First Page Friday #20: YA

Happy Valentine’s Day!

3122875541_11bf6685c2

I hope everyone is having a fantastic Valentine’s Day!

If you haven’t noticed, I made some changes to my website (I hope for the better!). Check out my new Help Desk to get all your writing and editing questions answered. Don’t see a question on the list? Let me know and I’ll try to add it soon!

Also, check out my new video: How to Write a Great Antagonist.

About First Page Friday

First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel. Read the excerpt without my notes first and leave your vote in the poll. Afterward, feel free to leave a comment for the author. Feedback is always helpful!

YA First 500 – Lydia Evans

The bright yellow buoy beeped and a red light pierced the darkness of the ocean.  Alone, it monitored the rise and fall of the waters of the North Pacific Ocean. 

At the National Data Buoy Center division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA for short, Don Chambers slipped his pudgy fingers beneath the thick plastic rims of his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.  He had come into work the night before at 5:00 pm, and had two hours left in his twelve hour shift.  He was getting too old for these shifts, even though all he had to do was sit in a chair and stare at a bank of computer monitors.  He had thought working overnight shifts would get easier with the passage of time, but as he got older, they had become more difficult.  At fifty-eight, Don was ready for something with more traditional hours.  Perhaps he would transfer to Climate Program Office.  They didn’t work around the clock, and they weren’t based at the butt-end of Mississippi.  He’d like to get back to the East Coast, and Maryland was a nice place to live if you didn’t mind paying an exorbitant amount of money for an over-priced house.

A soft beeping abruptly stopped Don’s musings on career options.  A speck on the monitor to Don’s left was blinking red.  He quickly switched the screen to the monitor directly in front of him and zoomed in on the blinking dot.  The blinking dot represented a buoy which was located near Sand Island, which was part of the Midway Islands.  The Midway Islands were called “midway” because they were located almost exactly in the center of the ocean that stretched between Japan and California.  The buoy recorded the sea level every hour and transmitted the data back to the National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi where workers like Don, analyzed the data.  Don double-clicked on the buoy and began reading its last transmissions.

                                       Date       Time            Sea Level (meters)

09/05/2012: 21:00 – 5809.70

09/05/2013: 22:00 – 5809.60

09/05/2013: 23:00 – 5809.40

09/05/2013: 24:00 – 5809.20

09/06/2013: 01:00 – 5809.40

09/07/2013: 02:00 – 5809.60

09/08/2013: 03:00 – 5812.65

                

Don blinked rapidly reading the most recent sea level transmission.  He quickly did the mental calculation converting meters to feet and fell off his chair.  The sea level had gone up by ten feet.  Swearing loudly, Don jumped back into his chair and pulled up closest buoys to the Sand Island buoy.  There were two buoys located almost 2,000 miles away.  One to the east, off the coast of California, and one to the west, off the coast of Japan.

“2,000 miles to the next buoys, divided by a speed of 400 miles per hour, gives us 5 hours,” Don calculated aloud.  He bolted from his desk and ran down the dimly lit hall.  There was no one there to see Don running pell-mell through the hallway, making two left turns and then a right, ending up at his supervisor’s door.

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 – Lydia Evans

The bright yellow buoy beeped and a red light pierced the darkness of the ocean.  < For some reason when you said “bright yellow,” my first thought was one of those little plastic buoys, so I was thrown off a bit when it beeped. I could totally be alone in that, but I thought it was worth mentioning. It’s also not clear if you’re saying the buoy beeping caused the flash or if it just happens to be doing both. If the latter, I suggest rewriting: The bright yellow buoy beeped. Its red light pierced the darkness of the ocean. Alone, it monitored the rise and fall of the waters of the North Pacific Ocean.  < Avoid ending two sentences in a row with the same word.

At the National Data Buoy Center , or NOAA for short, Don Chambers slipped his pudgy fingers beneath the thick plastic rims of his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes.  He had come into work the night before at 5:00 pm, and had two hours left in his twelve hour shift.  He was getting too old for these shifts, even though all he had to do was sit in a chair and stare at a bank of computer monitors.  He had thought working overnight shifts would get easier with the passage of time, but as he got older, they had become more difficult.  < In my opinion, this is where this paragraph should end. At this point I am getting bored of the “telling” and want to move on to something happening in the moment. At fifty-eight, Don was ready for something with more traditional hours.  Perhaps he would transfer to Climate Program Office.  They didn’t work around the clock, and they weren’t based at the butt-end of Mississippi.  He’d like to get back to the East Coast, and Maryland was a nice place to live if you didn’t mind paying an exorbitant amount of money for an over-priced house.

A soft beeping abruptly stopped Don’s musings on career options. < You’re writing in omniscient, which means that the narration is coming from a narrator, not Don. As far as the reader knows, Don is not musing about his career options, the narrator is simply discussing his feelings about them. You would need to explicitly state that Don was thinking in the previous paragraph if you want him to stop his musings, but it’s bad practice (in any POV) to mention a character breaking out of their thoughts (it’s never needed). A speck on the monitor to Don’s left was blinking blinked red.  He quickly < Go easy on the adverbs. switched the screen to the monitor directly in front of him and zoomed in on the blinking dot.  The blinking dot It represented a buoy which was located near Sand Island, which was part of the Midway Islands, so called.  The Midway Islands were called “midway” < I suggest doing something like this to avoid repeating “midway” so many times. because they were located almost exactly in the center of the ocean that stretched between Japan and California.  The buoy recorded the sea level every hour and transmitted the data back to the National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi where workers, like Don, analyzed the data.  Don double-clicked on the buoy‘s and began reading its last transmissions. < Avoid having characters “begin” to do things. Also, readers can infer that he’s reading it.

                                       Date       Time            Sea Level (meters)

09/05/2012: 21:00 – 5809.70

09/05/2013: 22:00 – 5809.60

09/05/2013: 23:00 – 5809.40

09/05/2013: 24:00 – 5809.20

09/06/2013: 01:00 – 5809.40

09/07/2013: 02:00 – 5809.60

09/08/2013: 03:00 – 5812.65

                This is important to take into consideration anytime data, numbers, quotes, etc. are included in a novel: most readers are going to skip them. That doesn’t mean you can’t include them, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Don blinked rapidly reading the most recent sea level transmission.  < Again, readers can infer that he’s reading. He quickly < Go easy on adverbs. I’d cut “quickly” as well as “rapidly.” did the mental calculation converting meters to feet and fell off his chair.  < Falling off his chair seems a little melodramatic. The sea level had gone up by ten feet.  Swearing loudly, Don jumped back into his chair and pulled up the closest buoys to the Sand Island buoy. <If you can find a way to not repeat “buoy” that would be great.  There were two buoys located almost 2,000 miles away.  One to the east, off the coast of California, and one to the west, off the coast of Japan.

“2,000 miles to the next buoys, divided by a speed of 400 miles per hour, gives us 5 hours,” Don calculated aloud. < I always find it unnatural when characters speak aloud. It seems more for the reader’s benefit than because it’s natural for the character.  He bolted from his desk and ran down the dimly lit hall.  There was no one there to see < Why does it matter that no one is there? It seems like an odd thing to include. Don running ran pell-mell through the hallway, making two left turns and then a right, ending up at his supervisor’s door.

My Overall Thoughts

You have a good grasp of omniscient narration (only the one tiny error, which I marked above), which is awesome! It’s a tough POV to write in. In terms of the content itself, it seems interesting and something is clearly happening, which is great, but I’m definitely confused about the target age group – there’s nothing about this that indicates it’s YA.

Key Places to Improve:

  • I’m curious why you are classifying this as YA. I assume that teenagers come into play at some point? Does it deal with normal teen issues? A book can have teenagers in it without being YA, especially if there are primary characters that are adults. If this book truly is YA, this opening is not going to do the book justice. Agents and editors are going to take one look at this and think that you have no idea what YA means. For YA, you absolutely need to open with a teenager, not a man in his 50s – it gives YA readers nothing to connect with.
  • The trick with omniscient POV is knowing when to go into telling mode and when to just let the events unfold more naturally (showing). A lot of this has to do with gauging readers’ interest levels, which is where feedback really helps. I think you could tell a bit less about Don, especially because right at the beginning the goal is to suck readers into an interesting story and your character being bored and wanting to change jobs doesn’t inspire a lot of excitement. I think you could show a bit more about the atmosphere/environment – what the room looks like (is it on the water?), what the building is like (are the halls dirty? Clean? Stark? Cluttered?), what the weather is like (Stormy? Clear? Raining?), etc. Just a bit more detail would place the reader more firmly in the scene.
  • Watch out for word repetition. You seem to have a lot of that going on. It can help to read your work out loud. Also look for places where the wording could be more concise (cutting or combining sentences) and places where you can use strong verbs instead of adverbs.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2

You aren’t too far off with the quality of your writing if you can spend some time eliminating common issues (adverbs, repetition, telling, etc.), but right now those things are holding your writing back from really shining. Before spending too much effort editing this in a way that isn’t marketable, I suggest spending time figuring out your genre and target age group. If you have any questions, I can help. 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.

Connect with Lydia

Check out her blog: www.TheWritersWrong.wordpress.com

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 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.

087

Help First Page Friday be a Success!  Please use the buttons below to share this post. The more views, the more submissions, the more First Page Fridays!

6 thoughts on “First Page Friday #20: YA

  1. writeamy says:

    I was thinking some of the same things as Ellen. When I saw it was YA, but the opening character was a lot older, I was thinking a different opening scene might work. Also, it was too “technical” from the beginning. I think scene where there is more action will pull readers in right away. I kept reading because I knew it was a limited word intro, but if I had picked this up at the library and started reading the first page, I probably would have either put the book back ,or flipped ahead to see if the book started sounding more interesting. I also agree about adverb usage (cut it down or eliminate). Avoid cliche’s like “pell mell”. Is there any way else more exiting that the readers discover the rising sea level? Is Don a major character?

  2. preposterousplum says:

    I agree that since this is a YA novel, you want to start off with teenage characters. Also, starting off with a lot of technical information kills the energy of the story. I would suggest starting with teenage characters in a more emotional or action packed situation, something that connects the reader to the story or the characters, and then add the technical later, if it still seems necessary.

  3. The Writer's Wrong says:

    Thank you all for your feedback! It’s so nice to get another set of eyes on my writing. You can write something, read it, and re-read it, but it’ll never be the same as having someone else read it! So thank you all so much for your feedback!

    To answer your questions: yes, this story is YA. Both protagonists are teenagers, and it deals with normal teen issues. But no – as it’s currently written – you don’t meet them until after the first 500 words (they’re introduced at word 1,116 as of right now). Also, Don is not a major character.

    I’m not sure I agree that because the book is YA, it absolutely has to open with teenager characters. But it’s surely something to think about! Thanks again!

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      I’m glad the feedback was beneficial!

      Maybe my wording was not as clear as it could have been. It is possible to have a YA novel that opens with an adult characters (technically, anything is possible in publishing. There are always exceptions to every rule/generalization.), but it’s not something I’ve really seen (no books opening with adults come to mind). If those books do exist, my guess is that they are from authors who have already “proven” themselves in the publishing world.

      I focus a lot on the selling aspect of writing when critiquing openings since it’s the first impression agents and editors are going to have of a novel. I used to do YA and MG acquisitions for a small press and I always rejected YA books that opened with character over 18 simply because there are so many writers that just don’t “get” YA and adult characters can be a really good sign the writer isn’t familiar enough with the age group. It may seem unfair, but acquiring books is a tough job and you have to find ways of cutting through the slush effectively.

      So from a pitching standpoint, I would say that opening with teenagers is a must. I would also guess that if you did get an agent or editor to read past the first chapter, they would recommend changing the opening to start with teen characters anyway.

      Additionally, the technical details and general tone of the book struck me as something intended for a much older audience and not the type of writing style I would associate with YA. Again, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done that way, it will just make the job of pitching this book a lot harder since you run the risk of looking as if you don’t understand YA.

      If you do choose to keep this opening, you will need an absolutely killer query letter.

      Best of luck with whatever decision you make! Keep me updated!

  4. Lawson says:

    I agree that you wouldn’t _have_ to start with teen characters in a YA, but it’s a choice–your choice–and why not pick the option that best serves you and your readers in defining your genre, in starting your story, in getting us engaged with the people we’re going to follow? Why make us make that shift? What do you gain? Is old Don the teenager’s uncle? Could he be on Skype with them when the buoy sounds the alarm? Could they be living or traveling in the area that will be impacted by the coming tsunami? Can you connect us with your main characters earlier and in a way that puts them at risk? If Don is a minor character, then the first four pages are set-up. These days, that’s a long time to wait.

    Tech is not your enemy. But tech has to _mean_ something to the characters and the reader, and it has to be right. The readings in the chart are clearly meant to advance hourly, but the dates do too for the last entrees. Though only two other buoys are presented (as if they are the only others), there are many more useful reference buoys along the Pacific Rim. [There’s also an unmarked edit in version 2 that makes NOAA incorrectly stand for the NDBC.] Forgive the cliché, but the “alphabet soup” of agency and sub-agency doesn’t help you much. These buoys are part of the DART system. Who cares? Well, if I’ve seen the news in the last few years, I get a little tense when I land on the last word in Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis. Suddenly–don’t say suddenly–you’ve got threat, maybe even stakes. But both have to relate to characters we already care about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s