Well, I think that this has potential to be a good opener, but there are some things that trouble me.
The first thing, which has already been mentioned, is naming the characters. Both the narrator and the girl should be named, in my opinion. A good place to name the girl is replacing the the first "She" with the girl's name. And a good place to name the narrator is when the girl first speaks, such as: "You're right, Billy-Ray."
Also consider developing the setting. Where is this taking place? Outside, obviously... but where? You can still start with the dialogue, by the way, but you'll have to weave in setting details as you go along. Nothing elaborate is needed, though.
There are also some informational gaps, perhaps; some issues in how things are developed. Let's go line by line:
quote:"I think you'll like it," I said, holding out my palm.
Can the inchworm not be mentioned right away? For instance, the narrator could just as easily note what is in his palm in that first sentence. Yeah? Give it some thought...
quote:She took the inchworm as it crawled along the tip of my forefinger, delicately scooping it up with both of her hands.
Consider the order of information given in this above sentence: the girl takes, the inchworm crawls, and the girl scoops. This isn't wrong, but it could be a lot clearer, and it might be better to replace the "as construction" (or 'as it') with "which had". Why? Because it's a timing thing, present vs past, and it feels off to me as is. We're told, vaguely, that the narrator has something in his palm. But no, it's actually on his forefinger. It's nitpicky, but again, this bit could be a lot clearer.
quote: I studied her face as she studied the insect. Saw what I thought might be a smile.
A couple of things here. Again, the "as she" seems to go against your intent. I think the repetition of the word "studied" is fine, but the "as" could go for a stronger impact. Consider also the order of those two clauses compared to the sentence that follows (which is a nasty sentence fragment). If you reverse the clauses so that "she" comes first, then in my opinion, it will be stronger for it, and you might even get away with the fragment afterward. Maybe. Look at this way: "She studied the insect, I studied her face -- saw what I thought might be a smile." That's perhaps better, certainly more organized... something to think about.
... skipping a bit...
quote:"I think . . ." She trailed off.
The "She trailed off" part is arguably redundant because of the ellipsis. But not necessarily so if the narrator guesses at why she's trailing off. For instance: "She trailed off, perhaps thinking about..." Something along those lines would work wonderfully, in my opinion.
quote:She looked up at me, maybe smiling, and I could see the tears in her eyes shimmering in a stray beam of light.
I'd like to nitpick the "I could see" part. This is personal preference, but I feel it's completely unnecessary in first-person narrative unless it's used to provide a comparison to what was seen in the immediate past to the present. "Could see" is also passive, but it's not the most egregious use of passive voice; in other words, it's fairly harmless. But it could be stronger. Nevertheless, the above sentence might be improved by simply cutting the "and I could see the" part. Why? Because we know that everything that's described is what the narrator is seeing (or it should be as such.) Alternatively, and in line with the comparison thing I mentioned, the narrator could explain that unlike before, he (presumably a he ...) can now see her eyes clearly, and then the "could see" stuff works fine.
I apologize if it seems that I've been a bit harsh. It's just that first-person narratives are far more difficult to write than it seems at first, and since this intro has a couple of the common pitfalls usually found in first-person, I wanted to bring it up and offer my opinion.
[This message has been edited by HSO (edited May 22, 2006).]
IMHO, I can't see anyone "scooping" an inchworm. Those little guys are super clingy and super fragile. I'd find the characters' interaction more believable if they simply let the worm "inch" from one finger to the next. Plus, you've already confused the action by saying, "...holding out my palm..." and then having the worm on the tip of a finger. Why hold out the palm, if that's not where the worm is?
It's hard to understand the "she" character being so affected by an inchworm. Not that the idea isn't plausible, I just don't know enough, yet, about the character to understand. Is she loony for insects? Is there an emotional trauma associated? (I would guess the last, but it's frustrating to have to guess.) You have withheld too much information about the characters, so the scene isn't compelling.
I will add that you have done a good job conveying the first character's affection for the "she" character, the need to please her and cheer her up. (I agree with earlier comments about naming these two people. Names can actually be excellent descriptors, giving the reader hints about culture and gender, even age.)
My main complaint about contemporary literary fiction is that there is a tendency to make the writing dry. So many authors have written so many successful books and stories that start from this subdued emotional tone. But it's been done so much, and so well, that it's hard to write anything new and have it stand out.
I like this opener and would keep reading, but I think HSO's critique is pretty good.
I differ from HSO because I don't think you need to name the object as an inchworm any earlier than you do. We know it's small, because it's held in the narrator's hand; and then you tell definitely what it is immediately afterwards. In a way, even though you're in the narrator's POV, you're participating in the girl's discovery. It's actually kinda neat.
I also don't think you need to name the girl yet if you don't want to, although there's nothing wrong with doing so.
I originally thought you didn't need to name the narrator, either -- he knows who he is, after all -- but then I realized that you have a problem: in the first 13 we don't learn the narrator's gender. As I was reading it, I thought he was male, and I would have been shocked to suddenly discover that it was (say) the girl's big sister. Vice versa if someone thought it was a girl and it's really a boy. If you don't want to name the narrator, you should consider giving a gender cue some other way.
I also have the impression that these kids are the same age. If one is older, you might want to make that clear through reference to size or some other name cue.