First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

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ShotintheDark
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First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by ShotintheDark » June 12th, 2010, 11:35 am

Hey all,

First time poster here...just discovered the blog and forum and I am loving it! It's perfect for someone like me who doesn't have any friends who are into writing...I feel like I belong! :)

So I'm having a ton of trouble with the first chapter of my YA fantasy novel...I've never had this problem with my writing before - I'm happy with nearly everything except the first few pages and they are literally giving me nightmares! I don't know if it's because I've read them a trillion times and have lost all perspective on them or what...either way, I entered the first page into Nathan's critique contest and figured I'd let the rest of you take a look! Any thoughts at all would be awesome and hopefully stop my writing fever dreams!

Chapter One: Fourteen Years Ago

Catherine stands in the doorway of the kitchen and watches her husband pack clothes into a blue duffle bag. She cannot believe this is happening again.

“Please, Scott, just tell me what is going on. Please. Let me help you with this."

Scott stands at the table and jams a dark blue shirt into the bag. “I know," he sighs, "I want to, Cathy, but I don’t—I don't have enough time. I just need you to be patient.”

A rumble of thunder shakes the house and a gust of wind batters the windows with rain.

“Patient?” Catherine laughs. “Scott, this is the third night in a row. How am I supposed to be patient when all I can—”

The phone rings. Scott quickly moves to answer it, but then immediately hangs it back up again. Catherine can feel her breath leaving her.

“Scott, just tell me where you are going. Just tell me.”

He crosses to her. “I know, I’m sorry, honey, this is—I don’t…” He pulls her close and pushes her blonde hair away from her face, lifting her chin to meet her eyes with his. “Look, it’s still me,” he says. “I’m here, just like always. It's me. Right?”

Catherine pulls away.

“Trust me,” Scott asks. “Please. I need that from you. I know it’s not fair and I don’t deserve it, but I need that. Everything we’ve shared, think of that, and not me standing here now. Because this is not who I am.”

Catherine stares at the floor. The both of them are silent as the rain falls down angrily outside.

“When I get home,” Scott begins haltingly, “I’ll explain it. Everything. I’ll—it will only make you think I’m even more insane, but in the morning, I’ll tell you every last detail. As long as you promise not to be mad. Okay?”

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khanes
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by khanes » June 12th, 2010, 3:27 pm

Hello! First of all, I like the intrigue that you create with your first chapter. It leaves a lot of questions, and makes me very curious as to what will happen next. Why is he leaving? Where has he been? What will he tell her when he returns? I like that you use the weather to set the mood and punctuate Cathy's feelings.

This is my favorite line of your opening: "Catherine can feel her breath leaving her." This one line conveys a lot about her mood and what she's feeling, without necessarily "telling" the reader.

I almost feel like this first chapter jumps too soon into dialogue. I want a couple more lines as to how she's feeling. What does the room like like? What emotions is she having? Is this unusual of her husband? Maybe something to show a little more about their relationship, or show me the expressions on their faces. I feel like I want to know more about THEM before I hear what they have to say.

Would there be any way to give us any small clues as to what he is up to without giving it away? Maybe he starts to tell her, but cuts himself short, leaving her and the reader more intrigued than ever.

Anyway, just my two cents. I'm new at critiquing so take it or leave it! So far, though, I like your opening and think you have the start to an interesting story here!

ShotintheDark
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by ShotintheDark » June 13th, 2010, 12:17 pm

Thanks so much for the advice! I agree I might jump too soon into dialogue, that was one of my concerns. I really like to read (and write) sparse prose and sometimes I can take it too far. I'm definitely gonna try to work on adding some more about the characters and their surroundings.

My other concern was that it was too much back and forth of them kind of arguing and that might become tiresome to the reader. Did you find that at all?

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JayceeEA
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by JayceeEA » June 14th, 2010, 10:54 am

I really like the fact that I feel as though I'm present in the room, watching as Scott puts his clothes in a bag. The only thing is that I have a problem with not recognizing the "Point of View" (POV). Who is telling the story, and who's the main character? Other than that, I think it's good.

Ermo
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by Ermo » June 14th, 2010, 1:54 pm

I like that you start with a scene in which something is happening. A lot of people start with exposition that does nothing to pull you in.

I think that perhaps this is a bit too emotion dependent here. I don't know the characters enough to really care if one is leaving or not. I don't know them well enough to know what how much they've been through. I think you're trying to make an emotional pull right at the beginning when we have nothing invested in these characters. I'd get more specific as to what he's packing (perhaps that'll give something to speculate upon in terms of where he's going because where he's going is really the mystery here), what does he look like (any mysterious battle scars?), what is he wearing? Let us infer on our own about the emotional stuff and how much we care that he's leaving. I think the dialogue is ok but it take too much of the focus - the reader needs some other things to concentrate on. Good luck with this!

ShotintheDark
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by ShotintheDark » June 14th, 2010, 7:10 pm

Wow, thanks everyone, this is great to hear some feedback! I agree that the POV isn't very clear...it's supposed to be from Catherine's POV, she's the focus of this chapter, but I think this gets lost sometimes. Anyone have any ideas on how to fix this?

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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by Claudie » June 14th, 2010, 11:29 pm

I have one, and it ties in with Ermo's suggestion.

Add in details about what he packs. And have Catherine's comment on them.

Let's say he takes binoculars. Is this the first time? Did he get them for a birthday? What does he use them for normally? These are simple information, and perhaps not plot relevant, but they'd cross Catherine's mind and tell us more about both Scott and her. Plus, you leave the reader to wonder what he means to do with them in his oh-so-mysterious escapade.

Or you could add details about when he hangs the phone. Is this a frequent behaviour for him? Probably not. Maybe Catherine recalls one them she saw him hang up on a salesman like this. It's a little detail, but one that brings their past life on the page. It gives them a certain relief.

If you can answer Ermo's questions, and personalise those answers with Catherine's POV, I think you'll have a top-notch scene.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

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midenianscholar
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by midenianscholar » June 23rd, 2010, 11:37 am

I kind of like that it starts mid-conversation. It reminds me of Antony and Cleopatra. Jumping in midway through a conversation can say a lot about how the book itself is going to play out.

However, I agree with other comments that there needs to be more detail, more development even while we're listening in. Adding details can help create the feel. Right now, you rely on the readers to put their own emotions into the empty slots between lines. If you give us descriptions, little details (hands shaking? the sound of the house?) you can help enhance the flurried, fearful atmosphere.

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maybegenius
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by maybegenius » June 25th, 2010, 7:58 pm

Hi ShotintheDark! Thanks for braving the critique waters :D

You've received some great advice so far about the content of your opening, so I'm going to look from a different angle. I saw in your post title that this is a YA manuscript, correct? You seem to be opening with (who I assume are) your MC's parents. The fact that they're both adults and you mention up front that this is "Fourteen Years Ago" gives me that feeling, anyway.

This in and of itself is problematic for me. Books for young people are first and foremost supposed to be about the young people, and opening straightaway with adults can create an automatic disconnect for your readers. If you're opening a YA novel before the child is born, or when they're very young, you have to be careful to integrate the MC into the action somehow. The central focus should always be around the child or teen in some way. Think of the opening to Harry Potter - it opens with Mr. Dursley, but right away we're fed information about the wizarding world being in a frenzy because of Harry.

The opening here is interesting and makes me want to read more, but it doesn't strike me as YA. You might try incorporating your MC somehow - maybe Cathy has just found out she's pregnant? Or is several months along? Or your MC is a toddler and standing in the doorway? See if you can make the action pertain directly to the MC - Scott has to do "this" again because he has to protect the baby?

If I misunderstood your intent here, I apologize! I hope this helps, anyway. There's good emotion here, keep at it!
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RebeccaHamilton
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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by RebeccaHamilton » June 26th, 2010, 10:03 am

Catherine stands in the doorway of the kitchen and watches her husband pack clothes into a blue duffle bag. She cannot believe this is happening again.
I'm putting my head into a teens perspective. Short attention span and wanting something to relate to. I want the teen characters from the onset. Not two adults.
“Please, Scott, just tell me what is going on. Please. Let me help you with this."

Scott stands at the table and jams a dark blue shirt into the bag. “I know," he sighs, "I want to, Cathy, but I don’t—I don't have enough time. I just need you to be patient.”
I like the oblique dialogue. It feels natural.
A rumble of thunder shakes the house and a gust of wind batters the windows with rain.

“Patient?” Catherine laughs. “Scott, this is the third night in a row. How am I supposed to be patient when all I can—”
I'm guessing this isn't a happy laugh.
The phone rings. Scott quickly moves to answer it, but then immediately hangs it back up again. Catherine can feel her breath leaving her.
Scott snaps it up to answer, glances at the screen, and cancels the call. (tighter, not so many answers, more powerful verbs instead of weak verbs supported by adverbs. No as much "it" and get's rid of the "up"--try not to use directions unless needed, as they quickly become overused and at times they can even state the obvious--not that I saw that particular problem here.)
Catherine's chest tightened as her breath left her. Why am I suggesting this? It brings us closer to her POV. It also shows us what it feels like for her breath to leave her. Look out for cases of See, Heard, Felt etc. Bring us closer to the POV character. I have a full article on this that you might find helpful.
http://rebecca-hamilton.com/?p=39
“Scott, just tell me where you are going. Just tell me.”

He crosses to her. “I know, I’m sorry, honey, this is—I don’t…” He pulls her close and pushes her blonde hair away from her face, lifting her chin to meet her eyes with his. “Look, it’s still me,” he says. “I’m here, just like always. It's me. Right?”

Catherine pulls away.

“Trust me,” Scott asks. “Please. I need that from you. I know it’s not fair and I don’t deserve it, but I need that. Everything we’ve shared, think of that, and not me standing here now. Because this is not who I am.”
Personally, I don't like "asks" without a question mark. I also don't like said with a question mark. But I know some people who feel opposite. As a reader, that would bother me in a book. I read a lot.

Catherine stares at the floor. The both of them are silent as the rain falls down angrily outside.
I think there would be more impact to keep two short sentences here. For me, that would add tension and show the silence.
Catherine stares at the floor. Rain pounds the pavement outside. (shows angrily)
“When I get home,” Scott begins haltingly, “I’ll explain it. Everything. I’ll—it will only make you think I’m even more insane, but in the morning, I’ll tell you every last detail. As long as you promise not to be mad. Okay?”
Your dialogue is good. This doesn't read like YA to me. I'm sure it's only a prologue of some sort, but if I were a teen, this wouldn't work for me. Also, I am NOT against present tense, but this didn't work in present tense for me.

Good luck! You have a lot of natural talent and you show emotion well.

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Re: First page YA fantasy critique - open to any and all advice!

Post by Elsinora » July 11th, 2010, 9:47 pm

I love the naturalistic dialogue, but I agree with the previous poster who said that teens would probably be turned off by this as an opening scene. Since this appears to be a prologue, you might want to ask yourself if there is a way to integrate this information into the present-day plot. It's nearly always better to start your story where the story really begins, rather than get your reader invested in characters who will disappear or fade into the background a chapter later.

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