First Page Feedback: Ilia's Secret

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. 

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Ilia's Secret by Cal R. 

Original: 

 

A still kitchen with the scents of another missed meal greets me as I enter from the garage. Muffled laughter from Laura and someone else—a boy—reaches me from upstairs. Jan must be in her office or busy elsewhere. At fourteen Laura has arrived at a place in her life where I worry about her with boys. Not that I don’t trust her—a father couldn’t be more proud of his daughter. And not that I’m an expert, either, given what I went through growing up. But I was fourteen once, and that lends me a clue as to what goes through a boy’s adventurous mind when he’s with an attractive girl. I have only to hear his voice for paternal instincts and fears I’m not supposed to have to crash over me like a tsunami.

I find her door closed, which only spikes my unease. Resisting the urge to let myself in, I take a deep breath and knock. “Sweetie?” No answer. “Okay if I come in?” I call, a bit more loudly.

“Yes, Dad,” she calls.

She sits on the floor next to a boy, their backs against her bed, facing me, a laptop slung across their thighs. Seeing me wince at their touching thighs, the boy shoves aside his laptop and stands, helping Laura up with him.

“Mr. Nichols,” he says, offering a hand. “I’m Jared.” A confident handshake, which does nothing to allay my concern. “We were just watching a You Tube video,” he explains. “The one with the dog.”

 

Lorin's Feedback

A still kitchen with the The scents of another missed meal greets me as I enter from the garagethe kitchen. [Even edited, I’m not sure this makes for the most compelling opening line. Though the element of the missed meal lends intrigue, it sets up the reader for a small, domestic scene that feels a bit too typical to really compel reader interest. I wonder, too, if you might give us another beat or two of description to bring the scene into sharper focus? What meal has he missed? Is a plate left out for him or are all remnants cleaned up so there’s nothing left?] Muffled laughter from Laura and someone else—a boy—reaches me from upstairs. Jan must be in her office or busy elsewhere. At fourteen, Laura has arrived at a place in her life where I worry about her with boys. Not that I don’t trust her—a father couldn’t be more proud of his daughter. And not that I’m an expert, either, given what I went through growing up. But I was fourteen once, and that lends me a clue as to what goes through a boy’s adventurous mind when he’s with an attractive girl. [Great] I have only to hear his voice for paternal instincts and fears I’m not supposed to have to crash over me like a tsunami. [Good. The scene could use a stronger sense of focus and propulsion. Does he come through that door w/ any goal at all, I wonder? Even if just to connect w/ his daughter?]/

I find her door closed, which only spikes my unease. Resisting the urge to let myself in, I take a deep breath and knock. “Sweetie?” No answer. “Okay if I come in?” I call, a bit more loudly.

“Yes, Dad,” she calls.

She sits on the floor next to a boy, their backs against her bed, facing me, a laptop slung across their thighs. [Perhaps another beat here, sensory detail to bring the two into focus.] Seeing me wince at their touching thighs, the boy shoves aside his laptop and stands, helping Laura up with him.

“Mr. Nichols,” he says, offering a hand. “I’m Jared.” A confident handshake, which does nothing to allay my concern. “We were just watching a You Tube video,” he explains. “The one with the dog.”

Thanks for sharing this with me, Cal. I think you’ve done a great job of embedding subtle hints that your protagonist is not quite an average dad, with lines like “paternal instincts and fears I’m not supposed to have” creating a light, almost subliminal friction here.

I’m not sure, however, that someone unfamiliar with the story would feel compelled to keep reading based on what you’ve presented. Can you go further, I wonder, in terms of creating a sense of mystery and tension? Can you give us something just a touch more overt to suggest that there’s something lurking beneath the surface of this scene? Can you suggest some goal on the part of the character entering the scene or an even greater feeling that things are not quite right in this setting?

I think the idea of this is effective but its execution isn’t quite there yet. Would love to see a revision if you’d care to share it.

Thanks again, and good luck!

--Lorin