Friday, September 6, 2013

First Impressions: THE MIGHTY MILO

Our second selection for First Impressions comes to us from Bob Sweet. This is the first page of his YA novel, THE MIGHTY MILO:

My parents left yesterday to save the world and still haven’t returned.
A catfight in the alley behind the apartment woke me up an hour ago, about 5 a.m. With all that snarling and banging trashcans, they must have been lions. Or at least leopards.
When the cats finished, silence enveloped me. But it shouldn’t have.
I rolled out of bed and opened the door, where a dark hallway swallowed me.
No light, no movement. Like a ghost town. No Dad singing in the shower, no clinking plates with Mom pumping iron in the gym.
Never, in all of my 14 years, have I awakened to a dark, empty apartment. I rubbed my arms, cold inside and out.
I walked from room to room, calling out, “Hello? Mom? Dad?” Turning on the lights didn’t help much. “Mom? Dad?”
I rubbed my eyes, trying to remember. Did they say anything at dinner? No. Am I missing something? Nope. Nothing but my parents, the superheroes Big Mouth and Medusa.
My phone. They must have left a message.
I ran back to the bedroom for my Moto X. And found the text Mom sent just after 2 a.m.“Dad n I workin late. dk when return. Will text l8r.”
Warmth flooded me, and my body relaxed.
For about a second. Then breath fled from my lungs, and my shoulders stiffened.
That message isn’t good news. 
My mother, Carrie Minor, works as a beautician. But hair never keeps her out late. My father is Maximus Minor, the food critic. His job doesn’t keep him up at night, either – unless a chef serves bad shellfish.
If superheroes tell you they don’t know when they’ll get back from work, worry.
How long I sat there worrying, I can’t say.
“We were made to be courageous …”
The bass line burst into my ears like a gunman kicking down a door.
That song and a dozen more like it were my parents’ brilliant idea. Ever since they discovered I don’t have superpowers, they’ve worked hard to convince me I can still be a hero. So every morning I wake up to a song on my phone designed to, as Mom likes to say, empower me.
But I don’t need empowerment because I do have superpowers. I just can’t tell my parents – or anyone else – about them. All the encouraging songs in the world won’t change that fact.

There’s a lot of interesting and promising things going on with this page, including voice and imagery and a lot of great humor! I see two small things to critique, and one larger issue.

On the small side – There are a lot of short paragraphs, many of them exactly the same size. Visually speaking, it’s better to have variety on the page and paragraphs of differing sizes. The one-liners should stand out for emphasis.

There are also slips in verb tense. The passage is primarily in past tense, but Never, in all of my 14 years, have I awakenedI can’t say … and the whole last paragraph of this selection are in present tense.

Now, here’s the larger thing. I really like the premise, but I think the opening would hook us better if information were presented in a different order. For example, we’re told in the first line that Milo’s parents are out saving the world and haven’t come home. Great hook! But then we find out they’ve only been gone a few hours, which deflates the tension. He reads a text message saying they’re working late and don’t know when they’ll be back. He thinks about their day jobs first and only secondly about their superhero jobs (even though the first line already told us they were out saving the world). And then he worries. Why?

It seems to me that superheroes wouldn’t keep regular hours. Shouldn’t the message they send Milo be the usual thing, given their jobs? Of course, if they’d been missing for a long time and that text was the last he heard from them … that would be different! I could see him rattling through the empty house and obsessing over that text if it came a week ago.

Finally, Milo tells us he doesn’t have superpowers, and in the very next paragraph he tells us he does have them. I feel like there’s a missed opportunity for a “reveal” here. Obviously I don’t know what happens in the rest of the chapter, but revealing that he keeps powers secret from his parents would make a really good end of the first chapter, rather than be given away on the first page.

Thanks for sharing your first page with us, Bob. I really like this – I just want to grab the mouse and do a little copy-and-paste-and-rearrange. Readers, tell us what you think, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.


9 comments:

  1. Interesting premise, and presented with an underlying sense of humor. I like it!

    However, I agree about all the short paragraphs. That kind of presentation chops up the prose too much, as opposed to letting it flow.

    I felt a momentary disconnect from the parents "discovering" a lack of superpowers in their son, followed by a statement that he actually DOES have them. So what the parents have isn't so much of a discovery as it is a misconception. They don't THINK he has superpowers, which I assume is the way he wants it, at least for now.

    Bottom line? Good start to what sounds like an interesting story.

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  2. I really like this too - great voice. I think you could maybe eliminate the day job stuff for now and slip it in later. Nice job :)

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  3. There's much to like here. Good voice. Nice tension. I'd delete the first line--let the story unfold. Each time you have non-dialogue, lump them into a paragraph until you get to the next line of dialogue. I think with this piece, parts you have on separate lines to add drama don't need to be separate.

    What would increase the tension is to let this unfold without giving too much away. Don't provide backstory more than you need to. Let us know the parents are out and it could be dangerous. Leave it at that. Tell us they're superheroes later. Then tell us he's got powers after that.

    My only other piece of advice is watch text speak. Already first text-speak used in novels is dated. I'd put it as normal spelling and grammar.

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  4. Great comments, Dianne.

    I love the first line. The voice is engaging. Altho, I did wonder if a 14yo would use the word "envelope."
    The end got me too when he says he has no powers, then changes to say that he does.
    I believe it's got tons of promise and potential! :)

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  5. I left my comments over at Marcy's...but would like to add that I agree with the short sentences. They work better when they are used to add punch. Good for you Bob, for posting your page here!

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  6. What a great submission! Thanks for your bravery, Bob. It's a perfect opportunity for all of us to learn.

    I like the first line about saving the world. I totally agree about the big reveal...he's hiding a superpower from his parents? Awesome. Make that pay big time at the end of chapter one.

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  7. I like the idea of the story. The sentence fragments got me. Seems like a lot for a just the opening.

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  8. The MC's name is Milo? Sure to be a best-seller!

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  9. Hi Dianne .. and Bob - yes I got muddled with the Milo of the story and the Milo above - but I agree with Milo above! Sure to be a hit ..

    I loved the concept of your ideas here .. I just read it and enjoyed it - and I would like to know where it goes ..

    Cheers to you both - Hilary

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