First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post excerpts from your works in progress and give feedback to your fellow writers.
lmitchell
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by lmitchell » June 28th, 2010, 11:11 am

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).


I agree with you--it was too drawn out/excessive. I've gone back and shaped up this part a bit.

Thanks for the input. :)

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

Post by Emily J » June 28th, 2010, 3:51 pm

lmitchell wrote: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. I like the opening, though a quick formatting issue, I would only put 1 space after a period, 2 spaces is more appropriate for the age of the typewriter

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. I found this part a bit confusing, who is whispering? the MC? “Your note said it would be better this way, but that’s just bull. if this is a teenager I wouldn't pull the punch, I would put bullshit just a thought tho 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 agree with earlier comment, don't need to underline this and my chin thudded against my chest. Oh Lord, kill me now. I italicize thoughts, I think it helps clarify The old broad was a horrible singer. I luv the word broad personally, though it strikes me as a bit odd for a teenager 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. drunk is being used as a noun here, I found this a bit befuddling, three-day bender? perhaps?

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. can't even express how great this is 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.
First off I call shenanigans on the "I'm not worthy" sentiment. This is a riveting passage. Your descriptions are vivid and eloquent. Also, I had no problem at all with the current level of snarkiness in terms of tone. I think it's fitting for a teenager in any situation. As to the descriptions of the rotund singer, I say bring it on they're fantastic! True it may be gilding the lily at the end but it didn't bother me at all (mostly because the descriptions were hilarious). My only real suggestions are to clarify the beginning a bit and to only put one space after a period. But that is just nit-picking, I think this is great as is.
You are indeed worthy!

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

Post by lmitchell » June 28th, 2010, 4:06 pm

Emily J~~

Thanks so much for the comments. Good points. I will put them into effect. (The two spaces after a period is killing me. I'm old school and type 40+ hours per week in my FT job using the two space after a period format. It is so much a part of me, I don't know how to break the habit, LOL.)

Thanks so much for the suggestion of the word, "three-day bender." "Three-day drunk" was the only term I could come up with and I feared "on a drunk" might be a Southern thang (I'm a Southern girl) or it might be only a part of the local dialect in my area. Though "bender" seems foreign to my tongue, it might have a much more broad appeal to readers in general.

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

Post by Ellie G » July 7th, 2010, 11:48 am

This is a good start. The voice is very strong and carries the reader along.

If I had to make one major criticism, it's that I feel like you're trying to catch the reader's attention by withholding information; by dropping us into a scene without telling us what's going on so we'll keep reading to find out what's going on.

That works in some cases, but I don't think it's right here. It doesn't add to the emotional punch; it distracts, because I'm not getting immersed in the MC's thoughts, but rather subconsciously analyzing them, trying to find an anchor where I can figure out what's going on in the scene. And when I get to " Then I stumbled away from the casket of sixteen-year-old Jennifer Walker, my best friend" my feeling isn't an increase in tension but a release of it, like, oh, okay, that's where we are.

On the other hand, if you tell me in the very first sentence that the MC is attending her best friend's funeral, I'm hooked--I want to go on the journey with her, see what she's feeling and why.

I also agree that the snark at the singer goes a little over the top, especially because it doesn't feel tied to anything. If the MC were thinking "Jennifer would be embarrassed to have this cow at her funeral" or "I'm so angry at Jennifer for making me listen to this crap" or something, she'd come across as more sympathetic (yet still snarky). As it stands, though, it overstays its welcome, especially since it grinds the action to a halt.

Intriguing opening overall. I hope you post more!

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

Post by FatLarry » July 7th, 2010, 11:46 pm

two spaces after a period
I'm a dyed-in-the-wool lurker, but I had to post for this. Is this not done anymore? My Strunk & White is old, but I didn't know it was that old!


Oh, and I loved the excerpt.

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

Post by Serzen » July 8th, 2010, 2:55 pm

A single space after the period is common to see in print, but two spaces are usually seen on raw material. It's easier to read, for one. Newspapers, magazines, books, all of those have limited space, and so must fill as much of it as possible with material so as not to waste any space. Newspaper headlines often use a comma for the word 'and,' for example. But in a manuscript, you have as much space as you need; furthermore, you want the people reading it to be able to do so as comfortably as possible.

Ultimately, in the age of digital everything, there's no reason NOT to use the double space. It adds little indeed to the size of the file and serves to make the text more readable. A win-win, to me.

~Serzen
Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous. --Voltaire

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

Post by Elsinora » July 11th, 2010, 10:15 pm

Wow. This really hit me in the gut, and I mean that as a compliment. Definite kudos.

Here's how I would edit it:
lmitchell wrote:Could this be any more awkward? ("Ordeal" doesn't sound like a teenager's internal monologue, and you don't need it.) My jaw clenched so tight I worried my teeth might crack. But 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.” My voice 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 full fury of Jenny's..." sounds as if Jenny is the one who is furious. Also, that sentence is telling, not showing.) 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. Jennifer Walker's casket. My best friend. Age sixteen. (Shorter sentences pack more emotional punch and sound more like a person's actual thoughts.)

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 as the funeral started.

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 ("Broad" isn't teenage usage -- hag, perhaps?) was a horrible singer. She stunk worse than Uncle Billy serenading Aunt Wanda after a three-day bender. (Three sentences here are overkill. This last line alone is sufficient -- it communicates both how horrible the singer is and something about the MC's attitude/life.)

The woman wailed -- er, sang -- and her thick gut kept tempo with her fierce vibrato. (Again, I would consider the "like a car" sentence overkill. We already know that she's heavy and that her gut wobbles.)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. (I'm probably a horrible person, but I laughed out loud at this paragraph. Your MC may be a bit mean, but she has great voice!)
I would definitely read on!

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OneChoice1
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by OneChoice1 » July 15th, 2010, 2:24 am

lmitchell wrote: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. My mother’s dental insurance sucked so, of course, that would be just my luck.

Crap. How could anyone expect to have a private moment in this crowded room? I shoved my black sleeves to the elbow. “You said you were my best friend.” [Replace "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. My fury over Jenny’s emotional train wreck slapped me again. Harder, in fact. How could she do this to me? {I don't think you need that extra line, because you show it in everything else. :( Very sad.}

“I’ll tell you what it is. It’s cowardly. You’re a coward. And I hate you.” I stumbled away from the casket that shouldn't have been occupied by this sixteen-year-old. Jennifer Walker. My best friend.

Sobs jarred me as I slumped into the metal folding chair next to my mom. I wiped my eyes and balled my fingers into tight knots. The funeral was starting. We could finally get it over with.

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 quivered through the first lines of Amazing Grace and my chin thudded against my chest. Oh Lord, kill me now. The old broad was 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. {I think the paragraph will be strong enough if you just stop at "tone deaf." It's enough said :S}

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.

Move on to other aspects of the funeral. Maybe describe Jennifer's family, and how that makes your MC even more mad. You can even take it to your MC not thinking her best friend deserves a nice funeral after what she did. I'm just throwing ideas out, but after reading this excerpt, I'm sure you got things under control. Great job!
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lmitchell
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Re: First Page YA: opinions on voice and technique appreciated

Post by lmitchell » July 15th, 2010, 11:59 pm

Wow, guys. Thanks so much for all the advice. I'm absorbing it all and deciding how to clean up this page. Awesome!

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

Post by divi » July 16th, 2010, 12:48 am

I enjoyed reading your page very much. I like the expressions of anger your MC has toward her deceased BF.

Regarding the meanness in the way she describes the singer, I did "get it" that she was displacing her anger and horror at her friend's suicide, but if you agree she comes off as too mean, you could diffuse it a little by giving a subtle clue that she's not hard as nails through-and-through, maybe by using a physical gesture. She could stumble, or notice her arms are numb, or some other symptom of the shock of being at her friend's funeral. A hint of the vulnerability that she is unable to acknowledge?

One other suggestion might be to alter your description of your character's first encounter with the dead body to include a couple of details that are really original and striking... we all know that corpses have ashen faces. But there are other, weirder details... like people slip things into the coffins... someone's mouth might not look right... stuff like that. This might impart more of a feeling of how traumatic the experience truly is, and make it more understandable that she rakes that singer over the coals the way she does.

I hope this is helpful and I really liked your writing!

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

Post by SSB » August 24th, 2010, 6:18 pm

First I want you to know that I am not a published author. (Only a wannabe) I am going to give you my opinion as a reader. You had me until here:

“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.

As mentioned by other posts, you protagonist comes off as mean, and possibly snooty. Unfortunately, I have been to the funeral of a few teenagers when I was young, one a drug overdose, one drinking and driving, both sixteen. I was devastated, as were all of the other young people and their parents. At the funeral of one, they played all her favorite music from "Climb Every Mountain" to "Bridge Over Troubled water." Everyone was heartbroken. The snarky attitude of your character make me not like her. I understand your levity, but I believe it is in the wrong place.

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

Post by hulbertsfriend » August 30th, 2010, 12:59 am

Teenage angst has a character all its own. I think if you can hold her "it's all about me" anger, you have a compelling character, provided you balance it with attempts at understanding.

Your character is obviously going to be deeper than this page. You present a moment of frailty that came off well. Character flaws are anchors to a story. That you compelled so many to instantly judge your character as mean or thoughtless is good writing, not a mistake.

Very Good...

DougM
"All it takes to fly is to hurl yourself at the ground... and miss." Douglas Adams

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

Post by SariBelle » August 31st, 2010, 4:20 am

Hi Imitchell,

I really enjoyed this intro, and I think you have great voice.

I agree with most that I don't have a problem with the meanness, as it conveys something more than that the character is just plain mean. She is going through huge emotional upheaval and trying to deal with that any way she can. I do think that some of the meanness can be linked closer to her feelings over her best friends betrayal. I felt the last section had great description but it didn't feel like it was linked emotionally to the rest of the scene.

For what it's worth (and it's probably not worth much since it's coming from a newby writer), here's my thoughts:
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.
This opening line doesn't quite seem to convey what the character is really going through. Is awkward the right word choice here? Would she feel awkward when anger and betrayal seem to be much stronger emotions for her? I agree with a previous commenter that saying earlier on in the piece that she is at her friends funeral would help set the mood.

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 liked this. I think you have captured well what a teenager would be feeling about her best friend's suicide.

I looked at her closed eyes, her still hands, her ashen face and bloodless lips. My fury over 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.” This line of dialogue felt stilted. 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.

I think you have some great discription here, but I agree with many comments before that it needs to be cut back a bit. It seems to take ovre the scene. I also think you need to link it some way to her feelings about her friend. Maybe say something like: "The old broad was a horrible singer. Well that would serve Jenny right for doing what she did." Not flash, obviously, but you get the idea :)
I hope some of this has been helpful, but if not please ignore. I think what you've got is great.

Sari

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

Post by sldwyer » August 31st, 2010, 2:38 pm

I have to agree with the majority here. The attitude is right on for the situation, the age, and your MC's personal situation. I feel as though we will see this person go through a miserable point in here life and she deals with it in attitude.

All the description works well, considering the age. I probably would think the same thing if I had to listen to this lady sing. All I would want to do was get out of there so I could go somewhere and scream.

Good start.

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

Post by TigerGray » September 1st, 2010, 3:35 pm

You know, I don't read YA generally but I love the spirit of this. I love the tone. She strikes me as a teenage girl I, as the reader, could actually relate to and think of as real. Her angry words to her dead friend's body ring very true to me. I like how you've shown the anger that often comes with a suicide while juxtaposing it with the grief, so it's not just a suicide-victims-are-so-selfish wank fest. (if you can't tell, I really hate that idea)

The other thing that struck me is how you've artfully weaved information about other things in to the narrative. She's wearing black. That makes me wonder if she's in a subculture. Her mother's arm is fleshy, which leads me to instantly imagine the rest of the woman. The details about how maudlin and alienating funerals can be resonate with me. My best friend--more a brother, really--died young and his funeral left me feeling confused and in more denial than I had been before I went. I didn't instantly feel better like a lot of people seem to believe you should.

Some of my nitpicks: she describes her friend as "sixteen year old <name>' which, without tying that together with a thought about how, say, she's of an age where death isn't expected, feels like the old looking in to a mirror and describing one's self trope. That is, she's parroting information to the reader but not, perhaps, speaking in character.

You don't need too many similes at the end there. One or two, carefully selected, even if the narrator tends towards the melodramatic. Also you might watch out for the unflattering fat analogies, because I might start to figure that the narrator has it out for fat people. If she does, great. If not, turn a careful eye to those.

Don't let anyone tell you that you aren't being reverential enough. This is good stuff. Keep going.
"Who knows themselves better than the blind?' - for every thought becomes a tool." --Luis Borges

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