Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday Mania--First Page

One of our readers submitted a first page for critique. A first page of a manuscript must hook an agent or editor. Feel free to make comments, but please keep them constructive.

Critique Archive 0036:

Anxiety. It started with anxiety. I’m twenty-four years old, but in the mornings, I feel anxiety when I’m alone. But only on the mornings when it’s early enough to still be dark outside. Darkness like a suffocating murderer waiting to creep inside, slip under the bathroom door like smoke, surround my vulnerable throat and twist and choke until it’s over. I get scared in the shower, when I start to hear the noises and sense a stranger coming into my house and breaking down the bathroom door so he can do what he wants.

When I was in junior high, my mom and stepdad would leave at 6 a.m. some mornings, and I would be alone in the house, in the bathroom getting ready, while the darkness was getting closer. I talked to a counselor about it, about my anxiety. He told me to write down what I felt. All I could write was that I was scared, and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t ready to know why. The counselor told me I had to talk myself out of thinking that way, I had to calm myself down. He tried to put me on Prozac because a pill will solve anything. But not what’s inside of me. I tried two different counselors and then gave up on “therapy.”

The little girl didn’t talk to me then. Or maybe I just wasn’t listening. I didn’t know she even existed.

Panic. He had a beard. I hate beards. They brought him over so I could hang out with him. I had to go out with this guy, my brother-in-law’s brother, but I didn’t want to. I’d had one boyfriend before for about a month, but I didn’t like dating much. I could like a guy until he liked me, and then I was done. My sister really wanted me to go out with this guy, she wanted me to get out more. I started to panic, said I had homework. I didn’t freak out until after they left. My mom asked why I didn’t go.

She started yelling, “I don’t want to go! They were making me. I’m scared. I don’t want to go. I’m scared. I’m scared.” Over and over. She cried. Hard and long. She sobbed. She hid in my bedroom. She curled up into a ball, and I rocked her back and forth, back and forth. She could only speak tears. I felt her fear. She was so scared. She rocked and cried.

Mom said it was a panic attack and started to really worry about me.


Josi said...

Intriguing conflict and good writing, but I felt a little disjointed. I felt as though we were supposed to look at three things--fear in the mornings when she thinks someone might come in, a little girls voice, and memory of a date. None of them seemed very clear to me, so I don't know quite where to focus my concern. If it's possible to keep one focus, at least for now, so we can get to know the character better, it might make a stronger impression. Also, you have some repetative words--such as 3 anxieties in the first three sentances, and two 'but'. Be careful about using the same word over and over. I would suggest you ask yourself what you want the agent to think the book is about after the first page. For me, I thing it's about a girl who has some unsubstantiated fears, that might actually have substance. I'm not sure I get the little girl's voice at all--my first thought was that it's a ghost.

You do, however, have really good conflict and I am intrigued enough that I would keep reading--but it would be cautious. If I were still this confused after a few more pages, I likely wouldn't continue.

Victoria Dixon said...

I'm concerned about the same things Josi said and I'd suggest that as you try to fix these things, attempt to break out of using narration. Let us see and feel her panic. We'll be sympathetic. Let us see the therapist's face as he makes his suggestions. Does he care or is he looking at his watch? If you break this into dialogue and let us see, hear, smell, taste things, we'll be hooked, I think. Good luck!

Melanie J said...

While the mood and tone are very clear right from the start, which is great, I think you're overusing imagery in the opening paragraph. You're using powerful images so you can afford to do so sparingly and still have it be eerie and menacing. Also, I felt the disjointedness too. I think it's a little too early to introduce that kind of narrative trick with the little girl's thoughts. Let the reader invest in your character and story a little longer and then try weaving in those breaks. Then we'll be way into your character and understand where those italicized thoughts are supposed to fit in. We'll walk away feeling intrigued instead of simply confused. I'd interested in the premise but like Josi, I'd proceed with caution and bail pretty early if the narrative didn't stabilize quickly.