Wednesday, August 15, 2012
PAGE CRITIQUE: What Silence Heard
Howdy, howdy! Today's first page excerpt is a YA thriller by Jeannette Smejkal, entitled What Silence Heard. Please add your helpful feedback below.
I found the mouth of the cave three weeks after leaving my emptied village.
A gasp leapt from my throat and flew towards the cave in a startled greeting. Though my emotions were blurred my body was desperate for rest — just one night free from worry that a cougar would clamp her maw around my neck as I slept.
Or worse, gnaw at Nell.
And here in front of me was the solution; its entrance no more than a yawn in the rock. Inside, we could be peaceful and numb instead of anxious and stunned. Friends on a campout instead of a girl and a doll, left behind.
Nell gave me the idea that we needed to flush out any occupants before wandering in ourselves. My chatter often bounced back from her and made some sense. If I didn’t have her, I would have likely wandered right into the claws of a wolverine.
Fire would work, but I had nothing to light one with. I had no knife, no axe, no weapon at all, and I would need one to defend Nell if something was calling that cave home. I rested her in the crook of two rocks nearby, tucked her arms in comfortably, and told her my plan (she was very excited and kept interrupting).
Then I retraced my steps to a fallen tree we'd passed earlier. There, exactly as logged in my memory, was a perfect, club-sized branch. Ha, logged. Nell wasn’t the only giddy one.
1. Opening Line. The first line introduces the situation in a bold and dramatic way. I like its simple brevity; it's not long-winded. The only word I'm hesitant about is "emptied." It almost gives away a bit too much information right off, as though it's Telling the reader. Personally, I'd omit "emptied" and trickle out hints about her village as the pages go by. Or else choose a different adjective perhaps.
2. Some Telling that could be Shown.
Though my emotions were blurred my body was desperate for rest. This seems to tell the reader what the main character is feeling rather than letting the reader FEEL it. I'd like to see and hear her blurred emotions, experience her weariness and tension and worry along with her. This could be done by internal thoughts, physical descriptions of her fatigue, etc. I do concede, though, that often in the thriller genre, there is more focus on action rather than deeper character development or connection.
Inside, we could be peaceful and numb instead of anxious and stunned. Again, I'd like to experience her anxiety and her stunned state along with her, rather than having it summarized.
3. A rather melodramatic-sounding 2nd sentence: A gasp leapt from my throat and flew towards the cave in a startled greeting. This line sounds overly dramatic to me. With this reaction, I expected something vicious to come barreling out of the cave. The concept is interesting, with the gasp flying to the cave in a greeting, but I think even though she is relieved to find shelter, the overall impact is overstated.
4. Age and gender of main character. We assume the main character is female because she has a doll. This works, though it might be good to verify that for the reader later on. As far as age--to me, she seems quite young for this being a YA novel. Not just the fact she has a doll (indicating an 8-12 year old), but the way she thinks and speaks seems more like a younger protagonist than a teen. But perhaps this character ages throughout the book, or the situations are more mature, and a younger age would be okay. (Like THE BOOK THIEF, which is a YA novel with an 11-year-old protagonist, but since the book deals with the more mature subject of the Holocaust, it's slotted as a young adult read.)
5. Why is the cougar a female gender? In the third sentence, it refers to the cougar as a "her." Are there only female cougars around for some reason? If not, perhaps substitute "his" or (better) "its."
Kudos and Overall Thoughts: The scenario is one of survival, which is a great concept that has many opportunities for tension--very apt for a thriller. I like that even though the main character is alone, she has her doll Nell to talk to. This helps add interest, humor, and variety. I also love the description of the cave as "its entrance no more than a yawn in the rock," and the line about the doll Nell being excited and interrupting. Nicely imaginative!
What feedback can you add to this critique?
How old did you think the main character was in this excerpt?
When you were young, did you ever talk to a doll or inanimate object as though it could hear you? (Did it answer back? Was that the start of your interest in writing?)
Photo credit: taken by my hubby's friend Dave Blehm, then tweaked in Photoshop by me.