First Page Feedback: The Digital Letter

Copies of Lorin and Brenda's feedback are available for download in the Resources for Writers section under Extras. 

If you're interested in submitting your first page (up to 250 words) for feedback, please email a Word doc or text file copy to erin_anderson@free-expressions.com. 

Feedback sessions are also open for QUERY LETTER submissions (up to 400 words)! Email a Word doc or text file copy to erin_anderson@free-expressions.com to participate.

 

The Digital Letter by Judy C.

Original: 

The Beast was back. It crouched just inside Mom’s eyes, ready to pounce. The farmer’s market was packed. The streets around the Capitol Square crawled with people, including a guy on stilts. Canopies of veggie, fruit and bakery stands stood so close together they made a roof above the sidewalk. Mom could handle crowds, but the Beast couldn't.

If I could lay out the creature in Mr. Schultz’s science lab, I’d dissect the nasty thing. (Only if it was already dead, of course. I would never actually kill anything. Not even the Beast.)

But if the brute was preserved in formaldehyde, I’d lop off the top of its skull and remove its brain. I’d slice off a slimy section and examine it under a microscope to figure out why the ugly, little demon refused to stay away from my mother.

My problem was the Beast was alive and well and hunkered behind Mom’s pupils. He'd visited off and on for years, but lately had practically moved in.  And he was such a rude guest. Never called first. Stayed too long. Always left a mess.

“Where the hell is Oakhouse Bakery?” Mom said. “I want my Danish.”

“It’s where it always is,” I said. “At the end of the block.”

Mom glared at a woman who brushed past her. “Calla, you shouldn't have slept in. It’s your fault that we didn't beat the crowds today.”

Yeah, no. We were late because the Beast insisted that Mom wear those skanky red heels.  

Lorin's Feedback:

The Beast was back. It crouched just inside Mom’s eyes, ready to pounce. [It feels as though you have room to develop this intriguing idea a little further. To give it some shape and context before moving on in describing the scene. Right now, the transition between subjects feels a bit awkward to me.] The farmer’s market was packed. The streets around the Capitol Square crawled with people, including a guy on stilts. Canopies of veggie, fruit and bakery stands stood so close together they made a roof above the sidewalk. Mom could handle crowds, but the Beast couldn't. [Nicely observed. I wonder if it might help to just move this part down to the paragraph below “Always left a mess.”]

If I could lay out the creature out on a table in Mr. Schultz’s science lab, I’d dissect the nasty thing. (Only if it was already dead, of course. I would never actually kill anything. Not even the Beast.)

But if the brute was preserved in formaldehyde, I’d lop off the top of its skull and remove its brain. I’d slice off a slimy section and examine it under a microscope to figure out why the ugly, little demon refused to stay away from my mother.

My problem was the Beast was alive and well and hunkered behind Mom’s pupils. He'd visited off and on for years, but lately had practically moved in. And he was such a rude guest. Never called first. Stayed too long. Always left a mess. [While I understand the narrator’s impulse and feelings here, this section feels a bit digressive and somehow mild, rendered so lightly that it dilutes the tension of the opening. Is this an accurate depiction of how your narrator truly feels about what I’m taking to be either mom’s addiction or psychological disorder? Is it ironic or amusing to her? Might it be better/more potent if she responded with wariness to its presence, if we got a sense of her trying to “manage” it—and her mother—but waiting for the inevitable lashing out from The Beast?]

“Where the hell is Oakhouse Bakery?” Mom said. [Perhaps a bit of physical detail to bring the mother into concrete focus for the reader.] “I want my Danish.”

“It’s where it always is,” I said. “At the end of the block.”

Mom glared at a woman who brushed past her. “Calla, you shouldn't have slept in. It’s your fault that we didn't beat the crowds today.”

Yeah, no. We were late because the Beast insisted that Mom wear those skanky red heels. [Really nice.]

Thanks so much for sharing your opening with me! You’re off to a potent start here. The prose is deft and well paced, and the scenario definitely piques reader interest.

As mentioned above, my one greatest concern here has to do with tone, with the emotional texture you’re weaving through the opening. My feeling is that Calla’s attitude of insouciance may be dulling the teeth of the story at a point where you want to draw the reader in, keep things tense and mysterious.

Further, I’d love to see her engage in a bit more action right away, in stepping in, as I said, to try to “manage” the Beast’s behavior. If she’s used to its presence, she’d have coping strategies of some kind to at least attempt to employ. Giving her a goal, something to desire, and making her mother/The Beast a greater source of opposition right away will give all of this a great deal more “punch.”

Again, thanks for sharing. Best of luck with your work!

-- Lorin