Tuesday, September 4, 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 Eric Steinberg and here is the first page from his story, BETTER LIVES…

When Gil and Lew came to my dorm room with the idea of stealing the physics final, I normally wouldn’t have considered such a dumbass move.  Not that I had any moral objections to cheating or stealing.   But normally, the potential for a high grade on a single test weighed against getting kicked out of prep school wasn’t worth the risk. Normally.

But these were special circumstances.  I had opportunity thanks to Gil and Lew, motive, thank you very much Mr. Taylor. And I had an ace-in-the-hole, courtesy of hooking up with a pretty, but already-getting-on-my-nerves fifteen year-old freshman, two weeks earlier.

I slipped around to the back of our teacher’s house and found Gil waiting for me.

“Door’s locked.”  His breath was visible in the cold.

 “I’ll open it,” I said.

Gil gave me a classic Gilbert and Lewis dull look.  The two of them might as well have been brothers, both with Nordic good looks, several inches over six feet…and not too bright.

 “I’m going to open it,” I repeated, taking out my tension wrench and wide-tipped pick.

Gil’s jaw went slack, mouth hanging open slightly before he closed it.  “I’ve seen this shit on TV.  You’re going to pick it?”

“Yeah, if you shut up and let me concentrate.”

The doorknob turned loosely in my hand.  Broken.  So, only the deadbolt to deal with.  Slipping the tension wrench into the lock, I pushed my rake all the way to the back of plug.  The lock turned, and the bolt slid back.


The reactions from our spies and analysts were very mixed, but hopefully very helpful…

LEXIE: I liked that quite a bit.  It certainly grabbed me; the reader is placed right in the middle of the action from the get-go.  I also feel, for the most part, that the narrator's voice was very realistic, and the dialogue even more so. Her interaction with Gil, however brief, read very true.
My main critique would have to be that, while I enjoyed the feeling of being put right in the thick of things, this almost felt more like the beginning of a chapter a ways in as opposed to the start of a novel.  I don't get the feeling of an overarching story, but rather just this one, particular scene.   You certainly don't need to lay exposition for your entire novel in the first page, but it generally sets the scene of the story that's about to be told, and I didn't really feel that--I felt more like the scene had already been set and this was just one adventure in the tale.  

LENNON: I enjoyed it. That being said, I probably wouldn't read it because it a) goes against my moral code and would make me feel like a goodie-goodie the entire book and b) it doesn't seem like the type of book I would like that much. It was well written and was authentically young but didn't quite grab my interest.

GRACIE: While I am intrigued enough to read on and find out what's going on, a lot of the wording in this first page is really odd and it makes it hard to follow the actual story. It just isn't completely clear and concise what's going on. Also I don't really get a sense of the voice of the MC. The voice should reflect the personality of the character right away, I think, and I just don't see that here. I am curious to know what's going on and what will happen, though.

MADDIE: The piece was...lacking something. If it were longer than just that page, I don't think I would've kept reading. Did it grab me? The answer is no, not really. I mean, okay. So they're stealing a test. So what? Why? Just for funzies? Or *shudders* "Yolo"? What else is at stake besides being kicked out of school? There seems to be no motive here.  
The protag seemed almost too sarcastic. As if they were trying too hard to be funny, but coming off a bit like the crazy uncle everyone tolerates but secretly makes fun of. The voice was a bit too fake, in my opinion.

REBECCA: I like it. My only slight problem with it is that although I get that the author is rehashing the details of what happened two weeks earlier, they haven’t spent much time introducing the story before jumping straight back into what happened a few weeks earlier. For me it felt a bit stop, start; not a very smooth run. I’m not suggesting a whole chapter, just a page at least before jumping back into the past . Apart from that, I’m very interested to find out what happens next and what the story is actually about. I would definitely read more!

RIV: The grammar felt a bit off to me, kind of choppy. Maybe that's part of the reason the beginning felt kind of strange, like the author was bouncing around between ideas a bit. Once I was passed that, and the story smoothed out, I decided that I didn't like the still-unnamed main character. He's a cheating, stealing, prep-school punk who strikes me as obnoxious, and has no qualms about breaking-and-entering. He also has stereo-typically dumb friends with "Nordic" good looks. And I think the only times I've ever seen anyone describe people as being Nordic were in books about nerdy girls infatuated with random jocks. (That, and in Wildefire by Karsten Knight. And that book has a Norse god in it...)  
LYNSAY: This was a nice first page.  I always like to see the prep/boarding school background, maybe because I've read a lot of books with the same old cliche cliquey public high school background.  I did feel like I wanted a little more background information before we jumped right into breaking into the house, if that makes sense? Maybe more about the school or how these boarding school kids managed to get to this persons house or more explanation about the ace in the hole and motive lines, but hey, it is only a first page, and I'm sure you were getting to that.  I also liked how the narrator said that he had no "moral objections" to stealing the test because I also feel like the whole, "I know this is wrong, but my friends pressured me into doing it, but I didn't want to do it.." angle is overdone too.  Overall I think it pulled me in, and I would definitely keep reading; I want to see if they get caught breaking in the house.

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 Eric! 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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