep! Now I know why I've been relieved every time my submission ISN'T the one! =)

Thanks for the critique, EA-- is this better? Or too boring?

“Hey Ben,” Rob called. “Look over here! It’s an echo chamber.”

Mrs. Erikson groaned and tapped her foot. “Its time to leave, boys. If we stay any longer, we’ll get stuck in rush hour.”

“Come on, Mom. Let us try it, just once. It’ll only take a minute.” Rob smiled. “And I’ll do the dishes without complaining tonight!”

“Please, Mrs. Erikson?” Ben added. “It’s my first time here. I want to try everything!”

Mrs. Erikson pulled out her phone and checked the time. “All right. You boys have two minutes. But we’ll have to run to catch up with the others – so no dawdling on the way back to the bus.”

Ben and Rob ran to the chamber. They stood on separate ends. “Hello, Ben!” Rob called.
“Hello, Rob!” Ben grinned as he shouted. He tried yelling a little louder. “Hello, Chicago!” His words bounced off the chamber’s smooth walls. The floor tilted and dipped. “What the heck?” Ben whispered.

The ceiling groaned and buckled as it rushed towards him. Ben closed his eyes and threw himself on the floor, bracing for the impact. I don’t want to die, he thought, too scared to breathe. Please, God, don’t let me die!


Ben opened his eyes. Darkness pressed against him. He tried to reach out into the space in front of him, but he couldn’t lift his arms. He tried to wiggle his toes, to roll over. He realized that he couldn’t move at all. He felt his chest tighten.
He gasped for air. Was he trapped?

“Help,” he yelled. “Help me! I’m over here!” Everything started shaking again. Something slid off his face. White light stabbed his unready eyes. He squeezed them shut and yelled again.

He felt the world lurch wildly from side to side, like a ship in a storm. In the distance, he heard a buzzing sound. He thought he heard footsteps and voices.

Ben opened his eyes again, slowly this time, so they could adjust to the light. The first thing he saw was a machine. It was covered in dials and buttons and threaded through with strange tubes. A rainbow of wires cascaded from the top of the machine, then ran along the wall and through a hole in the ceiling. Some of the wires and tubes looked like they’d been yanked loose.

One tube hung limply, pouring red liquid onto the floor. Is that blood? Ben thought. My blood? He’d never seen so much blood before. It made a shiny red lake that spread quickly across floor. Why was it spilling everywhere? Why didn’t anyone come and make it stop?

The room slowed down, until it was hardly moving at all. Then the people in blue came swarming through the door. They shouted to one another. One put a cuff around Ben’s arm, another examined his eyes. A large group of them gathered around the machine, poking and prodding it. Ben tried to understand what they were saying, but their voices buzzed together like a cloud of gnats.

Nurses! Ben thought woozily. Those must be nurses! I’m in the hospital. His throat felt dry and scratchy. He glanced at the machine. He must be hurt pretty bad.

“Where are my parents?” Ben rasped. “Are they okay? Am I okay?” The room trembled again. An Aftershock! Ben thought. That thing at the museum – it must have been an earthquake.

“Hush now,” said a nurse, putting her hand over his mouth. “Dr. Miller will explain it all when he gets back. But right now you have to stay very still and very quiet. You’re still weak from the surgery.”
Surgery? I’ve had surgery? Ben opened his mouth to ask more questions, but the nurse shook her head. She turned a few dials on the machine and hit a quick succession of buttons. Ben felt weak. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Sheila said...

It's definitely not boring, but it's still a bit confusing, at least to me.

I guess when I read MG, I'm expecting a close 3rd POV and here you keep your characters at a distance. If you ground us in one head, and show us what is happening from that perspective, I think this would be more compelling. This is just my personal taste though, I could be totally wrong.

Here's what I think is going on: He's in an echo chamber, and then the ceiling collapses on top of him after the floor tilts. I'm imagining an earthquake, I'm wondering what stopped the ceiling from crushing him. The chamber is empty, right?

Then Ben opens his eyes. There's no indication that he was knocked out or that any time has passed, but suddenly he's in a hospital. And I didn't get that until the end, when you said he was in a hospital. I thought he was still in the museum.

And the hospital is shaking, too. Aftershock? The machine is a little confusing. Is he hooked up to it? At first I thought the machine was making things shake. But I read a lot of fantasy.

You get kind of distant from your main character in the last bit. You describe the things happening, but not his reaction. People in blue rush in and start tending to him. "He must be hurt pretty bad" doesn't quite convey the panic he must be feeling.

Also, he was last with his friend. Why does he wake up asking about his parents? I would think he'd say, "Where's Rob?"

I was near San Francisco during the Loma Prieta earthquake, so I consider myself an expert on earthquakes (not really, just joshing). The aftershocks you are describing don't ring true to me. I don't think they come so close together and so frequently. Unless these are supernatural quakes, which they may be.

Anyway, I like the action here, and it sounds like an exciting story, the kind my boys eat up. I'd read more to find out what was causing the shaking. Good luck with it!

:)Ash said...

Deirdre:

I like the new version much better. It's now clear what's going on from the very beginning, and as a reader, I'm already concerned about the other chidren on the field trip, Rob's mother, and other visitors to the museum.

However, I'm still a bit confused by the hospital scene. Why is there a lake of blood on the floor? This seems unrealistic to me because if there's that much blood on the floor and it belongs to Ben, it seems to me he'd have lost too much blood to be conscious and talking. Also, would there be blood on the floor at a hospital? Wouldn't the EMS people have patched him up in some way? Once at the hospital, wouldn't they have the bleeding contained somehow so that it's not pooling on the floor? Some sort of catching devise, sucking tube, or something (I very obviously have no medical experience!).

It's definitely exciting so far. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Deirde,

Your new version is better. I think your dialogue could do with a stronger voice. You also used quite a few exclamation points.

It seems like you're really into your hospital scene, but I don't think it's realistic or provides a good visual for your reader. I think in trying to create the drama and paint a vivid picture, you've lost the focus and your reader. Unless that is absolutely crucial to your story, I think that part needs the axe.

Otherwise, I think you should probably make some hospital visits and do some research so you can make that scene come alive better. That bit is still confusing.

However, starting with action and introducing us to your characters is a good hook.

Also, it seems like Ben was with a friend and his mom at the museum, so it confuses me as the reader as to why he's worried about his parents. There seems to be a gap there.

Good luck and keep going! :)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Just a note-- it's not ACTUALLY a hospital-- Ben just thinks it is initially, because "hospital" is the thing it's closest to in his experience. (This story is intended as scifi)

So then, would it be better if Ben never thinks "hospital!" to begin with? Does the initial mistake lead the reader too far down the garden path?

Thanks for all the advice. Obviously my first page needs a TON of work.....

:)Ash said...

Deirdre:

Hmm. Maybe you can still call it a "hospital" but show us through Ben's eyes that something's not quite right about it.

Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

I like "boy" books a lot so this is of great interest to me, and you are a brave soul for letting others see your work. I like the character names and their sense of adventure. I actually don't have a sense of where they are, at all. At first I thought they were at a museum with one of their mothers, but then they have to hurry and catch a bus with the others. Who are the others? Is this a class trip? If so, mention it. I also don't think any boy in his right mind would offer to do dishes. Take out the trash, maybe? The dialogue seems like it's too much. If they're on a class trip and the mom is one of the adult supervisors, she'd have other kids to keep track of, she'd be preoccupied, there wouldn't be time for all that back and forth banter.

Per the revised version--

If he isn't in the hospital, you might want to consider reworking his thoughts so the reader isn't so lost.

Something like, *It looked like a hospital, but something told me it wasn't. I was in a bed, there were machines, but I'd been to a hospital, when my Uncle X broke his femur, but *this* place didn't smell like antiseptic or have the same white walls... (you get the idea)*

Also, you might want to reconsider a lot of the exclamation points. I counted twelve -- most MS don't have twelve in their entirety. Once you become aware of them it's easy to leave them out. It's especially distracting here: "...Nurses! Ben thought woozily. Those must be nurses!.."

If he's groggy, the exclamation points --denoting yelling or extreme excitement -- don't fit. You can take virutually all of them out of the beginning dialogue, too.

I think, too, some of it can just be cut and you still get the point of it with less words. The "...Ben opened his eyes..." paragraph can be easily condensed and have a better impact: Ben tried to move his arms. Couldn't. Tried to move his feet. Couldn't. He was trapped. (the way it originally reads he's decribing endlessly all the ways he can't move and then he's saying. "Was he trapped?" Uh, yeah, he is, why is he still wondering if he is?

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ok... Here's another rewrite... But with all the additions at the front, my first page is no longer a first PAGE... so, with the new cut, the first page is:

Ben and Rob hung back from the rest of the group. Their teacher’s heels clacked quickly across the tiled floor. “I can’t believe it’s already four o’clock,” Ben muttered. “We hardly got to see anything.”

Rob narrowed his eyes and grinned. Uh-oh, Ben thought. He’s coming up with one of his ideas.

“They take attendance on the busses, right?” Rob asked. Ben nodded. He had a feeling he knew what was coming next. “So they can’t leave without us.” Rob concluded. “She won’t notice we’re gone for a few minutes. Let’s go see something else.” Rob dashed into another exhibit.

Ben glanced at the rest of his class, following Mrs. Eriksson and the other chaperones like ducklings. I shouldn’t follow Rob, he told himself. I’ll get in trouble if I do. He turned and looked towards Rob, waiting just inside the doorway to “The Wonders of Your Senses.” But I’ve never been to this museum before. And I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to come back again. He turned to follow his friend. After all, what could they do to him? They might take away recess for a few days or something, but it was worth the risk.

The boys wandered through the displays on vision, pushing buttons and playing with cameras. They wrinkled their noses at the odors in the World of Smell. Loud music blasted their ears as they entered the Hall of Hearing.

“Look, Ben,” Rob said. “An echo chamber. Let’s try it out.”
Ben walked to the far end of the chamber and turned to face Rob. He noticed a blur of blue over Rob’s shoulder, coming closer. He squinted, for a moment, trying to make out the shape. It was Mrs. Eriksson, and Ben didn’t think he’d ever seen her so angry.

“Rob, look behind you!” Ben’s words bounced off the chamber’s smooth walls. The floor tilted and dipped. “What the heck?” Ben whispered. The ceiling groaned and buckled as it rushed towards him. Ben closed his eyes and threw himself on the floor, bracing for the impact. "I don’t want to die," he thought, too scared to breathe. "Please God, don’t let me die!"

So all the science-fictiony hospital stuff isn't even ON the first page anymore... but follows below:

Ben opened his eyes. Darkness pressed against him. He tried to reach out into the space in front of him, but he couldn’t lift his arms. He tried to wiggle his toes, to roll over. He realized that he couldn’t move at all. He felt his chest tighten.

He gasped for air. He didn’t remember the roof actually hitting him. How long had he been like this? “Help,” he yelled. “Help me! I’m over here!”

Everything started shaking again. Something slid off his face. White light stabbed his unready eyes. He squeezed them shut and yelled again. The felt the world lurch wildly from side to side, like a ship in a storm. In the distance, he heard a buzzing sound. He thought he heard footsteps and voices.

Ben opened his eyes again, slowly this time, so they could adjust to the light. The first thing he saw was a machine. It was covered in dials and buttons and threaded through with strange tubes. A rainbow of wires cascaded from the top of the machine, then ran along the wall and through a hole in the ceiling. Some of the wires and tubes looked like they’d been yanked loose.

One tube hung limply, pouring red liquid onto the floor. Is that blood? Ben thought. My blood? He’d never seen so much blood before. It made a shiny red lake that spread quickly across floor. Why was it spilling everywhere? Why didn’t anyone come and make it stop?

The room slowed down, until it was hardly moving at all. Then the people in blue came swarming through the door. They shouted to one another. One put a cuff around Ben’s arm, another examined his eyes. A large group of them gathered around the machine, poking and prodding it. Ben tried to understand what they were saying, but their voices buzzed together like a cloud of gnats.

Nurses? Ben thought woozily. Those must be nurses. Was this a hospital? His throat felt dry and scratchy. He glanced at the machine. He didn’t remember seeing anything like that when he visited grandma. He must be hurt pretty bad. “Where are Ron and Mrs. Eriksson?” Ben rasped. “Are they okay? Am I okay?” The room trembled again. An aftershock! Ben thought. That thing at the museum – it must have been an earthquake.

“Hush now,” said a nurse, putting her hand over his mouth. “Dr. Miller will explain it all when he gets back. But right now you have to stay very still and very quiet. You’re still weak from the surgery.”

Surgery? I’ve had surgery? Ben opened his mouth to ask more questions, but the nurse shook her head. She turned a few dials on the machine and hit a quick succession of buttons. Ben felt weak. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.


--Thanks again, everyone, for your comments!

Sarah Miller said...

'Just a note-- it's not ACTUALLY a hospital-- Ben just thinks it is initially, because "hospital" is the thing it's closest to in his experience. (This story is intended as scifi)

So then, would it be better if Ben never thinks "hospital!" to begin with? Does the initial mistake lead the reader too far down the garden path?'


Seeing as this is only the first page, I wouldn't worry about this sort of minor confusion -- yet. It's perfectly natural for Ben to make assumptions and draw comparisons based on his own experience. Confusion done well can be intriguing, but done poorly it becomes frustrating instead. It's a fine line, and IMO it's something that's very difficult to judge effectively within a small sample like this. Short as it is, though, I think your rewrite is definitely moving you in the right direction.

Buffra said...

I think your rewrites are good, helping to establish the action and character without losing the reader. I'll admit that the first try lost me a bit, but the later attempts held my interest.

I like the addition of having the boys wandering off and getting into trouble -- it rings more true to kids on a field trip (a mother isn't going to give extra time) AND it tells us something about Ben's character.