Thursday, May 19, 2011

First Page Shooter #4 REVISED

We have a revision! (See below for the first version)

Here's the edited 250 words.

I was throwing away happily ever after.

I’d been with the Ericsons almost two years. They were the latest foster parents in a long string of them. But this time I had friends, played on the softball team, worked a part-time job. I had a room to myself. For once I belonged somewhere. Their house wasn’t someplace I lived; it was home.

Derrick and Lisa kept hinting that the big surprise for my seventeenth birthday was them starting the adoption process. They wanted me, not just some foster kid they kept until they had their own. They wanted to make me a part of their family, forever. That didn’t happen to kids like me.

And I was running.

Because after I got my first period a month ago, I started turning into a cougar. Not the old lady who’s into twenty-something guys kind, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat.

My records were sealed, and try as I might, I couldn’t find out who’d given birth to me. Without someone to tell me how to stop myself from shifting every time my hormones got the best of me, my only option was to go somewhere I wouldn’t get shot at by police and hunted by animal control whenever I got a little furry. So far, that was not Chicago.

It made me hate my birth mother more than ever. I was finally within arm’s reach of having what she never gave me and she was ruining it. Figured.

****

And here they are with my thoughts:

I was throwing away happily ever after.

Love this first line!


I’d been with the Ericsons almost two years. They were the latest foster parents in a long string of them. But this time I had friends, played on the softball team, worked a part-time job. I had a room to myself. For once I belonged somewhere. Their house wasn’t someplace I lived; it was home.

Derrick and Lisa kept hinting that the big surprise for my seventeenth birthday was them starting the adoption process. They wanted me, not just some foster kid they kept until they had their own. They wanted to make me a part of their family, forever. That didn’t happen to kids like me.


While I like the details in these two paragraphs (and it certainly answers a few of my previous), they're backstory and telling. This information doesn't lose me because it's concise and to the point--I'd still keep going. But it also doesn't get me really excited to keep going either. (First because it's telling, second because I've read YA novels with similar family backstory--this isn't unique enough to stand out. I want to get to the part that says THIS IS WHY I HAVE TO KEEP READING THIS STORY!") . More on this in a minute...


And I was running.

This is implied in the next couple paragraphs. I'm not sure its needed.


Because after I got my first period a month ago, I started turning into a cougar. Not the old lady who’s into twenty-something guys kind, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat.

Awesome! 


My records were sealed, and try as I might, I couldn’t find out who’d given birth to me. Without someone to tell me how to stop myself from shifting every time my hormones got the best of me, my only option was to go somewhere I wouldn’t get shot at by police and hunted by animal control whenever I got a little furry. So far, that was not Chicago.

It made me hate my birth mother more than ever. I was finally within arm’s reach of having what she never gave me and she was ruining it. Figured.


Interesting. I like these details about her birth mother and it shows that she's tried something else other than just leaving.  I think I would put some of the foster parent info in with these two paragraphs. So maybe it would look like this:

I was throwing away happily ever after.

Because after I got my first period a month ago, I started turning into a cougar. Not the old lady who’s into twenty-something guys kind, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat.



Which was a problem. 


My birth records were sealed, so try as I might, I couldn’t find someone to tell me how to stop myself from shifting every time my hormones got the best of me. And, even though the Ericsons, my latest foster parents, were hinting that starting the adoption process was the big surprise they were planning for my seventeenth birthday, ...[add something here about why turning furry would sort of ruin this, yeah?].

It's not like I wanted to leave. I had friends, played on the softball team, worked a part-time job. But my only option was to go somewhere I wouldn’t get shot at by police and hunted by animal control whenever I got a little furry. So far, that was not Chicago.


It made me hate my birth mother more than ever. I was finally within arm’s reach of having what she never gave me and she was still managing to ruin. Figured.


As is, I also have a much stronger sense of the voice in this version.  I would keep reading to see where it goes.



Word Count: 85,000 words

Original 250 Words

I knew the first time I changed into a cougar that I had to run away from home. No, not the old lady who’s into 20-something guys kind of cougar, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat. Chicago is a terrible place to live for a girl who randomly turns into a giant cat. Which is why I was standing alone in a bus station on a Tuesday morning, about to leave behind everything I had known.

It was busier than I expected; hurried people rushed around me as I stood in the middle of the room feeling lost. My heart pounded in my ears, drowning out the crowd. I struggled to concentrate on my breathing, hoping it would slow my heart, but I couldn't calm down.

What was I doing? I was sixteen years old. I had $928 to my name, saved up from the part-time job I’d been working at Harrock’s, the grocery store down the street from my house. Running away from home was ridiculous. I’d carefully planned everything out, but as the fear flooded my veins I started to see flaws in my escape. Still, I couldn’t stay in Chicago. I’d made a mess of my life there and couldn’t fix it, no matter how I tried.

*****

With Suzie's Critique


I knew the first time I changed into a cougar that I had to run away from home. No, not the old lady who’s into 20-something guys kind of cougar, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat. Chicago is a terrible place to live for a girl who randomly turns into a giant cat. Which is why I was standing alone in a bus station on a Tuesday morning, about to leave behind everything I had known.

There's a really interesting voice here--and of course a concept that suggests a big conflict. But the wording here isn't used with as much power as it could be. For instance the first line could be tighter: The first time I changed into a cougar, I knew I had to leave home. Or condense the first two sentences: The first time I changed into a cougar--the big furry kind with pointy teeth, not the older woman looking for a younger guy--I knew I had to leave home.


But an added problem is the first line makes me question it. WHY. Why does she have to leave home? I can understand a big city isn't that great for a cougar, but how often is she changing shape? What was first experience like that she felt she had to get out of there? 


Additionally, the rest of the paragraph just brings up more questions. What does "randomly" mean exactly. Does she have no control over it, is it like *poof* she's a cougar? How long has passed from the "first time" to now "Tuesday"? Is Chicago a bad place just because it's a city or is there some other reason?


If she's leaving behind everything she's ever known--what does that mean? And am I supposed to feel sorry for her? Because I don't--not yet. I need to know more about what she's leaving behind  what the trauma of this first experience was...I'm just not connecting to her as much as I need to be.


It was busier than I expected; hurried people rushed around me as I stood in the middle of the room feeling lost. My heart pounded in my ears, drowning out the crowd. I struggled to concentrate on my breathing, hoping it would slow my heart, but I couldn't calm down.

Again, some of the writing feels like it needs to be tightened or polished so it flows more easily. I'm more interested back in that first experience than in the bus station. Also, people rushing is a generic description for a bus station--I'd love to get a detail or two to let me picture it better.


And I'm getting conflicting images.  If she's "lost" and the crowd of people are rushing around her, that makes me picture her sort of aimless. If she's struggling to calm down, that makes her sound panicked.


And of course now I'm wondering where she's planning to go. If she has to leave, that's the next step, right? Logically she should decide where she's going before she leaves.


What was I doing? I was sixteen years old. I had $928 to my name, saved up from the part-time job I’d been working at Harrock’s, the grocery store down the street from my house. Running away from home was ridiculous. I’d carefully planned everything out, but as the fear flooded my veins I started to see flaws in my escape. Still, I couldn’t stay in Chicago. I’d made a mess of my life there and couldn’t fix it, no matter how I tried.

This is my first big pause. The first two paragraphs raised a lot of questions, but I was interested (and willing to keep reading) to see where this story went. For some reason, this voice doesn't sound 16 to me. I was picturing her in her early twenties. If she turned into a cougar at sixteen, where's the mention of her parents. (Was this hereditary or an injury or what?)


Also, the way the age is dropped into the story, it reads like the author wasn't sure how else to say that she was sixteen.


She says she carefully planned everything out yet I don't see any evidence of that in the earlier paragraphs--just the opposite, in fact. Is this an "escape"? I didn't get any sense of that until now, and if it is an escape, I want to know who she's escaping from. And what is the "mess" she made of her life?


I think this author has promise, but I wouldn't keep reading at this point. The main reason I'd stop is because I've read dozens (or more) of YA paranormals and specifically YA shapeshifting novels, and this just doesn't stand out to me.  I need more from this character.

21 comments:

Griya Mobil Kita said...

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Josin L. McQuein said...

I think the piece might be helped by inverting the series of events. It could tweak the voice and make it read less like a "Dear Diary - today I turned into a cat" sort of list.

I also wonder if the author realizes her first and last sentences are contradictory of each other. Did she run because she'd turned into a cougar or because she'd made a mess of her life. One implies something out of her control, the other sounds more like bad decisions.

I can explain better by example, so I'm going to play with this. Please don't take offense, author. This may not fit the rest of your story at all, but going by this snip, I hope this helps.

Nine hundred and twenty-eight dollars is not enough to live on if you run away from home. Especially if you're sixteen and that's the grand total in your savings account.

I had no real plan, other than the one that fell apart as soon my nerves kicked in. There were people everywhere, and I didn't recognize a single face. The noise was like nothing I'd ever heard - this weird mix of crowd chatter and feet that marched in time to my own pulse as it pounded against my eardrums.

On the bad idea scale, running was a disaster that left me with IDIOT flashing across my forehead in Day-Glo orange. But it wasn't like I had a lot of choice.

You try standing on a bus tarmac in Chicago on a Tuesday afternoon being bumped and jostled and felt-up by every random shoulder, hip, or hand in the city. Do it when you're scared out of your head and wanting nothing more than to disappear into the crowd like a stray thought. And do it when you're expecting a tail to rip the back seam of your jeans and pointed ears to burst out of your hoodie.

Oh... did I forget to mention I recently developed a new nervous tic? Yeah... um... I sort of turn into a cougar when I'm stressed.

One pop quiz and I get a hankering for raw steak with Sophomores on the side. Chicago was a bad place for me -- that's why I had to run.

Tracey Neithercott said...

I had a hard time identifying with the character, possibly because there's a lot of telling us about events. I think this would be stronger if you started with the bus station and showed us her fear/nervousness and weaved the other details (why she's on the run, etc) into the scene. I think feeling the fear with her will help us feel for her. Is she afraid she'll change? Is she sad about leaving everything she knows behind? Is she worried about the money? It would be nice to feel like we're there with her. Are people staring at her just standing there? Does she smell things (I have no idea if cougars have super smell, but she has her human smell anyway).

Thanks for sharing your first page!

Lauren B. said...

I agree with Suzie's comments except that I immediately got the sense it was a teenage voice, as opposed to someone in their 20s.

As others have said, too, I think reworking the narrative rhythm will go a long way toward building better tension as well as clarity. Right now it was hard for me to get pulled in because the thoughtlines were jumping around so much.

Depending on the rest of your story, I'd also consider starting in a different place to strengthen your hook. The runaway in a bus station combined with the 'how did I find myself in this situation' opener both feel a bit tired and familiar.

Jordan McCollum said...

Josin's suggestion would probably be what I would do as well. Usually I prefer to start with something concrete to help pull the reader in.

One minor editing thing I'd do is to watch the flow. I think reversing the first sentence (even if you combine them as Suzie suggested above) would help a slight tendency to jump around in logic:

I knew I had to run away from home the first time I changed into a cougar. No, not the old lady who’s into 20-something guys kind of cougar, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat. Giant cats tend to stand out on the sidewalks of Chicago. Which is why I was standing alone in a bus station on a Tuesday morning, about to leave behind everything I had known.

This way we have a little better flow in logic—run away > cougar > not that kind, animals > cats > Chicago > run away (instead of cougar > run away > not that kind, animals > Chicago > cats > run away.). Also, we get to end the first sentence on the most powerful point (they carry even more impact at the end of sentences).

HTH and thanks for sharing!

Miranda White said...

Watch out for the passive voice, too. "I stood" instead of "I was standing" -- "was" anything, pretty much. This is one of my biggest weaknesses as well, but a little close reading and tinkering with word choice should straighten it right out. :)

I dunno if this is a problem in a first person POV, and it might just be me, but unless it's a year, I think numbers should be spelled out instead of written. (Twenty-something instead of 20-something.) Again, though, that may just be me.

Good luck! :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

"was standing" isn't passive voice. It's past perfect, and a legitimate action. The person stood in the past, therefore she was standing at the point in time the scene occurred.

Passive voice is when:

"Joey threw the ball." becomes "The ball was thrown by Joey."

And passive voice isn't always a weakness if used at the right moment. It depends on the rhythm of the piece.

Livia said...

I didn't have trouble with the narrator age either, probably because running away makes me immediately think teenager. But then, I've never really had a handle on modern teenage voice (I write medieval fantasy).

The main thing for me was that it starts out with an interesting hook about turning into a cougar, but then goes into several paragraphs about running away. It feels like it's artificially withholding information about the cougar thing. Because I find the shape shifting the most interesting, I personally wouldn't go with the fix that Josin suggested (although I do agree with her that there is something off about the order of events) because it buries the hook several paragraphs into the story and makes it seem like a generic running away tale. Instead, I would do the opposite, starting with the transformation in more detail.

T.L. Bodine said...

I really liked the "no, not the old lady" line, that made me giggle out loud because that responded to exactly what I'd been thinking.

I think this is a great setup, but the author's focusing on the real details. Here's a young girl who can turn into a cougar, stuck on a crowded bus station, who's ostensibly done something really bad. But all we can get is generic details about rushing crowds and panic.

I'd much rather see something more character-specific. Like worrying that she'll turn into a cat and start eating the ticket-takers.

christwriter said...

This is just one of CW’s Amazing Writing Theories (Consume with Grain of Salt) BUT—

It’s a good idea to structure your first sentence so that it summarizes the primary conflict of the novel as quickly and succinctly AND interestingly as possible. This does the first two, kind of, but fails on the third. To put it politely? It clunks. Hard. I think it’s because the conclusion (I knew) precedes the event that sparked it (The first time I turned into a cougar). It takes the reader a second to connect the two, and that momentary effort breaks the emotion you're trying for. It would be better to phrase it “The first time I turned into a cougar, I knew I had to run away from home.” This way you have the event and consequences in order, and the reader doesn’t have to work to connect them up. Second sentence is snappy, but you don’t need it because in a following sentence (Chicago is no place for a girl who randomly turns into a giant cat) you identify that it is the feline and not the female.

You do tell too much. For example, “people rushed around me while I stood feeling lost” is telling. You could SHOW that she feels lost by having her compare herself to them, and identify that she has neither a goal nor a destination.

Here is my take on it:


The first time I turned into a cougar, I knew I had to run away from home. Chicago is no place for a girl who randomly turns into a giant cat.

I stood at the bus station, oh-god hundred on a Tuesday morning, and watched the other people rush around me. I had nine-hundred eighty seven dollars to my name, the result of tension and toil at my part-time job. Grocery store, Harrock’s, two blocks from my home. Thank god, I hadn’t spent a dime. I’d been saving for a car ever since my sweet-sixteen party. Roses and pink buntings, silver-painted candles on the cake. I recalled it with nostalgia. That was over, now.

It was busier than I expected. People rushed around me, heading to their destination with rocket-science precision. They dodged concrete pillars and blue iron trash cans, their arms full of bags and suitcases, their eyes sleepy and distant. I looked at them with envy, colored cat’s eye green. They hadn’t fouled their life up. They still had homes to go back to. And they all knew where they were going.

That was more than I had. What in God’s name was I doing here?

flibgibbet said...

Para One would read better with a concrete example of what went terribly wrong the last time she turned into a cougar so we have some empathy/grounding for WHY she's COMPELLED to run.

If, for instance, this involved a teacher or student at her high school, it would allow you to show her age by context (rather than a poorly disguised info-dump ala Para 3).

Being specific about the reason she's running would also allow you to drive the story forward, rather than getting bogged down in explanations and backstory.

With a few tweaks, this opening could be a winner.

Stephsco said...

Lots of good feedback here! I agree on restructuring the first sentence. I think the subsequent paragraphs should focus on THE EVENT, what led her to this, rather than reading a bunch about a crowd and not being able to breath. Give a little ocntext, and then we understand why she is at the bus station.

I think with a humorous twist, this could be awesome. If it's more dramatic, then it would be helpful to have that drama right up front so we know what to expect.

earth said...

I liked the general idea here, but not the way it was delivered. The one sentence I did like is the -
No, not the old lady who’s into 20-something guys kind of cougar, the big furry kind with pointy teeth and a hankering for raw meat.
But after that the writing slips. Does she spontaneously transform? Is the trigger something she can't control? That might explain why she feels she has to leave. You've used emotions and feeling to show her desperation. Tighten those sentences in your own way. Read it to yourself and edit it till there is a rhythm to it.
Some parts I got stuck on - hurried people rushed (why repeat)
Don't state facts - I was sixteen years old.
The voice in the cougar sentence clashes with the rest of your submission and that creates discord.
The last line is good. That would make me read on to see what mess she made.

Beth said...

I think the author may have started the story in the wrong place.

Currently, it opens in a trough between the precipitating event (turning into a cougar? Or was it something else?) and the next story action. Running away is more of a reaction to what came before than an action in itself.

Whenever a story opens with a character preparing to go on a journey, it usually means it's beginning either too soon or too late. In this case, the inciting incident happened offstage, prior to this beginning, and the next big event will presumably happen somewhere on this journey, or when the MC arrives at wherever she's going. So the opening in the bus station is really just a pause in the chain of events. Learning writers love these kinds of openings, because it gives them space fill in backstory and explain everything.

But that's exactly what you don't want in an opening. Pauses and troughs are not compelling. Try opening with something that is. Find that point where the character's life shifts from status quo to a state of flux.

(P.S. "I was standing" is neither passive voice nor past perfect tense. It's past progressive.)

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Jodi R. said...

As an "old lady" like Courtney Cox :-), I like Suzie's re-ordering to bump that cougar line up. It didn't have the same impact in version 2, buried in the middle when we aleady know she's 17 and some of the other details. I really like the line though, so I think that's how you can keep it.

I don't read a lot of YA, so I liked both versions - you're getting there author! You really took SUZIE's comments to heart and made awesome improvements, in my opinion. Thank you for resubmitting - we all appreciate it!

Jodi R.

Jodi R. said...

Also, instead of dropping "And I was running," you could say "And yet I was running," after the part about how great the foster parents are.

Just a thought.

Jodi R.

earth said...

I liked the first sentence, but the next two paragraphs seems like too much back story. It could be condensed/ tightened.
They were the latest foster parents in a long string of them. - that's reads awkward.
Suggestion - I'd been with the Ericsons almost two years, the latest in a long string of foster parents.
Best of luck!

David said...

While much better, there is still a voice problem. Here, the syntax is just a little too long and formal. Sounds like a business professional and not some hormone-laden teen.

Every word needs to do its work. And if you've got a female lead that turns into a cat, I would expect some self-depricating humor...

Ronan Calder said...

No offense to any ladies this might be true for but don't many girls get their first period well before their 17th birthdays?

esss said...

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?