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Saturday, November 18, 2023

First-Web page Critique: The best way to Elegantly Reveal Character Motivations


Image: a woman in a mermaid costume floats underwater next to sculptural ruins.
Photograph by Alice AliNari

Ask the Editor is a column to your questions concerning the enhancing course of and editors themselves. It additionally options first-page critiques.


This month’s Ask the Editor is sponsored by Plottr. Ditch the index playing cards and unleash your storytelling with Plottr – the #1 rated e book outlining and story administration software program for writers. Use code JANE15 at checkout for 15% off. (Expires Dec. 31, 2023)

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A abstract of the work being critiqued

Title: The Siren Dialogues
Style: Literary fiction

When Libby Levine is assigned a narrative on famend photographer Tanner Bixby, she sees a possibility to show her writing chops and win a promotion. As a bonus, the photographer has a trip cabin on the identical island as her boyfriend, Jasper. However Bixby has a shock agenda: he’s trying to discover the long-lost love of his life—who he claims is a mermaid.

When a mysterious, half-conscious lady washes up with the tides, Libby kinds an inexplicable bond that challenges what she is aware of about herself in addition to her previous choices and true loyalties. With the arrival of a hurricane, the girl absolutely awakens and divulges her true nature. And Libby should summon all her energy to decide on who and what she needs to develop into and who she’s keen to betray, or run the chance that another person would possibly select for her.

From the author: I’ve had questions whether or not to current this as literary fiction with magical realism or magical realism with a literary bent. I’ve additionally puzzled if starting the e book with a duck hunt is off-putting to some readers? This can be a e book that has gone by many iterations over a number of years and I’m anxious to get it into the world! Are the character motivations clear? Is the voice partaking? These are a few of the large questions I’ve.

First web page of The Siren Dialogues

Libby

Libby angled her flashlight beam over Jasper’s tall, lean body and the wagon load of decoys and kit bumping alongside the boardwalk behind him. The beam caught the eyes of one of many decoys, a mallard duck carved from wooden, bringing it to life simply as a warning gong echoed from a buoy and a ship within the distance issued a protracted, low response. The early morning hour was alive with sound and magnified over the physique of the bay. Even her new duck boots made a satisfying slap towards the wood boards. She turned up the collar of her subject coat and patted the pockets. Pocket book on one facet, gloves on the opposite. She’d want each to seize the day.

Usually she saved her work and private lives separate. Elizabeth within the metropolis and Libby on the island for her weekend escapes to Jasper’s cabin. This time was totally different. Quickly her new shopper, the well-known photographer Tanner Bixby, would arrive. She would chronicle his tales for a brand new images e book and provides context to his imaginative and prescient. Her boss, Diane, was taking an opportunity on her and she or he deliberate to return by.

Jasper dropped the wagon deal with on the dock and hopped into his boat. He switched on the operating lights and the engine hummed to life. His was the final craft left in its slip, all of the summer time individuals gone again to the town and their boats put in dry dock. He grasped her by the wrist as she stepped from land to water with solely the ground of Jasper’s boat between them. Her blood thrummed beneath Jasper’s lengthy fingers. “Straightforward does it, Libs,” he stated.

She squeezed earlier than letting go and settled on the gunwale. Port facet, she reminded herself. Port left crimson like Port wine. Starboard proper inexperienced. She appeared over the facet to see if she’d gotten it proper and there was the crimson blaze of the navigation lights in affirmation. The reality was, she was glad this journey can be totally different. She’d been with Jasper over a yr now. Possibly it was time to shake issues up.

Proceed studying the primary pages.


Pricey Lisa,

Thanks for submitting the primary a number of pages of your novel for a critique. I’m particularly intrigued by your material. Again in 2020, when The Washington Submit famous that “mermaid mania is coming round to books once more,” I puzzled if it could wane. As an alternative, curiosity has grown, and mermaids are featured in a number of new books for readers of all ages, at the very least in keeping with HuffPost. To be aggressive within the present publishing market, you’ll doubtless want a progressive twist on the mermaid (or siren) archetype. If The Siren Dialogues is something just like the comparative title you talked about, Julia Langbein’s well-reviewed American Mermaid, then you might be in a powerful place.

Opening your novel with a duck hunt can be, in my thoughts, a plus. Though some brokers and editors could be against the concept of looking in precept (this one included), it’s an American pastime. And whereas I can assume of some modern books that depict some type of looking (C.J. Field’s novels, Helen Macdonald’s heart-wrenching memoir H Is for Hawk), none come to thoughts which might be about duck looking, particularly. In case your novel is ready in a area the place looking is frequent, or in case your novel might be thought of historic fiction, then you definitely can be justified in leaving it intact.

My greater concern concerning the opening is that the exposition could also be getting in the best way of the motion. Your pitch clearly explains that Libby is embarking on a duck hunt together with her boyfriend, Jasper, and photographer Tanner Bixby, whom Libby is to interview for her work. However in your pages, this data turns into blurred, due partly to such descriptions: “The beam caught the eyes of one of many decoys, a mallard duck carved from wooden, bringing it to life simply as a warning gong echoed from a buoy and a ship within the distance issued a protracted, low response.”

This line is splendidly evocative, nevertheless it’s additionally on the lengthy facet, and it’s the second line within the e book. If the wood duck isn’t related to different occasions on this scene, and if it isn’t meant to represent different inanimate creatures that later come to life, then would possibly this sentence be trimmed or eliminated?

The boardwalk may not be essential to say right here, both, because it comes up later within the chapter when Libby hears Bixby’s footfalls pounding the wood boards. In actual fact, the primary paragraph would possibly work simply as effectively if Libby and Jasper are already on the boat relatively than making ready to board it. This setup would allow you to concentrate on how Jasper is ready for his buddies whereas Libby is anticipating the arrival of Bixby.

Apart from streamlining the opening paragraphs, I might encourage you to raised combine a few of the boating terminology into the story in order that it sheds extra gentle on Libby’s motivations. For instance, did Libby get “settled on the gunwale” as a result of she believes that sitting on the higher fringe of the boat will give Bixby more room to unfold out? If that’s the case, then it’s no marvel that she is startled when he later “plopped down subsequent to her, upsetting the boat’s stability.”

Or you might have Libby mirror on the day that Jasper taught her the distinction between “port” and “starboard,” how the glass of wine he handed her helped her bear in mind, “Port left crimson like Port wine”—if that is in any respect correct? If not, maybe she will be upset that he’s by no means defined to her why steel wings are positioned beneath the hull and aft wings, how he acquired his Russian Volga hydrofoil—or why he enjoys looking an animal that she may by no means hurt?

If it’s true that Libby as soon as stated looking is “merciless and weird punishment,” as Topher later reminds her, then you definitely would possibly briefly delve into why she’s seeing Jasper, if they’ve conflicting beliefs. (Such an evidence would have the added benefit of addressing your concern that some readers will discover the duck hunt off-putting.) The road on the finish of the fourth paragraph about how Libby has been with Jasper for a yr and “it was time to shake issues up” makes for a terrific cliffhanger, however proper now it’s unclear how Libby feels about him and how much change she has in thoughts.

One other method to additional strengthen the opening is to reassess when to herald the siren. At the moment, the standpoint switches from third particular person narration about Libby to the siren’s first (and second) particular person narration relatively all of a sudden, simply as readers are simply attending to know Libby. Assuming that you just’ve chosen a twin narration for the novel that alternates between Libby’s and the siren’s standpoint, it must be simple sufficient to house out their sections, bringing within the siren someday after the final line of this excerpt, when Libby declares that she’s “hungry and prepared for something.” Till then, you might doubtlessly foreshadow the siren’s look by incorporating a couple of extra gentle touches of magic to Libby’s part. For instance, perhaps she notices one thing inexplicable shifting about within the bay, or that the early morning moonlight has a silver glow? The pleasant passage later within the chapter, concerning the “salve that washed away the residual layers of [Libby’s] metropolis self” and the way Libby “beloved … letting go of 1 self and embracing the opposite, as if she had been a legendary creature reworking to its true nature,” ought to make for the right lead-in to the introduction of the siren.

As to your query about whether or not to current this as literary fiction with magical realism or magical realism with a literary bent—maybe you don’t want to incorporate both descriptor? Because you say that your novel is written within the vein of Ruth Ozeki’s A Story for the Time Being, the recipient of quite a few literary awards, brokers will assume that your work is literary as effectively. What can be extra useful is to point how your writing is just like Ozeki’s, whether or not by way of setting, theme, or tone. The opposite comparative books you’ve chosen, coupled together with your title, counsel that your work is speculative. Since “magical realism” is usually related to modern Latin American writers, perhaps it’s greatest to keep away from this time period, focusing as a substitute on the “magical parts” of your novel? Your many spectacular publications and accolades, together with your Pushcart Prize nomination, additionally converse volumes about your craft. Make sure you point out them in your bio, as they’re sure to garner curiosity from brokers.

Better of luck!

Sangeeta Mehta


This month’s Ask the Editor is sponsored by Plottr. Ditch the index playing cards and unleash your storytelling with Plottr – the #1 rated e book outlining and story administration software program for writers. Use code JANE15 at checkout for 15% off. (Expires Dec. 31, 2023)

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