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First Page: Unnamed YA

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Change had never done Belle Ravenna any favors. Moving from one coast to another last year had meant change: a new school, a new house, and no friends. But maybe this would be the year things would finally change for the better. The start of eighth grade would give Belle the chance to reinvent herself, finally become the person she wanted to be.

Someone knocked into Belle as she picked up a chocolate milk. Ashleigh. Belle’s corndog slid off her fries. The stick end landed in the ketchup.

“I hate it when the nobodies just stand there,” Ashleigh announced to the lunchroom in general. She paid for her salad, no dressing, and bottle of water.

“I hate it that you think you can just walk all over me,” Belle told her corndog.

So much for reinventing herself.   All that had changed since last year was her grade.

“$2.60.” The lunch lady didn’t look up as she held out her hand.

Belle handed her three dollars. “Have you ever wondered if maybe life should be different from how it is?”

“Change.” The lunch lady handed the coins to Belle.

Belle stuffed them in her pocket, picked up the tray, and stepped into the lunchroom and its chaos. Students swirled around her, each one darting to a table filled with friends as Belle stood there. Alone. It was as if everyone else was flying while she slogged through water.

The lunchroom had been already divided by groups. Belle would gladly sit with any of them, if she just knew which group she belonged to.   It’s not as if she had no friends, it’s just that she had no best friends.   And while Belle could get along just fine without them, she had to admit that some would be nice.   At least now. During lunch. During the lunch period where she had absolutely no one to sit with.

She took a deep breath.   This is practice, she thought.   Acting practice.   She wanted to become a brilliant actress, like the film legends in black and white movies, and this was nothing more than a chance to act.   Of course, acting like she fit in somewhere might be more than she could do, but-

Belle watched Ashleigh make a bee-line for the most crowded table in the lunchroom, the one where Matt Holland-’gorgeous, perfect Matt Holland-’reigned over the similarly perfect students of Olen Middle School. Well, there was no way she could sit there.   But Veronica, a girl from Belle’s first period Spanish class, sat at the next table over with Rebecca and Esperanza.   Esperanza glanced up as Belle approached and smiled in a gracious, inviting sort of way that made Belle feel a little better, even if Esperanza nibbled on a salad and was wearing a nicer skirt and top than Belle usually wore to church. A boy came over and snatched two of the empty chairs, dragging them over to Matt Holland’s table. His friend reached for the remaining chair. Belle grabbed it before he could take away the last place in the entire lunchroom for her to sit.

Esperanza turned back to Rebecca.   “All I’m saying is that it’s weird.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

34 Comments

  1. Courtney Milan
    May 09, 2009 @ 04:58:53

    A few things here.

    First, the writing strikes me as competent–no major errors, nothing that really stands in the way of my understanding the story. So you’re starting from a good place already.

    That being said, here’s three things that fairly leapt off the computer screen at me here.

    1. You’re starting in the wrong place. You tell us everything in the first paragraph that you then show us in the remaining words. That first paragraph gets you nothing–except that my eyes begin to glaze over. Drop it.

    I’m not convinced you’re starting your story in the right place even so, because right now this looks very much like a been-there done-that still-wearing-the-T-shirt girl-out-of-place story. Except that her name is Belle Ravenna, which shouts (to me) paranormal. So if you’re trying to signal something else is going on than a middle-grade/young adult moves to another place and learns to fit in . . . signal harder.

    2. I am socially awkward, and I was even more socially awkward when I moved away from everyone I’d grown up with when I was 13. But after a year at a new school, even *I* knew who I was eating lunch with. Heck, it only took me a week. And why? Because when you’re socially awkward, you fall into patterns really, really easily. You don’t care at first that you’re not eating with your best friends. You just don’t want anyone to notice you at all.

    In fact, as I recall, the process of choosing lunch groups is something more like circling the wagons at night–the more people you can get to watch the boundaries, the better. You don’t need to like the people you eat lunch with; you just have to believe they are less apt to knife you in the back than the other jerks out there, howling at the moon out in the dark.

    If Belle’s being targeted, she should not be wandering aimlessly into the lunch room, worrying about who’s going to be her best friend. Mazlov’s hierarchy of high school interaction: she should be looking for a place to hide so that she doesn’t stick out. Once nobody’s picking on you, then you start worrying about who your best friends are. When people are mocking you, though, you duck and run for cover–and you look for other people who are ducking and running, because those are your friends.

    That she doesn’t know who to sit with after a year, that sounds crazy to me. The only way someone doesn’t have anyone to sit with is if he or she is the Maximum Ultimate Pariah, but you say she has friends. Nuh-uh. You know who you duck-and-cover with before you know who your friends are.

    (Ahem. In which one can see precisely why Courtney was so damned socially awkward.)

    3. There’s something wonky about your point of view.

    I noticed it first in these lines: “Someone knocked into Belle as she picked up a chocolate milk. Ashleigh. Belle's corndog slid off her fries. The stick end landed in the ketchup.” That’s not how you experience someone knocking into you. You feel the jar; you grab for balance, while trying to hold your grip on what you’re holding. Then, you notice what things look like.

    Right now what’s missing from that interaction is the feel of the loss of equilibrium. You’re reporting external cause (someone knocks into her), external reaction (her corndog slides off her fries). You’re not reporting any of her internal reactions. No loss of balance. And then, no shame, no feeling of dread when she realizes its Ashleigh she’s run into, no flush of humiliation when Ashleigh denounces her to the schoolroom, no sense of desperation as someone else makes a go for the last seat where she wants to sit, no feeling of fear that the boy she takes the seat from will laugh at her and call her out for taking it ahead of her (and that strikes me as wrong: as low in the totem pole as she is, she should be deferring to an obvious grab, yes?).

    And when Esperanza turns away from her, there’s no sinking feeling that this is a subtle cue that Esperenza didn’t want her there. There’s also no visceral feel at all, no sense of touch, no smell, no taste–I’m not one of those people that insist on using all five senses for the hell of it, but smell and touch are senses that communicate emotion. When your character walks into a cafeteria for the first time after summer, she should smell old grease and the bitter tang of cleaning supplies, and that should trigger in her mind every lonely lunch last year. Smell is memory. Or she should feel the plastic of her tray gripped between her fingers as she looks down, avoiding Ashleigh’s eyes, wishing she could rip her a new one. Touch is emotion.

    I’m just not connecting with your main character, and I think it’s because you’re not firmly in her point of view. You’re following her as if it’s a movie camera–sights, sounds–but you’re deleting all the things that really situate me inside her.

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  2. Anon Y. Mouse
    May 09, 2009 @ 05:23:38

    What Courtney said. Yeah, this part: “It's not as if she had no friends, it's just that she had no best friends.” is off to me big time. If she has friends why does she have ‘absolutely no one to sit with’? And…why does the first paragraph say she has no friends? And if she does have friends, even not very good ones, she’s going to be beelining for them, not standing there wishing she had “best friends” while the Ashleighs of the school make fun of her.

    Outcasts have friends. It’s the rare kid who has NONE. And since she says she does have friends, the entire scene makes zero sense in context. If you’re trying to emphasize how much of an outcast she is, you’re doing it wrong.

    The writing is, as said above, competent as far as grammar, punctuation etc, but it feels a bit flat. The lack of emotions also mentioned above is probably why. There’s nothing visceral here, just bunch of words telling me stuff instead of showing me.

    That’s what it is, it just clicked. The entire thing is telling, not showing. I don’t want to be told she’s a social outcast, I want to see her feelings and reactions to being one, and I’ll know she is without you telling me so. I don’t want to be told she’s been bumped into, I want to experience it happening and then you don’t have to tell me, I’ll know.

    You have potential, but this would need a lot of work before it’d be ready for you to start seeking representation for it.

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  3. Ashwinder
    May 09, 2009 @ 06:11:24

    Beyond the above advice, I feel that this reads like a Twilight rip-off, at least based on the first page. Your heroine’s first name put me on the alert for similarities and, boy, did I find them: new girl trying to fit in, the whole lunchroom scene with the pretty people vs. the dull normals. Yeah, a lot of that is par for the course in YA stories, but I think you’d benefit from trying to make your story stand out more.

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  4. Kaye
    May 09, 2009 @ 06:27:31

    Courtney- l loved the breakdown of cafeteria dynamics. Absolutely true.

    If Belle’s outcast status is mostly in her mind, I guess that could work.

    One action that kind of seemed out of character was her grabbing the chair from the boy. That’s a bold move, but there’s no reaction to it.

    I’m hoping this is a paranormal. Esperanza’s statement would be a great lead-in to something spooky or creepy.

    This page has potential. I appreciated the chance to read it.

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  5. joanne
    May 09, 2009 @ 06:56:38

    My first thought was that this is yet another YA ‘shy girl wins’ story — but then I wondered whether it was actually a paranormal — but then some of the language made me think it might be a prologue to a contemporary — a reader shouldn’t have to work that hard.

    Starting with the last paragraph and eliminating much of the beginning made your story work much better for me.

    Is this is set on the West Coast in the 1990′s? Ashleigh is too evil and obvious for today’s audience — if she said/did that in a NY school she would have her salad shoved up her nose and her nose pushed face down into a table —and the shy girl would not stay around to see where she could have lunch. She may go somewhere to cry later but she would know enough about survival not to let that pass.

    Still there is something in your writing style that says promising and I wish you much good luck and thank you for entering this first page.

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  6. Stephanie
    May 09, 2009 @ 07:37:28

    I’m afraid my first reaction on seeing the name “Belle Ravenna” was an internal groan–and I haven’t even read “Twilight”(not into vampires at all, sparkly or otherwise). My misgivings increased with Belle’s line to the cafeteria lady about how life should be different from how it is. But even if this story isn’t going to go in the direction of fantasy and paranormal, it still has a been-there, done-that feeling. Awkward outsider against the popular mean-girl with the super-cute boyfriend has been done so many times, and there’s nothing to set this one apart from all the others. Also, I agree with whoever said that if Belle does have friends at this school, it makes no sense that she wouldn’t sit with them at lunch. You don’t need to be BFF with your lunch crowd; you just need to feel comfortable in their presence.

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  7. Marianne McA
    May 09, 2009 @ 08:22:06

    The name was the first thing that struck me too – Twilight is such a popular book with teenage girls, and ‘Belle’ is just too like ‘Bella’, especially when the heroine has also moved across the country.
    FWIW, and this isn’t a critique of this piece of writing, my fifteen year old (who’s my Twilight fan) remarked the other day that she’s bored with books where the girl is either new, or reinvents herself – and books where the girl is ordinary and we’re constantly reminded how ordinary she is. (She wandered into the room as I was typing, so I asked her what exactly she had said, so that comment is verbatim.) If the girl has a mentor who is a kindly drama teacher, she’s bored with that as well…
    On the one hand, perhaps that’s good, because the fact that she’s read enough of those books to be bored with them shows that there is a market for them – but on the other hand, it might be an indication that you need to do something a bit different on the first page to stand out from the crowd.

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  8. Leah
    May 09, 2009 @ 08:26:50

    Just a couple of things–although I don’t know how I could add to Courtney ‘s advice.

    I was another social loser in jr hi and hs (and still :) ). But Courtney’s right–although I always longed for a “best friend,” a la Anne of Green Gables, I did have kids I hung out with. They weren’t like me, we didn’t share the same interests, and my mom would definitely have disapproved of one of them, but we all sat together at lunch and got along fine, even if I didn’t hang out with them all the time after school. We had “mean girls,” but female meanness–back in the 80′s, and even now–is a lot more subtle than the Nellie Oleson kind of schtick that you see in movies and TV, at least in my experience. And since I see younger women pulling it now in those same subtle ways, I don’t think it has changed too much. Of course you do have girls (and women) who really fight and beat on each other, but I don’t think these are the girls you are talking about here. Also, a girl like Belle is usually able to get along with most people in school–the tough chicks and the cliques, because she is not really a part of either world, and is generally “nice.” I think the only time a “mean girl” would bother with someone like Belle would be if Belle posed a threat to her in some way, and you’re not showing that (yet). I would also have been very sensitive to Esperanza’s apparent snub (and was when I read it). This kind of thing would have crushed the early teen me.

    I would perhaps lose the name Belle (too Twilight, and will be for decades to come), and maybe even the coast-to-coast move for the same reason, unless it’s impt to your plot. A girl can have the same problems just moving across town.

    Also, if I had to pick, I’d start with Esperanza’s first line. That was the part that I found intriguing. You’ll have plenty of time to explore Belle’s social status and Ashleigh’s behavior.

    Good start!

    Leah

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  9. Jody
    May 09, 2009 @ 08:29:44

    Is this a middle grade or YA? The voice to me feels YA but the age — is that more middle grade? This isn’t a criticism, just a question. The language/tone just feels more like this should be high school than middle school.

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  10. Ros
    May 09, 2009 @ 09:20:49

    I’m afraid I’m another one that would have stopped reading after two sentences for fear that this was Twilight by another name.

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  11. theo
    May 09, 2009 @ 09:37:38

    I think I understand what you’re trying to do with using the word “change” so many times throughout this, but after the first two, it jarred me out of the story. Same with the “hads”. Rather than the “change had never done”, which is passive, using “change never did” ups the action so it doesn’t read so flat. Since I get the impression that it’s supposed to be in the Hn’s POV, she wouldn’t think in the “had been” tense, would she?

    I agree with Courtney’s comments re: the lunchroom, etc. Having been in a similar position at one point, which I think most of us have, it didn’t read true for me. I just felt no real discomfort reading it and as cringeworthy as my experience was, I think I should be wincing more at her predicament.

    I have not read Twilight so I can’t speak to that, though with all the internet buzz about it, I too noticed the similarity between the names.

    Kudos for putting it out there and good luck.

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  12. LindaR (likari)
    May 09, 2009 @ 09:42:43

    Courtney’s comments were generous and spot-on. You’re obviously a competent writer, so you’ll be able to take all the comments here and find the magic in the story — whether it’s paranormal or not.

    I thought it was paranormal too. With the word “change” showing up everywhere, I’m thinking somebody’s a shapeshifter, and it’s probably Belle. And yes, that name doesn’t serve your story. I think Belle and Bella have gone to the island of retired names. They’ll probably have lunch there with Holden and Lyra and Artemis and Harry.

    Although this is competently written, the cliche and the telling made it boring and hard to read. My takeaway for you is:

    1. Find the real beginning of your story — think story, not setting.

    2. Let go of your competence. It’s holding you back. Experiment with brave writing. You can always polish it later if it gets out of hand. Forget the writer in you; let the storyteller in you walk through the door to the unexpected.

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  13. S. W. Vaughn
    May 09, 2009 @ 10:40:58

    Let go of your competence. It's holding you back. Experiment with brave writing. You can always polish it later if it gets out of hand. Forget the writer in you; let the storyteller in you walk through the door to the unexpected.

    @LindaR – This is really excellent and well-worded advice. Can I quote you? Seriously. I’ve been planning a blog entry on extending yourself as a writer and this would fit right in.

    Sorry to divert the comment thread. I did read the excerpt, but everyone above (particularly Courtney) covered my thoughts. :-)

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  14. Kathleen MacIver
    May 09, 2009 @ 10:50:16

    I really wasn’t sure what to say, but I wanted to say something to help, so I took a look at the comments already left.

    Courtney nailed it. That’s what I noticed, too. Your sense of scene and flow of thoughts and dialogue are good, once you get into the character. But it’s rough moving into it, and the things Courtney mentioned made it seem like it didn’t quite make sense in spots.

    Keep at it, though! I liked the “this is acting practice” idea, especially!

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  15. gwen hayes
    May 09, 2009 @ 11:03:44

    Actually, I don’t necessarily think the “new girl” thing is overdone. It’s a classic story device for a reason–you’ll just need to do it differently in order to stand out. I have no doubt that you can.

    I felt Belle’s aloneness, but i also was confused by the timing. She moved “last year” but it seemed like she was trying to reinvent herself “this year”. If you meant they moved over the summer or something, so she was brand new, that would make more sense. But then, she knew everyone’s name and that would defy first day logic.

    And I feel for you on the Belle thing. It is bad timing for that name, though it’s a good one. Your story is too similar, at least in the beginning, to Twilight for it to benefit you. Because it might not be anything like it further in, but the set up will red flag you upfront. I think potential editors and agents will notice just as much as we did and it will hinder you. Even if you don’t mean for it to be anything like Twilight, they will immediately be thinking about Twilight.

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  16. LindaR (likari)
    May 09, 2009 @ 11:33:10

    @ S. W. Vaughn

    sure — I’m flattered.

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  17. Elly Soar
    May 09, 2009 @ 11:57:05

    I agree with Courtney too, esp. about the action being distanced from the main character. It read to me like you were describing a movie, particularly with everyone swirling while she stood there – I could picture the cinematography, but it didn’t feel like a book and I didn’t feel connected with the protagonist.

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  18. Liz
    May 09, 2009 @ 11:57:44

    Overall, I liked this. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I agree with others who said the pacing was a bit off. I’d like to see more of the conflict in the first paragraph. I also think 8th grade may be too young for young adult; in juvenile fiction, a rule of thumb is that characters are older than the target audience, not younger, in order to be aspirational.

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  19. Elyssa Papa
    May 09, 2009 @ 12:30:40

    Word to everything Courtney said—she’s spot on. And like Courtney and others who have commented, I was (still am) socially awkward.

    8th grade was horrible, and I was bullied mercilessly. I had boxes placed over my head in class and was called “Bow Wow” because of my speech impediment. Friends disappeared because to be seen with an outcast is to also draw the label to yourself. Only one boy never teased me, and he was my crush—perhaps most of it stemmed that I was grateful that he never did. But it was my goal to not draw attention to myself—to go unnoticed and remain as invisible as I could. Bullies will always find ways.

    However, I knew where and where not to eat in the lunch room. I still remember the day in high school, 9th grade, and the first few days into school. See by now I had corrected my speech impediment after many, many hours and this could be a fresh start. How wrong I was. I went to a table of girls that I had known since kindergarten—we were even Brownies together—and asked if I could sit with them and was told no, that the seat was saved. I was humiliiated and sat by a table in the corner by myself and watched as the seat remained empty throughout lunch. I eventually would start going to the library during lunch.

    But my point is . . . if Bella is hoping that this will be different, start with the lunch table and her realization that no, this year will be like all the rest. She does need to have more inner reactions to what happens around her; right now, it feels to much of a listing. I want to care about Bella because I know this . . . so make me care and put me back where to be an outcast was the worst thing imaginable. Your writing is good and I think if you really embraced and surrended to the characters that this would be marvelous and very fitting into current news where victims of bullying are committing suicide. Don’t be afraid to show the ugly.

    Good luck!

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  20. Jody
    May 09, 2009 @ 15:27:38

    Re: “had” indicating passive tense. No, it does not. In the indicated instances, it forms past perfect tense. Sometimes the “to be” verb form indicates passive, not had/have/etc. With the sentence “Change had never done her any favors” — passive tense would be “Favors had never been done for her by change”, which I don’t think anyone would write…would they?

    As for whether the writing is active enough in a stylistic/tone sense (as opposed to grammar sense), I am not voicing an opinion on that, just on the definition of passive tense. Here’s a link for more info: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

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  21. theo
    May 09, 2009 @ 15:40:08

    In this instance, in the way ‘had’ is being used, it is making the sentence passive, in the past, which is fine if the narrator is constantly in past tense. In this case, from the way I’m reading it, the narrator is the Hn, who is skipping between past and present so in this instance, keeping the sentences active, in the now, instead of passive, in the past, moves the story forward better and tends to keep the reader more involved. Just as ‘was’, ‘could’, ‘had been’ and a variety of other words and phrases slow the story down and turn it into passive narrative, in most instances.

    Though your definition from the English Page is correct, it isn’t always *right* when it comes to driving the reader and the story forward. Which was my original point.

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  22. Courtney Milan
    May 09, 2009 @ 16:36:08

    Heh.

    Theo, I think we’ve had a disagreement about had/was and passivity before, and on First Page, and I think Jane smacked me over the head and told me not to argue about it. So, I agree with you that the sentence “Change had never favored Belle” is not helping the author.

    I’m not sure we agree on the reason, though, so let me tell you why I don’t like the sentence. I think there is only one rule of good writing: Write vibrant stories. Every other rule exists only insofar as it is a corollary of this one.

    In general, this means you should shy away from “was” and “have” as verbs, because they are invisible verbs and the verb is often the most vibrant part of the sentence. But you should use “was” and “had” when the verb is a supporting player in the sentence, and you want the real vibrant word to shine. (Thus, for instance “The diagnosis was cancer” packs more emotional punch than “He diagnosed me with cancer”).

    In this case, I don’t think “change never did Belle any favors” is any more vibrant than “change had never favored Belle” or “Change never favored Belle” or “Belle had not been favored by change.” The story isn’t made any deeper or better or more vibrant with any of those options. It might read more smoothly with one over the other, but getting rid of the “had” is not going to get rid of the flatness that s in the sentence. It is a very rare sentence that you can make more vibrant by shifting tense and shuffling word order. You can make a sentence more clear and less awkward, but not more vibrant.

    The real problem with this sentence is that it violates a corollary of the vibrant rule: Unless it is funny or important, vibrant writing describes what happens, not what doesn’t happens.

    Thus: Change had never favored Belle.
    Problem? This is conclusory, and it tells the reader what change has not done (helped Belle) rather than what change has done (killed her mother? run over her dog? beaten her up and taken her lunch money?). And that means all we have is a cardboard cut-out of a sentence, and no real visual or internal fix on what is really happening.

    One potential fix: show the reader what she’s lost, and if you insist on the conclusion, make it about your character, not about change: “The last time change had forced its way into Belle’s life, it had stolen the life of her beloved guinea pig Wuggums. Change didn’t like Belle, and she returned the favor.”

    My sentence is still awkward because I’m doing it on the fly. But it grounds you in Belle; it makes “change” into something specific, to be dreaded; and it rounds out the narrative from the bare here-and-now into a past and a predicted future, which means the character casts interesting shadows on the first page.

    So that’s what I think is wrong with that sentence. Much bigger problem than a mere had.

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  23. LindaR (likari)
    May 09, 2009 @ 16:58:03

    I’m lighting my “please don’t let tempers flare” candle

    because

    I find this discussion VERY useful.

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  24. theo
    May 09, 2009 @ 17:02:51

    Courtney, no disagreement from me there. Often times though, the simple prodding of making the sentence/paragraph read actively is the first step for a beginning author. So while I completely agree with everything you just said, it’s a lot to overwhelm someone with when they’re starting out :)

    Not that I know whether this author is or not! But from the writing, which is good, to the ability to draw the reader in, which needs much work, I’m guessing she is.

    I’ve read books that are grammatically correct in every way, and they fall so flat, they turn into wallbangers. Better to take the baby steps and work one’s way into the bigger picture, which good crit partners can help with.

    I loved LindaR’s comment:

    Let go of your competence. It's holding you back. Experiment with brave writing. You can always polish it later if it gets out of hand. Forget the writer in you; let the storyteller in you walk through the door to the unexpected.

    Which by the way, I’d also like to reference if that’s okay with Linda. Often times, it’s the brave writing that sucks the reader in, not the grammar rules.

    And poor Wuggums!! ;-)

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  25. LindaR (likari)
    May 09, 2009 @ 17:15:04

    Which by the way, I'd also like to reference

    go fer it!

    I think this is pretty fantastic:

    Unless it is funny or important, vibrant writing describes what happens, not what doesn't happens.

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  26. theo
    May 09, 2009 @ 17:41:12

    This is totally OT, but you’re right, Linda. I need to keep a list of all of these quotes so I can trade off every month on my site. Some really wonderful, intelligent ones to collect!

    And thanks :)

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  27. Angelia Sparrow
    May 09, 2009 @ 18:23:17

    I like the voice.

    But my experience with bullying–my own and my kids’–is that it always comes from behind, from a group, so no individual can be blamed for it. The kick to the back of your knee, sending you crashing to the concrete floor, in the lunch line. The shove that sends you sprawling down the gym stairs. The elbow or tripping foot from a crowd. The hands that steal your supplies while you’re looking the other way. The hissed taunt whose voice you can’t identify in a busy hallway. All the little crap that takes the gloss off your day.

    Ashleigh is much too obvious and flying far too solo. She should have her clique and hangers-on. The snide remark is fine, but there should be 3 or 4 girls giggling at it, even in the lunch line.

    The Change change change mantra gets obvious. I like the idea of it turning up as foreshadowing, but it needs to be more subtle, more spread through the chapter. I like the lunch-lady’s line.

    And all I got out of this was a line from the movie Heathers. “Seven schools in seven states and the only thing different is my locker combination.”

    Plotting something like this, think of it as a movie. See the action. With YA especially, there’s a tendency to get introspective. Cover the action and dialogue. Show us the feelings, don’t just tell us about them.

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  28. Stevie
    May 10, 2009 @ 06:46:39

    Just to pick up on the possibilities of the paranormal in your story; there is a wonderful list of non-fiction titles put together by John Crowley on

    Cultures We Really Evolved that are Stranger Than Any You can Think of

    that I would recommend to anyone looking for a possible fantasy inspiration which hasn’t already been cliched to death.

    And you can find some of them on google books; Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘The Night Battles’, for example, which records benevolent were-wolves in the late 16th century…

    http://crowleycrow.livejournal.com/38862.html

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  29. Anon76
    May 10, 2009 @ 10:23:04

    People have covered most of the ground here, so I’ll just hit on a few things.

    I agree with Angelia that most bullying involves a “pack” attitude…even if there is a “head” bully. (Which perhaps is what Ashleigh is.) And for the “head bully” there’s just not as much fun in it if you don’t have an audience to cheer you on. Or to back you up if you pick on the wrong person! I’ve found these types will often not even look twice at you if you spot each other somewhere alone (meaning sans the “pack”).

    As to the discussion of “Change had never done Belle Ravenna any favors.” I kinda like it as written. IMHO it conveys a lot about her past. I don’t need to know all the specific events, just that this move is yet another change that didn’t work out favorably.

    Also, I’m going to share something my editor pressed upon me when she bought my first (and to date) only book. She asked me if I’d been working with critique partners. Yes, yes I have, I replied. She told me she could tell. Why? Because the ms had almost no instances of passive sentences. Good, right?

    WRONG.

    She told me that words like “was” are part of the English language and they have their place. They add depth when used properly. So I ended up having to go back in and do some rewriting because I’d purged the document based on critiques warning of passive usage, and the dire consequences of doing so.

    Moral: A little bit of advice goes a long way, and sometimes WAY too far. Listen to your little inner author and crayon outside the lines now and again. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is set in stone in this industry.

    Hmmm, that reads like a soapbox moment, and I really don’t mean it to. I’m just passing on something told to me. As with any advice, take it with a liberal dose of salt.

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  30. an
    May 10, 2009 @ 22:08:13

    This will come off as exceedinly harsh, but this is bothering me.

    The name Belle Ravenna seems really fake to me. It reminds me of the names my friends and I would make up for ourselves in high school; it just screams Mary Sue to me.

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  31. M
    May 11, 2009 @ 00:02:34

    I eventually would start going to the library during lunch.

    Me, too. I wonder how many writers spent lunchtime in the library as teenagers. I bet a good many of them.

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  32. BlueRose
    May 11, 2009 @ 03:49:01

    Lots of far more competent people than me have commented on your writing style so nothing from me here.

    But the name “Belle Ravenna ” came across as being very contrived to me. Ravenna is a place (and to me an unlikely last name – too many syllables) but the main reason why I tripped over it is a bit odd (for some people)

    In a book called the Meaning of Liff – words and places were given different amusing meanings, and Im fairly sure Ravenna was the work used to describe ‘builders crack’

    Kinda spoiled it for me LOL

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  33. Barb Ferrer
    May 11, 2009 @ 06:31:59

    @Jody: Jody, generally if the character ages are middle grade, then the book is going to be considered a MG book. The rule of thumb is that kids like to read up a couple of years, so you’ll often find a large number of books with protagonists that are in their freshman/sophomore year of high school being aimed at middle grade readers.

    Of course, a lot of this is also dependent on the tone of the narrative and the subject matter of the book, but I’d lay money that if this was going to be aimed at the YA market, then the characters would have to age a couple of years and the setting changed to high school.

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  34. Lisa
    Jul 20, 2009 @ 21:22:58

    It reads fine; the content is inconsistent (the whole she has friends or doesn’t she) but really there is nothing that makes me want to read more. Perhaps I’m just not the audiance for this story. Who is the target audiance?

    ReplyReply

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