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Beta, Anyone? And a First Page.

13 Sep 2008
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I have 5000 words to go in a novella I promised to an editor way back in Q1 of this year and, naturally, self-doubt has me in its vise-like grip.  Again.  So, to break myself out of this funk, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: yours truly, who has NEVER used a critique partner or a beta reader, is asking for a brave soul to read my unfinished, unedited romantic suspense.  I’m not asking for someone to correct my technical mistakes (I’m a pretty ruthless self-editor); I just want to get reactions to the characters, story, etc.  At this point, I’m too close to the manuscript to trust my own judgment, which is it needs the red pen treatment.

Any takers?  I’m serious, here.  E-mail me if you’re willing to be a guinea-pig.

Oh, and I received an e-mail today from someone who was less than impressed by my conduct at Dear Author and said I should put myself in the newbie writer’s shoes and to imagine how I would feel to have people rip my work to shreds.  *roll eyes* Dramatic much?

Anyway…

Since I’ve always been a believer in if-you-can-dish-it,-you-have-to-be-able-to-take-it, here’s an unedited first page from a work-in-progress.  Feel free to unsheathe your claws.  I promise not to curl up into the fetal position and whimper.

Ella Sandell didn’t understand the scene at first. Her brain had scrambled what her eyes were taking in. She would learn later that it was one of the brain’s defense mechanisms.

In the doorway, she stood, paralyzed, as if if she stopped moving, so would time and she would never have to go beyond this point. But the higher powers didn’t answer her unspoken prayer and awareness penetrated. Not in slow degrees, but in one awful, dizzying rush.

The space around her seemed to widen, lengthen, and grow around her still, brittle form. She heard a strangled sound, distantly realizing that it had come from her own throat, and her knees promptly gave way.

She caught herself against the door, hands clutching the doorknob, and managed to stay upright. Under her weight, the door slowly swung inward, and she followed it, stumbling a little. She let go of the door and took a step forward. Then another. And another. And another. And lowered herself to her knees next to the sprawled figure at the foot of the stairs. It was like someone had carelessly dropped a life-sized rag doll from the upper landing and forgotten to pick it up.

With two fingers, she felt the neck for a pulse, too numb to shudder at the feel of cold flesh. No veins throbbed with pumping blood against the pads of her fingers. Something sharp pierced her chest. She hadn’t expected to find a pulse because the head was at too odd an angle, but something within her had hoped for a miracle.

Glassy eyes the color of her own stared up at the ceiling. Very gently, very carefully, Ella closed them before she reached for her cell phone and made the nine-one-one call.

Short minutes later, she finished the call and put down the cell phone despite the emergency operator’s instructions to stay on the line. She drew her knees to her chest and hugged them tightly like the room temperature had dropped suddenly by twenty degrees. In contrast, tears burned her eyes and trailed hotly down her cheeks.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anion permalink
    14 Sep 2008 5:43 AM

    Hmm. Okay.

    “Her brain had scrambled” is kind of tell-y, and it’s a bit awkward as a sentence. I think you could show this much more effectively and thus give the reader a sense of her confusion. Something like:

    Ella Sandell couldn’t understand the scene at first. It seemed broken into pieces, a hand here, a trickle of blood on a pale arm there, a silent, slightly open mouth. She later learned this was true, that the brain does this sort of fragmentation as a defense mechanism. (That’s okay, but I have a personal issue with lines like that, because I think it reminds the reader this is a story. But it’s a style thing so if you like it keep it.)

    Take out all the commas in the first sentence of the second para. “In the doorway she stood frozen, as if she could stop time by doing so. For a second it seemed to work. The image before her receded beneath a dark fog. She started to breathe a sigh of relief, started to think, for one glorious moment, that she’d imagined the whole thing.

    Then the image reappeared, in one dizzying, awful rush, and the truth penetrated her like a bullet.

    See, this is a really, really dramatic moment. Give the reader time to feel the impact. Use the rhythm of the sentences to drive it home. 🙂

    Third para: “around her” 2x in the first sentence. Also, take out “promptly”; it actually makes the knees giving way feel less immediate, not more.

    4th para fine. I like the bit with the swinging door and her following it.

    “With two fingers”. How about two shaking fingers? I know you say she’s numb in the next line and that’s good, but I’d like a little more on that. Also, the bit about no blood pumping is nice, but take out “against the pads of her fingers”. We already know she’s taking the pulse with her fingers. And I think it’s more dramatic to focus on the lack of life in the body as a whole rather than simply against her: No veins throbbed with pumping blood. No heart beat inside that beloved chest. Something sharp jabbed at her own heart, pain like knives as realization set in. She’d hoped for a miracle, hoped that her eyes were deceiving her. She’d been wrong. There was no hope.

    See what I mean?

    I’m also not crazy about “Short minutes later”. Maybe she picks up the phone, calls 911, and the words vomit from her mouth. And she realizes she has to get off because she can’t hold back the tears any longer? So she drops the phone (maybe she hears the 911 operator’s voice, tinny through the phone still?) and hugs her knees, shivering as though the temperature in the room had dropped twenty degrees? As if the dead body before her was sucking the heat out of the room, or as if as the body cooled so did the room, something like that? There’s a good analogy there about the body losing heat and the room losing heat, if you want to use it. If not, of course, don’t. 🙂

  2. azteclady permalink
    14 Sep 2008 8:07 AM

    Well… I stopped commenting on the first page / query letter threads at Dear Author after a few comments to the effect of it being too harsh on the aspiring author.

    I thought then, and still think, that aspiring authors need to grow a much thicker skin than that–or they may become fodder for the crazy batshit fucktard blog of the week somewhere.

    But that’s just me.

  3. 14 Sep 2008 8:09 AM

    I want to know what’s on the floor a little sooner. Maybe just a hint? Something. There’s also a distance between her and the dead person that confuses me. “The neck,” rather than his/her neck. Where is she? Does she know this person? Is it a man or a woman?

    You say awareness penetrated in a rush, but I get a slow-motion vibe. I like the sentence fragments. It shows her state of mind, and has a quick, jerky feel that fits the situation better.

    This is pretty technical, sorry, but you have a lot of adverbs. I tend to use them also, but I would watch it on the first page. Same with “had.” Maybe change the second sentence to “Her brain scrambled what her eyes took in.” And then don’t repeat brain. “She learned later it was a defense mechanism.”

    I guess that was all technical. Oh well. Hope it helps. Thanks.

  4. 14 Sep 2008 8:57 PM

    Thanks, ladies. You caught things I hope I would’ve noticed in the edit stage, but y’all saved me the work. Except, I think I would’ve been harsher on myself.

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