Maysa was nine when she first felt that surge of power with each note she sang. She told her fellow singers about it, to which they responded with warnings that the scouts will soon find her.
True enough, that did happen years later.
It happened at the riverbanks, a kilometer away from the city proper. She imitated a song she had heard on the radio. Initially, they were just mild tremors in her chest. As she continued singing, the tremors turned light and made her feel as if she were floating in the water.
The second sentence confused me because I thought by “scouts” you meant a talent scout, and then I was wondering why that would be so ominous. The wording of the first sentence, specifically “that surge of power with each note she sang” feels a bit unnatural. “That did happen years later” doesn’t have any intensity to it, which makes it tough for the reader to feel worried or invested. What does “they” refer to in “they were just mild tremors”? The previous sentences give the impression that that sentence should be describing the scouts rather than a sensation. I think you have a cool idea, but the writing isn’t quite there yet.
Through the window, Dano watched with dread as the sleigh came to a halt ahead of the manor. The driver could be no older than himself, and the poor boy was scrambling to leap off his seat and open the door for Grandfather. It seemed foolish. Grandfather was a man who could likely push over the horses. And with a face full of white hair, and a ginormous build, he looked the part. A waft of cold air hit Dano’s face. As, to his left, his own father went outside to meet him. The man paled in comparison. Skinny and white-blonde, however his face, especially his eyes, were sunken in. The two embraced so quickly it was almost blurred. They did not hesitate to shuffle back in through the towering front doors. He sternly reminded himself to straighten and clasp his hands behind his back. A position that seemed to perfectly show off the green velvet and pure gold buttons on his dress coat. Walking into the entry hall, with his chest stuck out, he felt stupid. But when Grandfather set eyes on him, he seemed quite pleased.
“He looked the part” made me stumble a bit because I wasn’t sure what it referred to. “As, to his left” is awkward and tripped me up. “The man paled in comparison” is a bit awkward because the reader has to assume who you’re comparing. “However his face” reads oddly because “however” doesn’t seem to make sense in the sentence. “They did not hesitate to shuffle back” reads a bit awkwardly to me. There are some elements of your voice that work quite well, but too often the wording is a bit awkward or unclear. I also recommend using more paragraphs.
A beam of light hits Lona in the face. She rolls over, willing it to go away as the dream already starts to fade. Her eyes pop open; she sits up to peer out her window. Closing her eyes lifts her face up to let the sun engulf her face. Her nightgown trips her as she gets out of bed, unhooks her foot and stands to allow the calm to overtake her. Her nightgown becomes a coiling snake as she tries to take it off, finds herself tangled up in it. She blows a strand of hair out of her face, drops the nightgown on the plank floor and stomps on it as if it is going to jump up and entangle her again. She rushes to the other end of the loft throws open the drawer, ruffles through it. Pulls out her cotton slip and puts it on. Grabs her dress from the back of the rocking chair and wiggles it on.
To me, “hits Lona in the face” comes across like the light physically assaulted her. Starting with a character waking up is a trope and is likely to get you an automatic rejection from agents. This feels mundane and as a result is a bit boring to read until you get to her nightgown becoming a coiling snake. I recommend cutting down the opening sentences, but most likely you’re starting at the wrong place and need to pick a more interesting opening scene. Overall, this is too wordy.
I think of Leuka often, with Fang sheathed by my side. The dagger is my idle companion, accompanying me with my daily chores for the tavern. I stack wood, scour cauldrons, scrub floors and, for a few extra coppers, polish the armor of adventurers who lodge with us. It will take much polishing yet to earn enough for my own set.
Before Leuka left for the city, he gave me the dagger. Wrought in steel with silver inlay near the hilt, it cost him a fortune for the materials to fashion it, but it proved his talent and earned him an apprenticeship. This year my brother will be in Fallia when the pilgrims set forth on the Path. He will see the huge procession of the faithful march through the city streets, sending them off on their trek with sprigs of heather scattered across the cobblestones. For some they are burial blooms, as the mountain passes have become perilous of late.
This has a nice easy style. It’s not super fancy, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s clear and engaging. I like that we get the sense that the narrator is stuck doing chores and can’t earn enough money to get his/her own set of armor (which hints at her/his motive/problem). I’d want to see a stronger hook come into the story soon, but I’d keep reading.
Lights danced above him, piercing through the darkness enveloping them. Walter looked up, watching the spectacle unfold on the cavern’s ceiling. Blue and green and yellow spiralled into one another, forming a symphony of colors in its chaos. Perched on his seat, on that little boat, on the River Styx, he could watch it for hours.
The northern lights came to mind. In his head, he’d always pictured it like the countless pictures he’s seen through the screen of his computer. In all their high definition and resolution, he thought that if he should ever see it, that was how it should be.
If they were anything like this, he was wrong.
While good at capturing moments, pictures can never quite capture the majesty and depth of just being near it, and watching it up close. There was something alive about it; pictures could never give that to you.
The first line is a bit awkward because it’s not clear who “them” refers to and why the lights only dance above “him” (rather than “them”). “Watching the spectacle unfold” seems vague. It’s jarring to realize they’re in a boat because initially I imagined him in some supernatural darkness, then standing in a cave. I think the first paragraph doesn’t need to hide what he’s doing because it’s creating confusion instead of tension.
Is he looking at the northern lights or not? The wording makes it very unclear. The second paragraph gives the impression that what he’s seeing in real life isn’t as good as what he saw on his computer (since they “should” look “high definition and resolution”). There isn’t much of a hook here because there’s no sense of why these lights are important to the character.
Arzaire brought the red haze to his fingertips. His thoughts were still and so it was too. It flickered, smooth and translucent, but not quite flame as it ate away at the target’s photo. Grey dusting the bedroom floor. The evidence was gone. He went and pulled the curtains back.
A gentle summer.
Tiny city people riding tiny cars, tiny people walking, chatting. Laughing.
He left and took the apartment’s lift to ground level. As he pushed through the revolving doors, his teammate Raven glided overhead. She was ready for the task. He followed her.
The first sentence isn’t clear. What does it mean to bring a haze to your fingertips? “Not quite flame” reads awkwardly. What/who is the target? Are the people literally tiny or just far away? In what sense is Raven gliding overhead? Is she literally a bird? Is she a person named Raven who can float/fly? The writing is too vague and you’d do a better job catching the reader’s interest if you added some more details/specifics.
On a bend on the mighty Ohio, in an ordinary town in the bluegrass state, a darkness crept, entangling the soil, the roots, the matter, waiting for its awakening. Through time and space, the ominous wiggled, probing the walls of dimensions. The whittling began with a simple nick, large enough for the tiniest of creatures, small enough to remain unseen. The buzzing, unheard by man, taunted the animals, fueling a fury. A greenish mist sifted through the hole in the air, seeking through the darkness, filling crevices and surrounding space. The world had been breached.
The next morning, about a mile and a half in from the river, a budding girl scrambled up an apple tree, determined to find a niche among the branches. As she ascended, the girl scratched her chunky thighs on flowering twigs, struggling to find a sturdy branch to hold her weight. “Ouch,” she said, looking down at the bright red trickling out of her leg. She could handle the sting, but the sight made her stomach tumble.
High enough to have a view of the trails that bordered her backyard and the park, she nestled herself in a nook. The girl shifted from side to side, maneuvering her bag pack off of her shoulders, around some branches, and into her lap. Sifting through the bag of endless what nots, the girl pulled out a journal and mechanical pencil, her writing utensil of choice, and began to write. Across the top, she scribbled: “Monsters of the Meridian–A Tale of the Macabre,” then leaned to the side, her cheek pressing against the trunk, knobby and uneven, and stared at the page. She sighed.
The first paragraph feels as if it’s trying too hard to sound ominous and profound. I’d opt for something simpler that has a more natural style/voice. It makes it difficult to suspend disbelief. The key to immersion is that the reader needs to not notice the writer, but strange words/phrases draw attention to the writer and make it hard for the reader to believe the story is really happening. A lot of time is spent describing the girl settling into the tree and it seems unnecessary. These first three paragraphs could be condensed into one to two paragraphs.
I jolted upright, feeling for my dagger. Foggy blackness enveloped me as I searched for the source of the shrieking trill. Blinking at the jutting shapes above, I could barely discern a small feathered creature landing on a bare branch. Another trill cut through the silence making me tense. It shouldn’t be so quiet.
I stood, slipping the dagger out from my boot. Brue and Garnet grazed the grass several yards away, looking up briefly before returning to their breakfast.
“Cayde?” I whispered.
Nothing. My muscles tingled with anticipation as fear pulsed through me, heightening my freshly awakened sense. A crisp breeze blew across my skin, raising the hairs on my arms. I stepped carefully, approaching the cart, keeping low. A rumble on the other side stopped me dead in my tracks. Peering under the cart I saw Cayde’s legs, limp and sprawled. Unable to hold still any longer I grabbed hold of the edge and leaped up, brandishing my dagger.
There is too much reliance on expected/typical phrases: “jolted upright,” “blackness enveloped me,” “searched for the source,” “cut through the silence,” “it shouldn’t be so quiet,” “tingled with anticipation,” “fear pulsed through me,” “heightening my freshly awakened senses,” “crisp breeze blew across my skin,” “raising the hairs on my arms,” “stopped me dead in my tracks.” These phrases are seen by agents/publishers/readers over and over so they feel generic and create the sense that you don’t have your own voice and that the character/narrator isn’t a real person. Try to find ways to word things that are more unique to you and your character.
I didn’t hear her.
That was my first mistake.
I should have listened to her labored breaths, became alert at the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, the cracking of dry sticks.
If I had heard her I would’ve hid. Dissolved into the surroundings around me as if I wasn’t there at all. A silent observer from the shadows praying not to be seen.
But I was too consumed with getting the quill dislodged from my arm, that by the time I noticed her she was already standing in the entrance to my cave. Staring at me, or rather, the blood that was flowing freely down my arm, pooling on the dusty stone.
And I was too stunned to move.
Her face was an expression of horror, her mouth gaping, dark eyes wide enough that I was able to see the whites from a distance away.
“I should have listened to her labored breaths” comes across like the narrator heard her but intentionally ignored her. “Around me” seems unnecessary and “as if I wasn’t there at all” is redundant. “From the shadows” also seems redundant and leans towards melodramatic. I would separate “By the time I noticed her” into its own sentence. “Or rather” gives a slightly casual tone to the moment which reduces tension. I think there’s probably a good hook in here but the tone isn’t coming across clearly.
Bethany Feva brought the twin coffees to her friends’ table and lowered herself across from them. In the enchanted wood of south Avri, the three enjoyed sugar sap dripped in their local cafe’s brew. Bethany rolled her palm out again in a pained circle.
“It’d be like, you know, the heroes’ stories! You know?!”
“Bethany, calm down.” Veronica sipped her coffee.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Jenny dismissed. “We love you Bethany, but heroic adventures aren’t for fairies.”
“Helga was pretty grand though,” offered Veronica.
If she brings “twin coffees” then someone doesn’t have a coffee. I don’t know what you mean by the last line of the first paragraph. “Adventures aren’t for fairies” feels a bit like “As you know, Bob…” dialogue. The desire of a fairy to have an adventure is unlikely to have appeal to YA readers. This seems more suited to MG readers. Bethany’s over-enthusiasm also comes across as MG and may be difficult for older readers to relate to.
Dining rooms are supposed to be reminders of laughter and stuffed bellies, not mass murder. By nine years old, my innocent optimism had been shattered by the evil in my world.
Around the mahogany dinner table my royal family sat, plates loaded to the brim with steak, vegetables, and bread. Mom and Dad sat across from one another, then Luke and I next to them, and our younger brother, Vylas, at the head of the table.
While the table was large enough to comfortably suit our family and boost Vylas’ ego, it was not large enough to boast of wealth. We ‘invested money in more important things than eye-catching treats.’ At least, that’s what my dad said every time I asked about our fairly bare, cavernous castle rooms. So instead of grand chandeliers, our dining room had been lit with an assortment of ceiling bulbs and floor lamps.
The tone of the first sentence is a bit unclear. It almost seems humorous but I think it’s intended to be serious. The statement that dining rooms aren’t meant to remind you of mass murder seems a little too random/jarring and so it comes across as funny. “Eye-catching treats” made me think of extravagant food rather than decorations for the castle rooms. The writing feels more like middle grade, but that might just be because this is a prologue from when the character is younger. I don’t know where this is going, but I’m still feeling like this is probably an unnecessary prologue.
The world was still sleeping when fifteen-year-old Mya silently donned her woolen overdress. The faint scent of morning whispered to her through the window like a mischievous friend begging to share a wonderful secret. Taking care not to wake her siblings, Mya grabbed her coat and leather boots and made her way outside.
A few stars still clung to the night sky, but they would soon scatter when the gentle morning light peaked out from the horizon. It was a magical time, a time where Mya was free to go out on her own while everyone else slept. Soon they would all wake up and there would be work to do and chores to finish, but for the moment she was completely free.
Holding her coat tight against the cold wind, Mya headed down the steep road to the harbour. Earlier that week her parents had set out for one last trip to Ravca, the big island closest to the mainland. They worked on the large merchant ships that brought dover fruit to Ravca. Once winter came they would go out on the smaller fishing boats that stayed close to shore.
This feels more like MG than YA in terms of voice and content. Specifically, phrases like “mischievous friend” and “magical time” seem to have the more positive/upbeat vibe expected in MG. I would need a problem to come up relatively quickly in order to stay engaged. I’m worried this opening will be meandering and that this scene isn’t necessary to the plot. You could also use her personality or some worldbuilding to keep the reader engaged before the conflict. All that said, your writing is very clean, clear, and pleasant to read, which is great. I would keep reading.
Emeria sighed as she shut her window. The sun might rise anytime soon yet still, even today, no one came. Mrs. Vasyutina didn’t have any news, not of any messenger, nor of representative from the Defense Force, nothing.
Not even of her father.
“Oh, you’re still up, Miss Petrova?” A hoarse voice greeted Emeria’s ears. She turned around and spotted her governess by the door. “Be careful, milady. The sun will rise shortly. You will wish to be on a bed when that happened.”
Emeria smiled, “Certainly,” she said, “you be careful too, Mrs. Vasyutina.”
“I will,” Mrs. Vasyutina answered. “Do you, by any chance, need anything?”
“The only thing I need is news of my father,” Emeria said in a small voice, almost a whisper. “No, I don’t need anything. You may rest now, Mrs. Vasyutina. You don’t want to be awake on a floor, aching all over your body by the next sunset,”
This is quite vague and I think you would do a better job catching the reader’s interest if you gave a bit of a better sense of what’s going on. “Anytime soon yet still” in the second sentence is awkward to read. I would use “said” rather than “greeted Emeria’s ears,” which is a bit distracting. “When that happened” should be “when that happens.” I don’t know why they need to be on a bed when the sun rises. I’m not sure if this is just awkwardly worded dialogue or if the implication is that something supernatural will happen. I think more clarity/information would be helpful.
Jack couldn’t stay awake.
He snapped upright as he caught himself nodding off again, grasping his ocarina before it could fall and shatter. Shaking his head, he placed the instrument to his lips and blew, rehearsing the same melody once more.
As the melody drew to a close, his fingers began to scramble for their positions. The notes quavered, and he ran out of breath before he could reach the final notes. He pounded his fist on the bed, chiding himself for messing up yet again at the same spot. Again from the top, he thought, restarting from the beginning.
He didn’t even realize he had dozed off again until a rough knock at the door shook him awake. “Jack, it’s one in the morning! Go to sleep already,” his mother hollered for the third time that evening.
“But I’m still practicing!” he argued back.
This has a strong MG vibe rather than a YA vibe. You’re probably going to run into issues with where this fits into the market. Why does his mother tell him to go back to sleep after he isn’t making noise anymore? You probably need to describe what an ocarina is because (other than people familiar with Ocarina of Time) most people probably won’t have any idea what it looks like. “Chiding” sounds rather old fashioned. The characters feel a little generic at this point, so I’d like to see something more unique fairly quickly.
Nature was harsh for the few people living in the Tempestas Terra desert and unfortunately, I was one of those ill-fated individuals. While I struggled forward in one of our many intense desert storms, I made the mistake of not squinting enough as a strong gust of wind assaulted me. Sand carried by the storm flew into my eyes, giving me the terrible sensation that cacti needles were scratching against them. I continued to stumble forward, regardless of my discomfort. However, I readjusted the hood of my cloak to better cover my eyes and pulled the scarf that was tied around my neck over my nose and mouth to help protect me from the relentless onslaught of wind and sand.
Even though it was horrible weather today, I still had to go outside to get water. My family couldn’t wait until the wind weakened since the storms could last for days, sometimes weeks.
I recommend writing a bit closer to how you would speak. I think you’re trying too hard to use a writerly voice and as a result the descriptions are sometimes awkward or unnatural. For example, “ill-fated individuals” and “gust of wind assaulted me” seem odd in first person because they don’t reflect the personality of the character or natural speech. The comparison to “cacti needles” isn’t needed because readers can imagine sand in their eyes without the comparison. The first paragraph could be condensed and cut down by two or three sentences if you use more natural wording. I’d love to see more personality in the voice.
Between buildings, he flew through the air with uncompromising speed with a warm, summer sunset to his back. His flawless facial features were complimented by his golden hair and ocean blue eyes. He wore a white and blue outfit with a long, thick, blue cape that whipped through the air as he flew above the streets of Detroit. Below him, a crowd that had once been listening to the local street musicians gawked in disbelief as they beheld this miracle of nature.
A burley, silver-haired electrician stood on the scaffold of a thirteen-story, half-finished building while staring at the caped man. With a look of childish wonder in his eyes, he instinctively leaned forward to enjoy the view. As he did so, the rusty guard rail gave way, sending him free-falling. The middle-aged man let out a loud shriek as he plummeted to the approaching pavement. The flying man increased his speed downward to intervene the man’s imminent death.
The description seems too close to Superman, which makes this a bit confusing. This doesn’t come across as YA and has more of an MG vibe, though MG novels typically need to start with and focus on child characters (with some exceptions). This opening almost seems to be tongue-in-cheek but I don’t think that’s your intention. Overall, the vibe is cartoonish but the writing style doesn’t reflect awareness that the style is cartoonish which makes it seem unintentional. The voice needs a clearer tone/style for this to work.
Petra already knew what Mr. Leister was going to say when he took his place behind the podium. He looked just like he had on TV that morning. Petra had watched the news before class, everyone had, it was mandatory.
Mr. Leister sighed. “First, house keeping. This week we’ve lost seven of your classmates to the zombie war.” A sorrowful murmur went through the room.
“That’s so many.” Asher said. Petra glanced over at him. His red eyes grew wide and his mouth hung open. He wasn’t the only one who thought so. Petra heard the murmurs of the students around her echoing the same sentiment. The air felt perforated with grief and resentment. It made something start to tick inside her, a purpose of some sort though Petra didn’t know exactly what she was striving for just yet.
Their teacher was also on the news? That’s a bit confusing. If all the students already saw this on the news, why do the other students seem surprised? Unfortunately, zombies can seem silly/humorous when taken out of context. I think you’d do better to build up a creepy atmosphere and foreshadow what’s going on before revealing the zombies. When it’s revealed right away, it’s tough to take it seriously.
Holding the flame before him, the King scanned the room. It smelled of must and dreams and heavy sleeps. It stifled with dolls, stuffed bears, and rocking horses. Their shadows lurked and crawled. He stepped forward, lit the lamp hanging in the center of the room, and pushed the glass mobile.
Light flared, then fragmented, as a dozen moving glass shards caught the light and scattered it around the room. The shadows ebbed and danced. The stuffed bears smiled. The rocking horses seemed to sway.
He heard a jingling, and turned.
She sat cross-legged on the floor. Her head was turned from him, her hair like a veil, her gaze fixed on something in her hands. A soft tinkling accompanied her every movement as the bells on her cap drooped and bounced.
“You’ve torn your stockings again, I see.”
The sight of her eased the ache in his chest and he took his first deep breath of the day. Resting his hands on his stomach, he watched the lights flicker around the room. They relaxed him, put him in a dreamy mood.
“My advisors tell me it’s over; the campaigning must cease. They speak to me of dwindling treasuries and insubordination in the far reaches. They tell me that building an empire has bankrupted the kingdom, that I must give up being a conqueror in order to be a king. They tell me I’m losing my edge.”
Since the description seems like a child’s room, I’m assuming that neither of these characters are teens, which is very risky in the opening of a YA novel. “It stifled with” seems like odd wording to me. Is pushing the mobile necessary in order to create light? I think that could be made clearer. I’m assuming the bears literally smiled because there’s no indication otherwise, but I’m not sure if that’s what you mean. It’s not clear who is speaking in the first line of dialogue, but I’m assuming it’s the girl. The next paragraph of dialogue is rather boring and generic seeming. I’d lose interest at this point without something else to keep me hooked. That said, there are some nice elements to your voice, which is great.
Under the shimmering, cloudless sky and the dawn harmonies of bird-song, Luce trudged up the beaten path to her home. Her hair stuck to her face with sweat, her fingers and forearms burned where barbs had pierced the skin, and spiny stems pricked her through the front of her overdress—but no matter. She had gathered the herbs on her own and in the proper way, and her grandmother would be proud.
As she walked, bearing her hard work in the folds of her overdress, Niyi’s figurine swaying in her pocket, Luce imagined her grandmother’s reaction. She wasn’t expecting anything exuberant. Nothing demonstrative. But a quiet pride, maybe a smile—that would be nice. It had been a long time since Niyi had smiled. But once she convinced Niyi she was capable of taking over as village healer, there would be reasons enough to smile. Niyi would be able to rest, slow down, receive some healing herself. And Luce would be able to prove her worth.
The opening paragraph doesn’t excite me because it feels a little generic. Just a bit more sense of what makes the character or setting unique would help. The tone/style is probably closer to MG than YA, but that depends a lot on other factors that I can’t determine from a short excerpt. The writing is smooth and this kept my attention (though I’m not including the full excerpt) but I worry whether there’s enough originality here to excite an agent.
The last train arrived, a row of reticent figures lined across the faded windows. The interior lighting stretched itself across the station’s many concrete sidewalks, casting high shadows over the plain buildings beyond them. Each new shadow denoted another disembarking passenger. The steps hustled, one after another, until the train was all but empty. However, the train lingered in the station, awaiting its last voyager to finally unburden it. The lights flickered, and belched out beneath one of the doorways lay a coated figure, facing down on the pavement with a compact suitcase flung out beside him. He rose to a stand and slowly massaged his bruised nose.
“Ow…” he moaned, his damaged sniffer outputting a nasally tone. His vibrant brown hair complimented the reddish contusion nicely and provided a vivid contrast to his green eyes. His fashion taste, however, left much to be desired. The gray coat dwarfed his below average size, and as he raised himself to a stand it reached its way down below his knees. He quickly wiped his palms against the oversized fabric before sprinting to retrieve his runaway luggage. Still intact, and not overly scathed. The nearest bench sat beneath a looming lamppost, giving ample lighting for his next task. He sat himself beneath it and unfurled a map from his suitcase. In elegant, broad font read the name “Bellamuse,” with a chart of the entirety of the city below. It was pretty to look at, but any cartographer would tell you it was a nightmare of impracticality. Sprawled neatly in the lower margin were the words: “For Evan,” as well as a list of streets and turns to be taken down them. He looked at the map, studied it, flipped it around, then with a sigh, folded it away beneath his arm.
The first paragraph feels wordy to me, especially the descriptions of the light/shadows. It’s not clear if you mean that the last passenger is the man who is “belched out” since the wording implies he was already belched out because he’s on the sidewalk already. I’m not sure if the tone is humorous, but I think that’s what you’re going for. I’d give more indication the reader is meant to find it funny. A lot of the style feels like MG not YA, but the word choices often feel too mature for MG. You’re likely to run into trouble with where this fits in the market. Opening with an adult character is risky for both age groups. That said, there are some nice elements to your voice.
“I can’t believe you’re going to Delmare,” I told Zoey as we flipped through magazines the day before warlock school started.
She shrugged. “What can I say, I want warmer weather.”
We lived in Norway, and while I wasn’t fond of the bitter cold either, it beat going to a school half way around the world.
“It just stinks, you’re my only friend.” I sighed and flipped the page, coming across the latest warlock boy band Glamoured.
Zoey leaned over to take the boys in, her wooden fingernail trailing over the page. “Landon is so cute.”
“You can have him. I want Eric.” The latest gossip on the band was plastered all over the page, my eyes devoured every morsel. We didn’t have a warded warlock community near us, we were too isolated, and magazines were as close as we got to keeping up to date on warlock culture. That and newspapers, both of which were warded if any of our human neighbors came across it.
The concept of wizard/warlock school is a tough sell without a unique angle so I’d try to get that unique angle into the story as quickly as possible. Looking through magazines seems, to me, like a bit of a generic teen activity and doesn’t show the unique personalities of your characters or something special about your story. I’m not sure there’s enough of a hook here.
Nineteen horrified, just horrified, people of all shapes and size were left to stand on the horizon line as I traversed far and wide and backwards. Their silhouetted heads will be spoken of. Each and every. If the world is willing-at great length. At quite an egregious pace! If proven impossible-then the words can be tipped off tongue and taken into my stomach pit. Regurgitated at a later date-in little bits!
“Forgive me if I laugh?” I ask them. The aforementioned peppered in. Half of my bottom lip toke to a distinct lean off one cheek, my eyes narrow themselves into slits, and my nails sink further into pink flesh. The rays of dawn crashed one color into every other, creating blotches of white within the field’s face, disrupting hard earned harmony, and creating a new-found nightmare place. Over the cold indifferent distance the true and proper sight bleed dry.
I found this to be difficult to understand. I don’t feel that I have any sense of what is happening or what you’re trying to describe. There’s nothing wrong with simple and direct wording. The reader needs at least some sense of what’s going on in order to stay engaged.
Ayan tried to open his eyes for the second time. His head still hurt and he couldn’t see anything. A single ray of light penetrated through a pinhole on the cloth.
Ayan remembered the last night. He was inside a leather sack.
Seeing the hint of light, he thought; “Maybe its morning now.” He could see through the stitches. He wanted to rip it open. But what if those people smack him unconscious? What if he couldn’t make it outside the car, assuming that he was still inside?
“At least I should try.” Ayan told himself. He brushed his forefinger against the needlework. It was firm. No way he could tear them apart with his fingernails. He gave up the idea of getting out on his own; instead tried to think of something else. Maybe he could run for it, if he gets the chance.
The situation seems intense but the writing doesn’t convey that intensity. Using short, choppy sentences and word choices that are more intense/scary would help. “At least I should try” feels very casual given the situation. Even “smack him unconscious” seems like a tame way to word his concerns.
Opening with a character waking up disoriented and injured or scared is very common (you will see many examples of this opening just in the openings I’ve critiqued during Novel Boot Camp) so it might not be the best place to start your novel.
Three years after her mother died, Elena Brass found a window in the woods. It happened on a sticky, steamy, August afternoon, after she came in from the porch and left the screen door open. The household dog, Ozzy, waited until she’d disappeared into the cool shadows of her bedroom before bounding from his customary chair and sprinting for freedom, catching the eye of his owner, Elena’s Aunt Lia, as he tore through her garden. Lia had a rule for this scenario: whoever left the door open had to get the dog.
Elena liked the woods when she was younger. Now, at sixteen years old, she’d rather have been almost anywhere else. Burnt Mountain, the tree-covered hill behind her aunt’s house, was a sprawling, wild expanse, a hundred acres of which fell inside Lia’s property line, and after forty-five minutes of stalking around on it, Elena’s tee shirt was heavy with sweat. Her calves burned as she smeared her bangs back from her face and scanned the surrounding foliage. The forest chirped and bubbled indifferently.
The voice sounds more like MG than YA. I recommend reading some YA novels to get a better feel for the typical style/voice. For MG readers, the window in the woods might be an effective hook, but most YA readers are going to need something more captivating/mature than that to remain invested.
The first two lines read a little bit odd back-to-back because she “found a window in the woods” after “she came in from the porch,” which is indoors rather than “in the woods.” This threw me off a bit.
‘The conception of a child whose parents belong to two different noble families is strictly prohibited.
That child will be considered a hybrid, an abomination of nature with two powers instead of one. Anyone guilty of conceiving a hybrid will be put to death, including the child.’
– The Marriage Law
Chapter 1 The city in the air
A common saying from the Oharaiah is that a bird cannot be imprisoned once it’s been exposed to freedom. They claim that such a freedom refers to knowledge. Only with knowledge one can release one’s self from fear of the unknown and completely experience freedom, but Dishina knew better. Ever since she and her mother had arrived in the Marble City ten years ago (she’d been five years old at the time), freedom had been nothing more than the nearest peaks of the surrounding mountains. At any given time the city needed to be in view, allegedly so she wouldn’t get lost, but Dishina knew for sure the real reason was that the Oharaiah wanted to be able to keep an eye on her.
“Oharaiah” is difficult to sound out and most readers will just skip over it or make up their own sound. The explanation of the common saying is a bit clunky and awkward, and what’s ultimately explained doesn’t actually seem to reflect the saying (which comes across as if it means you can’t take something away once it’s been tasted or you can’t control someone who has experienced freedom). I think the paragraph would be much smoother if you simplified to something like, “Dishina’s mother used to say that freedom was knowledge, but to Dishina freedom had been nothing more than the nearest peaks of the surrounding mountains.”
The Crofts were caged in their dining room. Curtains drawn. Windows locked. The thick walls trapped their cries inside.
Sam Croft sat at the dining table as he fought against the rope that bound him to the chair. He was wheezing, sweating, tears fogging his vision. His family were but blurred figures across the table. They wriggled in their seats and pleaded through duct taped lips.
“Make it quick,” a voice ordered.
A knife rose in the air, tip aimed at Sam. He shook his head pleadingly. Heartbeat thundering. Hot tears pouring.
The blade came hurtling down.
Sam sat up, baffled, ogling at the sky.
It was a sky unlike any other, painted in pale magenta and oddly clear, devoid of clouds, sun or moon.
You submitted this opening to me last Novel Boot Camp and it’s almost identical to the previous version. My feedback is the same: opening with a dream/waking up is not recommended and is going to make it difficult for you to attract an agent’s attention. “But blurred figures” is awkwardly phrased and doesn’t seem to suit your style. Opening with intense action/violence tends to not work well because the reader isn’t invested in the characters so you’d need to rely more on mystery to create interest (so I’d play down the emotional element).
Robert thrust the sword deeply into the minotaur’s shaggy flank and pulled it out with a swift upper cut. The beast writhed and screamed as it sank slowly to the earth. Purple blood spurted from the wound and splashed, steaming, onto the sand. He was about to stab the creature again, when it suddenly collapsed at his feet. He toed it carefully to make certain it was dead, then threw down his sword, whooped in triumph and pulled off his helmet. The minotaur vanished in an instant.
“Three minutes, 39 seconds, much better than last time,” Sam muttered. He was sitting behind a computer screen wearing the techie’s uniform of grey hoodie, skinny jeans and high tops. The florescent lights of the lab bleached his ruddy complexion to a ghost-like grey.
Robert stepped off the platform, threaded his way through the banks of computer terminals and pounded him on the back. “It was genius – the way I handled that sword.” He laughed, crinkling the corners of his brown eyes. “I’m a born warrior.”
As soon as he whooped in triumph, I knew this was a video game. I believe that this type of opening is going to be recognized as a trope within the next few years. I don’t recommend any sort of “gotcha!” opening (including opening with dreams or intentionally misleading descriptions), but that said, some people are okay with them and they do sometimes get published.
Starting with action (killing the minotaur) generally doesn’t work great since there is no sense of tension or stakes. I’m not sure if his “uniform” is a joke (meaning it’s not really his uniform) or if the actual uniform includes skinny jeans and high tops (which doesn’t seem believable). I would mention Robert’s name one more time before introducing Sam. I had forgotten his name and thought that Robert was Sam (which made the last paragraph confusing).
It was well past time for him to leave. Colin’s hands trembled as he pushed the final trigger piece into the lock. Though the little metal part didn’t quite fit, he somehow managed to force it in. He had to. With a turn of the key, he tested it, and the latch clicked open. He’d managed to build a lock nearly impossible for even him to pick.
Open. Shut. Open. Shut. Colin watched as his own fingers shook, out of his control. Usually, he could steady himself and fake it, but not now. Not when his heart tore and shred within him.
As Colin fidgeted with the lock, he dropped the key, and it tumbled under his workbench. He pushed his stool out of the way to reach for it, and the rickety thing toppled over. Of course it had.
“Trigger piece” confused me initially because I wasn’t sure what that meant. I’m not sure why “he had to” force it in. I’m not sure why his fingers are shaking. He doesn’t seem to be in danger since he’s at his workbench and seems to be making a lock while alone and without any pressure (at least that’s my interpretation). This opening just needs a bit more clarity to help orient the reader to what’s happening.
Their screams rent the air, braying their murders. She gasped for breath, driving her feet forward. They would catch her soon. Blood rushed to her ears muffling the sounds around her – and yet the pack’s screeches still penetrated her hearing as if they were right on her heels.
She couldn’t keep running for long. She could feel her body failing.
Branches reached out their thorn rimmed arms, grasping at her torn clothes. Ruts and vines awoke before her fleeing feet. Doing their best to slow her, to divert her.
One wrong step and it was over.
I recommend working on flow. The repetition of the same sentence construction in the first two sentences has an awkward/clunky rhythm. “Penetrated her hearing” is awkwardly worded. Whenever the wording has to be odd in order to support the structure of the sentence, it’s better to just change the sentence structure. Referring to her “fleeing feet” creates unnecessary distance. You might want to show how her body is “failing” in order to bring the reader into the character’s experience.
Every disaster in Lore’s life seemed to coincide with the appearance of her mother.
The first time, her home, reduced to shards of stone and glass, disappeared into a maelstrom. The second, a blight claimed three quarters of the coral reefs south of the capital. That seemed suspect. Even to an eight year old. Then, when the High Priest was killed just hours after Lore caught a glimpse of her mother in the marketplace, she pegged her as an assassin, barbarian, or worse, and lived in terror of meeting her again.
Four years had passed, and perhaps it was childhood lingering over her, but Lore felt secure in the recent peace of the outer waters. No shipwrecks had been reported near their borders. The city lights shone clean from seven leagues away. The new High Priest had restored the confidence of the merrowfolk, and rumors of rogue attacks had ceased. She tended the budding reef, working magic into the beds with her fingers and her voice, whispering secrets to corals and algae and anemones, as if they were her friends.
I like the first line, but it gave me the impression there is something supernaturally powerful/wrong about her mother, which is supported by the house disappearing and the coral reefs being claimed by blight, but then the conclusion is that her mother is an assassin or barbarian, which doesn’t imply anything supernatural at all. This is a bit confusing.
It’s not clear why the lack of shipwrecks and the city lights make her feel secure when neither concept seems to link with what her mother did.
Nicklolus’ fingertips tingled with anticipation as the High Councilor and his fat purse inched closer. He stretched his long fingers like a concert pianist warming up. Seventeen years old and every one of those on the streets, never before had opportunity like this come Nicklolus’ way.
It was Vanquish Day and that meant parades, drinking, and celebration—perfect conditions for lightening wallets of excessive coin. Although Vanquish Day celebrated the High Council’s victory over the Sentinel nearly five hundred years before (an old wives’ tale if you asked Nicklolus, but who was he to cast doubt on a celebration that every year proved to be so profitable), the High Councilors themselves rarely descended from High Tower to mix with the unwashed masses. The High Councilors generally kept to themselves, cloistered in their fortress at the North end of Town Square, a stone spire that cast a shadow like a sundial over the rest of the city of Trillium. The High Councilors, it seemed, preferred to leave direct interaction with the people to tax collectors and guardians.
I don’t know why, but opening a novel with pickpocketing has been increasingly popular. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but I’d make sure you’re doing something really unique. A street kid pickpocketing isn’t surprising or intriguing inherently. This combined with many other generic fantasy terms (coin, High Council, High Tower, Town Square, High Councilors) doesn’t give the reader a chance to see anything special or unique about this story or setting.
The air in the bazaar was thick with the smell of wood smoke and the sound of laughter. Deen waded through the throng with a load of beeswax candles strung round his bare shoulders and a heavy pack tied at his waist.
He had come to Cleary to learn the art of candle making, but his uncle hadn’t exactly seen him fit to do more than deliver them. So far today he had delivered to the store houses of two great lords in Bayard, the kitchens of one lesser lord, and a local merchant on High Street here in the capital city.
He nodded and smiled at several patrons as he walked toward his last delivery of the day. His favorite delivery. He passed intricately carved wooden stalls, daub-and-wattle shops, and smaller open-air tents for visiting merchants. Bakers were setting out fresh loaves. Spicers peddled their waxes, soaps, parchment and quills. Armor makers cried aloud plate and price. Blacksmiths’ hammers tinked from somewhere inside dark, wooden dens. Walking through the bazaar always seemed to make him smile, and he never grew tired of marveling at it all. Lagafel had not been half as lively as Clearytown was on its most boring day.
The description of the bazaar feels very generic. I recommend adding your own flare to it or using it as an opportunity to convey something important or interesting about the setting you’ve created.
It would be nice to have a better sense of why Deen wants to learn to make candles or a sense of what is happening in this moment or in his life that is moving him closer to his goal or is causing some sort of internal or external conflict.
It danced in the light, weightless. Carried effortlessly within a gentle breeze. As it began to drift off too far it vanished, only to reappear again in front of her. Lefi blew toward the little formless spirit, trying to create her own wind for it to ride. She laid upon the soft fallen foliage, resting her head upon a large gnarled tree root. Sunlight peeked through the canopy of trees, displaying scattered rays amidst the forest. She was by herself, but it didn’t seem that way here. In truth, this was really the only place where she didn’t feel alone. The spirits that dwelt within the forest were plenty company.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if I could just link with you?” She said to the spirit. It floated there, giving no indication that it understood her. Of course, Lefi knew that willowisp didn’t speak; she wasn’t even sure they could think. They weren’t like their more elusive cousins that kept their distance from her. Nevertheless, she was desperate. Almost sixteen and still no link.
I’m not sure why you’re choosing to hide the fact that this is a spirit in the first three sentences. To me, the spirit is far more intriguing than a mystery about something carrying on the breeze (which could be a feather, a bubble, a mote of dust, or many other mundane things). The description of the sun coming through the canopy of trees feels very generic. Could you show that she enjoys the company of spirits in some way (even if you still also tell it)? What does this spirit look like? A description would help the reader visualize the moment.
Just in time, I turned my head and watched as a stranger dug his hand into another man’s coat pocket, his quick fingers curling into something too small to see. No one else on the street saw, or so it seemed, so I pretended I didn’t either.
My eyes stayed on the robber’s face for a moment, one in a hundred, and as he walked away I saw nothing but an unperturbed look on him, as if he was trying to pretend he hadn’t taken anything, as if he wanted to make everyone around believe that he didn’t even exist at all. If I had said something, probably someone would have stopped him. Probably.
Instead, all I did was check my own pockets and follow closer to my parents, avoiding close contact as much as I could with the people around me. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about what had just happened, I just didn’t want to get hurt.
This could theoretically work as an opening, but it feels too wordy and the narrator is overly justifying his/her actions which further bloats it. “Turned my head and watched” is wordy. “His quick fingers curling into something too small to see” is wordy but also seems to jump out of the narrator’s POV a bit because if his hand is in someone’s pocket, the narrator can’t see whether what he grabs is small or large because it can’t be seen at all.
Readers can assume that a pickpocket is going to act casual and isn’t going to draw attention. It’s okay to describe this a bit, but the description makes it seem as if the narrator thinks this is a unique observation. I’d cut the justification for why the character doesn’t do anything, simplify it, or tie it into a meaningful explanation.
He missed the jump.
She groaned even before she’d clambered down and seen the damage. Dolph was always cocking up her fun, but she’d held on to hope that he could make a simple jump across the small ravine. Children little older than seven had been making the jump between Ike’s Perch and the Starknife mountain for as long as Feildrum town had children old enough to disobey their parents. ‘Maybe the height spooked him,’ she thought as a smirk stretched across her face. ‘Come on, Quinn, he’s hurt. Laughing comes later.’ She forced the smirk away. ‘How hurt, though?’ She glanced down, squinting through the light fog at the poor boy, and groaned louder at what looked like his contorted left leg. ‘His dad’s going to make me pay him back for this one, too.’
Starting the first sentence with “he” and the second with “she” is a little disorienting and it would probably be helpful to stick with the same character for at least two or three lines. Alternatively you could use names to help with clarity.
She seems quite mean spirited and callous. I’m not sure whether that’s intentional but it makes it difficult to want to connect or empathize with her. A bit more about her motive would be helpful. Otherwise the stakes (getting in trouble) seem justified (making it difficult to feel concerned for her) due to her being uncaring and endangering Dolph.
No one believed in witches anymore. But if anyone could be convinced of our existence, it would have been the people of Blackstone, Connecticut.
This is what I thought about in third-period biology, while Ms. Lewandowski instructed us how to properly dissect pregnant rats. I should have been listening; less than a month into my senior year, my grade had dropped to a C+. But I couldn’t focus. Instead, I stared at the round plastic pin on my lab partner’s backpack. It showed a cartoonish silhouette of a haunted-looking house, over which arched the words Blackstone Witch Museum.
Here, people lived and breathed local legends about witch burnings and Warren LeGrande. My mother loved it; she said we should be proud of our heritage and immerse ourselves in the “collective witch history.” Me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were living in the eye of a storm.
The wording of the first paragraph is a little bit too awkward to work as a hook. It doesn’t seem that convincing people of the existence of witches would actually be a priority for her given the third paragraph so it’s unclear why she’s thinking about it. I’d give a better sense of her problem with being a witch (it’s common enough as a premise to not work as a hook on its own). Giving more information about what it means to be a witch might help, but alternatively raising questions about her until a later reveal that she’s a witch might also be a stronger hook.
In the pantheon of four-letter words, it hardly registered as a game-stopper. But, for a shell-shocked Hallie Brennan, who aimlessly pushed some peas around her dinner plate, it carried the weight of an atomic bomb.
Were they serious?
Camp meant no sleeping in. Camp meant no lazy pool-side days at Erin’s house. And camp, incomprehensibly, meant she couldn’t just “happen to be in the area” when Michael Larson and his football team friends mowed the township rec fields.
And that was a crime against humanity.
Michael’s abs were perfection. And not just abs. He had that V-muscle thingy, too. Dripping and glistening with sweat from the hot, mid-day sun…
Hallie’s fork scraped against the porcelain plate, and the ear-splitting squelch which resulted snapped her out of her haze.
“I can’t go to camp!” she declared, her wits restoring as if she had just sniffed smelling salts. “There’s poison ivy! And snakes!”
This feels more like MG than YA. The voice just doesn’t have a teen feel to me. The opening paragraph is clever but “for a shell-shocked Hallie Brennan” feels like narration from a book geared at younger readers. I don’t know what a “V-muscle thingy” refers to. The dialogue feels a bit too on the nose and the exclamation points give her and the novel a younger vibe.
“Fire!” I called again into the night, raising my sword high into the smoky air.
Another boom sounded and my heart fluttered as the cannon blast lit up the dark evening sky like fireworks, illuminating the ships that battled below me. My voice felt ragged from yelling but it sounded as strong and resolute as ever as it carried over the symphony of crashing waves, shouting fairies, and the clanging of their clashing swords. Music to my ears.
The repetition of “into” in the first sentence makes it clunky. The sentences in the second paragraph each contain too much information which makes it difficult for the reader to process what’s going on. Using more sentences would improve pacing and clarity.
Starting with action is very risky because the reader has no connection to what’s occurring. Give the reader something interesting right away. Fight scenes can easily feel like generic fantasy with nothing special to offer. Demonstrate a unique character, a compelling question, or an unusual element of worldbuilding so that the opening will stand out.
Linnea and Signe attended the first day of school. Jordan loved when those two girls attended school. It wasn’t just that they were beautiful, it was that they were from another world. They were more striking this year than ever before. They were tall girls with long dark hair that sparkled faint shades of blue and purple in sunlight. Their pale hazel eyes glittered with colors distinct from the people of his world. Even the girls’ gait was enticing and otherworldly, which was not in any way diminished by their long legs or shapely behind.
Opening with the first day of school is a trope, unique hair color and unique eye color are both tropes, opening with physical description is a trope and generally not advised.
If you are reading this scroll then my hunter has caught me at last. I am most likely dead. I will risk everything, even my life itself, to keep these writings hidden from everyone’s eyes but yours. You don’t know me. But if you are who I hope you are, then you will, and you must. That is the purpose of this work. Time is short and much is at stake, so bear with me as I explain. My urgency concerns an event called the Great Restoration and the 2-Year War that led up to it. Those chaotic days nearly pushed all of Sophro’syne to the brink of utter destruction. I know this sounds very different from what you’ve been taught about our past. But you must believe me, for surely no one else will. From our darkest days, days that saw the awesome clash of the 5 greatest powers this world has ever known, from those fierce and bloody depths came an unexpected dawn. That dawn was Sophro’syne’s second chance. Look around you. What you think is the golden first age of this world is actually our third age.
Unfortunately, this could be a clever opening but talking directly to the reader in this manner is generally seen as a gimmick these days because it’s been done so much.
“For surely no one else will” seems overly formal, though that might fit with your worldbuilding.
As soon as this moves into backstory it gets boring because the reader is given no information about the character and no mystery or source of intrigue (outside of the narrator being likely dead). An additional hook or delaying backstory would help.
The boy was afraid.
He wasn’t sure how long he had been kept in this damp, dark place. In time, he had learned that escape was impossible. There were whispers of horrible punishments for any who tried. Each night, as he stared longingly at the dark sky through the small window high in his cell, the guards came and silently locked the cell doors, one by one.
When he closed his eyes, he thought of home. Although he had lost count of the days, weeks or months that he had been here, the memories remained clear. There had been decadence, food, servants. He could still smell the manor kitchen, constantly preparing the next meal for the family; he could still feel the practice swords colliding as he and his brother, Ythan, trained in the courtyard. He had gone hunting with Ythan too, learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, although his brother, older and stronger, had always been the one to bring down their prey. His parents, often absent, had kept their distance even when home, believing too much attachment to be unhealthy for their children. However, he remembered that he had loved his brother dearly.
He had learned quickly not to make friends with any of the other children in this place. Eventually they would be taken away like so many before them. He kept his head down, did as he was told, obediently returned to his cell when his work was done.
The opening hook is nice, but the telling pulls focus in a lot of different directions and tries to explain too much too quickly. You’ll find that readers will retain little of the information you’re conveying. I recommend sticking to whatever bit of telling is important right now and then orienting the reader to what’s happening in the moment before going into another section of telling.
Arshad Icara stood at the edge of his bed, craning his neck and sniffing the air for a hint of spiderstink. His father, Malcom, had complained of the stench only a few hours ago, insisting that they shut the kitchen windows during dinner. But Arshad smelled nothing. The six-year spiders had indeed come above ground–he had accidentally crushed one of their telltale blue webs on the way home from school–but only dogs and Durgans were capable of detecting their odor, and Arshad was neither. At least not yet.
He sank back onto the bed with his limbs splayed in defeat, then sat up suddenly with a new thought. Perhaps the stink did not rise with the warm air, but fell instead with the cool. He slid to the floor, spread out on his belly, and sniffed. The sour, pungent odor that assaulted his nostrils nearly brought tears to his eyes, both for its potency and for its potential to be the elusive spiderstink. A quick glance under the bed, however, suggested the smell was coming not from the six-year spiders, but from a lone cotton sock. Arshad reached for it. It was wet, probably from his visit to the lake the previous week. He brought it to his nose, spluttered immediately, and flung the sock toward his closet. It landed on his desk lamp, casting a large sock-shaped shadow onto the corner of the ceiling.
It’s not clear why Arshad wants to be able to smell the spiderstink. Give the reader a compelling reason to make it easier to connect with him.
Rather than having him flop onto the bed, have Arshad do something interesting or engaging. This is probably a good opportunity to have him engaged in something that conveys some worldbuilding.
A sock that was wet a week ago would have surely dried out by this scene. The jokes about the sock smelling could feel a bit too young for YA and “spiderstink” has a more childlike vibe as well.
This was the first day of spring and the last time Akrin could visit the Blooming Oak before it died. Every mine in the Upper Valley Desert once had one. Now the tree of his clan’s mine, the Elurian mine, was the last. As chief, his father refused to name it until all of the iron was mined out, during the customary ritual of its burning.
Akrin secretly named it Nobi the night the iron in his brother’s veins hardened, after their father placed the God’s blade in Talen’s hands.
In the two Bloomings that passed he had offered the ash of seven oxen at the temple and was sure that Ferrum’s will had given him their strength. Yet as he sheathed the sword under his cloak, it felt heavier than he imagined- making his knees quiver like he was hauling rock from the quarry.
Why does it matter that this is Akrin’s last chance to visit the Blooming Oak? This isn’t working as a hook without more context.
What does Akrin want? What is the emotional context of what’s occurring? I recommend at least hinting at a motivation or emotion to help the reader feel invested. Alternatively, you could raise a compelling question about the world or the tree.
Mud splashed, sending rivulets of brown water dripping down Rook’s boots as Mareah raced past. Rook reached for her arm, but her sister moved too quick, weaving through the trees. Mareah’s dark hair disappeared, her echoing laugh all the remained.
“Not fair!” Rook panted. She never should have let her younger sister goad her into a race. The seven years difference between them meant she was supposed to be the sensible one. But Mareah’s laughter wrapped around her and Rook couldn’t fight the smile that edged its way across her face.
Brambles snagged on Rook’s clothes as she burst into the small clearing. In ten strides she’d reached the massive tree that called the meadow home. She pressed her palms against the rough bark and warmth prickled through her fingers. Sucking in a lungful of crisp, fall air, she looked for Mareah.
The wind whispered through the waist high grass of the meadow and warbling birds called to one another, but her sister wasn’t there. Rook rolled her eyes. Her sister was always playing jokes–a mischievous streak she’d inherited from their father.
There’s potential for a strong hook, but describing the girls racing feels a bit generic (running is a very common novel opening) and the details don’t seem to matter.
Watch out for generic descriptions (“rough bark,” “crisp fall air,” “waist high grass,” “warbling birds,” “mischievous streak”) that don’t tell us anything special about your character or her world. These common/generic descriptions can feel unnecessary because they don’t hold any meaning.
You’d probably create a better hook by jumping straight to her sister being gone.