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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impresssions: ASHES

First Impresssions: ASHES

blakeNovember is the month for repeat visitors, which I love! I’m happy to think that our feedback is useful. Today, Blake Haysel is here with ASHES, a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian.


Till the sun explodes.

          As the sun was bidding goodnight to the star littered galaxy and dipping into the welcoming horizon of Earth, it flew into a blazing rage. A brilliant sight it was. A burst of vaporizing heat and radiant light. The shattered sky was stained in splashes of color for the first couple of weeks of The After.

          That is the story they spit out at us in The Anthill, anyway. “They” being The Globe. The Globe is the all-seeing. Or at least that is what we are supposed to believe without a shadow of a doubt. Still, I will bet a week of my Meal Twos that some of us know otherwise. But who are we earth dwelling folk to dispute what The Globe tells us is the truth? Besides, The Globe does not tolerate blasphemy even if anyone had the nerve.

          Till the sun explodes, his smooth, comforting voice had come through the receiver. Those were the words he always used when he ended our conversations over the phone. Or any other conversation he could mangle it into. Those are the very words that continue to haunt me to this day. Yes, that was how long he said he would love me. And he kept his promise. He lived up to his word. Or rather he died for it. How was he to know that the sun was going to explode that afternoon?

          Or maybe he did know.

          Scientists had been working for years to harness the sun’s energy to fuel and power, well, everything. Not just homes and the occasional building but vehicles of transportation, factories, bombs and other lethal weapons. Entire cities. Like I said, everything. By trying to squeeze all of that power into single battery that would last forever.         

          So the sun retaliated.


My first thought after reading this page was that I didn’t know much about the main character, not even the gender. And this reminded me of a webinar I once took in which a literary agent said the three things he looked for on the first page of a YA manuscript were Character, Voice, and Conflict.

The first paragraph here is a story about how the sun looked when this event happened. The second is an introduction to the dystopian society that developed post-apocalypse. The last paragraph is an explanation for the catastrophe.

Only the middle paragraph is personal to the narrator because she (?) is remembering someone who died that day. We aren’t told who – but my guess is a father rather than a love interest, because I’m assuming this event is years in the past. This is the paragraph that should begin the story, in my opinion, because it is poignant, full of voice, and a conduit for learning about the main character.

The paragraph that describes people’s memories of the sun exploding – I like it. Keep it, not as the first paragraph, but perhaps juxtaposed with the narrator’s knowledge that her father (?) died in that brilliant burst of light. That would serve to set up the conflict and lead us into the MC’s present day life.

The paragraph about the Anthill – I would cut that entirely in favor of showing us life in the Anthill. I want to see her eating a Meal Two and hear the words coming from The Globe. I want to see the doubt on some people’s faces and feel the fear that keeps them from speaking up. The scientific explanation for the catastrophe – we can wait to learn about that. Is there any remnant of that perpetual energy technology left? Perhaps in The Globe? That would be the place for us to learn about it.

Readers, what do you think? You can read Marcy’s thoughts on this page at Mainewords and connect with Blake at her blog, The Tattered Page.


13 Responses to First Impresssions: ASHES

  1. I really like the set up of this world, but I’m feeling like this isn’t the best place to start the story. We want the back story of how the world came to be, but we want it AFTER we meet the main character and are invested in him/her. I want to be introduced to the MC in the first sentence with sprinkles of his/her world until I have a solid grasp.

  2. Sheri Larsen says:

    I’m glad I read Dianne’s crit before I mentioned my suggestions. She’s spot on! I will add, though, that you have something here. I think the story is worth telling, but like Dianne I’d like a more personal connection with the MC early on.

  3. Your last suggestion – excellent! That would clear up some confusion. (Or at least mine.)

  4. I agree. I want more of a connection with the MC at the start.

  5. I think there’s great potential for this story, and naming a place “The Anthill” is fun and intriguing. I agree with Dianne’s points. 🙂

  6. Robin says:

    I love YA Dystopian novels, and the premise of this is promising, but confusing as it stands. I agree with Dianne’s suggestions. When I’ve struggled with my own novel (which is rather a lot), I find that when it isn’t working as “Tell,” change it up and paint the scene with dialogue. It could even work to make this initial scene begin with actual dialogue. The first line would remain the same, but in quotes, and a tag as to who was speaking. Insert the MC’s thoughts and give us some tidbits about this place via conversation. We don’t need to know everything… just write it so we want to know more.

  7. ChemistKen says:

    I’d like to get a better idea of who this other person is so that I can connect more. I don’t mind the beginning because I think we need some sort of cause before we learn about the effects.

  8. Liza says:

    I feel like Dianne said it all. I’m not invested enough in the story after reading this, but if you start in paragraph two and tell us more about the character and the world around her/him, it would draw me in!

  9. Kirsten says:

    While I love all the ideas that are in this intro, it did feel like there was a lot of information coming at me at once. Great feedback to focus in on the MC/narrator first! I’d love to see this reworked, because I’m very intrigued. 🙂

  10. The first page definitely lacks character, so I feel like I’m having a history recited to me. While that does seem to be what the author was going for, I don’t think it works as a way to start a book. Give us the character experiencing the world, and bring in the backstory and mystery along the way, instead of just dropping history and doubt on us without giving us anything to support it.

  11. Tiana Smith says:

    I agree with the previous comments, so there’s not much to add. I’d just say that with the way you have it starting now, it’s a lot of telling rather than showing. It’s great for voice, but I don’t really connect with the MC. If you could find a way to connect us immediately with what’s happening to the MC NOW, rather than backstory, that might help. That said, the voice is awesome.

  12. Lexa Cain says:

    This is pretty much why I don’t like first person. It’s as if a stranger walked up to me and started talking about his life, and my thoughts are “Who are you and what’s your point?” Plenty of published novels start in the head of characters with paragraphs and paragraphs of inner thoughts, so I can’t say it’s wrong, just that I get bored quickly and stop reading. But some love this type of beginning, so write what makes you happy. 🙂

  13. I would agree with the other comments. The connection to the MC is the part that jumps out at me the most. I think it would bring the reader in more. I do love first person, but I think a little more from the MC on who they are and more action from them will connect the reader to them. Best of luck with this. Sounds like a great story.