Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nathan Bransford's Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge

I entered the following in Nathan's contest ( and am posting it here for critique. I have a thick skin, so have at it! I greatly appreciate your feedback so that I can be the best writer possible. I'll have to take this down eventually when I start shopping it, but I'll leave it up for a while, at least!

Flying Leaps (Chick Lit, 63k words)

Kathryn sat on the bed and cried. She cried for the end of an era and the beginning of the unknown. She cried for the daughter who was on her way to her new life, a life where she didn’t need her mother to take care of her anymore. She cried for her own life, which would now be empty without a daughter to take care of. She cried because she was out of both Kleenex and donuts.

On the floor, a beagle lay sleeping, seemingly unconcerned as to the noise going on above her. She had been an active participant in the proceedings at first, howling along and sharing in the donuts, but soon became bored (about the time that the donuts ran out) and fell asleep. “Thanks for the support, Maggie,” Kathryn sobbed. Another reason to cry: unsympathetic beagles.

It was only that morning that Jessica had skipped down the aisle in her cap and gown and collected her high school diploma. Already eighteen, she had been anxious to move out of the house and out from under her mother’s thumb for months. She had been making arrangements and packing for weeks, having saved money from her part-time job to get an apartment with her friends. Kathryn had forbidden her to move out until she graduated from high school, and Jessica complied for not one minute longer than she had to. As soon as the graduation ceremony was over and the obligatory family hugs and kisses and graduation presents were exchanged, she got in her ancient Toyota and hit the road.

Kathryn knew, intellectually, that Jessica was just across town and she could visit her any time. Any time, that is, that Jessica would actually be home, rather than out working, taking college classes, or doing God-knows-what with her friends. Still, the house felt so empty without her. Grant was out playing golf, having little sympathy for Kathryn’s distress. What good was he, anyway?

The phone rang and she ignored it. How could anyone expect her to talk on the phone when she was in this state? It was a crisis, and you just can’t talk on the phone when you’re in the middle of a crisis. Ring, ring, ring. All the ringing was starting to get distracting and she was having a hard time concentrating on her grief. Ring, ring, ring. Why wasn’t the answering machine picking up? Ring, ring, ring. “Oh for Christ’s sake!” She picked up the phone. “Hello?” she answered in her best trying-not-to-sound-like-she’s-crying voice.

“Are you done yet?”

She sniffed. “Done with what?”

“Crying. Are you done crying? I want to go out for coffee, but I’m not going to do it if you’re just going to drip snot all over your latte. It’s embarrassing.” It was Fran, Kathryn’s life-long best friend.


Josephine Damian said...

Congrats on the book deal!

I remember seeing your avatar in the contest, and yes passed on it.
This is as far as I went and why.

Kathryn sat on the bed and cried (telling me, not showing - and why should I care - hgave you n=made me care? no). She cried for the end of an era and the beginning of the unknown (when I first read this, I went "huh?" - and it seems overtly melodramatic and general - this told me nothing about her conflict, nor did it make her interesting or intriguing to me). She cried for the daughter who was on her way to her new life, (at first I thought she was dead - as in "after life") a life where she didn’t need her mother to take care of her anymore (ok, so now I get it's a mom with a grown daughter - still telling, and explaining things to me) She cried for her own life, which would now be empty without a daughter to take care of (telling, explaining, generalizations and melodrama). She cried because she was out of both Kleenex and donuts (finally some details and a bit of "voice").

Show me an empty nest mom doing some emotional donut eating as she
pokes around her daughter's old room. Show me the room with a few well chosen details to give me a sense of the daughter and her relationship to the mom. Show me the mom still wearing yesterday's clothes with powered sugar sneared down the front - show me the mascara running down her face. Give me deatails that pack an emotional punch, put me as the reader in that room, standing next to that mom and wanting to give her a hug.

Jennifer Walker said...

Very, very cool, thank you! I had the scene in my head, which was supposed to be so melodramatic as to be comical. Apparently that didn't come off! I'll use your comments to make it better...thanks so much for stopping by!

Adaora A. said...

My favorite part was

"she cried because she was out of both kleenex and donuts."


I thought that was too funny for words. You had all this serious, life changing stuff and then you end the paragraph with that. I liked that.

Brigid said...

I'd start with the phone call.

(i.e., start with something happening.)

After all the reasons she was crying, I started to get bored (never good), and I skipped to the dialogue.

JD's last paragraph about "telling" (in that they tell about your character) details is good, but I still think those things will bog down your first page. The conversation can carry your exposition, if you do it well. I also think it will flow faster.

I love the kleenex/donuts comment, and I love the part about the beagle. But I think you can get the same idea across during the phone call, i.e., "dialoguedialoguedialogue." She looked down at the beagle at her feet, who had provided support until the moment the donuts ran out. Like I needed one more reason to cry, she thought. Unsympathetic beagles. "More dialogue..."

I hope this helps. I do enjoy the voice in which this was written.

Amy said...

You're already a published author and you're asking the world and everybody for a critique? (I guess that's what makes you good) I should be asking you!

I posted a short critique of your first page from Nathan's contest on my blog:

Jennifer Walker said...

Thank you so much for your comments!