Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First Pages: YA / Landon Gilbreath Thompson

“C’mon, Dad. This is total BS.” I slammed my fist into the leather arm of his office chair.
I'm not crazy about this as a beginning.
Also: the timing of gestures is very important for believability. The truly genuine fist-slam would happen at the same time as the speech--making it sound like it happens after the speech, like an afterthought, makes your character sound like he's faking.
Cy Thompson swiveled in his chair and looked across the desk at me, his only son. “Hey buddy, if you’re dumb enough to get caught, prepare to pay the consequences. It would be one thing if this had stayed out of the newspapers, but your last couple of months was reckless. In the newspapers? Twice? Ever considered the embarrassment you’re causing your mother and me?”
The father character's speech feels a bit stilted, but possibly in a believeable way... some real blow-hards do speak this way because they are essentially acting/bluffing their way through life.
Anger bubbled up. This conversation was probably the first Cy and I entertained since Christmas.
Bubbled? Entertained? These word choices are distracting me. Are you sure these are the words the MC would use if he stopped to describe the situation?
And now that school was over, Cy’s sole purpose in calling me into his office—to inform me I’d spend the summer with freakin’ missionaries in the Dominican Republic.
“What about me? I’m sorry I got caught. Jeez. But sending me to a third world country? With missionaries? What kind of a punishment is that? That’s BS and you know it.”
Cy laughed. “The kind that keeps you out of the papers for three months. Besides I may not be a big fan of Joe Abram but you’ll be safe with that family. Bored too. Just don’t go getting religion on me and turning into some sort of fanatic. This conversation is finished.”
Most of this was all right, but the last sentence feels rushed. Maybe you're just not giving us enough other clues about these characters-- body language, tone of voice, pauses, looks, gestures.
_________________
Stale air blew out the vent above me, Landon Gilbreath Thompson, and the overweight businessman next to me snored. In fact, he had been snoring ever since inhaling dinner and downing two glasses of wine. Not a drop left over an underaged guy could swipe. I shifted in my cushy first class seat and peered down at the royal blue water. If a first class plane trip to my personal version of hell was supposed to make up for the forthcoming summer of boredom, my father had another think coming. I gritted my teeth and flicked my thumb off my pointer finger as I remembered the last conversation my dad. My mom couldn’t be bothered with the details. She had charity work to do.
This is starting to sound more natural, and I might give it a couple more pages. I'm wondering if you just have a case of first-page-itis (ie, too much stress about writing the first page, thus a rocky beginning) or if you have consistent trouble with dialogue.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Bear with me while I try to explain my reaction to this because I fear I won't make any sense...

On the surface this reads well, but that is the problem, imo, the writing is staying at the surface level. The characters SEEM like characters, and not real people. It feels forced.

Things like:

"Hey buddy, if you're dumb enought to get caught, prepare to pay the consequences."

“What about me? I’m sorry I got caught. Jeez. But sending me to a third world country? With missionaries? What kind of a punishment is that?"

... I'm not buying this dialogue as containing real emotions because it's so busy trying to cram exposition in there (summer vacation; me, his only son; third world missionaries and even saying Cy Thompson swiveled in his chair -- it feels out of place somehow).

I think you need to calm down the writing a bit, so it can go to belly level, instead of staying on the surface. The way it reads now it's almost too light and airy, like chick-lit. Think about it, if someone told you you were going to have to spend the summer in a third world country you'd feel that at gut-level, with a weight of real emotion that, for me, seems to be lacking here.

And this is just me, because I know they do this a lot in YA, but a teen refering to their parent by their first name doesn't ring truthful -- "...this first Cy and I entertained since Christmas."

Anonymous said...

This is of interest to me because I like boy YA and I see potential here.

You might want to consider getting into your MC head a little more because in certain places the voice seems off.

Example:
"...Not a drop left over an underaged guy could swipe..."

An underaged guy? Teens don't talk or think like this. They don't refer to themselves as "underaged guys." It's like you are trying too hard to remind the reader the MC is a teen, and it's not neccessary. Readers know YA characters are under legal drinking age. They know teens drink anyway. They ARE teens. :)

Good luck!

MelissaPEA said...

I'm interested in the concept of the book, and I think it could be a good read, but the writing needs to be much more polished. As others have noted, the dialogue is very stiff and there are lapses in the voice. I think you have the right scenes - first the conversation with the father and then on the plane, but the scenes just aren't coming alive to me. Maybe they're too condensed? Or you're not packing in enough emotion? Also, the way you introduce the MC's name is really contrived, "...me, Landon Gilbreath Thompson." It's obvious you're trying to tell the reader the MC's name. Good luck! It seems like a marketable idea.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I do like the scene on the plane although I do agree with anon's "underage" observation.

As far as the beginning, I wondered about the "C'mon". It didn't seem to belong in the same sentence as a shouted "BS".

And the large chunk of dialogue from Cy might feel less forced if the kid had a reaction or two during the speech. Does the guy have spittle flying off his lips? Are his teeth perfect or yellow? And are there any distractions in the room or in the kid's head?

Nancy Coffelt said...

Okay, I'm giving this another try. My first comment never showed - maybe I didn't pass muster? :)

I really like the plane scene, it does sound more relaxed though I do agree with anon's "underage" comment.

I did wonder about the use of "C'mon" in the same sentence as a shouted "BS".

And I think the long area of the dad's dialogue could be smoothed out by showing some of the action and the son's observations while he's talking. Does spittle fly when his dad speaks? Are his teeth super white or yellow? Are there any other distractions in the room?

jessjordan said...

The premises is interesting--sending a spoiled, do-badder (not good English or a word, I know) kid to "a third world country" to keep him from embarassing his father for a summer. I can see this getting interesting.

But if I was an agent, I would've stopped reading on page one because of the typos. 1) "your last couple of months was reckless." -- should be "were reckless" 2) "my father had another think coming" -- should be "thing."

I, too, thought the dialogue was a little stilted at times. I know it sounds silly, but if you haven't already, try reading it out loud. It's amazing how much that can improve your dialogue.

Good luck!

myimaginaryblog said...

I have something of a hard time believing that even as a punishment a dad would send his son to live with people whose values he has no regard for. I'm also not so certain that with global media a kid's name would be so certain to stay out of the "newspapers" just because he's on an island in the sea -- a savvy parent might prefer to lock their child in a cellar. However, even if you accept those premises, as a reader I'm bored already because I read the dad's (er, Cy Thompson's) admonition to not go getting religion as a giveaway of exactly what's going to happen once our hardened protagonist softens to his new mission surroundings. I guess the drama will surround exactly how he gets religion, but it's a little disappointing to already be anticipating that ending by the first page.

Anonymous said...

Be careful about typos and grammatical errors. I saw about five obvious ones. E.G., "thing" not "think", "religious" not "religion", "last conversation WITH my dad", etc. I found it distracting.

Overall, I thought it was a very interesting story and I wanted to hear more.

I agree that the last para was the best.

Buffra said...

Another "think" coming is often used in speech. Though it's not grammatically correct, it is a phrase that won't necessarily resonate with readers as wrong, the way a few have mentioned.

I thought the problem with the voice is....maybe intentional? What I mean is, I get the sense that this kid is part of this pampered, spoiled world with this kind of a rich jerk for a father...someone who is pompous and a bit insincere, maybe a blowhard.

I get the feeling that the kid, like a lot of teens, is almost self-consciously mimicking that kind of self-aggrandizing attitude. Or trying to show how "over that" he is. And, of course, he ends up seeming like a pompous jerk too.

So, I thought it was intentional that he didn't necessarily sound like other kids, he doesn't think of himself as "a kid."

But, having said that, it still doesn't quite read right or flow properly. I'm not sure you've 100% nailed his attitude or shown that it's purposeful. And you need to be careful that, if he is supposed to start as a spoiled jerk, there's still some reason we might like him and want to go along for the ride.

I'm thinking of "Mistress Mary, quite contrary" in The Secret Garden -- she was a pill, but there were hints of something else in there, like when she was playing flowers just after the cholera epidemic. So, you had some sympathy and wanted to see what happened, even if she wasn't likable. We need that for Landon -- a reason to root for him, even if he's being a pompous jerk.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone for their insightful comments. I apologize for not responding sooner. I just got back from vacation.

EA – I do believe this was a bit of first page-itis. :) The first page now starts on the plane which also circumvents unnecessary information/spoilers.

This has been changed to 3POV limited to better serve the story. Originally, I switched back and forth in first person between the two main characters. I am attaching the new version and appreciate feedback anyone would like to offer.

Stale air blew out the vent above Landon Thompson and the overweight businessman next to him snored. In fact, he’d been snoring ever since inhaling dinner and downing two glasses of wine. Landon eyed the empty bottles. Not a drop left over a guy could swipe.

He shifted in his cushy first class seat and thumbed through a magazine. He figured his Dad thought a first class plane trip was supposed to make up for the forthcoming personalized version of hell. The whole thing ticked him off so much he felt like shoving his fist through the back of the seat in front of him. He gritted his teeth and flicked his thumb off his pointer finger.

The plane angled downward and Last of the Mohicans, slid away from him on the floor. BAM. He slammed his foot on top of the book to stop it from sliding further, and the fat slob next to him jumped. Probably the most exercise he’d seen in years.

The Captain’s voice boomed overhead, “Please remain in your seats. The fasten seatbelt sign is now on. We are beginning our descent into the Puerta Plata Airport.”

Nah, really? Why do they always feel the need to state the obvious? Puerta Whata? The Dominican Republic? One thing’s for sure, when you piss off Cy Thompson, expect paybacks. No doubt about it, his latest stunt had royally pissed his father off. He popped a stick of gum in his mouth and winked at the twenty-something flight attendant who had drooled over him most of the trip.

After exiting customs, he looked around for his ride. The Abram’s would send someone to pick him up. The airport was a somewhat normal airport if a bit sub par, a bunch of noisy kids running around and people hugging, pretending they cared.

Anonymous said...

Anon June 19 9:31 AM

Good point about the under-aged guy comment. I took it out. :)

MelissaPEA – Thanks for the encouragement. I actually did some major revising and dialogue was one of the targets. I’m hoping it comes across polished with natural dialogue. Unfortunately… you can’t tell from the first page as the dialogue is minimal.

Nancy Coffelt – Thanks for your insight. I liked your suggestions regarding reactions.

JessJordan – The spoiler has been taken out in the revised version. Thanks for pointing that out. Regarding the typos, the be verb issue was due to the fact that I revised POV on this 4 times before settling in on the one to do this story justice. You read the third version. I apologize for missing that. In regards to another “think” coming, that is thanks to an online critique group. Originally, I had another thing coming. I was assured I was wrong.

myimaginaryblog – Thanks for your insight. The spoiler has been taken out.

Anon – June 19 9:35 PM – Thanks for your caution on grammatical issues and typos. I’ve combed through and will continue to comb through for problems before submitting to an agent. This one is still very much in the works. :-) I’m glad you found it interesting.

Buffra – You were right about intentionality in the voice. I agree with you about issues concerning flow. I’m hoping I’ve addressed those. You are right on about the need for the MC to be likable. I also hope I’ve addressed that as well.

Thanks to all! :)

Buffra said...

Just wanted to say great job in trying to hear the critiques and use them.

I do prefer the second version -- we have the same info, but the flow is better.

A few minor typos (in the Last of Mohicans paragraph there are some rogue commas and Abrams doesn't need an apostrophe), but those are easily tackled.

Nice. Good luck as you continue the work!

BuffySquirrel said...

"another think coming" makes sense to me whereas "another thing coming" makes no sense at all! lol

I dunno, this strikes me as a "sorrows of the rich" story, and I'm going to need some reason to like the kid or I'm not going to read on. Spoilt rich kid learns traditional values from poor people is overdone in fiction; I've never known it happen IRL.

Two things struck me. Firstly, if this kid is so cocky and out of control, why does he get on the plane? And secondly, if Dad is so concerned about media exposure, why doesn't the kid at least try to exploit that?

Anonymous said...

Buffy Squirrel,

I know several well to do kids who have learned values and a better perspective from spending time with people in a third world country. I guess it's all about people's connections and experiences regarding what seems feasible or not. This is quite normal/realistic from what I've seen...

Thanks for bringing up those questions and sharing your perspective.

Buffra,

Thanks for the encouragement. :)

BuffySquirrel said...

You're right, Anon--our own experiences do influence how believable we find fiction. That and being a cynical old squirrel :).

Bonnie A said...

Very minor point--"another think coming" may be a more colloquial expression than I would have realized. The confusion here comes from altering the beginning half of the construction (possibly because of past tense). Works better in a direct dialogue:

"If you think a first class plane ticket is going to make up for a summer in hell, you've got another think coming."