First Page Friday #12: Contemporary YA

Happy Friday everyone! And Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to take a moment to say that this is a super busy time for me because of the holidays, Pitch Wars, and because I’m getting married on New Year’s Eve! So I am behind on my emails and probably will be until the first or second week of January. If you don’t hear back from me right away, don’t panic!

Also, I will be here next week with a new First Page Friday (I’m not taking the day off for the holidays). So I hope to see you here!

This week’s submission:

YA First 500 – By Rhay Christou

When I was little, Daddy swore I’d grow up to be a kick-ass princess, vanquishing dragons and saving the world. Since he was surely better than Santa Claus and Superman and Jesus Christ all rolled together, I believed my daddy. But sitting here, in the middle of Al’s abandoned auto shop, with Aden stabbing black ink into my skin, it was impossible to put much faith in fairytales.

Again, Aden jabbed his sawed off twelve-gauge guitar string into my wrist, and again my arm jerked. The homemade needle skittered flat topping the O, and Jared Marcum reached across the scarred card table. He scattered the baggies of pot and bottles of pills and the pile of cash I’d handed over. He cinched my palm in his grip and stretched my arm so far across that table my fingertips brushed against his stained wife beater.

 “Stop squirming, Taylor.” His voice was raspy from over indulgence, and the whites of his blue eyes were red lined maps to nowhere. He pinned my wrist to the pleather as hard as his don’t-you-move look pinned me to the wobbly foldout chair.

I swallowed. I nodded. I did not fight.

 But Aden didn’t get back to poking. Instead, he half-turned on the stool he’d stuck between my knees and scratched his hand across his bad buzz-cut. Shooting Jared a questioning look, he sliced me a kick-the-tires and check-under-the-hood, appraising leer. 

Not that he could have found much in me worth buying. With crazy-wild hair and my best asset being my shimmering green eyes, I was cute, maybe. But too short, too flat, I’d never be one of those tall, voluptuous blonds that hot guys watched saunter and sashay.

 I’d never be worth all this warped effort.

But as the right hand of the Rowdy Redneck gang’s homegrown God, Aden always made sure Jared got what he wanted. And right now, Jared wanted me.

“Don’t move.’ Aden snapped his tricked-out electric SpongeBob toothbrush back to life and re-dipped his needle into his ash and vodka slurry. “You want the tat to look like shit?” His glare buzzed my pulse and soured my tongue.

 “Don’t matter.” I toughed up my voice and pressed down on my knee, jittering a rhythm off-kilter to the pounding beats and sex rhymes blaring from the speakers. I stared down Jared’s hand, promising pain and swallowed the awful taste eating its way through my mouth. I gave Aden one hundred percent of my attention.

 It wasn’t his cockeyed stare that made some of the toughest Trojan football players drop their gaze and back out of his way. It was the loaded gun he supposedly carried behind that glare that got all those boys quaking.

I would not shake. I would not cry. I would not give either of these boys the satisfaction of looking away. It wasn’t that I had a death wish or was all that brave. The difference between those big old football players and me was the minute the last bell rang, they climbed into their SUVs, pickups and Beemers and drove across the bridge back to Tulsa or out south to their McMansions.

Reader Participation – What Do You Think?

Before reading my take on this novel opening, please take a moment to record your thoughts in the poll below.

Your thoughtful critiques and suggestions for the writer are also welcome in the comments section. Explaining your vote gives the author even more insight into where they’re hitting the mark and where they can improve.

The Writeditor’s Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics.

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

YA First 500 – By Rhay Christou

When I was little, Daddy swore I’d grow up to be a kick-ass princess, vanquishing dragons and saving the world. Since he was surely better < “Surely better” could imply that she still feels this way, and I think it would be stronger to indicate that she used to think that but doesn’t anymore (unless she still does feel that way). than Santa Claus and Superman and Jesus Christ all rolled together, I believed my daddy. But sitting there, in the middle of Al’s abandoned auto shop, with Aden stabbing black ink into my skin, it was impossible to put much faith in fairytales. <I don’t think this opening paragraph is working as well as you want it to. It isn’t really telling me much about the character. The first line made me think this was going to be a fantasy where princesses and dragons really exist, which set me up to expect the wrong kind of story. It feels like you are focusing more on voice with this paragraph than on relevancy to the story.

Again, Aden jabbed his sawed off twelve-gauge guitar string into my wrist, and again my arm jerked. The homemade needle skittered flat topping the O <I don’t understand what this means. Maybe that’s because I don’t know anything about tattoos, but I can’t visualize how the needle could’ve “skittered flat.” , and Jared Marcum reached across the scarred card table. He scattered the baggies of pot and bottles of pills and the pile of cash I’d handed over. < Why does he scatter these things? Also “scattered” makes me imagine him sprinkling the pot and pills across the table when I think what you really mean is that he’s shoving them out of the way. He cinched my palm in his grip and stretched my arm so far across that table my fingertips brushed against his stained wife beater.

 “Stop squirming, Taylor.” His voice was raspy from over indulgence, and the whites of his blue eyes were red lined maps to nowhere. <This feels a little too forced with the voice. If you keep it, “his bloodshot eyes” would make more sense to me. As it is, “red lined” made me think about a line around his eye, like “red ringed.”  He pinned my wrist to the pleather as hard as his don’t-you-move look pinned me to the wobbly foldout chair.

I swallowed. I nodded. I did not fight.

 But Aden didn’t get back to poking. Instead, he half-turned on the stool he’d stuck between my knees and scratched his hand across his bad buzz-cut. Shooting Jared a questioning look, he sliced me a kick-the-tires and check-under-the-hood, appraising leer. <I had to read this twice, then read the next sentence and come back to this one to understand what you mean, but it still reads like Aden is looking at two people at once.

Not that he could have found much in me worth buying. With crazy-wild hair and my best asset being my shimmering green eyes, I was cute, maybe. < Self descriptions always read as awkward. Since none of this really matters or affects the plot at this point, I’d leave it out. But too short, too flat, I’d never be one of those tall, voluptuous blondes that hot guys watched saunter and sashay.

 I’d never be worth all this warped effort. < Whose warped effort is she referring to?

But as the right hand of the Rowdy Redneck gang’s homegrown God, < This is difficult to understand, and I found it confusing even after two or three reads. Aden always made sure Jared got what he wanted. And right now, Jared wanted me.

“Don’t move.’ Aden snapped his tricked-out electric SpongeBob toothbrush back to life and re-dipped his needle into his ash and vodka slurry. < Why did he temporarily stop tattooing her and why does he resume again? It’s not clear. “You want the tat to look like shit?” His glare buzzed my pulse and soured my tongue.< I don’t know what emotion you’re trying to indicate with this description.

 “Don’t matter.” I toughed up my voice and pressed down on my knee, < What is she pressing down on her knee with? Her other hand? Why?  jittering a rhythm < What do you mean by “jittering a rhythm”? Do you mean that she’s tapping her foot? If so, why does that require her to press down on her knee? off-kilter to the pounding beats and sex rhymes blaring from the speakers. I stared down Jared’s hand, promising pain <This reads like she is promising pain, not that Jared’s hand is. and swallowed the awful taste eating its way through my mouth. I gave Aden one hundred percent of my attention. <I don’t understand what emotion she is experiencing.

 It wasn’t his cockeyed stare that made some of the toughest Trojan football players drop their gaze and back out of his way. It was the loaded gun he supposedly carried behind that glare that got all those boys quaking. < What does this have to do with anything? If it’s the reason she’s giving him her full attention, you need to find a  way to clearly connect the two concepts.

I would not shake. I would not cry. I would not give either of these boys the satisfaction of looking away. It wasn’t that I had a death wish or was all that brave. < This reads like what you’re saying is that not crying, shaking, or looking away means that she has a death wish. I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but a bit of clarification would help. The difference between those big old football players and me was the minute the last bell rang, they climbed into their SUVs, pickups and Beemers and drove across the bridge back to Tulsa or out south to their McMansions. < This is another sentence that doesn’t seem relevant to me. How does this tie into her not having a death wish?  Make sure your paragraphs are staying focused.

My Overall Thoughts

You do a nice job introducing this as a gritty story, but I think too much emphasis being placed on voice makes this difficult to follow, which prevents readers from really getting sucked in.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The voice feels a bit forced to me at times, like you are trying too hard to write something edgy. Remember that clarity must always come first. Many lines of narration were confusing and difficult to understand.
  • Make sure there are logical connections between sentences and paragraphs. Work on transitions between topics. If a subject is brought up, it needs to relate in some way to the situation so that readers can easily follow the thought process.
  • Something to differentiate Jared and Aden would help a lot in keeping them straight. I found that I never knew which was which and was sort of reading them as the same person. A different speech pattern, a distinguishing feature or personality trait, etc. would help keep the two straight.
  • The narrator’s emotional state was not clear to me. I wasn’t sure if she was afraid of the boys or just nervous about getting a tattoo.
  • It also wasn’t clear to me what was going on. Why was she getting the tattoo? Did she want it or not? Were the boys making her get a tattoo? If so, why? I felt more confused than intrigued about these details.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

If clarity issues were resolved, this would definitely have potential. I found the subject matter interesting because it wasn’t the typical lighthearted YA story, but the voice became a source of confusion and distraction rather than strength.

A note on the grading scale: The rating of the first chapter does not indicate the rating of the novel as a whole nor does it indicate the writer’s overall ability.

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking 4th week in January)

If you’d like to submit your novel for First Page Friday, please send the following to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com:

  • The name you want me to use in the blog post (real name, alias, or anonymous).
  • The genre of your novel.
  • The first 500 words (give or take, don’t stop in the middle of a sentence) pasted into the body of the email.
  • Any links (Twitter, Blog, Goodreads, etc.) that you’d like included in the post (not required).

Please do not submit if you are not okay with your first page being posted, critiqued, and edited on my website.

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About the Editor

Ellen Brock (AKA The Writeditor) is a freelance novel editor who works with self-publishing and traditionally publishing authors as well as e-publishers and small presses. She owns the editing company Keytop Services and the writing and editing blog The Writeditor. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

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2 thoughts on “First Page Friday #12: Contemporary YA

  1. kt says:

    Ellen, first I just wanted to say I find your critiques incredibly valuable. It helps to read professional and constructive feedback for others. I think about how I can apply it to my own work while I’m still in the early drafting stages and not ready for a beta reader or editor.

    Rhay, I agree with Ellen… I liked the gritty tone of your narrative and am interested in the subject matter. I also think your writing has energy.

    With regard to the first paragraph, just my personal take, fwiw… I wasn’t expecting a fantasy tale from the first sentence (maybe because it’s similar to what I used to say to my daughter when she was little and we read her favorite bedtime stories). To me, the first line depicts a dad encouraging his daughter to do great things in a way she would’ve related to as a little girl, and it sets up a contrast between that and where she finds herself in the present moment.

    Just a thought… and there’s certainly more than one way to do this and it might not even work. But perhaps that first sentence could be expanded into a few lines, sketching out a specific memory of her father when she was little, and then using parallel words or description to bring her into the present moment and scene.

    Have you read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman? The subject matter is different and it’s not YA, but she opens the book with beautifully narrated exposition that employs a kind of wide angle lens and then pans in, seamlessly drawing you into the story. A similar technique might be appropriate for your opening paragraph.

  2. Yvone Williams says:

    Regarding the opening line: Without knowing anything about the story, we’re forming impressions of the characters and the world based on the images the author creates. I suppose those impressions are subjective, but I think a more careful choice of words can really narrow down the spectrum of what is and isn’t perceived. “Kick-ass princess” translated into urban fantasy for me…

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