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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: REALM 17

First Impressions: REALM 17

This First Impression excerpt for June comes to us from Christine Danek (whom, unlike most of my blogging friends, I have actually met in person!)  This is a YA paranormal titled REALM 17.
Colored light stretches across the floor of the landing. I look up to see the same angel with her arms spread, her yellow hair flowing, and rainbow colored glass surrounding her form. I know I’m dead, but really, do they have to remind me at every turn.?
Death is a strange beast. You hear so many theories onabout what it’s like on the other side. Then you hear about those people who died for like a minute, and then came back from the dead claiming they heard angels, saw a white light, and felt calm and peaceful.
            It’s totally not true.
Realm 17 has been nothing but one big bore-fest except for this part of my day. For six months, I’ve repeated this routine. I scoot back onto the window seat and adjust a button on my white oxford shirt. Each follicle of hair hurts because I’ve tied it back in a ponytail every day. You know–the rules.
            Students pass by all wearing the same thing–white shirt, black skirt or pants, and black shoes. They walk up the steps to class in one heaping mass of spirits. Then I see him.
He comes up from the bottom floor, taking each step just like the others, but slows on the landing, glancing at me. A black curl falls over his left eye and is accompanied with a smile creeping up his cheek–typical hot boy in sea of monotony, and I like it. He turns and follows the others to class.
“Becca.” Kat waves her fingers in front of my view.
I look at her, hoping that my narrowed eyes give a hint of disappointment. “You’re totally ruining my day.”
The opening lines really engaged me. I made a few editing suggestions in red, but other than that, Christine has given us a great visual with that stained glass angel, as well as a taste of her MC’s voice: I know I’m dead, but really, do they have to remind me at every turn?

The name Realm 17 is also appealing. It calls to mind questions about Realms 1-16, not to mention Realms 18 and above, if they exist.  Immediately I want to know more about the setting and what brought the MC to this place (besides dying, that is).

Which is why I’m not sure Becca should tell us Realm 17 is a bore-fest, because if it is, we might lose interest in reading about it.  Furthermore, I’m uncertain about Asher.  It’s too soon to tell whether he is the love interest or merely a passing fancy, but my personal preference is not to meet the love interest on page one – and perhaps not even in the first chapter. I’d rather get to know the MC first and see the love interest get a flashier entrance. A while back, Georgia McBride wrote an interesting post on why the love interest shouldn’t be introduced too early

If Asher is a passing fancy (or one of a parade of hotties Becca watches each morning), then his first page appearance is on firmer ground. After all, the first time we meet Romeo Montague, he’s obsessing over Rosalind, a girl he will soon forget.  Thus, Romeo’s impulsiveness (not to mention fickleness and lack of self-restraint) is quickly revealed, since everybody knows the play isn’t called Romeo and Rosalind.

I once took an online workshop with an agent in which he explained the two things he looked for in a YA first page: voice and conflict.  He wanted to get a taste of the MC’s voice and a strong hint of the main conflict.  Following his guidelines, I’d suggest that Christine might want to hold off on Asher and use the first page to continue exploring Becca and this school full of dead teens, since I assume Realm 17 will be the source of the conflict in the novel.  Even in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare introduces the Montague-Capulet feud before Romeo and his soon-to-be-ex crush.

What do the readers think?  To crush on the first page – or not crush? That is the question.  No, wait. That’s the wrong Shakespeare play. 

Christine, thanks for sharing the first page of your newest project!  If you don’t know Christine, please check out her blog.  And don’t forget to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page.

17 Responses to First Impressions: REALM 17

  1. Kyra Lennon says:

    I agree with your small edits in red, and I also agree about the mention of “bore-fest” – I almost stopped reading BUT, I loved the mention of Asher. It shows us that Realm 17 might not be quite as boring as the MC originally said.

    I was definitely interested enough to want to read more. 😀

  2. Sarah says:

    I had no problem with Asher on the first page. I have a slightly different concern, and it may be a personal preference, but here it is: I think the fact that she’s dead needs to come slightly later (like, at the END of the first page). I would greatly prefer if I get a clear sense of the atmosphere and spend a little bit of time getting the picture in my head, wondering about what’s going on, and then, at the end of the first page, in one really great line, have it revealed that she’s dead. THAT would make an agent or publisher sit up and take notice, especially if at first they think you’re describing some prep school, and then BOOM. Dead. Realm 17. Whoa. I thought we were in a prep school, but this is different! I am already surprised! I must keep reading! In other words, I think it would be more powerful than being told in the first few lines.

    I was also thrown by a few things that pulled me out of the story. How does she know 6 months have passed? What does “typical hot boy in a sea of monotony” mean? The word “typical” implies that he’s part of the monotony. Is that what you mean? Why would she like that? She doesn’t sound pleased with the “bore-fest.”

    Apart from that, I think this is an intriguing beginning, and with some rearranging and editing, I’d totally be hooked!

  3. Definitely like the voice. I didn’t realize the angel was a stain glass window. Not sure how that is reminding the character that she is dead. I guess that’s why I missed the angel is part of the window. I thought she was seeing the real deal.

    I don’t mind the love interest being introduced in the first chapter or the first page, but I think the mention of the character being dead could be held back until the end. Hook us at the end of the page with it.

    Intriguing story so far. 🙂

  4. Very interesting! So she’s dead and in a certain realm that holds school for spirits? Cool premise!

  5. DL Hammons says:

    I’m like Stina, I didn’t realize the angel was a stained window until I re-read the page…and having to re-read is never a good thing for me, especially on the first page.

    I also agree with Sarah’s comment about delaying the “dead” reveal until the end of the page.

    Other than that I liked the voice and the sentence structures used.

  6. I don’t read enough romance to feel comfortable weighing in on when to introduce a love interest, but I will make some other points.

    I have to slightly disagree with Dianne about the bore-fest. I don’t have a problem with it, because I get the sense Realm 17 is normally a bore-fest, but it’s about to become very exciting, as our story unfolds. Perhaps I’m assuming too much, but that was the way it read to me.

    I do agree with Sarah about the surprises. I use to reveal way too much cool stuff too early, until I finally learned how much better it works to wait.

    There is also some tightening that could be done to the writing. One line that jumped out at me was:

    “A black curl falls over his left eye and is accompanied with a smile creeping up his cheek…”

    I’m no master grammarian, so I don’t know if this is an actual rule or anything, but I think this should read:

    “A black curl falls over his left eye and is accompanied by a smile creeping up his cheek…”

    Other than all that – fascinating premise. Having attended both prep school and boarding school in my own life, it’s a setting that always intrigues me.

  7. I’ll jump in with the others who didn’t realize the angel was a stained glass angel. I got stuck on the phrase “the same angel.” The same angel as what? I’m guessing you mean the same angel that is in the colored light on the floor, but this isn’t immeditately clear.

    Also, in the next paragraph, “claiming they heard angels, saw a white light, and felt calm and peaceful. It’s totally not true.” The fact that seeing an angel reminds her that she’s dead seems to contradict this statement.

    That said, I do love the idea of Realm 17, and the fact that even in death, you can’t escape high school. =)

  8. Linda G. says:

    Okay, I’m intrigued. I like the set-up and the voice. I would keep reading.

    I do agree with your suggestions, Dianne.

  9. Oh, great. But what if the romantic interest is the first inciting event? Ugh.

  10. Thanks Dianne for your feedback. It is really helpful. Thanks to everyone for their feedback as well. This is a new piece for me so I’m going with the flow with it.
    Thanks again!

  11. Christine, I am SO intrigued! LOVE the title! Good thoughts, Dianne!! I didn’t know the angel was stained glass, had to go back and read. So I’d put in a line to let the reader know it is and then like Sarah suggested, give us a whopper at end of page one to tell us she’d dead.
    Also, I’m okay with introducing Asher (assuming he’s the love interest) but NOT introducing any feelings for him–maybe just something quirky about him to make the reader wonder. YAY!

  12. Pk Hrezo says:

    Hey Christine! Congrats on a new story! I love the title. The voice and writing are intriguing. I didn’t realize the angel was stained glass either, tho, not til Dianne mentioned it.
    Good question with Asher. I myself prefer to get to know the MC better before a love interest is introduced, but if he’s a minor character, no biggie. I’m one of those readers who also don’t like to be told someone is hot–even if it’s part of the MC’s voice. I like to determine it myself by imagining him from the details.
    Best of luck with this! Nice job!!! 🙂

  13. Mina Burrows says:

    I really liked this. I want to know more about Realm 17 & Asher too.

  14. I think when to introduce the crush really depends on the story. If it’s a romance, then why not do it right away. If it’s not romance, I’d probably wait a bit.

    I loved the voice of this piece.

  15. Really liked this, and just wanted to say I actually liked Asher on the first page. Piqued my interest. I want to keep reading now!!!

  16. Jaime Loren says:

    I’m going to agree with Sarah – shift the “I’m dead” reveal to the end of the first page. That’d be a great hook!

    I also agree with Pk. Don’t tell us Asher is hot. Show us. I mean, most of us are going to picture someone hot, anyway, especially if there’s a chance he’s the love interest.

    You could even combine the two: “A black curl falls over his left eye and is accompanied by a smile creeping up his cheek. He’s the only one here who doesn’t seem to care about the rules, which makes me wonder how he died and ended up here with the rest of us.”

    Just a suggestion. 🙂 But yes, I’d definitely read on. Good luck! 😀

  17. Wow, this is some great writing. I’m hooked!