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First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 27th, 2010, 2:45 am
by jordynface
Alright. I realized a few days ago that my story was starting about 3,000 words into the ms. ACK! My wordcount is down to 55k now (YA though, so it's okay), but I've switched up the beginning and would love to get some feedback on it. I just want to know if it works. If it's interesting. I don't exactly want in-depth editorial notes, just feedback of the YAY or NAY persuasion.
I want to know if Grayson and Seb's relationship is established.
If the bond with her cousins is shown well enough for these first few pages,
and if the MC's personality comes through.
And, OF COURSE, what you think of it as a beginning.

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I’m not quite scared of flying, but no matter how many times I fly cross country to visit my mom the takeoff is something I just can’t get over. That feeling of leaving the earth, of defying gravity. The incline pushes me back into my seat and it’s terrifying and exhilarating and there’s always an instant - one second - where I think we’re going to start hurtling back down to earth, the rules of nature pulling us back.
Seb, who knows my nervousness and is sitting in the seat next to me, says, “Burnoulli’s Principle, Grayson. Remember.”
I open my eyes. “Thanks.” Years ago, right after the divorce and the first time we flew out east to see Mom, he told me about Burnoulli’s Principle, about how it was physics, not any sort of iffy magic, that kept planes in the air. It calmed me down. Now, on our way to Arizona instead of Florida, I take a deep breath and it still calms me down.
And just like that takeoff is over and we’re flying and out the window the earth is receding further and further away from us.
“Hey Seb,” I say.
“Yeah?” He looks up from his book long enough to notice me.
“We’re flying.”
A smile flickers across his face. “Yeah, Grayson, I know.”
I laugh. “Just pointing it out. We’re not in San Francisco anymore. We’re not anywhere anymore. We’re just hovering above the earth in a man-made flying contraption.”
He goes back to reading. “Yep.”
“Icarus would be so proud.”
Pulling out his laughable street slang, he absently replies, “True dat.”
While Seb reads, and later sleeps, I stare out the window, transfixed. It’s just clouds and sky out the window, but still. It’s clouds. And sky. And Icarus really would be proud because humans aren’t supposed to have the gift of flight - that belongs to birds - yet somehow we’ve figured it out, figured out how get from point A to point B without touching ground. Somehow, the brilliance of it and the immensity of it makes the journey that much bigger. More important, more memorable, more everything. Flight feels like it could be the beginning of anything, and it’s with this thought that my head finally hits the headrest, pulling me into a sort of half-wake half-sleep until the flight attendant comes by with the beverage cart and I get a regular Coke, sipping it as I stare out the window. And because there’s only clouds and sky moving past us, my mind lands back in time. Back when Willa and Ainsley were as much a part of my life as my own heartbeat. I think back to Before. I don’t replay the whole thing, because I don’t really want to ruin the flight in that way, but the facts of it play in my mind anyway. And the facts are that once upon a time there were three children: my dad and two sisters, twins. Those children grew up, got married, had kids, lived nearby each other in the same neighborhood. And the kids grew up together - me, Willa, and Ainsley - with a neighborhood boy named Hunter. We played together and laughed together and practically lived together and sometimes it was like my parents were their parents and their parents were my parents.
Except it wasn’t, really, because when Uncle Charles and Aunt Emmy’s car got hit by an RV, only Willa was orphaned. Not me, not Ainsley. Definitely not Hunter, whose association with the family dwindled to nothing in the coming months as this Big Event had overshadowed anything else and his parents thought he should “give us space”.

And then the After happened.
Dad freaked out, got angry and silent and angry and silent, the two extremes coming in waves as Mom got more and more distant, finally coming into his office with the divorce papers, her signature already on them, the words, “Florida, near my parents,” on her lips. And while that was happening with us Uncle Vince had a new job in Chicago - new! exciting! - and Ainsley moved, her parents making the decision to start over. Then, once Mom was gone, we left too. Me, Dad, Seb, on our way to San Francisco, where there was no Lake Roosevelt or silent fights and Dad didn’t storm out of the house because he didn’t know what else to do with his angry sadness. The cousins were separated from each other and from everything else. Before, After. Us together, us apart. It’s the story that defines everything else, and even flying above the clouds I can’t escape it.

Los Angeles, when we arrive at the airport, is crowded, and as we sit at the gate with our carry-ons and bottled water, surrounded by the hubbub that comes with travel, I ask Seb, “Is it weird that I’m nervous?”
“About?”
“Seeing Willa and Ainsley and Hunter and everything.” He nods, looking far in the distance. “I don’t know if it’s weird. I’m not really nervous, but…” his words trail off and he shrugs.
“But what?”
“It’s different for me. I’m older. And I wasn’t a part of that group with you guys. I don’t know, it’s like… I have my own life now.” “Oh yes, look at you, all big and grown up, traveling with your little sister.” He shoots me a slightly annoyed look. “Okay, so I’m not completely old, but older. That counts, right?”
“Of course,” I say patronizingly, patting him on the shoulder. “Of course it counts.” He’s laughing now. “Okay, smart ass, I just mean that being the big brother is different. That’s all.” “Okay, got it. So you don’t think it’s weird of me to be nervous?”
He shrugs, his shoulders moving up and down as he takes a swig of his water. “I think,” he says, screwing the cap back on, “that it’s fine. It’s been three years; that’s a lot of time.”
And I don’t say it, but all the things I’m wondering, all the reasons I’m nervous, can be summed up in one line, one succinctly put question: What if we’re not the same? And I don’t mean us as individuals, but as a group. As a solid, sturdy, unflappable-in-the-face-of-tragedy group.
Not that we were unflappable. But we were close. We were there. When Ainsley took off in the early mornings, running for hours, disappearing to who knew where, I went looking for her, meeting her halfway between her house and wherever she went, on the red bench by the middle school. I’d say, “Are you okay?”
And by that time she’d be better, having run all the anger out of her, and she’d smile and say, “I’m fine,” and we’d sit on the bench for minutes or hours, not talking, just being.
When Willa woke up in the middle of the night, terrified, reliving the same sad nightmare that she’d just lived through, the three of us met on the roof of Gran and Pop’s house, talking and hugging and fake-laughing until she could go back to sleep. Happy remember-whens and stargazing look-at-thats. Sometimes Hunter would join us and sometimes he wouldn’t, but when he did he would be carrying pillows and the boombox, always playing Frank Sinatra on those late nights.
Then there was me. I didn’t run and I didn’t wake up terrified. I didn’t sleep at all, really. I was too shocked first, repeating over and over that it couldn’t be real. But it was, and so was everything else. So I spent my time trying not to cry, trying not to bump up against anything that reminded me, anything that tugged too hard at my tightly-wound bundle of nerves. And they were there. I cried on the phone with Ainsley listening, not feeling like she had to say anything. I sat in Hunter’s loft with him, listening to the soft and lulling sound of old vinyl. Willa, though she had it worst of any of us, came into my house at all hours, not letting me be still, not letting me hide. “Let’s make cookies,” she’d say, and we would, because she wanted to and I needed to and we both knew it. I wonder now, standing in line to board the plane, if somehow we still know these things, or if the years and changes will have made us forget. I recall their faces in my mind, the faces that have undoubtedly changed, and unfamiliar is the last thing I want them to be.

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Thanks in advance to anyone who reads/comments.

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 27th, 2010, 10:38 am
by Kniki
I like the relationship between Seb and Grayson, he seems to look after her/indulge her a little but thinks he's a lot cooler than he actually is!

I'm intrigued to find out what will happen when they all meet up, and whether Hunter is going to make a reappearance, but I do wonder if maybe there is a little too much backstory for the opening of the novel? Perhaps you could trim it down a little and drop a few hints without telling the whole details of what happened, then fill in more later. It needs a little more "hook" such as why are they all meeting up after so long?

I really like your writing style though and it definitely draws the reader in!

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 27th, 2010, 3:15 pm
by Lunetta22
I like the relationship between Seb and Grayson. Please make sure that you always use a new paragraph for each new speaker in dialogue, I got lost toward the end there. I'd have to see more of the book to know if this is the best place to start the book...but I would probably start it when Grayson arrives at her cousin's house. It seems to me that that is where the story begins. Just a thought. :)

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 27th, 2010, 3:25 pm
by Bron
I do agree there's maybe a little much backstory for the beginning of the novel. It's obviously important we know some backstory otherwise we'll have no idea why she's so nervous about the meeting, but I don't think we need too many details at this point beyond that there was a close group, who was in the group, and that they haven't seen each other in years. I like the stuff on the plane, and I think the relationship with Grayson and Seb comes through well in this piece.

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 27th, 2010, 10:17 pm
by EvelynEhrlich
jordynface,
First let me say that your writing is beautiful and smooth. I'm writing Contemporary YA, too, and have read a lot of YA, and I love the flow of your writing.

I do, however, agree with the other comments above that there's a little too much backstory for the first 5 pages. I think the backstory is great until that last chunk where you go into the details of how each cousin reacted in the After (at that point, my eyes wanted to skim, although I didn't let them).

I think the characterization is clear. Grayson and Seb's dynamic is well established, as well as Grayson's nostalgic affection for her cousins and Hunter.

In terms of action, I think this works as the start of the book.

Good luck!

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 28th, 2010, 3:08 pm
by Erica75
"And I don’t say it, but all the things I’m wondering, all the reasons I’m nervous, can be summed up in one line, one succinctly put question: What if we’re not the same? And I don’t mean us as individuals, but as a group. As a solid, sturdy, unflappable-in-the-face-of-tragedy group."

I think this is where the backstory starts to get a little heavy for me. I also started to question timelines here a little - how old is Grayson at present? She's using quite grown-up vocabulary, but you allude to the fact that the Big Event happened just 3 years ago and I felt she was young at that time. I like your portrayal of her, I just got caught up in wondering about these things, taking me away from the story somewhat. Also, one question about setting - at the beginnning, they are flying, then later they are at the LA airport, then they are standing in line waiting for their flight. Was it a connecting flight or is something backwards here? I also noticed the lack of paragraph breaks in your dialogue - maybe just a lack of formatting correctly onto the thread, but I had to reread a few times to figure out who was talking. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 28th, 2010, 5:54 pm
by jordynface
THANK YOU EVERYONE!!

Sorry about the dialogue breaks... it didn't format correctly when I posted to the thread. Thanks for struggling through it anyways.

Grayson is 16 when the story takes place... I should probably find a place to make that clear. And I'll work on cutting some of the backstory; I'm struggling with trying to know how much I need. How do you guys figure out how much backstory to include from the beginning? The reader does need to know that the cousins were very close and that after Willa's parents died the extended family fell apart. Maybe I could cut a few paragraphs though... if I do, I'll probably post the "revised revised" version here too.

Thanks for all your help. :)

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: February 28th, 2010, 9:35 pm
by GeeGee55
Generally, I'd give this piece a thumbs up. The place where I became confused was when you mentioned Seb and the divorce. Because I'm not familiar with the fact that Seb is Grayson's brother, and I don't know their ages, I thought at first he might be her ex-husband. It soon becomes clear and I think the dialogue is well done and goes a long way toward establishing their relationship. I do agree that there may be a bit too much back story to begin. We don't need to know everything in the first few pages, just enough to be clear and keep it interesting. In other words we don't need all the explaining, show the story and let the relationships unfold.

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: March 1st, 2010, 1:45 am
by ThinkBlue
I liked this part especially:
We played together and laughed together and practically lived together and sometimes it was like my parents were their parents and their parents were my parents.
Except it wasn’t, really, because when Uncle Charles and Aunt Emmy’s car got hit by an RV, only Willa was orphaned. Not me, not Ainsley. Definitely not Hunter, whose association with the family dwindled to nothing in the coming months as this Big Event had overshadowed anything else and his parents thought he should “give us space”.

And then the After happened.

Re: First Five Pages (Contemporary YA)

Posted: March 1st, 2010, 12:51 pm
by bcomet
I loved the writing. Really pulled me in.

Some responses/questions that came up for me:

I thought the main character was a boy until quite a ways in. Even the names are sort of possible for both male or female. So I was sort of jarred to learn it was a sister. I had identified the character as a younger brother.

I was confused about their ages, if they were still kids or what, for most of the read.

Hunter was really confusing to me: Sinatra and vinyl and then (odd for that) boom-box too dates him, made me think this is a dated piece, the names are sort of old timey too.

Some of the language seemed out of context for YA: unflappable, hubbub, overshadowed... It seemed more of a vocabulary an educated adult or a parent would use internally. Made me wonder if it was a flashback to younger years.

I was confused about the when of the piece.

But overall, I really liked it. The above are just minor points. I would have read on. I thought you did a great job about establishing the mood.