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

First Impressions: SAVING DANGER

Today Theresa Milstein is sharing the first page of her MG contemporary fantasy, SAVING

DANGER, looking for your First Impression:

I stared in disdain at my reflection. The Pepto-Bismol pink confection stared back at me as I tugged one of the many ruffles strangling my gown. The color clashed with the beachy-vibe of the high-ceilinged hotel room. “It looks like a cupcake vomited on me.”
Grandma Rosa stood next to the mirror. At the same time, she chuckled and stared at me sternly. A magnificent feat. She responded in her faint Italian accent, “It’s not so terrible.”           
I scowled. “Does she think I’m the same age as Danger?” In a few short hours, Danger would be my stepbrother. I didn’t know whether it would be worse to be stuck with him or his plastic mother for the rest of my life. “I’m thirteen—not five.”
She sighed. “Your father sure knows how to pick ‘em.” Grandmother pursed her lips, realizing her comment not only bashed Erin, soon-to-be Stepzilla, but also my real mother. “What I mean is—”
“Don’t worry about it, Grandma Rosa.” I ignored the dropping-an-anchor down-my-stomach sensation that always followed the mention of my real mother and forced a fake smile. “If this is what she thinks her junior bridesmaid should look like, I can’t wait to see her gown.” I wished I could wear Grandma Rosa’s head-to-toe black, which resembled my usual uniform. The reference to mourning wasn’t lost on me. “What do you think she’ll say when she sees your dress?”
We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Erin, her head a mountain of curling-iron-created curls peeked into the room—without having the courtesy to knock. Her coif contrasted with her t-shirt in jeans. She’d probably wait until the last minute to change into her gown. “Lulu—” Her eyes bugged out in a most cartoon-like way. “Mother Rosa, what on earth… it’s a wedding, not a funeral. You’re changing into something more festive, right?”
Grandma gazed down at her dress, as if noticing it for the first time. She placed her fist on her chest. “In the Old Country this is how widows dress.”
 Erin placed her hands on her hips. “You haven’t lived in the ‘Old Country’ since you were a child.”
 “I will always be Italian.”
Erin clamped her glossed lips in a grim line, but her angry thoughts flickered in her eyes and across her tanned face.
Having recently adapted a YA manuscript into a MG book, I am very sensitive to voice right now.  There are some words and phrases in the first paragraph that strike me as more YA than MG: disdain, confection, beachy-vibe, high-ceilinged. On the other hand, the line It looks like a cupcake vomited on me is perfect!
What do you think of doing something like this with the first paragraph?
I stared in disgust at my reflection in the hotel mirror. Pepto-Bismol pink stared back at me as I tugged one of the many ruffles strangling my gown. “It looks like a cupcake vomited on me.”

Or something like that? Keep in mind that the word stared appears three times in this opening, so you’ll want to change at least one of them.
I wondered next at the narrator’s soon-to-be stepbrother, Danger. Is that his actual name, or just a nickname given to him by the narrator (Lulu, right)? I wonder if you could slip that information in. If it’s his real name, it’s another indication of Stepzilla’s horrible taste. (Love Stepzilla, by the way!) If it’s a nickname, perhaps her grandmother could chuckle at this apt nickname for whatever-his-real-name is in the next paragraph before she speaks. Since Danger is in the title of the book, you will want the reader to grasp right away that it’s the name of a five year old boy, and I think this particular name needs clarification.
The only other thing I would tweak is Lulu’s wish that she could be dressed like her grandmother. I assume she means that she prefers dark clothes, not that she usually dresses like an old Italian widow! But the reference to a uniform threw me, and I think the whole idea could be restated in a punchy, MG-sounding statement.
Readers, do you have any other thoughts? Theresa, thank you for sharing your first page with us. Marcy will have her own feedback on Mainewords, and if you don’t already know Theresa, please visit her at her blog.

22 Responses to First Impressions: SAVING DANGER

  1. Thank you very much. I think the next paragraph (which you don’t see) mentions the mother’s bad taste in choosing names. Maybe I have to move the explanation to where his name is introduced.

    You’ve made excellent points. This beginning has been seen by only two other people, so I appreciate this early feedback. I’ll be tweaking!

  2. Linda G. says:

    Love the cupcake line, too! Should be a very interesting wedding. *grin*

    And, yeah, maybe explain the origins of the nickname “Danger” the first time it’s used. I was curious, too.

  3. Susan Oloier says:

    Hi Theresa & Dianne,

    First, let me say, I definitely want to read on. I like the conflict inherent in the first page.

    As a reader, I actually like it when information such as Danger’s name is delayed a bit. It keeps me wondering. I know good authors (like Theresa) will explain this in time. I don’t like too much revealed at once. There is something enjoyable to me in not knowing right away.

    The one thing I noticed is the number of hyphenated adjectives. These distracted me from the story and the writing. For example, the character could simply say “anchor in my stomach” instead of the whole phrase. And head as a mountain of curls says the same thing as the adjective phrase.

    I understood the head-to-toe black. But maybe instead of uniform, she could say her color of choice or favorite clothing color. Uniform threw me off just a little.

    I like Erin’s spunk and the middle grade angst of the MC. The characterizations worked well, so it’s just a matter of tweaking for flow and clarity (IMHO).

    Very fun, Theresa. Nice work!

  4. Other than the so-called rule of not opening with a character looking at them self in the mirror, I really like this! Grandma sounds like a real character.

  5. “It looks like a cupcake vomited on me.” Bwahahahaha!

    Hey Theresa, I’m here for moral support. 😉 Great conflict in this first page, and I love the set up already–the step brother, plastic new mother, obstinate grandmother. Awesome.

    I want to agree with Dianne on some of the word choices being a bit more YA than MG. The voice did sound a little old to me, but granted, I typically read male perspective MG with protagonists around 12. I might be slightly biased.

    On your first line, “I GLARED at my reflection” might communicate the same thing, but keeps the language more MG.

    I felt a little overwhelmed from meeting three characters in the first three paragraphs, but I can see why you’re introducing Danger so early–I mean, he’s only in the title. I’m looking forward to meeting him face to face, from this bit.

  6. I really liked this but agree with Marcy and Dianne on some of the language sounding too old for a MG story. I loved Dianne’s revision of the first paragraph because it keeps in all the strong parts of it without giving us the rest that sounds too old. I was curious about Danger and his name too. Be sure to keep the focus on your main character and not too much on Grandma Rosa, who I really like and see clearly.

    But this is a great start and I’m curious enough to want to read more.

  7. Larissa says:

    This is a very intriguing opening, Theresa! I’d definitely read on.

    I agree with Diane’s comments about the age of the voice, but I think it’s just tweaks. What she did with the first paragraph was great.

    I also liked Crystal’s suggestion of “glared” instead of “stared” because the three “stared”s in a row did stand out to me.

    Keep it up! This is a great opening!

  8. Thanks, everyone. I’ve already started changing some of the vocab. I appreciate the inspiration!

  9. Julie Musil says:

    Love grandma already. Plenty of set up for conflict here!

  10. How about that? I just read and commented on this at Marcy’s place, and I like it even better now. Good voice, good characterization, and delightful undercurrent of humor with the grandmother. Great job!

  11. Angela Brown says:

    The two items that struck me the most have already been addressed: starting with a reflection in the mirror and the word choice.
    I must add my appreciation for some of the witty references to Erin, the step-mom-to-be. Really got my attention. I would certainly read on.

  12. Pk Hrezo says:

    Super cute voice! And Dianne brought up some great points. I also wondered if a pre-teen would know what Pept-bismol is …. not sure since i don’t have pre-teens yet. 🙂

  13. Matt, right now, I’m okay with using a mirror because I don’t use it as an excuse to explain she looks like. And I also use the mirror at the end of the chapter to complete the story-worthy problem.

    Pk, they do. There’s kids Pepto Bismol. Does that ugly stuff escape anyone’s medicine cabinet? ; )

    Again, thanks for the comments, everyone.

  14. Great beginning and love the analysis. I read Marcy’s take on it yesterday. It’s funny how you two focused on different things. That just shows the importance of having more than one person critting your work.

    Great job with the voice, Theresa. Unless there’s a reason for the more mature words, definitely a good idea to not sure the more sophisticated ones.

  15. Hi, Dianne, Hi, Theresa,

    I wish I had more to add, but the y/a type word choice has already been said.

    Totally enjoyed the read!

  16. I love the cupcake line and the whole set-up. I think you’ve done a great job of setting up your story. I’m curious to know how this wedding is going to come off, what’s going to happen to Danger to make Lulu have to save him, how all the relationships will work out by the end of the story… you’ve made me want to read it 🙂 I like Lulu’s voice, but I agree that some of her vocabulary sounds a little grown-up for MG (something I struggle with constantly!) Great job!

  17. A fine critique — and kudos to Theresa for putting her work on the public chopping block.

  18. Hi Theresa and Dianne .. how helpful to have Marcy and you, Dianne, give some salient thoughts to Theresa.

    I love the character Rosa – she is obviously going to be very influential to the story ..

    Cheers to you both .. Hilary

  19. They gave you some great suggestions.

  20. Really enjoyed this. I don’t have much to add, as Dianne and the others have given great suggestions regarding opening with the reflection and the voice sounding more YA. But your voice is wonderful, Theresa, and I would definitely want to continue reading!

  21. I like this! I especially like the line about the cupcake, and I think the grandmother is interesting too. The fact that she chooses to wear an all-black outfit to a wedding definitely says something about her character.

  22. I really appreciate the comments. Thank you!