First Page Friday #14: YA

Happy New Year Everyone! I have a good feeling about 2014! I’m ready for an awesome year!

For those who haven’t heard, I am adding a new service option for 2014 – Mentoring! Not only will this allow me to help writers who can’t afford (or aren’t ready for) a full edit, but I am also allowing writers to go in together to purchase enough hours to get high volume discounts! You can check out the details here. I hope this opens up my services to some writers who would not have been able to afford it previously.

And now, without further adieu, this week’s submission:

YA First 500 – Mari

When you’re born and raised in the same town, memories can become sprinkled like grass seed and spring up nearly anywhere. For Haley, every corner she turned she could easily recollect carefree days that she and Kevin had bounded through like rabbits.

During her walk home from school, she looked out over the field and remembered a late afternoon when Kevin ran so far ahead of her. The last of orange sunlight flashed in his eyes as he threw his head back and laughed, but there wasn’t always laughter between them. There were also memories of bruises and scars mapped out on Kevin’s flesh. The very thought of them made Haley’s own skin crawl.

She quickly shook away her thoughts as her eyes moved over her little house. There was nothing unique about it’s the old farm house’s set up or style. And had she not spent every day of her life there, Haley could’ve easily gotten confused.

Out on the front porch, her mother waved her hands frantically in the air.

Haley!” she called out in her twangy voice. “Come quick!”

Haley’s heartbeat began pounding out of fear as she ran towards her house

What’s wrong?” she wheezed as she reached the porch steps.

Her mother calmly shook her head. “Nothing, I just need you to watch your dad while I get dinner started.”

Haley dropped her backpack with a loud thud.

What?!” she shouted. “You had me freaking out, Mom! I thought maybe Dad was dea—”

Her mom quickly cut her off. “Haley, hush!”

Haley placed her hand over her heart attempting to calm herself down.

Fine,” she sighed. “Where is he?”

Where he always is,” her mom replied with an irritated wave towards the side of the house.

*

Haley’s dad had begun falling down lately. He’d once been a strong looking man with a sense of determination in his walk, but both the cancer and his treatment made him frail. His doctor told him that it was far more likely he was only going to get worse.

One morning he’d asked his wife to move his rocking chair to the back porch. From then on he would spend every evening sitting out there with a blanket wrapped around his thinning shoulders.

Haley crept around to the back to look at him before making herself known. She could see that his eyes were closed, but by the way he drummed his fingers lightly on the arms of the chair she knew he wasn’t asleep.

She cleared her throat and he slowly opened his eyes to look at her.

So…what, uh…what are you doing back here?” she asked, not knowing whether she should sit or stand.

It was harder than ever for her to hold a conversation with her father. She even cringed at the sight of his gray face that looked creased in light of the sunset.

I’m just sitting, Haley,” he replied plainly in his gravelly voice.

Haley’s parents were opposites in nearly every way possible. Her father was very coolheaded, but stern in his ways. Her mother, however, flitted around faster than a hummingbird. Yet without a single word passing between them, it was obvious they shared a great love that not even Haley’s inquisitive mind could figure out.

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 – Mari

When you’re born and raised in the same town, memories can become sprinkled like grass seed and spring up nearly anywhere. For Haley, every corner she turned she could easily recollect carefree days that she and Kevin had bounded through like rabbits. < Lots of people are born and raised in the same town (most people I would assume), so this isn’t much of a hook. There also isn’t any voice pulling me in, and I am immediately questioning whether this is actually YA (it doesn’t read like it). I am also questioning what the point of view is (omniscient?).

During her walk home from school, she looked out over the field and remembered < You never want to open a novel with a character remembering something. It indicates that you aren’t starting the story somewhere interesting enough to carry the chapter on its own. a late afternoon when Kevin ran so far ahead of her. The last of orange sunlight flashed in his eyes as he threw his head back and laughed, but there wasn’t always laughter between them. There were also memories of bruises and scars mapped out on Kevin’s flesh. The very thought of them made Haley’s own skin crawl. < Her remembering this does not move the plot forward nor is it relevant to what comes next so it feels tacked on just for the sake of conveying information you want the reader to know. It takes time, but writers have to learn ways to “hide” the fact that you’re conveying information.

She quickly shook away her thoughts as her eyes moved over her little house. < You don’t need to explain that a character’s thoughts have shifted in order to move on to different subject matter. There was nothing unique about it’s the old farm house’s set up or style. And had she not spent every day of her life there, Haley could’ve easily gotten confused. <I’m not sure what you mean. What would have made her confused?

Out on the front porch, her mother waved her hands frantically in the air.

“Haley!” she called out in her twangy voice. “Come quick!” < Dialogue should be in the same paragraph as action if it’s by the same character, so combine this line with the previous one.

Haley’s heartbeat began pounding out of fear pounded as she ran towards her house. < “Out of fear” is not needed because it is telling what has already been shown. “Pounded” is stronger than “pounding” because verbs ending in “-ing” are weaker than those ending in “-ed.”

“What’s wrong?” sShe wheezed as she reached the porch steps. < “Wheezed” is not a dialogue tag because you can’t wheeze words, so the “she” should be capitalized. 

Her mother calmly shook her head. “Nothing, I just need you to watch your dad while I get dinner started.” < This feels like a bait and switch. You’ve lured the reader in on the false pretense that something exciting is happening when really this is a totally ordinary day.

Haley dropped her backpack with a loud thud.

“What?!< Don’t use both an exclamation point and a question mark. she shouted. “You had me freaking out, Mom! I thought maybe Dad was dea—” < This comes across as something a little kid might say (8-11), but not a young adult (14-18).

Her mom quickly cut her off. “Haley, hush!”

Haley placed her hand over her heart attempting to calm herself down.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Where is he?”

“Where he always is,” her mom replied with an irritated wave towards the side of the house. < The dialogue comes across as unnatural, mostly because there doesn’t seem to be logical motivations behind what they’re saying. Why would the mom act so frantic if there wasn’t an emergency? Why would Haley ask where her dad was if he always sits in the same place?

*

Haley’s dad had begun falling down lately. He’d once been a strong looking man with a sense of determination in his walk, but both the cancer and his treatment made him frail. His doctor told him that it was far more likely he was only going to get worse. < This is an info dump. Learn how to avoid info dumps here.

One morning he’d asked his wife to move his rocking chair to the back porch. From then on he would spend every evening sitting out there with a blanket wrapped around his thinning shoulders. < Find ways to show this rather than tell it.

Haley crept around to the back to look at him before making herself known. She could see that his eyes were closed, but by the way he drummed his fingers lightly on the arms of the chair she knew he wasn’t asleep.

She cleared her throat and he slowly opened his eyes to look at her.

“So…what, uh…what are you doing back here?” she asked, not knowing whether she should sit or stand. < Why would she ask this if she knows that her father always sits out there?

It was harder than ever for her to hold a conversation with her father. She even cringed at the sight of his gray face that looked creased in the light of the sunset.

“I’m just sitting, Haley,” he replied plainly in his gravelly voice. < She already knows this and so does the reader, so this conversation should be cut in favor of moving on to new/interesting information.

Haley’s parents were opposites in nearly every way possible. < This feels like the topic has changed too rapidly and without reason or transition. Her father was very coolheaded, but stern in his ways. Her mother, however, flitted around faster than a hummingbird. Yet without a single word passing between them, it was obvious they shared a great love that not even Haley’s inquisitive mind could figure out.

My Overall Thoughts

Overall, the tone is too young for YA. This is a very common problem I see in YA manuscripts (check out last week’s First Page Friday submission for the same issue). The writing style, tone, and Haley’s personality read at an MG level (about 8-11). Whether the content is appropriate for that age group, I would have to read more to find out. I made this video a while back about the differences between YA and MG and I think it will help you.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The bait and switch opening (making it seem like Haley’s mother has a problem but really there isn’t one) is not a good idea. It gives the impression that you cannot create suspense on your own and possibly that you are not starting the book in the right place. To see this issue in someone else’s work, check out First Page Friday #3.
  • Watch out for info dumps. Information should be revealed gradually and naturally, not in big chunks. Also, focus on places where you can show things instead of tell them.
  • Increase the voice. Both YA and MG rely heavily on voice to catch the interest of young readers. There is no indication of voice in this opening, which makes it difficult to latch onto the story or characters. The lines are at times very distancing and pull the reader out of the moment.
  • Think about the dialogue between your characters and assess whether it is logical for the character and interesting for the reader. Right now, the dialogue is detracting from the opening rather than adding to it.
  • I don’t think you’re starting this story in the right place. Novels should open with an interesting and engaging conflict that immediately gives the reader a sense of who the main character is and what she wants. Check out this video I made on how to write and edit the set up of your novel. It explains this is more detail than I can get into here.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

I know it’s hard to get a tough critique, but this book is not where it needs to be to stand out in the current market. Check out some bestselling YA or MG books (whichever you decide your book is) from your library and flip through them, making notes about the voice, pacing, dialogue, etc., then think about how you can restyle your novel to better fit the expectations of the age group. Voice is absolutely vital, as is a book that fits neatly in either MG or YA. I hope you stick with this book and find ways to improve it. If you have any questions, get in touch!

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 third week of February and beyond)

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.

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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