Saturday, April 18, 2009

First Pages: YA / The Outlook Is Bleak

I am death. Some people call me the Grim Reaper. If you're one of those people, I'm probably not what you're expecting. I don't have a scary, black hood that covers my face. I don't have a scythe and I am not silent or 'grim'. My bones are far from frail and skeletal beneath my black cloak -- another item I don't have.
Your voice is very conversational, which is an interesting start to something narrated by death. But for that reason, I don't think you need that first sentence. Punch up the casual feel of this voice, rather than going for the drama. I also think you don't need that last sentence, which is a tad confusing.
My name is Blake Deakin, or at least that's what I call myself around normal people. When I'm with other Reapers – there are about fifty of us – we use another name: Bleak. As in, the outlook is bleak. I'm a teenager. I bet you weren't expecting that, eh? Most teenagers have jobs at the local supermarket, me – well, my job isn't so much a job as a lifestyle. An unpleasant one.
Still interested. "I bet you weren't expecting that, eh?" sounded off to me, though. Who says "eh?" south of Canada?
I do everything a typical teenager does. I live with my parents, fight with my siblings and go to high school, a hell far worse than any other. At the moment, I'm about to do the one thing I do that isn't so typical: write names in a book.
Instantly bored at the start of this part. You're telling where you should be showing. Let us discover these normal parts of his life naturally--and milk those moments of realization for as much irony and humor as you can. They're in there.
I pop open the bottom drawer of my mahogany desk and flip through the things on top impatiently. My English book, a few sheets of loose paper, a dictionary and then, the Book of the Living. I pull out the brown tome and set it on my table, eyeing it with reverence. Picking it up, I trace the spidery words that run down the side. I've read and reread those words so many times that I don't need to read them to know what they say: I decide who lives.
Something about 'mahogany' and 'brown tome' are sounding forced and out of place to me. Keep the language teenaged to best play up what's so interesting about this scenario.

Overall, not at all bad. Maybe publishable. I'd like to see you connecting your reader to your quirky, unusual MC earlier and stronger, though.


Buffra said...

My first, first thought at the beginning sentence was "just like The Book Thief" -- which is not really a good thing. (Not that book, but the immediate "derivative" idea.) The good news is that you offset that pretty quickly with the teenage angle. I liked that.

The third paragraph is bleh. Maybe keep just the final sentence or some modified version of it?

I agree the language in the last paragraph shifted from the conversational tone you'd established. As a result, your voice isn't quite as strong and clear as it could be. I'm left not being sure exactly "who" death is going to be.

inkspatters said...

Thanks for that critique, EA! I hate first pages and never know when I've done them right or wrong, so getting that feedback was invaluable. I never noticed how odd the language in the last sounded before, but now that it's been pointed out, it is a little jarring. And the third paragraph is kinda boring...

Buffra, I read The Book Thief a week after completing my manuscript. I thought it sounded a little reminiscent too, but that ultimately, mine was different because it was YA from a teen's perspective. Glad to know you think the same. Thanks for your feedback :)

Chris Eldin said...

I think this has a lot of promise. Agree with everything already said.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

This is only my personal taste, so it might not matter, but I think the use of second person "you" makes the MC sound like he's trying to impress the reader and takes me out of the story quite a bit.

"...Some people call me the Grim Reaper. If you're one of those people, I'm probably not what you're expecting..."

I'm confused as to why Death would care what I "you" thought about him? Maybe that's the casual, conversational part EA was talking about?

I find it interesting that he has siblings and parents, though. :)

His tone seems rather flippant for someone who holds life/death in his hand, which is okay, but I couldn't settle in as a reader because I was unsure where we were going. Is one person's death going to be the focus? Are we going to care about that person, be invested in that person as a reader? Or is the plot going to focus on Death's relationships with his family? Or on the other Reapers?

Emily Kokie said...

The tone made it hard for me to connect with the MC, and it seemed inconsistent. The last paragraph especially seemed a very different tone than the rest.

I am intrigued by the idea of teen reapers, but I think I'd be more engaged if it started with action, not telling, and if you jumped straight to reapers. Because when you start with "death" it does feel very much (whether accurate or not) that it is inspired by The Book Thief. It quickly veers off in a different direction, but some might not get there. I might not have read past the first paragraph.

Rework to try to start from a more engaging scene and the concept might really shine.

Katie said...

great comments! I totally agree with all. Can't add anything new. But very interesting story.

ABH said...

The second person doesn't bother me.

But "impatiently" and "with reverence" do.

I think these are another case of "telling" rather than "showing." They seem more like how an omniscient narrator describes somebody else, rather than the way a first-person narrator describes himself.

Better to have your narrator's words and actions convey impatience and reverence.

Alps said...

This sounds interesting, but it might be stronger if you started out with something happening, rather than telling the reader straight-out that your mc is the grim reaper. Wouldn't it be interesting to find that out a different way? Like surprise the reader with the fact at the bottom of the first page? There's so much potential here, I'd hate to see you waste it!

Chris Eldin said...

The second person sounds like part of the voice. I liked it, but I think you have to be careful about overusing it because that can be annoying.

Anonymous said...

Can't decide whether this is more reminiscent of Reaper or Death Note. At this point, there have been so many non-Grim-Reaper reapers in pop culture (from the angel of death on Touched by an Angel to the psychopomps in Gunnerkrigg Court) that I'm not sure who still retains the "scythe and robe" imagery. Even the very standard-looking reaper on Family Guy talks like a college boy. I guess my only point is, don't presume to know what I presume. You sound very much like a teenager before you get around to telling me that you are one.

Anonymous said...

Love this concept! And I love the juxtaposition of the flippant tone with the reality of what he does.

I agree with Alps, though, that maybe you could start out with the character doing something, and then insert the explanation of who he is. Right now, the transition from explanation to action isn't working. (Which might be because of the tone of the last paragraph, though.)

Anonymous said...

"Repossessed" meets "The Book Thief." Intriguing.

Yat-Yee said...

Both the idea and the writing intrigued me. I am now ready to see him in action: how he interacts with his non-Bleak friends and his family (do they know they have death in the house?)

Anonymous said...

I really like the conversational opening. It was a jolt, but a good jolt, to learn that voice belonged to a teenager. In a character-driven story, it doesn't bother me at all to spend a moment gathering voice, character, sympathy, etc., before pressing on. I think you could risk losing reader sympathy if you just launched into frenetic action featuring this character taking a life. As your narrative stands now, we'll be deliciously squirmy with sympathy and dread and horror and pity as he begins his "work" (rather than merely horrified in an action sequence).

Question for EA: do you think that startling discoveries about a character (as illustrated in this sample)count as their own kind of action? Action in character rather than character in action (to paraphrase Robert Browning)?

inkspatters said...

Hey, thanks to everyone who's been commenting for your feedback. I find it all very useful, but I have to say, I am curious about the last anonymous' question. I tried starting this out with action and it didn't work, hence this opening. So, I wonder, is starting with action a must?

Yat-yee, his family don't have a clue that he's death. He's not allowed to breathe a word.

Anonymous said...

This story caught my attention the very first sentence, if not a little corny. As a writer with similarities to your writing style I can immediately and without pause acknowledge you have sizable talent.
My only bone to pick with out are a simple two words:
Death Note
Its already been done.