Sun Versus Snow 1st 250

first 250Sun Versus Snow is right around the corner and people have been posting their queries here for feedback. I’ve been asked to open a post for people trying to perfect their first 250 before the contest starts.

Your wish is my command!

Post your first 250 words of your novel below and allow others to offer up corrective criticism and help you tighten it up to gain the attention of Michelle and Amy come contest day!

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  1. Okay…so I’ve realized that I REALLY need to work on my stuff and won’t be participating in SunVsSnow…but I was hoping you’d still take a look at my revised first 250?

    “Pluck a Duck!” I yelled as my grip slipped and the fifty-pound bag of fertilizer crashed down onto my big toe. Repotting day is today at the Green Mountain Nursery and I volunteered for the messy task. Considering my other option was to tend to the rich and needy…I’d choose potting plants any day of the week.
    I planted my rump to the ground and huffed in irritation at my clumsiness. Using my other foot to kick the oversize bag away, I watched it tumble over a time or two and not so secretly cheered for myself as if I’d won some epic battle over the bag. Hey, you got to keep it interesting at work.
    ‘Terran: line two. Terran: line two,’ the intercom sputtered. Great. My hope was that it wasn’t a client. Today was a day for avoidance.
    “This is Terran.” I answered the call and spoke in the most cheerful voice I could muster.
    “Yo. It’s M.” It would have almost been better if it had been a client. Micah never called me at work unless she was running a scheme.
    “Hey, Micah. What’s up?”
    “So, I totally got this awesome sculpture from Fire’s Breath Glass yesterday. Would you mind meeting me there after you get off work? I’m wanting a piece for the yard and I could really use your advice on what would look best. Totally my new favorite store!”
    Yep, something was up. Micah always spoke quickly, but the extra excitement in her voice was undeniable. After so many years, she should have known better than to play innocent with me.

  2. (OK, I accidentally posted this in someone else’s thread, and am trying again now that I think I’ve figured out what I did wrong. SO SORRY. Feel free to delete my misplaced comment — I don’t seem to be able to. And thanks!)

    Here’s my revised first 250. I took most of the suggestions here, but am waffling heavily on whether to cut or keep “One summer day” at the beginning — I feel like “Two years after Auntie Vera died, I woke up the smell of mildew” might be a bit abrupt and have not quite as good a rhythm. I would love opinions on whether it seems definitely stronger one way or another!

    Tightening in a few places brought another sentence into play — it’s about 240 without the sentence, and 260 with. I feel like it might be a stronger stopping point at 240, though. Again, I’d love opinions.

    Thanks, all! This has been really useful!

    Here’s the revised first 250:

    —————-

    One summer day, two years after Auntie Vera died, I woke to the smell of mildew.

    It’s not my favorite odor. But more than once, it’s been my first clue to my location, before I open my eyes. And when you never know where you’ll be when you wake up, you take all the clues you can get. A sound, a smell, or even the feeling of the air on your skin can warn you not to move — or to jump up and get out of there, fast. Like the time I woke up to train tracks humming under my back, or to a bear snuffling my face.

    This time, it was mildew — and a girl’s voice, close by.

    I opened my eyes, ready to do some fast talking if she’d seen me. But I was alone, as usual. I lay curled on the dusty floor of a garden shed, between a barrel of cobwebby rakes and a rusted wheelbarrow.

    The girl’s trembling voice drifted in through the half-open window, near tears. She was clearly trying out new swear words.

    This could be awkward.

    I stood up, intending to peek outside. Immediately, wings exploded into a wild, breathy flutter as a bird knocked a flowerpot off the shelf next to its nest, buzzed my head, and swooped out the window.

    At the crash, the cursing outside broke off. Before I could do more than freeze, the door flew open.

    Framed in it stood a girl, maybe thirteen years old — my age — with flyaway brown hair and freckles across her nose.

    • I actually like the new last sentence as a stopping point.

      I’m not sure about “buzzed my head.” It feel like a word is missing.

      The fact that the girl’s voice is trembling suggests that she’s near tears. Since the MC can’t see her (and therefore doesn’t know why her voice is trembling), it feels like telling rather than showing. I’d cut those two words. I feel like the last sentence is a little awkward. Can you say “about my age” and then have her confirm that she’s 13 later? Or introduce the MC’s age some other way?

      If you want to cut words, you could also change “get out of there” to “run” and either say “nearby” or “close” instead of “close by”.

      And maybe I’m nitpicking, but how does the narrator know that she’s trying out new swear words? Maybe they’re the swear words she uses all the time. Or maybe I just need more coffee.

      Those are my half-coherent thoughts for the morning.

      • Thank you! Great feedback as always.

        I edited the line about trying out new swear words to work back in some wording I’d cut earlier when trimming words (guess maybe they were necessary after all):

        “She was clearly trying out new swear words — hesitantly at first, but with increasing confidence and passion.”

        I may tweak that, because the vocabulary reads a little stuffy for the narrator to me. Going to think about it some more. I might cut “increasing confidence and” and just say “hesitantly at first, but with passion.”

        I also cut the bit about age to read “Framed in it stood a girl with flyaway brown hair and freckles across her nose.” Pulled it out to the next line (which won’t be in the first 250), which is now “She looked about thirteen — my age.”

        Thanks!

        • It sounds interesting and I’d want to read more. Since you’re wavering on if to keep the ‘one summer day…’ my vote is to keep it. I like the way it starts the story.

  3. And here is mine 🙂 Imagine that it’s indented and properly double-spaced and all that nonsense. As of right now, I’ve got my MS out with two different agents. One is a partial request from PitchMAS, one is a full from a traditional query, so she read the opening and requested pages still (that’s positive, right?) LOL

    I’ll never forget the first time I died.

    My best friend, Ana, and I left the Valentine’s Day party as a dense fog rolled in off the Virginia coast.

    “Carri, look out!”

    A large buck, followed by a small doe, darted into the road, and froze, hypnotized by my headlights. I cut the wheel and hit a patch of black ice. My foot slammed the brake, but the car figure skated across the pavement.

    A metallic screech pierced the night as the guardrail etched a complaint into the passenger side door, threatening to break, and send us over the edge of Devil’s Peak. Below, the icy black water of the Atlantic eagerly waited to swallow us whole.

    Ana jerked the wheel, shooting the car up the adjacent embankment, and into the woods. Tree branches clawed at the doors. The car stopped with a shattering crunch as it plowed into a large tree. My seatbelt locked my body in place, but my head jerked to the side, leaving behind a bloody spider web of cracked glass. My vision blurry from the blow, I shook my head, and tried to get my bearings.

    “Ana, are you okay?”

    “Yeah, I think so.”

    Crack. Snap. A large pine, its needles encased in ice, swayed in a phantom wind. A broken branch scratched the windshield as if the tree sought retribution for the damage I caused.

    “Get out, now!” I fumbled with my seatbelt, but the clasp wouldn’t budge. Ana’s unlatched with ease, but her door opened only a few inches.

    • I would read more. 🙂 I like it.

      I am super comma happy, and I tend to put them everywhere, but I would take out the one after “road” in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph, after “embankment” in the beginning of the sixth paragraph and after “head” in the last sentence of the sixth paragraph because they’re separating necessary clauses, not complete sentences.

      • I’m convinced commas are the devil. Thanks 🙂

        • I love them. I would put ten per sentence if I could. But then I got a job where I had to memorize MLA format, and cut my comma usage about 90%. But my writing is much better.

    • KILLER first line. I love it.

      I had trouble making the transition from leaving the Valentine’s Day party to “look out!” — in my head, “leaving” meant walking out the door. “driving home from” might be less confusing.

      I agree with Laura about the commas.

      I’m not clear on why Ana is jerking the wheel if the narrator is driving (the MC hit the brake first). Left me confused about who the driver was.

      I think you could cut “eagerly” — “waited to swallow us whole” sounds stronger to me.

      I’m having trouble understanding why plowing straight-on into a tree would make her head jerk sideways… wouldn’t something have to hit them from the side to do that?

      In general, you definitely have my attention from the opening line, and sustain it as I wait with dread to see what happens!

      Good luck!

      • Melissa:
        I swear I cut eagerly from the MS like a week ago. Now to check and see what other edit’s didn’t save.

        The MC is driving, but they went into a spin, so Ana, the friend jerks the wheel hoping to put them back on the road.

        I was in a car accident last summer and my head was thrown to the side even though the car was hit from the front. It happens and it sucks.

        I like the suggestion about driving home instead of leaving 🙂
        What about:
        As my best friend, Ana and I drove home from the Valentine’s Day party, a dense fog rolled in off the Virginia coast.
        Does that make the transition easier?

        • Ana jerking the wheel: OK, that explains it. If you wanted to clarify, you could say something like “Ana reached over and jerked the wheel” — or it could only be me who was confused. 😉

          Ouch! I guess crash physics are complicated… that’s actually not the first time I’ve found out that something I thought sounded weird in a manuscript turned out to be the truth.

          I like the new driving home line — more clear, and I think it flows better, too!

          • Thank you!!! I knew everyone would give me awesome feedback to consider.

            • Question ladies. I swapped the placement of two of the sentences (introducing the buck & MC friend screaming) back to the way I had them originally. Does this make it better or worse?

              I’ll never forget the first time I died.

              As my best friend, Ana and I drove home from the Valentine’s Day party, a dense fog rolled in off the Virginia coast. A large buck, followed by a small doe, darted into the road and froze, hypnotized by my headlights.

              “Carri, look out!”

              I cut the wheel and hit a patch of black ice. My foot slammed the brake, but the car figure skated across the pavement.

              A metallic screech pierced the night as the guardrail etched a complaint into the passenger side door, threatening to break, and send us over the edge of Devil’s Peak. Below, the icy black water of the Atlantic waited to swallow us whole.

              Ana jerked the wheel, shooting the car up the adjacent embankment and into the woods. Tree branches clawed at the doors. The car stopped with a shattering crunch as it plowed into a large tree. My seatbelt locked my body in place, but my head jerked to the side, leaving behind a bloody spider web of cracked glass. My vision blurry from the blow, I shook my head and tried to get my bearings.

              “Ana, are you okay?”

              “Yeah, I think so.”

              Crack. Snap. A large pine, its needles encased in ice, swayed in a phantom wind. A broken branch scratched the windshield as if the tree sought retribution for the damage I caused.

              “Get out, now!” I fumbled with my seatbelt, but the clasp wouldn’t budge.

              • While technically the deer presumably appear before her friend shouts a warning, I think having the shouted warning come first gets me more into the narrator’s head and helps me feel the jarring “Oh $#!&!” surprise of the moment. So I like it better in the previous order — but it also does read well this way.

                • I like the way it reads better with the lines swapped (the second one you posted). However, I see Melissa’s point that, presumably, the MC heard her friend yell and THEN saw the deer.

                  Of course, when I’m driving my husband points out things I’ve seen all the time, so maybe that’s not a safe assumption.

                  • I went ahead and went back to the original where you hear the scream and see the deer. I had a longer intro, but based on CP feedback, it was cut. It explains it had been snowing and the roads were icy. I entered the Miss Snark Secret Agent contest and made the cut, so it’s the original version I posted. Hopefully, it will get some interest.

              • Here’s my revised first 250. I took most of the suggestions here, but am waffling heavily on whether to cut or keep “One summer day” at the beginning — I feel like “Two years after Auntie Vera died, I woke up the smell of mildew” might be a bit abrupt and have not quite as good a rhythm. I would love opinions on whether it seems definitely stronger one way or another!

                Tightening in a few places brought another sentence into play — it’s about 240 without the sentence, and 260 with. I feel like it might be a stronger stopping point at 240, though. Again, I’d love opinions.

                Thanks, all! This has been really useful!

                Here’s the revised first 250:

                —————-

                One summer day, two years after Auntie Vera died, I woke to the smell of mildew.

                It’s not my favorite odor. But more than once, it’s been my first clue to my location, before I open my eyes. And when you never know where you’ll be when you wake up, you take all the clues you can get. A sound, a smell, or even the feeling of the air on your skin can warn you not to move — or to jump up and get out of there, fast. Like the time I woke up to train tracks humming under my back, or to a bear snuffling my face.

                This time, it was mildew — and a girl’s voice, close by.

                I opened my eyes, ready to do some fast talking if she’d seen me. But I was alone, as usual. I lay curled on the dusty floor of a garden shed, between a barrel of cobwebby rakes and a rusted wheelbarrow.

                The girl’s trembling voice drifted in through the half-open window, near tears. She was clearly trying out new swear words.

                This could be awkward.

                I stood up, intending to peek outside. Immediately, wings exploded into a wild, breathy flutter as a bird knocked a flowerpot off the shelf next to its nest, buzzed my head, and swooped out the window.

                At the crash, the cursing outside broke off. Before I could do more than freeze, the door flew open.

                Framed in it stood a girl, maybe thirteen years old — my age — with flyaway brown hair and freckles across her nose.

                • Wow, sorry, meant this to be a new thread. I just CANNOT figure out the comment nesting in this interface, apparently. (Headdesk.) Sorry!

  4. You’ve been awesome Laura! Thanks so much

  5. Here we go again. That was relatively painless to just filp-flop the chapters and it’s so much better now! Thanks for any input!

    “Pluck a Duck!” I yelled as I accidently dropped the fifty pound bag of fertilizer on my toe. It was repotting day at the Green Mountain Nursery, and I had volunteered for the messy task. Considering my other option was to tend to the rich and needy…I’d choose the plants any day of the week.

    Green Mountain Nursery was the largest and most uppity of the nurseries in Anchorage. Most of our clients had more money than they could even spend, but they sure did try. My unofficial title was Mother of the Garden; officially I was the lead horticulturalist, although I spent most of my day consulting whiney housewives who just ‘couldn’t possibly pick out their own landscaping designs.’

    When not consulting, I tended to as many of the plants as possible. They seemed to respond to my aura. I know it sounds strange, but the plants seemed to dance around me. They seemed to become more alive.

    The plants responded well to the music I was playing in the room, but since not a creature alive would enjoy hearing me sing, they mainly got to ‘hear’ me lip-sync to all the Adele, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Fiona Apple they could stand. It has been slightly embarrassing on more than one occasion when a customer enters the area I am tending to and catches my very dramatic performances. Oh, well. Plants make me feel safe. I do relatively well while away from home. It’s those moments alone in my empty house that make me miss my boys so much.

    • I agree that this works a lot better. I like this voice, and if the novel is primarily told in the MC’s perspective, leading with it makes sense. Reading this tells me a lot more about the MC than the original opening.

      I feel like this is still heavy on description, not action. If you reduce some excess words (like “of the week” and “in the room”), you might be able to shorten the opening and get more action into your first 250 words. Some examples:

      In the second paragraph, you can cut “of the” and say “largest and most uppity nursery.” Did you mean “ever spend” instead of “even spend”? Also, after spending all morning removing passive voice from my MS, I’d recommend “played” instead of “was playing.” “tending to” could be “tending”. I also think that the third paragraph can either be removed entirely, or combined with one of the other paragraphs. You’ve got “seemed” three times in three sentences and the plants responding is mentioned twice. That could be cleaned up a little.

    • Sasha, in the first 250 words, you’ve used 3 adverbs and 3 instances of passive voice. I know that sounds weird, but when I CP another person’s work, I point these things out because agents tend to frown on it. These are my suggestions, feel free to use what you want and ignore what you don’t want 🙂

      Pluck a Duck!” I yelled as I accidently dropped the fifty pound bag of fertilizer on my toe. This is telling — What about …I yelled as I lost my grip and dropped the or something like that. It shows what happened instead of telling us you dropped it on accident.

      passive voice: It was repotting day — reword that sentence to make it active. Repotting day is today. Also, delete the comma before the and in that sentence. You don’t need the helping verb had for had volunteered. I volunteered for the messy task sounds cleaner.

      adverb: officially I was the lead horticulturalist, — while I believe this works, you can probably reword it

      Delete ‘just’ in the whiney housewives. Just is a word editors hack out of our MS, as well as then, very, even, only, etc.
      When not consulting, I tended to as many of the plants as possible. Not sure why, but I don’t like this sentence. Instead of tended, try cared for maybe?

      In P3, you use seemed in each sentence. Don’t know if that was intentional or not, but it felt too repetitious and I’d condense it. You could always say as if or like or just cut seemed altogether and say that’s what they did.

      P4 passive voice: was playing — make it active: The plants responded well to the music I played

      drop mainly – unnecessary adverb and doesn’t change the sentence

      adverb — slightly if you want to use something to add to the level of embarassment you felt, consider somewhat, but I’d leave it as plain ‘ole embarassing.

      passive: am tending — maybe consider “under my care”

      drop very – it’s an evil word — search your MS for it and save an editor the time it takes to delete it

    • I agree that this is a much better place to start! I get a much better sense of character from this version.

      I think you might want to move some of the background describing her workplace and job duties (or even just cut it — we might be able to figure it out from context as the chapter continues). Flat-out description of what the nursery is like and what her job is there is not as interesting as her character and voice. I’d also love to get to some kind of hint at the core conflict sooner, or of what’s at stake. So far she seems really happy with her job, and I can’t guess what her challenges are going to be, what her driving goals are, what the antagonistic forces in the novel are, etc. Even some vague foreshadowing might work, or some signs of what her inner conflicts and drives are.

      I also agree with Laura’s feedback on tightening it up!

      Good luck!

    • Thanks everyone!!!! I’ll definitely change it up and get more to the point! 🙂 And…I hope you don’t mind if I post the revision (again!)

  6. Here’s my first 250…although I’m now considering scratching the first chapter completely after an agent review. Here it is anyways… 🙂

    I drifted to sleep the same way I had for the last two years: with warm soundless tears in my eyes. But in my dreams, I am happy. The nursery I help maintain during working hours was one of the best here in Anchorage. Our trees are always healthy, our shrubs lively and the flowers flourished. But here, as I approached the door to my small piece of earthly heaven, my heart raced with anticipation.
    The narrow path led me through the small opening between the honeysuckle vines and weeping willows, surrounding me with a sweet scent. The yellow trumpet flowers bloomed with a faint shimmer, as did everything else in this world. It was as though life wasn’t an abstract thing. You didn’t just know the vines were alive here because they were fresh and colorful. You knew because out of the corner of your eye you could just see everything move with knowledge and purpose guiding them. Hummingbirds flittered in and out of view, dancing with the butterflies between all the greens and yellows. Their cobalt, ruby, and plum little bodies moving swiftly around me, their wings and soft chirps filled the air with songs just for my ears. I smiled. A real smile. It made me feel not as alone as I do most of the time. This place had become a friend.
    As I walked, the door to my garden appeared. The cool dark wood was immaculately carved with swirling patterns, giving it a whimsical and inviting feel.

    • I’m a little curious to know what the agent said – if you’re going to rewrite the whole thing anyway, it might be better to just critique that. (Also, I rewrote my entire beginning after getting agent feedback. What I posted was Take 3.) Like, maybe we could expand on that feedback.

      I feel like maybe there’s a little too much description and not enough action. I know that you’re opening with a dream, but it’s almost too dream-like. Like, you could rewrite both sentences starting with “you” to avoid the second person, and give the MCs personal perceptions. Does that make sense?

      • Yes, thanks. She actually said NEVER open with a dream. It’s apparently a big no-no I knew nothing about. And suggested I open with Chapter 2 and fit this chapter in after some character development. I think I’ll rearrange the chapters and repost. Thanks!

        • Yeah, I read a dozen articles on top 10 ways not to open your novel. AFTER sending out a ton of queries, I discovered that my opening was #11.

          … So now I’m waiting for the rejections to flood my inbox and trying to figure out who to query next.

  7. I know we’re working towards a competition here but does anyone want to start an email based or blog based writer’s group to work on pieces of our novel we’re unsure about? For me it’s the first few chapters that seem rocky but maybe some of you have whole portions later on that bug you.

    I’m sure all of us are submitting to agents and/or publishers, but I find things like this really help. I belong to a real life group (haha) that meets every two weeks, but none of them write fantasy so it’s a bit hard to get feedback because they’re more likely to be like: “it’s very nice. You’re missing a comma. Reminds me of Tolkien… ::ahem:: back to our memoirs! ”

    I know there are already places and forums for such things online but I haven’t had much luck joining them. (Unless you guys can recommend one.) And I’ve already hired an editor once for Ebony, so I don’t want to do it again unless it seems like a train wreck.

    I could use really hardcore plot editing feedback like you guys have provided so far, and I can be nice and ruthless at the same time for your stuff. 😉 Maybe just like a chapter at a time so nobody gets overwhelmed.

    Obviously this would fail as soon as somebody gets their work accepted but perhaps you like me are working on multiple unfinished manuscripts as well! I’m up for anything.

    What do you think?

    • I’ve got like six more ideas floating around my head, so I don’t think finding an agent for one project would stop me from participating. But they’re most chicklit (and one that doesn’t make any sense unless I decide to start writing sci-fi).

      I love the idea of an email-based group, because it’s more private. But I also don’t write fantasy. “Hey, this reminds me of that one scene where Legolas…”

    • Thank you! Definitely interesting, but I fear at this point I have to avoid taking on more commitments in my overbooked life. Good critique partners are the best thing ever, though, and I would join if I thought I had the time to do it justice!

    • I’ve considered opening up my site to allow people to post like in forums. It wouldn’t cost anything, but you would have to register. I know there are some sites out there already that have these – cpseek and QueryTracker, but getting responses is spotty at best. If people wanted to use my site for this, I’m game.

  8. OKAY so here goes! I am one of those YA Fantasy people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with my opening sentence. I don’t want it to seem too pastoral, I want it to intrigue. If you think it should start further down, tell me and I will adjust!

    No formatting, which means no italics. Okay.

    YEAR 1515

    CHAPTER ONE: The End of Most Things…

    There were other sounds in the Valley that evening, deeper and somehow truer than the ragged cliff edges that surrounded them. Mountain pines and birches shuddered restlessly to this strange music. They danced with the magic of approaching harvest time, moonlit nights, and festivals.

    Near the gates of Cross Haven, inside the timeworn log-beamed pub, the song murmured of the coming autumn like a promise. Or a threat.

    The lyrics were long forgotten to the ages. The only thing that remained was the cool hum of the harp and a title that spoke of love lost.

    Her hands descended slowly from the strings.

    Ebony Havenworth opened her eyes.

    Divergent conversations fluttered around her.

    “How ‘bout that wedding? Did ye see Bree? Pretty lil’ bride, wern’t she?”

    “Shame about the McKinley boy.”

    One man inclined his head in her direction, and another clapped against the tabletop. She didn’t mind that no one else seemed to be paying attention. It meant that they didn’t notice her mistakes. She hated making mistakes.

    She studied the inside of the tavern, counting each familiar face.

    Ebony tallied two outsiders today. They were holed up in one of the back booths, but they stood out like kings amidst sheep. Their hooded faces gave them an air of mystery, of danger. Ebony felt a secret thrill. They could be from the Guild, she thought. Wizards.

    One of the strangers looked up.

    Ebony gasped and flicked her eyes downward

    • Definitely some interesting stuff here! I want to know what happened to the McKinley boy, who the hooded strangers are, and why Ebony is reacting to them so strongly.

      A few thoughts, most of them minor nitpicks:

      * Not sure the “…” after the chapter title is doing anything for me, and it looks a little odd.

      * I’m confused by the “other” in the first line. I definitely enjoy the lyrical voice, and there’s a great rhythm to the line, but even after reading a few times, I’m still not clear on what the “other” sounds are (or what the not-other sounds are, either, if that makes any sense). I’m guessing one of them must be the harp, but I’m not clear whether the harp is making music that is somehow affecting the trees and the valley, or whether something else is going on, and to what degree it’s magical versus merely poetic. So… I do want to know more about this music, and am intrigued, but also feel like meaning might be getting lost in metaphor.

      * I might leave out the bit about the title — I figured out belatedly that it must be the song title, but since at this point we don’t even have a character established, I don’t know who knows the title, so it left me looking for a point of view that wasn’t there yet.

      * 3 one-sentence paragraphs in a row might be a bit much? (Starting at “Her hands descended slowly…”) The moment doesn’t seem quite dramatic enough to demand it.

      * I like the “she hated making mistakes” bit a lot — it’s a great early glimpse into her character.

      * I’m not sure “like kings among sheep” is working for me. Maybe pick a metaphor that will tell us a little something about Ebony’s lens/worldview? Presumably she doesn’t see kings standing around among sheep all the time… is there something in her everyday world that would carry that “out of place” connotation and tell us more about how she thinks at the same time? Maybe an out-of-tune harpstring, or something?

      As for the starting point, on the one hand, I do think it’s successfully intriguing to start with this larger view that hints that something big and magical is going on, and then to sort of zoom in on Ebony in a way that suggests that she’s involved in it. And I like the lyrical voice you establish in the opening. I think that right now the lyricism may be getting in the way of clarity, but I think that’s easily edited. On the other hand, it might be nice to get more of a glimpse into Ebony’s character a little earlier on. Maybe skip the overheard conversation snippets, or move them a little later? Or get more of her personality in a little earlier in some other way — perhaps picking a word besides “divergent” to describe the conversations she hears that gives us more of a clue about how she perceives them — are they petty and uninteresting to her? A reassuring background hum? Interesting gossip? You could tip us off with one or two words.

      This is all off the top of my head — take it or leave it! And good luck!

      • I really like the voice here.

        You might want to check the rules about ending in mid-sentence. I think it’s OK to go to the end of the line, if it’s just a few words. Or, you could just throw in a period for the contest, since it’s a complete thought as-is. (I realize that’s not really a commentary on the text)

        I agree with the kings amid sheep metaphor. There might be something that flows better… like sheep among goats? A goat amid lambs? Not sure. I also agree with “hated making mistakes.” Personally, it makes me identify with the main character immediately.

        For the three one-sentence paragraphs, what about making one two-sentence paragraph? “Her hands descended slowly from the strings, and Ebony Havenworth opened her eyes. Divergent conversations fluttered around her.”

        The only other suggestion I could make is really a question: Are the snippets of conversation crucial to the plot later? If neither of them is, you might want to consider removing the words for now (or replacing them with hints of things to come). But if they are, then I like the idea of the foreshadowing.

        • thank you both for your comments – I am tweaking now. Will post soon. But first – I just want to clarify some things.

          “Other” sounds was left from a time when that was not the first sentence. I’m really tempted to just take it out. It is foreshadowing though, because you find out her music uses a LOT of magic later on, so I suppose I could show it better.

          Now for the conversation. Those remain from a time when you actually get to meet her friend Bree, the bride, and see what happened to her brother Evan (The McKinley boy.) They still talk about Evan but Bree is no longer in this book. You only see her briefly in the second. So maybe I can just take that out.

          • I’m actually okay with leaving both if one of them is relevant later – leave the reader wondering. I mean, I wouldn’t put in an entire paragraph about Bree, but one sentence floating by could be OK – then in the second book, people will remember hearing about her. Does that make sense?

            • Just saw this. That was what I was thinking, but honestly, Ebony thinks about Bree later on in the book just as a passing; oh my god, is Bree all right? Is everybody in town all right? So mention of her name is enough. I may put back in the McKinley boy thing. I’ll think about it.

              • I feel like the snippets of conversation are fine in and of themselves, but the placement so early, when the reader is trying to figure out who the main character is and what’s going on, is distracting if they’re not referencing plot-important people. I usually try to minimize the number of names readers are exposed to in the first chapter, because it’s so easy to get overwhelmed when you don’t know yet who’s important and who’s not and are trying to remember everything. I think this is especially the case with fantasy, where you have to do a lot of worldbuiling early on and there’s a lot of information for the reader to process — if you CAN leave out a piece of information from the first few pages (like a name), you probably should. It can always go in later, once the reader has a surer footing.

                One thing you could do if you decide you liked the pacing and rhythm better when the dialogue snippets were there is figure out whether there’s something they could be talking about that would help provide information the reader DOES need, or that will foreshadow upcoming events… Bonus points if you do it in a way that piques our interest or hints at Ebony’s core character conflict in some way. The “McKinley boy” line did get my attention, because it was ominous… if that’s Ebony’s brother and what happened to him is important, you could possibly leave that in and try to find something similarly plot-relevant for another line. If he’s not important anymore, or if we don’t find out what happened to him in this draft, probably better not to raise readers’ curiosity if that’s not the thing you want them to be most curious about at this point in the book.

          • Okay, here is the edit. I made the conversation like the droning of bees and now I don’t know if I hate that line too. I might change or cut it. If you can think of anything else that should be cut, let me know, because this is followed up by one of my favorite lines early on about Ebony and I would be happy to cut more out to get to that.

            Also I finished the sentence rather than end it at 250, but I guess I need to find out whether it matters or not.

            YEAR 1515

            CHAPTER ONE: The End of Most Things

            That evening, there were sounds deeper and somehow truer than the ragged cliff edges that surrounded the Valley. Mountain pines and birches shuddered restlessly to this strange music. They danced with the magic of approaching harvest time, moonlit nights, and festivals.

            Near the gates of Cross Haven, inside the timeworn log-beamed pub, the song murmured of the coming autumn like a promise. Or a threat.

            The lyrics were long forgotten to the ages. The only thing that remained was the cool hum of the harp.

            Her hands descended slowly from the strings, and Ebony Havenworth opened her eyes. The reassuring drone of conversations continued like bees around her.

            One man inclined his head in her direction, and another clapped against the tabletop. She didn’t mind that no one else seemed to be paying attention. It meant that they didn’t notice her mistakes. She hated making mistakes.

            She studied the inside of the tavern, counting each familiar face.

            Ebony tallied two outsiders today. They were holed up in one of the back booths, but they stood out like an untuned string. Their hooded faces gave them an air of mystery, of danger. Ebony felt a secret thrill. They could be from the Guild, she thought. Wizards.

            One of the strangers looked up.

            Ebony gasped and flicked her eyes downward, stifling a giggle with her hand. It wouldn’t do to be caught staring at people, wizards or not.

            “Wot’s so funny?” The Blacksmith’s apprentice, David, smiled at her from the other side of the harp.

            • You could say “buzzed” instead of “continued like bees” if you want to cut a few words.

              I like “an untuned string,” since the overall theme is musical.

              • Buzzed, yes! Good that cuts out a lot. And it’s more positive. Droned makes it sound like annoying lectures she has to sit through which is not how she views it.

            • Great edit!

              I wonder if there’s a way to get a more active, flavorful verb in that first sentence rather than “there were.” I love the rest of the sentence and am now no longer confused about the “other sounds” part… you kept the lyricism and got rid of the befuddlement, so yay!

              I’m not sure where the giggle comes from at this point, but I imagine that might be clear in another line or two.

              This is a minor thing, but it occurs to me that the hooded stranger(s) in the tavern is a bit of a fantasy cliche. If you can pick another detail to make them stand out, that might not be a bad plan.

              I definitely like this edit — clearer and cleaner!

              • Worked hard to get a better verb in. Let me know if it works. I know hooded is a cliche, but she meets them in the next chapter, and she can’t recognize them until they tell her they were at the pub. So it’s there for a reason, unfortunately. And as a musician, if you know your music well enough, you have nothing but time to stare around the room and study faces (having done that myself) so she would recognize them later. Here’s the edit though:

                YEAR 1515
                CHAPTER ONE: The End of Most Things

                That evening, sounds reverberated deeper and truer than the ragged cliff edges that surrounded the Valley. Mountain pines and birches shuddered restlessly to this strange music. They danced with the magic of approaching harvest time, moonlit nights, and festivals.

                Near the gates of Cross Haven, inside the timeworn log-beamed pub, the song murmured of the coming autumn like a promise. Or a threat.

                The lyrics were long forgotten to the ages. The only thing that remained was the cool hum of the harp.

                Her hands descended slowly from the strings, and Ebony Havenworth opened her eyes. Conversations buzzed around her.

                One man inclined his head in her direction, and another clapped against the tabletop. She didn’t mind that no one else seemed to be paying attention. It meant that they didn’t notice her mistakes. She hated making mistakes.

                She studied the inside of the tavern, counting each familiar face.
                Ebony tallied two outsiders today. They were holed up in one of the back booths, but they stood out like an unturned string. Their hooded faces gave them an air of mystery, of danger. Ebony felt a secret thrill. They could be from the Guild, she thought. Wizards.

                One of the strangers looked up.

                Ebony gasped and flicked her eyes downward, stifling a giggle with her hand. It wouldn’t do to be caught staring at people, wizards or not.

                “Wot’s so funny?” The Blacksmith’s apprentice, David, smiled at her from the other side of the harp.

                • Reverberated works for me! And if the hoods are necessary to obscure identity as a plot point, rather than just to Create an Aura of Mystery, I think you’re good.

  9. Thank you so much for hosting this!

    Here’s mine… Thanks in advance for any feedback!

    (DREAMWALKERS – MG Contemporary Fantasy)

    One summer day, two years after Auntie Vera died, I woke up to the smell of mildew.
    It’s not my favorite odor. But more than once, it’s been my first clue to my location, before I open my eyes. And when you never know where you’ll be when you wake up, you take all the clues you can get. A sound, a smell, or even the feeling of the air on your skin can warn you not to move — or to jump up and get out of there, fast. Like the time I woke up to the feeling of train tracks humming under my back, or to a bear snuffling my face.
    Today, the smell wasn’t my first hint — it was my second, after a girl’s voice, close by.
    I opened my eyes, ready to do some fast talking if she’d seen me. But I was alone, as usual. I lay curled on the floor of a damp, disused garden shed, between a barrel of cobwebby rakes and a rusty wheelbarrow.
    The girl’s trembling voice drifted in through the half-open window, near tears. She was clearly trying out new swear words.
    This could be awkward.
    I stood up, intending to peek through the window. Immediately, wings exploded into a wild, breathy flutter as a bird knocked a flowerpot off the shelf next to its nest, buzzed my head, and swooped out through the window.
    At the crash, the cursing outside broke off. Before I could do more than freeze, the door flew open.

    • I’m already very intrigued. Curious to know who this MC is and what’s going on.

      A few things jump out at me: First, do you need to say that it was a summer day? I’ve been doing a lot of reading about openings, and a lot of it says “Don’t start with weather.” I know that’s not exactly the same, but it made me think of it. And I do like the idea of “Two years after Auntie Vera died…”

      Second, since you say that the MC woke to the smell of mildew, I wonder if it would flow better to say that the girl’s voice was the second hint. The way it is now, I stopped and said “Wait? A voice? But I thought the first thing was the smell…”

      Another thing that jumped out at me was places where the writing could maybe be tightened up a bit. Like “stood up” could be “stood” or “swooped out” could be “swooped through the window.” Instead of “woke up to the feel of train tracks humming,” you could just say “woke up to train tracks humming…” Similarly – if this person just woke up in the shed, how do we know it’s disused? You’re showing that when you set the scene, so you don’t need to say it.

      • Thank you! This is very helpful!

        • The amazing Laura strikes again! She said most of what I wanted to point out.

          This is great. Intriguing. Why is she waking up on the floor of a garden shed?? I would love to read more.

          I agree though, when I got to the girl’s voice thing I had to reread the whole thing over. So I would either start with one line of dialogue of the girl cursing or something, or stick with the smell and make the girl’s voice be the second thing. I like “After Aunt Vera died” much better though because it hooks me immediately.

  10. Love the lively voice! And the horrible text from the boyfriend sparks my sympathy for the protagonist.

    You might want to start with the text rather than with the Italicized reality show ad/blurb? The text & her response grabs my attention much more, and gets me more invested… A lot of people train themselves to ignore ads instinctively, so leading off with one may make people’s eyes glaze rather than drawing them in. (Of course, this may all be part of some master plan I can’t see with such a short sample.)

    I think you could cut “It was already almost 7:30! He knew that I usually ate early.” I don’t think the exact time matters — just that he’s taken a long time to get back to her and how the protagonist feels about that.

    Good luck!

    • Oops, that was supposed to be in response to Laura’s 250. Sorry. (Headdesk)

      • Thank you! That’s really helpful.

        If I take out the blurb at the beginning, then you get more of what a jerk the BF is. The last paragraph becomes:

        What’s taking so long? Is he in the bathroom or something? I shivered and rubbed my hands up and down my arms. It’s a long walk from the living room to the door. Maybe I should ask if he ever found that key he made me.
        Finally, the door swung open. “Hey, Jen!” Dominic greeted me with a smile and a brief kiss. Days worth of stubble scratched my face – he knew I hated that.

        • Ack just saw this. Okay so you have her wondering what’s taking so long. That explains the question then! I like the little quip about the key. It’s totally a red flag and any girl that’s been in a relationship like this is going to think: oh shit! He hasn’t given her a key yet!! Run, girl, run!

  11. I realize that most of the people who participated in the other two critiques write mostly YA or fantasy, so I hope you don’t mind reading something that’s chicklit. Here’s hoping that the formatting tags work…

    Do you always have to be right? Do you love puzzles and trivia? Are you outgoing, vivacious, and engaging? Do you usually find yourself surrounded by less intelligent people? Do you want to win $250,000? We’re looking for smart, spunky 21 to 25-year-olds, for an exciting new reality competition! Email Stephanie your name, age, a photo, and a little about yourself for more information.

    I’ve got something 2 do 2night, but u can spend the night if u want 2 hang.
    Hours later, this was the text I got in response to asking my boyfriend if he wanted to have dinner? It was already almost 7:30! He knew that I usually ate early. He’d taken so long to reply that I’d not only eaten a sandwich, I’d also bought an umbrella, tried on half a dozen pairs of shoes, and walked 10 blocks toward home.
    Plus, I could sleep there if I wanted to “hang”? Gee, how romantic! But I hadn’t seen him in a week or so…
    You shouldn’t let yourself be at his beck and call, I told myself sternly.
    I’m not! I insisted. I am a strong, liberated woman who is okay admitting that she’d like to spend time with her boyfriend this evening without making him plan some fancy, expensive date first or schedule it three days in advance.
    It took five minutes to pack a bag. Half an hour later, I knocked on Dominic’s front door.
    What’s taking so long?

    • I apparently forgot to indent each paragraph when doing all the HTML formatting. Sorry. I don’t think I can fix it.

      • Don’t worry about formatting. We get the point 🙂

        • Weirdly it’s not letting me comment up above so I’m going to go for it down here instead.

          LAURA: Really great! Having been in this situation before myself, I’m curious to see what this jerk guy is up to….

          I’m with Melissa. I think the ad blurb is disarming to start, because I think the text is a much better starting point. Besides, I want to know WHEN she reads that ad. I want to be inside her head when she spots it the first time.

          I’m a bit confused when I see the part “I knocked on Dominic’s front door. What’s taking so long?” The way it’s written now it seems like she’s only just arrived and she’s impatient for him to answer. I’m pretty impatient but man that’s a bit harsh. ;p Does she listen for his footsteps and hear nothing, does she hear him far away in another room but not coming to her? Is she just so annoyed she just can’t stand it anymore? (show me.) Or did you just mean what’s taking so long that whole night?

          Also this is reallllly nit-picky, but right after the text, I don’t think you need the question mark to emphasize she’s pissed. A period would be just fine and we still get it, she’s upset. And hey, I’d be too. Been there, done that.

          Good work! Intriguing character.

          • Thank you!

            I can easily move the ad to where she first finds it (which is the day after this fiasco). I put it there because there are blurbs at the beginning of all the other chapters – but if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’m trying to think of what I could do instead.

            • Honestly, if you’re doing blurbs at the start of all the chapters, it’d probably be fine when seen as part of the entire book… I think it’s more jarring because with just 250 words, it takes up half your space without really adding anything (since we haven’t gotten to the point where it becomes relevant yet), and the lack of formatting and context means it’s not entirely clear that it’s a beginning-of-chapter blurb rather than part of the story.

              • I agree. If they are ONLY seeing 250 words, perhaps leave it as a surprise to them that every chapter starts with the blurb. Honestly. Because you don’t want them thinking it doesn’t fit. They’ll see it as a whole later on.

                • I was just thinking the same thing. Post the first 250 for the contest without the blurb, then send it as the beginning if someone asks for more. After some tweaking, that gives me this:

                  I’ve got something 2 do 2night, but u can spend the night if u want 2 hang.
                  I gaped at my phone. Hours later, this was text I got in response to asking my boyfriend if he wanted to have dinner? He’d taken so long to reply that I’d not only eaten a sandwich, I’d also bought an umbrella, tried on half a dozen pairs of shoes, and walked 10 blocks toward home.
                  Plus, I could sleep there if I wanted to “hang”? Gee, how romantic! But, still, I hadn’t seen him in a week or so…
                  You shouldn’t let yourself be at his beck and call, I told myself sternly.
                  I’m not! I insisted. I am a strong, liberated woman who is okay admitting that she’d like to spend time with her boyfriend this evening without making him plan some fancy date first or schedule it three days in advance.
                  It took five minutes to pack a bag. Half an hour later, I knocked on Dominic’s front door.
                  I strained to hear if he was coming, but couldn’t make out anything over the rain and the wind. Shivering, I rubbed my hands on my arms as I waited. What’s taking so long? Maybe I should ask if he ever found that key he made me. Oh, well. At least my new umbrella kept me dry.
                  Finally, the door swung open. “Hey, Jen!” Dominic greeted me with a smile and a brief kiss. His stubbly chin scratched my face.

                  • I think it’s a lot better. 🙂 Okay reading it again, I noticed something. It took five minutes to pack a bag but then it’s a half hour later. Why? What happens in that interim? Does she take a cab or a train or drive? Even just two words like “A cab and half an hour later I knocked on Dominic’s front door.” etc. I don’t know why this bugged me because it was a little thing, but I think it’s because so much of this blurb is time-related. And love love love the new part with the umbrella.

                    Sorry! My old editor was a nitpick and now I’m the same way. Argh.

                    • Don’t apologize. Nit-picking makes it better. 🙂

                      Now I wonder if I should just review for time-related references and remove them, since that’s not necessarily what I want people to focus on.

                    • It didn’t take long to pack a bag. A short walk and three Metro stops later… ?

    • I tried to post feedback and accidently did it as a separate comment. DOH! Look above for it, and sorry!

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