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

First Impressions: SWEPT

Christian JanuaryHappy New Year, everyone! I’m starting out 2016 with a First Impressions post from Christian Bensing. This is the first page of his MG fantasy novel, SWEPT.


Chapter 1:  3pm

            Bobby Conrad used every last ounce of his brain power in an attempt to somehow stop the marathoning minute hand of Mrs. Winkey’s clock from reaching its destination, but its will was unstoppable, silently cheered on by the eager eyes of his classmates.  Three o’clock, the end of the school day, had come despite Bobby’s best efforts to forestall the dreaded moment when he would have to leave the safety of the classroom and enter the unsupervised, terrifying world seventh graders of his minimal stature and reputation had to face on a daily basis.  If only Mrs. Winkey’s algebra test, which looked to Bobby as if it were written in Egyptian hieroglyphics, had not racked his brain to the point of delirium, maybe he could have stopped that clock through sheer concentration and enjoyed the serenity of 2:59 for a few more precious seconds.  Instead, the minute hand ticked forward with one more click.  The bell rang, and his classmates scattered.  Bobby faced the fact that he had to go home, his own virtual prison.  The only thing worse was getting there.

            Bobby slowly shuffled through the classroom door to the bustling hallway.  He took one last look at Mrs. Winkey, who seemed to take great pleasure in dishing out deliberately dramatic red slashes  across the test she held in her hands.  Her eyes went from the test to Bobby, then back to the test and back to Bobby again.  It was as if she had to restrain the corners of her crooked mouth from forming a smirk.  Winkey’s eyes continued this dance as her head swayed sideways, back and forth in disapproval.  Bobby knew deep in his heart she was grading his test.  He impulsively looked at his feet as metal locker doors crashed closed behind him.

            “Crap,” was all he could say in a hushed tone as he found a break in the hallway traffic and exited the room with the cartoon-like vision of a sneering Mrs. Winkey engrained in his brain.

            Bobby navigated his way to his locker and waited for the hallway to clear before he dared open it.  He slowly gathered his books and stuffed them into his backpack.  The backpack had seen better days and already had more stitches in it than Frankenstein’s monster after a car accident.  A new tear had developed which required repair, and Bobby could clearly see his recently acquired library book, Strange Tales of the Weird, peeking out one of its sharp, new corners.  The sight of the book made him forget all about the bloodied math test and Mrs. Winkey’s mocking features.  He had gone to great lengths to secure this book, having stalked its very first borrower, Randy Reinhold, the entire first week Randy had it, waiting for its return to the general circulation. When that rat Randy had renewed the book for yet another week, Bobby almost lost his mind.


I really like this opening! Several years ago, I took an online workshop with an agent who said that what he looks for in the opening pages of a manuscript is a sense of character and conflict. I think this page really gives us the flavor of Bobby’s character right off the bat. He’s got a quirky personality, and there are hints of bullies in his life and a less than optimal home environment. The book Strange Tales of the Weird foreshadows fantasy elements to come, and there are tons of wonderful visuals: the minute hand ticked forward with one more click, more stitches in it than Frankenstein’s monster after a car accident, the bloodied math test.

The only thing I think this page needs is a slashing of unnecessary words. Many of the sentences are longer than they need to be and would read more smoothly with less words. For example, take this sentence of 43 words: Bobby Conrad used every last ounce of his brain power in an attempt to somehow stop the marathoning minute hand of Mrs. Winkey’s clock from reaching its destination, but its will was unstoppable, silently cheered on by the eager eyes of his classmates.

It can be trimmed down to 34 words while retaining its meaning with this re-write: Bobby Conrad used every last ounce of his brain power attempting to stop the marathoning minute hand of Mrs. Winkey’s clock, but it marched inevitably toward its destination, silently cheered on by his classmates.

What I tend to do in my own manuscripts is overwrite in the first draft and trim the fat in revisions, so I am very familiar with this process! I suggest that Christian look for unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. Reduce the number of Mrs. Winkey’s head movements, leaving only the most visual and effective ones. This will streamline the narrative and make the voice really “pop.”

Readers, what do you think?

Christian, thank you for sharing your page with us! Readers can find Christian on Facebook, and don’t forget to read the feedback on Krystalyn and Marcy’s blogs!



17 Responses to First Impressions: SWEPT

  1. I commented on Marcy’s blog already. I agree with the trimming.

  2. That was my thought when I read it on Marcy’s site. Lots of personality but the sentences were too long.

  3. Tiana Smith says:

    Yes, exactly what Dianne said. Fun beginning, but I think you’d lose some MG readers for the wordiness. Cut the unnecessary words and it’ll read so much better.

  4. I agree. I love to get the feeling of the character right off the bat. That’s what makes me want to read on. Congrats to Christian on doing that.

    Here’s to a great new year for both of you.

  5. I agree with your suggestions, Dianne. I left some comments on Marcy’s blog.

  6. Joanne Fritz says:

    My first impression, before reading your comments, Dianne, was “this is too wordy.” Especially that first sentence. But there’s a lot to like here too. We already know a lot about Bobby. Love the worn backpack (although “had seen better days” is a cliche) and the book sticking out, and the fact that Bobby stalked another student who had it out first.

  7. Denise Covey says:

    Hi Dianne. Happy New Year! I wish you a very fruitful writerly year.
    Thanks for this excerpt from Christian’s book. I like the comments below. Brevity can be tricky when we have so much to say! Good advice on trimming sentences. 🙂

  8. Anna says:

    I liked it and never notice the unnecessary words. I was with him from the first and stayed ’til the last. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  9. As always, I’m right with Dianne. Definitely a sense of voice and character and all the things going on in his life. But I did stumble over all the extra words. But the hard part is done – finding the right voice! Trimming extra words is the easy part. Wishing Christian the best of luck!

  10. Christian did a great job. So nice to get feedback from so many readers too. Bobby’s story definitely starts off with a lot of excitement. 🙂

  11. chemistken says:

    You’re right, some of the sentences were a bit too unwieldy, especially for a MG book. And some of the could be broken down into smaller chunks. Byt the mood certainly came through on that first page.

  12. I agree with the extra words. Excellent opening overall. Happy New Year, Dianne! 🙂

  13. Lexa Cain says:

    I got stopped by “marathoning minute hand” in the first sentence. Other than the fact “marathoning” isn’t an adjective, it conflicts with the point of your paragraph – that time isn’t marathoning but sprinting toward 3 o’clock. Time marathoning would happen if you were in the dentist’s chair. I loved the reasoning the MC wants the day not to finish. It sounded like some big fight might happen outside. I was looking forward to action and excitement. But I got long descriptions of things that don’t really matter (in comparison with getting beat up) like if the teacher’s grading his test and the condition of his backpack. I noticed you wrote “slowly” twice to describe the MC’s actions, and my opinion is the plotline is the thing that’s really moving slowly here and needs some cutting and hurrying along to get us to adventure. Good luck with your novel!

  14. I commented at Marcy’s place, but I like the overall feel of this first page. It’s definitely got a hook.

    *waves at Dianne*

  15. Seems like an interesting book. I agree – the opening has a very strong sense of character that captures the reader right away.

    Happy New Year!

  16. Beate says:

    That is an awesome opening. It got me so interested in what’s going on, that I would have liked to keep on reading 🙂

    A happy and healthy new year to you, Dianne! 🙂
    I hope you are having an amazing Sunday.
    Lots of hugs to you,

  17. I think unnecessary words are a battle for all of us! It takes that outsider’s view to catch them sometimes, though.