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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

By: Kathleen Pickering  http://www.kathleenpickering.com

Yukon

I had the privilege to read this anonymous first page of a Young Adult novel. It’s intriguing, but IMHO left me a little cold on the emotional side.

I made comments after the work. This writer has talent. Viewing a dead loved one on the first page definitely is riveting. With just a little more emotional punch, this piece will rock! Read on. I’d like to hear your thoughts, as well.

THE HOLY WILD

My father is frozen solid. He lies face-up on the Ski-Doo trailer in my front yard, bound in place by a length of yellow rope around his torso. His legs jut out over the back, and from where I stand in the open doorway of our house, I can see the lower half of his face – blue-white skin and a moustache encrusted with ice. I stare at him and forget to breathe. I want to run to him, to grab his shoulders and shake him from sleep, but I can’t. It’s as if the cold has claimed me as well, slowing my mind and stiffening my limbs.

January air claws its way into my lungs. Beside me, my mother sways. I expect her to crumple, to break as I’m about to break, but her hand darts out and latches onto my forearm, steadying us both.

That really is him.

At the bottom of the steps, Chase Taylor and his father stand on the tramped-down snow. They whisper, but I hear. They’re debating whether it’s better to take my father inside to thaw or leave him outside in the cold. My head shakes no – no, they can’t be having this discussion. No, he’s not gone. No, he never wandered off into the Yukon wilderness in the first place.

When they decide to wrap him in the old orange tarpaulin that covers our woodpile and deposit him in the snowdrift against the south side of the house, a scream rises up and lodges in my throat.

“At least we found him,” Mr. Taylor says to my mom.

At least we found him? What kind of stupid comment is that? The concept better late than never doesn’t exactly apply in this case. I fight to keep myself from pummeling him with my fists, reminding myself that it’s not his fault. In the dying light, I ease out a long, slow breath and work to convince myself that being found is decidedly better than being lost, even if you’re dead.

***

This is a compelling beginning, but I must say, for a first page, I don’t have enough information (who, what, where, when, why and/or . . . why not?) to be emotionally invested in such a difficult moment. So, I was left shrugging my shoulders and saying, “So what?”

Now, as someone who witnessed her father’s death over 20 years ago and misses him every day, I understand the trauma behind viewing the frozen, lifeless body of one’s hero and wanting to puke at the logical, but morbid and heart-wrenching debate over whether the body should be kept frozen outside or brought inside to thaw. But, some of the important facts have not been delivered to gain my full empathy. What I want to know is:

- Who is the narrator here? Gender? (From the voice, I’d say female.) Age?

- Why did the father wander into the Yukon, and why was that bad? (Other than his death, of course.)

-Are they in the Yukon now? (From the title, HOLY WILD – which is a GREAT title, I’d say, yes.)

- What is going to happen now that he is dead?

- Most important of all, tell me how this character’s world just crumbled and what he or she is going to do about it.

Oh, and the last paragraph on this submission made an excellent hook. It could also be a great first paragraph.

Now let me add that all of this info could not be delivered in the first page, but I do need to know one or two more facts to hook my emotional investment in this character and the story.

For example, the sentence, The concept better late than never doesn’t exactly apply in this case,’ does little to move the story forward. That sentence could be omitted and one with more pertinent info be added. (i.e., My father found dead won’t protect us from his brother’s claim on our land. Or whatever the threat is. You get my drift. More info to invest the reader in the story.)

That’s the nit-pick of my evaluation.

Now, what is wonderful about this first page is that the writing is crisp, the scene visuals are crystal clear and my imagination is triggered to the tragedy. I can see the build up into a potentially threatening situation. The Yukon is an interesting setting about which I know nothing. So I find that particular piece of geography interesting. I like that.

All I need is the emotional punch behind this awful death and I’ll be hooked. Believe me. So much can be delivered in one sentence. This first page has five to six paragraphs. Some of the exposition could be cut to answer one or two of the questions which would move the story forward while enlightening—and hooking the reader.

This was an exciting beginning. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, I’d give this work a 7. I would read more.

And again, this is my opinion. . . and you know the drill . . . everybody has one!

Thanks for submitting your page and letting your work air for all to see, oh Brave Author!

Write on!

xox, Piks

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