First Page Friday #18: YA Contemporary

I just got back from my honeymoon over the weekend. We had a fantastic time!  And of course, this blog didn’t post automatically, so I am going to go ahead and post it now even though it’s Monday. Come back on Friday for another first page critique!

YA Contemporary First 500 – Anonymous

Walking with a slab of beer over your shoulder gets tough after about a half kilometre or so. But try doing it at dusk alongside a highway. Barefoot on hot sand. Black. In Alice Springs.“Coppa gonna come ’round the bend any minute, aye Trevor?”“Piss off, Sam. They’ll lock you up before me.”

Sam’s latest ‘arrest’ was on Thursday. Stealing cigarettes after school (again). I say ‘arrest’ because, well, it’s hard to know if they take him seriously anymore. Who could blame them if they didn’t? His brothers – my cousins – are both up north in detention, and he’s bound to join them soon.

“Not long now.” My sister said. She deserved better than this mob; I’d do anything to get her out of here. “Do you think Stacey will be there?” Stacey was my sister’s best friend.

“We’ll see.” I said. She wasn’t coming, but I hated disappointing the one person who had never disappointed me.

Stacey was white, not that my sister cared. In fact, to Stacey’s credit, she didn’t seem to care either. Her parents did though. They’d never let Stacey visit our place. Can’t have little innocent white girls exposed to the reality of the town camps, can we?

Here in Alice, there’re really two towns: White Alice and Black Alice. And, like it always is with these things, White Alice is at the centre while Black Alice is forced to scrounge up what’s left. The pollies like to talk about One Big Community, but you don’t have to be a kookaburra to know they’re havin’ a laugh. It’s all bullshit.

There are about twenty town camps, I think. I dunno, maybe less. We are from a camp called Dunkey. Don’t know why it’s called that, and don’t care. It’s home, even if the tip is cleaner. Our whole family lives together: my mum, my sister, my uncle (before he moved across town), two of my aunties and their husbands, and a few of my cousins, all between three houses. There are another eight houses in the camp between the other five families, though we all have more distant cousins and aunts and that at different camps.

That’s where we were headed to now: Our cousin Jason’s 17th over at Athante camp. Sam had lost his bike a few weeks back, and there was no way three of us could fit on my old thing, so we walked. It was probably better that way, we could avoid the roads a bit more.

We followed the dry riverbed of the Todd and cut across the golf course as it started to get hard to see where you were stepping. Sam led the way with his lighter. This part of White Alice was his favourite to frequent. It’d take about eight minutes for the whitefellas with guns to get out here with their sirens and lights and cars. Meanwhile, you’d have three great getaway routes to choose from: the golf course (of course), going over the ridge to Athante, or going bush and hoping the grog or whatever you scored isn’t worth the search party. It almost never is.

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 Contemporary First 500 – Anonymous

Walking with a slab of beer over your shoulder gets tough after about a half kilometre or so. But try doing it at dusk alongside a highway. Barefoot on hot sand. Black. In Alice Springs.

“Coppa gonna come ’round the bend any minute, aye Trevor?” < I’m not sure who is saying this – the narrator or one of his friends? Additionally, I’m not in love with this line of dialogue, mostly because I find heavy dialects to seem strained, but also because the line itself seems a bit confusing/unnatural to me – Is it a warning? A threat? Is he worried? 

“Piss off, Sam. They’ll lock you up before me.” < I still don’t know whether the narrator is Trevor, Sam, or someone else.

Sam’s latest ‘arrest’ was on Thursday. Stealing cigarettes after school (again). I say ‘arrest’ because, well, it’s hard to know if they take him seriously anymore. Who could blame them if they didn’t? His brothers – my cousins – are both up north in detention, and he’s bound to join them soon. < If he’s bound to join his brothers in detention, wouldn’t the cops take his crimes more seriously rather than less? Or perhaps I’m not catching your meaning here.

“Not long now.” My sister said. She deserved better than this mob; I’d do anything to get her out of here. “Do you think Stacey will be there?” Stacey was my sister’s best friend. < Is his sister younger or older? A little kid or a teenager? Some indication of age would be helpful.

“We’ll see.” I said. She wasn’t coming, but I hated disappointing the one person who had never disappointed me.

Stacey was white, not that my sister cared. In fact, to Stacey’s credit, she didn’t seem to care either. Her parents did though. They’d never let Stacey visit our place. Can’t have little innocent white girls exposed to the reality of the town camps, can we?  I feel like you’re telling a lot of things that could be shown.

Here in Alice, there’re really two towns: White Alice and Black Alice. And, like it always is with these things, White Alice is at the centre while Black Alice is forced to scrounge up what’s left. The pollies like to talk about One Big Community, but you don’t have to be a kookaburra to know they’re havin’ a laugh. It’s all bullshit.

There are about twenty town camps, I think. I dunno, maybe less. We are from a camp called Dunkey. Don’t know why it’s called that, and don’t care. It’s home, even if the tip is cleaner. Our whole family lives together: my mum, my sister, my uncle (before he moved across town), two of my aunties and their husbands, and a few of my cousins, all between three houses. There are another eight houses in the camp between the other five families, though we all have more distant cousins and aunts and that at different camps. < Could you show the information in this paragraph rather than tell it?

That’s where we were headed to now: Our cousin Jason’s 17th over at Athante camp. Sam had lost his bike a few weeks back, and there was no way three of us could fit on my old thing, so we walked. It was probably better that way, we could avoid the roads a bit more. < The content of this paragraph could be easily shown through dialogue. (For example: “Why’d you have to go and lose your bike, Sam? It’s gonna take forever to get to Jason’s.”)

We followed the dry riverbed of the Todd and cut across the golf course as it started to get hard to see where you were stepping. Sam led the way with his lighter. This part of White Alice was his favourite to frequent. It’d take about eight minutes for the whitefellas with guns to get out here with their sirens and lights and cars. Meanwhile, you’d have three great getaway routes to choose from: the golf course (of course), going over the ridge to Athante, or going bush and hoping the grog or whatever you scored isn’t worth the search party. It almost never is. < You could show this by having them get caught and choose between these three options.

My Overall Thoughts

You have a really nice and interesting voice that I think will carry a novel well, but it would be helpful for you to focus more on showing rather than telling to keep the reader engaged in the events that are happening in the moment.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Until the narrator states that three of them couldn’t fit on one bike, it was not clear that the narrator was Trevor (I had to read back through to figure out his name) or that only three kids were involved (I was thinking four – Sam, Trevor, the narrator, and the narrator’s sister – but that could just be me). I suggest making that clearer from the start ( a dialogue tag would clarify – “They’ll lock you up before me,” I said.). Also, Trevor’s sister is never given a name or any indication of age.
  • Work on showing rather than telling. You’re dumping a lot of information on the reader that could unfold more naturally if shown. Keep the reader engaged in what’s happening in the moment. If there’s not enough happening in the scene itself to hook the reader, then you’re not starting in the right place (I can’t determine one way or the other without reading more of this chapter).
  • Try to give your characters a stronger physical presence (this goes along with showing rather than telling). Instead of saying that it was getting hard to see where they were stepping, use the characters’ physical presence to illustrate this. (For example: I stumbled over something that was invisible in the dark grass, but managed not to fall. I stepped closer to where Sam was leading the way with his lighter, staining a patch of black grass a dull orange.) Do you see how this gives the characters a stronger presence in the scene and more life?

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 3.5

Your voice is good and engaging. So long as the plot holds up, you shouldn’t have too much more work to do on this. Focus your efforts on showing wherever possible and you will elevate the quality of your writing easily and quickly. Good luck!

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 last 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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