Tuesday, December 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 Chris Sutherland, and here is the first page from his story THE LIGHTHOUSE

The rush of lukewarm water pelts my back as my right hand clutches the sliding glass door of the shower. My head compresses with the force of a hundred headaches as I squint through a maze of mist and steam. I struggle for control of my suddenly limp body, like steering a car after its brakes have failed. Kneeling on the shampoo-soaked tile floor isn’t a decision I came to willingly, but I’m content to stay here until the pain goes away. My legs still aren’t strongenough to support me, so I reach for the dial and turn off the water.

I tried to convince myself that I trained hard enough, skated enough, and shot enough pucks at the broken refrigerator in our basement to keep up with the rest of the team, but the muscle aches, the lower back stiffness, the throbbing and burning in my legs tell me otherwise. Jay, my best friend and on-ice bodyguard, organized a summer boot camp for the varsity squad and has not been pleased with my subpar attendance. Most of the guys were able to devote their entire summer to lifting weights, chugging protein shakes, and playing hockey. I was right there with them until college prep and internships and my part-time job as a host and waiter at Jimmy’s Dockside Seafood got in the way. This morning’s workout was my first in two weeks and my pride pushed my body too far.

“Weaksauce, bro.” Jay’s voice pulsates through the walls of my aching head. Last year, as we watched Palisades Prep skate around with the state championship trophy, I felt the anger and frustration only by standing in his shadow. He worked his butt off every second he was on the ice, even when we were down by seven goals. It was a turning point for him. A wake-up call. For me it was just another game -- probably the worst I’ve ever played, but not nearly the most difficult loss I’ve had to endure.

Here’s what our teens had to say…

RIV: I was really, really impressed with this page. I was drawn in right from the beginning (why is the water luke-warm? why are we starting off in the shower?) and the present-tense was a nice change. The page really flowed, except for one sentence, about the main character's part-time job, which I just stumbled through. The last paragraph also seemed a bit clunky and confusing, especially after the strong start. I'm not sure how many teens say things like "weaksauce." Although, I dunno, maybe this Jay character says odd things a lot. I would also like to know the MC's name, if not on the first page then on the second or something. I can't care for a character too much if I don't know their name, and at this point I'm only interested enough to get through a page or two, if I'm nameless.

Overall, it was really good. Ice-hockey is a nice twist, if you can do it factually without overloading the reader with information. Best of luck with it. :)

LENNON: It is interesting. I like it and it does seem like something that could and would come out of a teenager's head. It's not something I would personally read for two reasons. I do tend to read more novels with female narrators, simply because they are easier to relate too. However, if it's extremely well written and relateable, I can handle a male-narrated story. This was well written, but, bringing my next problem into it, it's seems like it could be sports-centric and sports something I just don't understand as clumsy, accident prone, hated by gravity person. It seems that as a sixteen year old girl, I am probably not your target audience. However I think that this would go over quite well with teenage boys fine. Overall, the story is, so far, interesting and very well written.

GRACIE: I think this could be a great first page, but there are just way too many words. Each sentence is way too long. You need a balance between long and short sentences. Sometimes I find it feels like lots of words are needed to build up suspense, but actually the opposite is true. Use less words!

BRIANNA: The first few paragraphs really caught me. The writer used brilliant description, and I hoped the rest of the page would be like that. Instead, I got a giant lump of back story. It was written in a way I could deal with it and wasn't too bothered by it, but it's not what I'm looking for in a first page. I'd suggest trying to mix in the details of what happened in later pages. The final line made my curiosity shoot up - what is the character's most difficult loss? I would continue reading due to the good usage of description - but try to cut out that back story. It'll improve the first page visibly.

LYNSAY: Okay, I really love this! It seems really interesting to me! I like how it's hockey related, I think that is a nice angle. I also like the shower thing in the beginning because it really made me want to keep reading because I didn't know what was going on with this person, and I wanted to know more. I think it's pretty authentic, especially the last line. It really grabbed me too because then I wanted to know what other losses they're talking about. Is it more hockey losses or is it referring to another kind of loss? This first page was really on point, at least for me. Good job!

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 Chris! 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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