15 critiques for ’15!
My wonderful critique partners have started a new freelance editing business and agreed to sponsor my January workshop. Jami Nord and K.T. Hanna have helped me spruce up my manuscripts and now they’re helping fifteen lucky and brave writers with theirs. The winners have already been picked. In the next few days, stop by and read Jami’s and Katie’s critiques and learn from their advice. Today we have our next two critiques up. We aren’t mentioning names or titles. It’s up to the writers if they want to reveal themselves.
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Critique by K.T. Hanna …
Grief is hard enough to deal with without feeling like you don’t belong. Nine year old Alice “AJ” Johnson has felt like an outsider since his father’s death nine months ago. Classmates tease him, and Lauren, his mom, is lost in her own grief and doesn’t seem to notice how hard it’s been for him. Sheryl, Lauren’s wife, tries her best to comfort both, but doesn’t always succeed. She’s grieving too. His dad was his best friend, there by his side through everything. They went on adventures together, and his dad taught AJ to love the outdoors.
Then one bright August day, his dad was gone, buried in the ground.
The only place he has been able to find peace are in the woods behind his school. It’s quiet; his only company the birds singing in the trees. No one bothers him there since they are rumored to be haunted.
When his mom tells him just before school ends for the year that they are moving, AJ decides to run away. So AJ takes what looks to be the shortest path, one that cuts right through the woods. But this ends up being a mistake. Lost in the Dead Woods, a world for the dead, AJ finds dangers he’d never thought existed, and a friend that helps him realize change isn’t always a bad thing.
[AJ’s dad was his best friend. They did everything together, until his dad’s sudden death left him alone. His mom, lost in her own grief, is distant, and her wife Sheryl isn’t much help. The only place he feels less alone is the woods behind his school, rumored to be haunted.
When his mom tells him they’re moving when the school year is over, AJ decides to run away. He takes the shortest path through the woods, but the rumors aren’t unfounded. Lost in the Dead Woods, where the world of the dead overlays the world of the living, AJ finds dangers he never thought existed, and a friend that helps him let go of the past and accept the role change plays in life.]
A Boy Named Alice is a 26,358 word middle grade book about grief, change, and finding out that home is where you are loved.
Thank you for your consideration.
[The query is a little disjointed and needs tightening. Bring the points to the fore as quickly and succinctly as possible.]
FIRST 250 WORDS:
There are one hundred and eighty days in a typical school year. As of today, there were only five left.
I crossed off the date on my calendar with a black magic marker, and put it down on the desk with a sigh. The giant red circle at the end of the week mocked me. [This isn’t enticing. It’s not unique enough to garner attention. It doesn’t add anything to the rest of this page. I’d nix this and get down to the nitty gritty]
Usually, I counted down the hours until summer with a sense of anticipation, and the growing impatience to be free of books and homework. I would be excited about playing all day, and getting to stay up late. I’d put it there right after I’d opened the calendar, hoping to have something to look forward too.
This year was different. This year it would all end. [Repetitious]In six days I was moving. Mom took a job in Australia. I’d always wanted to go there, but it was supposed to be just dad and me.
[Usually, I counted down the hours until summer with a sense of anticipation, but this year mom was moving us to Australia. – this is what I would suggest for an opener. It gives us a sense of dread followed by raising the question – why are they moving to Australia and why does he dread it?]
I grabbed my backpack and shrugged it on. I took slow steps, my shoes still not tied. The laces dragged along the floor and I kept my head down. I didn’t want to see the boxes, all neatly stacked with big block letters spelling out where they would go, and who they belonged to.
[This is overkill. It’s great to set the scene, but you don’t want to overdo it. Give us bits that are majorly relevant and draw us in. Try not overdo backstory. Allow the reader enough sensory and emotional investment to want to move on]
I hated seeing bare walls. My favorite picture, one of just dad and me, no longer greeted me as I walked by. It made the hallway uninhabitable.
The whole house felt quiet, empty. Life was leaving this place, with the missing personal items a constant reminder. [Don’t tell us. Show us. Make the reader feel the heartache, the emptiness.
Suggestion: Slowly but surely, life was leaving these halls in too many ways. First Dad, now my usual home.
I suggest Dad, because you don’t mention it and it seems odd that it’s only slightly hinted at]
“Morning, Alice,.” Mom said
me with a smile when I entered the kitchen. I cringed. I hated my name. My parents had thought it cool to name me after their favorite rock singer. I thought it was girlish and awkward. I always got weird looks when people heard it. [Vary your sentence structure. I is the easy way out. It creates a more awkward flow versus varying sentence length and structure. In the above example 4 out of 5 sentences begin with I.
Suggestion: I cringed. My parents may have thought it was cool to name me after their favorite rock singer, but I thought it was girlish and awkward. People looked at me weirdly every time they heard it.]
“Do you have everything you need?” mom asked. Blonde hair hung loose from her braid, giving her a harried look. [Give us some sense of voice. This feels a little distant. Something like:
Blond hair had escaped her braid. I guess it’s hard to find time to re-braid your hair when you’re moving around the globe.]
Sheryl turned from the stove and sat a paper plate filled with eggs and toast before me as I climbed up on the stool. Her hair was pink today, and a few strands hung over her right eye.
[Try to pick and choose what you go into detail about. Give us sense of the characters with out hiding it behind little things that only prolong the first page.
Sheryl set a paper plate almost overflowing with eggs and toast on the island as I clambered up.]
I gave a strained smile, picked up the plastic fork, and slowly ate my breakfast. We never used plastic forks, or paper plates. Mom thought they were tacky.
I pushed my food around on the plate. The eggs made part of the plate soggy and I began drawing symbols with my fork.
“Maybe you should eat that instead of playing with it.”
Mom placed the last plate in the box.
[There is something off about the point of view. It feels a little too distant for this story.
Her pink hair hung into her face. I faked a smile anyway and prodded the eggs that were just as plastic as my fork
I pushed the rubber goo around the fake plate, and doodled in their soggy trails. Mom clanked the last real plate into the box, and scribbled Kitchen on all 4 sides.
Overall – this story idea really tugs at me. I worry about the word-count because it’s a little on the short side for MG novels. I’d prefer to see it up around 30k or more. This first page has a lot of telling in it. Upping the sensory and switching up your sentences so they vary will automatically lengthen your prose.
This is a great idea, and with tweaks and a sensory overhaul, I look forward to seeing what you make of it!]
Critique by Jami Nord…
(Personalization goes here)
I am hoping that my contemporary romance, FALLING FOR HOME, will fit with what you are looking for (Because REASON). (Complete at) 84,000 words and told from a dual point of view, I believe it will appeal to the same audience of Emily Giffin’s, WHERE WE BELONG or SOMETHING BORROWED.
she’gets (she’s) fired from her photojournalism job, twenty-eight year old LUCY (Lucy) Aarons has nowhere to go but back to her small hometown of Angel’s Lake, Minnesota, a place that reminds her she’s never really belonged. When Lucy reconnects with her family, she is surprised to learn that things are far from perfect —for any of them. Between falling for Alex, a former school friend, and feeling like she is needed (why?) in a family that she’s kept at arm’s length, suddenly Angel’s Lake feels like a place she could, once again, call home. If she wants to stay for good, she’ll have to confront her family about the issues they are avoiding and the secret she has carried around for far too long. ALEX (Alex) Whitman is the hometown sheriff for Angel’s Lake. He has the perfect job (as the sheriff) in the perfect small town, where he’s just bought his own home. Everything is going exactly as he’s planned. The only thing missing is someone to share it with. He knows that someone should not be Lucy, as she is the very definition of temporary. He’s had a crush on Lucy since they were both in sixth grade, and he’d be a fool not to act on their obvious attraction to each other. Alex needs to decide if he can handle “for now” when what he’s always wanted from her is “forever”. The characters in FALLING FOR HOME will make you laugh and cry as they find a way to deal with family, love, and forgiveness, while exploring the self-acceptance that comes with maturity and experience. (Unless you’re aiming it towards the literary fiction instead of genre crowd, it generally is better to avoid themes statements like this. Instead, show how their individual conflicts cause the relationship to be on shaky ground. For example, “Alex needs to decide if he can handle “for now” when what he’s always wanted from Lucy is “forever”. If she wants to stay for good, Lucy will have to confront her family about the issues they are avoiding and the secret she has carried around for far too long. But revealing the truth may shatter the tenuous bonds she’s formed, and destroy any chance she has with Alex. “ This gives a stronger sense of what’s keeping them apart.)
I am the author of a short story A NOT SO LONELY CHRISTMAS (Forward Literary, Nov 2013), a novella, FOREVER CHRISTMAS (Amazon, Dec 2013), (and) ALWAYS TIME FOR CHRISTMAS (Amazon, December 2014), and co-author of DANGEROUS LOVE (Anaiah Press, April 2015), (and) JADED LOVE (Anaiah, 2015). I also have a picture book being released through Anaiah, SWEET DREAM SISTERS (January, 2016).
The partial or full manuscript is available at your request. Currently, this manuscript is out on one full request. Thank you your time and consideration. I can be contacted at this email address or by phone at (Redacted).(Keeping it simple down here is better. This is all implied, and keeps the emphasis on why they should request your novel.)
FIRST 250 WORDS:
Lucy slid her hand along the narrow ledge that trimmed the two(-)story home she grew up in. With her iTorch app offering a beam of light, she narrowed her eyes, hoping to find the key that had sat there for her whole life. Going up onto the balls of her feet, trying to stretch further, she wondered, again, why she hadn’t just knocked.(This is awkward. She knows why she didn’t knock, so this is just telling to the reader. Depending on her personality, berating herself for not knocking or maybe trying to picture it in her mind to see if that helps her find it would communicate that same information.)
“Come on. Where is it?” (Why is she saying this aloud if she’s trying to be sneaky?)
Her voice sounded loud in the stillness of the night. Her legs brushed against her father’s prized magnolia bush as she inched her way forward, feeling nothing but brick under her fingers.(I really like this phrase.) The weak sliver of moonlight wasn’t helping any more than her phone. Frosted flower beds(flowerbeds) crunched softly under her feet. She hadn’t dug out her jacket because she only planned to be a minute. Grab the key, get inside, sneak into bed and do the happy reunion tomorrow. Her parents weren’t expecting her for another week, but then, she hadn’t expected to get fired. Sometimes plans changed. Or, she supposed, keys got moved. The breeze blowing off the lake sent chills up her arms and over her back, making Lucy shiver. Definitely colder than Africa (Parts of Africa, especially in the south, can get very cold in winter. Be more specific here. Her experiences in, say, Egypt would be completely different than in Tanzania or South Africa). Her eyes were beginning to blur by the time she thought to retrace her steps.
“Only I would think this would be quicker than knocking,” she muttered under her breath. But then she’d wake them and it would take longer for her to crawl into the warmth of a cozy bed. Her mother would want to talk and fuss and make her warm milk. No. She just wanted bed. Well, a key and then bed. Her boot caught and twisted on the branch of one of the shrubs. Stumbling, Lucy juggled her phone for a second before losing her grip entirely and dropping it into the dirt.
(I think you might be starting a bit early. There’s a sense here of pausing, waiting, that doesn’t draw me in as much as it could.)
Thank you, Jami and K.T.! Everyone else, make sure to stop by Friday for the final three critiques.