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

First Impressions: THE KEY COLLECTIVE

Welcome, May! (Summer vacation is coming — I can feel it on the horizon … yippee!)

Today, I’m bringing you a First Impression from Alicia Willette-Cook – a steampunk novel titled THE KEY COLLECTIVE.

 She found the key under his bed.  Not that she was looking.  She didn’t even know the guy. Why would she be looking under his bed, for crying out loud.  Assignations are odd like that.  One minute you’re locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next you’re crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for your sock.  Instead you find this key. It was just a key.  Nothing special about it.  But when her fingers touched it she automatically grasped it, glanced over her shoulder and hid it in her fist like a child sneaking away with stolen candy.
           Twenty minutes, money exchanged, and an awkward hug/cheek kiss good-bye she was finally able to get a good look at her stolen treasure. She leaned against a battered guard rail under a flickering florescent light in the building’s basement parking garage, and slowly unfurled her tightly clasped fist.
           The weird pinkish yellow light seemed to be absorbed by the thick brass key cupped in her hand, giving it an odd greenish color.  It was about three inches long, fairly freshly cut, or rather, not used much. She felt the raw edges scrape over her callused fingertips as she twisted it around and around.  There weren’t any distinguishing markings on it but she couldn’t seem to put it away, turning it over and over in her chilled fingers. Anoria raked her long, tangled hair out of her eyes and hunched her shoulders deeper into her threadbare navy pea coat.  Idly, her fingers twisted the key around again, rubbing it between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. What was that groove in the head? She brought the key closer to her eyes, moving directly under the unsteady light.
           In the pocket of her coat her cell buzzed. Startled, she jumped and almost dropped the key on the damp pavement.  “Goddamn it!” She muttered halfheartedly, “What the hell can you possibly want at this time of night, Braedon?” She shoved the key deep in her pocket and wrenched the phone out, flipping it open. Text message.  Sender Blocked.  “What the hell…?”  Curious, she hit the open key.  Two words blipped onto the screen.

Look Up.  
Well this was an interesting beginning! At first I thought this was a one night stand, but then payment is casually mentioned, making the situation very different. Ahem. Interesting indeed. I definitely want to know more about Anoria!
I think my biggest overall comment is that a lot of words could be trimmed. Personally, I am a big over-writer.  I flood my first drafts with multiple adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases – not to mention entire sentences and paragraphs that don’t need to be there. Then I spend the next 3-4 drafts taking them out.
This narration would be more effective with less words, I think. For example, when Anoria stops to examine the key in the garage, I suggest focusing more on the key and less on her gestures and description of her hair and clothing. Whenever you use more than one adjective, consider if you really need all of them. Does it have to be a threadbare navy pea coat? Could threadbare or navy be dropped? Although you want the reader to visualize the scene, you want to hook them with the action more.
I liked this sentence in the first paragraph: One minute you’re locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next you’re crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for your sock.  But I would be careful about slipping into second person. It could be re-written as: One minute she was locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next she was crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for her sock.
Overall, I was intrigued by this first page – the situation, the voice, the character – and definitely the text message!  Who wouldn’t turn the page after that?
Thanks for sharing, Alicia! You can read Marcy Hatch’s critique of this same page at Mainewords, and be sure to say hello to Alicia at her blog Saffron Wine.

Photo by Patrick Callaghan

15 Responses to First Impressions: THE KEY COLLECTIVE

  1. Sarah says:

    I think this beginning is pretty good! I agree with all your feedback, Dianne. With the 1st-2nd person switch, it’s also a switch between past tense and present, and in your suggested edit, you actually changed both, and I thought it was much better. It was a bit jarring since it comes so early on, and I think that simple change will keep from pulling the reader out of the story, which is great because the sentiment is excellent! Anyway–I’d definitely keep reading.

  2. This is an intriguing read that fuels the imagination. I was hooked. I enjoyed the idea and wanted to read on and find out more.

  3. One minute you’re locked in the most intimate of embraces, the next you’re crawling around on his floor, ass in the air, looking for your sock. <– This cracked me up!

    I agree that this could be tightened up a bit. I’m big on using fewer words to say more. Overall, I really enjoyed the piece, though.

  4. Linda G. says:

    What a great hook of an opener! Definitely intriguing enough to make me turn the page.

    Dianne’s suggestions are good ones–a little trimming will go a long way toward sharpening the scene.

    Good job!

  5. First of all, I don’t think the use of the word “you” outside of dialog automatically qualifies as second person POV. If you replace the word “you” with the word “one” it just becomes the narrator making a casual observation about human nature (not necessarily in this exact passage, but in general).

    Ahem. Anyway, I really like this opening. It’s full of voice, and it’s not afraid to pack a wollop.

    That being said, I did trip over a few things.

    – “Twenty minutes, money exchanged, and an awkward hug/cheek kiss good-bye she was finally able to get a good look at her stolen treasure.” is not a sentence. There’s nothing wrong with using fragments on purpose, for style, and when they make sense, but this one doesn’t. I think you might mean “After twenty minutes, money exchanged, and an awkward hug/cheek kiss good-bye, she was finally able to get a good look at her stolen treasure.”

    – I don’t know if this is a rule of grammar (probably isn’t) but I would like to see pinkish yellow hyphenated like “pinkish-yellow.”

    – I agree with Dianne that there are spots where you can remove words. I didn’t have a problem with the string of adjectives, but another example is “In the pocket of her coat her cell buzzed.” Is it really key that we know it was in her coat pocket? You could maybe just say “Her cell buzzed.”

    Tightening up the writing in as many places as possible will help the action flow. Which is good, because you’ve got a fascinating scenario unfolding here, and especially after that last line, I would really want to read on.

  6. Alicia C. says:

    Yes…I can be wordy EDIT! And now I’m *thinking* about the POV which is Never a good thing. That gets me messed up! ACK! I was actually going for the Narrator Observation thing that Matthew was talking about…but if it didn’t work, then I’ll have to rework it. Hmm. All very good points! Love it. Keep ’em coming! Oh, and I think that the navy pea coat thing is a misunderstanding. I’ll easily change that. I’ve always called them that, Like an Army Jacket…Navy Pea Coat…it’s not a color. It’s what they wear. Never really thought about the confusion until you pointed it out as too many adjectives. HA! I thought there was only one! Though Marcy did have a good one about close third being too aware of herself…and not really noticing her Threadbare coat. True.
    Anyway! Love it! Keep up the comments! All very useful!

  7. I think this is one of the more intriguing first pages you’ve ever critiqued. I TOTALLY want to know what happens when she looks up.

    I agree with what most people have already said about tightening the writing a bit, but the switch to “you” in the sentence about crawling on the floor looking for a sock made me laugh out loud and wasn’t at all off-putting to me. In fact, the sentence brought me more into the piece.

    One question, though. I don’t know much about such things, but if money were exchanged for the um, recreation, making it essentially a business deal, would they then be likely to exchange a hug and kiss?

    Great start.

  8. I liked this but I sort of wanted to cut it in half which goes along with all the tightening comments.

  9. Donna Hole says:

    I loved the imagery of her crawling around under the bed, and then finding and hiding the key. Excellent first lines. But after that, yeah my first thought also was that it is “wordy” in several places.

    As Matt and Dianne have already said, it could use some tightening, but this totally grabbed my attention. And the last line “look up” is such a tease; I found myself wanting to look up also, lol.

    Excellent first page Alicia. She’s an intriguing character, and the plot situation is enticing. I can’t wait to see how you work in the steampunk aspect.


  10. A great opening, but I agree that some words could be trimmed to make the action more focused.

  11. That caught me as well. Compounded on that the comment about not knowing the guy gave me pause and then the money exchanged. Great way to show the mc’s profession.

  12. It is an intriguing beginning, especially the exchange of money, but I agree about the need of trimming. The pace was slow, which meant I quickly lost interest.

    Trim and reveal solid action and it will be a winner, imo.

  13. I agree with the trimming and the points mentioned above. I’m an over-writer too, so I do this all the time.
    Great beginning. I would read on.
    Good luck!

  14. Cherie Reich says:

    I’d definitely read more, especially with that last line!

  15. Jemi Fraser says:

    This is so much fun! Lots to like – and I like the advice you’ve got so far too. 🙂