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

First Impressions: THE TRANSPARENTS

Our third First Impressions critique  is a MG fantasy called THE TRANSPARENTS, by Vicki Tremper.
Chapter 1: The Sneeze
           Sometimes I wish I could disappear like my hero, Houdini. Get myself out of dangerous situations and tight spots. Today is one of those days.
           Ms. Lopez’s long, dark hair sways gently as she turns her head from side to side. I’m slumped down so low that my nose practically touches my desk. I try to mentally convince her that I’m not here and to pick someone else.
           You do not see me. You will walk right past me. I am not the volunteer you seek.
           I avoid her piercing black eyes. Don’t get me wrong. Normally, I like Ms. Lopez’s eyes. Normally, I live to hear her say “Daniel” in that melodious sing-song that could rival any bird. Just not when she’s looking for volunteers.
           A sneeze begins to build in my nose, which would be the absolute worst. Ms. Lopez needs to forget my existence. For now. Until she finds her victim—I mean, volunteer. She won’t be able to ignore me if I sneeze. She’ll be alerted to my presence and I might as well stand up now and wave my arms around.
           I’m not here. I’m a speck of dust in the corner of your vision. Choose someone else.
           I really don’t want to solve the math problem she wrote on the whiteboard. I’m okay at math. Just as I’m okay at English, and okay at Social Studies, and okay at Science. Which is better than being sucky at Gym.
           But I don’t like being on the spot. I don’t perform well under pressure.
           If only I were more like Houdini. He could escape any situation, thrill a crowd, and stroll into and out of danger without messing a single strand of hair. Okay, there isn’t much hope for my limp hair, but the rest of it sure would make sixth grade easier.
           The sneeze tickles my nostrils and forces my eyes closed. It’s coming and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I think this is a really cute beginning that does just what it’s supposed to do!  I love how Houdini is Daniel’s hero, but Daniel himself can’t perform under pressure. There’s a pretty good voice here, although once in awhile it wavers – such as in the phrase melodious sing-song, which doesn’t strike me as the words of a sixth grade boy.
There are also a couple places where the narrative could be tightened. The fifth paragraph, for example, could be trimmed to: A sneeze begins to build in my nose, which would be the absolute worst. Ms. Lopez needs to forget my existence until she finds her victim—I mean, volunteer. She won’t be able to ignore me if I sneeze. I might as well stand up and wave my arms around. Watch for places where there is too much repetition. A little bit conveys voice. Too much slows us down.
Since the chapter is titled The Sneeze, I assume Daniel does sneeze, gets called upon, and there follows some inciting incident leading us into the main action of the story.  I don’t have anything else to suggest for this lovely first page – although I do want to mention that, by coincidence, I visited the Harry Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA just last week, which is well worth a stop if you are in that area.  Along with the tour, they do a magic show for kids in the afternoons and a séance/psychic show for adults at night. (Want to read about my experience at their psychic show?)
Does anyone have any suggestions for Vicki?  Don’t forget to see what Marcy has to say, and you can find Vicki on her blog, All the World’s in Words.

23 Responses to First Impressions: THE TRANSPARENTS

  1. Linda G. says:

    Vicki caught me at the title of the chapter. As soon as I read “The Sneeze,” I was intrigued.

    Really, a lovely first page. Like you, Dianne, I’d scratch the word “melodious” — it throws the POV — and tighten up the bits you mention, but otherwise I think it’s a great MG opener.

    Great work, Vicki! 🙂

  2. Sarah says:

    This IS a strong beginning! I agree regarding tightening–sometimes you have to get a little distance to be able to spot places where you’re belaboring a point or saying things twice. This is a particular weakness of mine, so I’m getting a bit better at catching it, but I always have to step away first.

    Great work!

  3. Tonja says:

    I loved the voice too.

  4. I agree Dianne. We learn a lot about the character and there’s a fantastic grasp on his voice.

  5. vbtremper says:

    Wow, thanks everyone! What a great way to start my vacation week. Which doesn’t mean I won’t make time today to tighten those sentences.

    Thanks, Dianne and Marcy!


  6. Julie Dao says:

    This was an excellent beginning! Agreed that it doesn’t sound much like a sixth-grade boy at certain points, but other than that the voice is terrific.

  7. Jess says:

    I love the voice and the premise here! Hope you’re entering the Christmas in July contest!

  8. Pk Hrezo says:

    It’s totally cute! I do agree in the voice inconsistency, but that’s an easy fix. Also, just as a suggestion–I thought if she twisted the thoughts into Jedi mind tricks, it’d really be funny. As in: Quickly I focus on my Jedi mind trick–you do not see me, I’m not the volunteer you’re looking for. Move along.

    Any MG boy could totally dig that!

  9. Super start. I agree with the comments that have already been made. Only thing I didn’t quite “get” was the comment about how his okay grasp of most subjects was “better than being sucky at gym”. Does that mean he IS sucky at gym, or does it mean he’s a prepubescent jock? Great voice.

  10. I love this beginning. I get a clear picture of Daniel, with his limp hair, and his desperate hope to not sneeze and draw attention to himself. I agree that the extra explanation isn’t necessary…kids will know that if you sneeze, the teacher, (not to mention the whole class) will spot you. Since he mentions Ms. Lopez’ swaying hair, I wonder if he’s got a tiny crush on her. The references to Houdini are apt for a sixth grade boy.

  11. Love the voice and the engaging tone. And, yes, I would remove the phrase “melodious sing-song.” Great first page.

  12. Lydia Kang says:

    I think this is a fun beginning chock full of voice. Love that! I do think it needs a wee bit of tightening and the next phase of the scene needs to happen sooner. But otherwise (just being nitpicky) it’s great!

  13. My son is a 6th grader and even to himself, I doubt he’d reflect on his teacher’s eyes or voice, especially not when he’s trying to avoid her. Keep his thoughts in the here-and-now and you’ll get it right.

    I like how you say he’s “okay” in everything – I get tired of hearing only about the kids who get As in everything (which my son doesn’t, even though he’s smart)!

  14. I liked Daniel’s voice a lot but was a little surprised that he was a boy because of the things he was focused on (the eyes, the voice) which has already been mentioned.

    It did keep me reading all the way through 🙂

  15. vbtremper says:

    Ack, Blogger has been eating my comments. I hope this one posts.

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words and constructive criticism. It’s true that Daniel has a crush on his teacher, which becomes clearer later in the scene. And he only uses those kinds of words about her. I’ll consider changing that.

    Thanks to Dianne and Marcy for this opportunity!

  16. Great beginning, but I wasn’t a great fan of the opening paragraph. “Today is one of those days” threw me out of the story, as did “Don’t get me wrong.” I feel separated from the character. I’m not living through his eyes. He’s telling me his story.

    Good luck with it, Vicki! 😀

  17. DL Hammons says:

    I really liked this page. The suggestions already mentioned certainly could strengthen it, but its very very close!

  18. I like this! I like how the voice sounds a little bit Star Wars-y too. “I am not the volunteer you seek.” 🙂

    Great first page!

  19. Gina Gao says:

    This sounds like a really good premise.


  20. Mina Burrows says:

    I like Daniel and in this small opening, you’ve already won me over.

    I agree with Dianne, though about some of the word choice for a sixth grade boy.

    Really well done!

  21. Hi there!!! Nice first page!! I would also tighten up some repeated phrases which slow the pace a bit. Lovely!

  22. I like the original perspective of building up to the sneeze.

    I agree with Diane about tightening up. It’s a discipline I have had to teach myself over the past 12-18 months and it really works well, though I also love passages full of rich description.

  23. Jemi Fraser says:

    What a fun beginning! Great voice and a fun character. I like Dianne’s suggestions to tighten up a bit – but it’s a great opening 🙂