First Page Feedback: Undertones

First Page Feedback: Undertones by Birgitte N.

Copies of Lorin'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 Lorin's feedback, please email a Word doc or text file copy to erin_anderson@free-expressions.com. 

Original:

Her scream wasn’t what woke me.

In that state of half-sleep, half-dream I was busy making up an alternate ending to a bit of real life that featured my little brother Nick the day he found Mom’s zip-locked bag of coke. Nick had stuck his finger in his mouth and then into the baggie and that’s when the scream slammed into my dream in that weird way where the real world becomes the dream world. Mom slapped the baggie from his fist, spilling the white powder down the front of his shirt and across the floor before shoving him away.

In my dream Mom was more worried about Nick than her stash.

In my dream she didn’t get down on her hands and knees and blow the white grains into thin sand-dune ripples so she could finger them back into the baggie. Nope. In this revised reality she swept them into the cracks between the painted floor boards and abandoned them all, every last particle, to the darkness beneath our feet.

Hey, dreamer’s rights. And because I liked my dream version better than reality, I ran it again. Except this time it wasn’t a scream that jacked my dream, it was something else—a new sound.

The kind a knife might make going through canvas.

Crap. I sat up so fast that the dark tilted and for a second I thought I was falling back into sleep instead of struggling out of it.

“Tanner?”

I turned toward my brother’s voice. Light from the kitchen traced Nick’s silhouette as he fidgeted in the doorway of our room. Eleven years old and a couple of feet taller than the eight-year-old I’d just tried to save in my dream, he was still a stick figure, all jutting bones and flesh-covered angles.

“She’s killing her people,” he said. Factual. Emotionless. The way he’d become.


Lorin's Feedback:

Her scream wasn’t what woke me. [[Might try to phrase this more actively, e.g., “Her scream didn’t wake me.” Or to reverse the syntax so that you end with the more powerful and resonant idea: “At first, I didn’t wake up when she screamed.” Play with it a bit to see if you can find that added bit of “zip.” It’s certainly an arresting idea, which deserves its due!]]

In that state of half-sleep, half-dream I was busy making up a bit of an alternate ending to real life scene that featured my little brother Nick the day he found Mom’s zip-locked bag of coke. Nick had stuck his finger in his mouth and then into the baggie, and that’s when the scream slammed into my dream in that weird way where the real world becomes the dream world. [[Could be a bit more artfully expressed here, e.g., “….in that weird way that real life has of oozing into dreams.” Something a little more taut and atmospheric, perhaps.]] Mom slapped the baggie from his fist, spilling the white powder down the front of his shirt and across the floor before shoving him away.

In my dream Mom was more worried about [[cared more about]] Nick than her stash. [[More potent and trying to help you avoid a repetition of a lot of listless “to be” verbs.]]

In my dream she didn’t get down on her hands and knees and blow the white grains into thin mini [Need a more potent choice here.] sand-dune ripples so she could finger them back into the baggie. [Great] Nope. In this revised reality she She swept them into the cracks between the painted floor boards floorboards and abandoned them all, every last particle, to the darkness beneath our feet. [Powerful]

Hey, dreamer’s rights. And because I liked my dream version better than reality, I ran it again. Except this time it wasn’t a scream that jacked my dream. , it It was something else—a new sound.

The kind a knife might make going The whisper of a knife slashing through canvas.

Crap. I sat up so fast that the dark tilted. , and for For a second, I thought I was falling back into sleep instead of struggling out of it. [Awesome]

“Tanner?”

I turned toward my brother’s voice. Light from the kitchen traced Nick’s silhouette as he fidgeted in the doorway of our room. Eleven years old and a couple of feet taller than the eight-year-old I’d just tried to save in my dream, he was still a stick figure, all jutting bones and flesh-covered angles. [[We haven’t actually seen Tanner try to save Nick in his dream. He seems to be only a spectator. It might, in fact, build the tension here and give us a stronger sense of his fierce sense of protectiveness WERE we to see him try, even in the ineffectual and frustrating way of dreams.]]

“She’s killing her people,” he said. Factual. Emotionless. The way he'd become. [[This line is SO compelling, I hate to see you dilute it by amplifying upon his expression or emotional state. It’s not necessary, as the dialogue really does the trick. And exposition of this kind of never as riveting as demonstrating someone’s character via their actions.]]


Absolutely devastating end to this moment. Birgitte! Really chilling and effective.

I’m not sure, however, that we need the device of the dream to fill us in on the circumstances of their lives together and their mother’s addiction. It feels a bit cliché and a bit low-temperature compared to the very dynamic “real time” activity in the scene—the mother’s scream, her slicing up the canvas, Tanner’s vertiginous state as he struggles from sleep, etc.

I wonder if it might be more effective to give us just a line or two about how the scream integrated into his dream—just a flash of the image of Nick and the cocaine—but get us into the waking and more critical situation more quickly. My sense is that it would give your opening greater dynamism and tension.

Lastly, as you’ll probably note from my “redline” above, you have opportunities—when you’re on the polishing draft—to rev up some of the language, find more active means of expression here and there. I find Nick’s narrative warm and confidential, definitely creating a desire to keep reading. But it could be sharpened just a bit.

Otherwise, though, this is a solid and arresting opening, which promises drama to come!

Thanks so much for participating on the blog! I appreciate it! 

-- Lorin