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

First Impressions: DESCENT

March is here, and coming in like a lion! Today, I’ve got the first page of a YA fantasy titled DESCENT by Kallie Ross, who’s looking for your First Impression:
The pounding of my feet on the dry, cracked Texas dirt is met by the pounding of my heart.
He was there one minute, taking a shortcut through the field behind our houses, then gone the next. The earthquakes have grown more frequent and the ground more unstable. As I stumble, a strong hand steadies me, and I know it’s my neighbor, and Jesse’s older brother, Mateo.
“Jesse!” His cry stretches across a huge rift that is opening at the foot of a natural gas drill. The town conspiracy theorists say that those drills, that are peppered in our subdivisions, are the cause of these quakes. With another tremor, I glance back at Mateo. His lean build will have him caught up to me in a few more strides. Behind him, Alexis’ blonde bob is bouncing and her shorter legs are struggling to keep up. Our slumber party is not going to end with french toast and selfies.
In front of me, the gap continues to grow, and I can’t stop fast enough. No one can save any of us now.
“Ollie!” The last thing I hear is Mateo’s voice as I fall into a void of black.
I’ve been here before. Dreamed this before. Gold specks of dust shimmer around me, it’s peaceful, and as I take a deep breath it makes me feel stronger. It’s heavenly. Reaching out to touch it, the omniscient light scatters away from me and reveals a large room made up of marbled rock. If this were Heaven there would be golden streets, not an aura of it, and my father would be here. The higher the glowing cloud rises, the closer the dark shadows encroach upon me, and it feels as if I’m falling, again. Maybe this is Hell.
“Olivia.” I hear my name being called by a deep calming voice, but don’t want to look away.
A tribal drum beat echoes across the room, and I tear my eyes away from the glorious light to find the drummer. Noticing a lone figure standing in the distance, he waves for me to move toward him. His presence gives off a feeling of familiarity as I move closer, but I’m not walking.
“Hello?” My voice is muffled in my own ears and doesn’t echo across the room the same way the steady beat bounces off each jagged wall.
There’s a promising premise here – unexplained tremors, possibly an evil drilling company, and falling into a mysterious world — but everything moves a little fast for me. There are characters running through a field because of an earthquake, and we don’t get to meet any of them or understand what is happening before we are plunged (literally) into a new setting. 
I suggest starting earlier – at the point where something interrupts Alexis and Ollie’s sleepover and sends them out of the house and into the field. There they run into the neighbors, Mateo and Jesse. This will introduce the characters a couple at at time and set up the situation so we can picture who they are and what’s happening to them.
I want to know why they run out of the house (instead of the standard duck and cover) and why they keep running once they’re in an open field. (Are they chasing Jesse, a frightened, panicked child?) I want to know why they’re running toward the presumed source of the quakes. (Again, is it because Jesse ran that way?) As for Ollie’s fall, I definitely want a description of the fall itself before we learn where she landed. — and it doesn’t have to happen on the first page. Readers, what do you think?

Kallie, thanks for sharing your page with us! Marcy will share her thoughts on this page at Mainewords, and you can find Kallie at her blog,

18 Responses to First Impressions: DESCENT

  1. SA Larsenッ says:

    I left my thoughts on Marcy’s site. But, again, it’s great to meet Kallie!

  2. Tiana Smith says:

    Yeah, I have no idea what is happening in this segment. Is it all a dream with the gold glitter stuff? Is it real? Is she inside in her bed at the sleepover? Outside during an earthquake? Running toward something? Away? Who’s Jessie?

    There’s absolutely nothing to ground me, and since I don’t understand the setting or the people, or the action (at least give me ONE thing to hold onto!) I probably wouldn’t keep reading since I’d assume the rest of the writing would be this fast and continue without explanations.

    • KallieRoss says:

      Thank you for your feedback, Tiana! I really appreciate your honesty. I look forward to getting into this segment in the revisions, and providing that foundation you’re looking for!

  3. Steven says:

    I agree that the reader is thrown into the action with no real setup, and the action moves too quickly with large gaps in explanation. With some ironing out I’m sure this would make a compelling beginning, though, because as you say all the right elements are there.

  4. I also like the way this starts out, though I’m more a fan of setting the scene rather than dumping the reader into stuff where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on.

  5. I was thinking the same thing before I ever read your impressions, Dianne. I wanted to start earlier to get these people established. To know who they are and how they connect before, so that when Jesse disappears, I feel the fear and the loss. Right now I have no idea who Jesse is.

    Also wondering . . . was this meant to be a dream? I wasn’t sure. Dreams can be a hard place to start because they set up unrealized expectations. BUT, I love the idea of the unexplained tremors that literally open up the earth in a rift big enough to swallow people. Best of luck with this!

  6. I like knowing from the beginning that we’re in Texas and I love the line: “Our slumber party is not going to end with french toast and selfies.” But I have to agree with Dianne that there’s too much crammed into the first page. Take your time setting it up. My first thought was: who’s Jesse? He could be a teen or a toddler. We have no way of knowing.

  7. I really enjoyed this, but I agree with Dianne. Rewind a little a let us care about the characters first. I felt like it was an excerpt from the chapter instead of the beginning. Otherwise very intriguing.

    • KallieRoss says:

      Thank you, Stina! I’m so glad you’re intrigued, and hope that by adding more about the characters at the beginning, you (& others) will be pulled in even more!

  8. Jemi Fraser says:

    I agree – there’s a lot to like but it’s confusing. I wasn’t sure what was dream, what (if any) was reality. At first I thought someone was calling Jesse to the main character too. But I bet with a bit of polish this will shine!

    • KallieRoss says:

      Thank you so much, Jemi! I can’t wait to get into these words and clarify the story, and answer the questions that you (& others) have brought up! Your feedback is really helpful, and your encouragement is uplifting!

  9. KallieRoss says:

    Thank you so much for having me, Dianne! I really appreciate your time, and respect your opinion!

  10. Hi, Kallie. I echo much of what others say. Often, writers think action with an opening. But we don’t know who the characters or why we should care on a deeper level about what’s happening to them. If we had some intro to everyone before the quake, then who the characters were wouldn’t be placed within the scene, which reduces the tension. It’s clear you can write. A little shift will make all the difference.