Wednesday, February 6, 2008

First Page Critiques (or What Makes Me Wanna Go All Simon Cowell)

Tip of the Day: Click the link in the right-hand pane to my first introductory post for some FABULOUS NEW DEVELOPMENTS in my work life!!!

SCBWI conferences are great for inspiration, learning about the market, and meeting up with other kidlitters.

They are also good for laughs.

I apologize ahead of time for being what some may consider "harsh," but fortheloveofgod people, please do some serious reading and revising before reading your first page at the First Page Critique session at a writing conference. If you do not, these are the thoughts that will be in my head -- and if I were Simon Cowell, you'd be hearing them:

1. Dustballs riding helicoptors and zucchinis running around town looking for dinner are not stories. Not even in picture books. Ever. In fact, just stay away from anthropomorphism all together unless you know how to write a story without it. Oh, and please avoid the word "crotch" in your picture book. I mean, does an illustrator really want to have to deal with that one?

2. Picture book readers do not want to hear 250 words of boring prose before something -- anything -- happens. The wind whispering the name "Martinique" whilst smelling of primrose and frankincense makes me wish I was reading about dustballs, crotches, and zucchinis.

3. Novels that switch point of view three times in one page are confused. Who is the main character? If it's the teen boy, then why do we care what Dad is thinking about while he chews his pork chop? We don't. In fact, we don't even care that he's chewing.

4. Starting out a picture book with child-like imagery that suddenly shifts to the sentimental thoughts of an adult is like watching 35-year-old Luke Perry play a high schooler in Beverly Hills 90210. Not attractive, not believable, not right.

5. Hilarious middle-grade novels are always appreciated, even if they center around puke. Poorly done middle-grade novels that are supposed to be funny and center around anything make me embarassed for the author. You know that feeling you get when you watch the "acting" in the High School Musical series? Like you need to cover your eyes and ears or you'll cry for them? Yeah, that feeling.

6. Rhyming picture books rock
When the text is not a crock.
If the lines only rhyme
'Cause of crappy texty brine
And it makes no sense
But you think it's cute
Just throw it down
The garbage shute.

On the Paula Abdul side, there was one great rhyming picture book first page that had me tappin' my toes. And most of the first pages that made me want to read more were YAs and MGs (yeay!). Some people are really talented and I am excited to see people in my SCBWI region do well.

But the people I am really impressed with are the conference faculty members who sit at the front of the First Page Critique room, listening to each page with all their attention, who don't once let a Simon Cowell comment slip from their tongues.

What are some of the best/worst First Page Critque pages you've heard? If you don't wanna go all Simon Cowell, you can keep them to yourself (but make sure to comment on my post next week for a chance to win a nearly new YA novel!).

Deena, Miss Recently Repped


Lisa Schroeder said...

Dang. My dustball riding a helicopter story was getting SO close to being done, too. All right. Back to the drawing board.

Thanks for the laugh this morning, Deena! I needed it! :)

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

LOL! I have to say, the most horrifying 1st page I ever heard was supposed to be a YA. It began with a vivid, and I mean virtually 3-D, description of a teenage girl working a stripper pole. No kidding! I guess that's what they call "edgy"!

I think it was done on a dare. The writer was actually an illustrator who was exploring the possibilities. Pack up that train and take that expedition South!

I did have a Simon Cowell experience, though--well, almost. A certain agent, who shall remain nameless, was part of an Agents panel SCBWI conference. They read countless first pages, and this particular agent was beyond brutal. "God! If I got this crap in my box I think I'd set it on fire. Come on...! (I haven't included the string of curse words he loved to lay out, either). I don't know how, but they never did get to my first page--thank dog! (wiping sweat from brow and actually breathing...)

Kate Fall said...

ghost girl, that's awful! At least you found out about that agent's personality. I'm sure I would've lost my breath too.

Emily Marshall said...

These were great, Deena. Too funny. I don't have any funny ones like that, that I've seen. I really want to go to a first page critique reading, now, though.

DeenaML said...

Lisa, maybe for maximum greatness, you should rewrite Baby Can't Sleep as Dustball Can't Find the Zucchini. It's a sure winner!

Mary Ann, the agent actually swore and called it crap? HA! Man, I would've been PRAYING my page didn't come up!

Em, the critiques are definitely good for some laughs if nothing else -- but thankfull Kate and I got really good feedback on our first pages!

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Yep, he was swearing like a sailor! The gal next to me had written a fantasy piece. This guy obviously hates fantasy in general. I could hear her gulping beside me as he started spewing. Fortunately, one of the other agents invited her to send the ms to her.

And our raving agent is a very well-known one. I can only imagine he'll fight hard for your work if he believes in it, but I couldn't deal with that personality!