Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Gang's Review Sunday
Paranormal First Chapter

Hopefully everyone had a chance to check out Serena's first chapter yesterday! If not, that's all right, you can always view it and comment here. Please do if you have the time! :) It's an honor to check out the story and review it! Also, submissions are now open for Paranormal Excerpts! You can enter any piece of your novel, whether it be a couple paragraphs, or up to 2,500 words of your work in the paranormal genre. We only had one entry this week, so we hope more of you enter this week! Deadline is Thursday. Remember: If you've already been chosen this month, please wait until next month to enter. We want to give a fair shot to everyone.  
Chapter One of Whisper by Serena LeClair
“Jennie, let’s go! Get a move on! Enough of this stalling!” Richard Green stood at the foot of the long, winding marble staircase and shouted to his daughter. His usually stiff white-collard shirt was wrinkled and untucked, his eyes bloodshot, his chin sprouted a five o’clock shadow. He rubbed the top of his shiny, bald[--delete comma--] head and heaved a gusty sigh. (You have good description here, but because it’s the opening of your chapter, you want more of the intrigue. This entire paragraph could come later. After Jennie responds. Also, you could also condense the opening dialogue to either “Jennie, let’s go! Get a move on!” or “Jennie, let’s go! Enough of this stalling!”)

“Dad, I told you, I’m not going!” (If you’re going to emphasize, use italics. Not caps. You very rarely want to use all caps. Maybe once or twice in an entire novel. Also, while you should use italics to emphasize, you don’t want to overuse those either. For example, in this case, you really don’t need to emphasize. We can already get the tone. But if you still want to, italicize, don’t “all cap” it.) Jennie threw open her bedroom door at the top of the stairs and stomped over to the landing.  

“Jenifer Charlotte Green, you get down here this instant!” Richard clenched his fists so tight his knuckles turned white, his tired, angry face now beaded with sweat. (“Anger-sweat” was a bit awkward.)

No, Dad! I’ll move in with Kaitlyn if I have to! But I am not leaving!” (Another thing: You’re using a lot of exclamation points. We already know they’re arguing and shouting, so you don’t need all the exclamations. Maybe in the opening dialogue, the second line of dialogue, and with “No, Dad!” But, otherwise, you don’t need them all.) And with that, Jennie spun around on her heel and thundered back across the hallway, retreating to her bedroom and slamming the door shut, sending the last family photo, not yet in a moving box, crashing to the floor. (Notice how we ditched some access words earlier. This is another place to do that. You said a lot more than you needed to for her to just go back into her room, and it would actually benefit from two sentences. An example condensed sentence would be: And with that, Jennie spun around and thundered back into her bedroom. The vibration from the door slamming knocked the last family photo, not yet packed away, crashing to the floor. Also, where is this picture? And it seems to mean something. You could say a lot with this picture. Does Jennie glare at it? Does Richard see it earlier and does it give him any emotion? Maybe earlier when Jennie first comes out of the room, she can brush past it and Richard can notice. If you don’t want to make it significant, you can just change it to a picture that hadn’t yet been packed away. )

Richard groaned[--delete comma--]  and set down his heavy, black leather suitcase he was holding. With a long, slow sigh, he started up the stairs two at a time, until he reached his daughter’s bedroom. He clenched his fist, ready to deliver a loud, hard knock, but thought better of it[--delete comma--]  and tapped softly on the door instead. (Richard’s actions are a little contradictory here. He seems calm, with the slow exhales and just setting down the suitcase, but then all of a sudden is clenching his fists again and running up the stairs. You want to stay consistent with the emotions. Is he angry or calm? If both, his actions would be more like the last half of this paragraph. Where he’s showing a lot of anger, but then composes himself when he thinks about it.)

“What do you want?” came Jennie’s muffled voice from the other side of the door.

Richard sighed again[--delete comma--]   and picked up the shattered remains of the glass frame of the family photo. (Why didn’t he do this before knocking? That would be a good changing from “anger to calm” moment, having him look at the photo. But don’t jump around. Make the story move smoothly.)

“You can’t make me go,” Jennie said.

After a pause, Richard said, “I know.”

There was another long pause, in which Jennie’s light sobs could barely be heard. (Try to find another way to say this without the double “pause.” You can leave it with something like: All that responded was Jennie’s light sobs until she finally spoke. Just an example, but try and play with it.)

Finally she spoke.

“Do you think Mom would have wanted this?” (With Mom, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, etc., if you’re just calling them by the name, you capitalize it. Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. If you’re not, then lowercase. I said hi to my mom. I said hi to my dad.)

Richard did not respond right away. [--same line--] He decided to try a different approach. In a calm, collected voice, he said to his daughter, “Jennie, honey, please come out so we can at least talk about this? I’m not going to force anything on you[. or ;] I just want to talk.”

Finally, the lock clicked open. (“Finally” is a word you also don’t want to use too much of, and you’ve got it twice already, so watch that. Try and find another way to say what’s happening (e.g. there’s silence and no movement until the lock clicks open), or you can just ditch the world all together and the readers get the same thing.)

“Fine. Come in,” Jennie grumbled. (Since this is the second time we’ve caught this, remember this: Commas and not periods when using dialogue tags. Also, watch your dialogue tags. You don’t want to use too many other words besides “said,” otherwise they become noticeable. So watch those. You don’t need them as often as you think, especially when it’s clear who’s talking.)

Richard tentatively walked into his daughter’s bedroom, taking in all of the familiar sights that he knew he would never see again. The light pink walls that Jennie had requested for her fifth birthday. The corner by The window where Jennie had stared out of many Christmas Eves, searching the skies for Santa Claus. The faint pencil marks on the doorframe that marked Jennie’s height had been marked every year. Even the far back wall, by which Jennie had taken her first steps. (You really don’t need all the single lines here. Save those for the ones that really need emphasis.)

Richard tried to quell the sea of emotions he felt swirling around inside him; hurt, guilt, fear, anxiety…loneliness. [--same paragraph--]  He slowly walked over to Jennie’s bed, which was to be sent to the new house separately, and sat down next to her.

She was curled up in a tight ball, her knees to her chin, her arms wrapped around her legs. Richard placed a warm hand on her daughter’s shaking knee, but she jerked away. 

“Jennie, please try and understand.”

But Jennie didn’t respond. (Maybe give more for Richard to say because, by now, the reader’s lost in what’s happening. We only get that they’re moving, but she doesn’t want to. Give us a little hint at least to what’s causing this situation.)

She just squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. A few tears fell from her green eyes (Why now to describe her eyes? That can wait. Also, her eyes are closed but she’s reaching for a necklace. Easily fixable. Example: She shook her head, eyeing a necklace that lay on the carpet. A few tears fell as she reached for it.) as she leaned over to the side of the bed to pick up a necklace that was lying on the carpet. 

It was a small locket, hanging from a long, gold chain with a delicate pearl at the clasp. She opened it up[--delete comma--]  and stared at the picture inside. 

It was of a woman. The most beautiful woman Jennie had ever known. She had smooth, fair skin, soft, fluffy brown hair, and shockingly(What’s so shocking about them? Are they unnaturally dark? Unnaturally bright? Have swirls? Explain.) green eyes; all features of Jennie’s own. But the woman in the picture was not Jennie. It was her mother, Sarah. Dead by the time Jennie was four years old. This was her home. This was where she and Jennie had lived four of the happiest years of their lives together. 

And this was also the home where Sarah died. 

That was why Jennie couldn’t just pack up and leave.

(All right, it’s good that we’re finally seeing why she doesn’t want to leave, but here’s the problem, you’re jumping a bit. You want this to run smooth. Richard came into talk, but they’re not talking. Have something trigger Jennie’s need for the locket. Also, you don’t need all the solo lines here either. Maybe one of them, like I did at the end, but not all of them. Also, we still need to know why they’re leaving. The way you’re setting it up, it sounds like her mother died recently and that that has something to do with the move, but since she’s been dead so long, that can’t be the case. Make sure to set up the story clearly.)

Richard seemed to be thinking the same thing, because when Jennie looked up at him, she saw tears falling from his eyes. 

“You are just like her,he whispered, looking down at Jennie’s face. With a loving hand, he brushed back her hair and tucked it behind her ear.

“Do you remember her at all?” he asked.

Jennie shook her head no

Slowly, she lifted the locket[--delete comma--] and placed it over her head. It landed perfectly, just a few inches below the base of her neck, nestled right next to her heart. She took one more look at the picture, and then closed the locket softly[--delete comma--] with a faint click.

Richard watched her stoke it mournfully and reached down to grab her hand, holding it tightly in his. (Watch all these adverbs. You don’t need them. With adverbs, you only want to use them if they’re natural, if you can’t describe it any other way, and if they flow. But notice how you have slowly, perfectly, softly, mournfully, tightly, and quietly all within these two paragraphs and a dialogue tag. See if you can get rid of most of them. Keep one, maybe two.)

“It’s all I have left of her,” Jennie said quietly. 

Richard nodded.

Suddenly, with a burst of anger, Jennie shot up from the bed. [--same line--]How could you do this to her? To me? To our family?” Jennie yelled. 

“Jennie, please calm down…”

No, Dad! Mom died in this house[--delete comma--] and you’re just going to leave it? Abandon her?

“Now you listen here, I am not abandoning her, Jennie.” Richard tried to keep calm.

“Yes, you are! (Never more than one exclamation.) Dad, stop pretending like you are doing this for me, or for us, because we both know that’s a lie. But that’s what you tell yourself every night so you can please your ego and get some sleep. (We’ll talk a little more on this later, but watch your dialogue. It’s sounding a bit forced.) You tell yourself that moving away from here will be ‘healthy’ for me. You say that doing this will help me ‘move on with my life,’ but what you forget to mention to yourself is that you are a coward, Dad! You became a coward the day she died, when you realized that you would have to take care of me all by yourself, but the reality is, you can’t do it! You can’t—”

No that’s enough!” Richard screamed, jumping up from the bed.[--same line--]“Jennie, I am at my limit with you. Despite what you think, I am doing this for you! And despite what you think (You say this twice. Try and find something else.), I raised you. On my own. Since you were four years old. You think this is easy for me? I loved your mother just as much as you did. Now you will march right down those stairs and get into that car right now or so help me God!” 

Jennie stood frozen to the spot, her feet glued to the floor. She was definitely one to let her father know when she was angry, but usually he just sat there and let her vent.[--same line--]She was shocked that he had blown his top like this. 

Richard was still fuming, his eyes squinted and his lips pursed.

Without a word, Jennie stared at him. [--same line--]Their eyes held onto each other like a magnetic connection. Streams of emotions flowed between them, full of tension. (Or something. The way you have it now is off. Tension flowing isn’t like a stream of emotions, but they can be together. Does that make sense? Because what’s a stream of emotions like?)

Finally (Another “finally”), she whipped around and stomped/charged/left/ran (tramped is unnatural) out of her room, down the hallway, and down the stairs, and out the door. 

Richard stood alone in the cold, empty room by himself for a while, wondering to himself how he was ever going to get through this one.


The car ride to the new house was long and silent. (We still don’t know why they’re moving. You say because the dad says it’ll help Jennie, but help her with what? Her mother’s death? If so, it seems a little late for that. We’re guessing she’s between 14-17 years old, so why has he wanted so long to move. You have to give us more than “for you, Jennie” so that we can identify. Jennie leaned against the cool glass of the car’s window and watched the trees go by in a flurry of color. It took a few hours to get from southern Oregon to their new home in northern California, but once they pulled up to the only house on the block with a moving van parked in the driveway, Jennie stayed buckled in, arms folded across her chest. 

Richard got out of the car as quickly has he could, a smile slowly spreading across his face as he viewed their new home. The house sat on top of a gentle, sloping hill, with a large oak tree next to the gravel driveway, and two more lining the sidewalk that meandered in front of the manicured green lawn. It was a two-story building, painted gray with a strange peach trim, juxtaposing the overall dreary vibes the house gave off. A sloping (Second time you’ve used “sloping” in this paragraph) roof was dripping with leftover drops of the recent rainfall (“Leftover raindrops dripped from the roof” would be simpler.), and a set of low stairs led up to the peach-painted front door of the house. All the curtains were drawn[--delete comma--] and a single, potted rosebush sat just below the first story bedroom window. 

“Jennie, get out here and look at this! What a beauty.” Richard tilted his head back and smiled. 

Jennie still sat in the car.

Richard hopped up the front steps and stuck his key in the lock of the front door. [--same line--] It clicked open with ease. 

“Jenifer!” he called. “You’ll really want to see this!” 

Not willing to take anymore yelling, Jennie unbuckled her seatbelt and threw open the door of their rusty old Chevy. She zipped up her green jacket all the way to the top and flipped up the hood, rubbing her cold arms. She looked up at the sky. “Dad, it looks like it’s going to rain again,she said as she stared at the bleak, gray clouds. 

“Yeah, it does that a lot here.” Richard’s voice echoed somewhere from inside the house. “But we’re so close to the ocean!”

“Yeah, not like it will ever be warm enough to go swimming.” Jennie muttered under her breath.

“Come on in and have a look, Jen!” Richard said excitedly.

Jennie huffed[--delete comma--] and started toward the house, her red Converse sneakers slapping and splashing in the puddles on the sidewalk as she went. Just as Jennie was about to enter the house, she looked up at the sky with regret one last time. Just then, she caught a glimpse of something that froze her blood faster than the chill in the air. Peeking out of the only window on the second floor that was open, was a little girl, no more than (or something, because what you have is a bit of a mouthful) six. The girl had a head of curly blonde hair, adorned with a pink bow that matched what looked like a pink dress. 

Her eyes were black as coal. 

“Uhh, Dad? Is there anyone in this house?” Jennie called.

“What? No, of course not!”

“Well, did one of the movers bring his daughter along or something?” Jennie diverted her gaze from the window to look at her father, but he was preoccupied. When she looked back up at the window, the girl was gone.

Jennie’s eyebrows collided together in confusion, but her eyes stayed fixed on the window. 

Must have been my imagination. Yeah. That’s it, of course, Jennie thought. (No quotations around thoughts. Italicize the thought and remember your comma and not a period.)

“Jennie! Come see your room!” Richard called. 

Jennie finally tore her gaze away from the mysterious window spot[--delete comma--] and went inside the house. 

“Dad, where are you?” Jennie ask-yelled.

“Upstairs, sweetheart.” 

Jennie stood in the foyer for a second, taking it all in. She observed the spacious, cold living room with its mahogany wood flooring and bare, white walls. She walked around the corner and glanced over the kitchen. No tables, no chairs, no lamps, no decorations. Just white walls. Plain, naked white walls. A division in between the kitchen and living room was a staircase[--delete comma--] with an old fashioned cupboard underneath. Jennie opened it up[--delete comma--] and a spider fell from the ceiling. (Or: A spider fell from the ceiling when Jennie opened it up. Also, does she jump back? Scream? Cringe?)

“If you want, we can put your bed in there,” Richard joked, leaning over the banister of the stairs. With a laugh, he started back up, toward where Jennie figured her bedroom was.

“Harry Potter, much?” Jennie said to herself, shutting the cupboard door.

She stopped at the foot of the stairs[--delete comma--] and stared.

She just stared. 

These stairs were nothing like the beautiful marble ones she’d left behind in Oregon. [--same line--] These were white, just like everything else in the house.

Once Jennie finally got to her bedroom, she paused again, just outside the door.

Something didn’t feel right.

Not right at all.

Like that feeling she got when she was watching a scary movie. That feeling of total silence[--delete comma--] right before the killer popped out and slit everyone’s throats. 

That feeling of suspense. 

That feeling of utter and total apprehension and anxiety. 

Jennie took a deep breath and opened up the door. 

“Oh my God.” 

The room she had just entered was the exact same room in which she had seen the little girl staring out of the window. (What makes her realize? She couldn’t see inside the room earlier, so how does she find out? Have her look from the window and see that way. She needs some way to figure that out instead of just knowing.)

And sure enough, there the window was. 

It was a big, floor to ceiling picture window (Picture window?) with no curtains. 

“We can definitely get some nice drapes to hang if you want to,” Richard said, from behind her.

Jennie was speechless.

She still felt restless, like she wasn’t sure she should take any step further into the room.

“Come here and take a look out of this window, Jennie!” Richard stood right in front of it, hands clasped behind his back. 

Jennie slowly and uneasily walked toward her father.

Just then, right as she got to the window, right in the spot where she thought she had seen a little, black-eyed, blonde girl, a sudden chill came over her. 

She felt just as though she had stepped into an icy cold shower. A rush went from the top of her scalp, down her spine, and to the tips of her toes, sending all the hair on her body standing on end[--delete comma--] and goosebumps to prickle up on her arms and legs. 

The cold radiated from the surface of her skin to the marrow in her bones, freezing all the blood circulating through her veins. 

Jennie gasped, her eyes rolling back in her head, and her knees buckling. 

She let out a shriek, as the chill seemed to paralyze her legs. 

She tried to catch herself, but fell backwards, just barely above hitting the floor, when Richard dove down and caught her. 

Jennie! What the hell happened? (Never more than one question mark.)

Richard shouted, jerking Jennie back up to her feet. She caught her breath in her chest, and gasped at how she felt. She could feel The cold was starting to die down, but she still knew that that was no accident.

Something was not right.

There was some sort of negative energy in this room.

Something that was possessing it. 

Something that was not normal.

Something was there.

And it wanted her gone. (A little too much at the end. It’d be more powerful with less. For example: Something was not right. Something was not normal. Something was there. And it wanted her gone.)


On setting/setup: You have a good setup for a novel. A motherless teen, an unwanted move to a creepy house, and you’ve already introduced the paranormal element, which is great. What you want to watch with this setup is the originality. There are so many novels and stories with this setup. So you’ll want to find ways to make it your own. Maybe you don’t even need to go into the mother thing right now, since it was recent. Just play around with some more original details to really make this stand out.

Setting-wise, we haven’t gotten too much of it yet, which isn’t a bad thing. You may give us more of it later, but a little more of the surroundings would help. Maybe while in the car. Does Jennie notice changes in scenery? Different trees? Smoother roads? Less smooth roads? People walking more? No one walking at all? Give us the vibe of her surroundings compared to what she’s used to, besides just different houses.

On writing: You have very good writing and it’s clear that you’re working out what details and descriptions of people, things, and actions, which is great. What you have to watch is sounding like a writer as opposed to narrating. You have a lot of sentences where the story will have a voice, but then it’ll change with added words that no one uses. You have to choose whether you want a mature, literary voice or a more commercial voice. Commercial seems to be your best bet with this story, so just make sure you stay consistent with diction. Don’t try and throw “complicated” words in to describe. Let the story flow.

Also, watch your grammar. With dialogue tags, remember it’s: “Blah,” he said. Not: “Blah.” He said. And you have many extra words and phrases that you don’t need. And never DO THIS!!! That’s the biggest thing that you’ll have to break, writing-wise. With arguments, you don’t always need exclamations or emphasis. And if you do want emphasis, italicize. Also, remember your Dad/Mom vs. my dad/my mom. You also tend to use commas where you don’t need them, so watch that as well.

With your dialogue, sometimes it seems forced, like narration instead of dialogue. You want it as natural as possible. You want Richard to sound like an adult and Jennie to sound like a teenager.

One more thing: Whose head are your readers in? Jennie’s or Richard’s? You’re leaning toward Richard’s more at some points, then Jennie’s at others. Because this is YA, it’d benefit you more to only have Jennie’s point of view (still in third person, of course, if that’s what you want).

On characters: You do a great job describing the characters’ actions and describing their looks, but we don’t really get a feel for them. Of course, a lot of this will have to do with character development in later chapters, but right now, we don’t really get a voice for Jennie. We get that she’s a teenager that doesn’t want to move and has a temper, but can you give us more of her voice? More of her personality? Make her unique. As with Richard, we don’t really get his personality either. We can’t tell whether he’s angry, sad, or excited. Yes, it’s possible to be all, but you’ve got to make that clear. Really give his personality and voice as well. Don’t make them the typical father/daughter. Give them something unique.

On plot: You have a great opening to the story here. You introduce us to the characters, their conflicts, and the paranormal element. Those are all things you want. What’s missing is the reasoning behind this move and after reading through all the way, you really don’t need the beginning. You want your story to read smoothly and right now you do a lot of jumping. Notice:
They’re yelling, there’s a picture frame, then they’re in the room, they cry, Jennie sees the necklace, he puts it on, they get mad again, then he forces her to leave, then they’re at the house, then Jennie sees the girl, then she passes out.

For one, Jennie’s mother died years ago. It seems a little out of place that they’re having this argument as thought she died recently. The main point, it seems, that you’re wanting to get across is that she doesn’t want to leave because that’s her mother’s house. That’s a point you can get across in a different way. For example, instead of this whole argument at their old house, maybe have it at a gas station or restaurant, where they’ve stopped on the way to their new house. Maybe she vows to hitchhike home because she doesn’t want to go. This goes back to what we said earlier about making this original. Put some twists in this to make it your own. For chapters, simpler is better. Example of what would happen in the basic plot of first chapter:

They move to the new house, where Jennie sees first sight of the ghost.


Jennie’s angry because she has to leave her mother’s home, but she’s forced to go anyway. However, Richard’s excited about the move.

Now what can you do to make the story move smoothly to show that? You can still open with an argument, but try finding a smoother storyline. They’re arguing, he forces her back in the car, they’re silent or they argue or they cry the rest of the way to the house, then what happens there with the girl and room.

Also with the plot, you have to give the readers why they’re moving. We still don’t understand. Was Jennie having problems in school? Was she all of a sudden struggling with her mother’s death after all these years? Give us a reason.

Overall: You have a very solid, nice story forming here! You give the readers everything we need in a first chapter, as well as a great cliffhanger to keep us moving. Your plot and storyline that you have forming is a good one and can be fantastic with some uniqueness to the setup and characters. Also, love the creepy little girl. Shivers!

Thank you so much for letting us read your work, Serena! Really great job! 

Gang, remember to always edit everything you work on and never complety settle as there is always room for improvement!

Also, submissions are now open for Paranormal Excerpts! Enter now! Deadline is this Thursday.


Serena said...

Oh my gosh, thank you guys SO MUCH!!!!!
You have NO IDEA how much this has helped me!!!!
I can't thank you enough!!!!

Evie J said...

You're welcome! Great work! :)