Fixing the First Page Feature #22

Photo credit: phalinn on Flickr
Incredibly, May is just two days away, which means spring allergies are in, summer is on its way, and it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature! Woot!

As per usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go! 

Title: CYBER HAZE

Genre/Category: New Adult Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

First 250:

"I’m paralysed. Everything from the neck down no longer responds. I breathe in sharp and try to move my toes, my hands, my fingers. 
Nothing. 
The only thing I can do is stare up into a light ― a bright blue light. 
Tears leak from my eyes as probes and electrodes are attached to various part of my body. The needle-like instruments stab underneath my fingernails as the straps pinning me down to the surgical table are tightened. 
My heart thunders in my chest. 
'It’s alright, just be a good girl. This will hurt, but if you be a good girl I promise you can play with the yoyo again. You like the yoyo, don’t you, Raven?' 
A masked man comes into view. 
'Do you want me to administer another, Doctor?' a nurse asks. 
'No, she’s had the maximum dose already. We’ll continue in her current state.' 
Wires jostle above my head as the doctor moves away, a huge surgical light now being lowered over my body. 
I’m hyperventilating. 
'Doctor, she’s panicking. I have to give her another.' 
'She won’t respond if we do that.' 
Something sharp is attached to each of my temples. 
'MRGHHHHH!' I scream against my gag, the nurse trying to calm me as tears pour down my face. 
'Doctor! Doctor, she’s going to have another seizure! We have to sedate her!' 
'Just leave it, Edith! She has to be conscious or this won’t work! This has to work this time!'

'But she―' 
'I’m starting the procedure! Injecting the solution. Just keep her stable!'"

Are you sure this isn't a horror novel? Kidding, kidding...

Okay, well I am definitely interested after reading the opening, in a sort of horrified fascination. I'd say you've definitely got a good hook here, and I'm very curious (and disturbed) about what's going on. All of this is good, because it means if I had more pages, I'd definitely keep reading to find out what was going on.

So great start so far. Let's take a closer look now.

"I’m paralysed. Everything from the neck down no longer responds. I feel like this could be more evocative. Starting off with this unexpected paralysis is definitely interesting, but right now we're being told she's paralyzed—literally told. I'd like to really be in her head and feel what she's feeling. What is she thinking when she can't move? Is this expected? Does she panic? How does it feel to try to move but not have your body respond? You start to get a taste of that with her sharp breath in the next sentence, but I'd really like to see more. I'd like to know exactly what's going on in her head and how it feels to be literally trapped in your unresponsive body. I breathe in sharp and try to move my toes, my hands, my fingers. 
Nothing. 
The only thing I can do is stare up into a light ― a bright blue light. This is a nice detail of the blue light. What I'm missing from this opening so far is emotion, though. This could be a very powerful start if we got a glimpse into how this ordeal is making her feel from the start.
Tears leak from my eyes as probes and electrodes are attached to various part of my body. This is passive phrasing—probes and electrodes are attached. Instead, I'd like to see tis shifting so we can see who is doing this to her. The instruments aren't attaching themselves and stabbing themselves into her. Show us who is doing this to her. Also, what various parts of her body? The needle-like instruments stab underneath my fingernails as the straps pinning me down to the surgical table are tightened. 
My heart thunders in my chest. This is good, but I think we could use more of her bodily reactions showing emotion even up to this point. If you haven't bought it already, I highly recommend The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi—it's a fantastic resource full of entries that show exactly how different emotions affect the body, which makes showing emotion a million and two times easier. 
'It’s alright all right (common mistake—"alright" is technically not a real word), just be a good girl. This will hurt, but if you be a good girl I promise you can play with the yoyo again. You like the yoyo, don’t you, Raven?' I'm very curious about why they're speaking to her like a child when the age category would indicate she's not a child. Unless...this is a flashback? If this is a flashback, I would recommend against it—starting with flashbacks are pretty confusing for readers, and especially when the flash back is more exciting than the actual opening scene, it tends to irritate readers because it's a bait and switch. Of course, I don't know for sure that this is a flashback, but just in case...
A masked man comes into view. Masked how? I mean, in the next sentence we figure out he's a doctor, but "masked" could mean a lot of things. I'd slip in a short, quick description to indicate it's a face mask or something. 
'Do you want me to administer another, Doctor?' a nurse asks. 
'No, she’s had the maximum dose already. We’ll continue in her current state.' 
Wires jostle above my head as the doctor moves away, ; a huge surgical light now being is lowered over my body. 
I’m hyperventilating. Again, I think this could be more evocative. It'd be much more powerful to see her struggling for breath, getting dizzy from lack of oxygen, etc., than being told she's hyperventilating.
'Doctor, she’s panicking. I have to give her another.' 
'She won’t respond if we do that.' 
Something sharp is attached to each of my temples. Attached how? Did they press the sharp thing into her? Is it held by something else? This is important because in the next line I'm not sure if she's screaming because this hurts or because she's panicking, or both. Also, this is passive again—rephrase to make it more active and show who is doing what. 
'MRGHHHHH!' I scream against my gag, the nurse trying to calm me as tears pour down my face. How? What does the nurse do? Again; more evocative when we see what people are doing rather than being told they're doing it. Is the nurse patting her? Shushing her? Holding her hand? Touching her cheek? There are a lot of possibilities. 
'Doctor! Doctor, she’s going to have another seizure!Wwe have to sedate her!.' I recommend cutting down on the exclamation points. Too many and the dialogue starts to drift into melodramatic territory. :) 
'Just leave it, Edith! She has to be conscious or this won’t work!Tthis has to work this time!.''

'But she―' 
'I’m starting the procedure!. Injecting the solution. Just keep her stable!.'"

Okay, so, overall, assuming this isn't a flashback, I think this is a strong—and disturbing—start. The two biggest issues I'm seeing are a) making sure that you really dive into the writing and get into Raven's head so the readers feel what she's feeling and understand exactly how she's experiencing this and b) that you remove the passive phrasing and reword it so the readers understand exactly what's going on and who is in control. And just for a refresher, here's a great article on active versus passive voice.

As I said, I think this has a ton of potential and with some tweaking could be incredibly powerful. I just sincerely hope this isn't a flashback because if so...I'd have to strongly recommend against starting here.

If I saw this in the slush, I would definitely keep reading to see where it goes.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Peta!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next critique giveaway in May!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks delving into the POV character's head and flashbacks in the 22nd Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

On Major Character Deaths

Photo credit: kev-shine on Flickr
So as I work on various projects, watch Game of Thrones, and read books that I suspect will have major character deaths (and finish a book that did have an important character death that destroyed me), I've been thinking lately about how we kill characters off—and what it means when we do.

Now, I've already posted about how to kill characters with impact, so I'm not going to reiterate that again. But instead I'm thinking about the why—why we choose to kill characters, how we choose what characters to kill, and what it means when we pick one character over the other. I've been thinking about how certain marginalized groups are frequently killed off first on TV, and I've been thinking about all the factors that go into deciding why one character should be killed off over another or why certain characters need to die at all.

I've thinking about controversial decisions in which major characters have been killed (like the protagonist of one major YA series not all that long ago). And I've been thinking about why some readers freak out and trash one book if a protagonist or major character dies, but not another book with another major character death. What makes one character death better than the other? What makes one death acceptable and one not so much?

There are a lot of factors to think about when killing off characters, especially if said characters come from marginalized groups with high fictionalized body counts. You need to think about what it means for this particular character to die. You need to think about why it's essential for that character, and not another, to be killed off. You need to think about what it'll mean to the readers that this character survives, but this other one doesn't.

I personally don't have a problem with major characters, even protagonists, dying (aside from, you know, the emotional trauma)—it's just a sign to me that no character is safe in that particular author's works, which if anything just makes future reading of their books more terrifying...in a good way. But I think the key to pulling off major character deaths is to make sure you have a good reason for it besides bottling reader tears for science. It has to mean something for the overall plot and the story itself—it has to be so integral to the story that anything else couldn't work as effectively.

Of course, it can be really tough to figure out what's essential and what isn't in your own work sometimes, which is yet another reason why critique partners are 100% necessary in the writing process. And even then you may get conflicting opinions—writing is super subjective!—so you'll have to listen to your gut. But I think the thing to remember, when considering a major character death (or several), is to make sure there's a reason for it so it doesn't read as an arbitrary attempt at shocking readers and to be sure that you pull it off in a way that is thoughtful and meaningful.

Easier said than done, of course. But when done well, and done with purpose, it can be an incredibly effective way to make sure your story leaves a mark.

What do you think about major character deaths?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Author @Ava_Jae talks killing major characters with purpose & making sure the death fits the story. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: World Building Part 3

Continuing from last week's part two vlog, here's part three of a four part series focused just on world building.


RELATED LINKS: 


Have you utilized any of these elements in your world building? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling w/ world building? Author @Ava_Jae continues her 4-part world building vlog series with part 3. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #22!

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Quick pre-vlog post to announce the winner of the twenty-second fixing the first page feature giveaway! Yay!

*drumroll*

And the twenty-second winner is…

PETA HEN

Yay! Congratulations, Peta! Expect an e-mail from me shortly.

Thank you to all you awesome entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in May, so be on the lookout! :)

ANNOUNCEMENT: Ava Edits

Hey guys!

So I told you there would be some fun things coming and this is one of them! I've been building up to this for a while, and now that I'm done with college, I'm really excited to finally announce I'm finally taking the plunge and joining the freelance editing world. Yay!

So what does this mean? Basically, as of today you can now hire me to help with your query, Twitter pitches, full manuscript, first couple pages, etc. All the info is on my pretty new website which you can access via that link or through my fancy new toolbar above under "hire me."

And! To kick off the grand opening of my freelance editor doors, from today until the end of May I'm be offering 10% off any booked services to all who refer to this post. You don't necessarily have to have anything ready to take advantage of the 10% by the way—as long as you book before the end of May (even if you book for, say, July), it will totally count. :)

So that's the first fun announcement! Thank you all for your amazing support, and keep an eye out for fun thing number two at the end of next week!

Discussion: On Hitting Milestones

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So today is my first day ever of no longer being an undergrad—though the day I'm writing this is the day before my last final, but by the time this goes up, college will be over. Which is surreal, and awesome, and also kind of bittersweet.

So, naturally, I've been thinking about milestones because over the course of the last month or so, I've hit quite a few. Beyond the Red's publication, seeing my book in stores, going on my first book tour, participating in a book signing, starting a new manuscript, finishing my last college class, and now, this.

It's all really exciting and surreal and kind of overwhelming, but ultimately with a good result.

I'm also over 20,000 words in my first-in-a-long-time first draft, which is super encouraging. It's been interesting opening up MyWriteClub sprints every day, thinking I have no idea how I'm going to get 2,000 words down today and doing it anyway. And while it takes me longer to get those 2,000 words down than it used to (once upon a time I wrote 1k in 30 minutes no problem), I've still been trudging forward relatively quickly and so far I'm on track to finish mid-May, like I'd originally planned.

I've also got a couple fun announcements I'll be sharing shortly, but not quite yet. :)

So those are Things going on right now. But mostly I'm opening up this post because I'd like to see what milestones, Things, and accomplishments you guys have reached or are working toward. What Things would you like to share?

Twitter-sized bite:
What milestones/goals are you working toward/have recently accomplished? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

On Writing Dreams and Nightmares

Photo credit: martinak15 on Flickr
So I got a question semi-recently from a reader about writing dreams and nightmares. I found this an especially interesting question, both because I was surprised I hadn't covered it, especially given I've written a ton of dream sequences for various projects, including Beyond the Red.

Dreams are really interesting, and when done well, a dream or nightmare in a book can convey a few things:

  • Flashback/memory. Dream sequences can be a great way to flash back to or hint at an event from your POV character's life, especially if it's a traumatic event. Dreams are sometimes the way the brain processes difficult-to-process life things, and in writing they can be an organic way to look back at an important event in your POV character's life.

  • A character's fears, desires, or something they're struggling with. I'm sure just about every one of you have dreamed about something you wanted, or something you were afraid of, or something you were sad about, or someone you missed, etc., etc. Likewise, in books, dreams can be a way to show character emotion—especially emotion that your POV character is trying to bury.

  • Symbolism. When they aren't a direct flashback, fictional dreams are often symbolic. As the writer, you get to decide exactly what happens in the dream and what you want the readers (and your character) to focus on. Symbolism, whether through colors, the way the dream plays out, peoples/animals/things involved, or something else, can be a really effective way to hint at something going on without outright saying it. 

I find the key to writing dreams is to keep them simple. The longer and more complicated a dream is, the more confusing it'll be to your readers (and, honestly, to your character). But sprinkling a few dreams here and there, when done thoughtfully, can be a really effective and memorable way to show the readers what's going on in your POV character's head. Like anything else, just don't overdo it. 

Have you ever written a dream sequence for one of your projects? 

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you write effective dreams or nightmares? Author @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)
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