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

First Impressions: THE JADE COTERIE

Our First Impressions post today comes from Summer Ross. This is the first page of her adult fantasy, THE JADE COTERIE.

Ebony Graves slipped out of her bedroom window. “Constellations guide me,” she whispered and landed with both feet on the soft ground. She left everything behind; the only life she had ever known.
Ebony lived in a small, two-bedroom house. Her room barely fit a bed and a dresser. Her door locked from the outside. Her father had the master bedroom. Ebony pictured him sprawled out on the old queen size bed he used to share with her mother. She hoped the sound of the window hadn’t woken him. The last thing she wanted was for him to catch her.

It took months to find enough courage to escape her cage. Her decision had been made when she read the article stating that the Jade Coterie, the elite courtesan group in Talis City, had been looking for new members in the previous morning’s newsprint. She had paced back and forth in her room deciding when to leave and which route to take. She sifted through her clothes, but all she owned were dresses. Her shoes fared no better, for her father often reminded her a proper girl wore heels. She picked the darkest blue dress from her closet to wear for the day, knowing when night hit, she’d leave. She couldn’t risk asking permission from a man who used a fist for talking. He’d kill her before he’d ever let her leave alive.

Ebony slipped out when the moon shone bright with a trickle of light invading the threshold of the horizon, as if it would spill over into the neighborhood at anytime. With her heart protesting in her chest, she opened the gate and looked back at her home for, what she hoped, was the last time. All the windows were dark and no movement stirred the drapes. She sighed, turned down the alley, and headed downtown.
My first thought is that I like Ebony’s escape from her house as the opening of the story.  There’s a lot of promise in that for the reader: Why is she leaving? Where is she going?

I was uncertain about her first line of dialogue: Constellations guide me. Is there supposed to be a comma there? Constellations, guide me.  That would make it a prayer or wish, and that’s fine.  Otherwise, it sounds like she’s answering a question that nobody asked her.

Secondly, it seemed strange to describe the interior of her house after she’d already gone out the window.  I’m sure that could be rephrased as part of the narrative, describing how she felt escaping a home that was more like a prison and focusing on her emotions rather than the layout of the house.

The third paragraph is backstory.  I would suggest cutting that paragraph altogether.  Instead, continue to describe Ebony’s escape.  Leave us wondering a little longer where she’s going and what she’s running from.  As I mentioned before, a beginning where Ebony climbs out her window raises a lot of questions for the reader. You don’t want to answer them in the next paragraph!  Make the readers turn the page to find out more.

Finally, the moon shone bright with a trickle of light contradicts itself.  Why not put the moon behind a cloud, so that its bright light is about to spill over the town, and Ebony wants to get away from the house before it does?

Summer, thanks for sharing your first page with us! Readers, please share your thoughts, and if you don’t know Summer, you can find her at her blog, My Inner Fairy, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique at Mainewords.

14 Responses to First Impressions: THE JADE COTERIE

  1. Sarah says:

    I agree that you could heighten the tension by cutting the backstory. Let that unfold after we have a more solid sense of place and of the MC, including how her garb makes it more difficult to get out the window, etc. You can include a few tidbits (like–the bit about her father talking with his fists and the fact that she hoped he hadn’t heard the window–but cut the part about how “the last thing she wanted was for him to catch her” … because that’s obvious, and the paragraph will have more impact if you don’t state the obvious), but keep it spare and tight. This is an escape, fraught with tension, and she doesn’t have time to explain stuff right now! Best of luck with this–I want to know what happens next!

  2. Linda G. says:

    Love the title! And I agree that the escape is a great place to start the story.

    Dianne and Sarah (above) both have good comments–you won’t go wrong listening to them.

    Best of luck with your writing! 🙂

  3. I agree with the backstory in the third paragraph. It slowed the tension for me. Otherwise, sounds like a great start. Good luck!

  4. Pk Hrezo says:

    Excellent advice, Dianne, as always. I have nothing to add. Great job, Summer!! It’s a nice opening, and will be even stronger with the suggestions. 😀

  5. LTM says:

    I agree with Dianne’s advice, and overall, I love the atmosphere of this story! I immediately had lots of questions about where she was going and why. I was glad she was escaping b/c of the fist used for talking.

    Great work, Summer! <3

  6. SA Larsenッ says:

    Great job, Dianne. I already left comments over on Marcy’s site.

  7. Fiona Claire says:

    Yeah, I agree with cutting the paragraph of description, ‘It took months, blah, blah . . . ’, but – I love that her name is Ebony and she’s leaving in the dark of night and – I’m going way out on a limb here, but can she just glance in the mirror to see if the bruises dad left are finally gone? I’d really like to have an idea of what she looks like. Not terribly important, but if she just happens to look in the mirror, we could see her too.

  8. Jaime Loren says:

    I agree with everyone here too, and I know from experience you can’t go wrong with Dianne and Sarah. 🙂

    What I will add is that you’d be surprised at just how much one sentence can tell a reader. The fact her door is locked from the outside tells me exactly what her life must be like, and why she’d want to escape it. You could definitely keep that in the narration, and perhaps mention that she couldn’t turn in her room without running into furniture as she threw some clothes into her backpack?

    The only other thing I’d add about the constellations is that perhaps she could whisper that after her feet hit the ground? Otherwise it seems as though they’re guiding her TO the ground. 😉

    Otherwise you’ve got an intriguing first page, and I’d definitely read on. Good luck! 😀

  9. Summer Ross says:

    Thank you all so much for the helpful feedback and thank you Dianne for having my first page on your blog! Great feedback and I’ll take it all to heart.

    I agree with the back story paragraph needing to go.

  10. Tonja says:

    I really liked it. It’s very brave of you to open yourself up to an online critique. I loved the character’s name too.

  11. Great job Jade!

    If it were me, I’d probably weave paras 2 and 3 in later and stick my opening (yes, way too much Olympic gymnastic watching) with paras 1 and 4 including the revisions Dianne mentioned.

  12. Cherie Reich says:

    Sounds good with what everyone said. I really do like the line “Constellations guide me.” But I think you’re right, Dianne, about that comma.

  13. I also liked the first paragraph! As mentioned, I too was a little confused about the “Constellations guide me,” but that’s an easy fix!

    I love this feature “First Impressions” – I’m going to have to remember this!

  14. Hi, Dianne, Hi, Summer.


    you nailed everything I had felt.


    I really like the premise and the descriptions. The tension is there, I would just tweak it even more. nicely done.