Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

First Page: Untitled

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously.

***

Prologue

The small boy was lost in the depths of the huge tester bed. The room stretched out around him, full of mysterious shadows that seemed to move for no reason at all. His nurse had begged his father for a night light and for once his father had acquiesced – for whatever reason. Hannah was sure it wasn’t to ease a small boy’s fears, and the sense of abandonment he’d had since his mother had left; she wasn’t sure exactly why José Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

His father had said there were no such things as monsters, only monstrous people who ought to be horse whipped. You have to be a man in this life, he’d said, and quit believing in monsters under the bed or in the closet. The boy wasn’t too sure about that; surely the closet door had opened just a bit more? Why would it do that, if something hadn’t caused it? And Hannah had gone to her own bed, so what was left but monsters?

The shadows moved closer, swelling and shrinking as if to mock his fear. The vast expanse of the room, the high ceilings lost in a blackness that seemed to press down upon him, the knowledge that he was alone and lonely, almost broke his nerve. He wanted his mother.

He huddled into the pillows, trying to ignore what his mind was telling him had to be true. His mama had always sung to him, it was a comfort when he was feeling scared or alone. She had a true contralto and she could conjure up beautiful castles and brave knights; he knew it was so even if he couldn’t understand the language she was singing in.

Now as he remembered, he began to hum. He closed his eyes, sliding down until he was lying flat and the hum became words, gaining in volume as he put all his concentration into it. The words were made up, special words, words that conjured his mother. His high, pure voice filled the room and in his mind the knight fought the monsters and the beautiful princess, who looked a lot like his mama, held out her hand and smiled at him. He didn’t see the thickened shadow detach itself from the others and glide toward him.

The song ended in a cry of pain as his arm was grabbed and he was pulled to the side of the bed. His eyes flew open as he began to struggle. His father’s red, angry face glared back at him.

"I’ve told you "no singing’! Real men don’t sing, and you will be a man one day. You stupid mongrel! Perhaps you need help to remember. Turn over."

"Papa -"

"Silencio! I will have silence from you! She tried to make you the fairy, the weak one, but she left you, didn’t she? Even she thought you not worth the taking."

The small boy began to cry as he slowly turned over on his stomach, flinching as his father roughly pulled down his pajama bottoms.

"The bitch," José muttered, slashing the dog whip across the rounded buttocks. "The fucking bitch – leave, will she? Now you will be a man and not a woman’s lapdog!"

Excitement rose in him as he continued to whip his son. The boy covered his mouth with both hands, trying to remain silent, but when he turned his head to one side and saw the man’s excited face, he began to whimper. He could never afterward say if it was from the pain or from the shock of his father’s actions.

José began to breathe heavily. He was not a man who indulged himself with exercise and his arm was beginning to weary. The child’s eyes – her eyes – looked up at him in terror; it only fanned him to greater effort. When the screaming began, he gave a great shout and one last slash of the whip, before turning and leaving the room. Leaving the child to the shadows and his pain.

The small boy, hysterical with fear, wet the bed.

Cas gasped as his eyes flew open. He was drenched with sweat, not the healthy sweat of hard work, but the sour sweat of fear. It infuriated him that he still had these dreams. It infuriated him that his father still had so much control over him.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up, rubbing his damp face. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good night’s sleep. Wearily he got to his feet, looking around the dingy room with distaste. He’d wash himself down and then get on with his travels.

Somewhere, somehow, he’d outrun his father. He didn’t know if the bastard was still looking for him, but he wouldn’t take the chance. He would lay low and work as he could and continue to put distance between himself and California.

He only wished he could put that distance into his soul.

***

Interested in participating in First Page? Send your submission to jane at dearauthor.com. All submissions are kept confidential. If you are an author, either aspiring or published and want to participate, send your first page to jane at dearauthor.com or use our handy dandy input form.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

39 Comments

  1. Mrs Giggles
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 04:16:58

    Interesting prologue, but I find the transition from the first paragraph to the second is far from smooth. This is because you have a sentence that is from Hannah’s point of view in the first paragraph. Abrupt switches from the boy’s POV to Hannah’s back to the boy’s again there.

    There are also some abrupt switches from the boy’s POV to the father’s.

    I don’t find these abrupt switches too disruptive to the flow of the story, but other readers may think otherwise. I just think the switches in POV are unnecessary in the first place. Why not just stick entirely to the boy’s POV?

  2. Val Kovalin
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 05:08:35

    This is a powerfully emotional piece, and it definitely draws me in. Just so you know what impressions I'm getting, I’m assuming that the boy comes from a wealthy home because his family has a servant (the nurse Hannah), and that he comes from a Hispanic home because his father’s name is Jose, and Jose says, “Silencio” and because there’s that detail about how his mother used to sing to him in a language he couldn’t understand (I’m guessing English).

    Also, his father calls him a mongrel, which would imply that he’s English/Anglo on his mother’s side and Hispanic on his father’s side. Since towards the end of this piece, the grown-up hero is remembering all this and trying to put distance between himself and California, I’m guessing that this is an historical piece from the Spanish colonial era of California.

    The father: creepy in a sexually sadistic way that goes beyond bitterness and taking the mother’s abandonment out on the kid. Well done. You’ve definitely created some powerful demons for our hero to have to get over.

    This is smoothly written, and I would read more. In fact, it feels like a page-turner.

    Only two tiny things bothered me. One, I wish our hero had more of name than Cas. I know that’s got to be a nickname, but I’m puzzling over what the full name is. Casper? Caspian? Something Spanish that starts with Cas? You don’t have to give us his entire given name and surname (in fact I’d prefer you didn’t right here because that wouldn’t be how he’d think of himself is close-third-person viewpoint). But the full given name would be nice.

    Two, what’s a “tester” bed from the first line? Do you mean a feather bed?

    Nice job with this, and good luck!

  3. Erastes
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 05:08:42

    The small boy was lost in the depths of the huge tester bed.

    What’s a tester bed? Is he being experimented on? Is it relevant to say it’s a tester bed?

    Small is irrelevant as you’ve made that clear he’s a boy and he’s swamped in the bed.

    The room stretched out around him, full of mysterious shadows that seemed to move for no reason at all. His nurse had begged his father for a night light and for once his father had acquiesced – for whatever reason.

    Would he know the word “acquiescent”? It doesn’t seem like his POV.

    Hannah was sure it wasn’t to ease a small boy's fears, and the sense of abandonment he'd had since his mother had left; she wasn't sure exactly why José Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

    Who is Hannah? Who is Jose Aguilar?

    His father

    Is his father Jose?

    had said there were no such things as monsters, only monstrous people who ought to be horse whipped. You have to be a man in this life, he'd said, and quit believing in monsters under the bed or in the closet. The boy wasn't too sure about that; surely the closet door had opened just a bit more? Why would it do that, if something hadn't caused it? And Hannah had gone to her own bed, so what was left but monsters?

    We’ve jumped POV again.

    The shadows moved closer, swelling and shrinking as if to mock his fear. The vast expanse of the room, the high ceilings lost in a blackness that seemed to press down upon him,

    You’ve said this, above, so it seems like repetition. It would be better to stick this with the other description before you started introducing people.

    He huddled into the pillows, trying to ignore what his mind was telling him had to be true. His mama

    Why mother AND mama? Children wouldn’t think of both.

    had always sung to him, it was a comfort when he was feeling scared or alone. She had a true contralto and she could conjure up beautiful castles and brave knights; he knew it was so even if he couldn't understand the language she was singing in.

    Again, he’s using words he wouldn’t know. Contralto? I doubt a child would know the differences between women’s voices. You are dropping out of his POV into a more omniescent POV. Stay in his head – use words he’d know.

    …His high, pure voice

    Not his POV

    filled the room

    comma

    and in his mind the knight fought the monsters and the beautiful princess,

    He fought the princess? Better to put a full stop after monsters.

    who looked a lot like his mama, held out her hand and smiled at him. He didn't see the thickened shadow detach itself from the others and glide toward him.

    If he didn’t see it, he can’t remark on it

    “Silencio!

    Why is his father suddenly speaking in a foreign language?

    The small boy

    just “boy” will do.

     began to cry as he slowly turned over on his stomach, flinching as his father roughly pulled down his pajama bottoms.

    as…..as  try and reword so not to repeat.

    Excitement rose in him as he continued to whip his son.

    You’ve jumped to his father’s POV

     The boy covered his mouth with both hands, trying to remain silent, but when he turned his head to one side and saw the man's

    his father, not “the man”

     excited face, he began to whimper. He could never afterward say if it was from the pain or from the shock of his father's actions.

    I’m confused about this – what does he mean? Aren’t they related?

    Jos̩ began to breathe heavily. He was not a man who indulged himself with exercise and his arm was beginning to weary. The child's eyes Рher eyes Рlooked up at him in terror; it only fanned him to greater effort. When the screaming began, he gave a great shout and one last slash of the whip, before turning and leaving the room. Leaving the child to the shadows and his pain.

    You’ve jumped POV again.

    The small boy, hysterical with fear, wet the bed.

    You need a break here of some kind, and again – small is unnecessary and repetition.

    Cas gasped as his eyes flew open. He was drenched with sweat, not the healthy sweat of hard work, but the sour sweat of fear. It infuriated him that he still had these dreams. It infuriated him that his father still had so much control over him.

    Infuriated twice in succession.

    All in all it’s an interesting beginning – if a little like a repressed gay metaphor – but you need to tighten it up, take out the unnecessary like nanny, Jose or explain them. Get someone to go over the punctuation for you, use a programme to find repeated words, and rework the prologue to stick in a boy’s pov throughout.  Try and put yourself in a young boy’s head (you don’t say how old he is, I’m guessing about six or seven) and write it how he’d think. You don’t NEED to jump POVs at all, it’s unnecessary to see why the man is doing what he’s doing, he’s made that clear by the speech he gave, so you don’t need to get into his head to explain it.

    Sorry to be so longwinded, but I liked the concept, and I have had the same POV problems so I know what it’s like.

  4. Val Kovalin
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 05:14:56

    Addendum – (it’s so early here in the morning where I am, close to California in fact, relatively speaking; in fact I’m headed back to bed for more sleep) – BUT, I agree with Mrs. Giggles on reworking a few spots in the memory to keep it completely in Cas’s viewpoint. It’s powerful and smoothly written enough that I could follow it, no problem, but it would be even better the way she suggested (just one POV).

  5. Anion
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 05:48:37

    …she wasn't sure exactly why José Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

    That is a lovely line. This is excellent writing. I agree on the POV switches, and I’m not crazy about books that begin with dreams or flashbacks, but this is excellent writing.

  6. STP
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:05:05

    From the opening line about the tester bed, I thought they were in a Sleepy’s.

    This is a great opening with a lot of tension and emotion. The trick will be to erase the confusing things without dampening the emotional edge you have–because that edge will let you sell.

    In the opening paragraph, I can’t tell who’s perspective we’re in: the small boy’s or Hannah. It becomes clear in the following paragraphs, but the first paragraph is pretty important for first impressions.

    Making sure that all the paragraphs are in the boy’s perspective as suggested by Mrs. Giggles requires only minimal changes and will tighten the piece. Be careful not to kill this with over critiquing.

    This is almost ready for editors and agents.

  7. Courtney Milan
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:06:22

    This is a tester bed: http://images.google.com/images?q=tester+bed&ie=UTF-8&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&resnum=1&ct=title

    I’m not sure that a young boy would know the name of a tester bed, and so this strikes me as a subtle POV problem, in addition to the ones mentioned by Erastes. As a general rule, it helps to connect readers with your character if you only describe things as your character, in this case a young boy, would see them–simple language, analogies that a kid would draw–rather than as an objective observer. And especially since it seems that “tester bed” doesn’t mean anything to some people, it seems to me you might get more leverage with a word that’s more descriptive and less of a label.

    Still, lovely writing. I generally don’t like flashbacks or dreams as a start to a book, but this one worked for me.

  8. GrowlyCub
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:15:12

    I agree that there are too many POV changes (the contralto reference especially and the bit in the Nanny’s POV). They need at least be separated by clear breaks in the narrative layout, if not removed outright.

    I think the repetitions really set the tone and atmosphere and referring to his father as ‘the man’ ties in with his older self trying to distance himself even in the dream.

    I agree with Val’s assumptions on who they are and where and when they live. I hope the ‘fairy’ reference by the father doesn’t mean paranormal, since I don’t like reading that, but if it’s a reference to ‘gay’, then I’m not sure if it’s anachronistic use or not.

    The tester bed worked for me and evoked an image of the little boy being swallowed by the bed, but since others have commented on not knowing what it is, maybe you could change it to something like ‘four-poster bed with hangings drawn tight’ or similar.

    There’s a nice sense of buildup and this is the first Sat query I’ve read that made me want to read the book.

  9. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:15:50

    Lots of repetition (for no reason, for whatever reason, was/n’t sure), especially in the first paragraph.

    Readers don’t always notice POV switches, but editors do. The head-hopping is very distracting here. For me, it creates a disconnect, and I have trouble relating to any of the characters. You want the reader to feel what the boy feels. Stay in his head.

  10. GrowlyCub
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:22:09

    I think that a lot of the ‘creepiness’ would be lost if the father’s POV were removed, because I don’t see how a little boy could understand why the father got ‘excited’. So while I think it needs to be clarified, I don’t think the buildup would work the same if were all told in the boy’s POV.

  11. Leah
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:36:59

    When I read “tester bed,” I thought that this was a sci-fi novel, and the boy was being experimented on. Of course, when the book is published, the reader will have a cover and a blurb to orient herself, so that might not be a real problem. I really don’t like books in which bad things happen to children (I didn’t take a chance on one last night, actually), but I had to read on to make sure the little boy was all right. Since the opening scene turned out to be a flashback, I could relax and go on. I would be very interested to see where this story is going.

  12. joanne
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:41:58

    ……..”Readers don't always notice POV switches, but editors do. The head-hopping is very distracting here. For me, it creates a disconnect, and I have trouble relating to any of the characters.”……..

    I think readers do notice the switching of points of view, it’s what we call “choppy writing” when we discuss books.

    I liked the promise of the story very much although the Hero’s name — or lack of a name — was a little disconcerting, as though the reader should already know his full first name. There is also the unnecessary explanation of the word “Silencio!” since it implies that the reader wouldn’t figure out the meaning without help.

    *sigh* I guess I’m the only one old enough to know what a tester bed is/was? But yeah, it didn’t need to be in the sentence.

    Thank You

  13. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 07:54:18

    I enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful.

    I switch POV within scenes a lot, and while some editors don’t like it, some of them do. It all depends on the story, I think, and the author. If the author can make it work for the story, wonderful.

    Here’s my suggestion on how to smooth it out.

    I wouldn’t make it a dream sequence. Make it just a few pages of epilogue, with an opening line of twenty years earlier or however many years it is.

    And…I normally don’t go into this much detail, but this story has fantastic potential, so whatever helps you get it done. *G*

    The very first line

    The small boy was lost in the depths of the huge tester bed

    I’d leave on its own, because I think it works rather well on an omniscient POV, but it will work best if it’s separate from the other lines.

    Then here, with the nurse,

    The small boy was lost in the depths of the huge tester bed. The room stretched out around him, full of mysterious shadows that seemed to move for no reason at all. His nurse had begged his father for a night light and for once his father had acquiesced Рfor whatever reason. Hannah was sure it wasn't to ease a small boy's fears, and the sense of abandonment he'd had since his mother had left; she wasn't sure exactly why Jos̩ Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

    I’d change it to this:

    The small boy was lost in the depths of the huge tester bed, lost in the darkness of the room. (or something along those lines)

    His nurse had begged his father for a night light and for once his father had acquiesced Рfor whatever reason. Hannah was sure it wasn't to ease a small boy's fears, and the sense of abandonment he'd had since his mother had left; she wasn't sure exactly why Jos̩ Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

    And then open the second paragraph from his POV-you’ve gotten the nurse’s addition in there, and you won’t have to hop from boy to her and back.

    The room stretched out around him, full of mysterious shadows that seemed to move for no reason at all. His nurse had begged his father for a night light and for once his father had acquiesced Рfor whatever reason. Hannah was sure it wasn't to ease a small boy's fears, and the sense of abandonment he'd had since his mother had left; she wasn't sure exactly why Jos̩ Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

    His father had said there were no such things as monsters, only monstrous people who ought to be horse whipped. You have to be a man in this life, he'd said, and quit believing in monsters under the bed or in the closet. The boy wasn't too sure about that; surely the closet door had opened just a bit more? Why would it do that, if something hadn't caused it? And Hannah had gone to her own bed, so what was left but monsters?

    We’ve pulled out the troublesome shift with the nurse, so this could simply be:

    The room stretched out around him, full of mysterious shadows that seemed to move for no reason at all. His father had said there were no such things as monsters, only monstrous people who ought to be horse whipped. You have to be a man in this life, he'd said, and quit believing in monsters under the bed or in the closet. The boy wasn't too sure about that; surely the closet door had opened just a bit more? Why would it do that, if something hadn't caused it? And Hannah had gone to her own bed, so what was left but monsters?

    The part with the father…

    Excitement rose in him as he continued to whip his son. The boy covered his mouth with both hands, trying to remain silent, but when he turned his head to one side and saw the man's excited face, he began to whimper. He could never afterward say if it was from the pain or from the shock of his father's actions.

    Jos̩ began to breathe heavily. He was not a man who indulged himself with exercise and his arm was beginning to weary. The child's eyes Рher eyes Рlooked up at him in terror; it only fanned him to greater effort. When the screaming began, he gave a great shout and one last slash of the whip, before turning and leaving the room. Leaving the child to the shadows and his pain.

    We need this info from his father’s POV-it’s ugly and raw, but it’s important to the story, so we need it. What I’d do is take the few bits that are the boy’s emotions and thoughts. So just doing this…

    Excitement rose in him as he continued to whip his son. Jos̩ began to breathe heavily. He was not a man who indulged himself with exercise and his arm was beginning to weary. The child's eyes Рher eyes Рlooked up at him in terror; it only fanned him to greater effort. When the screaming began, he gave a great shout and one last slash of the whip, before turning and leaving the room. Leaving the child to the shadows and his pain.

    would keep the father’s POV in there.

    I still switch POV within scenes, and it works for my editors, so it’s entirely possible to make it work. You just need to smooth out the thoughts.

    If you’re in one character’s POV-his thoughts-and then in the same paragraph switch to the other character’s POV, that’s going to be jarring. POV is just that-telling it from one character’s side, then the other. Jumping back and forth is too much like an inner tennis match, look this way, look that…

    But if you tell a few paragraphs in character A’s POV, then switch to character b’s pov for a few paragraphs, and then smoothly switch book to A, it can definitely work.

    In regards to making the dream sequence more a glimpse into the past, I suggested this because that way, you can go from one POV to another. If he’s dreaming, it’s going to be hard to keep the same intensity and smooth out the POV. We don’t see the POV of others…we can make guesses, but he’s too young to understand his father’s excitement. But making it stand alone, you can keep the POV from the other characters and make it work.

    I’d end that part with the line

    The small boy, hysterical with fear, wet the bed.

    And then open the first chapter with

    Cas gasped as his eyes flew open. He was drenched with sweat, not the healthy sweat of hard work, but the sour sweat of fear. It infuriated him that he still had these dreams. It infuriated him that his father still had so much control over him.

    He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up, rubbing his damp face. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a good night's sleep. Wearily he got to his feet, looking around the dingy room with distaste. He'd wash himself down and then get on with his travels.

    Somewhere, somehow, he'd outrun his father. He didn't know if the bastard was still looking for him, but he wouldn't take the chance. He would lay low and work as he could and continue to put distance between himself and California.

    He only wished he could put that distance into his soul.

    You could drop in a line or two from his father in italics, letting the reader know he’s dreaming about that time, reference the pain and the fear, and that would possibly still set the story up the way you need to go from there.

    Sorry to be so long with this, but as I said… great story, wanna read more.

    Great story and good luck!

  14. Jill Sorenson
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 08:00:32

    GrowlyCub said, “I don't see how a little boy could understand why the father got ‘excited'.”

    The boy doesn’t have to understand. Only the reader does. The father’s feelings can be relayed through facial expressions. And the man Cas will have an adult perspective.

    How can a dream have more than one POV?

  15. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 08:39:23

    Before reading the other comments:
    A very passive start, it doesn’t seem to start where the action does. I’d junk this scene and add the backstory in as it becomes relevant. Here, you’re telling the reader something upfront.
    The first paragraph has pov switches. You seem to start in the boy’s pov, then move to the nurse’s.
    Another pov switch in “Excitement rose in him”. That’s the father’s pov and breaks the mood you’ve tried to set up.
    Quite a few passive verbs, with vague words like “pulled” that don’t evoke the feeling of helplessness or fear. “Dragged” would be a little stronger, but I’m sure there are better words than that.
    I groaned when I realised you’d started the story with a dream. Don’t do it, if you check the lists of things “editors hate” starting a story with a dream is high up. This is a reasonable summary:
    http://www.ehow.com/how_4529483_editors-agents-hate-first-chapter.html
    By my count you’ve hit at least three of those, if not five.

    Style, not bad, once you’ve sorted out the pov switches, you create a nice atmosphere, but I’d say dump this whole chapter and start the book when the action begins.

  16. Jane
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 08:59:02

    I notice POV switches alot and find them very irritating, in fact.

  17. Gennita Low
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 09:02:28

    This is a great beginning scene detailing one child’s fears and pain–somewhere between a dream and a flashback. You just have to make up your mind which it is ;-). A dream would only be in Cas’ point of view, and this is clearly his dream because he wakes up immediately afterwards and says so. Like Shiloh suggested, I would just end the scene right after the boy wets his bed, then start the first chapter with Cas jerking up from sleep.

    If you want to make this a flashback, then multiple POVs can be used, but you still have to stay true to character. The mention of “true contralto” in the boy’s POV, for example, took me out of the story.

    Whichever way you decide, the prologue was very powerful and definitely gave me clues about Cas and his past. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  18. cecilia
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 10:30:06

    I agree with Shiloh that the shifts in POV are rough but don’t need to be eliminated, just polished. But that’s if the whole scene isn’t a dream. (And I’m also not keen on it being a dream – especially since it’s so realistic and coherent – not very dream-like to my mind).

    And I knew what a tester bed was – and was a little taken aback that when people didn’t know what it was, it was assumed to be the author’s mistake.

  19. Karen Kennedy
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 10:44:59

    I agree with the comments about POV switches. They were very distracting to me. I think anything in the first few pages that makes the reader have to stop the story and figure something out–whose head am I in? who is Hannah? who is Jose? would a small boy know such big words–tester bed, contralto, etc.–is a risk that you’ll lose the reader (or agent/editor) completely.

    When I see that something starts with a prologue or is a dream, it’s a hurdle for me. For some reason I assume I’m not going to like it or that it’s not necessary for the story. But this didn’t leave me feeling that way. It seemed like an integral part of the story and flowed smoothly into Cas’ waking as an adult and what will, I assume, be the bulk of the story.

    Good luck with it! It was enjoyable reading!

  20. Lori
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 10:48:04

    **Style, not bad, once you've sorted out the pov switches, you create a nice atmosphere, but I'd say dump this whole chapter and start the book when the action begins.**

    I have to disagree. I think it’s a strong start and does what a prologue is supposed to do, gives a back story and a deep emotional trauma which, I assume, is going to drive the story. And even saying *editors hate* whatever it is that editors hate, can be found in many finely written stories; good writing can overcome what *editor’s hate* when done well.

    I don’t know what a tester bed is either but assumed it was just something I didn’t know (there’s lots of things I don’t know) *grin*. I do agree that maybe this would be better not as a dream, perhaps as an adult remembering back in which certain things might not be so jarring to the reader (like the true contralto).

    I did think this was gorgeous writing and since I do know the author I am more than a little biased and a big squee that it’s here and what a way to start the weekend!!!

  21. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 10:55:56

    “I have to disagree. I think it's a strong start and does what a prologue is supposed to do, gives a back story and a deep emotional trauma which, I assume, is going to drive the story. And even saying *editors hate* whatever it is that editors hate, can be found in many finely written stories; good writing can overcome what *editor's hate* when done well.”

    Of course they do, but if this is a first book by a new writer, it adds to the obstacles that must be overcome for an editor to look at it. A subsequent book, a second book etc will be looked at with a lot more tolerance, so if this is one of those, it could be fine. The “what editors hate” lists are all over the net, and starting with a dream seems to be high up on the lists.
    I don’t think, good though it is, that this is quite different or special enough to overcome that initial problem. I’d love to be proved wrong.

  22. Kristie(J)
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 10:56:01

    As a reader who reads by ‘feeling’ I just thought Wow! How soon is this book coming out?????

  23. shenan
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 11:17:49

    —–The small boy was lost in the depths of the huge tester bed.

    How small would he have to be in order to be lost? And how soft would the bed have to be in order for it to have depths? Why can’t the bed simply be a bed? Isn’t the boy getting lost in it evidence enough that it’s pretty darned big? A “huge” bed anyway sounds a bit odd.

    —- The room stretched out around him, full of mysterious shadows that seemed to move for no reason at all.

    This kind of writing doesn’t work for me. Why can’t the shadows simply be shadows instead of mysterious ones? Does the room have to stretch, whether around or away? Can’t the shadows simply move instead of seeming to move for no reason? You’re doing too much of my job as a reader. If you give me clues as to the creepiness of the room, I can fill in the blanks.

    —–His nurse had begged his father for a night light and for once his father had acquiesced – for whatever reason. Hannah was sure it wasn’t to ease a small boy’s fears, and the sense of abandonment he’d had since his mother had left; she wasn’t sure exactly why José Aguilar had agreed, but she had taken her victory and scuttled back to the room with it.

    Others have pointed out the switch in POV.

    There seems to be an incomplete sentence after the first comma. Either that or you need to lose the comma and let the sentence before the semicolon stand as one thought instead of two.

    I like the visual with the nurse scuttling. It adds to the sense of some menace lurking about.

    —-His father had said there were no such things as monsters, only monstrous people who ought to be horse whipped. You have to be a man in this life, he’d said, and quit believing in monsters under the bed or in the closet. The boy wasn’t too sure about that; surely the closet door had opened just a bit more? Why would it do that, if something hadn’t caused it? And Hannah had gone to her own bed, so what was left but monsters?

    I’m curious here to know if there is a plot reason for the focus on monsters. Is this a paranormal involving monsters or creatures looked upon as monsters? That’s the sense, I’m getting. (It sure would help make sense of these first pages if we were provided with back of the book blurbs.)

    —–The shadows moved closer, swelling and shrinking as if to mock his fear. The vast expanse of the room, the high ceilings lost in a blackness that seemed to press down upon him, the knowledge that he was alone and lonely, almost broke his nerve. He wanted his mother.

    Again this kind of writing doesn’t work for me. Feels too over the top. Although I do like the last line about the boy wanting his mother. And one reason I like it is because it is simple. You leave me to do the work of filling in character emotions instead of hitting me over the head with them as you did in the sentences leading up to that line. Less sometimes really is more.

    —–He huddled into the pillows, trying to ignore what his mind was telling him had to be true. His mama had always sung to him, it was a comfort when he was feeling scared or alone. She had a true contralto and she could conjure up beautiful castles and brave knights; he knew it was so even if he couldn’t understand the language she was singing in.

    I’m not getting the connection between the first sentence in the above and the rest of the paragraph. The rest seems to be related to the boy missing his mom. But first we get him huddling and ignoring.

    Others have mentioned the bit with the contralto singing — not something I’d expect a small boy to know. And how does he know what Mom is singing about if he can’t understand what she’s saying? Does he simply make up words that work for him? Is he psychic? Did she translate for him at some point? What?

    —-Now as he remembered, he began to hum. He closed his eyes, sliding down until he was lying flat and the hum became words, gaining in volume as he put all his concentration into it. The words were made up, special words, words that conjured his mother.

    Nice visual with the kid singing to himself in place of his mother. I especially like that he made the words up. Again, it’s simply done, leaving me to fill in the blanks myself.

    —-His high, pure voice filled the room and in his mind the knight fought the monsters and the beautiful princess, who looked a lot like his mama, held out her hand and smiled at him.

    Again a nice visual with the mom as princess.

    Someone probably already mentioned the POV switch.

    You need a comma there to set off the second complete sentence. Otherwise the reader has to backtrack to regroup after thinking the kid’s singing filled not only the room but his mind as well.

    Actually, that whole sentence is confusing. The knight fought the princess? I’m thinking you’d do better to break this up into two or three separate sentences.

    I’m going to skip commenting on the scenes with the father. Too icky. And really, I’d stop reading right there. As it is, it makes me wonder what kind of story this is.

    —- He would lay low and work as he could and continue to put distance between himself and California.

    Is this a contemporary? I read it as a European Historical (complete with creepy castle), even with the mention of night lights and closets. Now I don’t know.

    Even beyond the ick factor, I wouldn’t keep reading. I might have felt different with a different opening. One that focused on an adult character. And one that wasn’t a dream sequence. (And really, I found the last few lines more intriguing than anything that went before.)

    shenan

  24. kelita
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 11:24:23

    I, too was having a little trouble with the head-hopping. Is Hannah the nurse? The use of the word “tester” coupled with bed immediately put me in the American “west” so if that’s where you were trying to place this, than it worked for me. Also I was pulled from the story by the use of “nightlight.” If this is a historical, than it would have been a candle or a lantern turned down low which, in turn, could be a serious fire hazard – anyway, you can see how this reader’s mind has completely moved away from the story? I would like to learn more about your story. I’m very curious about Hannah. Because you named her, does she have a role beyond the flashback? Why is she important? I’m very curious. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Jessica Barksdale Inclan
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 11:28:58

    There are some distracting issues with the writing here, but I have to say, the core, the gut, the emotion and the scene drew me in , repulsed me, drew me back. I was confused, intrigued, and wanted more when it was over. All the comments of POV are right on, but what you have underneath is worth working on and finishing.

    The father is one twisted weirdo, and I am all ready behind Cas, hoping he can make it through to something better.

    One note. I had no idea what a “tester” bed was. for about two seconds, I thought we were in a sci fi story.

    Good luck.

  26. Ann Bruce
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 11:49:38

    “tester bed” is something I see more often in historical romances.

  27. ldb
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 12:04:24

    I really enjoyed this opening and would say that aside from POV issues my only problem were the paragraphes before the action, I felt there were too many and they were too long, the impact of hte rest of the scene is very good, but you almost lost me getting there. And as a reader I have to say I lvoe being shown why totured heros are tortered early on, it seems more books are relying on short descriptions that come too late into the story and that toture is more an archtype then a palable thing, I feel right away his past and will understand him better.

  28. Carolyn
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 12:16:02

    Thank you for the valuable critiques, and I mean that sincerely. I wasn’t even aware I had a POV problem – shame on me!! There have been some good suggestions made and I see rewrites in my future, lol.

    Btw, Cas’ full name is Casimiro Aguilar Martin, but in the Spanish tradition, he can choose which name he uses, and he chose his mother’s, so he is known as Cas Martin. (that comes out in the next chapter ;-) )

    Thank you again for your comments and your encouragement. And the tester bed goes. :-)

  29. Leah
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 12:28:41

    I do want to add that I didn’t think I noticed the POV switches–but then realized that I initially thought Hannah was the main character, so that one, at least, was a little jarring.

  30. S.W. Vaughn
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 12:31:48

    I won’t rehash the technical issues, as they’ve already been covered well. Just wanted to say that I enjoyed this beginning tremendously. I didn’t even mind that it was a dream, and that usually bugs me. Since prologues are “frowned upon” anyway (and really, there are no rules that can’t be broken when done well), I’d say it works as a prologue.

    Great work. Some excellent prose and imagery here. I do agree the POV should be tightened, but outside of that, it’s wonderful. Good luck!

  31. Seressia
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 13:23:58

    1. Smooth out the POV switches
    2. Make it a flashback instead of a dream so you can keep the POVs
    3. Send it out.

    Good luck!

  32. Bev Stephans
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 13:36:13

    As soon as I read tester bed, I got a sense of history. I think it should stay! I really liked this author’s voice and the POV switching didn’t bother me too much. This is one of the better queries.

  33. LizA
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 14:38:05

    I thought it was a contemporary, or at least set in the 20th century, but that the hero’s father was very rich and steeped in tradition. Maybe a hacienda – if there are haciendas in California? (Must admit I have no clue about that, sorry).
    I had no problem with the dream at the beginning, in itself. The switches threw me a little but it seemed to set the tone very nicely. And I am puzzled as to the rule to start with the action – why? It’s not a passive scene at all. There is action, even if it is in the past – and I assume it is important for the novel… so for me, it worked fine.
    Sounds like an interesting story, hope you get it done & published. Good luck!

  34. Persephone Green
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 19:05:15

    I like the plot. I like creepy plots, even when they make me cringe! That’s just me, though.

    I’m of the mind that flashbacks work better in media res, so if I look at this as an excerpt and not a first page it works slightly better for me. Everyone and a half has been over the POV head-hopping, the awkwardness of the first sentence, etc. Those bothered me, but there were a couple of other suggestions that I’m not sure others have made yet, so:

    1. We, the readers, always are one step removed from the action. Like began to breathe heavily, began to cry, began to hum, his arm was grabbed and he was pulled, etc.

    Half of the problem is passive voice. It drones on and sounds boring when I know that the underlying action is, in fact, not at all boring. I would recommend that you cut out as much of it as you can. His father grabbed his arm and pulled him across the room.

    The other half of it is your overuse of auxiliary verbs (to be + gerund, to begin to + verb, to seem to + verb). You used “began” SIX times on the first page, and only one of those times was it a stand-alone verb that worked well (When the screaming began), and even then, there are more effective ways to write that clause.

    I think this lends to the problem of ‘telling and not showing enough.’

    2. There are too many names in one sequence that mostly features just two people. I would find a way to make the scene solely about the boy and the father.

    3. The small boy, hysterical with fear, wet the bed. Not only have you already said “the small boy,” the adjective is unnecessary. In fact, so is “hysterical with fear.” We as readers should know that without you having to say it. How about The boy whimpered and wet the bed. (I know, two w words, but I’m using a quick example)? There are so many adjectives that I don’t think you need in this scene.

    You’ve kept the adverb count low, and for that, I salute you. Just don’t forget that adjectives can be overused, as well. (<–Passive voice is okay here because I’m not trying to be exciting.)

    I think I would read on to see if the POV and verbiage improved, because it’s a powerful scene. But it’s so rare to see good prologues outside of a Tess Gerrittsen novel (the only author who comes to mind immediately when I think of good prologues) that I wonder if there’s a way to open on a suspenseful note and work this into the story a bit later.

    Of the five or six first pages I’ve read here, this one was the best IMHO. It still needs a lot of work, but there’s always room for improvement.

  35. Chez
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 21:43:16

    This is a wonderfully powerful start to a story. I do know what a tester bed is and got that whole “rich family, antique bed” thing from reading on. I would definitely keep it as it adds to the atmosphere.

    I actually think this is one of the best first pages I’ve read on this site to date. Well done. I most definitely wanted to keep reading.

  36. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 12, 2008 @ 07:55:25

    And I am puzzled as to the rule to start with the action – why?

    I don’t really think it’s a ‘rule’, but more of a guideline.

    The one I go by is similar-start where the trouble starts, and it’s possible that what other meant when they say start where the action starts. Some reasoning behind that-if you start where the trouble starts, you’re less likely to bog the story down with heavy backstory.

    I don’t think that’s an issue here, from what we’ve seen, but there’s a possible answer to your question. :)

  37. orannia
    Oct 12, 2008 @ 18:47:13

    I just want to echo what Kristie said: WOW! Good luck!

  38. Nicole L.
    Oct 13, 2008 @ 10:50:49

    I seem to be the only one who was deeply disturbed by the line:

    “The bitch,” José muttered, slashing the dog whip across the rounded buttocks.

    and specifically the detail of “rounded buttocks” it made me feel too complicit in the sexualized abuse and I had to stop reading. Now if that atmosphere is one you want to create, then you’re doing a good job. But if you’re writing a story about someone who is recovering from abuse and moving on with his life you might want to tone down the ick factor.

    Changing POV: maybe some readers and editors tolerate POV shifts but that doesn’t mean you should aspire to anything less than excellent writing. If you’re not going to limit yourself to the inside of one character’s head you should work on omniscent POV and doing that well. Here’s a discussion on Deep Genre but I couldn’t find a good explanation on the web.

    Starting with a prologue: I don’t generally read prologues. My reasoning? Why get all involved with this character that’s going to be taken away from me within a matter of pages? And then I have to get to know a new character (or incarnation of him or her, ie the 20 years later trick) anyway. And this is not a comment about you, but I generally find that prologues are a way for the author to be lazy and/or insert some favorite part of their worldbuilding into the final product. For the first, most backstory can be and should be worked in throughout the book and is more effective for it. And the second, it’s just padding.

  39. Mac
    Oct 13, 2008 @ 11:34:25

    I’d stet “small boy” — which for me is an age thing and not a size thing. Depending on who’s talking, “boy” could refer to a male person from infanthood to age 26 or more.

    I’d stick to the small boy’s POV, but other people have said that already. One could get away with flipping between the boy and the man, even (I give a lot of leeway, and frankly if I were properly editing this I’d read it more times than I have today), but the Hannah POV is stretching things.

    (I also have to point out that at first I completely misunderstood the purpose of this thread and thought we were playing “guess the [published] novel from its first page!” Yikes.)

%d bloggers like this: