First Page Friday #15: YA Fantasy

Wow, this is the fourth YA submission in a row!  Not that I’m complaining, I love YA! (:

Just a reminder to all the readers, it’s great when you can leave comments for the author letting her know what you think of the opening! If you catch anything I missed or agree or disagree with my edits, I know the author would appreciate your feedback! Also, please share this post on Twitter, Facebook, etc. so the author’s feedback can be diverse and plentiful. Thanks!

And once again, no matter how many spaces I add between paragraphs, they scrunch together when I publish. Sorry about that!

YA First 500 – Nova Mitchell

The bells of the clock in the high tower of the Order rang, signaling the start of the eighth-hour. The sound traveled down to the basement of the Order and into the stables. I had fallen asleep there in the middle of my morning chores, but the sound jolted me awake from where I was resting against the horses feed sacks that I had put up earlier. Oh no, I thought, Scotia, you’re going to be late. Again. I scrambled to my feet and hastily filled the horses troughs before dashing out the stables. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but when I had, I started to dream. My dream always felt so real and I had a hard time waking from this one. But, there was no time left for dreams. If I didn’t make it to class before the instructor realized I wasn’t there . . . I shuddered to think of what would happen.
I tried not to trip over my own feet as I ran as fast as I could up the staircases and down the hallways, lifting my long and heavy blue skirt up to my knees to allow my legs extra freedom. Aside from the hard slap of my slippers against the stone flooring the only thing I heard were the ending chimes of the hour. I’m not going to make it. I prayed that no one would come out from around a corner and see me running. If a Ma’Tradom, or even a Proxi, caught me I’d be caned for sure. As a Novilite, it was against the rules to run inside the Order unless your life were in immediate danger. This qualified as such a circumstance to me. 
I was out of breath when I reached my classroom on the third floor and spared a few moments to lean against the neighboring wall and breathe. I was already late. The chimes had stopped and I could hear Ma’Tradom Aquali lecturing.
I hated this class. Geokenisis. Out of all the Kenisis offered this was my weakest. Using my skirt to wipe the sweat off my hands I opened the door, but only enough for me to slip inside. Every student had a pot of dirt in front of them on their desk and had their fingers buried up to the knuckles in the soil. The students sat on high stools. Between that and the thin legs of the desk, there was nothing for me to hide behind. The rooms bright light exposed everything and my hope to go unnoticed lessened with every crouching step I took towards an empty desk in the back. 
“Late for class again, Scotia,” Ma’Tradom Aquail said in her cool and condescending voice. 
I froze in place and everyone suddenly turned to look in my direction. Only a few more steps and I would have been at the desk and could have tried to pretend that I had been there the entire time. I turned towards the Ma’Tradom, kneeled and bowed my head to the floor in the way we were taught.

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 – Nova Mitchell

The bells of the clock in the high tower of the Order rang < As a general rule, avoid using more than two prepositions in a phrase. Three of them together like this reads very awkwardly. , signaling the start of the eighth-hour. The sound traveled down to the basement of the Order and into the stables. < These first two lines read as omniscient, then suddenly in the next line it’s first person, which is a bit jarring and requires the reader to restructure how they’re imagining the story. I suggest opening with lines in your character’s voice, from her perspective. As is, she is narrating the sound before it wakes her up, which doesn’t make sense. I had fallen asleep there in the middle of my morning chores, but the sound jolted me awake from where I was resting against the horses feed sacks that I had put up earlier. Oh no, I thought, Scotia, you’re going to be late. < I’m never a fan of people thinking their own name in thoughts. It has always seemed incredibly unnatural to me. That said, I am not much of a fan of character thoughts in first person as they never seem necessary since it’s already in the character’s voice and from their perspective. Again. I scrambled to my feet and hastily filled the horses troughs before dashing out the stables. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but when I had, I started to dream. < Since dreams as openers are one of the biggest writing cliches, I would not even mention a dream in the first chapter. My dreams always felt so real and I had a hard time waking from this one. But, there was no time left for dreams. If I didn’t make it to class before the instructor realized I wasn’t there . . . I shuddered to think of what would happen. <If you want to create a sense of real stakes here, go ahead and tell the reader what will happen.
This is not to say that you can’t do it, but I just want to point out that opening with a girl being late for class is one of the most common opening scenes in amateur YA novels. In fact, two of the last four YA novels I’ve edited opened with a scene very similar to this one.
I tried not to trip over my own feet as I ran as fast as I could up the staircases and down the hallways, lifting my long and heavy blue skirt up to my knees to allow my legs extra freedom. Aside from the hard slap of my slippers against the stone flooring, the only thing I heard were the ending chimes of the hour. I’m not going to make it. I prayed that no one would come out from around a corner and see me running. If a Ma’Tradom, or even a Proxi, caught me I’d be caned for sure. As a Novilite, it was against the rules to run inside the Order unless your life were in immediate danger. This qualified as such a circumstance to me. 
I was out of breath when I reached my classroom on the third floor and spared a few moments to lean against the neighboring wall and breathe. < It always feels odd to the reader when a character is urgently doing something, only to stop and take a break. If she’s so scared of getting caned, I would think she would want to stumble into the classroom out of breath just to get there a bit earlier. I was already late. The chimes had stopped and I could hear Ma’Tradom Aquali lecturing.
I hated this class. Geokenisis. Out of all the Kenisis offered this was my weakest. Using my skirt to wipe the sweat off my hands, I opened the door, but only enough for me to slip inside. Every student had a pot of dirt in front of them on their desk and had with their fingers buried up to the knuckles in the soil. The students sat on high stools. Between that and the thin legs of the desk, there was nothing for me to hide behind. < I’m a bit confused about what you’re describing here. If the desks had been normal height, wouldn’t they have been harder to hide behind? I imagine all these long skirts up on high stools as creating a much better hiding place (not worse) than a normal classroom. The rooms bright light exposed everything and my hope to go unnoticed lessened with every crouching step I took towards an empty desk in the back. < I think this needs to be described more clearly. I am imagining her going through a classroom door (which are usually at the front of the class near the teacher’s desk), attracting the attention of everyone, and then crouching as if she can’t be seen. To me, I feel like she would be noticed immediately – the moment she pushes open the door.
“Late for class again, Scotia,” Ma’Tradom Aquail said in her cool and condescending voice.  < Describe this woman. Make her seem real. “Cool and condescending” is the cliche of all teachers in YA. Give her something unique.
I froze in place and everyone suddenly turned to look in my direction. Only a few more steps and I would have been at the desk and could have tried to pretend that I had been there the entire time. I turned towards the Ma’Tradom, kneeled and bowed my head to the floor in the way we were taught.

My Overall Thoughts

While there aren’t any glaring problems, this opening doesn’t make me sit up in my seat and take notice. My guess is that in your head, this is super vivid and exciting, but that vividness is not coming across in your descriptions and word choices.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The characterization feels weak to me. In YA, you want to give the reader an immediate sense of who the protagonist is, but this opening isn’t doing that. She falls asleep doing her chores, but there’s no explanation as to why. Is she more tired than usual? Is she a scatterbrain? Does she not value her education? Was she up so late studying for a big test that she crashed? Give us some characterization. Is this girl a rebel? A good girl? An outcast? Who is she? Give readers some point of identification and some frame of reference for her choices and thoughts.
  • Describe things more vividly. She’s running down the hallways, but what are they like? Is this like a castle? A dungeon? An ordinary school? Are there tall windows? Tapestries on the walls? Posters about “sharing is caring”? What does the place look like?
  • If her being late to class is not integral to the plot (meaning that it doesn’t lead directly into the plot of the novel), I would try to start this in a different place. It helps to show the protagonist being proactive in the opening scene rather than simply reactive.
  • Watch your punctuation. You missed three possessive apostrophes and a few commas.

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

I don’t think anyone would have any significant complaints about your writing. You’re not falling into any major beginner’s mistakes, but you’re not creating something that stands out either. This reads too bland, like a polished first draft written before you nailed your character’s voice or fleshed out your story’s world. Focus on what makes this story unique. Focus on who your character is and her emotions.

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.

Connect with Nova!

Connect with Nova (the author of the first page) on her blog or on Twitter!

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking first week of March 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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6 thoughts on “First Page Friday #15: YA Fantasy

  1. megfitz89 says:

    Morning Nova and Ellen!

    While I agree with Ellen that it didn’t pop, I became interested when she ran through the hall and we got to see her world. That to me is something that stands out in making your story unique. I would be more likely to keep reading as you fed more about this strange, different setting.

  2. The Writer's Wrong says:

    I felt engaged reading this excerpt, and would keep reading had I found this book at a bookstore or library. I think the world described here could be very interesting and original. Best of luck to you on your manuscript Nova!

  3. thenovascotia says:

    Thank you for your review, and thanks Megfitz, and Writer’s Wrong, for your comments! I took a good look at the beginning and tweaked it a bit, adding a bit more description to the work so that the world comes alive more to the reader. Of course, I’ve updated this on my blog too.. Thanks again!

  4. aroundtownandback says:

    I can really see this going somewhere. I agree with Ellen about adding details. Is this like a religious school setting? That’s what I imagined. Keep working on it, for sure!

    And Ellen, are you using Internet Explorer for your browser when you publishe the post? I had the same problem with losing carriage returns. When I switched to the Firefox browser, many of the wonky formatting problems I had went away.

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      Thanks for your comment!

      Actually, I’m already using Firefox (on a Mac). Sometimes the spaces work just fine and other times they don’t. I haven’t found any rhyme or reason to it.

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