Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Teen First Page Critique

It's time for our Teen First Page Critique, a monthly feature here at YA Confidential that lets you get feedback on your manuscript from your target audience: real teen readers.

This month's brave volunteer is Ellie Garratt and here is the first page from her YA dystopian…

Devon says I am too much of a coward to come to the boundary at night. I guess I am proving him wrong. I’m here, and in a few minutes the luminous shell that envelops Hometown for as far as the eyes can see, top to bottom, keeping us from the toxic wasteland of Outside, will start to fade. By the tenth hour I’ll be standing in total darkness.

We’re banned from coming here at night, so the Guardians provide no lighting.

We’re also banned from crossing the boundary line, a continuous red mark that encircles Hometown, marking the ground that lies two feet from the boundary. No one crosses it for fear of an infraction punishment.

My hands are sweaty and clenched. I can feel the blood pulsing through my veins, reminding me I am alive; that I can still run from this spot at any time.

But I won’t.

When he does show up, the most important thing is to show no fear. Devon says girls aren’t as strong as boys, and maybe he’s right. I’ve been scared my whole life. Scared of breaking the rules. Scared of eviction. Scared of losing my mother, whom I sometimes think is already lost. Most of all I am scared of my father. What he says is the law in Hometown because he’s the Warden. There are residents who have gone against him in the past but they are nearly always evicted. I shudder at the thought; how long would I last on the other side of the Boundary? How long would I live in the Outside?

I’m never going to find out because I am never breaking the rules.

Before I can think anything further, I feel two hands on my back, and then I’m being shoved forward. I stumble, unable to stop my feet tripping and my body from losing balance, and instinctively reach forward with my hands as I fall.

But my hands don’t reach the ground. I’ve fallen head first into the boundary.


And here’s what our spies and analysts had to say...

ERICA: I absolutely loved this first page! I was completely captivated right away. I loved how well it hooked me in, building with each paragraph. Already I feel like the stakes have been set and there is one heck of a plot to be unraveled.

LYNSAY: This is a very interesting first page. I like this whole idea of the boundary. One thing I might say is if there were an actual quote used from Devon in the very beginning about how scared the narrator is or something, it might be more authentic and grab the reader more, even if the narrator is just recalling the quote in her head. Other than that, I think it's good, and I read would read more.

LEXIE: That definitely grabs my attention. I'd read on without a doubt. I'm curious to see more about this town, this girl, this boundary she's forbidden to cross, and I applaud you for putting the reader right in the middle of the action from the get-go. However, watch your telling. I understand the desire to start world-building right away, and you certainly don't want to leave the reader completely in the dark, but I don't think all of that information is necessary on the very first page, and it pulls the reader out of the exciting things that are happening at the present time. Also, watch your sentence structure--for the most part, it was very smooth, but there were a few clunky sentences or phrases. That can be easily reworked. Otherwise, very intriguing start. I'd definitely be interested in seeing where this goes.

GRACIE: The concept of this first page definitely grabs me - there's enough intrigue and mystery to make me interested enough to read on. However, it's kind of confusing. At the beginning, the narrator comes to the boundary when she isn't supposed to, and then at the end she says she's never breaking the rules, almost adamantly certain that she's not going to break the rules. So does she want to be there or not? Because that definitely needs to be more clear, I think. Also some of the wording of various sentences is kind of awkward. Other than that, though, I would read on.

LENNON: It certainly leaves you wanting more. It is pretty authentic, it follows teenage thought streams pretty well.

RIV: By the fourth word, I was already out of the story. One of my biggest writing pet peeves is when authors don't use contractions for no obvious reason. After two "I am"s in a row, and I would normally be closing the book, returning it to the shelf. (But, obviously, this is here for a first page critique.) The third sentence also put me out of the story, with its length. I had to read it three times to remember what the subject is (the shell) that the "fading" is referring to. When I realized that it was a dystopian (also around the third sentence) I instantly starting drawing comparisons, in this case to Breathe by Sarah Crossan, even though I have yet to read this or that. We then lead into the Tell, another reason I would put down the book, hearing all about Hometown and the main character's--who I still don't care about--fears. The "evicted" bit is a nice touch. I like that. :) But, like I said, I don't know the main character's name, and I don't care an ounce about this scared little girl--except for the fact that, like all other dystopians, she'll become some sort of strong, defiant rebel. But, until then, I need a name, at the very least.

LISSA: I love that first page! I've already gotten a great sense of the world and the character and the society, and that's exactly what I look for. Books that get to the action right away are always the most interesting, as there's never a dull moment!

Still, it sounds like a dystopian, and that genre is very hit and miss for me, though that's simply a personal thing. Still, I'd definitely keep reading to see what goes on next!


Hope this helps! And I hope this feedback is insightful for our readers as well! HUGE thank yous to our SPIES and ANALYSTS and to Ellie! I know how scary it can be to put your work out there. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

We'll be doing another call for first pages in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

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