First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

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lmitchell
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First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by lmitchell » June 5th, 2010, 2:05 am

After reading many of the excerpts in this forum, I'm often left with that I'm-not-worthy-to-circle-your-typos kinda feeling. (But I'll be brave and post.) This is the first page of a YA manuscript I'm writing. If I had to do a one-sentence summary it would be:

A teenage girl grieves her best friend's suicide as she battles self-esteem issues caused by her estranged father.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read it and comment.



****

Could this ordeal be any more awkward? My jaw clenched so tight I worried my teeth might crack and my mother’s dental insurance sucked so, of course, that would be just my luck.

Crap. To attempt a private moment in a crowded room, well it bordered on impossible. I shoved my black sleeves to the elbow. “You said you were my best friend.” Hushed whispers caught in the back of my throat. “Your note said it would be better this way, but that’s just bull. It’s insane. And stupid. And selfish. Do you hear me?”

I looked at her closed eyes, her still hands, her ashen face and bloodless lips. The fury of Jenny’s emotional train wreck hit me full force. How could she do this to me?

“I’ll tell you what it is. It’s cowardly. You’re a coward. And I hate you.” Then I stumbled away from the casket of sixteen-year-old Jennifer Walker, my best friend.

Sobs jarred me as I slumped onto the metal folding chair next to my mother. I wiped my eyes and balled my fingers into tight knots. The funeral was starting.

My mother’s fleshy arm slid across the back of the chair and pulled me close. “Are you okay, sweetie?”

“I’ll be fine.” I leaned against my mom as cheesy organ music churned from the funeral parlor speakers and a woman started to sing. She warbled through the first lines of Amazing Grace and my chin thudded against my chest. Oh Lord, kill me now. The old broad was a horrible singer. Worse than me, and I’m tone deaf. Worse than any bad audition freak off American Idol. She stunk worse than Uncle Billy serenading Aunt Wanda after a three-day drunk.

The woman wailed…er, sang and the shaking of her thick gut kept tempo with her fierce vibrato. Her sheer mass shimmied like a car that needed its front end aligned. She looked like a cow drowning in layers of black taffeta. Black should be slimming, right? They could have dumped this chick in a vat of tar and she would still be a doublewide.

Aimée
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by Aimée » June 5th, 2010, 1:29 pm

The dialogue was very emotional, which is great. The imagery is wonderfully done.
Concerning voice, I think your character is kind of rude and a little too angsty. Not sure how old she is and how that would affect this. Maybe it's just a personal preference, but I'm not a fan of the rhetorical questions. Also, I don't think you need to underline Amazing Grace.
I think this is a great idea for a story! The voice is fantastic, but might want to tone down the angst just a little bit, even though her friend died and her father is gone... The description of the singer was vivid, but once again, the speaker was kind of mean. Well, I suppose she has a good reason to be mean. Overall, I thought it was good.

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JustineDell
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by JustineDell » June 5th, 2010, 6:29 pm

I have a feeling you'll get a lot of feedback on your MC being "mean". I would like to kindly disagree with the previous poster.

I, too, have mean MC and I like her that way. Escpecially since she goes on journey - road to redemption type thing. Plus, your girl is young and teenagers can be a bit snarky - so I like it. And, she's been through a lot, so I have no problem that she had alittle attitude. At some point, its good to show a softer side, I mean, she can't be mean the entire time...but I understand that your telling a story and showing us her emotions and how she overcomes the things that have burdened her life. Whoa..that was a super long sentence. LoL

Anyhoo, I guess I was saying alittle attitude can be a good thing. I like the voice in this. Hopefull you've kept the voice strong through the ms and taken the reader on a powerful journey.

Good luck to you!

~JD

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lmitchell
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by lmitchell » June 5th, 2010, 11:05 pm

If the MC comes across as really mean, I might need to tone her down a bit, but I'll have to do it without losing her snarky personality. I know it is difficult to tell from such a small bit of the story but her flippant teen attitude is compounded by the loss of her friend and by the defensive walls she has put up her entire life to keep from being hurt in relationships (because she has self-esteem issues due to her father abandoning her when she was ten months old).

As the story plays out I'm peeling off defensive layers from her personality. By the end of the story she is still cocky but more confident and compassionate. In essence, she learns that in the real world people don't just magically live happily ever after but they can accept the hand life deals them and grow from it.

Thank you guys so much for you comments. I will really take them to heart.

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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by wildheart » June 6th, 2010, 12:56 am

Don't tone her down! I read YA...and a MC that goes through something like this is NOT going to be nice. Especially with her best friend dying. This is realistic. Sure, she may be sounding mean...but why wouldn't she?

Have you ever heard of the book BEFORE I FALL? The girl in that starts off as a jerk, and I mean WAY worse than what you've got going on here. So I think what you've got is fine.

If you take away your character's snarkiness you've taken away what makes your story different. And you don't want that.
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by BlancheKing » June 6th, 2010, 11:31 pm

Hmm.. watch the sentence lengths. We are simple people. We think in short sentences, and action. There is too much description, and too much drama for a scene where technically: nothing extraordinary happens.
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 6th, 2010, 11:53 pm

You ARE worthy, Imitchell! As Alice Cooper said to Wayne and Garth. And your first page is powerful. I assume you underlined Amazing Grace to indicate italics?

Rhetorical questions? I respectfully disagree with Aimee, particularly when they express thoughts succinctly, as they do in your page.

Rude, angsty, mean, snarky and flippant ? Rude, angsty, mean, snarky and flippant to other people is one thing. Rude, angsty, mean, snarky and flippant in one’s own thoughts or diary is quite another, and quite appropriate to the situation, as others have commented. Don’t redeem your MC before she even sets foot on the road to redemption.

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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by BrokenChain » June 7th, 2010, 3:52 pm

Awesome! One of the better written things I've seen on here. I don't normally read YA (if that's what it is) but this totally has my attention.

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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by Robin » June 7th, 2010, 11:02 pm

I liked the attitude. It feels real, very true to a 16 yr old girl.
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JayceeEA
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by JayceeEA » June 8th, 2010, 7:32 pm

I also respectfully disagree with the first commenter. I felt like I was watching a movie. A teenager who's just been shocked that her so-called best friend would leave her in this way, and that she would never see her again, would be really angry. Also considering the fact that her father is also absent. Not that it is the case always, but some people who've experienced similar episodes are really angry...and their anger translates to meanness.

What I thought was confusing was the lack of explanation of what was going on until the third paragraph--> "I looked at her closed eyes, her still hands, her ashen face and bloodless lips. The fury of Jenny’s emotional train wreck hit me full force. How could she do this to me?" Maybe you could move this line to the first sentence?

otherside89girl
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by otherside89girl » June 8th, 2010, 9:56 pm

I like it. Awesome voice. I think it's spot on, but there were a few minor things I wanted to edit, so here you go:
lmitchell wrote:
Could this ordeal be any more awkward? My jaw clenched so tight I worried my teeth might crack, and my mother’s dental insurance sucked so, of course, that would be just my luck.

Crap. To attempt a private moment in a crowded room, well, it bordered on impossible. I shoved my black sleeves to the elbow. “You said you were my best friend.” Hushed whispers caught in the back of my throat. “Your note said it would be better this way, but that’s just bull. It’s insane. And stupid. And selfish. Do you hear me?”

I looked at her closed eyes, her still hands, her ashen face and bloodless lips. The fury of Jenny’s emotional train wreck hit me full force. How could she do this to me?

“I’ll tell you what it is. It’s cowardly. You’re a coward. And I hate you.” Then I stumbled away from the casket of sixteen-year-old Jennifer Walker, my best friend.

Sobs jarred me as I slumped onto the metal folding chair next to my mother. I wiped my eyes and balled my fingers into tight knots. The funeral was starting.

My mother’s fleshy arm slid across the back of the chair and pulled me close. “Are you okay, sweetie?”

“I’ll be fine.” I leaned against my mom as cheesy organ music churned from the funeral parlor speakers and a woman started to sing. She warbled through the first lines of Amazing Grace and my chin thudded against my chest. Oh Lord, kill me now. *I think? Usually thoughts are italicized but who knows if I'm right* The old broad was a horrible singer. Worse than me, and I’m tone deaf. Worse than any bad audition freak offon American Idol. She stunk worse than Uncle Billy serenading Aunt Wanda after a three-day drunk *a three-day drunk what?*.

The woman wailed…er, sang and the her shaking of her thick gut kept tempo with her fierce vibrato. Her sheer mass shimmied like a car that needed its front end aligned. She looked like a cow drowning in layers of black taffeta. Black should be slimming, right? They could have dumped this chick in a vat of tar and she would still be a doublewide.

lmitchell
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by lmitchell » June 9th, 2010, 10:49 pm

Good points. Thanks for the edit.

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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by Anobile1 » June 10th, 2010, 4:32 am

Your main character didn't actually strike me as mean at all. At least, not to the point where it's not understandable. Her best friend just killed herself, and everyone is going to react differently to something like that. Her reaction is obviously to hate her friend for it, and while mean, it's not at all unrealistic, I think.

The writing itself I think is quite good. I like the style.
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by RebeccaHamilton » June 26th, 2010, 10:42 am

I loved this. IT was realistic and emotional. I didn't think your MC was mean AT ALL. But hey, I like "mean" MC's anyway. There is some rumor being passed around (Even by agents and publishers!) that readers don't like "unlikable" MCs. Umm... well me and a TON of other people I know DO. We like honest. We like people tho say what we wish we could.

I think the real issue, is distinguishing UNLIKABLE from MEAN. Mean can be likable. Your MC is relatable and went through something HORRIBLE. As long as they are interesting and have a good voice, are honest and have a reason for their faults, they'll be likable.

Just my two cents. I'd read more. If you are looking for a critique partner, let me know :) I'm looking for one and I like your writing style. (we can do a trial critique if you are interested)

Here is more info from me here:
http://rebecca-hamilton.com/?p=447

and I also have provided some critiques on this forum you can view, but the link above links to over a hundred critiques I have done for others.

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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by maybegenius » June 26th, 2010, 8:02 pm

otherside89girl wrote:“I’ll be fine.” I leaned against my mom as cheesy organ music churned from the funeral parlor speakers and a woman started to sing. She warbled through the first lines of Amazing Grace and my chin thudded against my chest. Oh Lord, kill me now. *I think? Usually thoughts are italicized but who knows if I'm right*
I wanted to respectfully disagree here. Because this excerpt is written in the first person, the author doesn't need to add in "I think." It's assumed that everything we're reading is inside the character's head. Therefore, she's "thinking" everything we're reading.

The MC is coming off a little overblown to me (the description of the overweight woman is getting to me... she goes on about her quite a bit more than seems necessary), but I agree that I'm not put off by the character's anger. She's lashing out and being rude as a way to deal with her anger. Understandable. And I agree that mean characters can be likable if done well - I mean, look at Sawyer from LOST. Mean as anything, but he was humanized and drawn in such a way that the audience understood his demeanor and grew to like him.

That's the key. Make sure you weave in reasons for your MC's snark, and that those reasons make her sympathetic to the audience. You already have that set up - her best friend just died. As long as you keep her sympathetic and not just a big bag of jerk, I think it will work.

I actually loved your descriptions! The character is observant and looks at things in a quirky light. There was just a tad too much focus on "oh, that horrible screeching fat lady" here for me. It just needs to be reeled in a tiiiiny bit. You could cut two of these sentences - "Worse than me, and I’m tone deaf. Worse than any bad audition freak offon American Idol. She stunk worse than Uncle Billy serenading Aunt Wanda after a three-day drunk." - and just leave one, and it'd pack the punch you're going for.
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