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Affirmative, Beltsville. I read you loud and clear.

Below we have the first paragraph of a Fantasy novel. As always, to remain unbiased no cover will be shown and the title is found at the end of this post. My comments on the other side:

An inexplicably unoccupied home would not be what the Santiago family would be expecting, when they went to see relatives.  Only nine year old daughter Samantha would get privileged with an explanation, though incomplete and bizarre.  She would also get assigned a task, equally bizarre.  For completion of that task, plus a fuller explanation of what happened to her cousins and the rest, she would have to wait sixty years.

Lots of mystery in this initial foray into the book. It implies a disappearance, the explanation of which is promised to be unexpected, and a mission given to a young girl that will take most of her life to complete. All of this has the potential for a great hook but there are a few things holding it back.

Let’s examine this section by section

An inexplicably unoccupied home would not be what the Santiago family would be expecting, when they went to see relatives. Only nine year old daughter Samantha would get privileged with an explanation, though incomplete and bizarre.

The first sentence is rough around the edges. The word “inexplicably” makes the line clunky in general, as does the multiple use of “would”. But even beyond that, this sentence tells me something strange is going on, rather than showing me. The impact of the disturbance is much diluted as a result.

The second sentence actually jumps away from the immediate scene and is exposition of the future. It, again, tells the reader to expect something strange, rather than showing it. A hook is meant to grab a reader’s attention and pull them into the action of the moment, not hint at the potential action they’ll find 100 or even 10 pages from now. As the saying goes, a reader will wait a long time for an explanation if something is happening and are otherwise fickle with their attention.

She would also get assigned a task, equally bizarre.  For completion of that task, plus a fuller explanation of what happened to her cousins and the rest, she would have to wait sixty years.

The action of the moment continues to hit a brick wall as we’re promised that something interesting will happen…just not yet. Why make them wait? Come right out of your corner swinging. And holy spoiler alert! This seems like it gives away not just the ending but the surprise of Samantha’s task. Author intrusion often has that effect on a manuscript. Let things unfold naturally as the characters move through the story and keep that close third person perspective so the reader can live those experiences with them.

Flight Director’s proposed adjustment to the flight path

I recommend the author stay with the tension of the initial scene and have the characters explore the immediate question: Where is everyone?

The following rewrite attempts to expand on the mood implied in the first sentence.

No one answered the door. Lamplight pressed against Auntie Magda’s curtains at the front window and the low murmur of the television slid through the mail slot. Beyond this, there was no reply. Not even their dog barked. As Samantha’s father tried the doorbell again, she peered around him to the empty driveway. Her teenage cousins usually scrapped around the basketball hoop at this hour, throwing elbows and hooting over a score. Now only the cicadas spoke into the twilight.

A Tale of Four Planets (Book One: Sessions With the Seer) by David Taylor

What do you think of this first paragraph? Would you keep reading? Other suggestions or tips?

Would you like to test out your hook? Email your first paragraph to me at FineFablesPress@gmail.com

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