Fall First Page Critique Blog Hop

Here is the info on how to join this blog hop hosted by the lovely Michelle Hauck, which sounds like fun and a great NaNoWriMo distraction if you need it.

My first page is below:

YA Fantasy

They performed the ceremony like all others, standing at the roots of the Great Banyan tree. Smoke from the fire pits stung my nose. Beetle swarms crawled along the leaves — tick tick tick. The light shifted between shadows and sunlight. Branches and leaves and vines were the Banyan’s tangled hair.

Mother’s hands trembled.

“We must go to your uncle now, Aliyah.” A thick wave of her hair swept over her shoulder to tickle my cheek. She smelled of salt, like her tears, like the ocean where, just days before, my father’s body had been set to flame.

He was released to the Great Ones. I was trapped here without him.

Uncle Talin was not my uncle at all. Not by blood. He was my father’s friend, and my new guardian. As was tradition in the Tribes, I must call him Uncle to represent his place in my new life, but the law could not rule my heart. Uncle Talin would never replace my father. He stood on the roots, watching and waiting for us to come to him. His eyes did not laugh like Father’s had. They roamed over our faces, dark and narrowed, unsettling me where I stood. I could feel the heat of his gaze touch us, moving between us, lingering on Mother, coming back to me.

This was the man who would bear the mark of our ho’omalu.

The Kahuna’s grass skirt hissed as he moved through the village toward the Great Banyan. My skin shivered when he passed me.

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8 thoughts on “Fall First Page Critique Blog Hop

  1. There were some sentences that I loved. The Banyan tree description is perfect. The sentence describing mom was wonderful. I’m confused by a few things. What is the ceremony? Is the “uncle” also the Kahuna or is that another character? I think if you can clarify a few things for me as a reader that I’ll be more invested. I felt their loss and their fear but wasn’t exactly sure what was happening in the now. You have an almost poetic flow to your writing that I love.

  2. This is awesome! There’s a lot of backstory, but it’s dense with characterization.

    That said, you may not want it all in the opening page. But this is a weak criticism, I was sucked in and that’s more than enough for me. I have the feel for Aliyah, her sadness at her father’s loss, the hook of Uncle Talin and what he might do.

    The only thing that I’m afraid of reading this is that you’ll rush into Uncle Talin’s threats, but that’s for later pages, this has done it’s job and gotten me to the next page.

  3. You’ve set up a strong situation here and it’s a good place to start. There’s a lot I like in the writing, especially the understatement of the ‘uncle’ looking at the mother then at the child. We can almost taste what’s likely to happen there.

    I wondered a bit about that opening sentence. ‘They’ is unattributed and tbh I don’t know if ‘others’ refers to ‘Them’ or to the ceremony. It’s not good that I got stuck on the very first line of your story and had to wonder what two aspects of it meant. A little TLC should fix it up.

    As this is in first person, I thought perhaps ‘They’ should be ‘we’, otherwise the narrator seems like an outsider, an observer. If it’s only some of the tribe, then maybe name them–the elders, the shamans, whatever :).

    I think at times this is a bit overwritten.

    As was tradition in the Tribes, I must call him Uncle to represent his place in my new life, but the law could not rule my heart.

    I’m not sure the narrator would say ‘tradition in the Tribes’. I get that it’s handy for the reader to get the information about Tribes, but would we say ‘that’s traditional in our culture’ or just say ‘it’s traditional’? It’s important that getting in backstory doesn’t distort the way people naturally speak. I’d go for:

    As was tradition, I must now call him Uncle, but the law could not rule my heart.

    Tighter, still with the same meaning, and more naturalistic, imo :).

    This is a good opening. I’d read on.

  4. The writing, imagery, and high-stakes nature of this scene are perfect. I absolutely love it!

    I just have a few small comments…

    1) in the first paragraph I would recommend saying “Banyan trees tangled hair” for clarity.

    2) I think you can remove the sentence “As was tradition…” – it’s more of a “telling” sentence, but already implied in the scene.

    3) Would recommend starting a new paragraph with “He stood on the roots…”

    So these were all minor. 🙂

    The only other thing I would mention is the entry of the Kahuna seemed out of place and confused me a little with the action of the scene since she is supposed to be on her way to Uncle Talin.

    Hope this helps!

  5. Great imagery and beautiful wording! I really liked the smoke stinging her nose and the swarm of beetles.

    I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on at first, maybe naming the ceremony right away would help.

    At first, I thought “he stood on the roots” referred to her father (his ghost?), since he was the last person mentioned. But it’s the uncle, right? It might be good to clarify that.

    At the end, I wondered if the Kahuna and the uncle were the same person, but I wasn’t sure. Also, what the significance of the “mark of our ho’omalu” is.

    You’ve made a good sad, intimidated vibe here. I definitely get the feeling all will not be well with the uncle.

    Good luck!

  6. Excellent opening! It definitely feels like you’re starting in the right place, the descriptions are lovely, and I’m intrigued from the start.

    “Uncle Talin would never replace my father.”
    Ok, I get that this would be a fear, but, it comes right after explaining that he’s to be called “uncle” even though he isn’t. I don’t see why calling someone “Uncle” would equate them trying to replace their father? The train of thought stood out to me as a little odd, that’s all. In fact, we could probably do with a little less explanation here, and stay in the present, because the look he gives them … shivers. The next line, “This was the man who would bear the mark of our ho’omalu,” took me out of that moment.

    Minor things, and just my opinion. You have a great beginning here!

  7. I agree that you have some great lines and imagery in there, and it makes for a compelling scene that draws the reader in. It also has some good voice and I have a sense for the MC and like her already – good job.

    That said, I do think there are a number of lines that aren’t doing anything for this piece and standing in the way of the best parts.
    -The opening line uses ‘they’, which is detached. We don’t know who they are (the entire village? only family? just the men-folk and her moth?). The second line ‘Smoke from…’ would be stronger – immediately puts you in first person and gives a sense of place.
    – How do we know Mother’s hands trembled? This exchange would be much stronger if we knew they were holding hands, or near each other, or where they stood in relation to ‘they’. Is the dialogue whispered or part of a ceremonial speech? I have some good images of the scene but don’t have enough blocking to understand the undertones of this stuff.
    -The description of her Uncle felt like it was a little overwritten. In that moment, I’d expect something more immediate. The ‘roamed’, ‘unsettling’, ‘heat of his gaze’, ‘lingering’ all added up to too much.
    – The ‘mark of our ho’amalu’ confuses me, but does introduce a more Polynesian tone. I’d be fine with it if you had something to explain it a little better before too long.
    – Could she really hear the grass skirt hissing as he walked through the village, which I expect would be some distance from the sacred tree? Or would she hear it his as he passed?

    This does feel like a good place to start a story, and I’m already invested in the characters, so that’s a great beginning. I think if you tighten up the writing in a few places it will help to make me feel that it’s not just a great story and great characters, but also well-written throughout. Good luck!

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