Monday, November 28, 2011

First Words Workshop: MEOW

To see how the workshop began, read THIS post: An Analysis of First Pages.


This month's (anonymous) Middle Grade fantasy: 

           We materialize behind the scratchy bush on the side of Tessa’s apartment. As Charlemagne and I walk around to her front door, I hear her dog Vixen barking my name over and over again. Whatever else he's barking is lost on me. I don't know much Dog, but with a Mother who's fluent in at least a dozen animal languages, I've picked up a few things.
            My cat, however, understands Vixen perfectly. "Not if I get you first," he meows.
            I'm way more fluent in Cat.
            My eyes snap to the window, where a flicker of movement appears from behind the open drapes. Tessa answers the door before I have a chance to knock. Charlemagne darts inside after Vixen who yelps and runs away.

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My comments are in RED:

We materialize behind the scratchy bush on the side of Tessa’s apartment. Okay, so I already know she is a witch, but had I not, would I understand what you mean by materialize? Maybe so. Let see what the other comments are. As Charlemagne and I walk around to her front door, (since they already know Tessa, I'd use a stronger verb than walk. Were they exited or reluctant to go there?) I hear her dog Vixen barking my name over and over again. almost want her name right here italicized. Whatever else he's barking is lost on me. I don't know much Dog, but with a Mother who's fluent in at least a dozen animal languages (love), I've picked up a few things. So, she is with her cat, but at this point a reader might not know her gender or that this is a human and a cat, so somehow you should identify that. Like have her foot or dress snag on something.
            My cat, however, understands Vixen perfectly. "Not if I get you first," he meows. I like that line and think it could stand alone without explanation prior.
            I'm way more fluent in Cat. Hmmm... wonder if this line should come before the last one.
            My eyes snap to the window, where a flicker of movement appears from behind the open drapes. Tessa answers the door before I have a chance to knock. Charlemagne darts inside after Vixen who yelps and runs away. I'd change the order of this sentence. I think you have an intriguing beginning on your hands!

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Stina's comments are in BLUE:

I asked my 11 year old and 9 year old if they would keep reading. The oldest one said, “No.” He had no idea what was going on. My younger son grinned and said, “Yes”. He liked the cat. He likes books with talking animals. My older son hates them. So basically you nailed the start according to your target audience.


You need to establish as early as the first sentence that “we” is a human and a cat. I was thrown out of the opening when I discovered in the second paragraph who the characters are. That meant I had visualized the scene all wrong.

When you say “materialize”, do you mean the two characters just pouf out of nowhere? If so, that definitely piques my interest. I want to know why they are able to do this, why they are at Tessa’s house, and where they came from.

The ‘m’ in mother would not be capitalized because you have an article with it. If you were saying ‘but with Mother being fluent in at least a dozen animal languages, I’ve picked up a few things,’ then the ‘m’ would be capitalized.

The last sentence is a little confusing. It doesn’t sound like Vixen ran inside the house. It sounds like he ran away while still outside. Also, the sentence sounds a little off because you’ve got something happening in present tense following an action that is also written in present tense. By the time the cat darts inside, Vixen has already yelped and bolted inside. Maybe change it to something like: ‘Vixen yelps and bolts inside. Charlemagne darts after him.’ This also adds suspense because you have to wait a beat to find out how the cat reacts to Vixen bolting inside the house. 

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Possible rewrite based on both sets of comments:


We materialize outside Tessa’s apartment, the hem of my skirt catching on the scratchy bush near the walkway. I follow Charlemagne as she prances toward the front door, while Tessa's dog Vixen yaps my name over and over again.
 Grizzy. Grizzy. Grizzy. 
Whatever else he's barking is lost on me. I don't know much Dog, but with a mother who's fluent in  a dozen animal languages, I've picked up a few things.
            I'm way more fluent in Cat.
            Charlemagne's ears prick up.  "Not if I get you first," she meows.
            My eyes snap to the window, where a flicker of movement appears from behind the open drapes.   Tessa answers the door before I have a chance to knock. Vixen yelps and bolts inside. Charlemagne darts after him.

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Two different viewpoints to take or leave. Thanks for this great entry!


Do you want YOUR first 100 words work-shopped? Email me!

12 comments:

Sarah said...

I actually liked the "fluent in cat" line AFTER the cat speaks. It's a nice completion of that little sequence. When it comes before, it's like telegraphing the punch. Apart from that, I think these suggestions are spot on. I was actually concerned that the very first line was a bit of a wasted opportunity. There's a lot going on in this beginning, so many clever things to say about it, but I got distracted immediately picturing a bush growing out of the side of an apartment. And then--it took me awhile to figure out who was talking (still a bit confused--that's why letting us know his/her name in the manner suggested would be great) and to get all the names straight. Despite that, I think this is a great beginning with a ton of potential!

Christina Lee said...

This was a tougher one to critique (it's already a GREAT start), so feel free to give any two cents, please!

Jen Daiker said...

I really enjoyed Stina's rewrite. I'm afraid, while I was reading, I had no idea what was happening. I didn't know she was a witch until Christina pointed it out. I love the fluent in cat portion, but I'm afraid I was lost on everything else.

That being said, your target audience loved it, so I say the choice is yours!

Great job again ladies, I love these!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I was surprised, too, when I found out the girl was a witch. Not that it has to be revealed in the beginning. It adds suspense.

salarsenッ said...

First I'd like to say that I heard voice in this piece, which was good. I have to agree about the first line. I honestly had no idea what was going on. I liked both critiques, but Stina's hit home a little more, especially where 'materialize' stands. That definitely makes me curious. I'd just like a bit more explanation after. It doesn't have to be much. Maybe a self-reflective statement about being a witch.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I wasn't crazy about the opening line, but I really liked the dog barking her name and her not picking up the rest. I kind of wanted the passage to start THERE.

Like: No sooner do we materialize at Tessa's apartment than I hear her dog Vixen barking my name over and over again. Whatever else he's barking is lost on me. I don't know much Dog, but with a Mother who's fluent in at least a dozen animal languages, I've picked up a few things.

You can introduce Charlemagne's name in the next paragraph. What do you think?

Christina Lee said...

Dianne--YESSSS!!

That's it (with Grizzy Grizzy Grizzy added in, IMO)! I love it (maybe the author will too). THANKS!

Joanne said...

It's amazing how a critique pointing out a few inconsistencies really tightens up the passage ... Great job ladies!

Lourie said...

I love first person view points because it is like they are talking directly to you.

I have always (still do) had problems with verb tenses. My English teachers always caught me on it.

I like that Stina shared it with her kids. Perfect.

I was a little confused at first by who was there. I thought it was two humans and the cat. Def intriguing though.

blueviolet said...

Such great critiques, and they really do help clarify things in that section.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Fabulous rewrite! I love it!

Susan R. Mills said...

Love it. Great crit. I was very confused about things, but the rewrite made it much clearer.