First Page Friday #28: YA Fantasy

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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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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 Fantasy – Donald A. Robinson

Rivers of fire raced down his cheeks. The fiery tears stung his face as they scorched deep ravines across his icy, bloodstained face. His breath grew rapid and shallow as he tried desperately to staunch the bleeding only he saw. Her body lay frozen beneath his hands. Auburn hair lay listlessly to one side; dull, lifeless, and matted with blood. Rosy red cheeks grew pale as her hazel eyes faded to gray. Dozens of black figures rushed towards them. He knew they would be upon him soon, but the only thing on his mind was making her awaken. The air echoed with the sounds of battle as steel clashed upon steel and arcane blasts exploded upon the scarred landscape. Screams of pain and anguish crescendoed as the violence escalated. His desperation muffled the sound of it all as he struggled to save her. Through the chaos, a soft whisper caught his attention.

“She’s… not breathing.”

Tears flowed endlessly from his eyes He turned to face the crawling figure. He tried to speak, but his voice was void of all sound. He looked back down at the cold, pale body of what was once his love. Then, he turned his palms face-up to see the congealed blood on his hands. He screamed out with what voice he could muster, and pounded her chest; a last ditched effort to make her breath.

“She’s gone! Let her go…”

Gasping, he shot straight up to a seated position.

A dream. That dream. More like a nightmare. Or was it some kind of warning? 

All he knew was he had the same dream every night for the last week. His shirt clung to his body; the sweat cool against his back. Eric leaned forward, and placed a hand to his forehead and the other to the bed. Something was wrong. His hand coiled back as he touched dew-covered grass. The breeze picked up. Eric’s entire body shivered from the icy caress. Squinting up to the fading star-studded sky, he recognized none of the constellations- a fact he attributed to his poor eyesight.

Where am I? And, where are my glasses?

Eric tried to stay calm despite the cold, strange night he had woken up to find. Pulling his arms into his shirt, Eric set off towards the hint of a sunrise. His eyes seldom left the ground as he trudged through the cold, wet grass.

Dreary, morning sunlight filtered through the clouds ahead of him. He was not sure where he going, but he knew he was traveling east. He walked for what he believed was no more than an hour. Acrid wisps of smoke caught his attention. He searched for the source. Billows of smoke to his left clued him in as to where the stench originated. He hoped this would be his best chance to find someone, and maybe get warm.

 

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.

My Feedback

 Critique Key

Original Text is in italics. (Author is already using italics, so my comments are going to be underlined this week)

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue are my comments.

YA Fantasy – Donald A. Robinson

Rivers of fire raced down his cheeks. The fiery < “Fire” and “fiery” feels repetitive to me. tears stung his face as they scorched deep ravines across his icy, bloodstained face. < I’m not sure if you’re being literal or figurative here. His breath grew rapid and shallow as he tried desperately to staunch the bleeding only he saw. Her body lay frozen beneath his hands. Auburn hair lay listlessly to one side; dull, lifeless, and matted with blood. Rosy red cheeks grew pale as her hazel eyes faded to gray. < There are a ton of colors in this sentence. It feels like overkill. Dozens of black figures rushed towards them. He knew they would be upon him soon, but the only thing on his mind was making her awaken. < “Making her awaken” reads as very awkward and unnatural. The air echoed with the sounds of battle as steel clashed upon steel and arcane blasts exploded upon the scarred landscape. Screams of pain and anguish crescendoed as the violence escalated. His desperation muffled the sound of it all as he struggled to save her. < Show his struggle. Make the reader feel it. Give details. Through the chaos, a soft whisper caught his attention.

“She’s… not breathing.”

Tears flowed endlessly from his eyes < Crying early in a book doesn’t have an emotional effect on the reader. We don’t know who this character is or why we should care. He turned to face the crawling figure. He tried to speak, but his voice was void of all sound. < His voice being void of sound seems like an odd description to me. His voice is the sound, so without it, he has no voice, not a voice with no sound. He looked back down at the cold, pale body of what was once his love. Then, he turned his palms face-up to see the congealed blood on his hands. He screamed out with what voice he could muster, and pounded her chest; a last ditched effort to make her breath. < This level of drama as an opening scene is near impossible to pull off. It’s just too easy to come across as melodramatic. 

“She’s gone! Let her go…”

Gasping, he shot straight up to a seated position.

A dream. That dream. More like a nightmare. Or was it some kind of warning?  < This was really jarring. I didn’t realize when he shot straight up he was waking up. You mentioned you watched my videos, so I’m sure you’re aware that opening with a dream is a major no-no.

All he knew was he had the same dream every night for the last week. His shirt clung to his body; the sweat cool against his back. Eric leaned forward, and placed a hand to his forehead and the other to the bed. Something was wrong. His hand coiled back as he touched dew-covered grass. < Did he sit up with his eyes clothes? How did he not already notice that he was outside? The breeze picked up. Eric’s entire body shivered from the icy caress. Squinting up to the fading star-studded sky, he recognized none of the constellations- a fact he attributed to his poor eyesight.

Where am I? And, where are my glasses?

Eric tried to stay calm despite the cold, strange night he had woken up to find. < Show that he’s trying to stay calm. Don’t just tell the reader. Pulling his arms into his shirt, Eric set off towards the hint of a sunrise. His eyes seldom left the ground as he trudged through the cold, wet grass. < You’ve used “cold” twice here and “icy” twice in one page. Be careful about repetition.

Dreary, morning sunlight filtered through the clouds ahead of him. He was not sure where he going, but he knew he was traveling east. He walked for what he believed was no more than an hour. Acrid wisps of smoke caught his attention. He searched for the source. Billows of smoke to his left clued him in as to where the stench originated. He hoped this would be his best chance to find someone, and maybe get warm. < He doesn’t seem nearly disturbed enough about waking up outside. Is this a normal occurrence?

 

My Overall Thoughts

You’re opening with two cliches: the death of a loved one and waking up from a dream. Both of these are big enough issues in themselves to warrant a trip back to the drawing board.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Nothing about this seems YA to me. Is the protagonist a teenager? If so, make that clear.
  • The narrative distance feels too far away. I can’t really tell based on this short sample, but I think you’re writing in omniscient. That’s not inherently bad, but it’s pretty rare in YA – mostly because it eliminates the teenage voice that makes YA work and because it’s generally fallen out of vogue with young readers. If you go with it, make sure you’re not keeping the narration so far from your character that he’s not easy to relate to. If you don’t intend to write in omniscient, you may want to check out Developing a Solid Third Person POV.
  • Don’t try to sound “writerly” or to word things in an unusual way. Clarity is what’s most important. Particularly in YA, descriptions should be pretty straightforward and casual.
  • Showing more helps the reader connect with the story as well as the character. Check out my post on Showing vs. Telling for more info.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

Opening with a dream is a fatal flaw. Other than that, this doesn’t have a YA feel to it, which will cause agents/editors/readers to put it down pretty quick.

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 the Author

http://donald-robinson.blogspot.com/

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently CLOSED to submissions)

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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.

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17 thoughts on “First Page Friday #28: YA Fantasy

  1. Donald A. Robinson (@D_A_Robinson) says:

    I will be honest. I have refreshed this page at least a dozen times this morning. Thank you for the honest feedback. This is my first novel (and my amateur mistakes show it, lol). I now understand more what I need to avoid in my own writing in the future.

    As far as the questions posted in the feedback (more for clarity, so that I can remind myself what to fix and where):

    -I watched the videos after writing this draft, but before submission. I am currently hashing out a better opening. In removing the veil, so to speak, the dream was meant to foreshadow the results of the choices he makes in the climax of the book. I have this planned to be a series, and the initial book (this one) has a tragic style ending. At the end of the book, and for the majority of the second, the master character (Eric) faces the choices of getting revenge or trying to staying true to his beliefs. I believe it might have been a mistake to make Eric distant from the dream. The reasoning behind it was because he does not know whom the girl is or why he keeps having the dream; however, Eric meets the girl in the next scene.

    -Eric is a teenager (16). After scrolling through my manuscript, I realize it takes me a chapter to get there. This is much further along in the story than I intended (and thought in my head).

    -The narrative distance (again this looks like a mistake in judgment) comes from Eric telling this story some years later. He is trying to disassociate with what has happened in his past. I will look into clearing this ambiguity, or just remove those plans and try a different angle. The point of view was omniscient with Eric’s thoughts leaking into the story.

    Thank you again for your feedback! I know that I need to sit down and really focus on how to make this fit into the YA audience. Either that, or realize that I seem to be writing more for general fantasy, and place my focus on that audience. Lots of stuff to work!

    Thanks again!

  2. Cassandra Charles says:

    I liked some of it. I thought it was too wordy. There was also, I felt, too much emphasis on his tears. I thought the first sentence was really good, but then you mentioned his tears a few more times after that which made it seem over the top.
    I like your idea of a writer’s boot camp. July sounds like a good date, too.

  3. Kate Sparkes says:

    I agree with the critique. I certainly didn’t hate this, but there’s room for improvement. There was a lot happening in the opening paragraphs, but I didn’t know who it was happening to, so it really had no impact on me as a reader (and I was a bit confused about where these people were, what kind of world this is, etc). And then it was a dream, so I had even less reason to care about any of it. If I knew the character a little better beforehand, I think this would come off as much more interesting and less confusing.

    And as always, much respect to the author for allowing us to see this first page and let us critique. Very courageous! I hope it helps. Opening pages are a special kind of challenge, but posts like these help all of us. 🙂

  4. Kylie Betzner says:

    A very good critique. The author is obviously very talented but the opening is very melodramatic to the point of eye rolling. It’s too much dumped on the reader too fast. But I can see this author taking the advice and making something awesome. A little stilted too, but that’s what edits are for.

    Ellen, I love your feedback. So clear and concise without being hurtful. Very professional.

  5. Hailey says:

    Ellen is right about this not seeming YA. I actually am sixteen, and I thought Eric was at least in his twenties, or even older. Also, some of his actions were a tad unrealistic. I don’t think a person would hit someone who’s dying, no matter how desperate they are. My impression of the scene was that it’s a battlefield, and Eric a soldier. If he is, then he’s strong, and pounding the girl could break something.

  6. laurahurlburt says:

    I feel like the first two sentences are redundant. I’d drop the first altogether. “As they scorched” “As he tried” Watch overuse of “AS” Repetition of “Lay.” I felt lost because the writer had me in so many places. Author has good vocabulary, but needs a little more focus. Would be interested to see the rewrite.

  7. Donald A. Robinson (@D_A_Robinson) says:

    Thank you for your feedback. Like the others, it is very apparent that I need to introduce Eric before progressing with the story and plot. Jumping right into the plot line has given a very different prospective than I imagined. Guess that is what happens when you are still learning. Eric is very far from the soldier-type of person, so perhaps if I had introduced him before the dream, a very different picture would have been painted. As for the pounding on the chest, that was taking a common “frantic, trying to revive someone” movie scene. Though in all fairness, you normally crack ribs when you perform CPR compressions on someone.

    Hopefully, I can paint a very different picture of Eric and clean up the dream sequence during the coming writing sessions. Thanks again!

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