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

First Impressions: VOICES

Our second First Impressions post of January comes to us from Cindy Schrauben, and it’s a MG novel entitled VOICES.
Callie could hear mumbled voices, but she wasn’t entirely sure where they were coming from.  She held her eyes tightly shut, but the light stung through; its brilliance radiating in streaks and flashes.  Why wouldn’t it stop? She grunted in pain as she shook her head to deny the voices and the light. 

Where was she? What was happening?

“Momma,” Callie cried as she strained to open her eyes against the blaze. The voices came louder and faster then… cutting through the haze.

“She’s awake, someone get the Doctor!”

“Callie, Callie … honey, it’s okay, I’m here!”

So many voices. She recognized them then – her Mother and her sister, but who else? It sounded like a flock of angry birds… voices coming in and out. Shrieking and cooing at the same time.

“Callie, Oh, Callie, Thank God you are awake,” her Mother’s voice shrieked with desperation.

Opening her eyes was a struggle…. She was so tired.  Callie clamped her eyes tightly closed again in an attempt to shut it all out. “Why were they all screaming so loudly?  Please, God, make them stop.” She thought. She felt a sense of suffocation… like she was being crushed beneath the voices and the light.

“Is she okay? My God, she looks so pale, but she’s alive.” It was her Mother again. “Will she know who we are; will she ever be the same? I don’t care, she’s alive. My Baby, my Baby!” Her Mother’s voice sounded different now. Like a bad cell phone connection. Flickering… jumping…. like pieces were missing.

It was then that Callie realized that something was wrong.  Very wrong.  Her Mother was usually very calm and articulate, showing little emotion. What she heard now was a voice spilling over with fear and urgency. Callie felt the warmth of her Mother beside her. A warmth that she hadn’t felt for a very long time; it was both comforting and disconcerting.

“Where’s the Doctor? Someone, help, get the Doctor.” She knew that voice too … it was her little sister, Emma. Her voice was so loud and sharp. Callie moved. Burying her head in the pillow in an attempt to shut out the voices, but it hurt… it hurt so much.
I’ll start with some small, easy-to-fix editing.  Doctor, mother, and baby should not be capitalized when used as common nouns, only when used in place of the person’s name. The line that Callie thinks (“Why were they all screaming so loudly?  Please, God, make them stop.”) shouldn’t be enclosed in quotations.  An editor once told me when a character thinks a line of dialogue instead of saying it, it should be in italics.
When the story opens, Callie has been injured and has a head injury.  If I was reading this passage alone, I’d guess something life-threatening had happened – like a car accident.  However, the author included a synopsis for me, so I know Callie’s been knocked down in dodge ball and hit her head on the gym floor.  Therefore, her mother’s hysteria surprises me, considering the low mortality rate of dodge ball.
I also know from the synopsis that as a result of this injury, Callie gains the ability to hear what others are thinking.  So, I’m guessing what sounds like her mother’s words are actually her thoughts.  But I’m not sure why her mother treats the survival of her daughter in a gym accident as a miracle instead of thinking: That idiot gym teacher! I’m going to sue the school!  Unless (and this is just occurring to me), Callie’s been unconscious a long time. Maybe she’s even been in a coma …? How hard DID she hit her head?
Overall, this is an intriguing beginning, and I’d like to know more about what happened to Callie and what’s going to happen next.
Cindy, thanks for sharing your first page with us, and good luck on your project!  Please be sure and stop by Mainewords to see what Marcy Hatch has to suggest.

12 Responses to First Impressions: VOICES

  1. Linda G. says:

    It IS and intriguing opening — good job, Cindy! I encourage you to continue with this.

    Dianne, your observations are spot on, as usual. The tweaks you suggest are great, and would make an already good opening even better.

  2. First things first: I would read on. There’s some writing-mechanics stuff that needs fixing, most of which Dianne’s already pointed out, but the important part is handled well: a compelling story.

    My biggest problem with this is clarity. There are several places where the writing can be trimmed, in order to make things clearer, and stronger.

    I’ll just give you one example:

    “Callie clamped her eyes tightly closed again in an attempt to shut it all out.”

    First, “clamped” is a strong verb already, so you don’t need to emphasize it with “tightly.” Also, I think we can infer from context, that she would be doing the clamping, in order to “shut it all out.”

    If you apply this level of analysis to all your sentences, you’ll find you can make most of them thinner, stronger, and therefore more impactful.

    This is a great start, though!

  3. Hmn- I was surprised to learn this was a dodgeball accident. Softball maybe- I knew a family whose ten year old girl got knocked in the head with a fast moving softball and she ended up with a blood clot and was in a coma for a while. Scary- the writing itself was strong I felt and I was definitely curious enough to keep reading.

  4. Intriguing beginning but I didn’t understand why Callie felt like her mother’s warmth was disconcerting? That’s not a typical reaction for a child.

    Overall, I second Matthew’s comments. Writing mechanics need a little work but it’s a good story idea.

  5. I love the idea too but I was completely amazed to find out it was a dodge ball accident. It seems pretty dramatic which is great for this age group but then it’s almost a let down to hear how it happened.
    I’m curious why it hurts so much–now that I know a little more I’m guessing it’s because she’s learning to use this new skill. So that curiosity is a good thing-not a criticism.
    Interesting premise!

  6. Learning that this was because of playing dodge ball completely threw me. I thought it was because of something a lot more serious. I do like the idea of a girl being able to hear what others are thinking. Also, how old is Callie?

    Maybe you could start with the dodge ball game first? Then have her be hit in the head? That way, the reader gets to know Callie a little before she has her new power.

  7. I agree with Matt — I’d read on and that’s saying something. 🙂

  8. I have to say, I was REALLY into this first page and want to know more! Everyone has such great suggestions 🙂

  9. I really like Nicole’s suggestion! I was thinking that myself today while reading the comments:

    If we had a scene with Callie in the gym, even briefly — even if it was just for a brief glimpse of that awful red ball hurtling toward her head — it might set up the rest of this nicely!

  10. Angela Brown says:

    Hmmm…you mention something important. Mentioning how long she may have been out could really add to understanding the mother’s reaction…UNLESS, overreacting is a character trait for the mother.

  11. It really captured me. I would definitely have read on. However, I totally agree with you on the over-the-top response of the mother. I thought Callie was dying for sure, especially that stuff there at end. I was sure they were losing her.

    “considering the low mortality rate of dodge ball.” rofl

  12. Hi Everyone-

    Thank you so much for your kind and helpful comments. Your suggestions are well noted. There are a few things that will make more sense as the story evolves, i.e. a dodge ball accident and the extreme reaction of family members. Voices will have quirky if not comical aspects that will add another dimension to what you have read here.

    Again, I appreciate your comments very much! There is nothing like constructive criticism from knowledgeable people.

    Take care everyone!