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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impression #19

First Impression #19

Our fourth and final First Impressions post for August comes from Matthew Reeves, author of the wildly successful cell phone novel Once Upon a Christmas Wish.

This sample is the first page of his currently untitled YA historical fantasy, set against the backdrop of World War II:

“Will,” a voice spoke softly, breaking the silence that had only moments before surrounded his thoughts.

Looking up, a small yet noticeable yawn escaping from his lips, the young man quickly found himself greeted by a familiar face.

“Is there anything I can get for you?” the flight stewardess asked, flashing a large smile.

It was the same smile from before.

Straightening up from his slouched position, he shook his head, “Thank you, but it’s alright. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?” she said eyeing him, “There aren’t many your age who can handle flying alone so easily.”

“Yes,” he nodded, flashing back a timid smile of his own, “Quite sure.”

“Okay, but remember, if you should need anything, anything at all, I’m only a wave away,” she winked.

He gave another nod.

As the woman continued to move down the aisle of the plane, passing his seat and the vacant one behind, he let his eyes gradually follow after her. She had been the first person to greet him when he and the other passengers had boarded. Being as nervous as he was, he had blurted out his own name immediately upon seeing her. With a laugh she had welcomed him and politely replied with her own.

“Susan…” he whispered to no one in particular.

She was from Britain, the same as himself.

Yorkshire, to be exact.

Turning his head back to the window, he continued to stare out at the alien view that lay beyond the pane of glass.

“We should be approaching the Almaza Airport very soon,” spoke one of the flight attendants after peaking her head inside the pilot’s cockpit.

‘Cairo,’ he thought with a mix of anxious and nervous heart beats.

My first thought is that I’d like to visualize the setting a little more clearly, since I know it’s historical. Although I’m sure the year will become clear once Will disembarks in Cairo, there could still be some hints here. For example, Will might see propellers on the wings of the plane out a window, feel the throb of the engines, or even straighten his tie and suit coat when he wakes up, (I imagine that is what he might be wearing in the 1940’s). These details will give us the sense right from the start of the time period. It will also explain the solicitousness of the stewardess, for Will is obviously not a small child needing her attention.

It might also be nice to have a more intimate glimpse of his thoughts, if only the tiniest hint of why he’s traveling to Cairo on his own – or excitement about the flight itself if this is his first time. (Is he sorry to have slept through part of it?) I want to like this polite young man, flying without any family with Egypt, and giving me a peek inside his head will help me connect with him right away.

In editing notes, “peaking” should be “peeking” and I would drop the word “gradually” from “let his eyes gradually follow after her” because I think it reads more smoothly without it.

Overall, the combination of World War II, Cairo, this young man, and the designation of the novel as “fantasy” pique my curiosity about the story! Thanks, Matt, for sharing your work with us. Readers, please check out Marcy’s critique on Mainewords – as well as Matt’s website. You can also find him on Twitter.

3 Responses to First Impression #19

  1. Sarah says:

    First, er, Dianne … there’s something up with your font color again. Today I’m seeing just white highlighting on the black background. BUT! When I highlighted the text, I could read it.

    So … I agree this is a really interesting premise and I love the idea of a YA historical fantasy set during that particular time period! I also agree that this opening would really sing if it were infused with details that SHOW us the time period rather than telling us.

    This opening does need some good editing, however. My eyes got stuck on the very first sentence, and until I read it four or five times, I was convinced there was a word missing. Now, that might just be me, but you probably want a smooth opening sentence that launches you right into the story.

    There are extra words here that could be deleted for tightening (“a small yet noticeable yawn” could really just be “a small yawn”, as the “noticeable” part doesn’t add anything meaningful; “quickly found himself greeted” could really just be “was greeted”, or you could just delete the adverb). Be super careful with things like commas before participial phrases (“she said eying him” should be “she said, eying him”). Try to avoid repetition and overused phrases (both the stewardess and Will “flash” smiles). You have a few dialogue tags that are action tags (“yes,” he nodded; “… wave away,” she winked), and these things will really stick out to an agent or editor as rookie mistakes, even if they’re not. Clean that stuff up and you’ll have a great beginning!

    Best of luck with this, Matt!

  2. Linda G. says:

    A YA historical fantasy set during WWII is a great idea — love it, and this is a good start! 🙂

    I do agree with your suggestions, Dianne, and with Sarah’s too. But those are easy tweaks.

    Best of luck with this, Matthew. 🙂

  3. Good start, and I agree with the comments Dianne and Sarah already made.

    If Dianne hadn’t already told us, I would’ve had no idea when this story was taking place. It was also difficult to get a handle on how old the “young man” is. Why is the stewardess concerned about him traveling alone? He doesn’t speak like a child, so I assume he isn’t one. And if he’s not a child, I think he might take offense at the expressed concern.