19th October 2018 at 7:22 am #61785
Two options for my first page – ‘Shadows from the Sky’ – a thriller about a missing plane.
Please let me know which one would most encourage you to read on, and why, A or B?
Maarten was only 12 years old the last time the volcano had erupted. Without warning it just happened. Sudden, seismic, and brutal, a huge gas cloud vomiting molten rocks two miles high.
He saw it coming. His first thought – save yourself. With adolescent agility he scampered up a tree. His body trembled as shock waves of energy engulfed him. There was flying debris all around. His ears popped. The ground shook and the air temperature shot up as surely as if nature had ignited a blow torch. It took away his breath. And his parents.
It was still early when he had crept outside, leaving his father and mother sleeping in their tent on the ground below. Their flimsy nylon cocoon melted under the debris. Unwarned, their lifeless bodies instantly suffocated in scalding ash.
Beneath his tree, a landscape of devastation. The volcano had left his family split by two fates.
Maarten, the survivor. His parents the unlucky ones.
Every disaster comes with its choice of three fates. You can choose one. But only if the other two don’t pick you first.
The unlucky ones get picked. The ones who do not make it. The ones who could never ever have survived, no matter how they had behaved. In the direct path of the bullet. Never learned to swim. Asleep when the fire broke out. Asked directions from the suicide bomber. The ones whose grainy graduation and wedding pictures appear in the tabloids, their fifteen minutes of fame coming too late to be enjoyed.
The lucky ones. Those who do nothing to save themselves yet are picked to survive, regardless. Thrown clear of the wreckage. In the right place at the wrong time because they missed the flight. Turned up late and got the last seat at the cinema by the fire exit. Dragged away unconscious by a heroic stranger. Saved by the grace of whatever God. Worth a newspaper paragraph. Or maybe a book deal. Picked by fate.
The calculating survivors. The ones everyone likes to think they would be. The heroes. The ones left standing, able to choose their fate. The contingency planners. The ones who always keep more than two seconds behind the car in front. Five seconds in the wet. The ones who check the location of the fire exit, no matter how tired, before turning in for the night in a strange hotel. The ones on the plane who really do realise that the nearest usable exit is actually behind them. In fact, three rows behind them. They know that. They counted. Certainly no more than four rows, because they insist on it. Always. The quick thinkers. The ones who do not stop to collect their belongings. The ones who do not hesitate to save themselves regardless of others. Trample over the screaming bodies, but get the hell out. The survivors who often live to regret. The ones who later ask themselves, why me?
Because they made it so.
* * *
Which do you prefer? Or how about B followed by A?
19th October 2018 at 9:25 am #61815
Definitely A. You’ve got a character for the reader to relate to, action to get caught up in, and it’s emotive.
For me, B was just rhetoric. There was nothing to ground me, no particular direction to it, and I lost interest and skim read it.
19th October 2018 at 9:33 am #61820
Thanks, Kate. I will reveal later which one I am going with. An interesting point is that although Maarten is a major character he is not the protagonist and does not appear again until about a third of the way through.
19th October 2018 at 9:46 am #61823
I’ll look forward to the results!
But, if this isn’t your main character and he doesn’t turn up until about a third of the way through, I have to wonder why this chapter with him would be upfront. You’re asking the reader to invest in a character who then isn’t that important.
19th October 2018 at 10:01 am #61824
Food for thought, thanks. My editorial review suggested that Maarten should be the protaganist, but there are reasons why that would be complicated. I like this page because it is impactful. I might consider placing it later into the narrative, but then that would interrupt the pace with a page of retrospection (this incident occurs 15 years prior to the main action) – another thing I have been warned against.
19th October 2018 at 10:47 am #61829
Question: Does this scene have an impact on the later story? From what you’ve put above, it almost sounds as if you want to include it because it’s impactful, and not because it drives the story forward. If a scene isn’t pushing the story onward, you maybe need to consider whether it should be in there at all.
19th October 2018 at 12:42 pm #61855
It has a huge impact later in the narrative on two counts a) it brings Maarten back to the location of later action where he plays a key role in resolution b) the threat of another eruption of the volcano is integral to the plot.
My thinking now is that I might place this as a quick flash-back very early on in the structure, but not P1. That way I can launch with the protagonist.
19th October 2018 at 4:42 pm #61921
I would agree that A would be the better opening. Although B presents some intriguing ideas, people need to start investing in someone right away. I would agree with Kate that if Maarten is not the main protagonist and isn’t mentioned again, perhaps this section is misplaced. I would possibly write Maarten’s backstory into the narrative later on and start with a character who is followed from the beginning, but without knowing more about the story, obviously I can’t say for sure. The problem with having it at the beginning is people will forget what you said by the time he comes back into it, especially as the prologue is quite short. Happy writing!
19th October 2018 at 5:00 pm #61924
I think putting version A a few chapters later will do the trick. It’s amazing how much I have already chopped and changed since receiving a very thorough Jericho editorial evaluation.
20th October 2018 at 6:30 am #61953
A! It introduces us to the character and throws us right into the action!
20th October 2018 at 7:34 am #61954
The People have spoken – A!
20th October 2018 at 2:04 pm #61994
I just love the first paragraph of B. Maybe that’s your elevator pitch?
20th October 2018 at 4:26 pm #62016
Thanks, Bella.Thanks for your suggestion. I love it too.
I have tried to articulate something I read along time ago about the outcome of disaster. Some people have no chance, others a lucky escape, but the survival of the rest depends on how they choose to act. And if you are in the third group it is being selfish that saves you, but also leaves you with huge guilt.
My character, Maarten, is in that third group.
23rd October 2018 at 8:16 am #62281
hi Iain, sorry to come rather late to the discussion! I agree with the points about investing in a character and the problems with having to wait too long for that person to reappear. I also found the analysis of survival in B intriguing, which might come across better if the passage was shorter? I also felt it rather unlikely that someone could escape a volcano by climbing a tree! Is this based on a real-life story? (In which case, even more intriguing!) I wonder if having the character reflect on the possibilities of B in the aftermath of his trauma might help to carry the concept through to his reappearance?
23rd October 2018 at 9:49 am #62292
Thanks, Elaine. I too worry about that tree as my research on volcanoes also casts doubts. But, hey, this is fiction where anything can happen. So in my mind it id a very strong tree!
I am going to use A. but also move it slightly so that it will not now be the first page.
In due course I will punt the new first page which introduces the protagonist and hits you in the face with the crisis.
23rd October 2018 at 9:52 am #62293
hi Iain – that sounds like a good plan! Look forward to seeing it. Cheers, Elaine
24th October 2018 at 7:00 am #62386
Thanks, Brian, you join a fairly consistent thread of feedback. Maybe B belongs in another (non-fiction?) book.
26th October 2018 at 3:34 pm #62623
I have thought about this for a couple of days. I would boil B down to a short para, it can easily be done and put it in before A. It will work, in my opinion, and you lose nothing.
26th October 2018 at 3:40 pm #62624
Thanks, Mike. I really like B which was in fact the first page I wrote, about 2 years ago. However, I am no longer it fits and most support is for plunging straight in to the action rather than opening with an ‘authors voice’.
29th October 2018 at 11:06 pm #62894
I would also vote for A given your specific question – which would encourage you to read on. A definitely would; not so sure about B. I love some of the writing in B but it easily seems like something that could come later on as part of some reflection/intro-spection and could probably be tightned up a bit.
One of the main reasons I like A is this line: ‘It took his breath away. And his parents.’ That is what I call BOOM writing. It made me say ‘Ooof harsh!’ outloud and sit up and take notice. If you can do that in the first page it has to be a good thing, right?
30th October 2018 at 8:51 am #62900
Thanks for the feedback. As a result of everything I have heard on this very useful thread, here’s the outcome.
A – moves to page 7. Maarten is a major character but not the protagonist, so this works better.
B – goes in the bin. Unless I need it for a non-fiction book ‘Surviving LIfe Threatening Disasters for Dummies’
C – I have jigged things around and will post a new first page for critique, shortly.
30th October 2018 at 9:26 am #62908
I arrived too late but agree completely with the outcome :-P
20th November 2018 at 11:42 pm #68542
I’m very late to this post but wanted to vote anyway. My vote was for A as well. That was wonderfully written and really sucked me in.
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