Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni author Dianne Salerni books Dianne Salerni blog Dianne Salerni Appearances Dianne Salerni contact Dianne Salerni teachers
Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions #14

First Impressions #14

Today’s post is our second First Impressions critique for July. This is the opening page of a YA dystopian novel called MASQUE, by Sarah Keith.

I knew what was wrong even before my mother started weeping. There was only one reason for someone to ring at our house at this time of night. Something was wrong with Molly.

My eyes snapped open as soon as I heard the little tinkling at the front of the house. My parents entered the hallway about the same time that I did. There were no locks on our doors, or on the doors of any other house in the hamlet. And as soon as I saw Charles standing inside the front door of our home, I registered how short my nightgown was, how sheer.

I wasn’t used to seeing him so close. On stage, he’d always looked so confident. Framed in my tiny front room, he looked taller than usual. His strawberry-blond hair, usually slicked back, fell into his eyes now. His face was etched in a strange sorrow. I wrapped my arms around my chest as I stood in the hallway. I watched my father go up to Charles and take the small letter he held in his hand.

“Please read it,” Charles said. “I don’t know what it says. I don’t even know what has happened.”

My father opened the parchment and scanned it quickly, then looked up at Charles. “You have no idea where she could have gone? Why?”

Charles shook his head. “I wish I did, sir. This letter was given to me by the writer. I was given no other information.”

“But you two were so close. Surely you must know something.” This time, my mother spoke. She was a stout, careful woman, and she had been suffering in an unnatural silence since she awoke. The sound of her voice comforted me. My mother only really frightened me when she had nothing at all to say.

This first page causes me to make several assumptions. I am guessing Molly is the narrator’s sister, and I also suspect the narrator has a slight crush on Charles, considering how she thinks of her own appearance as soon as she sees him. Molly has vanished, but the family isn’t entirely surprised because they seemed to be expecting bad news about her, according to the first paragraph. So far, the story has my attention! I want to know what Charles is to Molly, what the letter says, and who gave it to him, if it wasn’t Molly herself.

I think the dialogue between the father and Charles is a little stiff. Unless this formal style of speech is purposely part of the dystopian setting, I would suggest using more contractions. Also, if Charles cares for Molly at all, I’d like to see more distress in his words.

These lines gave me some trouble: This letter was given to me by the writer. I was given no other information. I had trouble putting my finger on it, but finally decided it seemed a strange response to the question: You have no idea where she could have gone? I am thinking it might seem more natural for Charles to say something along the lines of: I wish I did, sir. But as you can see, the letter doesn’t say.

Finally, the first line reads: I knew what was wrong even before my mother started weeping. But the mother doesn’t weep in this passage. In fact, it says that she’d been suffering in unnatural silence since she’d been awakened. So, I think it’s got to be one or the other – weeping or silence. And if it’s weeping, then I want to know when she bursts into tears. Is it when she recognizes Charles, when she sees the letter, or at some other point?

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your first page with us! It’s a tantalizing beginning, and I wish you luck with it!

You can find Sarah Keith on Twitter – and be sure to check out Mainewords for Marcy’s critique as well!

4 Responses to First Impressions #14

  1. Sarah says:

    I agree, a very intriguing beginning! Apart from your feedback, Dianne, I’d just suggest 1) changing the wording in the first para so the word “wrong” isn’t used twice, 2)there’s a lot of good showing here, but I’d love to see more of it with the mom–instead of telling me she’s a stout, careful woman, can you show me some mannerism, some way she moves her body or fusses with something, so I learn more about her without being told about her qualities outright?

    Nice job, and good luck!

  2. I liked this for the same reasons you mentioned. I also am wondering abou the time period- the letter thing sounds very regency. ALso ‘His face was etched in a strange sorrow.’ -hit me as a little choppy I would take out the ‘a’ or reword.

  3. JEM says:

    I like this opening! I didn’t get the feeling of a dystopian just from this opening piece. In fact, it feels like a historical to me, especially with the mention of a hamlet, a stage actor, and the impression that Molly needed a writer and therefore couldn’t write herself. I would definitely read more of this, I’m curious where it’s going!

  4. Lenny Lee* says:

    hi miss dianne!
    this sounds like its gonna be a pretty cool story. missing person stuff could be way exciting.for sure i wanna know where is molly & is she in trouble. for me i could need more emotion stuff and i could like not so much telling & more showing like what miss sarah fine said. cause the doors arent locked & charles got standing in the front door i didnt get what was that little tinkling at the front of the house that got her eyes snapped open?
    …hugs from lenny