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First Page: Celeste – Young Adult

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One
“Oh, what’s the point?”
Fourteen-year-old Mayah Lewis threw the tube of lipstick at the mirror. It bounced off the glass, hit the wall and rolled under a stall. She didn’t care. She was the only one there, having sneaked out of boring Biology class when the teacher was writing their homework on the board. Mostly hating the way she looked, she didn’t like doing her makeup when anyone was around and she wanted to look good – or at least relatively okay – cuz Joey Marshall was in her next class and she had a huge crush on him. This way she had the girl’s bathroom to herself, for at least a few minutes.
She stared at her face – ugly freckles creating swirls of uneven patterns across her nose and cheeks that no amount of foundation cream seemed to cover, beady blue eyes, two zits on her chin big enough to ski down and long, wiry red hair that curled as if having a life of its own. Blue eyes were usually an asset, except hers were a dull pale blue – gross as anything.
Sigh.
“Give it up! No matter what I do, I can’t hide how ugly I am.” She dumped the rest of her make-up in her backpack.
“But you’re not ugly.”
What the… ?
She turned to watch beautiful, blonde Kitty Richards come strutting around the corner, her golden curls flying behind her.
Mayah was stunned.
She’d looked when she came in and hadn’t seen anyone, but she’d forgotten about the wheelchair accessible stall way at the back because no one ever went there. Or at least that was what she’d thought since no one was in a wheelchair in the whole school. Obviously, that was where Kitty was which was kinda weird. She was not handicapped in the least – or at least not physically. Now, personality-wise, maybe a bit, or at least she always came across stuck-up as ever.
I had no luck, whatsoever.
Bad enough for Mayah to agonize about her face, but to have a witness was horrifying. And especially Kitty – the most gorgeous girl in grade nine, if not the whole school. Stereotypically tall and thin, she had one of those perfect complexions. No way pimples would ever take up residence there – she was a masterpiece. And to think she was smiling, looking really friendly-like. Yeah, right. Kitty’d never spoken to her before because Kitty seemed to only associate with the ‘cool’ crowd, not paying any attention to the rest of us losers. Today must be just a pity call.
Embarrassed, wanting to die, Mayah ignored her and tore out of the room, down the hall to a door at the back of the auditorium. She pulled out her key, inserted it, then tugged it open and ran up the stairs to the projection room. This was her hideaway, for no one ever came here during the day and it was only used when there were school assemblies or plays.

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

10 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 06:08:13

    You slip into first person for a chunk of this – if you’ve looked at the words too often to pick up on mistakes, make sure you have someone else look it over.

    And I’d avoid “cuz”, and “friendly-like” instead of just “friendly” and a few other blips. It’s hard to give narration voice, I know, but some of your efforts jumped out too much for my taste.

    Other than that, nothing really jumped out at me, in a positive or negative way. We have the character established fairly clearly, a bit of the setting, and maybe a secondary character? But I’m not seeing anything too new or exciting.

    Which isn’t the end of the world. We put a lot of emphasis on the first page for this exercise, but if you had a great blurb, I’d read past a boring first page in order to get to the good stuff. That said, if you CAN avoid the boring part, why not do it? What’s the main conflict in this story? If it’s the MC’s lack of self-esteem, then I guess you started in the right place. But if it’s something else, maybe there’s somewhere else you could start?

  2. SAO
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 06:38:13

    Well, you’ve done a great job of capturing the thought process of a 14 year old girl. Which makes this not for me, since I have no patience for that sort of self-absorbtion mixed with drama.

    This scene seemed a little contrived. Mayah talks out loud to herself. How many people do that? Or is it just so she can be overheard? Throwing the lipstick at the mirror would work as a method for introducing Kitty, too.

    Did Kitty “strut” in the bathroom with “her curls flying behind her?” Usually hair moves because there’s a wind or because the head it’s on is moving fast. Do people jog in the women’s room? Is there space to do it? I say this because it didn’t ring true.

    You have formatting issues. If this is because the cut and paste to this website didn’t work well, okay, otherwise fix it. You have some run-on sentences, as well.

    The last issue is that you don’t seem to have started a story. What’s your book about?

  3. jamie beck
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 08:17:47

    I have to agree with SAO that I’m left wondering what the real story will be. Since the crush is mentioned on page one, I’m assuming this will be a YA romance, but I could be wrong.

    Also, although I don’t read YA, my 13.5-year-old daughter reads a ton of it. I know she would not be interested in a whiny heroine. She likes the kick-butt save-the-world types. Obviously that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for a character who starts off with low self-esteem and grows throughout the story, but this first page veers toward a character who could become tiresome quickly if she continues to pick on herself and obsess over her appearance. Perhaps if you set in immediately in action where she is doing something she’s good at but we get the stray thoughts of insecurity, you could get your point across without making her quite so self-loathing?

    And take this comment for what it’s worth, but I’ve been told (and read) never to open a story with a character looking in the mirror/musing (or waking up, or talking about the weather, and so on). So again, putting her in the midst of some action (like actually standing up in front of class delivering a speech with her crush looking on) might be more interesting.

    Again, this is not my genre (reading or writing), so take or leave my comments. As others noted, you’ve got some good things here (a teen voice, strong characterization, etc.). Wish you the best of luck!

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 09:21:44

    Hi author and thanks for sharing.

    Ditto what the others have said, especially about the mirror. It’s a trope, an overused cliche, and unless you’re a published writer with enough clout to get away with doing this, don’t. It’s usually a sign of weak writing, more telling than showing. It’s said no one looks in the mirror and does the whole self-analysis thing–except for self-absorbed teenage girls. Still, I wouldn’t open the story with your MC reciting her flaws while looking in the mirror.

    How to get around that? You have another character there…you have the chance for dialog, a wonderful way to show us things about the MC. Some kind of conversation, however brief, but longer than one sentence from Kitty, would work.

    You do hop tenses, which might be a sign you’ve read your own work too much, as Kate suggests. A second pair of eyes, someone who recognizes tenses, would help with that. If you’re not aware you’re doing it in the first place, then a brush up on first person versus third person will help.

    All this is technical, fixable. Stuff you can learn and work on in another revision of your story.

    The story: this isn’t my genre, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t read a good YA if there was something to pull me in, something to keep me reading. As it stands, there’s nothing on the first page that does that. I don’t know what your MC wants, what her goals are, where this is leading.

    I might read further, but if your MC continued down the whiny path or if something doesn’t happen soon, then I doubt I’d read on.

    Do you have a blurb? Something that gives us an idea what your story is about?

  5. Lolo
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 09:22:47

    Good start bbut could be stronger with some more showing and less telling. For instance, you don’t need “14-year-old” in the first sentence. A sentence or two later you talk about biology class, so that is showing the age of the character better. And all the description of both girls is not something that draws me in on the first page. I would not keep reading. It’s enough for me to know the MC hates her looks (maybe with a brief reference to one or two features since that is the main conflict here), but the extensive description of the second girl turned me off. Too much. Good luck!

  6. wikkidsexycool
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 09:59:04

    Hello Author,

    Thanks for having the courage to submit this. I liked the set-up, however finding an empty bathroom with just two kids inside can be challenging in a school full of students. I’d like to suggest that she’s at her locker and when mutters about her appearance, she closes the door and there’s Kitty. I’m also having a hard time thinking Mayah has a key to go hiding in a school room all to herself. I’d think someone would have seen her using it by now, or at least wondered where she was when she should’ve been in class. With the amount of resource officers and school personnel who walk around checking on things like that (and cameras) her actions are also strike me as a bit dangerous in this day and age (assaults on young girls who are by themselves in some schools).

    But aside from agreeing with the other comments regarding a lapse into first person, I’m wondering why the stereotypical “it” girl has to be a thin blonde with golden curls. Why can’t she have curly hair, and perhaps be Latina or African American? I guess what I’m suggesting is to think outside the box. These days there are gay teens being crowned homecoming queens and who can give your main protag the ego boost she needs.

    Right now, your book reads like something from an earlier time period imho. But again, this is just my first impression and my suggestions. I do think your main protag has the angst down pat and I enjoyed your description of her. But the wry red hair that curls has been done so many times it’s almost cliche. In some cultures, having curly hair isn’t a negative, it’s considered sexy. I’m just throwing out some things to think about, because while there’s a target audience for your book, don’t forget about the diversity of the readers who may pick it up and know (or knew the feeling) that your main protag is going through.

    I wish you the best with this, and I hope you’ll post a short blurb on the premise, because I do think this has promise.

  7. Author
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 11:24:08

    Hi Everyone,
    Hey – thanks for taking the time to comment. Wow – you make me think really, really hard. :) THANK YOU SO MUCH.

    The book is about self-esteem issues. Mayah is adopted – a tall redhead in a family of short blondes – and going through the whole process of wondering about her biological mother and having issues with her adopted parents. She is currently living with her Aunt. Kitty has a mother who is an estheticion who is really into looks and pushing it on her daughter – dying Kitty’s hair blonde, making her lose weight etc. Both have severe self esteem issues and Kitty also harms herself (by cutting her wrists) and that’s why she inhabits the handicapped washroom – a place of refuge to ‘cut’. In the second chapter, their teacher introduces then to Celeste – a new girl at school – who is in remission from cancer – a wonderful, together person who has the best self-esteem of all, even deciding to not hide her bald head with a wig. Mayah interviews her for the school newspaper and is intrigued by Celeste’s wisdom and acceptance of herself and they grow close. They also eventually come to the aid of Kitty who decides that suicide is her only guarantee of peace. Celeste, having come close to dying, believes in family and friends and encourages Mayah to give her adopted parents another chance, later revealing that she, too, is adopted. The book progresses with Mayah and Kitty growing and accepting themselves.

    Sorry this is long winded. I haven’t actually worked out a short blurb and hey thanks for reading. :)

  8. Carol McKenzie
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 12:25:09

    Hi author, and thanks for the big, long-winded blurb.

    I really like your story. And now I want it to start some place else. There’s so much vibrancy in your blurb and I’m not getting that on the first page.

    A lot of time first scenes, or whole first chapters, get tossed out. Sometimes it takes us a scene or three, or a chapter or two, to get our feet wet, get our bearings, and really get into the story.

    Before your blurb I agreed with Wildsexycool’s thoughts on the ‘ideal’ perfect girl and possibly making her something other than thin, blonde and pretty. Now, with the blurb and your description of Kitty’s mom, I like where you’re headed with her. I like that her mom is trying to make her perfect and the effect it’s having on Kitty.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  9. Mary
    Jun 15, 2014 @ 13:16:21

    So, based on your blurb, this isn’t my type of book. Which is fine, obviously. However, your first page isn’t doing anything to make me want to read this even though it’s not “my type”. For example, The Fault in Our Stars is most definitely not my type if book, but as soon as I (at the request of a friend) started reading it, I was pulled in.
    You don’t have to change anything about your style (except maybe tightening up some grammar), just start me in a place that makes me want to continue despite it not being my “type”. Make it stronger and more interesting than a 14 year old girl staring in he mirror.
    That being said, obviously there is an audience for this, and so you can absolutely feel free to disregard my comments.

  10. Daisy
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 08:38:37

    I agree with others’ comments. This sounds like the kind of book I’d have read when I was fourteen, but I don’t think I’d have found this heroine appealing. Kicking off with her complaining about her looks while staring into a mirror makes her seem like a bit of a sad sack. Start with something engaging about her, then introduce the confidence problems.

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