First Page Feedback: Widow's Gold

First Page Feedback: Widow's Gold by Mary E.

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:

Maggie’s hands curled into fists around the starched damask. Six months may have passed since General Lee’s surrender, but forgiveness didn’t come easily. If it came at all. The war was over, but the sight of a blue uniform still turned her mouth to ash and dropped a twenty-pound lead weight in her stomach.

Blast it. Having Yankee soldiers crawling all over her city, day in and day out, was humiliating enough, but this one had the temerity to be standing on her front porch. When she blinked, an image of Michael in grey wool—the Stars and Bars unfurled in the background—flickered against her closed eyes. The curtain slipped through her fingers, falling back in place. The war—no, not the war, the defeat— pushed in all around her, tightening her throat around the clot that formed at the sight of the soldier. Swallowing was almost impossible.

He raised his hand to knock again, but she cracked the door open, just enough to let him know she’d seen him, before he had the chance. Behind her, she heard her daughter clattering down the stairs and her cousin shooing her away in hushed whispers.

The soldier dropped his hand to his side and waited.

Etiquette be damned. Mama might roll over in her grave, but Maggie’d die before she’d invite him into her parlor. Manners and Southern hospitality, ingrained from birth in all ladies of social standing, did not extend to Yankee soldiers. She stepped outside and let the door slam behind her. 

Resplendent in a starched uniform, he presented a sharp contrast to the peeling balustrade. The sunlight glinted off his brass buttons. Unlike most everything else in Richmond, there was nothing shabby about him. She’d wager he hadn’t had to scavenge for any meals lately.     

Lorin's Feedback:

Maggie’s hands curled into fists around the starched damask. [Though this does suggest a level of tension, I’m afraid I don’t find the line quite gripping enough to really serve as a powerful launching point for your story. I wonder if, instead, your real first line can be found in the second paragraph, with the slight variation of substituting Maggie’s name for the last pronoun in the sentence, i.e., “…standing on Maggie’s front porch.”] Six months may have passed since General Lee’s surrender, but forgiveness didn'twouldn’t come easily. [Would use the speculative tense, as she hasn’t extended the forgiveness yet.] If it came at all. The war was over, but the sight of a blue uniform still turned her mouth to ash and dropped a twenty-pound lead weight in her stomach. [Nice!]

Blast it. Having Yankee soldiers crawling all over her city, day in and day out, was humiliating enough, but this one had the temerity to be standing on her front porch. When she blinked, an image of Michael in grey wool—the Stars and Bars unfurled in the background—flickered against her closed eyes.

[New paragraph to let the preceding sentiment resonate for an additional beat.] The curtain slipped through her fingers, falling back in place. The war—no, not the war, the defeat— pushed in all around her, tightening her throat around the clot that formed at the sight of the soldier. Swallowing was almost impossible. [More powerful to leave off with preceding sentiment.]

He raised his hand to knock again, but before he completed the gestures, she cracked the door open, just enough to let him know she’d seen him, before he had the chance. Behind her, she heard her daughter clattering down the stairs and her cousin shooing her away in hushed whispers.

The soldier dropped his hand to his side and waited.

Etiquette be damned. Mama might roll over in her grave, but Maggie’d die before she’d invite him into her parlor.  Manners and Southern hospitality, ingrained from birth in all ladies of social standing, did not extend to Yankee soldiers. [Dilutes the impact of the preceding and doesn’t add new dimension to the thought.] She stepped outside and let the door slam behind her. 

Resplendent in a starched uniform, he presented a sharp contrast to the peeling balustrade. The sunlight glinted off his brass buttons. [This gives me more information about his clothing than about him—his expression, physical appearance (beyond the uniform). Is that what her eyes alight on first? Could he have some other more compelling feature that draws her to him?] Unlike most everything else in Richmond, there was nothing shabby about him. She’d wager he hadn’t had to scavenge for any meals lately. [Great!]      

 

Hi, Mary!

Thanks so much for sharing your opening page with me. It was a pleasure to read your polished and fluid prose.

You did a great job of establishing time and place quickly and of introducing a level of tension and inner conflict for your protagonist. I’m certainly intrigued to read on to discover the purpose of the Yankee soldier’s visit!

That said, I wonder if this opening serves you quite as well as it might. It feels as though it could benefit from a more direct source of external conflict—moving us to Maggie’s confrontation of the soldier sooner, perhaps—as well as a stronger sense of personality/voice for your protagonist.

In other words, while the writing is adept, as is your expression of her emotions, I didn’t feel as though Maggie leaped off the page for me as a compelling, textured character. We could get a stronger sense of her voice here, perhaps—one that peeks through in the lines, “Etiquette be damned. Mama might roll over in her grave, but Maggie’d die before she’d invite him into her parlor.”

In other words, we could use more personality on Maggie’s part right away, get a stronger sense of her wit, spunk, confidence—whatever it is that makes her compelling and awesome. Consider, for example, the difference between “Maggie’s hands curled into fists around the damask curtain” and “So help her, if that Yankee knocked on her door one more time, Maggie would fetch her papa’s rifle.”

Of course, that’s clearly not the voice or temperament you have in mind for Maggie. My point is more about helping her rise off the page a bit more fully via giving her more attitude, more energy, and a stronger sense of drive as soon as possible.

Well done work, though. I wish you all the best with it, and thank you again for participating in our little experiment here! 

-- Lorin