We have a first-page submission for critique today, titled GAMES OF CHANCE. My comments follow.
As Callie crested the hill, the finish line appeared, lined with colorful flags – and then receded, as another girl thundered past.
Callie chased her on a gentle downhill slope, three hundred meters of fairway to the finish line of the State Championship. Through eyes hazy with exhaustion and the remnants of a cold, she could see Anna and Hanna, her twin teammates, sprint past the finish marker in a dead tie.
Two hundred meters to go and Callie could hear the gasping breath of another runner closing on her. Five strides later, the girl was beside her. Callie pumped her arms harder, willing her legs to move faster. Legs that could carry her for miles were failing now with the finish in sight.
Noise flooded both sides of the course and, penetrating over it, someone shouting her name. The cheers of the fans and coaches slid past her as she fought for position.
She saw the red singlet and slashing white diagonal as the last of the Fairchild Academy runners eased by her. Swearing, Callie leaned forward to gain momentum, rising up into a full sprint, her calves already starting to cramp, alternating with each foot strike, each spasm an opportunity to let the girl go, to quit.
Seventy meters and Callie still matched strides with the Fairchild girl.
At fifty meters, another girl caught both of them. She was a tiny runner from a small school up north, and her breath came in sobs.
The three of them closed on the flags at the top of the finishing chute. Callie felt the agony of each breath as it exploded from her lungs, too little air for starving muscles. The blood pounding in her head drowned out the runners beside her, and Callie’s vision squeezed down to a small circle focused on the white line that marked the end. She drew on the struggling efforts of the runners next to her, seeking just a small advantage.
The sobbing girl finished one step ahead, the last sob a moan as she collapsed. Instinctively, Callie dodged the fallen runner as she lunged past the line, a half-step ahead of the Fairchild runner.
Relief and exhaustion mingled with joy but a small doubt blossomed.
Was it enough?
Clearly, I erred in attaching a soccer image to this story about a race! I formed a clear picture of a drive down a soccer field in the first paragraph and never let go of that image, despite counter-cues in the rest of the page. That shows how readers can go offtrack–which is a subject for another blog!
I appreciate the way this page describes Callie’s efforts during her thundering drive toward the finish. The writing regarding the action, concentration, and her sense of being pursued by others was convincing.
I do think that the first lines lost a bit of impact due to their construction. “As”used twice in the opening paragraph. It’s important to vary your sentence constructions, especially in openers. Also–and this is just my personal opinion, others may disagree–starting a story with a sentence that begins with “as” is a weak way to open a scene. As readers, we don’t yet have any context for relating the “as” to anything. The writer should the character’s main action, rather than introducing “as” right off the bat.
While I enjoyed the way the running action was described, I do think we need to learn a bit more about Callie in this first page. As we’ve discussed so many times here on the blog, the first page of a story has to pull the reader into the character’s world. As currently written, we only get the idea that Callie is trying to score a soccer goal. (Update: Oops!) For me, that situation is not quite compelling enough for a first page. We need a hint about Callie’s character and motivation, as well as the story to come.
One nit: There were too many undifferentiated characters, I thought. To enhance the suspense, the writer might consider focusing Callie’s running battle on one particular opponent in particular–especially if that rival will figure later in the story. (From my Soccer Mom days, I predict that the opponent will be the Dreaded Goalie.)
All that being said, I think the writer displays a promising strength for conveying action. That’s a a real plus. Keep going, Writer! And thank you for submitting this page for discussion today.
TKZ’ers, what are your thoughts about GAMES OF CHANCE?