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After The Madness Workshop B-6

Wednesday, 28 March 2012  |  Posted by Brenda Drake

Welcome to day three of After the Madness Workshop! Shelley Watters, Erica Chapman, the writers at YAtopia, and myself will critique the first 250 words of  two brave writers’ manuscripts per day for the next seven to eight days. There are four blogs joining in to offer up suggestions. Click on my partners’ sites in my sidebar to view the other critiques.

And next up is …

B-6 Marisa Kanter


People say that Mom was a totally different person before. B’s notes: This first line doesn’t hook. Start your story off with a first sentence that zings. She was alive. Vibrant. Happy. She made home cooked dinners on a regular basis. She was spontaneous, packing up the van and driving everyone down the Pacific Coast Highway, for no other reason other than because she could. She hummed along to Beatles tunes while vacuuming. She was trendy, in both style and lifestyle. She used to go out for martinis on Tuesdays. Met with a book club on Thursdays. Mom could never sit still, she always had to be doing something.
They say that her smile could light up a whole room.
I’ve never seen my mother smile.
I knock twice on the hollow wood door. The thin as paper door. I hear the cries. The screams. They keep me up at night. Doors are meant to keep things out. This door keeps my mother in.
The response, a long sigh, means that I’m allowed in. I tread carefully over the heaps of clothes that cover the floor. Mom lies in the middle of her bed, arms sprawled out at her sides, all the twisted sheets off in a corner. With her head in a pillow, all I can see is her matted brown hair that’s streaked with gray. She hasn’t changed her clothes since last week.
“Lunch time,” I say, my voice peppy and fake. The way it always has to be around her.
She raises her right arm and points, indicating that I should place the food on the night table. I place the turkey and cheese sandwich down and leave, knowing that when I go back in for dinner, the sandwich will still be there, untouched.
B’s notes: This is written well, but I’m not hooked. Is this where your story truly starts? You stated this is YA in your email, so most teens would put this book down if you open with this bit about her mother. Start with the inciting event. The event that propels us into the story. You can work her checked-out mom in later, when we’re invested in your main character.

I hope this helps!

Remember this is subjective and others’ may feel differently. So I’ll now pass it on to the readers to critique. Please leave your comments, and remember the rules of critiquing … be nice, which I’m sure you all will be, but I have to say it … you know.


Filed: Misc, Workshops

  • What if you started with “I knock twice on the hollow wood door . . .” and work the first paragraph and next two lines in later? I wasn’t drawn in until about that point, but the information above it is probably important enough to keep in somewhere else.

  • First, LOVE the tension and phrasing. Second, I completely agree with ARJ. Begining with her suggested jump-off point puts us squarely with the protag and HER journey. Finally, if you set a clause with “before,” you can’t take pages (or even paragraphs) to qualify with “what” happened/changed.

    Buona fortuna!

  • Brenda Drake says:

    I did like the part where she knocks on the door. Both Angelica and LTTP have wonderful suggestions. 😀

  • Good suggestions. 🙂 I also liked the line about never having seen her mother smile.

  • I think this scene is very well written, but it really doesn’t do much to pull me into the story. Maybe it could be the start of your second chapter, after you’ve introduced your character and her conflict? (Unless the story is really all about mom… but then I’m not convinced it’s actually YA.)

  • Anonymous says:

    And another light goes out. Sadly, I think this contained a bit of projection. The Marissa I knew hummed along to Beatles tunes and always upped my “quirk” quotion, but I haven’t seen her since her son was very, very small. Marissa lost her life to mental illness April 29, 2012.

    Anyhow, this is why Marisa isn’t responding to posts.

  • Brenda Drake says:

    I missed this, Anonymous. I’m so sorry to hear about Marissa. Thank you for stopping by and letting me know. My prayers go out to her family and to you. I too hum along to Beatles’ tunes and will now think of her each time I do.

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