Page Critique Tuesday 6/27/17

Offer up your page (or query) for Nathan's critique on the blog.
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Nathan Bransford
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Page Critique Tuesday 6/27/17

Post by Nathan Bransford » June 26th, 2017, 10:09 pm

Below is the page up for critique on the blog on Tuesday, June 13th. Feel free to chime in with comments, create your own redline (please note the "font colour" button above the posting box, which looks like a drop of ink), and otherwise offer feedback. When offering your feedback, please please remember to be polite and constructive. In order to leave a comment you will need to register an account in the Forums, which should be self-explanatory.

I'll be back on Tuesday with my own post on the blog and we'll literally be able to compare notes.

If you'd like to enter a page for a future Page Critique, please do so here.

Title: Etta & Otto
Genre: Middle grade, Adventure

First 250 words:

Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this.
Granted, her choices were limited…this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her aunt but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees. She had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but she had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot.

She had spent the last three weeks of 6th grade daydreaming about carefree, summer days at Aunt Etta’s house, but now she was dreading being left there for three whole months! Her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) and she would spend the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she would then watch the grass grow back.

“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!”

“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.”

“FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” huffed Etta. “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents. But she still felt a little like Orphan Annie.

Five hours later, they entered Three Trees. The sign next to

jpepper
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Joined: June 26th, 2017, 10:55 pm
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Re: Page Critique Tuesday 6/27/17

Post by jpepper » June 27th, 2017, 12:03 am

Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this.

Granted, her choices were limited…this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her aunt but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees. She had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but she had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot.

She had spent the last three weeks of 6th grade daydreaming about carefree, summer days at Aunt Etta’s house, but now she was dreading being left there for three whole months! Her parents would be spending the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat) and she would spend the summer watching cows chew grass. And if she was really lucky, she would then watch the grass grow back.

“Stop procrastinating Etta,” her mom yelled from the driveway. “We have everything you need!”

“Yeah,” said her dad, “including an entire suitcase of shoes that have no place in the country.”

“FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten,” huffed Etta. “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.” She knew she wasn’t being fair to her parents. But she still felt a little like Orphan Annie.

Five hours later, they entered Three Trees.

----

Revised:

From the driveway, Mom yelled, “Etta—we have everything you need. Including a suitcase of shoes that has no place in this country.”

Looking at her pile of suitcases, Etta couldn’t believe she was really excited about spending time with her aunt. Granted, this was her only option. She enjoyed her dad’s tales about growing up there, but what would she do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees?

“Yeah, stop procrastinating,” said Dad.

Feeling like a little Orphan Annie, Etta huffed at her parents. “FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten.” She wasn’t being fair, but still. “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.”

For the last three weeks of 6th grade, Etta daydreamed about carefree summer days at Aunt Etta’s house. She had visited a few times, and knew her dad had always exaggerated…a lot. But now she was being left there.

For. Three. Whole. Months!

She would spend the summer watching cows chew grass, while her parents would spend the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat).
If she was really lucky, she could watch the grass grow back.

Five hours later, they entered Three Trees.

----

Annotated:

From the driveway, Mom yelled, “Etta—we have everything you need. Including a suitcase of shoes that has no place in this country.”

JP: Opening with dialog can often help set the tone of the narrative to follow. And with a few basic story elements/facts in place, establishes a sense of relationships/setting. In this case, brings us into the scene a little sooner than the original draft. Also, "Mom"—foregoing the {pronoun} Mom construnction, etc., eliminating unnecessary distance. Makes attribution/tagging easier to follow later.

Looking at her pile of suitcases, Etta couldn’t believe she was really excited about spending time with her aunt. Granted, this was her only option. She enjoyed her dad’s tales about growing up there, but what would she do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees?

JP: "her aunt" for lack of an alternative to "Aunt Etta", which is problematic in the narrative when we may have both characters potentially interacting, e.g. She said, she said. Etta said, Etta said. Maybe consider re-naming unless there's a solid reason for the MC and MC's aunt to have the same name (I'm assuming there is).
JP: Broke up the exposition and peppered it through the narrative, and used parts to help better cast Etta's doubts about her upcoming summer.

“Yeah, stop procrastinating,” said Dad.

JP: Beat. "Dad" same comments as "Mom" rationale.

Feeling like a little Orphan Annie, Etta huffed at her parents. “FINE! I’m ready to be dropped off and forgotten.” She wasn’t being fair, but still. “And just because your only friends were farm animals, doesn’t mean a girl like me won’t have a reason to dress nice.”

JP: Stronger visual with a solid simile, "Feeling like a little Orphan Annie" vs "Feeling a little like Orphan Annie" personalizes this comparison directly with Etta. Also, clearer Motivation (Orphan Annie) for her Reaction ("FINE!") to her parent's prodding. Suggest removing the filter, "she knew" to give Etta agency in this situation, allowing for her reaction to build into, "And just because..."

For the last three weeks of 6th grade, Etta daydreamed about carefree summer days at Aunt Etta’s house. She had visited a few times, and knew her dad had always exaggerated…a lot. But now she was being left there.

JP: Etta's a smart kid. She knows her dad likes to exaggerate, so let her own it.

For. Three. Whole. Months.

JP: Tone without the exclamation, given on its own line with exaggerated emphasis.

She would spend the summer watching cows chew grass, while her parents would spend the summer in France studying l’art de culinaire (in other words: cooking fancy foods that no one wants to eat).

If she was really lucky, she could watch the grass grow back.

JP: The above plus its preceding paragraphs lend a sense of passage of time before we give the last line:

Five hours later, they entered Three Trees.

Overall:
Since this is for an MG audience, I can see how it's easy to underestimate what that audience can understand.

So, reflexively, I think writers tend to be more active in: Adding in filters when their absence is not missed; Overstating tone in dialog with punctuation, when arrangement, word-choice etc. (things we expect with adult fiction), work just as well; and over-explaining in exposition, the incident. In doing so, removes the young reader from experiencing the story at hand.

Where this excerpt is concerned, I feel the writer had almost everything they needed to craft a compelling opening scene. The over-arching conflict is there, so is the MC's internal conflict. As well, there are the external stresses acting too—her parent's absence underscores her hesitation. The setting is sparse, but it doesn't need more than what's already there, and gets us from Etta packing to Etta arriving at Three Trees with a lot happening in between.

In my above revision—and I apologize if that's frowned upon—there were minimal cuts. Very few in fact. Most of what changed is the arrangement of sentences, and breaking out of certain lines (see comments inline), and a few tense changes as a result of re-arrangement. What resulted is an introduction to the character first, and quickly moving them into the incident, showing through Etta's reactions, her various feelings towards the conflict and hand and the conflicts to come.

Jaligard
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Re: Page Critique Tuesday 6/27/17

Post by Jaligard » June 27th, 2017, 3:03 pm

Caveat: middle grade is not my specialty.

Looking at the pile of suitcases lying around her, Etta couldn’t believe she was really doing this.
Granted, her choices were limited…this was her only option. She was excited about spending time with her aunt but nervous about what she would do for a WHOLE SUMMER in Three Trees. She had always enjoyed listening to her dad’s tales about growing up there, but she had visited a few times and knew that her dad was exaggerating…a lot.

This doesn't ground me as an opening paragraph. I get a pile of suitcases, but I won't find out for several paragraphs where we are/were. It's five paragraphs of void that could easily be in the back seat of a car making the journey. There's some nice gems in the page ("cooking fancy foods that no one wants to it"), but it's not grabbing.

And there's grabbing stuff to pull from, I'm pretty sure. She mentions her father's tales about Three Trees, but the first solid image we get is watching cows eat grass. If you want to promise an exciting story, I'd start with the exciting image. Even if she knows it's a tall tale. The contrast can help, I think.

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