First Page Friday #13: YA

Happy Friday everyone!  I hope you all had a magnificent Christmas!

I am really looking forward to the new year for so many reasons! I’ll be starting with some new mentoring clients in January. I’m getting married on New Year’s Eve! My novel is going to be pitched to agents at the end of January, right before I head to Disney World for my honeymoon! I’m feeling so thankful for all the great things this new year is bringing me, and I truly hope the new year brings great things to you too!

If there’s anything I can do to help you have a great 2014, let me know! I have room for more mentoring and editing clients, I can sign you up for First Page Friday, and I’d be happy to make blog posts or video addressing any questions you have about writing, editing, or publishing. Just leave a comment or shoot me an email: ellenbrock@keytopservices.com

This week’s submission:

YA First 500 – Anonymous

Here in Grain Valley Township, we don’t have a paid fire department or ambulance crew to rescue us.We rescue ourselves.Dad has been a volunteer fireman, or first responder, since he was eighteen. My late grandpa also was one of the brave men who protected us, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. Dad always carries an emergency radio with him, fastened to the belt of his jeans. At night, the radio sits on the recharger, on his nightstand.No matter where he is or what he is doing, when the radio goes BEEEP! he leaps into action. The alarm means someone’s been in some kind of accident or one of our neighbors’ houses or barns is on fire. Itdoesn’t happen every day, but often enough. Too often, I say.Sometimes the first responders are called out of our small country church on Sunday morning. Beeping radios go off all over the sanctuary. And even if the preacher is in the middle of a prayer, the men leap up and bolt for the door.Being a first responder may seem exciting, but it’s stressful and dangerous. For one thing, they never know what kind of accident they’ll be responding to or how badly someone is hurt. And for another, since everybody knows everybody else around here, there’s a good chance that whoever needs help is related to one or more of the first responders, adding to the pressure.

It was shortly after eleven on Friday night, June third, almost a year ago, when Dad and Mom and I heard the beeper sound on the emergency radio. I was in the bathroom washing my face and getting
ready for bed when Dad rushed from the bedroom toward the kitchen and ran out the back door to his pickup truck, which was parked outside in its usual spot, keys left in the ignition as always.

I heard the words “two-car crash, both cars are on fire, 39 Highway, three miles east” as the screen door slammed. The engine roared and wheels spun on the gravel as he sped away into the night.

Mom came out of the bedroom in her robe, fussing with her short salt-and-pepper hair. With the radio gone, the house was quiet. We had no way of knowing what Dad would find out there on the highway.

“Maggie, have you heard from your brother or your boyfriend lately?” Mom asked.

“Not since before supper,” I said.

When the alarm goes out, whoever is closest to the station drives over, opens the metal door, and starts one or both of the fire trucks, depending on what the call is. Some of the other men show up within
two or three minutes, skidding to a stop and jumping from their pickups. They put on their boots, jackets, and gloves and dash to the trucks.

Through the screen door, we heard the sirens. Both trucks were on the roll.

“Why don’t you call your brother, see when they’ll be getting back home,” Mom said.

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 – Anonymous

Here in Grain Valley Township, we don’t have a paid fire department or ambulance crew to rescue us.

We rescue ourselves.

Dad has been a volunteer fireman, or first responder, since he was eighteen. My late grandpa also was one of the brave men who protected us, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. < For the sake of cutting to the chase, I would leave this sentence out because it isn’t really adding anything necessary or relevant. Dad always carries an emergency radio with him, fastened to the belt of his jeans. At night, the radio sits on the recharger, on his nightstand.

No matter where he is or what he is doing, when the radio goes BEEEP! he leaps into action. The alarm means someone’s been in some kind of accident or one of our neighbors’ houses or barns is on fire. < This line seems like it’s over explaining things. It would make sense for a middle grade audience, but YA readers will already know what the alarm means. It doesn’t happen every day, but often enough. Too often, I say. < “I’d say” would make more sense here. “I’d say” is not past tense, it just means “I would say.” “I say” only makes sense if he actually says it, in which case, I’d put it in quotes. Alternatively, you could write “I always say.”

Sometimes the first responders are called out of our small country church on Sunday morning. Beeping radios go off all over the sanctuary. And even if the preacher is in the middle of a prayer, the men leap up and bolt for the door.

Being a first responder may seem exciting, but it’s stressful and dangerous. < This too feels like you’re over explaining, almost like you’re talking down to your reader. For one thing, they never know what kind of accident they’ll be responding to or how badly someone is hurt. And for another, since everybody knows everybody else around here, there’s a good chance that whoever needs help is related to one or more of the first responders, adding to the pressure. <This is an interesting concept – that the first responders could be there to help someone they know – but this line falls flat. “Adding to the pressure” just doesn’t sound very intense.

It was shortly after eleven on Friday night, June third, almost a year ago, when Dad and Mom and I heard the beeper sound on the emergency radio. I was in the bathroom washing my face and getting
ready for bed when Dad rushed from the bedroom toward the kitchen and ran out the back door to his pickup truck, which was parked outside in its usual spot, keys left in the ignition as always. < This slows down the action while not adding anything, so I’d cut it.

I heard the words The radio screeched, “two-car crash, both cars are on fire, 39 Highway, three miles east” as the screen door slammed. < This modification (or one similar) makes the sentence easier to read. The engine roared and wheels spun on the gravel as he sped away into the night. < I’d cut what’s in red because it’s a cliche.

Mom came out of the bedroom in her robe, fussing with her short salt-and-pepper hair. With the radio gone, the house was quiet. We had no way of knowing what Dad would find out there on the highway.

“Maggie, have you heard from your brother or your boyfriend lately?” Mom asked. < Prior to this point, I thought the narrator was a boy. Also, as a reader, it seems like the topic is very abruptly changed here. It would help if the mom first addressed the fact that her husband rushed off. For example: “Another accident.” Mom sighed, then turned to me. “Have you heard from your brother or your boyfriend lately?” (Or perhaps something that connects the two concepts more clearly)

“Not since before supper,” I said.

The topic has suddenly changed back to the first responders again, but for me (as a reader), I don’t see any transition. > When the alarm goes out, whoever is closest to the station drives over, opens the metal door, and starts one or both of the fire trucks, depending on what the call is. Some of the other men show up within two or three minutes, skidding to a stop and jumping from their pickups. They put on their boots, jackets, and gloves and dash to the trucks.

Through the screen door, we heard the sirens. Both trucks were on the roll.

“Why don’t you call your brother, see when they’ll be getting back home,” Mom said. < Does her saying this have something to do with the emergency? It reads like there’s too much flip-flopping between the brother and the first responders without any explanation as to why.

My Overall Thoughts

This reads too young for YA. I’d have to read more to know whether or not it would be appropriate for MG (middle grade), but it definitely reads like it’s written for kids with poorer reading comprehension and who would need more things spelled out (perhaps ages 8-11).

Key Places to Improve:

  • Give Maggie more room to shine in this opening. She is little more than an observer in an opening that seems to really be about her father. It’s always a good idea to show the main character being proactive in the opening scene so that the reader knows this is someone who is active and who they can root for.
  • The voice is not particularly strong and isn’t giving me a good sense of who Maggie is. Developing a strong character voice can be difficult, but it’s vital for MG and YA. This just reads a bit too bland to stand out in today’s MG and YA markets.
  • Give the reader a reason right off the bat to know that this is Maggie’s story, that there’s something unique about her experience. Pull us into her world and her perspective and show us why it’s an interesting place so that we want to stick around. Put us in her shoes, not her father’s shoes from her perspective.
  • The biggest setback of this opening is that it isn’t gripping. We know something interesting is going on with the father, but Maggie isn’t there, and what she is perceiving in the moment feels like an afterthought and not a very interesting one. You’re not giving me any reason to be interested in Maggie. She doesn’t seem to be feeling any emotions about her father’s actions, so why should the reader?

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

Your writing is clear and easy to follow, but sometimes too much so, making it seem like it’s talking down to the reader. Spend more time focusing on Maggie and what she does and how her father impacts her life and less time on having her describe things she isn’t even participating in.  Her witnessing her father rushing off late at night could be interesting, if you place the reader firmly with Maggie and her thoughts and feelings rather than trying to explain the details about what her father is doing. Basically, show instead of tell and keep it focused on Maggie. I want to know why this story matters to Maggie, not the specifics about what her father is doing.

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 February)

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 #13: YA

  1. aroundtownandback says:

    I think the writer here is good, so I believe this will be a good book. I agree about getting to the action sooner. I might start at the paragraph when they hear the radio for the first time, then after dad has gone, explain where he’s going. I would like to hear how it affects Maggie, how she feels about her dad disappearing all the time, more than how it affects the town. Is it scary? Is she proud? Maybe even jealous that other people get so much of his time? I think this would give us more of Maggie’s voice up front.

    Finally, I think Mom would refer to the brother and boyfriend by their names. And I would like to know if she is asking casually or with concern that they could be in the crash.

    I think you do have a very clear style of writing that makes it easy to read. It looks good!

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