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

First Impressions: UNTITLED

fortune-cookieThis month we have a First Impressions submission from a seventh grade writer. This story was written for a class assignment, and she’s seeking feedback from a wider audience.

***

Tightly clutching a twenty dollar bill in her hand, 23 year old Maya approached the counter at an Asian takeout restaurant.

“Uhm, could I have an order of spring rolls?” she uttered.

“Is that all?” The woman at the counter inquired.

Maya nodded. 

“That will be 11 dollars.” The woman added.

Maya handed the woman the twenty dollar bill and received her change. She situated herself on one of the red leathery cushions positioned throughout the wait area. She had heard good things about this restaurant, and was hoping that it would live up to the rumors. It was strange, really. The place just appeared one day out of nowhere. A different employee (a man this time) tugged on a short string connected to a bell, making a shrill ring that grabbed the attention of all the customers. He then placed a grease soaked takeout bag marked ‘spring rolls’ on the mahogany countertop. Maya stood and paced over to the countertop and grabbed her food. She peered up at the man at the counter when she realized he had been staring at her the entire time she was here. He winked at her then continued staring. What a creep… Maya thought to herself and hurried out of the building. She shivered. That’s definitely a drawback. This place better have amazing food. Maya weaved through the bustling crowds of people out on the terribly paved streets of Vladivostok.

 A chunk of her ash blond hair slid into her face, covering one of her bronze-colored eyes. She ducked into an alleyway, pulled her hair away from her face, and continued walking down the alleyway. Her nose caught whiffs from the white paper bag in her hand, and she could almost taste the crispy, almost sweet parcels filled with a variety of vegetables. She navigated through a labyrinth of alleyways until she got so far out she came to an entrance to a forest. Maya loved this getaway from the busy life in the town. She would come here almost everyday now for some peace and quiet. The thick treetops were comforting, as they reminded her of her childhood that was full of adventure. Pulling back some blooming branches to create an opening, she entered and began to wander around. 

Following  the sound of a trickling stream, she came upon an old, eroded wooden bridge that was surrounded by lush underbrush. She maneuvered around the shrubs and sat down on the side of the bridge. The bridge was still damp from the morning dew. Maya slipped her flats off of her feet and set them next to her, swung her feet over the side of the bridge and opened her bag. She scarfed down the spring rolls (which really were as amazing as people said they were) and went to roll up her trash in the bag. I almost forgot. She pulled out a fortune cookie encased in a transparent plastic, tore away the wrapper, and snapped the cookie open. Setting the slip of paper holding her fortune to the side, she ate the cookie. When she picked up the slip of paper and read her fortune, she suddenly felt sick to her stomach. This must be some sort of a joke. Her mind was racing. The paper read ‘Your life’s in danger. Talk to nobody about this. You must leave to a different country immediately’. Maya quickly gathered her trash, slipped her shoes on and ran all the way back to her flat that overlooked the ocean.

***

There’s a lot of lovely description in this piece. All our senses are engaged – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We’ve got the mahogany countertop, the greasy bag, the shrill bell, the scent of the spring rolls, and the damp bridge – just to name a few examples. Not only can I picture the setting, I experience everything that Maya experiences, which is a tricky thing to do in third person. Well done!

I also like the early clues that “something is not right” leading up to the fortune cookie warning: the restaurant that appeared one day out of nowhere and the man behind the counter who was staring at Maya. That’s definitely a drawback. This line made me laugh.

One thing I would suggest is dropping some of the physical descriptions of Maya. Rather than state her exact age in the opening sentence, let us guess her age based on some detail in the story – for instance, maybe she is stopping at this restaurant after work, or between college classes.

Likewise, this sentence pulls us out of the story: A chunk of her ash blond hair slid into her face, covering one of her bronze-colored eyes. The reason is, the writer has done such a good job making us see and feel what Maya sees and feels that we are very connected to her. But if a piece of hair falls into a person’s eyes, they don’t usually think to themselves: My hair is ash blonde and my eyes are bronze. Therefore, we know that the author is inserting that description. It’s not really what Maya’s thinking. Even in third person, the writer should stay very close to the main character’s thoughts. (I didn’t know this until I worked on revisions for The Caged Graves with an editor at Clarion/HMH. She made me drop physical descriptions of Verity unless they were pertinent to the scene; ie, when Verity compared herself to a photograph of her deceased mother.)

Overall, this is an excellent beginning to the story that needs only a little tweaking. Thanks for sharing it with us! I really want to encourage this talented young writer to keep honing her craft.

Readers, please check out the feedback from Marcy and Krystalyn – and leave your own comments below.

13 Responses to First Impressions: UNTITLED

  1. Good point about the hair and the eyes.
    The descriptions were great. She knows what a greasy bag of egg rolls is like.
    Still feel the later paragraphs were a bit long. But overall, really good.

    • DianneSalerni says:

      Ah, excellent point! Long paragraphs of description are best broken into smaller paragraphs. It helps group ideas and benefits the reader.

  2. Agree with what’s been said so far, just wanted to add that I’m intrigued.

  3. Hilary says:

    Hi Dianne – she’s gone to an Asian takeaway … would you have Spring Rolls at breakfast time … the still wet morning dew bridge …

    Sometimes I would! But it is intriguing, especially when we’re told she’s in Vladivostok … it certainly has potential … cheers Hilary

  4. Ooo-now, I want a Spring Roll! The world does come to life and draws in. The opening sentence wasn’t my thing-the age pulled away, and beginning with an independent clause bothers me (but that’s a personal tick of mine 🙂 ). The paragraphs were also a bit long, making it feel heavy. But I’d keep reading!

  5. Darned good for seventh grade writing, I’d say. All of that self-conscience description will disappear with guidance like yours and some more experience.

  6. Tiana Smith says:

    I’m so impressed with this writer! I noticed the same thing about the description of her hair and eyes, so I’m sure there’s another way to fit that information in. But I loved the descriptions and I really love how this piece ended. I’m intrigued and wish there were more for me to keep reading. What a interesting piece!

  7. This writer definitely shows a lot of promise. It’s funny you mentioned the ash-blonde sentence, because that took me out of the story as well. There’s also a tendency (very common) to feel the need to describe every action, which really isn’t necessary. For example, you could say she grabbed the bag without telling us she “paced to the counter.” Your readers will fill in the blanks.

    But overall, extremely well done. It’s an intriguing set-up.

    • PS – Not to mention this writer has a tremendous amount of courage to open up her work to strangers’ feedback. That takes a lot of guts! I know plenty of adults who don’t have that much bravery.

  8. RO says:

    Had you not mentioned this was a 12-13 year old, I never would have gathered that based on this descriptive tale. What a talented writer. While I agree that the paragraphs seemed a little long as we get closer to the end, that’s nothing major and easy to be corrected. At that age, I would not have had the courage to open up for writing critique, so I admire the courage, too. Bravo for a job well done! Hugs…

  9. Anna says:

    “Chunk of hair fell into her face.” needed revision I think.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  10. ChemistKen says:

    I wish I would have been able to write like that back in seventh grade.

  11. I think I left my thoughts at Marcy’s place, but there’s definitely some good conflict going into this opening.