First Page Friday #40: YA Fantasy

First Page Friday is back! It seems like it’s been forever. It was great to finally get back into my big stack of first page submissions again (and I think I picked a good one for today).

If you missed Novel Boot Camp – either entirely or just a few lectures – you can find links to all of the posts here. Please share them with your writing friends so Novel Boot Camp 2015 can be even bigger and better!

You may notice that I did not italicize the text of the first page submission this week. What do you all think? Is it clear enough as it is or do you want the italics back?

As a final note, I still have about 25 emails from the month of July that I haven’t answered yet. I apologize for the delay. You will hear from me eventually, I promise.

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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

Prologue

June, 1986

A flash of lightening welcomed her to the new world. Her screams became the thunder as her bones broke. Her blood became the rain as he tore her flesh to ribbons.

Then she fell still.

Below them, the derelict church roof stood out like an exposed ribcage. Shards of stained glass sparkled on the floor of the aisle more than a hundred foot below. The ruinous bell tower trembled beneath them as thunder rolled across the city. The hideous gargoyles looked on, witness to the terrible crime.

There was nothing holy about this place.

“Her punishment is just, Vesper.” Nathanael stood over her broken body as rain trickled down his bare muscular torso, cleansing him of her blood, revealing the wonder of him. The golden script that spoke messages of mercy, pity, peace. Divine words that moved and sparkled under his dark skin like sunlight on water. “There can be no atonement for what she has done.”

Wiping the rain from his eyes, Vesper stepped carefully, crouching beside Nathanael’s victim. She was lying precariously close to the edge, her left hand stretched over her head as though she had been reaching for help.

Reaching for you.

Her nails torn, her fingers bloody from where she had tried to claw herself free. Her golden hair was already darkening, the way fire dies leaving only char behind. He touched her arm, tracing the dying silver words that made her. Messages of joy, honour, glory. She would wake as something else.

You allowed that to happen.

Vesper shrugged off his leather jacket, draping it across her back. It wouldn’t be enough to keep her warm. Without her luminosity, her blood, bone and flesh would turn to ice. She’d live to feel the pain of it. Sunlight wouldn’t touch her now.

“She cried out for you,” said Nathanael, mildly intrigued.

You did nothing. “And I did nothing.” Vesper agreed.

“There was nothaning you could do,” Nathanael said, oblivious that Vesper had been speaking to his own demons.

Abruptly, Vesper stood, stepping up onto the crumbling wall of the tower, his toes over the edge his fingers laced on top of his head. He inhaled deeply, tasting the rain, ozone and blood.

London, especially at night, had always fascinated him and the ruined church tower offered spectacular views. The Thames, braceleted with fairy lights of bridges, looked like a glittering black serpent. Its bordering glass towers, like jewelled columns keeping the darkness at bay. A billion golden windows. A billion stars.

“Such an unholy place.” Nathanael was looking out over the city, his golden eyes uncomprehending of it’s beauty. “Full of deceit and anger–“

“And hope of better days.” Vesper said defensively, dropping his hands and pushing them into the pockets of his jeans. As he stepped down off the wall, Nathanael took a large step back, his hand dropping lightly on to the golden white hilt of his sword. Vesper straightened, raising an eyebrow, “What’s wrong, Nathanael? Are you worried that my wickedness might be catchy?”

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 is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

 

YA Fantasy – by KRoss

Prologue

June, 1986

A flash of lightening welcomed her to the new world. Her screams became the thunder as her bones broke. Her blood became the rain as he tore her flesh to ribbons.

Then she fell still.

Below them, the derelict church roof stood out like an exposed ribcage. Shards of stained glass sparkled on the floor of the aisle more than a hundred foot feet below. The ruinous bell tower trembled beneath them as thunder rolled across the city. The hideous gargoyles looked on, witness to the terrible crime.

There was nothing holy about this place.

“Her punishment is just, Vesper.” Nathanael stood over her broken body as rain trickled down his bare muscular torso, cleansing him of her blood, revealing the wonder of him. < I’m not a big fan of these highlighted sections because what’s happening in the scene is super gruesome and these highlighted bits feel as if I’m supposed to find this guy sexy. Especially this early on in a novel, I don’t want to be pulled in two directions. The golden script that spoke messages of mercy, pity, peace. Divine words that moved and sparkled under his dark skin like sunlight on water. “There can be no atonement for what she has done.”

Wiping the rain from his eyes, Vesper stepped carefully, crouching beside Nathanael’s victim. She was lying precariously close to the edge, her left hand stretched over her head as though she had been reaching for help.

Reaching for you.

Her nails torn, her fingers bloody from where she had tried to claw herself free. < Claw herself free of what? Is she tied up? Her golden hair was already darkening, the way fire dies leaving only char behind. He touched her arm, tracing the dying silver words that made her. Messages of joy, honour, glory. She would wake as something else.

You allowed that to happen.

Vesper shrugged off his leather jacket, draping it across her back. It wouldn’t be enough to keep her warm. Without her luminosity, her blood, bone and flesh would turn to ice. She’d live to feel the pain of it. Sunlight wouldn’t touch her now. < I’m not quite sure what you mean by this last sentence. She will die before the sun comes out?

“She cried out for you,” said Nathanael, mildly intrigued.

You did nothing. “And I did nothing.” Vesper agreed. < Who is he agreeing with?

“There was nothaning you could do,” Nathanael said, oblivious that Vesper had been speaking to his own demons. < This is clear already since Vesper repeats the italicized portion out loud.

Abruptly, Vesper stood, < I assumed they were already standing. stepping up onto the crumbling wall of the tower, his toes over the edge, his fingers laced on top of his head. He inhaled deeply, tasting the rain, ozone and blood.

London, especially at night, had always fascinated him and the ruined church tower offered spectacular views. The Thames, braceleted with fairy lights of bridges, looked like a glittering black serpent. Its bordering glass towers, like jewelled columns keeping the darkness at bay. A billion golden windows. A billion stars.

“Such an unholy place.” Nathanael was looking out over the city, his golden eyes uncomprehending of its beauty. “Full of deceit and anger–“

“And hope of better days,.” Vesper said defensively, dropping his hands and pushing them into the pockets of his jeans. As he stepped down off the wall, Nathanael took a large step back, his hand dropping lightly on to the golden white hilt of his sword. Vesper straightened, raising an eyebrow,. “What’s wrong, Nathanael? Are you worried that my wickedness might be catchy?”

My Overall Thoughts

I actually really like this, but I’m a bit confused about what makes it YA. Are any of these characters teenagers? Your voice is strong and competent, and your omniscient is done correctly, which is rare in amateur novels, so I get a vibe like you know what you’re doing.

That said, this seems more like adult urban fantasy rather than YA. Though if your query makes it clear that these are teenagers, you might be okay. It will be a matter of agent/editor taste. This definitely has a maturity to it that makes it seem more adult.

Key Places to Improve:

  • I’m assuming Vesper is the main character? Being introduced last made the opening just a tad disorienting. The reader will think the protagonist is the girl, then Nathanael, then finally we settle in a bit with Vesper. You may want Vesper to be described before Nathanael.
  • In the first read-through I thought the italicized bits were Vesper’s thoughts. It wasn’t until the second read-through that I came to believe the italics are some sort of psychic communication between Vesper and something else. You may want to find a way to indicate earlier on that the italics are not coming from Vesper.

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

I really enjoyed this opening. It was intriguing and it pulled me into the story. That said, I would never have pegged this as YA, and if the book continues in this tone, you might find a happier home for it in adult fiction.

If this were urban fantasy, I would bump the grade up to a 4.

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 OPEN to submissions)

***Please read this entire section before submitting***

Due to the amount of time it takes to respond to each email and due to the volume of submissions received (I booked 4 months in about 2 weeks), I am changing the submission and selection process for First Page Friday for my own sanity as well as to increase the quality of the series.

Submissions will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis, and I will no longer be scheduling posts in advance. I will review submissions once a week and choose a first page that I feel provides the best learning opportunity for readers. This means that as much as I would love to respond to every submission, you probably won’t hear from me if I don’t select your first page. It also means that I may select your first page months after you submit it (you are responsible for updating or pulling your submission as needed).

To Submit, send the following information to ellenbrock@keytopservices.com or if you have trouble with that email address (as has been the case for some of you lately), send it to editorbrock@gmail.com:

  • The name you want used on your post (real name, pseudonym, or anonymous)
  • The first 500 words (Don’t stop in the middle of a sentence, but don’t add sentences above and beyond 500 words)
  • Any links you want included with the post (website, Amazon, GoodReads, Twitter, etc.)

Title your submission email: SUBMISSION: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you don’t tell me your genre, I cannot choose you for First Page Friday so please include it!

If you need to update or revoke your submission, title your email: UPDATE: First Page Friday – [Genre of your book]

If you are also interested in my editing or mentoring services, please send a separate email from your First Page Friday submission so that I can address it promptly. I will only open as many submission as it takes for me to select a first page, so I probably won’t get to your email for several weeks.

I will not remove First Page Friday critiques after they are posted, so please do not submit if you are not okay with your work being publicly critiqued on my blog.

I ask that you please comment, vote, and share First Page Friday posts from other authors. It’s courteous to both give and receive help. Thank you!

***A few people have emailed asking if they can have a private first page critique. I am more than happy to do that, but due to being completely booked (I’m working 10-11 hour days!), I have to charge $25 for private, offline first page critiques. Thanks for understanding!***

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. When not editing, she enjoys reading, writing, and geocaching. Check out her freelance novel editing services and mentoring.

087

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

11 thoughts on “First Page Friday #40: YA Fantasy

  1. Julie Griffith says:

    This is beautifully written, even though it’s a scene full of blood and violence. I love the way you described the church and the river. I had to take it slow, and even re-read a couple of parts, in order to digest all the fantasy elements that are introduced. “The wonder of him” sounds more like a description an infatuated female would use. Maybe you could just say “cleansing him of her blood, revealing the golden script…” Or is he supposed to be god-like and everyone is in awe of him? The last word, “catchy” sounds off to me. It may be a British thing? To me, catchy means a catchy tune that you can’t stop singing. This is well written and you did a great job of grabbing my attention. I’m intrigued about the woman and what she will be when she wakes up.

    • K Ross says:

      Thank you Julie! I agree that “catchy” is a British slang term – or perhaps I imagine it is! In my revised version, I have changed this to “infectious”. I hope this makes it clearer. This scene was inspired by Alexander Pope’s poem – and Essay on Criticism:

      “No place so scared from such frops is barred
      Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard
      Na fly to alter there they’ll talk you dead
      For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

      I hope you didn’t have to re-read too much! I don’t mean to confuse my readers. 500 words is daunting – and funnily enough everything is clarified 525 words in! perhaps this is too late?
      Thank you very much for your feedback!

  2. Filip says:

    I really liked your style of writing, it was quite evocative and generally excellent. My first impression was that this was very promising.

    However, one thing I reacted to was this: it seems to me that many writers who aren’t confident in their abilites open their books right in the middle of events that they hope will really jar the reader, like a young girl being brutalised, or explosions and so on; the effect for me very often is: one, it’s a giveaway, I never see good writers open like that; two, like most people I don’t enjoy brutality and I am not far enough into the story to blame the antagonist for my negative feelings, so I blame the book; three, it gets confusing, you have the action/brutality, but the reader doesn’t know who, what, where or why and so is not in a good position to react the way you want and so the whole thing seems pointless or gratuitous.

    My opinion is that your writing is easily strong enough to do without the brutality. That could also give you some space to paint the scene more clearly.

    • K Ross says:

      Thank you Filip! Unfortunately all the explanations to who, why etc. arrive 525 words in. I wonder if this is too late?
      I wanted to get across that Vesper really didn’t want any part in the events, but he was powerless to stop them. Yes, what has happened to her is horrific, but as the scene progresses, readers will become aware of what she did, and why she was punished and (I hope) believe that perhaps she was deserving.
      Your absolutely correct that I’m not that confident, but early on I realised that everything that happens to my ‘real’ MC, started before she was born – as a result of what happened on that church tower – particularly, Vesper’s decision.
      I’m unsure whether I should divulge what the characters in this scene actually are. It all comes out a couple of chapters later, but again I wonder whether I should stop trying to be mysterious and just come out with it right at the start.
      Thank you very much for your feedback. I’d love to hear your ideas about how I can develop this scene further.

      • Filip says:

        I would at least give the reader a bit more about Vesper to latch on to very early, a small hint as to who he is; also I would like some emotional reaction from him to the brutality of the scene or an exlanation of why he reacts so little, either could give some interesting depth.

  3. Lara Willard says:

    Apparently I’m not the only one to have to read some parts several times before figuring out what was going on.
    I think if you begin it by grounding the reader, readers won’t be so confused. If I have to reread more than one sentence on the first page, I’m not going to read any more pages.
    “Grounding the reader”—give us an idea of who the main character is (whoever is at stake), where the character is, and what is important.
    If you don’t ground the reader, then it’s like opening up a play without turning the lights on. We hear characters talking to each other, but we don’t know who they are.
    If you want a reader to be interested, answer who, what, where, when, why/how. If you want the reader to be intrigued, answer most of those questions.

    • K Ross says:

      Thank you Lara! I’m sorry you had to reread some parts, I’d love to hear what was making them difficult. As I have mentioned to some of the other comments, everything is clarified 525 words in. Do you think this is too late? Would readers lose interest before then?
      I wanted the prologue to foreshadow events for my ‘real’ MC in the present day. Do you think that perhaps I’m being too vague?
      Thanks for your feedback!

      • Ellen_Brock says:

        Personally, I like some of the vagueness. I think the issue is that all of the ambiguous elements are compounding, which can make the reader unsure about what’s supposed to be vague and what just lacks clarity. Clarifying the things you do not intend to be mysterious would help those things you do intend to be mysterious to stand out in a more positive/intriguing way.

        I wasn’t confused about Vesper being male or female, the age of the girl, or where the words were glowing, but it’s so easy for different readers to find different elements vague/confusing, which is why feedback from multiple sources can be so helpful.

        In terms of where to clarify, I would look for areas that come up in critiques over and over again.

  4. K Ross says:

    Thank you Ellen for your critique! I am absolutely delighted by your feedback (if a little embarrassed by my spelling error)!
    From the 500 words I supplied – I can fully understand your concerns that perhaps this is a little adult. I had a look, and funnily enough – two sentences later, things – such as age, (they’re in and around sixteen) are explained. I wonder whether it’s necessary to explain this sooner?
    I also wonder whether I am too graphic for YA?
    I see Vesper as an unwilling participant within the prologue – and I hope I was able to get that across. It was his own thoughts that he was listening to, but perhaps I need to clarify this.
    Thanks again for your insightful feedback!

    • Ellen_Brock says:

      YA is about more than just the age of the characters. Do these teens deal with issues that are applicable to average teen life (finding yourself, developing morality, relationships, etc.)? Is their goal/obstacle easy for teens to relate to?

      The vibe of the book seems to be very mature overall, which isn’t inherently bad if the conflict appeals to teen readers.

      Whether it’s too graphic is really more a matter of taste. Some agents would probably think so, but not all of them. There are some very graphic YA series out there.

  5. Lara Willard says:

    Hi K, I’ll just reply in a new comment thread.
    “A flash of lightening welcomed her to the new world.” (Should be “lightning,” no “e”) gave me the impression that a girl was being born during a storm. Then “she” is being torn apart. I don’t know if she’s an infant, a child, a teen, or adult.
    “Below them, the derelict church roof stood out…” So they’re floating in the sky?
    “The hideous gargoyles look on, witness to the horrible crime.” One, don’t gargoyles look down or straight out, not up? How can they witness the crime? Two, “hideous” and “horrible” are redundant. Crimes are generally horrible. Gargoyles are generally hideous.
    “There was nothing holy about this place.” I like that line a lot. Sometimes narrator commentary can work really well. Here, it does.
    “’Her punishment is just, Vesper.’ Nathanael stood over her…” I thought Vesper was the “her” until I continued reading. I wasn’t sure about the gender of Vesper, and I didn’t know who “him” was in this paragraph. I didn’t understand where the golden script was. If it’s shining under someone’s skin, I want to know that before I know what it says. I don’t know if it’s shining under Vesper’s or Nathanael’s skin.
    I don’t know if the words in italics are a voice, an inner voice, or a memory of a voice. I’d like to know that right away. Maybe in a line before the italics. “His inner demons were speaking to him,” paragraph break, italics.
    I like the image of the hair darkening. That’s really interesting.

    Early on, I want to know how old the girl is (“welcomed her to the new world” suggests an infant being born), and the gender of the two beings looking at her. Before you say “Below them,” I want to know who/what/how many “them” are. I’m assuming that it’s just the girl and a murderer. Where/when does the third being come in? Since the first line is the most important, I wonder why the mysterious “new world” is never mentioned again.

    I think reworking the first line will clear a lot of confusion. Even if you just change that first line to:

    A flash of [lightning] welcomed [the woman] to the new world.
    or
    A flash of lightning welcomed her to the world [above]. (Or “world of death” or some other abstract noun that makes it clear that she’s not being born on earth as a baby, but still keeps it interesting.)

    Then after “Her screams . . . she fell still,” you could include that there are two beings standing over her, or that there’s another being (beside the killer) that’s looking away, or looking sick, or whatever.

    And then in the “Her punishment is just” paragraph, I want to know if Vesper is male, and I want to know where the script is before it’s described. Context before detail.

    Other than that, I second everything that Ellen said, except she figured out the inner demon bit when I hadn’t yet.

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