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

First Impressions: MANIFESTED

The third First Impressions post for February is a YA adventure with magical elements titled MANIFESTED, by Margo Kelly:
Luke Michaelson sat alone at the small desk in his bedroom and methodically spun a closed pocket knife with his index finger. A family camping trip in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho sounded like a stupid idea to him, but Mom and Dad insisted this next week would be a great adventure. Dad expected him to help pack today, but Luke needed a few minutes alone.

With his thumb and index finger, he tugged at the stubborn blade of the pocket knife. Unable to open it, Luke reached across his desk and dragged the lamp closer. He gripped the casing of the knife tightly with his left hand and yanked with his right. When the blade flipped out suddenly, it surprised Luke, and he let go. As it slipped from his hand, the blade slashed the skin between his thumb and index finger.

Luke groaned, shook his hand, and then tried sucking the cut to alleviate the pain. Nausea swelled in his gut, but he refused to panic. When he withdrew his hand to examine the damage, no slice remained. He leaned forward and held his hand under the bright lamp. Light glinted off the opals he wore around his wrist, making him squint momentarily. But no cut remained. Nothing. He studied the alarm clock next to his bed: 10 a.m. Dad shouldn’t miss him for awhile yet. So, he hopped up, locked his door, turned up the volume on his music, and sat back down at his desk. He picked up his pocket knife; blood glistened on the edge of the blade. Luke examined his hand where the cut should have been. Nothing.
My first thought after reading the excerpt was: I don’t think a camping trip is where this story begins.
This story begins with a cut that heals by itself in seconds.  So, I wonder if Margo should start there – with the pain or the blood or an outcry from Luke when he accidentally slices himself with a pocket knife.  Why he was playing with it, what he was doing (or avoiding) in his room at the time – I think that could wait for page two.
If he experienced nausea or panic, then it must have felt like a deep cut, or there was initially a lot of blood.  Is he worried about fainting or needing stitches? And then, when he can bring himself to look at it – there’s no cut at all. Let’s feel his confusion and his disbelief at that point (unless this has happened to him before!).
The opals around his wrist are important, I’m guessing. (Granted, that’s a cheat, because when I asked Margo for a picture, she sent me an image of boulder matrix fire opals!) I am wondering how she can more cleverly get them into this scene, because as it was, I almost missed them.  Plus, boys don’t wear bracelets normally, unless they’re made of leather or cord. So, perhaps she should describe them as “the fire opals entwined in his corded bracelet” – or whatever it looks like.
After Luke realizes his cut is gone and he shuts his bedroom door to examine the knife, that’s when we can hear about why he was fussing with the knife to begin with and the camping trip he doesn’t want to go on.  
What do the rest of you think? 
Thanks, Margo, for sharing your intriguing WIP with us (not to mention making me covet some gorgeous fire opals). Be sure to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page on Mainewords.  Don’t forget, next month you’ll get to turn the tables on Marcy and me when we share the first pages of our own WIPs! Plus PK Hrezo is coming back with a revised version of her page, based on your feedback. Isn’t that cool?

18 Responses to First Impressions: MANIFESTED

  1. I agree about reversing the order as well. In fact, I have a beginning with a magical power and that’s where I start before I get into the fact she has issues with her sisters.

    While the writing is tight, I wonder if she could get more of the MC’s voice there.

    “Dad shouldn’t miss him for awhile yet.” Like this sentence would be great to infuse attitude. What would dad be doing and what would be Luke’s perspective on what dad is doing?

    But as I said, writing is tight.

  2. Linda G. says:

    Oh, really interesting premise! Why the heck can he heal instantly? I like it!

    Dianne, your suggestion about where the story really begins is right on target.

  3. Gina says:

    Yup, I do agree the opening could be stronger. Those opening lines are so important for grabbing and keeping someone’s attention.

    Lovely writing though!

  4. Margo Kelly says:

    Thanks for the comments everyone! If you’d like to read the entire first chapter visit my website:

    THANKS!! I appreciate the feedback.

  5. Margo Kelly says:

    Oh … btw … a previous version of the beginning did start with the cutting and the pain, but the critiquers all thought it was TOO MUCH and didn’t want to keep reading because they thought it was going to be a book about suicide or an EMO teenager who cuts a lot.

    … so keep the comments coming … and I’ll see if I can’t find a happier middle ground! 🙂

  6. Interesting, Margo!
    Maybe you need to do it in a way that makes it clear it was an accident — either focusing on the stuck pocket knife or his fear that he was going to need stitches (and his parents weren’t going to be happy to start their camping weekend with an ER visit.)

    As you said, some sort of middle ground.

  7. Lydia Kang says:

    I actually like it the way it is. I wouldn’t want all the good stuff up front. Just having him play with a knife was enough tension for me–I knew something was going to happen, so I kept reading to find out. 🙂

  8. Southpaw says:

    I missed the opals completely. It’s interesting that you tried the other way first. I knew it was an accident from the way it was written, did you change anything else?

  9. I focused on the opals. Couldn’t understand why he was wearing them and, even though the picture of them is glisten-y, what came to my mind was not. I couldn’t figure out how the sun would catch them.

    Hope that’s helpful!

  10. The description at the beginning is well done, though I agree with Dianne that the story begins with the cut that heals by itself in seconds. So, I agree, Margo should start there and cut (excuse the choice of word) the opening bit out.

  11. The self-healing wound is an interesting premise, and like most of the others already said, deserves higher billing than the camping trip. I can certainly imagine a boy spinning a closed knife, but can’t help but wonder what motivated him to open it. Maybe that apparent lack of motivation could be what made some of your critique partners suspect self-mutilation or suicide. So if you spelled out his motivation … like maybe he’s gonna whittle or work on a carving he’s been doing on his desk or whatever … that would allay any concerns about his intentions.

    Love this beginning. Sounds like a winner.

  12. Opals, hmm? I’m intrigued. 🙂 Nice work, Margo!

  13. I agree with revising the order. The beginning moved too slowly for me because Margo showed everything in miniscule detailed. I lost interest in it before I got to the intriguing part. Move the intriguing part sooner, and then I’m hooked. Wait too long, and I’ve already moved to the next book in the bookstore.

  14. Chris Fries says:

    Definitely an intriguing ‘boy-becomes-super-hero’ concept here. I like the voice and I think Luke will be a compelling MC. Craft-wise, I have little to quibble about — the writing is clean and effective.

    Story-wise, I don’t necessarily agree that we need to immediately open with the magically-healing cut, but I do think we at least need some early hint of stronger tension and story questions than just Luke’s not thrilled about going camping.

    I also wondered why he was opening the knife, and why he needed time alone, fearing the worst. If there are some sort of self-cutting or worse thoughts in his mind, I think the reader needs to know that. But I would counsel caution here, especially for YA. True, it would certainly raise the stakes as I suggested in my last paragraph, but it’s also a very heavy gut-punch for the reader to get inside the head of someone with thoughts like that, and you can lose some readers right from the get-go.

    Thanks for submitting, Margo!

  15. Chris Fries says:

    Follow-up: Oops, missed your second comment, Margo above before posting my comment, so you’ve already addressed some of the points I raised about wondering why he’s alone and playing with a knife.

    Is the knife critical? He could just as easily slip and cut himself on hooks from a tackle box he was packing, or something that’s an accident. Just a thought…

  16. Isn’t it funny, as writers, how we critique every thing we read? I miss those good old days when I could just read, just enjoy the story world, the words on the page, the pace, the characters.

    But no, I have analyze every thing these days. Not that it matters really. A good book will always shine through. Still, when someone says, “You should read this book,” and I do and then I’m terribly disappointed because I just can’t turn that inner editor off. *sigh*

  17. Mark Murata says:

    I don’t know much about young adult writing, so the only advice I would give is to add a sound that contributes to the tension. It might be the sound of the knife spinning, or the lamp being dragged, or the snick of the blade coming open.

  18. Pk Hrezo says:

    I was very curious about the opals, and why a boy would have them on… which made me think this is a fantasy story.
    I agree the actions here seems a bit too soon and i’d like to learn a little about the character first, why he’s in this situation. Otherwise, nicely written, Margo!

    ooo can’t wait to see your opening pages!