First Page Friday #20: YA

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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

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First Page Friday is a blog series where I provide a free edit and critique of the first 500 words of an unpublished novel.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

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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!

First Page Friday #19: Historical Fiction

Check out the first page below, then record your vote in the poll before reading my critique in the second half of the post. Feel free to leave comments for the author. Thanks!

Historical Fiction First 500 – Jim Padian

He could not stay away. Tonight, as on prior visits, Dr. Warren crossed Griffin’s Wharf to where dockworkers had moored Dartmouth, the first tea ship to arrive in Boston. Twice each day, in the morning and twelve hours later in the evening, she slid imperceptibly fourteen feet down the wharf side on the ebbing tide and rose six hours later on the flood. He briefly scanned the ship’s deck before he nodded to the twenty or so armed volunteer guards posted about the ship and the wharf to deter unloading of the tea. Through the darkness, he glimpsed Eleanor, the second tea ship, swinging at anchor, some thirty yards off the wharf. Although not in view, he knew Beaver, the third tea ship, lay at anchor in the outer harbor. She could not come up to Griffin’s until her smallpox quarantine ended on the fifteenth. Earlier today, a rider brought him word concerning William, the overdue fourth tea ship. She was aground on Cape Cod near Provincetown. Warren sent back a message, ‘William’s tea must not come to Boston.’

Satisfied all was well, Warren withdrew into the dark shadow cast by the warehouse overhang at the end of the wharf. He recalled the night in November his involvement with the tea began with a summons from Samuel Adams, his political mentor.

Sam was his usual blunt self. “A dilemma faces each tea ship captain once they reach Boston. On one hand, they’ll face incessant demands by the citizens to return the tea to London immediately. On the other, Governor Hutchinson will apply provincial law to prevent the ships from leaving until someone pays the duty. The impasse continues until the day after the twentieth day from Dartmouth’s arrival at which time the customs officials seize the cargo, offload it to their customs warehouse, and wait for the consignees, two of which are the governor’s sons, to pay the duty and take possession of the tea.

“To prevent the landing, we must publically support the citizens demands while we apply consistent pressure on the governor and the captains. Our true objective, however, remains the same: destroy the tea on or before the twentieth day. Joseph, fashion me a plan for the tea’s destruction without harm to the ships or their crews. Do it quickly. Time flies before us.”

Warren threw himself into what at first seemed to be an overwhelming task. He had never before conceived of anything so complex. Friendly mariners and dockworkers taught him techniques for moving cargo about a ship. At a tea merchant, he viewed the actual weights and dimensions of the expected full, half, and quarter lead-lined tea chests. Full chests were brutes with weights of almost five hundred pounds. Hoisting them out of the cargo holds would require strength and time.

After weeks, he sketched out a plan. Men would drag heavy chests onto cargo nets secured to block-and-tackles. Others on deck would hoist the chests and swing them over to the rail.

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.

Historical Fiction First 500 – Jim Padian

He could not stay away. Tonight, as on prior visits, Dr. Warren crossed Griffin’s Wharf to where dockworkers had moored Dartmouth, the first tea ship to arrive in Boston. Twice each day, in the morning and twelve hours later in the evening, she slid imperceptibly fourteen feet down the wharf side on the ebbing tide and rose six hours later on the flood. He briefly scanned the ship’s deck before he nodded to the twenty or so armed volunteer guards posted about the ship and the wharf to deter unloading of the tea. Through the darkness, he glimpsed Eleanor, the second tea ship, swinging at anchor, some thirty yards off the wharf. < The bits marked in orange are the only sections of the entire opening that are happening in the moment.  Focusing on the past, what the character already knows, has already done, etc. does not draw readers into the story, which is primarily where this opening is suffering. Although not in view, he knew Beaver, the third tea ship, lay at anchor in the outer harbor. She could not come up to Griffin’s until her smallpox quarantine ended on the fifteenth. Earlier today, a rider brought him word concerning William, the overdue fourth tea ship. She was aground on Cape Cod near Provincetown. Warren sent back a message, ‘William’s tea must not come to Boston.’

Satisfied all was well, Warren withdrew into the dark shadow cast by the warehouse overhang at the end of the wharf. He recalled < You never want to have a character remembering (flashing back) to something within the first few pages. It gives the impression you’re not starting the book at the right point. You’re also asking the reader to hold tight while you pause the book’s action for an info dump before you’ve even established any action or any reason for the reader to care. the night in November his involvement with the tea began with a summons from Samuel Adams, his political mentor.

Sam was his usual blunt self. “A dilemma faces each tea ship captain once they reach Boston. On one hand, they’ll face incessant demands by the citizens to return the tea to London immediately. On the other, Governor Hutchinson will apply provincial law to prevent the ships from leaving until someone pays the duty. The impasse continues until the day after the twentieth day from Dartmouth’s arrival at which time the customs officials seize the cargo, offload it to their customs warehouse, and wait for the consignees, two of which are the governor’s sons, to pay the duty and take possession of the tea.

“To prevent the landing, we must publically support the citizens demands while we apply consistent pressure on the governor and the captains. Our true objective, however, remains the same: destroy the tea on or before the twentieth day. Joseph, fashion me a plan for the tea’s destruction without harm to the ships or their crews. Do it quickly. Time flies before us.” < This dialogue feels like an info dump – a way to sneak in a bunch of information without doing the heavy lifting of showing instead of telling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give the reader anything interesting to latch onto.

Warren threw himself into what at first seemed to be an overwhelming task. He had never before conceived of anything so complex. Friendly mariners and dockworkers taught him techniques for moving cargo about a ship. At a tea merchant, he viewed the actual weights and dimensions of the expected full, half, and quarter lead-lined tea chests. Full chests were brutes with weights of almost five hundred pounds. Hoisting them out of the cargo holds would require strength and time.

After weeks, he sketched out a plan. Men would drag heavy chests onto cargo nets secured to block-and-tackles. Others on deck would hoist the chests and swing them over to the rail. < You’re still not focusing on the moment. Paint a picture of what’s happening right now and let your character live the moment. Focus on what he’s seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. Make it vivid and interesting.

My Overall Thoughts

Unfortunately, with so much emphasis on conveying information (telling) rather than keeping the reader engaged in the scene (showing), I didn’t feel like I had anything to latch onto or anything to be interested in. Always remember that you have to give the reader a reason to care about your character, which requires that we know what the character wants and a little bit about who he is. Establish that first before you expect readers to hang tight for into dumps.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Who is Warren? Why should I care about him? What does he want? What is his goal? What’s standing in the way of his goal? Answer these questions and you will pull readers into the story a lot faster.
  • Don’t focus on the past and what’s already happened or what Warren usually does. Focus on the “now.” Let Warren live in this moment as if it’s the only thing that exists. Only include brief information about the past at times when it’s impossible to show what you need to convey.
  • If possible, put a conflict at the forefront of the opening pages so that readers have something to hope for or root for. Alternatively, you could use a mystery to draw the reader in – they will keep reading to find out the answer to an intriguing question (Why is he doing that? What is he afraid of? Who’s after him? etc.). Unfortunately, as currently written, I don’t feel that readers have any reason to want to continue reading.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1.5

Historical fiction is tricky because it focuses on historical events or time periods (which can take a lot of time and effort to research and get right), but despite that, it still must rely on characters, their motivations, and their conflicts to draw readers into the story. Assume readers will not be drawn in by the historical events, which are simply a backdrop for your story. Find something interesting, exciting, intriguing, or dangerous to open the novel with so that you hook the reader.

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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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!

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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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!

First Page Friday #17: Crime Mystery

Just a reminder everyone: My wedding reception is tonight and I am leaving on my honeymoon! So if you email me or leave a comment that needs approved (anyone who hasn’t commented before), you won’t hear back from me until the first week of February.  Thanks!

Crime Mystery First 500 – Renee Thomas

Tempest McAllister sat in her bedroom starring into space. She was covered in blood and her husband lay dead beside her bed with a knife in his heart. She had stabbed him eighteen times. After the third or fourth stab, he had been dead, but she had kept stabbing him until she was too tired to lift the knife anymore. She had loved the feeling of Jack’s blood, so hot, gushing over her hands. She had smeared it all over herself.Tempest was sitting in the same place when the maid arrived the next morning. Rosalita walked into the bedroom and started screaming. She could see that Jack was dead, and it looked as if Tempest was, too. She went to the phone and quickly called the police. Rosalita was standing on the front porch when they arrived. She led them upstairs to the bedroom where they found Tempest staring down at her bloody hands.“Oh my God! She is alive! I thought she was dead. The way she was staring out into space I…” Rosalita cried.

“Rosalita, what is going on? What happened? Why am I covered in blood?” Tempest asked.

Tempest turned and saw Jack’s body. She began to scream. She crouched down beside him. “Jack? Jack wake up! Come on baby. Wake up please! Please Jack, wake up!” She began shaking him.

“Mrs. McAllister, would you please come with us? We would like to as you a few questions,” the officer stated.

“What? Why? I can’t…I can’t leave him alone.”

“Mrs. McAllister, please.” He held out his hand and gestured for her to follow him. Tempest stood and reluctantly walked out of the bedroom glancing back at Jack as she left.

Tempest was released five hours later. She was taken to her parents’ house because her own home was overrun with police. She had been asked all types of questions about her relationship with her husband. Had they had any arguments recently? Was she upset with him for any reason? Was either of them having an affair? She had answered all of their questions, and they finally released her with a cold, “Don’t leave town.”

Tempest knew that they thought she had killed her husband. When they arrived at her parents’ home, the police talked to them in private, and then they left. Tempest went up to her bedroom to lie down. She wrapped her arms around her knees and began to rock. Her parents came in and stood staring at her.

“I really do not want to talk about this right now,” Tempest said before they had a chance to speak.

 “But Tempest, they said you killed Jack,” her mother said exasperatedly.

“I did not kill my husband! I would not do that. I love Jack.”

Mrs. Lucas turned away. “Tempest you were the only one there and you were covered in his blood. How do you explain that?” her father asked.

“I don’t know, daddy. Do either of you think I killed Jack?”

Her mother didn’t reply, and her dad hesitated before saying, “Of course we don’t think you killed Jack. We just want all of this to be over.”

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.

Crime Mystery First 500 – Renee Thomas

Tempest McAllister sat in her bedroom starring into space. She was covered in blood and her husband lay dead beside her bed with a knife in his heart. She had stabbed him eighteen times. After the third or fourth stab, he had been dead, but she had kept stabbing him until she was too tired to lift the knife anymore. She had loved the feeling of Jack’s blood, so hot, gushing over her hands. She had smeared it all over herself. < When you could show this as an actual scene – intense, evocative, frightening even – it doesn’t make sense to write it as a summary of what happened in the past. Put the reader in the moment and let us watch this scene unfold and experience her feelings as she experiences it. As is, this isn’t reeling me in. 

Tempest was sitting in the same place when the maid arrived the next morning. Rosalita walked into the bedroom and started screaming. She could see that Jack was dead, < Try to describe this more evocatively. How does she know he’s dead? What does he look like? Make us feel the terror that Rosalita is feeling. Don’t just tell us that she could see that he was dead. Show us why and how. and it looked as if Tempest was, too. She went to the phone and quickly called the police. Rosalita was standing on the front porch when they arrived. She led them upstairs to the bedroom where they found Tempest staring down at her bloody hands.

“Oh my God! She is alive! I thought she was dead. The way she was staring out into space I…” Rosalita cried. < This line of dialogue doesn’t add anything. It points out what the reader already knows (that Tempest is alive and that Rosalita thought she was dead.).

“Rosalita, what is going on? What happened? Why am I covered in blood?” Tempest asked. < Give Tempest more presence – what is she physically doing? What is her facial expression?

Tempest turned and saw Jack’s body. She began to scream. She crouched down beside him. “Jack? Jack wake up! < The name and line of dialogue reminds me of Titanic too much. Come on baby. Wake up please! Please Jack, wake up!” She began shaking him.

“Mrs. McAllister, would you please come with us? We would like to ask you a few questions,” the officer stated.

“What? Why? I can’t…I can’t leave him alone.”

“Mrs. McAllister, please.” He held out his hand and gestured for her to follow him. Tempest stood and reluctantly walked out of the bedroom glancing back at Jack as she left.

Tempest was released five hours later. She was taken to her parents’ house because her own home was overrun with police. She had been asked all types of questions about her relationship with her husband. Had they had any arguments recently? Was she upset with him for any reason? Was either of them having an affair? She had answered all of their questions, and they finally released her with a cold, “Don’t leave town.” < If you are summarizing what’s happening, then it leads me to believe you’re not starting this story at the right point. Put the reader in a scene and let it unfold to lure them into the story, don’t summarize.

Tempest knew that they thought she had killed her husband. When they arrived at her parents’ home, the police talked to them in private, and then they left. Tempest went up to her bedroom to lie down. She wrapped her arms around her knees and began to rock. Her parents came in and stood staring at her.

“I really do not want to talk about this right now,” Tempest said before they had a chance to speak. < I would expect her to be more hysterical than this.

“But Tempest, they said you killed Jack,” her mother said exasperatedly. < I think she would be way more than just “exasperated.”

“I did not kill my husband! I would not do that. I love Jack.” < This feels like canned dialogue. It doesn’t read as unique or natural.

Mrs. Lucas turned away. “Tempest you were the only one there and you were covered in his blood. How do you explain that?” her father asked. < That doesn’t seem like a natural response. Wouldn’t he first ask what had happened – if she saw the killer, walked in on Jack already dead, etc.?

“I don’t know, daddy. Do either of you think I killed Jack?”

Her mother didn’t reply, and her dad hesitated before saying, “Of course we don’t think you killed Jack. We just want all of this to be over.”

My Overall Thoughts

There’s nothing that makes this opening stand out from the crowd in terms of plot (so far) or writing style. Figure out what it is that makes your story unique and put at least a hint of that in the opening page. Remember that this is your first (and possibly only) impression with agents, editors, and readers.

Key Places to Improve:

  • Try to show more and tell less. Most of this opening page just summarizes what happened or is happening. You aren’t lingering long enough to create an evocative scene for the reader. Focus on details that help paint a larger picture.
  • Use more descriptions of everything. Who is Tempest? Is she middle aged? A twenty-something? Does she have any interesting personality traits you could bring across right away? What does the bedroom look like? What does her parents’ house look like? You don’t need a ton of descriptions, just a few things here and there will go a long way towards making the story come alive.
  • Your dialogue comes across as a bit cliche and unnatural. This is common in beginners. Try to step into each of your characters’ shoes and imagine how they are feeling and what they might say. Really think about it to come up with authentic sounding dialogue.
  • Right now you are writing this story in a very distant omniscient. I don’t think that’s doing you any favors because it’s keeping the reader far away from Tempest’s point of view. An alternative that would likely improve the story would be to tell this in first person or third limited (for more on using third limited, read Developing a Solid Third Person Point of View). Either of those perspectives would allow you to stay tight on what Tempest is feeling – her confusion, fear, heartbreak, etc. instead of constantly pulling back away from her in omniscient. (Note that omniscient is not always distancing, but it takes most writers years to develop a “closer” omniscient point of view.)

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

As hard as it is to hear that your writing isn’t there yet, I want to be as honest with you as I am with my clients. You really need to spend more time learning the basics of creative writing, especially how to show instead of tell. Once you learn that, you will see that your writing quickly improves. Don’t give up! It takes a lot of time and education to become a great writer. You may want to check out my Ultimate Guide to Writing & Editing a Novel, which is where I organize all my blog posts and videos for easy reference. Practice, practice, practice and you will get there. 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 second 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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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!

First Page Friday #16: Science Fiction

This week we have our first teen writer on First Page Friday! Aimee is sixteen, so it’s super brave that she’s sharing her work with us today! (:

In case you missed it, I posted a new video this week called How to Spot a Bad Scene or Chapter. Also, please note that I will be gone for the next two Fridays because I will be on my honeymoon! Woohoo! I am scheduling First Page Friday for both of those weeks so hopefully they will go up without a hitch, but if they don’t, I will get them up as soon as I get back.

Just a reminder to all the readers, it’s great when you can leave comments for the author letting her know what you think of the opening! If you catch anything I missed or agree or disagree with my edits, I know the author would appreciate your feedback! Just please be polite to both me and the author. Also, please share this post on Twitter, Facebook, etc. so the author’s feedback can be diverse and plentiful. Thanks!

YA First 500 – Aimee

Bright lights glared in my eyes, and there was a constant soft hum of the whirring machines around me. I tried to shift out of my uncomfortable position, but the binds all over my body were too tight. How long had I been strapped to the cold table? An hour? Ten hours? A day? Every time I was in the Operation Room, it was as if I was in a time warp, unable to determine how much or how little time had passed. I was trapped in a horrible nightmare, unable to escape the never-ending torment I was faced with each day.Oh, how I wished it was just a nightmare.For a long time, the lights were the only thing I knew, and the machines were the only thing to pierce the cold silence. I strained to tilt my head up to survey my surroundings. Out of the corner of my eye, a tiny Asian woman with thin-framed glasses was standing at a table full of macabre instruments. I knew them by heart, and had experience with many of them. My least favorite was a mix of a scimitar and a saw. It had a curved, serrated blade with a long, blood-stained handle.

Dr. Euterpe’s back was to me and the soft ping of glass against fingernail met my ears. She turned and click-clacked towards me with her pointy heels, placing a gloved hand on my shoulder. “Eliana, you’ll be okay,” she said in a pseudo sweet tone. “This is your last injection for the day. You can go back to your room when I’m finished.”

Prison cell was more like it.

The woman pierced my skin with the syringe gun in her hand and I winced. In my peripheral vision the green liquid seeped into my arm, making tingles spread throughout my whole body. Once the syringe was emptied, she pulled it out of my skin and put it back where it belonged. Snapping off her gloves, she switched off the light hanging over my head. I blinked as bright circles entered my vision.

“Well, we’re all finished here for today, Eliana!” the woman bubbled. I groaned at her enthusiasm and she glared at me. “I’ll have Bruce and Octavious bring you back to your room.”

The woman pressed a red button on the wall and sauntered to the sink to cleanse her hands, humming as she did so. A few minutes later, two armed, muscular men strode into the room, hands on their guns. One of the men, Bruce, had a huge scar running down his face, making him much more intimidating than Octavious.

“You called, Dr. Euterpe?” Octavious asked in a gruff voice.

“Would you please escort Eliana back to her room?” the woman asked the men without turning away from the sink. They grunted in response and came to the table I was lying on.

“What nice weather we’re having, huh?” I asked. “Well I wouldn’t know, of course. I’m always locked away in my musty little cell.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle at them. They never struck me as smart people. And I was pretty sure they weren’t. They were mindless idiots, always lumbering around like robots and taking orders from people. Only an imbecile would want to work for Paragon Corporations.

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 – Aimee

Bright lights glared in my eyes, and there was a constant soft hum of from the whirring machines around me. I tried to shift out of my uncomfortable position, < What about the position is uncomfortable? More details here would be nice. but the binds all over my body were too tight. How long had I been strapped to the cold table? An hour? Ten hours? A day? Every time I was in the Operation Room, it was as if I was in a time warp, unable to determine how much or how little time had passed < This is implied by “time warp” and her questioning of how long she’d been there.. I was trapped in a horrible nightmare, < I’d prefer if you could show what is horrible about it. unable to escape the never-ending torment I was faced with each day. < If she knows she is there each day, then it seems like she has a better grasp on how long she’s there than the previous sentences imply.

Oh, how I wished it was just a nightmare.

For a long time, the lights were the only thing I knew, and the machines were the only thing to pierce the cold silence. I strained to tilt my head up to survey my surroundings. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see < Add this or cut “out of the corner of my eye.” Otherwise the wording seems strange. a tiny Asian woman with thin-framed glasses was standing at a table full of macabre <“Macabre” doesn’t seem like the right word to me (it means pertaining to death), but others might disagree. instruments. I knew them by heart, and had experience with many of them. < I don’t think you need this because it’s telling what is already apparent based on the next two sentences. My least favorite was a mix of a scimitar and a saw. It had a curved, serrated blade with a long, blood-stained handle.

Dr. Euterpe’s < Is this the Asian woman or someone else? If she knows the Asian woman’s name, it would probably be clearer for her to use it straight away. back was to me and the soft ping of glass against fingernail met my ears. < What makes this sound? She turned and click-clacked towards me with her pointy heels, placing a gloved hand on my shoulder. “Eliana, you’ll be okay,”  < I think Eliana needs to indicate in some way that she’s not okay. Otherwise, it’s not clear what Dr. Euterpe is responding to. she said in a pseudo sweet tone. “This is your last injection for the day. You can go back to your room when I’m finished.”

Prison cell was more like it.

The woman pierced my skin with the syringe gun in her hand and I winced. In my peripheral vision the green liquid seeped into my arm, making tingles spread throughout my whole body. Once the syringe was emptied, she pulled it out of my skin and put it back where it belonged. Snapping off her gloves, she switched off the light hanging over my head. I blinked as bright circles entered my vision. < “Entered” seems a tad too formal. Perhaps something like “flashed across my vision” would work better? 

“Well, we’re all finished here for today, Eliana!” the woman bubbled. < I didn’t realize the doctor was supposed to be enthusiastic. I’m not exactly sure if she’s faking and is actually malicious or if Eliana just finds her genuine enthusiasm frustrating given the circumstances. I groaned at her enthusiasm and she glared at me. “I’ll have Bruce and Octavious bring you back to your room.”

The woman pressed a red button on the wall and sauntered to the sink to cleanse < “Cleanse” seems a tad too formal. Perhaps “clean” or “wash”? her hands, humming as she did so. A few minutes later, two armed, muscular men strode into the room, hands on their guns. One of the men, Bruce, had a huge scar running down his face, making him much more intimidating than Octavious.

“You called, Dr. Euterpe?” Octavious asked in a gruff voice.

“Would you please escort Eliana back to her room?” the woman asked the men without turning away from the sink. They grunted in response and came to the table I was lying on.

“What nice weather we’re having, huh?” I asked. “Well I wouldn’t know, of course. I’m always locked away in my musty little cell.” < I’m not sure if she’s saying this as a joke or if she’s serious.

I couldn’t help but chuckle at them. They never struck me as smart people. And I was pretty sure they weren’t. They were mindless idiots, always lumbering around like robots and taking orders from people. Only an imbecile would want to work for Paragon Corporations.

My Overall Thoughts

Your voice is good (you said this is science fiction/fantasy, but is it also YA?), and you don’t have any of the major beginner’s issues. So congrats! You started at an interesting place that doesn’t feel contrived or overdone, and you dropped the reader right into the story rather than making them wait to get to the interesting parts. The main thing you could work on is showing more (see below).

Key Places to Improve:

  • Try to show more and tell less. Rather than saying that she is in an uncomfortable position, show this to your reader. For example: “My knees were pressed so hard against the table that the joints ached.” Do you see how that shows the reader that she’s uncomfortable? Showing just means that you let the reader infer what you’re trying to convey (that she’s uncomfortable) rather than outright telling them. This makes for a much more evocative piece of writing.
  • I would like more vivid descriptions of the girl’s surroundings. The blade is described as “blood stained,” which would not be allowed in a clinical environment (they would be steralized and cleaned immediately after use), but the Asian woman was described as a doctor (not a torturer), so I wasn’t sure how to imagine the surroundings. Was it like a hospital or more like a dungeon? It only takes a few well-written sentences to create a much stronger impression of where they are.
  • The intentions behind the lines of dialogue were a bit unclear to me, so I would also work on clarifying the motivations. Was the doctor pretending to be nice to comfort Eliana or to condescend her? Did Eliana tell the guards she never gets out to make them feel bad or was she just trying to make conversation? Clarifying motivations will help give the reader a stronger impression of what’s going on.

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

Most of what this opening needs is more details and a bit of clarification. I feel like your writing is competent, easy to read, and doesn’t have an amateur sound to it, which is awesome! Since you’re only sixteen, I do want to mention the piece of the puzzle that First Page Friday doesn’t (and can’t) address: plotting. There’s no indication that you can’t plot (it’s impossible to assess from the first page), but it’s an element of writing that a lot of people forget to study and it can bite them in the butt later. So make sure you work on not just the sound of your writing, but also its content.

If you have any questions or need any clarification, don’t hesitate to ask. Best of luck to you!

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 first 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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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!

First Page Friday #15: YA Fantasy

Wow, this is the fourth YA submission in a row!  Not that I’m complaining, I love YA! (:

Just a reminder to all the readers, it’s great when you can leave comments for the author letting her know what you think of the opening! If you catch anything I missed or agree or disagree with my edits, I know the author would appreciate your feedback! Also, please share this post on Twitter, Facebook, etc. so the author’s feedback can be diverse and plentiful. Thanks!

And once again, no matter how many spaces I add between paragraphs, they scrunch together when I publish. Sorry about that!

YA First 500 – Nova Mitchell

The bells of the clock in the high tower of the Order rang, signaling the start of the eighth-hour. The sound traveled down to the basement of the Order and into the stables. I had fallen asleep there in the middle of my morning chores, but the sound jolted me awake from where I was resting against the horses feed sacks that I had put up earlier. Oh no, I thought, Scotia, you’re going to be late. Again. I scrambled to my feet and hastily filled the horses troughs before dashing out the stables. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but when I had, I started to dream. My dream always felt so real and I had a hard time waking from this one. But, there was no time left for dreams. If I didn’t make it to class before the instructor realized I wasn’t there . . . I shuddered to think of what would happen.
I tried not to trip over my own feet as I ran as fast as I could up the staircases and down the hallways, lifting my long and heavy blue skirt up to my knees to allow my legs extra freedom. Aside from the hard slap of my slippers against the stone flooring the only thing I heard were the ending chimes of the hour. I’m not going to make it. I prayed that no one would come out from around a corner and see me running. If a Ma’Tradom, or even a Proxi, caught me I’d be caned for sure. As a Novilite, it was against the rules to run inside the Order unless your life were in immediate danger. This qualified as such a circumstance to me. 
I was out of breath when I reached my classroom on the third floor and spared a few moments to lean against the neighboring wall and breathe. I was already late. The chimes had stopped and I could hear Ma’Tradom Aquali lecturing.
I hated this class. Geokenisis. Out of all the Kenisis offered this was my weakest. Using my skirt to wipe the sweat off my hands I opened the door, but only enough for me to slip inside. Every student had a pot of dirt in front of them on their desk and had their fingers buried up to the knuckles in the soil. The students sat on high stools. Between that and the thin legs of the desk, there was nothing for me to hide behind. The rooms bright light exposed everything and my hope to go unnoticed lessened with every crouching step I took towards an empty desk in the back. 
“Late for class again, Scotia,” Ma’Tradom Aquail said in her cool and condescending voice. 
I froze in place and everyone suddenly turned to look in my direction. Only a few more steps and I would have been at the desk and could have tried to pretend that I had been there the entire time. I turned towards the Ma’Tradom, kneeled and bowed my head to the floor in the way we were taught.

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 – Nova Mitchell

The bells of the clock in the high tower of the Order rang < As a general rule, avoid using more than two prepositions in a phrase. Three of them together like this reads very awkwardly. , signaling the start of the eighth-hour. The sound traveled down to the basement of the Order and into the stables. < These first two lines read as omniscient, then suddenly in the next line it’s first person, which is a bit jarring and requires the reader to restructure how they’re imagining the story. I suggest opening with lines in your character’s voice, from her perspective. As is, she is narrating the sound before it wakes her up, which doesn’t make sense. I had fallen asleep there in the middle of my morning chores, but the sound jolted me awake from where I was resting against the horses feed sacks that I had put up earlier. Oh no, I thought, Scotia, you’re going to be late. < I’m never a fan of people thinking their own name in thoughts. It has always seemed incredibly unnatural to me. That said, I am not much of a fan of character thoughts in first person as they never seem necessary since it’s already in the character’s voice and from their perspective. Again. I scrambled to my feet and hastily filled the horses troughs before dashing out the stables. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but when I had, I started to dream. < Since dreams as openers are one of the biggest writing cliches, I would not even mention a dream in the first chapter. My dreams always felt so real and I had a hard time waking from this one. But, there was no time left for dreams. If I didn’t make it to class before the instructor realized I wasn’t there . . . I shuddered to think of what would happen. <If you want to create a sense of real stakes here, go ahead and tell the reader what will happen.
This is not to say that you can’t do it, but I just want to point out that opening with a girl being late for class is one of the most common opening scenes in amateur YA novels. In fact, two of the last four YA novels I’ve edited opened with a scene very similar to this one.
I tried not to trip over my own feet as I ran as fast as I could up the staircases and down the hallways, lifting my long and heavy blue skirt up to my knees to allow my legs extra freedom. Aside from the hard slap of my slippers against the stone flooring, the only thing I heard were the ending chimes of the hour. I’m not going to make it. I prayed that no one would come out from around a corner and see me running. If a Ma’Tradom, or even a Proxi, caught me I’d be caned for sure. As a Novilite, it was against the rules to run inside the Order unless your life were in immediate danger. This qualified as such a circumstance to me. 
I was out of breath when I reached my classroom on the third floor and spared a few moments to lean against the neighboring wall and breathe. < It always feels odd to the reader when a character is urgently doing something, only to stop and take a break. If she’s so scared of getting caned, I would think she would want to stumble into the classroom out of breath just to get there a bit earlier. I was already late. The chimes had stopped and I could hear Ma’Tradom Aquali lecturing.
I hated this class. Geokenisis. Out of all the Kenisis offered this was my weakest. Using my skirt to wipe the sweat off my hands, I opened the door, but only enough for me to slip inside. Every student had a pot of dirt in front of them on their desk and had with their fingers buried up to the knuckles in the soil. The students sat on high stools. Between that and the thin legs of the desk, there was nothing for me to hide behind. < I’m a bit confused about what you’re describing here. If the desks had been normal height, wouldn’t they have been harder to hide behind? I imagine all these long skirts up on high stools as creating a much better hiding place (not worse) than a normal classroom. The rooms bright light exposed everything and my hope to go unnoticed lessened with every crouching step I took towards an empty desk in the back. < I think this needs to be described more clearly. I am imagining her going through a classroom door (which are usually at the front of the class near the teacher’s desk), attracting the attention of everyone, and then crouching as if she can’t be seen. To me, I feel like she would be noticed immediately – the moment she pushes open the door.
“Late for class again, Scotia,” Ma’Tradom Aquail said in her cool and condescending voice.  < Describe this woman. Make her seem real. “Cool and condescending” is the cliche of all teachers in YA. Give her something unique.
I froze in place and everyone suddenly turned to look in my direction. Only a few more steps and I would have been at the desk and could have tried to pretend that I had been there the entire time. I turned towards the Ma’Tradom, kneeled and bowed my head to the floor in the way we were taught.

My Overall Thoughts

While there aren’t any glaring problems, this opening doesn’t make me sit up in my seat and take notice. My guess is that in your head, this is super vivid and exciting, but that vividness is not coming across in your descriptions and word choices.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The characterization feels weak to me. In YA, you want to give the reader an immediate sense of who the protagonist is, but this opening isn’t doing that. She falls asleep doing her chores, but there’s no explanation as to why. Is she more tired than usual? Is she a scatterbrain? Does she not value her education? Was she up so late studying for a big test that she crashed? Give us some characterization. Is this girl a rebel? A good girl? An outcast? Who is she? Give readers some point of identification and some frame of reference for her choices and thoughts.
  • Describe things more vividly. She’s running down the hallways, but what are they like? Is this like a castle? A dungeon? An ordinary school? Are there tall windows? Tapestries on the walls? Posters about “sharing is caring”? What does the place look like?
  • If her being late to class is not integral to the plot (meaning that it doesn’t lead directly into the plot of the novel), I would try to start this in a different place. It helps to show the protagonist being proactive in the opening scene rather than simply reactive.
  • Watch your punctuation. You missed three possessive apostrophes and a few commas.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 2.5

I don’t think anyone would have any significant complaints about your writing. You’re not falling into any major beginner’s mistakes, but you’re not creating something that stands out either. This reads too bland, like a polished first draft written before you nailed your character’s voice or fleshed out your story’s world. Focus on what makes this story unique. Focus on who your character is and her emotions.

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 Nova!

Connect with Nova (the author of the first page) on her blog or on Twitter!

Submit to First Page Friday – (currently booking first 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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First Page Friday #14: YA

Happy New Year Everyone! I have a good feeling about 2014! I’m ready for an awesome year!

For those who haven’t heard, I am adding a new service option for 2014 – Mentoring! Not only will this allow me to help writers who can’t afford (or aren’t ready for) a full edit, but I am also allowing writers to go in together to purchase enough hours to get high volume discounts! You can check out the details here. I hope this opens up my services to some writers who would not have been able to afford it previously.

And now, without further adieu, this week’s submission:

YA First 500 – Mari

When you’re born and raised in the same town, memories can become sprinkled like grass seed and spring up nearly anywhere. For Haley, every corner she turned she could easily recollect carefree days that she and Kevin had bounded through like rabbits.

During her walk home from school, she looked out over the field and remembered a late afternoon when Kevin ran so far ahead of her. The last of orange sunlight flashed in his eyes as he threw his head back and laughed, but there wasn’t always laughter between them. There were also memories of bruises and scars mapped out on Kevin’s flesh. The very thought of them made Haley’s own skin crawl.

She quickly shook away her thoughts as her eyes moved over her little house. There was nothing unique about it’s the old farm house’s set up or style. And had she not spent every day of her life there, Haley could’ve easily gotten confused.

Out on the front porch, her mother waved her hands frantically in the air.

Haley!” she called out in her twangy voice. “Come quick!”

Haley’s heartbeat began pounding out of fear as she ran towards her house

What’s wrong?” she wheezed as she reached the porch steps.

Her mother calmly shook her head. “Nothing, I just need you to watch your dad while I get dinner started.”

Haley dropped her backpack with a loud thud.

What?!” she shouted. “You had me freaking out, Mom! I thought maybe Dad was dea—”

Her mom quickly cut her off. “Haley, hush!”

Haley placed her hand over her heart attempting to calm herself down.

Fine,” she sighed. “Where is he?”

Where he always is,” her mom replied with an irritated wave towards the side of the house.

*

Haley’s dad had begun falling down lately. He’d once been a strong looking man with a sense of determination in his walk, but both the cancer and his treatment made him frail. His doctor told him that it was far more likely he was only going to get worse.

One morning he’d asked his wife to move his rocking chair to the back porch. From then on he would spend every evening sitting out there with a blanket wrapped around his thinning shoulders.

Haley crept around to the back to look at him before making herself known. She could see that his eyes were closed, but by the way he drummed his fingers lightly on the arms of the chair she knew he wasn’t asleep.

She cleared her throat and he slowly opened his eyes to look at her.

So…what, uh…what are you doing back here?” she asked, not knowing whether she should sit or stand.

It was harder than ever for her to hold a conversation with her father. She even cringed at the sight of his gray face that looked creased in light of the sunset.

I’m just sitting, Haley,” he replied plainly in his gravelly voice.

Haley’s parents were opposites in nearly every way possible. Her father was very coolheaded, but stern in his ways. Her mother, however, flitted around faster than a hummingbird. Yet without a single word passing between them, it was obvious they shared a great love that not even Haley’s inquisitive mind could figure out.

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 – Mari

When you’re born and raised in the same town, memories can become sprinkled like grass seed and spring up nearly anywhere. For Haley, every corner she turned she could easily recollect carefree days that she and Kevin had bounded through like rabbits. < Lots of people are born and raised in the same town (most people I would assume), so this isn’t much of a hook. There also isn’t any voice pulling me in, and I am immediately questioning whether this is actually YA (it doesn’t read like it). I am also questioning what the point of view is (omniscient?).

During her walk home from school, she looked out over the field and remembered < You never want to open a novel with a character remembering something. It indicates that you aren’t starting the story somewhere interesting enough to carry the chapter on its own. a late afternoon when Kevin ran so far ahead of her. The last of orange sunlight flashed in his eyes as he threw his head back and laughed, but there wasn’t always laughter between them. There were also memories of bruises and scars mapped out on Kevin’s flesh. The very thought of them made Haley’s own skin crawl. < Her remembering this does not move the plot forward nor is it relevant to what comes next so it feels tacked on just for the sake of conveying information you want the reader to know. It takes time, but writers have to learn ways to “hide” the fact that you’re conveying information.

She quickly shook away her thoughts as her eyes moved over her little house. < You don’t need to explain that a character’s thoughts have shifted in order to move on to different subject matter. There was nothing unique about it’s the old farm house’s set up or style. And had she not spent every day of her life there, Haley could’ve easily gotten confused. <I’m not sure what you mean. What would have made her confused?

Out on the front porch, her mother waved her hands frantically in the air.

“Haley!” she called out in her twangy voice. “Come quick!” < Dialogue should be in the same paragraph as action if it’s by the same character, so combine this line with the previous one.

Haley’s heartbeat began pounding out of fear pounded as she ran towards her house. < “Out of fear” is not needed because it is telling what has already been shown. “Pounded” is stronger than “pounding” because verbs ending in “-ing” are weaker than those ending in “-ed.”

“What’s wrong?” sShe wheezed as she reached the porch steps. < “Wheezed” is not a dialogue tag because you can’t wheeze words, so the “she” should be capitalized. 

Her mother calmly shook her head. “Nothing, I just need you to watch your dad while I get dinner started.” < This feels like a bait and switch. You’ve lured the reader in on the false pretense that something exciting is happening when really this is a totally ordinary day.

Haley dropped her backpack with a loud thud.

“What?!< Don’t use both an exclamation point and a question mark. she shouted. “You had me freaking out, Mom! I thought maybe Dad was dea—” < This comes across as something a little kid might say (8-11), but not a young adult (14-18).

Her mom quickly cut her off. “Haley, hush!”

Haley placed her hand over her heart attempting to calm herself down.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Where is he?”

“Where he always is,” her mom replied with an irritated wave towards the side of the house. < The dialogue comes across as unnatural, mostly because there doesn’t seem to be logical motivations behind what they’re saying. Why would the mom act so frantic if there wasn’t an emergency? Why would Haley ask where her dad was if he always sits in the same place?

*

Haley’s dad had begun falling down lately. He’d once been a strong looking man with a sense of determination in his walk, but both the cancer and his treatment made him frail. His doctor told him that it was far more likely he was only going to get worse. < This is an info dump. Learn how to avoid info dumps here.

One morning he’d asked his wife to move his rocking chair to the back porch. From then on he would spend every evening sitting out there with a blanket wrapped around his thinning shoulders. < Find ways to show this rather than tell it.

Haley crept around to the back to look at him before making herself known. She could see that his eyes were closed, but by the way he drummed his fingers lightly on the arms of the chair she knew he wasn’t asleep.

She cleared her throat and he slowly opened his eyes to look at her.

“So…what, uh…what are you doing back here?” she asked, not knowing whether she should sit or stand. < Why would she ask this if she knows that her father always sits out there?

It was harder than ever for her to hold a conversation with her father. She even cringed at the sight of his gray face that looked creased in the light of the sunset.

“I’m just sitting, Haley,” he replied plainly in his gravelly voice. < She already knows this and so does the reader, so this conversation should be cut in favor of moving on to new/interesting information.

Haley’s parents were opposites in nearly every way possible. < This feels like the topic has changed too rapidly and without reason or transition. Her father was very coolheaded, but stern in his ways. Her mother, however, flitted around faster than a hummingbird. Yet without a single word passing between them, it was obvious they shared a great love that not even Haley’s inquisitive mind could figure out.

My Overall Thoughts

Overall, the tone is too young for YA. This is a very common problem I see in YA manuscripts (check out last week’s First Page Friday submission for the same issue). The writing style, tone, and Haley’s personality read at an MG level (about 8-11). Whether the content is appropriate for that age group, I would have to read more to find out. I made this video a while back about the differences between YA and MG and I think it will help you.

Key Places to Improve:

  • The bait and switch opening (making it seem like Haley’s mother has a problem but really there isn’t one) is not a good idea. It gives the impression that you cannot create suspense on your own and possibly that you are not starting the book in the right place. To see this issue in someone else’s work, check out First Page Friday #3.
  • Watch out for info dumps. Information should be revealed gradually and naturally, not in big chunks. Also, focus on places where you can show things instead of tell them.
  • Increase the voice. Both YA and MG rely heavily on voice to catch the interest of young readers. There is no indication of voice in this opening, which makes it difficult to latch onto the story or characters. The lines are at times very distancing and pull the reader out of the moment.
  • Think about the dialogue between your characters and assess whether it is logical for the character and interesting for the reader. Right now, the dialogue is detracting from the opening rather than adding to it.
  • I don’t think you’re starting this story in the right place. Novels should open with an interesting and engaging conflict that immediately gives the reader a sense of who the main character is and what she wants. Check out this video I made on how to write and edit the set up of your novel. It explains this is more detail than I can get into here.

The Writeditor’s Grade (out of 5): 1

I know it’s hard to get a tough critique, but this book is not where it needs to be to stand out in the current market. Check out some bestselling YA or MG books (whichever you decide your book is) from your library and flip through them, making notes about the voice, pacing, dialogue, etc., then think about how you can restyle your novel to better fit the expectations of the age group. Voice is absolutely vital, as is a book that fits neatly in either MG or YA. I hope you stick with this book and find ways to improve it. If you have any questions, get in touch!

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 third week of February 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.

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!