First Page Friday #46: Middle Grade

I’ve missed a few weeks of First Page Friday due to a family emergency. It’s not disappearing entirely so don’t worry! My paying clients just have to come first when I’m strapped for time.

Thanks for understanding!

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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

Middle Grade – by A. Griffin

Horrified, I watch my classmates squeeze their palms tightly to their ears. The booms are getting louder. I can’t hear them but the vibrations are off the charts.

“Where’s Miss Anne,” I sign to Ariella when I catch her eye.

“I don’t know. She went to see what was happening right after the lights went out!” she yells back to me, making sure I can see her lips. I can see them well enough to know her bottom lip is trembling.

As if on cue, Miss Anne rushes through the door with a flashlight. I can tell she’s trying hard to remain calm. She has that crease in her brow; the one she always gets when one of the students is getting on her nerves and she’s trying to be all teacherly. “Listen up everyone, remember…” Her instructions, are blown into oblivion by another booming vibration. This one, I feel in my gut.

Frantically, the three of us wriggle out from under our desks and crawl like soldiers over to our teacher, who is now down on her knees gripping her ears like she’s trying to keep her brain from spilling out. She stares at us. She doesn’t look at all  teacherly.

“Wha..What is it?” Ariella whispers, snapping Miss Anne out of shell-shock and into action mode.

“Ariella, you and Charlie stay together–no matter what.” She grabs our hands and places them together.

“Aaron, you team up with Mario. This will be just like one of our drills, but much more important. Do you understand?”

We understand all right.

Another boom showers the room with glass from broken windows just as Miss Anne hurls us out the door screaming, “Lets go!”

We’re running down the long hazy corridor. To where, I have no idea.  I know these halls as well I as I know the alphabet. After all, this is where I learned it, both by heart and by hand, but I’m having a hard time finding my bearings. Ariella tugs at me, then stops and turns. “Common, Charlie, stop dragging your feet. I don’t want to lose sight of the others, let’s get a move on!”

“Sorry,” I say to her, and step up the pace. Ariella is one of the rare people to whom I actually speak. We’ve been friends as long as I can remember. We met here at Achievers. She walked right up to me, on my first day of school and announced, “Charlie Malburger, you and I are going to be best friends, just you wait and see.” She obviously had never spoken to anyone who reads lips before because she made the proclamation with comically exaggerated lip movements; you know, like the dubbed lips you see on talking animals in a cheaply made movie.  Nevertheless, I appreciated her friendliness and just smiled and nodded. That first year of school was challenging, but Ariella was right; we’ve been best friends ever since.

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

Red is text I recommend removing.

Green is text I recommend adding.

Blue is my comments.

Orange is highlighting.

 

Middle Grade – by A. Griffin

Horrified, I watch my classmates squeeze their palms tightly to their ears. < “I watch” makes the sentence feel passive. It’s best if the subject of the sentence is the one doing the action: “My classmates squeeze their palms tightly to their ears.” The booms are getting louder. I can’t hear them but the vibrations are off the charts.

“Where’s Miss Anne,” I sign to Ariella when I catch her eye.

“I don’t know. She went to see what was happening right after the lights went out!” she yells back to me, making sure I can see her lips. I can see them well enough to know her bottom lip is trembling.

As if on cue, Miss Anne rushes through the door with a flashlight. I can tell she’s trying hard to remain calm. She has that crease in her brow; the one she always gets when one of the students is getting on her nerves and she’s trying to be all teacherly. “Listen up everyone, remember…” Her instructions, (cut the comma) are blown into oblivion by another booming vibration. This one, I feel in my gut.

Frantically, the three of us wriggle out from under our desks < I would mention prior to this moment that the kids are under their desks. It will help readers visualize the scene. and crawl like soldiers over to our teacher, < Breaking this into two sentences would probably make it read smoother. > who is now down on her knees gripping her ears like she’s trying to keep her brain from spilling out. She stares at us. She doesn’t look at all  teacherly.

“Wha..What is it?” Ariella whispers, snapping Miss Anne out of shell-shock and into action mode.

“Ariella, you and Charlie stay together–no matter what.” She grabs our hands and places them together.

“Aaron, you team up with Mario. This will be just like one of our drills, but much more important. Do you understand?” < This dialogue should be in the previous paragraph rather than a new one.

We understand all right.

Another boom showers the room with glass from broken windows just as Miss Anne hurls us out the door screaming, “Lets go!”

We’re running down the long hazy corridor. To where, I have no idea.  I know these halls as well I as I know the alphabet. After all, this is where I learned it, both by heart and by hand, but I’m having a hard time finding my bearings. < The voice here sounds too mature and too well thought out to be that of a middle grader. Ariella tugs at me, then stops and turns. “Common < This should be “come on.” , Charlie, stop dragging your feet. I don’t want to lose sight of the others, let’s get a move on!” < This seems more parental and mature than what I would expect from a child. I would also avoid three cliche phrases in a row: “stop dragging your feet,” “I don’t want to lose sight of the others,” and “let’s get a move on.”

“Sorry,” I say to her, and step up the pace. Ariella is one of the rare people to whom I actually speak. We’ve been friends as long as I can remember. We met here at Achievers. She walked right up to me, on my first day of school and announced, “Charlie Malburger, you and I are going to be best friends, just you wait and see.” < It’s not coming to mind now, but I’m fairly certain there is a very popular middle grade novel that has a  similar line about how the two best friends met, so it’s not striking me as unique here. She obviously had never spoken to anyone who reads lips before because she made the proclamation with comically exaggerated < This seems too mature for MG.  lip movements; you know, like the dubbed lips < Lips aren’t dubbed. It’s the audio that’s dubbed. you see on talking animals in a cheaply made < This doesn’t sound MG to me.  movie.  Nevertheless, I appreciated her friendliness < This doesn’t sound MG.  and just smiled and nodded. That first year of school was challenging, but Ariella was right; we’ve been best friends ever since.

My Overall Thoughts

I really liked this. You start with a conflict, which is awesome. You immediately introduce what’s unique/interesting about your character, which is also awesome! And I feel drawn into the mystery of what’s going on without feeling like you are being coy by hiding it.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The voice was strong in the beginning, but seemed to get more mature as it went on. I no longer felt immersed in the character when his manner of speaking began to seem too adult/mature.
  • Mention where the children are located (under their desks) within the opening sentences so that the reader feels more oriented.
  • If they are following a drill, why does Charlie have no idea where they’re going?

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

There really aren’t a lot of problems with this opening, but there’s a lot to like with the action and interesting main character. Nice job!

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.

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2 thoughts on “First Page Friday #46: Middle Grade

  1. Cat Lumb says:

    I really liked this and agree with the comments made by Ellen about the more mature aspects of the voice later on. There is some great action and it really dragged me straight into the story and I would really love more.
    The only thing I could add is a question about Charlie – who, it seems from the text, is deaf. The descriptions of the explosions is great, especially the way he determines their strength by the vibrations in his gut. But, I’m not sure how he understands when Ariella whispers…this made me question the assumption I’d made and pulled me out of the action a little. Could it be described differently?
    Good luck with it, sounds like it’ll be a great read.

  2. Lori Parker says:

    I liked this opening. Action, danger, an authority figure who is humanized when she lapses into momentary shock but quickly switches back to hero mode. I agree with Ellen about the mature voice and I think shorter sentences may help with that a bit. Shorter sentences may also help with the feeling of breathlessness, which is always present in a “fight or flight” situation. That part where three clichés are used in one sentence caught my eye too. My suggestion for that is to say the cliché out loud, consider what it means, then look for ways to make it unique for the character, i.e. “stop dragging your feet” could turn into “stop pulling. Let’s go!.” Not the best example, I’m sure, but I think you get the idea. Overall, this opening promises and exciting read and I wish you every success. The children of Earth and I will be looking for it on our bookshelves . . . maybe by next Christmas? Hey, one can hope. \
    – PEACE –

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