Monday, December 7, 2009

Shiny New First Page

Several writing friends have recently posted excerpts of their wips, and as I tweaked my first page all weekend, I thought I'd share. Please feel free to leave any criticisms -- they help me more than praise. Enjoy.

After the Fall -- Chapter 1

A thump from down the hall echoed into Greg's subconscious and forced his eyes open. He stared at the ceiling, listening to the hush that enveloped the house, and soon the familiar quiet lulled his eyes closed and he burrowed his head deeper into the pillow.

The distinct squeak of bedsprings made him lean up on one elbow. One of the girls must be awake.

A muffled cry made him sit upright.


Becca! He fumbled for his glasses and scrambled out of bed.

"What's the matter?" Janet rolled towards him, her face buried in the blankets.

"I heard something." He glanced at her arm, draped casually across his pillow, then hurried from the room and rushed down the hall. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his upper lip. It was probably just a bad dream. But she stopped having nightmares years ago.

The nightlight in the bathroom shone onto the carpeted hallway and stopped at Becca's closed door.

Was he overreacting? He reached for the doorknob and stepped into the room.

Moonlight filtered through the curtains and bounced off the bare back of a man bent over his daughter. The man had her upper body pinned beneath him and her legs flailed as she bucked on the mattress.

Oh God!

"Daddy!" she screamed.

The man turned his masked head for a moment but didn't let go.

Greg's stomach rolled but adrenaline propelled him forward and he grabbed the man by the shoulders. With one pull Greg threw him to the ground and lashed out, striking his head, shoulders, neck, until his hands found his way around the man's throat. He turned his head to shield his face from the man's fists and pressed his neck into the carpet. "Becca, are you hurt?"



Penguin said...

He turned his head to shield his face from the man's fists and pressed the his neck into the carpet. "Becca, are you hurt?"

Other than the typo this line bothered me.
It seems like the ending of the incident. Many people caught up in the moment would not be asking questions calmly while dealing with a villain such as this still possible to cause problems. Most will wait until they feel safe.
Maybe scream "are you hurt?", but not ask. Also your line gives the impression that the father is in control of the situation, thus anything happening afterward would be excess(unless that was the point of the story). The question to Becca should give the reader the feeling of fear in the father, not fully in control.

Adam said...

Ooh, that's what you call a hook! There's no way I could resist reading on. ;-)


Melanie Avila said...

Gah! Thanks Penguin, I fixed the typo. I see what you mean about it seeming too calm. I cut this excerpt off in the middle of the scene (for effect here) but you're right, it does come off as too in control. His panic comes within the next page, but I also want to show that his main concern is for his daughter. Hmm, something to think about.

Thanks Adam. :)

JLC said...

I agree with Penguin's comment. The father will be on adrenalin and would wait until the man was beaten until unconscious or killed before stopping to ask a question. A quick glance might show him that his daughter is ok before he attacks the man.

If the attacker is muffling her cry, then she can't say 'Dad' or scream 'Daddy!' when he enters the room. I think it is enough to know he heard a muffled cry to get him out of bed. Then Becca can scream after he attacks the other man.

There was one other sentence that stopped me for a moment. It was when you described his wife's arm draped on the bed. IMO, during a horrifying scene like this, there isn't the same need for peripheral descriptions. Instead, focus on the father's feelings of panic, his ears trained on his daughter's room for any more alarming sounds, the tunnel vision he will have. His entire mind will be bent on Becca. His wife would be invisible unless she was in danger too.

Overall this is a great opening scene! Like Adam said, you have me hooked! (It also made my stomach turn. This is a hard scene to read for a parent.) The important thing is, you have our attention!! :)

Thanks for sharing a bit of your WIP!!

Melanie Avila said...

JLC, I see your point. I included the bit about her arm because I'm trying to show the calm & tranquility of their lives before everything pretty much implodes on them, but obviously it's not having the desired effect.

I also wanted a moment like that because I feel like when you're in a high-pressure/anxiety situation like that, odd things stand out to you. For example, I will never forget the expression on a kid's face when he was hiding from the gun shots at that gas station. It's like the moment paused for a beat.

That said, I don't think I'm accomplishing that the way I want, and thank you for pointing it out. I debated on the muffled part -- my thought is he hears something muffled, then she calls his name. When she talks to the police later we learn he was covering her mouth but he let go for a second and she was able to scream.

Penguin said...

You might want to work into the story struggling screams.
It is not easy to keep a person from screaming unless some serious stuff is involved. You could work into the story the way a person can fight off a hand for short moments enough to get off a sound or two.

Janna Qualman said...

Melanie, I get where you're coming from with that moment and the wife's arm. And it would definitely capture the two extremes. Maybe if that's what he focuses on as he drifts off to sleep again, before the second time he's awakened? Because then he's jumping right to action, pursuing this noise, and likely wouldn't be sensing anything normal in such a way.

Melanie Avila said...

Pengin, another thing we learn later is he threatened to kill her family if she screamed. She kept quiet for several minutes, then screamed anyways. I definitely need to clarify a couple things.

This has been so helpful!

Janna, I knew there's a reason I love you. :) I think that will work.

I have very little time to establish that they're a loving family before the attack happens, and I hate to cut the line because of that. Moving it does what I want while keeping the feelings separate.

Thank you.

Robin said...

This would have to be the ultimate in exciting first pages. You certainly don't have to wait for the action to begin. My only thought is that the fear/panic doesn't come through enough. I like all the suggestions everyone had for that critique. I really like your writing.

Nadine said...

I don't have much to say (sorry) but I loved it!!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Robin. I checked the chapter and he starts freaking out two paragraphs later. :P

Nadine, you already helped!!

Amy said...

"He turned his head to shield his face from the man's fists and pressed his neck into the carpet."

I got lost in the "he" and "his"--who doing what? Small point, but tripped me up.

Good hook, but you painted it so clearly, it's too scary for me to read on. Sorry. I'm a wuss.

Erica said...

Great description. I would totally keep reading. I agree with Penguin about the line below.

He turned his head to shield his face from the man's fists and pressed the his neck into the carpet. "Becca, are you hurt?"

That line seems forced a bit. He wouldn't use her name- who else is he talking to?

Was he overreacting?

Not sure but should this be- "Am I overreacting." Since it is in his head right?

I think the description of Greg getting out of bed was realistic and really well written :o)

Great start! Interesting stuff there :o)

Melanie Avila said...

Amy, I'm surprised you're the first person to say that. I had a lot more "the man's" in there instead of "his" but I felt like it was too much. Maybe I should put them back in.

Erica, that's a good point about using her name. I included it so the reader wouldn't think he was asking the man (which seems obvious..). I've kept their thoughts in 3rd person because I don't want to hop between 1st & 3rd.

Thanks everyone!!

Janna Qualman said...


Jewel/Pink Ink said...

Great hook, Melanie! It wasn't very clear to me what "bucked" meant and her legs flailing. Depending on the age of the girl, it seems she might not necessarily fight him off. I agree with the others, too, I expected the dad to be all action and ask questions later.

Makes me want to read on. Who's the masked man??? And will he get away?

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Jewel. :)

Bucked like a horse. She's 17 and athletic so I think she'd fight. I'm so tempted to post the entire chapter because those questions are answered, bwahahahaha...

Jewel/Pink Ink said...

Mmm, 17...then maybe she'd be screaming her head off even before the dad gets to her room. :-)

Melanie Avila said...

:) Yeah, he's got her pinned down pretty well -- she has bruises all over her throat and chest for the next week.