First Page - Help Needed! YA

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skinguk
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First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by skinguk » June 3rd, 2011, 7:08 am

Hi all. I am new to all of this. I have been reading the blog and forum for awhile while working on my first book. I have just finished it and gone through about two edits and am now beginning to feel the need for outside edits and commentary, so I appreciate anything you can provide. This is from my first page, which is actually a prologue. Thank you very much for any comments/edits/critique/etc.

Title: The Reception
Genre: YA

Autumn stood outside the door wondering what she would find inside. All she needed to do was open it, but she hesitated nonetheless.

It was different from the last time. There was another like her actually here, she could just tell. And this person did not quite fall into that imaginary world person - or whatever it was - she was beginning to get used to.

After taking a deep breath in and unconsciously holding it, Autumn opened the door and stepped into a kitchen. To her left was a giant oven and to her right a door that Autumn knew instinctively led down to a cellar. In front of her was a large, wooden, central butcher’s block that was completely out of place with the rest of the kitchen, which enjoyed matching counter-tops and colored tiles on the floor. Linoleum. Even the odd looking appliances matched in a very sanitized way. Everything was spotless. But everything felt forced, as if carefully put together in an attempt to show that it was a happy kitchen.

There was another door across the kitchen and to the right. Autumn walked, as if in slow motion, over to it. Leaning down with her ear tilted toward the wood, she heard someone inside quietly crying. And then the crying suddenly stopped. Almost as if that someone was holding his breath. She paused, not wanting to open the door this time. If there was one thing she had learned, it was that anything could be behind a door.

AllieS
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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by AllieS » June 5th, 2011, 7:21 pm

Autumn stood outside the door wondering what she would find inside. All she needed to do was open it, but she hesitated nonetheless. This doesn't really grab me. It's too vague.

It "This" might sound better was different from the last time. There was another like her actually here, she could just tell. And this person did not quite fall into that imaginary world person - or whatever it was - she was beginning to get used to. Again, this doesn't tell me anything solid. It's vague. Two paragraphs in and I still don't really have a sense of anything.

After taking a deep breath in and unconsciously holding it, Autumn opened the door and stepped into a shouldn't this be "the"? kitchen. To her left was a giant oven and to her right a door that Autumn knew instinctively how does she instinctively know? led down to a cellar. In front of her was a large, wooden, central butcher’s block that was completely out of place with the rest of the kitchen, which enjoyed matching counter-tops and colored tiles on the floor. Linoleum. This part seems a little awkward, and messes with the flow. Can a kitchen really enjoy matching counter-tops? Even the odd looking appliances matched in a very sanitized way. Everything was spotless. But everything felt forced, as if carefully put together in an attempt to show that it was a happy kitchen.

There was another door across the kitchen and to the right. Autumn walked, as if in slow motion, over to it. Leaning down with her ear tilted toward the wood, she heard someone inside quietly crying. And then the crying suddenly stopped. Almost as if that someone was holding his breath. She paused, not wanting to open the door this time. If there was one thing she had learned, it was that anything could be behind a door.

So I'm sure you've probably got something really good here, but I have no sense of what your character is doing at this place, or what this place is aside from a kitchen. In short, I got to the end and didn't know much more than what I knew at the first line. I'd spice this up with more action--it doesn't need to be a kickass battle or anything, but maybe you could eliminate all this talk about the kitchen and have your character go into the room (if she actually does).

Then again, this is the reason I don't like prologues, and I know many agents don't either. Usually, they don't add anything to the story that we won't figure out eventually. Have you considered ditching the prologue and starting straight with your first chapter? Hope this helps!

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bighockeyhair
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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by bighockeyhair » June 5th, 2011, 7:43 pm

I'm with AllieS on this one. Our only real sense of menace comes from the MC's hesitation to enter a house. But it comes across as vague and removed and because of that there's no real sense of danger. Only confusion. I'll give you an example: In discussing creating suspense Hitchcock often talked about the bomb on the bus. A five minute scene with passengers talking would be boring. But if the audience knows there's a bomb on the bus ready to explode in 5 minutes, then watching those same passengers chatting so much more suspenseful.

So my point is, because your audience has no idea what's going on here or why your character is afraid to enter the house, we don't care yet. Identify your 'bomb', let us know about it and see if the scene comes out stronger.
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skinguk
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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by skinguk » June 6th, 2011, 10:58 am

Thank you so much. This is really helpful.

I agree on prologues. Usually I don't like them either. Unfortunately I felt as if I needed one in this case. First, it refers to things that you don't find out about until much later and kind of sets them up. (I have unfortunately got a couple of books outlined and mapped out for this; the prologue is something I come back to later on but it is relevant to this book as well (not completely esoteric)). Second, the first two chapters are not that exciting as they are setting the stage for what has happened to the MC and why things take the turn they do. It is her daily life summarized along with a couple of specific in the now events that lead to the rest of the story. I could, I suppose, add the prologue in somewhere in the first chapter as a remembrance, but I think it would be too awkward there. But I will definitely play around with it.

I don't know if it helps, but I am including the rest of the prologue (it is not that much more) to see if this is better. I was sticking with the 250 word count as it seems that is what people often want to see straight off and, you are right, people don't often read beyond the first few paragraphs so first impressions are key. I have, as you will see, started messing around with the intro as you both suggested but thought I would post the rest to see if you have a change of perspective or still think I should up the ante on the hook.

Thank you so much again. This is invaluable.

*******************************************************************

Autumn stood outside the door wondering what she would find inside. All she needed to do was open it, but she hesitated nonetheless. Every time she had entered a room before she had been chased there by whatever it was that was always just beyond her sight but made her panic whenever she sensed it come near nonetheless.

This time the atmosphere was different and it unsettled her. She wasn’t being chased in; she would have to go in voluntarily. And there was another like her actually here, she could just tell.

After taking a deep breath and unconsciously holding it, Autumn opened the door and stepped into a kitchen. To her left was a giant oven and to her right a door that Autumn guessed led down to the cellar. The kitchen gleamed with matching counter-tops and colored tiles on the floor. Linoleum. Even the odd looking appliances matched in a very sanitized way. Everything was spotless. But everything felt forced, as if carefully put together in an attempt to show that it was a happy kitchen. It looked exactly like those kitchens Autumn had seen on television shows from the 1950s.

There was another door across the kitchen and to the right. Autumn walked, as if in slow motion, over to it. Leaning down with her ear tilted toward the wood, she heard someone inside quietly crying. And then the crying suddenly stopped. Almost as if that someone was holding his breath. She paused, not wanting to open the door this time. If there was one thing she had learned, it was that anything could be behind a door.

“Please,” a voice said, “please leave me alone. I don’t want to be here. I didn’t ask for this.” And then, almost as if to the speaker’s self, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know which one this is.”

She knew that voice. She recognized it immediately. How could that possibly be?

As she reached out for the door, a familiar smell hit her. That sickly sweet cherry and wood scent creeped out of nowhere and invaded her nose. It was faint at first, but like always became stronger and stronger as she stood frozen, hand hovering by the doorknob.

A wave of panic hit Autumn. She shouldn’t be here. This wasn’t about her. But the person in the closet shouldn’t be here either – it had never been like this before. How was it possible?

“I won’t leave you but I have to hide,” she whispered to the door. “I’ll be back. I promise. Stay as quiet as you can…”

At the moment she heard the desperate voice call her name in return, the dark wood door knob on the cellar door started to turn ever so slightly. But in the otherwise quiet and still kitchen behind Autumn, that slight movement was like an alarm. It was too late; there was nowhere to go. The door opened. Autumn looked around but found no refuge…………

Autumn awoke with a start and, looking around, realized she was in her room, in her bed. But it had seemed so real!

She didn’t like the turn her dreams were taking lately.

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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by Aurlumen » June 6th, 2011, 11:44 pm

I agree with the other posters. At no point during the excerpt do I really believe that the MC is in danger. I understand that at the get-go we're not going to know things we need to know, especially in a prologue. But all I get is that the MC is scared of doors for some reason and that she is either not exactly human or she has some kind of power(s).

My biggest problem with this is the fact that we don't know where this door is. It's in a kitchen. But that's all I know. Are we to assume that every single door she comes across has scary monster things creeping inside? Or is it just certain doors? Or maybe this is in some kind of alternate universe or something?

"Every time she had entered a room before she had been chased there by whatever it was that was always just beyond her sight"

This is not enough to make me scared for her or care at all really. 'by whatever it was' tells me absolutely nothing. It could be a fluffy bunny or a cute dog. I would suggest to add something in there to suggest WHY she doesn't like opening these doors. Why is she afraid? What's so scary about these things? Why is she hesitant?

Also I just find it a bit unbelievable because it comes across as she can't walk into a room without getting chased by something. What kind of world does she live in that this happens? Maybe she just spends a lot of her time outside but I don't know....

And saying there's someone like her in there... Well the audience is not going to care about that because other than the weird anti-door thing she seems pretty regular to me. There's nothing to suggest she's different than I am.

Also, when is this dream taking place? Before the events of the first chapter or somewhere later on in the book?

I also dislike prologues. They're usually unnecessary and we'll find out what's going on eventually, when we need to. For this reason I usually just skip them. I would encourage you to try fitting it somewhere in the first chapter. Maybe at the end since it's a dream? If it's too awkward maybe you could change it a bit so that it fits better.

"It refers to things that you don't find out about until much later and kind of sets them up." But isn't that what a book does anyway? Each part, each chapter sets up what's going to happen next. So is this excerpt really necessary? Would it fit better somewhere else, even in later chapters?

Would the readers be completely lost if you didn't include this excerpt as a prologue? If no then I would suggest to remove it or place it elsewhere. Hope it helps!

That aside I can't really say how I feel about this. It seems a tiny bit interesting because part of me wants to know what's so special about the MC but everything else is either too vague or confusing to make me want to read more. I'd rather start with the first chapter and be drawn into her world properly. A glimpse of something that happens in the middle won't mean much for me. (I also think the dream thing is a bit cliche. Finding out she's seeing things in her dreams or having visions in her dreams would make me roll my eyes, but that's just me lol. I would consider changing it up a bit or something... but of course it's up to you if you really want to keep it the way it is. Just a thought :D)

I'd also try using a better first sentence. It's not really hook-y enough for me. Good luck!

skinguk
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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by skinguk » June 7th, 2011, 3:29 am

Really helpful. Thank you very much!

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maybegenius
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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by maybegenius » June 16th, 2011, 3:19 am

Be careful with using a prologue as a way to inject interesting action at the beginning before having a few slower chapters to follow. That's usually not the best way to begin a novel -- it's sort of considered "cheating." Like, here, let me give you this interesting scene to hook you in, and then you have to slog through these less interesting chapters in order to understand what I was talking about. If your beginning chapters are slow, you should find a way to increase their tension and make them more interesting, rather than inserting another scene before them in hopes that people will stick it out. Readers (and agents and publishers) aren't going to bite if you give them a taste of something cool and then let it fade into the background while you set everything up.

This sort of prologue (action with no background or characterization, waking up from a bad dream) is also very common. The others have commented on this already, but it's true: you have to make us care about Autumn before we care about the "danger" she's in. Having her wake up from a dream also immediately dissolves all that danger -- it's like, "oh, so none of that really happened because it was all a dream." It might have been a psychic dream or some other paranormal type dream, but the audience doesn't know that. At this point, to the reader, it was just a dream. And dreams can't hurt you.

Here's what I recommend doing: find your inciting incident. What is the thing that happens to your protagonist that really gets the story started? The incident that launches them from their "normal" life into this story journey? THAT is where your beginning should focus. That incident should happen in the first 25 pages (double-spaced, manuscript-style pages) for most YA novels. The closer you can get it to the beginning while still leaving room for decent set-up, the better. Unless you have a lot of world-building to set up (in the case of a fantasy, sci-fi, or dystopian novel), you probably don't need a lot of "stage setting" before the "exciting" stuff happens. Don't get me wrong, your audience does need some ground to stand on -- they need to know who the MC is, why they should care about her, and the "lay of the land," so to speak. But they don't need a huge amount of set-up. Most YA inciting incidents occur in the first chapter. Sent to boarding school. Meets the new hot guy. Best friend is killed. Mysterious letter is received. Etc. You can fill in the "gaps" later.

I can totally relate to this. When I started my MS, I had a prologue that was full of action and intrigue that I absolutely LOVED. Then I had two chapters of kinda-sorta-boring set up before my inciting incident happened. Critique partners nailed me on it, and they were right. I cut the prologue I loved and chopped a bunch of set-up, tightening everything up so my inciting incident and hook occurred within the first 25 pages. My beginning is a lot better for it.

Don't get discouraged! This is all part of the process. I'm sure if you work at it, you can find a way to insert this same level of intrigue into your first chapter. Good luck!
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skinguk
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Re: First Page - Help Needed! YA

Post by skinguk » July 5th, 2011, 6:13 am

Maybegenius - thank you so much for this. Again, really helpful. I have been away, redrafting, and actually did just what you described. Prologue cut, tightened the first chapter, and got to the "exciting bit" a little faster. So I am really happy to log on and see your comments. This is all new to me and the forum really helps.

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