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

First Impressions: THE DWELLERS

Our third submission for First Impressions is a YA sci-fi/fantasy titled THE DWELLERS from Mary O’Donnell.
By time the world listened, the pain was too much to bear. A new dawn had risen above them that cast a shadow so large that the sun couldn’t fight it. Now all there was to do was become something else, a dweller.
 It was a cold winter, and Merrow didn’t want to be out in it longer than she had to be. Her thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. Bright torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls sparkle like the diamonds she had seen up in the sky. The cave seemed to go on forever, and that only fed Merrow’s fear. She didn’t know why she had to come here, this forbidden place. All she did know was that you didn’t ignore a dying wish, especially from an elder. The light ahead became warmer and brighter as she walked. A smile crossed her face, Merrow was only ten, but that was old enough to know that warmth kept them alive in winters like this. The opening widened and there were places made for sitting cut of the rocks all around a large fire that came from the very depths of the earth.
  “Your footsteps are loud. Do you have nothing to hide child?”
 Merrow recognized this man, he used to lead them many moons ago. It took her breath away to know that a man who had been dead since before she had ever been thought of was here, and talking to her. Donn didn’t look like a ghost to Merrow. She couldn’t see through him, and there was dirt over his shaggy black hair and beard. His leather winter wraps that protected him from the cold looked solid enough for her to reach out and touch it. Merrow stayed where she was, taking slow and careful breaths.
  “No, there is nothing left for me to lose,” Merrow said, standing tall, her shoulders rigid. Her fear didn’t show, which she was glad of. It was only her pride that gave her away.
This is an intriguing beginning, and as far as the content is concerned, I’d definitely turn the page to read more. It was easy to connect with Merrow. She’s cold, but walking toward warmth. She’s afraid, but honoring someone’s last request. She’s going someplace strange and forbidden – where she finds it remarkable to meet a dead man, but not entirely shocking. More like, she knew to expect this but found the reality of it different than anticipated.
I’m going to focus on editing. There are several places where pronouns are used without a discernible referent, most notably in the second sentence: A new dawn had risen above them … We don’t know who them refers to. And because we don’t know, we also don’t know the subject of this sentence: Now all there was to do was become something else, a dweller. Personally, I’d remove the reference to them and leave out that next sentence altogether. Introduce us to the concept of dwellers somewhere else.
Another place where them is not identified is in this phrase warmth kept them alive in winters like this, and although I know theymeans the torches in this sentence — Bright torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls sparkle – something about the phrasing struck me as wrong. Maybe: The bright torches that led her way through the moist cave made the dust within the walls sparkle … or some other rephrasing?
Here we have an incomplete simile: Her thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. I think Mary means the coat is not as warm as the love which prompted the gift, but rephrasing would make that more clear. There are also a couple comma splices in here – places where two complete sentences are incorrectly joined with a comma – and another place where a comma is used for a compound predicate and should not be.
Mary, thanks for sharing your first page with us! I think with a little editing and adjustment of the language, you’ll have an excellent opener. Readers, what do you think?
Don’t forget to check out Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.

7 Responses to First Impressions: THE DWELLERS

  1. I really like the opening line. It catches your attention immediately.

  2. Tiana Smith says:

    I’m a little confused about the genre to be honest. You say it’s YA, but the first couple of lines don’t really make that clear (it seems older), then your MC is ten years old (which is too young). Just a thought. I agree that with some tightening up, it could work better.

  3. I like this premise, but some copy/line editing would definitely help. I had a hard time getting past two unnecessary “that(s)” in the second sentence.

  4. Lexa Cain says:

    Hi Mary! Since Dianne did a great job with the nitty gritty of editing, I’ll take the “big picture.”

    The first sentence is awesome! The next two are confusing. I’d keep the first sentence and try to expand it a bit to give more info. Your first page strikes me as a writer working very hard to squeeze in action, character intro, backstory, dialog, and description. It ends up a bit muddled.

    The thing which will hook the reader is the character’s voice, her emotions, and tension. Despite the fact you have her going to a forbidden place and finding a “dead” person, you don’t use this to your advantage. You “tell” Merrow’s afraid, but “show” she isn’t really; she notices pretty sparkles and smiles at the warmth. Zero tension. If you concentrate on her nervousness, show it through her physical reactions, give her worried inner thoughts, and then be frightened to hear and find the ex-leader, you’ll make your reader scared too. That’ll hook them. So concentrate on emotion and voice. Good luck!

  5. Steven says:

    I commented on Marcy’s blog as well, but I agree that the passage needs some tuning and tightening. For me, the first paragraph needs to be moved elsewhere since it seems to be entirely disjointed from the rest of the passage. The first page is intriguing, it just needs some work (like everything I write).

  6. Gwen Gardner says:

    I’d definitely keep reading. The suspense is there, the tension. You know something big is going on. My comments are also toward the editing. Do a search of “there was” “that was” “it was” “she was” “was” “that” “were” and reword using stronger verbs. Tighten it up a bit and you’re good to go. Good job!

  7. A couple people already commented about how much they love the first sentence, so it’s probably just me, but I didn’t quite “get” that first sentence. It’s as though a word is missing or something.

    The entire first paragraph strikes me as more of a blurb designed to give an overall introduction to the book, as opposed to the opening paragraph of its prologue. The rest of this excerpt is where the real “action” takes place. (However, the second sentence in the second paragraph is unclear. Wasn’t as warm… as what?)

    The voice and story premise are both very promising, and with some fine tuning, they could be even better yet.