Monday, July 1, 2013

The First Pages CRITIQUED!



Last week, I offered to critique a first page, and I randomly picked 2 winners!
Today I’m posting the critiques—first you will find the page without my comments and below the page with my edits. Feel free to comment, too, but only offer constructive criticism, please.

FIRST PAGE:  

In order to accomplish great things, I not only have to plan but also believe. That’s what it says in bold yellow lettering on the inspirational banner hanging above me in our musty school gym. Matt and I have planned—well, mostly it’s been me, but he’s helping out. And staring out at this mass of mingling bodies in the darkness, I totally believe.

Matt and I are about to change lives.

I lean over and yell this into his ear, trying to be heard over the vibrating speaker to our left. He tilts his head up, looking away from the computer screen. “A little dramatic, Ivy, don’t you think?” he says as he sweeps his blond hair out of his eyes.

Maybe. But he’ll see. It is going to be epic.

My right hand nervously strums on my thigh as Matt shifts his focus back to the computer screen and continues preparing our playlist. I stare up at the blue and yellow balloons that cover the gym ceiling like a latex fog and imagine the lyrical magic that will soon weave itself between each body and drift into every ear. My heart floats up like it’s one of those balloons.

I glance once again at Matt, but he’s still fidgeting with the computer. I’m pretty sure the school-issued laptop we were allowed to borrow for the dance is from Neanderthal times. I begin pacing back and forth in a tiny space of anxiety behind Matt. Off to the right Principal Henry chats with Narc 1 and Narc 2, undoubtedly bored to tears. The gym is filled mostly with newbie freshmen afraid of their own shadows. Hardly a soul is dancing, and the gym looks more like a casting call for an acne medication commercial than it does a high school dance. There’s hardly a need for the adult police.

FIRST PAGE WITH COMMENTS:
  
In order to accomplish great things, I not only have to plan but also believe. That’s what it says in bold yellow lettering on the inspirational banner hanging above me in our musty school gym. [This second sentence tries to cram too much info in it—the description of the lettering, that the banner is inspirational (even though we can tell it’s inspirational by reading it), that it hangs above the character, and that it is in a gym that is also musty… sometimes it’s better to simplify the sentences so that they read smoother. So maybe it’d be better to split it or rephrase. Like (rough example): “In order to accomplish great things, I not only have to plan but also believe,” reads the banner hanging in our school gym. It’s written in bold yellow letters, and I tilt my head up to take a good look at it...] Matt and I have planned—well, mostly it’s been me, but he’s helping out. And staring out at this mass of mingling bodies in the darkness, I totally believe. [I think it’s nice that this paragraph is round, that you close it by making a reference about what the MC thinks about the banner. I also like that you give a sense of setting. But I kind of wanted it to be a bit more specific. Like, it’s a little in the air—planned what? Believe what? I think you’re missing an opportunity to dig a little deeper into the character in this paragraph.]

Matt and I are about to change lives.
[This sentence was nice, because I instantly wanted to know why the MC thinks they are going to change lives, but then I was kind of expecting that on the next paragraph you would delve into this. And you didn’t. So the effect was lost on me. I’m not saying you need to tell us everything from the get-go, but a little hint about why she thinks they are going to change lives would be nice.]  

I lean over and yell this into his ear, trying to be heard over the vibrating speaker to our left. [I feel like you could tighten this sentence. Also, you repeat the word “over” and I was wondering if there’s a way to not do that. Maybe something like, “I turn to his ear and yell over the loud music.” Because there’s music, right?] He tilts his head up, looking away from the computer screen. [Um, wait. Why didn’t you tell us what she yelled? Also, for some reason, when you said there were mingling bodies in the darkness, I never pictured a computer. I was picturing just a dance or a party or something like that. So when you mention the computer, I felt like out of place. Is there a way you can weave a bit more of setting into the page so I can picture things from the get-go? Can you say something like Matt is preparing the playlist before she speaks to him? Like, maybe, (another rough example): I approach the desk he’s sitting at, where he prepares a playlist on the computer, and I turn to his ear…] “A little dramatic, Ivy, don’t you think?” he says as he sweeps his blond hair out of his eyes. [Since I don’t know what she said, I’m not sure what is dramatic. I like the visual and knowing he’s blond, though.]

Maybe. But he’ll see. It is going to be epic. [What is going to be epic? The playlist? Something else they are going to do? I kept reading and saw it’s some music they will put, but right here, it read vague. Maybe you wanted it to be vague here to hook, but at least for me, withholding info only works when there is a good reason. Like the MC isn’t thinking about the info because he doesn’t want to. Or the MC actually doesn’t know the info. Or something like that. Here, the way it’s written, I want at least a hint of what is going to be epic for it to work for me.]

My right hand nervously strums on my thigh as Matt shifts his focus back to the computer screen and continues preparing our playlist. [This sentence read a bit awkward for me. First, do we really need to know it’s the “right” hand? It’s nice that you’re being specific, but in this case, I don’t care if it’s the right or left hand. It’s a modifier that doesn’t add much. Also when you use the word “as” connecting two things, it implies that those things happen at the same time. For the brain, it’s easier to process when one thing happens after the other, not at the same time. That’s why agents and editors don’t like it when writers use the word “as” as a connector many times. It’s not that you can’t use it, but it’s always a good idea to rephrase if possible. So I would try to simplify the sentence a bit.] I stare up at the blue and yellow balloons that cover the gym ceiling like a latex fog and imagine the lyrical magic that will soon weave itself between each body and drift into every ear. [This sentence read a bit cluttered and long. Also, is there a way you can nix the filter (she stares up)? Like just go ahead and show the balloons covering the ceiling, and since we know this is under Ivy’s POV, we know she is looking at the balloons already.] My heart floats up like it’s one of those balloons.

I glance once again at Matt, but heMatt’s still fidgetsing with the computer. [Just getting rid of the filter] I’m pretty sure the school-issued laptop we were allowed to borrow for the dance is from Neanderthal times. I begin pacing pace back and forth in a tiny space of anxiety behind Matt. [When you started saying “tiny space of…” I thought you were going to say something about a physical place. I can’t picture what a “tiny space of anxiety” is exactly. I get that she paces because she’s anxious, but I’m not sure you need to spell it for us. I think subtlety would work here--by just saying she paces we get she’s anxious.] Off to the right, Principal Henry chats with Narc 1 and Narc 2, undoubtedly bored to tears. The gym is filled mostly with newbie freshmen afraid of their own shadows. Hardly a soul is dancing, and the gym looks more like a casting call for an acne medication commercial than it does a high school dance. There’s hardly a need for the adult police. [Can you make the descriptions less passive? With other verbs? “Is” is a tell-y verb.]

Overall, I like that we get to know a little of the MC in this first page—that she plans, and that she’s a determined person. Contemporary YA is selling nowadays, so with a little polish and by trying to be more precise in your next draft, I think this will be nice. Good luck with this MS!

 ----------

FIRST PAGE: 

“It all began with a shoe on the wall. A shoe on the wall shouldn't be there at all.”

~ Dr Seuss
 CHAPTER ONE
       Right, so the shoe on the wall. That was where the whole thing started. I was going out with James McCarthy, who was really unpopular and really, really smart. Before we’d started dating about a month ago, I’d admired him from the back of the biology class. He was really good at cutting up rats. And modelling DNA. When he asked me out, it was all I could do not do faint in nerdy happiness. I mean, sometimes he did stupid things, or weird things, but we were having fun together.
       And then he came to my room. And saw my doll shoe collection.
       ‘Why are there shoes on your wall, Jess?’ he said, poking one.
       ‘Um. I collect them.’
       ‘Really? Doll shoes? Why the hell don’t you collect…I don’t know, stamps or something?’
       ‘Everyone collects stamps. Nobody collects doll shoes.’
       ‘Yeah, I wonder why.’
       I whacked him, laughing. ‘Shut up.’
       But the whole time we were in my room, just talking, James kept looking at the bloody shoes. Little tiny doll shoes arranged in rainbow order. I’d been collecting them since I was six. And really, who wouldn’t stare at a doll shoe collection? It wasn’t exactly common. But all the same, it was the beginning of the end. Maybe what happened next was a direct result of the doll shoes. It probably wasn’t, but still. That was where it all started.
       And then came the family party.

FIRST PAGE WITH COMMENTS:
“It all began with a shoe on the wall. A shoe on the wall shouldn't be there at all.”
~ Dr Seuss
[I usually don’t care about books starting with quotes, but this one worked for me because it’s totally related with the first paragraph. Plus, who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? I thought it was cute.]

 CHAPTER ONE
       Right, so the shoe on the wall. That was where the whole thing started. I was going out with James McCarthy, who was really unpopular and really, really smart. Before we’d started dating about a month ago, I’d admired him from the back of the biology class. He was really good at cutting up rats. [The first sentence that had “reallys” worked for me, but the repetition of the word “really” in this last sentence didn’t. I thought it was too much.] And modelling DNA. [I’m pretty sure you’re writing in British English (with the “bloody” down there and the way you use the single quotations), but just in case you want to write in U.S. English, modelling would  go with just one “l”] When he asked me out, it was all I could do not do faint in nerdy happiness. I mean, sometimes he did stupid things, or weird things, but we were having fun together. [I enjoyed the first paragraph, and I think it could be even better still. Now it’s sort of tell-y—like the MC is explaining how everything began and she’s also telling she admired him in class, without the dramatization. Which isn’t bad—in fact, many books start off with a tell-y paragraph to explain things. But I wonder if there’s a way you could begin the book with things that are happening in the moment. Like (rough example): “James McCarthy stepped into my bedroom, and his eyes zeroed in on my wall, where my doll shoe collection was. It was the first time he came here—he, this unpopular and really, really smart guy I admired—and now he was staring at something that embarrassed me a little.” Okay, I totally made up some things there—like I have no idea if she’s embarrassed—and there are some lame words there, but it’s just an example to explain what I mean by starting the book with something that’s happening right then.]

       And then he came to my room. And saw my doll shoe collection. [Try not to start so many sentences with the word “And,” and when you do, use them sparingly and with a purpose. We’re just in the second paragraph and you have three sentences starting with the word “And.” Below, you have a couple starting with “And” too.]

       ‘Why are there shoes on your wall, Jess?’ he said, poking one. [I’d like to visualize the shoes well. Later on you say they are in a rainbow order. Are they like glued on the wall in that order? Or displayed in a shelf on the wall like that? I think maybe it’d be nice to move that rainbow thing a bit up so that when they start talking about shoes I can picture the setting well.]
       ‘Um. I collect them.’
       ‘Really? Doll shoes? Why the hell don’t you collect…I don’t know, stamps or something?’
       ‘Everyone collects stamps. Nobody collects doll shoes.’ [I like this interaction.]
       ‘Yeah, I wonder why.’
       I whacked him, laughing. ‘Shut up.’
       But tThe whole time we were in my room [consider something more specific, like: The whole time we sat on my bed…], just talking, James kept looking at the bloody shoes. Little tiny doll shoes arranged in rainbow order. I’d been collecting them since I was six. And really, who wouldn’t stare at a doll shoe collection? It wasn’t exactly common. [Up to here it worked for me, and I liked it. But then--I know it’s just a personal preference--but I don’t like it when the MCs foreshadow so “in the face.” I think there are more subtle ways for foreshadowing without saying things like “it was the beginning of the end.” And the way you say “what happened next” makes me think yet again that things aren’t happening right there and then, and I think that isn’t as fun, because if the things already happened is like I’m reading a flashback all the time, and flashbacks aren’t usually as fun as reading things in the present (not necessarily in present tense, though)—at least not for me. I like to discover things at the same time the character discovers them, that way, I feel totally in the loop. Then again, this is just a personal preference.] But all the same, it was the beginning of the end. Maybe what happened next was a direct result of the doll shoes. It probably wasn’t, but still. That was where it all started.
       And then came the family party.

Overall, I think this was nice, and I would definitely keep reading. I would enjoy it even more if everything happened “in the scene,” like I said, but that’s just me. I’m intrigued with the doll shoes and the boy looking at them, and about what will happen next. Good luck with this!


If you liked my comments and want me to edit your pages, too, I’m available now. You can find more info on the Editorial Services Page.

4 comments:

  1. Brave first page posters, nice job! As for #1 - like the interesting first line! Agree with Monica - think you need to give us more info in those crucial openers b/c it's a little too much mystery and not enough concrete info about what is happening yet! And for #2 - I had SOO many Barbie shoes. Love the Dr. Seuss quote. I also have to agree with Monica on the 'beginning of the end' - and for me, it is also a personal preference; feels too set-up, but I know and have seen many authors do this successfully (foreshadowing in the face - as M puts it!). I did it myself, but ended up changing it b/c the tenses got all out of whack and I didn't want too much flashback. Good luck to both of you!

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  2. They are very brave. Great pieces and awesome critiques on both. There were things about each story that intriqued me.

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  3. I really want to find out more about each story---the one with the doll shoes has the potential to be disturbing---maybe because I find doll collections in general disturbing.

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