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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions #31

First Impressions #31

Our third selection for First Impressions in the month of December is another NaNo project. (Looks like some awesome stuff came out of November this year!) This is a middle grade fantasy by Elizabeth Prats called CRYSTAL MILK.

It has always been her story. I’m just there, living on the outskirts.

But she changed my life.


Footsteps pounded the cobbled pavement behind me. Not good at all. A trail of marinara sauce leaked down my chin as a long piece of melted cheese flapped across my face with each step. I practically choked trying to bite the last bit of cheese while running. I darted into an alley and snorted when the cheese, covered in marinara, went up my nose. It burned! I muffled the sound with a hand over my nose. I couldn’t let them hear me. Distracted, my black t-shirt caught against a nail beside a fire escape. It tore but I didn’t stop, couldn’t stop. The footsteps became louder. So loud. Much too loud. They rattled my eardrums. I bit my lip and chanced a look back. Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness. Shadows followed, large shadows that ran across the walls. Witches.

Well, this is an interesting beginning in that it simultaneously gets my heart racing and makes me laugh. The main character seems to be in deadly peril, and yet she (he?) is apparently slobbering marinara sauce and cheese from some hastily eaten pasta meal. Or was it pizza? The stringy bits of cheese make me think PIZZA, whereas marinara sauce makes me think SPAGHETTI. Maybe pick one or the other? Anyway, I love the contrasting moods presented here.

I’d like to see this paragraph broken up for better effect. I find that shorter paragraphs tend to rev up the tension a bit and help emphasize the key elements of the scene – the pounding footsteps, the alley, the shirt caught on a nail, and the sloppy sauce. Otherwise all these wonderful details can get lost in the long paragraph.

I also have a few small editing suggestions. I’d rewrite the third sentence to say: A trail of marinara sauce leaked down my chin, and a long piece of melted cheese flapped across my face with each step. For some reason, I think it reads more smoothly that way. Also, the main character is distracted, not the t-shirt, so the subject of that sentence needs to be changed or the adjective inserted a different way. Finally, these sentences — Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness. – can be merged into one. Blinking to adjust my eyes, I stared into the darkness.

Otherwise, great job! I would definitely want to keep reading from this point. Why are witches chasing this character? And did she get to finish that marinara before she had to get up and run? LOL! Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your page with us. You can visit Elizabeth at her blog, Dorm Room Dreamer, and be sure to stop by Mainewords to read Marcy Hatch’s thoughts on this same page.

8 Responses to First Impressions #31

  1. Sarah says:

    I think all Dianne’s feedback is spot on. I agree–break this paragraph up!! You may also want to go through the ms and target other places where things are too clumped together.

    As I was reading about the sauce and the cheese, by the time I got to the third mention of it, it seemed there was just too much focus on it. Maybe cut one mention out?

    In general, I dislike the phrase “adjusted my eyes” because it seems like telling to me, and it also feels awkward, because I picture someone playing with a pair of eyeballs. I would delete that sentence altogether, because “blinking” actually is one way we adjust our vision, so it should suffice.

    All that said, I totally agree that the mixture of humor and suspense here is utterly charming, and it makes me really look forward to what’s coming next! I also LOVE this title, even though I have no idea what it means.

  2. Hah! I was thinking fried mozzarella stick. But the point is, since we were all wondering, you might just want to make it clear what this character is/was eating.

    I’m also a little confused by this setup. What is the writing that comes before the chapter heading? If it’s supposed to be some kind of part of the chapter heading, it should come after “chapter one.” If it’s something else, I don’t know what to tell you.

    Completely agree this paragraph needs to be broken up.

    There’s also a lot of disjointed writing here. Just to give one example:

    “Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness.”

    Could, or should, read:

    “Squinting, I stared into the darkness. I blinked, and I could see through it.”


    “I stared into the shadows. Blinking, I realized I could see through the darkness.”

    Something like that.

    On the other hand, this is clearly a set-up for a wonderful scene. I agree with Dianne and Sarah that the mix of tension and humor comes across perfectly for me. I would definitely read on.

  3. Linda G. says:

    Pizza and witches? Sounds like my kind of book! Like Dianne, I appreciate that touch of humor — it sets off the the rising tension, as well as keeping it from being TOO scary, which I imagine is a consideration in a middle grade book. Good job!

  4. I like that this was unusual!

    And I won’t repeat the advice others have given on how to tighten it up.

    The one thing I wanted to have was a point of reference. Where was she coming from that she had pizza or whatever in her hand–was she in a restaurant, at home or…

  5. Fiona Claire says:

    Definitely like the atmosphere – the cobblestones – and the pizza. Makes me feel like I’m heading into Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’. An excellent way to begin.

  6. One little point I’d like to make. If the cheese went up her nose, wouldn’t she cover her mouth rather than her nose to muffle the sound?

    I like the sound of this 🙂

  7. Jemi Fraser says:

    Fun! I like the opposing moods too 🙂 Great advice by all!

  8. Hey all 🙂 I wanted to thank you all for the feedback. It’s interesting to see the feedback between In High Spirits and Mainewords. It seems a lot of people on this end liked the pizza and cobblestone theme, whereas not so much on the other. 🙂 This will definitely prove helpful since I plan to query this January.

    Oh! And it is not actually a NaNo novel. Hah, it’s just a novel revised around NaNo 🙂 (Sorry for the misconception).

    Again thank you Dianne for the great feedback!