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

First Impressions: MOVING FEAR

DL WritingOur first submission for First Impressions in October comes from DL Hammons. This is the first page of a YA Horror novel called MOVING FEAR:


“Are those restraints really necessary?”

The orderly continued strapping the wide leather belt around the woman’s waist without a sign he heard the question. His ill-fitting uniform of matching white pants and short- sleeve shirt suffered from a terminal case of the wrinkles and did a poor job of covering his massive bulk. The laminated hospital ID clipped to his uniform pocket flapped around like a cowboy holding on for dear life atop a bucking bronco. Working without a sound, he finished with the leather girdle and then guided the woman’s listless body into the chair opposite the visitor. Only a small metal table separated the two of them.

The priest, dressed in a dark gray suit with a black clergy shirt and white clerical collar, studied the orderly. He watched without comment as the hospital employee treated the woman as a side of beef, maneuvering her roughly back and forth, oblivious to her own will.

Thus the reason for the frown on the priest’s face.

The room he had been waiting in was brightly lit, which he found odd because the intense lighting only accentuated the dust and grime. It was clear that the cleaning staff hadn’t concerned themselves with this part of the hospital for quite some time. The filth was emphasized by a musty smell of neglect and a faint hint of stale sweat and urine, which assaulted his nose and put him in a foul mood as soon as he’d entered the room. The orderly’s actions now only deepened it.

The priest had taken the seat on the far side of the table, putting the mirror covering the majority of the back wall behind him. On the wall to his immediate left rested an old metal radiator, fed by a pipe that ran along the baseboard and into the floor adjacent to the lone entrance. A table and two stiff chairs, all bolted to the concrete floor, were the only furniture in the interview room.

The woman offered no resistance throughout her man-handling, her distant eyes providing no hint that she was even aware of the orderly’s actions. Grabbing the bulky chain hanging from the rear of the belt the woman was now wearing, the hospital worker secured it with a lock to a loophole at the base of the chair. He gave it a quick yank when he was finished, jerking the woman back in her seat. Only then did he step back and look at the priest.


The first line of the story is attention-getting to be sure! I was struck by that on my first reading … several months ago. (Confession time here. I had the chance to be a beta reader on this book, so I’ve already read the whole story and think it’s a winner!)

Nevertheless, looking at this page in isolation, I feel there’s too much description of a place we’ll never be again (this room) and a person we’ll never see again (this orderly). Yes, I’m speaking from the experience of having read the whole book, but probably even readers seeing it for the first time will realize the detailed descriptions of the room and the hospital worker are delaying us from something more interesting: Why is this woman in restraints? What did she do that makes her dangerous?

I know the bleak description is meant to set the mood for this horror story, but I think that could more efficiently be accomplished with just the details of how thoroughly the woman is restrained. I would keep those sentences intact. The rest of it – the room, the slovenly appearance of the orderly – could be replaced by the conversation between the priest and the worker (which I know takes place on the next page) addressing the disparity between how small and helpless this woman looks and what she’s done.

I have a second concern. This page is from a sort of prologue to the book. I’m not one of those people who thinks all prologues are evil and must be cut. I have one of my own in The Caged Graves. However, I’m not sure a prologue is the right thing to send to an agent as sample pages in a query, specifically because it does not introduce the main character.

It may depend on what the agent wants to see. If a partial manuscript is requested – the first 3 chapters or first 50 pages – then it might be okay to include this prologue.  But if the agent’s preference is for only the first chapter or the first 5 pages, I would skip this chapter and send the next one, where the main character Knox Gidden is introduced. Readers, what do you think?

DL, thanks for sharing your page with us! You can find Marcy’s feedback at Mainewords, and DL can be found at his blog, where he hosts the world-renowned WRiTE CLUB!


26 Responses to First Impressions: MOVING FEAR

  1. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – well it drew me … but I did want to see why this side of human beef, without any apparent life left in her, had to be so tied up – and in such appalling circumstances … everything locked down …

    I’m not sure I want to read more – but only because I don’t read or watch things that make me so uncomfortable …

    But it’s a good read for all that … cheers Hilary

  2. Sheri Larsen says:

    I left my comments over on Marcy’s site. Great observations, Dianne.

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    I also beta read for this, so Don already got my feedback 🙂 I do agree that agents might want to get to know Knox earlier though…

  4. Miranda Hardy says:

    It’s a great opener, but all the description pulled me away a little. Your remarks are right on.

    • DL Hammons says:

      All these comments about too much description catches me off-guard because I usually don’t include enough description. 🙂

      Thank you for the input Miranda!

  5. Good point about not sending this part in a submission since the main character isn’t present. never thought about that.
    The horror part is effective though.

  6. Julie Dao says:

    I’m a bit torn. DL is one of my CPs, and I read MOVING FEAR and *loved* the opening. I’m not sure I agree with not sending this in a sample to agents. But here’s the why-I’m-torn part: I have gotten exactly this feedback with my own prologue in the WIP I’ve been querying. It sets the mood, it introduces important characters… BUT it takes place 100 years before my MC was even born. I think this case is similar: this opening sets the mood, tone, and backdrop of DL’s whole story, and I think that’s important for an agent. But I do understand the reasoning behind jumping right into Knox’s story. It might be interesting to send out 10 queries – 5 with this opening and 5 without, and see what happens?

  7. Liza says:

    Right off the bat, I’m intrigued, and very worried for this woman, and that’s a good thing!

    However, I too thought this page could be tightened up. There is a lot of description…that could be reduced, but also written more “visually.” Take the second sentence. How about, “A pink strip of stomach bulged from below the orderly’s uniform shirt.” Also, there is a lot of “telling” going on. For example, “The woman offered no resistance to the manhandling” could be something like, “The woman flopped, a rag doll buckled to her seat at the table.” I’m not saying to use these examples, but you want your reader to see what you are seeing.

    As for the prologue question. That’s a good one. I’m going to start querying soon and I do have a prologue. I don’t want to have one, but the darn story made me do it. I am really concerned what to send if they request a first chapter. Curious what others think on this topic.

  8. PK Hrezo says:

    Excellent comments Dianne!
    I, too, beta read this story and I think it’s great! I had similar comments on the first page. Although well written and visually strong, it’s not the best place for these details. I think it may be trickier with horror since it requires a slightly different style of writing, but this awesome scene would be even more gripping by shortening the description to the bare minimum and getting right to the juicy meat of the story.

    BTW do you ever do non-fic first pages? I have a memoir that could use some feedback. If that’s not your thing, no worries!

  9. Gwen Gardner says:

    It definitely sets a certain tone. But if it’s just the prologue and we don’t see the characters again, I almost think that you could just use the last paragraph only and eliminate the rest of the description. Maybe add part of the non-verbal communication with the priest. The priest is a definite point of interest, I think. “The woman offered no resistance…” is a hook itself. I’m okay with prologues if they’re not long. Otherwise, I just want to get on with the story. Well done, Don! Lots of atmosphere in this piece.

    • DL Hammons says:

      You do actually see the priest again…and the woman is a topic of conversation and a key part of the overall story.

      Thank you for your comments, Gwen! 🙂

  10. DL Hammons says:

    Thank your for this, Dianne, and the awesome feedback from the beta read as well. Should this ever make the shelf, your name will be prominently mentioned in the acknowledgements! 🙂

  11. I have to agree with you about the description – there are hints that something bad has happened, but the rest of it is all visual details with nothing significant happening. And I think if you can use the words “nothing happening” to describe the book’s first page, something’s wrong. >_< I agree that some conversation or even narration about what the woman's done or why she's restrained would help a great deal.

    • Dl Hammons says:

      Mason – you find out on the very next page that the woman murdered her entire family…including her young children. But while I agree some of the description might be excessive, cutting it so that plot point can appear on the first page would be a bad move.

  12. Angela Brown says:

    Oddly, I normally find that I have the very same reaction to the first page that Dianne does. When I read her notes on samples it’s like she’s pullling the words from my head and it can be freaky scary sometimes when that happens.

    I can say this is a first where I would disagree. I do think Dianne has more knowledge of what to or not to send to an agent so on that, Dianne, you are the woman.

    As a reader, the description did more than set the mood, it set the scene. It provided me a depressng understanding of this bulk of a man man-handling this woman in such a way that it shouldn’t have seemed necessary, yet it was. Very intriguing. Then to layer the scene, I get to picture the surrouondings in all their glorious disappointment. It’s like I’m Gretel getting to munch away on the wonderful candy of imagery to reach either an extrememly scary or very discomfiting moment. I don’t know which, but I’m intrigued enought to read on.

  13. Mina B. says:

    Really interesting opening, DL. Dianne made some great observations, but I was totally feeling that vibe in the room. I wanted to keep reading!

  14. Joanne Fritz says:

    Great atmosphere, DL! The first line really drew me in (although I would like it to be clearer that it’s the priest asking the question; at first, I thought it was the woman herself. Maybe a simple line first, like: The priest frowned). Even before seeing Dianne’s critique, I thought, oh, my, this is way too much description. You could cut half of this and tighten it up nicely.

    I’ve noticed that books today rarely mention the characters’ clothing, leaving it up to the reader to picture them. And you don’t really need to go into that much detail about the interview room (“On the wall to his immediate left…”). You know what Chekhov said about describing a gun on the wall. Eventually, it must go off. So I have to ask, is the radiator important to the story? Otherwise, I’d suggest deleting that entire sentence. Just my opinion, but I think with cutting this would really pop.

  15. Lexa Cain says:

    I’ve already commented at Marcy’s, but I wanted to read what Dianne wrote and have to give her a thumbs-up for an excellent crit!

  16. HI, Dianne … as usual you are spot on!

    DL I enjoyed this. I agree with everyone else, the first line does draw you in… Wonderful description/atmosphere, which YOU know I love…

    I agree about the prologue. Keep it out if only the first chapter is requested. Otherwise. Well done.