Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teen Page Critiques

It's time for our first Teen Page Critique! This might be the feature here at YA Confidential that I've been the most excited about, because it's rare for us YA writers to get early feedback from our target audience.

Our brave volunteer guinea-pig is Kelly Jensen. She's a youth services librarian who blogs at STACKED and tweets as @catagator.

Kelly's first page (which contains a bit of language, read at your own risk!):

No one sits next to the girl with the combat boots. No one wants to know if the red splotches dotting the top of them is blood or if the dog tags around her neck commemorate the people she's knocked off.    

She ambled into computer lab late. Thrashed the chair around at the computer beside me, since the one she usually occupied in the back corner was already occupied. Great.

“Fuck me,” I said under my breath.

“Sucks to be you,” Vince laughed. I slid my chair over closer toward him. We had a rocky history that involved him being too drunk to find a box of condoms in his room after T.W.I.R.P. – after a dance where the woman is required to pay, the least he could do as a date was plan ahead for the post-event mattress tango. Fortunately, he didn't look like he'd copped a fight with a barbed wire fence and lost, unlike someone else near me.

The girl – Ingrid Johns – made my skin crawl. She creeped me out. What person doesn't talk to anyone else? Girl doesn't even take her boots off in gym class, just wears them with the regulation white socks and refuses to participate. It's like her boots are the only thing keeping her alive. 

This was going to be the damn longest class in history, and it didn't help it was the last hour before freedom.

“You're to do another investment profile to make sure the mock portfolios you've made are in the best shape they can be. Look up your competing corporations and make your stock investments wisely.” Blah blah blah. Melcher gave us this assignment weeks ago, and it amazed me she still talked like none of us finished the stupid project already (the overachievers) or were planning on slapping it together the night before (me). It was easier to pretend we needed more time in the lab so we could spend it fucking around on the internet.

So, what did our Teen Spies think?

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Lynsey: I really liked this first page.  It made me wonder a lot about the girl with the combat boots and the narrator as well. The only thing I thought was a little off with the teen perspective is the whole "F me" line towards the beginning. To me, when I read that it makes me think they mean it in a literal way. For a second I was confused because it isn't usually used like that in my world.  Something like, "f*ck my life" is what someone I know would say.

Also, one of the "occupied"s in the fourth sentence probably needs to be removed to make it sound better (excuse my detailed-ness, just something I noticed). 

All in all this looks like the making of a really good story.  I definitely didn't realize 250 words was short before reading this page; I wanted to read more! Keep up the good work, and I would love to read the whole book someday!

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Katie: GREAT first line! First lines are very important.
 
The "f*ck me" took me out of the story. If the first page has any curse words used unnecessarily like this one, I set the book down and move on. And to me, it sounds like you're saying the main character wants to have sexual intercourse with this girl.

I skimmed over the paragraph about the TWIRP dance because I want to know more about the girl with the combat boots. I love the emphasis put on the boots. It really makes them a part of who Ingrid is.

Bringing the computer assignment up in the first page makes me think the book is going to be about completing this assignment. The main character saying plans to finish it the night before makes them look like a slacker, and why should the reader want to continue if the main character is a slacker and doesn't want to get anything done? 

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Scotie: The book grabs me. It is authentically teenage-ish. I would read more. I like the girl with combat boots, I'm a lot like her.

The only thing I would change is adding a wee bit more detail, the main character's name, her grade, etc. We teens have a tendency to judge people/things fairly early on, so if we don't know a lot about the main character and other characters pretty quickly, we get bored.

Things have to be relatable and interesting. This illustrated both perfectly. Very good and interesting. I like the three "main" characters a lot already. I can relate to both girls, and the boy fascinaties me. I like it so far.

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So, some very different opinions, but a couple of points of convergence among our Teen Spies. A big thanks to them and to Kelly for being gutsy enough to put her stuff out there!

What do you think? Do you agree with what our Teen Spies had to say? Anything that surprised you?


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