Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop – Search for the Sampo

I pretty much never post my writing on the blog a) because it’s always changing and b) because I’m hoping to go the traditional publishing route. But I love a good blog hop and peer-critiquing, so Michelle Hauck’s Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop seemed like a fun way to start the week. You can also follow it on Twitter under #Fall1stHop.

So, for your Monday enjoyment, here is the first page of my new middle grade contemporary fantasy. I’d love to hear your (constructive, kindly worded) thoughts. And don’t forget to read the other submissions too.

Search for the Sampo (revised thanks to feedback!)

Chapter One: Suspicion

Lauren’s reading like she does every. single. day. But this isn’t every day. Today, I need her to pay attention.

“Whatcha reading, bird brain?” I pluck the book out of my sister’s hands. “MacBeth? You know this stuff will turn you into a nerd, right?”

“Give it back, Henry.” She clenches her teeth and glares at me. Scary.

I kick the beanbag she’s sitting on a few times with my foot. “Calm down.” I hold the book out to her. “Just messing with you. But seriously, we’ve got to talk.”

She groans, but she also gets up and follows me into my room, shutting the door behind her.

Good, I don’t want anyone to hear this. “Mom and Dad are up to something.”

“What do you mean?” Lauren says, fiddling with the ribbon of one of the medals draped over my trophy from regionals.  The medal makes a sharp sound as it hits the marble base. Click. Click. Click.

“I overheard them talking in the kitchen this morning. They said something about a new job, and selling the house.”

The clicking stops. “Not again. Did they say where? Boston? Seattle? Not Dallas.”

“That loose tile in the hallway creaked. They clammed up before they said where.”

“So what do we do, Hen?”

“You distract Mom, I’ll check her browser history for clues.” I head for the door.

Mom’s downstairs in the kitchen. Lauren invents some question about MacBeth—well played, Nerdo—and I slip into the sunroom and tap the iMac’s trackpad. She didn’t even close Chrome. So not stealth, Mom.

14 thoughts on “Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop – Search for the Sampo

  1. Great voice! I’m especially fond of the nerdy bits because my MC is an adult nerd. 🙂

    I don’t know how old the boy is, but his language seems older than middle grade. Example: His use of the word “seriously” instead of just “hey, we need to talk” or “com’ere…I gotta tell you something.” And his use of “clammed up” seemed almost like something an adult from the 50’s would say. Because the voice is really nice elsewhere, I think these inconsistency really stand out. Also, it seems unsatisfyingly vague when he says “they figured out I was outside the door.” Like, did he cough and they heard him? Finally, when Lauren goes to ask her mother about MacBeth, it seems forced. It might seem more natural (i.e. age appropriate) for her to ask her mom to help her with her writing assignment about MacBeth…or something like that.

    Really neat start! I think you’re creating some intrigue here to keep readers engaged.
    Missy Shelton Belote
    http://www.missysheltonbelote.com

  2. The Sampo is a magical artifact from the Finnish epic poem/creation myth, the Kalevala, so yes, I’m assuming it’s related. I can’t believe it made it on the MST3K–I’m going to have to look that up! Thanks for your comments 🙂

  3. The dialogue tags stood out for me also – they weren’t badly done, there were just too many of them within such a short space. The back and forth of the brother/sister dialogue was nicely done and seemed natural and authentic.

    It might be asking a bit much to fit onto the first page, but I agree with others that it would be nice to have some hint (in lieu of a full explanation) of what would be so terrible about moving.

    Also, I have a question about you title. There was an episode of MST3K featuring a (Swedish?) film where they constantly referred to a Sampo – the robots and human host made jokes and called it a ‘sample’. Are these connected?

  4. I like the voice–it feels right for MG contemporary. I also like the setup–trying to make sure they don’t have to move again, teaming up against Mom and Dad–though I think you could focus the tension a bit more. Maybe instead of starting the conversation with, “Whatcha reading” it could be more like, “This is no time for your brainy books” (or something that sounds MG–I can’t do MG dialogue and admire people who can!). I agree with whomever said to trim the dialogue tags–you don’t need them when you have action tags too, and they muddy things up. I’m okay with no fantasy elements in the first 250 if there’s no way to work it in, but I’d want to see hints of it in the first chapter. Good luck, hope this helps!

  5. Thanks for your comments, everyone! I appreciate the feedback and look forward to incorporating it ASAP. Special kudos to lexicalcreations for picking up on the MacBeth reference. Yes, she’s totally a genius 😉

  6. I’d like to echo the other comments here. Great voice but less of a hook. Sure, they’re moving again and harebrained late elementary school schemes to keep that sort of thing from happening are a mainstay of MG. But, since this is fantasy is it possible to maybe just get a hint of whatever magic is going on here? It need not be obvious or huge but just the barest trace would be awesome if you can manage it. I was less concerned with the ages of the characters, this can be nailed out in the following pages but my sense was that they were either withing two years of each other (got a vague big sister little brother vibe) or they might be twins. Just my impressions. Other than that I agree with Lana that you should clean up your dialogue tags a bit. Other than that, good start and good luck and I hope this helps.

  7. The character voice is interesting and has potential but I felt like there was nothing here to draw me in. The kids are totally normal and so is the situation, and there is no hint of fantasy. The fantasy genre tends to rely on that special ability, fated journey, and a terrible antagonist, so I’d love to see a reference to one of those interwoven into what you have written. Hope this helps!

  8. On my first pass through I felt like Henry’s voice was maybe too casual for his urgent business with his sister–but it’s cute and I like how you set up their relationship right away. It sounds like he’s older, but I’m not sure since she’s reading MacBeth.

    There are a couple words you can cut–some, also–and one little typo. “Holding to (should be ‘her,’ I think?) book out..”

    I liked the last line, it made me chuckle! This sounds like a cute story with two kids desperate to find a way to stay put. I’m wondering what the fantasy element is, but I know it’s hard to get it all in in the first 250.

    I hope this is helpful!
    Great job and best of luck with this!

  9. I love the voice in this – it really sounds like the way siblings talk to each other (love the Nerdo – sounds like something my sister called me once!).

    The only thing is that I have no idea how old they are though, and I know this is only the first page so it’s not a good idea to shove descriptions right off the bat, but in my head, they could be anywhere between six and twelve years old (my son’s school uses MacBook Air laptops from the age of five years old so they know how to use the browser histories and everything – kind of scary to me, haha).

    Also, I don’t know if Henry is older or younger than his sister, and though she’s reading Shakespeare, (I first read Hamlet when I was nine years old), again – the age gap I’m trying to picture them in is vast.

    Not sure if there would be a way to kind of hint us as to their age, or who is older and younger right off in the first page without it sounding like unnecessary information, but if not, I’m sure that if we could post our first chapter, it’d be in there, so I really wouldn’t worry!

    Hope this helps!
    Good luck!

  10. I love the concept and the voice. I agree with many of the above comments

    Dialogue needs a little tightening and needs to be more authentic. Don’t be afraid of fragments within those quotes. For example, I don’t think Hen would explain, “I walked in on Mom and Dad the other day.” I think he would just say, “I overheard Mom telling Dad that we had to move.” Or “I heard Mom and Dad talking.” … “Something about selling the house and a new job.”… I shake my head. “Clammed up as soon as they saw me.” Or something better.

    I also think deleting the dialogue tags will automatically strengthen the writing. i.e. I pluck the book out of Lauren’s hands… My sister clinches her teeth. “Give is back, Henry.”… Lauren groans but trudges after me into my room.

    I also agree with setting the scene a little before the opening dialogue. Could we back up to the moment where Hen walks in and catches Lauren reading? Maybe he could walk through her open bedroom door, and not be noticed because her nose is stuck in a stupid book? Well, tough. This is more important than some old book. And then Hen plucks it from Lauren’s hands.

    As far as MacBeth, I disagree with previous comment on it. That book says genius. Not just advanced reader (like my kids are). Genius. If that wasn’t your intent, though, consider another title.

  11. Love the last few paragraphs — especially the bit about Henry checking his mom’s browser history. Very funny! 🙂
    The area I think could probably use tightening is at the top. A few areas felt a little off to me — just based on the way my own kids talk. “sis” doesn’t feel conversational — perhaps “nerd” would be more like it even though he’s already used that word. Maybe “brainiac” or “geek” instead of “sis”?
    Also in that line, it feels more natural to say “I’m just messing with you” or even “Just messing with you” instead of “I was just” —
    And instead of “But seriously we have to talk” how about “C’m’ere” and she can say “Why” as he motions to his room. “Because we have to talk, dorko,” or something — just to make the conversation flow a little. Not trying to make them seem adversarial, but just to keep it snappy and authentic.
    I do love the fact that we can see they’re tight in spite of their little sparring.
    One more note — how old is Lauren? If she’s younger than Henry, MacBeth may be a bit of a stretch even for a sophisticated reader. Maybe something more like Oliver Twist or Wuthering Heights?
    As always, it’s all so subjective, plus I don’t know what’s happening next so maybe I’ve missed the mark here — take what works and leave the rest! 🙂

  12. I like even with the teasing the two siblings seem close. Constant moving has probably cemented that in them. Losing friends over and over again can make you cling to the one person who’s steady.

    I can’t help if there’s something interesting (or bad) in Boston since it’s specifically mentioned. I also wonder if they’re running from something since I would imagine a military family would be more open about deployments, transfers, etc.

  13. I especially like the last three lines. Nice voice, plus it makes me wonder what he’s going to find out. Good details with the medal. Also interesting to see they’ve moved before.

    Prior to your first line of dialogue, it might be nice to have something that eases us into the situation. Maybe a line or two to break the ice before we jump into the conversation. In terms of line edits, I think it would be good to change from a comma to a period after “You go distract mom”.

    Good luck with this!

  14. I love the character’s voice, you manage to instill a lot of personality into a few words.

    That said, it felt a bit rushed. If this were a screenplay, there’d be four scene changes in less than one page (if Hen and Lauren were split during the browser check). I think you can linger a bit to set up the world a little more strongly.

    Then a copy edit, you don’t have to have a dialog tag AND action, especially in MG. Default to the action, dump the tag. That’ll keep your pace and help expand the sense of place and time.

    Hope that helps! Best of luck!

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