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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions #17

First Impressions #17

The second First Impressions critique for the month of August comes to us from someone I know well … my 14-year-old daughter, Gabbey. This is the first page of her fantasy novel, The Mirror’s Curse.
Must keep running. Have to get out of here. Have to get out of here.
The boy stumbled as he ran, weaving through the thick, snaring collection of trees, tripping periodically over roots and the uneven ground, his boots tromping loudly on the dried leaves that scattered the forest floor. His lungs burned fiercely, but he had to run. He had to run. It didn’t matter where.
Thoughts of Tibius and Ava whirled about his head, spun around him, chasing away the sensible thoughts that tried to cross his mind. Tibius was dead. Ava was dead. And he was next. At least, he was supposed to be next.
He knew they were still chasing him, and he knew escape was invaluable. But where was he to run? Finally overwhelmed by his fear and the responsibilities that had recently landed on his shoulders, the boy stopped abruptly mid-stride, unsure of where to turn. Blackness surrounded him, the trees seemed to mock his uncertainty. If he didn’t run, they’d find him. If they found him, they’d kill him. If they killed him—
His feet skidded along the ground as he began to run again, but he shouldn’t have given them the chance to catch up. The black shapes flickered in and out of his peripheral vision, and whenever he stopped to turn he saw nothing. A hand with claws like death shot out of the bushes and grabbed hold of his ankle.
He let out a startled yelp of surprise and fell to the ground, hitting it hard but barely noticing as he turned over onto his back and tried to pull from the grasp of his shadowy attacker. A long hiss made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and he yanked himself free before scrambling up, stumbling towards the thick wall of trees, the sight of which he now welcomed.
There was a loud whoosh, and a hand grabbed hold of the back of his shirt collar. The boy thrashed and swung his fists blindly in a flurry of panic, but the person spun him around and hauled him up into the air.
The boy grabbed hold of the figure’s hand, twisting and trying to pry himself away, but the dark figure held tight as though he had fingers of iron. He, too was shrouded in blackness, just as the creatures around him had been—but even in the dim, moonless night, the boy recognized him all too well.
Gabbey has heard my response to this opening many times, so I’ll keep this brief and ask my blog readers to chime in with their comments and suggestions.
The passage starts us off with heart-pounding action and vivid imagery. I especially like “the trees seemed to mock his uncertainty.” Gabbey uses some excellent words here, especially verbs – but there are too many adverbs. Now, I’m not a writer who advocates annihilating all adverbs, but I do think they need to be used carefully. If you’ve got more than one in a sentence, you’ve probably got too many. I tend to overuse adverbs in my first draft, then weed them out afterwards. Sometimes adjectives need the same treatment. If Gabbey takes out some of the modifiers, her other excellent words will shine!
Be sure and check out Marcy Hatch’s comments on Mainewords. Thanks, Gabbey, for sharing your first page with us! (Love, Mom)

7 Responses to First Impressions #17

  1. Sarah says:

    First, Dianne, could you check the font color of Gabbey’s opening? It showed up as black on black and I had to highlight the text so I could see it (but could read your comments just fine).

    Next–I thought this was really well-written overall. One thing that did strike me in a few places was some phrases and words that could be deleted because Gabbey had already done a great job of showing what was happening:

    “startled yelp of surprise”–in this case, probably “yelped” would be sufficient, because we know he’s startled and surprise essentially means the same thing. When I see stuff like this, I want to tell the writer: trust yourself. You’re doing a great job painting the picture for me, and I don’t need you to tell me he’s surprised because I FEEL it and SEE it already!

    Same thing with “swung his fists blindly in a flurry of panic.” I already know he’s panicking, so if you just tell me he swung his fists (I don’t mind the adverb “blindy” here as long as the rest is deleted), I don’t need to be told he’s in a “flurry of panic.”

    So, Gabbey–trust yourself. You’re a great writer, and you do an amazing job of painting the picture. Tighten up those little bits, and you’ve got a breathless, suspenseful, unputdownable beginning!! I definitely want to read more!

  2. Wow! What a talented young writer! (Gee, I wonder where she got that?)

    I agree with the comments about eliminating some of the adverbs. Using too many of them dilutes their impact. Also, most of the writing does an outstanding job of drawing us into the story, but referring to the runner as “the boy” distances us. “He” might work better. The phrase “grabbing hold of” or “grab hold of” appears several times. I’d get rid of the “hold of” part.

    Overall, this is an outstanding piece of writing. (even if the writer WEREN’T fourteen!) Wow.

  3. Excellent Gabbey!!! I am so impressed! I wish you the best of luck with your writing!

    Dianne – great note about the adverbs! Man, I didn’t realize just how many I used in my MS until I did a search for them… and came back with HUNDREDS. When I did a hack and delete adverbs fest the other day, I ended up removing 600 of them 🙂 Those are tricky little guys! But after deleting them, I realize that they only made my writing appear less confident.

  4. Linda G. says:

    Wow! You sure you’re only 14, Gabbey? I could only dream about writing this well at your age.

    This is a real grabber of an opener — I like the setup. I do agree with your mom and the other commenters about the adverbs. Personally, I adore adverbs, and always pepper my first drafts with way too many, but I’ve come to realize that less really is more.

    Keep on writing! You’re going places. 🙂

  5. WOWEE!!!! I am impressed with how wonderful this is–you are on your way to a great career (if that’s what you aspire to)!!!

    Take away the adverbs and redundant phrases that water down the great writing and you are on your way!

  6. Thank you everyone so much for sharing your thoughts! I have read what you said and I will definitely try to cut down on my adverb usage in the future. Thanks again! 😀

  7. Aubrie says:

    Wow, that is very good for 14 years old. And she does archery, too!

    You must be very proud.