Constructive Comments, Please!

For the past several days, I’ve been talking about how I have a brand-new-slash-also-sort-of-old story flapping around in my head. And just yesterday, the opening scene for that story popped up in my brain and it will. not. leave. me. alone.

I haven’t written it yet… but I’m about to. Right here, right now. On my blog. For the first time ever. And what I need from you is constructive criticism. What do you like about it? What rubs you the wrong way? What could have been better?

Thanks in advance for all your help, and keep in mind this is a first draft… here we go!

*          *          *

It was the screeching of brakes that woke Matilda Harper, although in her dream the sound had come from a large flock of crows. She jerked into an upright position and squinted into the afternoon sun, clueless as to how long she might have slept under the oak tree: an hour? Three? It didn’t matter, really. There wasn’t much to be awake for around here during the summer.

Well… usually.

Now, though, a cacophony of gruff male voices combined with scraping and bumping sounds trickled through the fence from the house next door. Was it possible that someone had finally bought the old McClesky place after –

She couldn’t finish the thought. Goose bumps cropped up along her skinny arms as she remembered eavesdropping on her father after it happened… hearing him tell someone on the other end of the phone what had happened to Charlie McClesky….

That was three years ago, and no one had set foot in the house since Charlie’s parents moved out.

Her curiosity piqued, Matilda leapt up to the lowest of the oak tree’s thick branches and swung herself expertly up to her usual perch. She nestled in to the narrow fork created by two of the branches, about a third of the way up the tree, and peered through the leaves. From here, she could see the entire backside of the McClesky place, as well as a glimpse of the front yard and driveway – just enough to make out the words CAVANAUGH MOVERS emblazoned on the side of a huge white moving truck.

And now that the boards had been taken off the windows, she could see into the house itself.

A small boy sat at a table in the kitchen, drinking a glass of juice. He seemed oblivious to the flurry of activity around him – a woman with frizzy hair shouting orders at the movers; a rather paunchy man with almost no hair ambling around the backyard and muttering to himself; a pair of tiny white poodles tussling with each other on the back porch.

Matilda squinted through the leaves, wishing she had her binoculars. The boy seemed older than his diminutive frame suggested; perhaps he could be close to her own age? No, she decided after a moment, he couldn’t be that old. Maybe a couple years younger. Yes, he looked more like a ten-year-old than a mature twelve-year-old like her.

Then again, there was something in his face that suggested otherwise, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Maybe it was his eyes, which she could somehow tell were bright blue, even from this far away. Or maybe it was the expression on his face… an expression of semi-detached resignation….

Without realizing it, Matilda had crept along one of the tree’s less sturdy branches as she tried to get a better look at the boy. With a sharp crack, a dead limb gave way under her foot and she tumbled through the leaves, crying out as sharp twigs scraped her skin and landing with a dull thud on the spongy grass. Green leaves cascaded around her as she lay gasping on her back, the breath knocked out of her. A long red cut stretched the width of her forearm, and her left shoulder throbbed where it had struck a branch.

“That’s what you get for spying.”

She performed a sort of ninja-spiral move onto her feet and scowled at her little brother. “Well, you were spying on me, too! Now wipe that smirk off your face, James Harper, and let’s go inside so you can bandage me up. Is it time for dinner yet?”

6 thoughts on “Constructive Comments, Please!

  1. Maybe the story’s brewed enough. Sometimes they have to do that, simmer for a while on the back burner.

    Good opening. Fast-paced. Poses some story questions. The waking-up-as-a-first-scene is a bit over-used, but it works in this case because she’s not in her bedroom, she’s in the action, so that’s a good twist that might earn you points.

    I think it’s a great concept scene. I write those all the time to get the story out and prime the pump for the more meaty part of the novel: Chapter 2.

    Felt good to write it, didn’t it!

    – Eric

  2. Interesting start… Definitely some good things there and you have nice pace and tone for a setting like this, which I will assume is Small town, USA. In the way of criticism I would slow it down a bit… No need to jump into the dark past of the McClesky house or build up the tension surrounding the boy so quickly (assuming he is a primary character). Maybe just set the scene for us and let us get acquainted with where we are before we are asked to remember any key info. And as you alluded to in the story, it is far fetched that she could be in a safe distance to be “spying”, yet make out much about the boy’s eyes or facial expression. Save that for an upcoming scene when they are physically closer. Didn’t care too much for the “mature 12 year old like her” line. Maybe a little too cutesy for me. You write very descriptively and do a great job putting us in the scene. I think it could be the start to something good, but without knowing more about where it is going it’s hard to say. No doubt you are talented!

  3. I already like the protagonist. I like the tone and the setting. I can see it like a movie in my head. The only problems were that I had too much info up front that distracted from the image you were painting. It was unclear where the tire screeching came from. I agree with the person above who said to save the McClesky stuff for later. Maybe just refer to it as the old McClesky house or something instead of giving us the memory. Also, semi-detached resignation sounds a bit too much for a 12 year old.

  4. That was great! I’m very interested. My only suggestion is to drop paragraphs 4 & 5. That tiny bit of backstory isn’t needed yet, and it’s more intriguing for her to stop the thought with “after…” then go to the action of climbing up to see the movers van.
    I love it when a story takes hold of you like that. Keep going!

  5. Nice beginning – I like the character already. With a bit of tightening I think you’re off to a great start. One suggestion is to start with Screeching brakes, rather than It was – more active.

    Nice work! Have fun with it 🙂

  6. This pulled me right in. The mystery builds from the very first paragraph. I love how you set the scene to put her on edge. I did get a bit confused when her brother scolded her, I thought it was the boy she was spying on at first. It’s a great start to a promising story!

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