First Page Feedback: Bitter Envy

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

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Bitter Envy by Kim W.

 

Original: 

 I learned two important things the night of my sweet sixteen party. In a drunken display worthy of a frat boy, my father announced to the crowd that he named me Envy as his idea of a sick joke. I also discovered that I tortured and killed an innocent man.

Amid laughter and shrieks of joy, my fingernails tear through the crumpled paper clenched in my fist, digging into my palm. The pain helps keep the tears at bay, for the moment at least. The sounds of the party are hollow in my ears as I stare into the dancing flames of the massive bonfire on the beach.

I turn away from the spirited group to walk up the coastline, still crinkling the offending note in my hand. Not one of the many partygoers follows me as I walk toward the pounding surf. The sand squishes beneath my toes and salty spray tickles at my face, stinging my eyes. The cold water of the Pacific Ocean laps over my bare feet, leaving behind pieces of kelp entwined around my ankles. I don’t bother to kick the seaweed away. As more pieces wind around my lower legs, they feel like ropes binding me to this fate I never chose, would never wish on anyone.

When the noise is a distant roar I stop, glancing over my shoulder at the raging party. Unfolding the note, I read the incriminating words again in the dim light of the full moon. Blinking back tears I read and reread the note until I’ve memorized every line.

 

Brenda's Feedback: 

 

The night of my sweet sixteen party, I learned two important things. [Rearranging the phrasing sets us in a specific time and place first, then ends with the focus on the information to come.] In a drunken display worthy of a frat boy, my father announced to the crowd that he named me Envy [as his idea of a sick joke. This is a powerful idea, though I feel it would have even more punch with a specific clue about his motivation. A sick joke for what purpose? Was he trying to make a point? If, for example, he intended for her name to remind her mother of something she’d done to him, we immediately have more potential conflict and tension.]  I also discovered that I tortured and killed an innocent man. [Again, this is compelling, but it could be even stronger with a clarifying detail or two. I felt a bit unclear about which part of this was new information. I’m assuming she discovered the man’s innocence that night, but, as written, it could also suggest that she’d been responsible for his torture and death without full awareness. Really evocative material overall.]

Amid laughter and shrieks of joy, my fingernails tear through the crumpled paper clenched in my fist, digging into my palm. [A bit disorienting here, since we seem to have darted forward in time, beyond the moments highlighted above. The tense also changes, revealing that the story is actually being told from a future point as the character looks back on what she learned. Have you considered allowing her father’s announcement to unfold in real time on the page? Even if your intention is for her to be reflecting back to an earlier event in her life, allowing the reader to experience the moment of his announcement with her could add great intensity.] The pain helps keep the tears at bay, for the moment at least. The sounds of the party are hollow in my ears as I stare into the dancing flames of the massive bonfire on the beach. [Strong emotion at work here—nice job.]

I turn away from the spirited group to walk up the coastline, still crinkling the offending note in my hand. Not one of the [/many] partygoers follows [/me] as I walk toward the pounding surf. The sand squishes beneath my toes and salty spray tickles at my face, stinging my eyes. The cold water of the Pacific Ocean laps over my bare feet, leaving [/behind] pieces of kelp entwined around my ankles. I don’t bother to kick the seaweed away, [/as more pieces wind around my lower legs they feel like] the strands like ropes binding me to this fate I never chose, would never wish on anyone. [Excellent job using the physical setting to intensify emotion.]

When the noise [/is] becomes a distant roar, I stop, glancing over my shoulder at the raging party. Unfolding the note, I read the incriminating words again in the dim light of the full moon. Blinking back tears, I read and reread the note until I’ve memorized every line. [I love the contrast between the serene setting and the powerful emotion here.]

 

Thank you so much for sharing your opening with us, Kimberly. This already feels like a little powder keg of a situation, with things just waiting to explode and set others on fire—so nice work there!

Overall, I do feel as though this passage would benefit from the addition of clarifying details. While it’s extremely important to create questions that pull your reader forward into the story, it’s equally important for him/her to feel grounded in the situation, fully aware of the ‘what,’ if not the ‘why.’ As currently written, I did feel a somewhat adrift, both in terms of larger perspective/orientation (Where is Envy now? How old is she? What’s caused her to look back?) and the specific, moment to moment story action of this particular night.

For example, we open with what she’s learned—a great hook overall, by the way, since both revelations are compelling and potentially devastating—but then we slip both backward in time and forward past the moment of her father’s announcement and the receipt of the note, which made me feel a bit disoriented and lost. Since this is the very beginning of your story, and we haven’t had a chance to really connect to Envy as yet, I worry that readers will feel more frustrated than intrigued.

I do think it’s worth considering whether her father’s comments should be incorporated into the story exactly as they occur, as I feel great potential for drama and emotion there. You really do have some terrific story elements in place—and we’re only one page in!—so I’d love to see you make them more concrete and specific and really capitalize on their power. Also, because I know this is YA Urban Fantasy, if there are other elements at work here related to genre and world that would help the reader understand or clarify shifts in time or perspective, it would be effective to work in clues here as well.

I hope that’s helpful! Thank you again for your willingness to share!

-- Brenda