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

First Impressions: BUTTERFLIES

Headshot_CareyJune is finally here, and Carey Miller is joining us for First Impressions with the first page of her light YA science fiction story. The working title is BUTTERFLIES.

       The morning sun slants through a gap in my drapes and hits me smack in the eyes. So much for sleeping in. I wish the cat would learn how to close them after he looks out the sliders to the great outdoors. It’s not often that I get to sleep in and lolling about sounds like the best way to spend my morning.

     “Rise and shine, Starr!”

     Apparently Jazz thinks I’ve been lazy for long enough. I take a quick peek at my phone. No texts, no missed calls, no emails and it’s later than I thought.

     I roll out of bed and try to avoid looking in the mirror. Not a morning person doesn’t even begin to describe me and seeing my messy hair and eyes with bags under them never starts me out on the right foot.

     Field trip day equals wardrobe crisis. Wish I’d looked in the closet last night instead of waiting until the last minute. It’s a five hour drive to Miami and we leave right after lunch. My outfit needs to be comfortable yet fashionable and preferably something that doesn’t wrinkle easily. Then I’ll need shorts or a cool skirt for tomorrow and another outfit for the drive back home. Ugh.

     It takes a while, but I’m pretty sure I’ve put together the perfect outfits for all three days. Plus, of course, a spare shirt and skirt to use as backup. Maybe I should take one more outfit in case we go out to dinner tonight or tomorrow. We didn’t the last three years, but you never know. I grab a few more pieces of clothing and toss them into my suitcase.

     By the time I finish, there’s a parental figure standing in my doorway looking deeply irritated. “You haven’t even showered yet.”

     Jazz isn’t my birth mom, but we don’t even think about that after so many years together even though I’ve always called her by her first name. She adopted me when I was seven, after all, and is the only parent I’ve ever known.

     “Just going to do that now so I can pack my toiletries. We’ve got loads of time left.”

     She just sighs and walks away.

     I hop in the shower and take care of business. Hair washed, legs shaved, and ready for anything. Whistling, I start to blow dry my hair. It’s long and a light brown with way too much frizz. A little bit of makeup, including eyeliner and mascara to make my hazel eyes stand out, and I feel ready for the day.

     This is my fourth and final field trip to the Coral Castle in Miami, but it’s my first with a boyfriend. Will there be a chance for some alone time or will the chaperones – Jazz among them – keep us segregated? We’re both 18, after all. Legally adults.

     Now that I’m dressed and groomed, I take a good look in the mirror. The trip itself isn’t very interesting – it never is – but it feels almost like a mini vacation with Micah. And 600 of our fellow students.

There were two overall things that struck me about this page. One is a fairly simple fix. As a teacher, I think the term field trip is usually reserved for day trips from school related to a subject like science or history (my high school age daughter confirmed that usage, too). A 3-day trip would be more likely called a school trip, or a spring trip, or a senior trip — whatever was most appropriate. Also, it seems odd to me that a high school would take their students to Coral Cove, Miami every year. Most weekend trips organized by high schools go to a different place every year. I suppose, if you live in Florida, a school might sponsor an annual trip to Orlando, since there is so much to do there. But while Coral Cove seems like a pretty cool place, I am betting it wouldn’t be a popular destination for teens four years in a row.

Is there a reason behind the repeat visits – or could you just make Miami the destination of this year’s trip and Coral Cove one of the attractions on the itinerary?

The second thing that struck me is bigger and requires more overhaul. “Waking up” is one of those no-no starting points for most agents and editors. Waking up, picking out clothes to wear, and getting showered is something we all do every day, so it’s not an opening that gives us a unique feel for your story. Where else could you start it?

Could you start with Starr texting Micah before the trip, speculating on how much alone time they’ll get considering Jazz is one of the chaperones? Expressing excitement about the destination (Miami!) or disappointment (why couldn’t it be Orlando) – whichever fits the characters more? You might even want to skip ahead further, get them on the bus and closer to whatever serves as the inciting incident for this story.

So, to summarize, I would suggest tweaking the details of this trip and re-thinking where the story begins. Readers, what do you think?

Carey, thanks so much for sharing your first page with us. Marcy’s feedback on this page can be found at Mainewords. Don’t forget to come back later this week for more First Impressions!

4 Responses to First Impressions: BUTTERFLIES

  1. Julie Dao says:

    Dianne, first of all – I LOVE the look of your new website!

    Carey, I thought your first page was very well-written, with a lot of voice, and I would totally keep reading. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that it is a “waking up” sequence. Every time I read agent interviews, and they list pet peeves, one of the top three things is a book that starts with waking up, or a dream sequence, or a character looking into a mirror so we know what they look like. Is there any other way you could begin the story that takes us right into the action?

  2. Hey Carey! (*waves to Dianne*)

    I’ll second (third?) the concern about waking up as an opener. Ideally, figure out your inciting incident for the story and what vital information the reader needs to have before then… then, construct an opening that delivers that vital information (no more, no less) with some kind of mini-story arc between the opening paragraph and that BOOM that launches the story. Easy, yes? No, openings are really hard! But just keep working at it and you’ll get there.

    Other notes:
    *introduce age earlier if you can – I was all over the map from 6th grade on up, guessing, until you told us she was 18

    *introduce characters in a character-revealing way (esp with character revealing action) – whether it’s her friend or her adoptive mom, paint us a picture through their introduction to the reader that tells us everything we need to know (for now) about who they are.

    *give us a sense of stakes – what does she want? Why? What’s keeping her from getting it? Even if it’s just finding the right shirt for the field trip, give us a sense of stakes and what happens if she fails to reach them.

    And always: keep writing!

    Best,
    Sue

  3. Great voice! This looks like a fun character.
    I’ll have to chime in on the starting with a wake-up scene, not because it’s really bad, but those are one of those ‘do nots’ in writing advice right now.
    As to the rest. it’s totally okay, but I’m wondering if this chapter is starting too early in the story. ‘Start the story at the last possible moment’ is a peice of advice I once read and love to remember when starting a new manuscript.
    But good job!

  4. Hi Carey!
    Thanks for sharing your piece. It takes a lot of courage to put your work out there.
    I think you have a great start and I’m curious where this all goes. Especially, the sci fi part. I would agree with the others above. Agents to hint at shying away from the wake up scenario in the beginning. So make sure this is a good place to start.

    I also think there should be something more she should be experiencing–some sort of stake here. Something that may get in her way or that she must overcome. That would add a little tension. Ask yourself some questions about the situation and the situation that may be coming. What are her fears? Etc.

    The bits and pieces about her, to me, could be sprinkled later on or shown more. The information about her adopted mom, etc. This is my opinion, but it seems to tell a lot about her instead of us experiencing it with her. You’re writing in first person don’t be afraid to use her inner thoughts or feelings. Let the reader into her head.

    Lastly, the one thing I’ve had people tell me is try to hint at the sci fi element. I don’t think it necessarily has to be the first line, but somewhere in the beginning. Just my opinion though.

    I wish you the best with this and keep going. I think you have a strong start and your writing is great. Nice job!
    I hope that all made sense.
    Christine