Sunday, April 19, 2009

First Pages: MG / Big Red

“Mom, look!” Patrick remembered saying. “A playground. Can I go on the swings? Please!” “We can’t stay, sweetie,” Mom said. “We only came so you could have a peek at Grandpa’s magical fishing camp. I told Grandma we’d be back quickly with butter and sugar. You want shortbread cookies after dinner, don’t you?" Sure he did. He loved Grandma’s cookies more than anything in the world. Well, except for Mom and Grandma of course. He’d been hearing about Big Red’s Fishin’ Hole for so long though, he wanted more than just a peek. “Why’s it magical?” Patrick asked. Mom gave him one of those can’t-tell-you-it’s-a-secret looks. “Maybe some day you’ll find out.” “Can’t I swing, just for a minute?” At five years old Patrick was a playground expert and decided this looked like a good one. “We’ll come back another time,” Mom said. “You can then.” But that promise never happened. That night Dad overheard Patrick tell Grandpa that they sneaked to the camp and how he wanted to play on the swings so much. Dad was furious and made Mom swear to never take Patrick there again. And for the next seven years none of them—not Patrick, his mom, nor his dad—had taken been there. That was about to change. In less than an hour he would be at the camp for the second time ever.
I am having the feeling that you write a lot of picture books. The language and feel of this is putting us close to the 5-year-old MC, rather than to the middle grade MC we need to identify with-- it's making this text sound too young.

And I'm worried about the swings. Why are they in here? Why are they important? They're part of your very beginning-- more than that, your first sentence. They'd better be more than a transient plot device to justify the 'coming back' element, which could easily be achieved some other way.

Beginnings are first impressions. Your readers are going to remember yours, so make it count.

After you age-up the tone, and either cut the swings or make their role in the book's plot more clear, I would suggest that you give us a hint--just a foreshadowing-- of what the MC found at the fishing camp, and what he expects to find there now.


Buffra said...

Does it have to be one giant paragraph? Maybe that's a formatting thing, but it made it hard to read.

It sounds too young for what you seem to be trying to set up. Some little kid whining about swings is just going to make middle-grade readers think it's a book better suited to their baby brothers.

There seems to be a lack of cohesion in this first page -- too much is crammed in and it doesn't really hang together well yet.

Anonymous said...

If your MC is 12 but you want to describe an event that happened when he was 5, have the 12-year-old tell us about the event in his voice.

Interested in knowing what's magical about the fishing camp.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Maybe don't start with the five year-old scenario, but instead with the MC, right now in present time, on his way to the magical fishing camp?

It sounds odd that the Mom brings him to the camp but won't let him stay -- why trek all the way out there, then? Also, if the fishing hole is the object of wonder, why does the MC seem more interested in the swings?

Also, it seems odd, if it's such a fantastic place, that the MC wouldn't have gone there earlier than 5-7 years after hearing about it. You might want to consider having the MC NOT believe in the magical fishing place, not believe in those eye-rolling stories his grandpa tells about it. But then, years later, meeting up with it again, something happens that makes him believe.

(I have no idea if my advice is accurate -- hard to tell without knowing what direction the story is headed toward.) Best of luck.

BuffySquirrel said...

I found this hard to follow, as it flits butterfly-like from one idea to the next.

Maybe try harder for a logical progression of ideas? For example:

Patrick is told as a Big Surprise that he's going to the camp.

Patrick can't understand why it's such a big deal and why they're disappointed he's not excited about it.

Patrick starts to remember the camp,which he's completely forgotten in the intervening years.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 3:47

Chris Eldin said...

Agree with Anon 3:47...
I couldn't get past the first couple of sentences. They sounded very young (and I didn't have the patience to read on to discover why).
I agree with everything already said, but hope you strike the right balance in your opening. The magical fishing camp sounds intriguing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 3:47. You might try ditching the swing thing totally (unless that's crucial to you plot) and try a completely new angle fomr you MC voice a sa 12 year old. Magic fishing camp... could be interesting. :) All the best!

Sarah Laurenson said...

You've got a great young voice. Maybe this is more in the easy reader/chapter book genres?

I'm not fond of books that start with backstory. There may be a good story in here, but this seems more like suthor notes about what happened and not the novel itself.

RA said...

"He loved Grandma’s cookies more than anything in the world. Well, except for Mom and Grandma of course."

This is where I'd stop reading. It doesn't ring true to a five or a twelve year old's voice. Sounds like Grandma talking to me.

Emily Kokie said...

I agree with those who thought it read young. And I'm skeptical that it could be aged up to MG.

BUT, I too wondered if it wouldn't fit more as an early reader or chapter book. With an 7-9 year old MC it would be an activity he/she would like and the "magic" part would be even more fun.

Even the idea of a magic fishing spot seemed like the kind of thing beginning readers would eat up faster than MG. And then the voice is closer - not consistently there, but it's less of an adjustment.

Here are some more things that stuck out for me:

The "look mom" and the playgorund just doesn't hook me. Neither did the flashback as set up. Even for younger readers, I'd start with the campe or why it's magic. Maybe even him overhearing about the magic fishing spot and then trying to sneak or beg a way there.

> Sure he did. He loved Grandma’s > cookies more than anything in
> the world. Well, except for Mom > and Grandma of course.

I agree that this reads like an adult imposing ideas on a kid, not an authentic kid voice. BUT, the "Yum, cookies" and then reluctantly leaving was not a bad instinct - you might be able to tweak it to work.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I wondered why Mom and Grandma and not Dad and Grandpa.

Judy said...

Initially I thought it must have been a picture book, because of the lack of paragraphs, but even a picture book has to have a new paragraph for every change of speakers.

I was really confused regarding where they were...I could not make a connection between the playground and the fishing camp. And then there was the Fishing Hole...was THAT also at the camp?

If this is going to be a mid-grade, or even a chapter book, it is important to start with the main character at his current age...maybe with him hesitantly approaching the camp as a twelve year old, and then after some details about that, he can reflect back, although I would not necessarily talk about how they needed to make cookies...unless that is important to the story later on.

Anonymous said...

O where, o where have the first pages gone, o where, o where have they gone?


Anonymous said...

I love how all sorts of people comment here as if they're editors!