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First Page: YA fantasy, The Hourglass Bridge

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Chapter One ~ The Clock With Three Faces

 Di stopped, dead. The room was an apocalyptic mess. Her twin brother’s rats’-nest hair, scruffy uniform and muddy trainers were like camouflage amidst the chaos.

“Who took my school bag?” he whined, picking his way between piles of dirty laundry and untouched textbooks.

“Not this again, Coby.” Di checked her watch. “Will you hurry up? Mum and Dad already left for work and the bus’ll be here in a sec’.”

Coby muttered something, probably rude, but at least he wasn’t making last-minute fridge raids or playing hallway football. And if Di heard one more complaint about his morning being ruined by face-washing and teeth-cleaning and other things fifteen-year-old boys say are a waste of time, she might just snap and make him organize himself.

Like that’s ever going to happen. Di sighed. “I’ll help you look.”

“Right.” Coby dashed past her.

You’re welcome. I was running on time until this! Di hurried downstairs, silently composing the lecture she would never have the heart to deliver. When she reached the landing she did a double-take and stopped.
An antique hourglass was sitting on the bookshelf. It hadn’t been there a second ago. Di stepped towards it but paused when a peculiar wariness swept across her. She checked over her shoulder, certain she was being watched.

The hallway was empty.

Di turned back to the hourglass. Something about it drew her in. She stepped forward again.

“Got it!” Coby thundered down the stairs, slinging his bag onto his back.

“Finally.” Di forgot all about her find as she threw a last, panicked glance at the hallway clock.       

From its glass case, two solemn figures were watching her.

Di spun on the spot, searching for the source of the reflection. Of course there was nothing… there was no one else home.

Coby pushed past her to the front door. Di didn’t move.

“You coming?” He paused.

Di looked back at the clock. The faces had gone.

Or they were never actually there, Di thought her way back to safe, planned normality. She eyed the hallway mirror, ensuring that her long, brown hair was immaculately pulled back and her uniform crease-free, then she followed Coby outside.

The bus passed their stop just as Di locked the front door. Coby was in no hurry for school but he couldn’t resist a race as the bus dragged itself up the hill. Di chased after him, dying of embarrassment; with her overstuffed schoolbag bouncing on her back, she felt like a giant, uncoordinated turtle.

At least it won’t make me any less cool, Di thought as she caught up and climbed on board.

“Since when do you have to run to get here on time?” her best friend, Josh, gaped at her. He had known her long enough to understand – sometimes too well – that Di’s life was ruled by the clock and by her homework. Lateness wasn’t something she tolerated.

“Coby was taking forever,” she said, still thinking of the faces in the clock.

“You OK though? You seem stressed.”

“I’m just tired.”

“Were you up all night reading again?”

“Maybe,” Di admitted. Josh feigned disappointment.

“You need a life,” he teased. He was joking, but the honesty in his hazel eyes hit a painful nerve.

Di turned away, fiddling with her neatly trimmed nails to avoid his gaze. Josh was right; her life was about as exciting as leftover Brussels sprouts.

“Maybe you… you could… come out sometime,” he said quietly.

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

16 Comments

  1. Sarah N.
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 05:28:04

    It isn’t terrible. If I got to the end of this page, I would keep reading, because HI THERE, MALE BEST FRIEND POTENTIAL LOVE INTEREST. However, I can honestly say I’m disappointed that is what draws me into the story. There’s no assurance there, as I could be bored by the next paragraph. What should catch my interest is the plot tidbit and it doesn’t. I have trouble seeing that as a good thing coming from someone who both loves the dark descent into madness (which this could be) or modern fantasy (which seems more likely). I should be left either feeling like Di is going mad and feel the horror of that fact or know something magical is happening. I should feel horror or anticipation or fear. I don’t and that’s a problem. Focus more on the hourglass and less on the messy brother, because he seems to be of very little importance, given how the page ends with the focus very much on Josh and Di rather than anything related to Cody.

    I also feel like the transition from home to bus was rushed, as was Josh’s introduction. The plot bit is also rushed. This could be partially due to the fact so much effort is expended on Cody being a slob. I want to know every detail of how exactly Josh smiles before words are wasted on Cody’s slovenly behavior.

    My second major issue with this start page is the writing itself. Informality only gets one so far and this isn’t cutting it. Maybe I would be dazzled by a bit of wonderful wit and sarcasm on the next page. Informality has its purpose, so long as one is careful not to insult one’s audience, but I feel no purpose behind the informality of this presented piece. The informality isn’t used for description or humor, thus the piece should be more formal. It truthfully needs to be cleaned up irregardless of that fact. No ellipses. No conjunctions starting sentences. Less fragments, especially fragments with misplaced prepositions. Consider why you, the author, chose to separate the paragraphs as you did – some of the speech isn’t spread out enough to be clear to me and some of the events would fit better in one or two large paragraphs.

    ReplyReply

  2. Sarah N.
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 05:29:44

    P.S. Is the Hourglass Brige a typo from Jane or the author? I’m assuming it should be the Hourglass Bridge.

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  3. NCKat
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 07:16:51

    @Sarah N – Yeah I wondered about the title, too. “Bridge” or “really “Bidge”?

    I liked the informality of the writing because it’s the way teenagers think and speak. I do agree that too much time is spent on her brother, unless it’s a way to allow her to catch a glimpse of the out-of-ordinary things that are appearing. I would keep reading as I would want to know what “coming out” meant.

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  4. Jane
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 07:22:24

    @Sarah N. I’m sure that is my fault. Will change.

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  5. SAO
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 08:42:22

    You lost me in the first few paras. It was totally unrealistic. The thing is, I have kids about that age and I can tell you that:
    1) apocalyptic chaos doesn’t happen overnight.
    2) Disorganized younger brothers are looking for their homework 10 minutes after they are supposed to be out the door every single freaking morning.
    3) Older sisters who don’t want to be late, know this and plan accordingly.
    I expected the mess to be a sign of a problem, but Coby made it clear it wasn’t. In fact, the chaos in Coby’s room looked to me like a bigger sign of paranormal than the hourglass.

    4) 15 year olds have their own keys. Di could have left Coby to be late and lock up. If she’d been in charge of getting him out the door, given #3 above, she’d have gone about it differently.

    But, the real problem is that Di shows remarkably little emotion. She’s not mad at Coby, for making her late again. She’s not annoyed at Josh for calling her boring. She’s not scared or thrilled or worried about the hourglass. She’s passive and, to be frank, bland and boring.
    You can make a character who has a boring life interesting with emotions, goals, conflicts.

    Next, your story obviously starts with the hourglass. However, Di just glances at it and goes on her dreary way. Kind of like passing up the truffles for leftover Brussels Sprouts.

    And last, when you are on page one, never, ever tell your reader that your main char is as exciting as leftover Brussels sprouts. We might believe you. In fact, I did.

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  6. JB Hunt
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 09:30:04

    I agree with Sarah N.’s suggestions regarding the flow and focus of the opening, but I think her suggestion to make the style more formal is misguided.

    (And don’t take style/grammar/mechanics advice from someone who uses “irregardless” as if it were a real word and who confuses “less” and “fewer.”)

    I enjoyed the voice and would enjoy it even more if you let us feel Di’s emotional response, as SAO recommended.

    The story has great potential. Best of luck!

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  7. Courtney Milan
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 11:45:18

    I think one of the problems with this is that you’re using the mess and the missing homework as a way to add microtension to the story, but it doesn’t add anything character-wise, and just distracts from the creepy hourglass that’s there. It feels like you’re trying too hard with the beginning–have to make it start! Have to put her in action right away.

    The things with the hourglass and the faces happens way too quickly–buried in the middle of the paragraph, no description, nothing. This is the point where you should be turning up the scary music. One of the things that happens when we’re hopped up on adrenaline is that we notice more details (or at least we think we do; it’s an illusion, but it’s one you should use as a fiction writer.) When you give the creepy disappearing hourglass less description time than you give her brother’s hair, you’re sending the reader a subtle signal that it’s less important. That’s a bad thing. Give us a color. Give us a texture. Most importantly, give us a feeling, an emotional association, and give us her response.

    What we have is: “Something about it drew her in.”

    The title macguffin of a book can’t have “something” about it. It can have an eerie, hypnotic hum. It could be–creepily–counting sands away, when nobody could have turned it over. It can have a lustrous oak housing, polished to a shine, begging to be touched. I don’t know what it has. I can’t know what it has. You didn’t give me anything but “something.”

    You have the capacity for good description, but you’re using it to describe the wrong things, and the end result is that your micropacing within the scene is all messed up. Description exists to make a reader stop and emotionally connect to things, to sense viscerally what’s important and what matters. You’re using your description for throwaways and leaving all the real tension on the table.

    (Also, there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a conjunction, even in the most formal of settings–and I hardly think that a frazzled teenage point of view needs to justify its informality.)

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  8. Darlynne
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 11:45:53

    Thank you for knowing to use “normality” instead of “normalcy.” I’ve vowed to thank any writer who gets that right.

    You didn’t avoid the pitfall of the mirror, however, and remarking on Di’s hair color takes us out of her POV. We all look in the mirror on the way out the door, but we simply check in a general, overall way. We don’t think about our hair being long and brown, unless we’re wishing it were. And checking for creases at this point when she’s already late won’t help. Just have her check and go; if she’s a worrier, she can agonize over the wrinkles and hope no one notices.

    I agree with SAO’s comments; I don’t have kids, but I felt that something was off about the chaos and Di’s reaction to it.

    Her reaction to the sudden appearance of the hourglass, though, was definitely too laid back. One morning I came out of the shower to discover that my living room TV was on, when it hadn’t been before and I was the only one in the house. To say that I freaked doesn’t begin to describe how frightened I was. You mention her panicked glance at the clock, that she sees figures watching her, but also that she forgets the hourglass. I think it’s got to be one way or the other and since she has to leave for school, she could perhaps think that one of her parents bought the hourglass and she just now noticed it in the rush to follow her brother. Someone watching her, however, requires a much stronger reaction, even if she eventually decides it’s her imagination.

    I like your voice, I like Di’s thought that she can’t possibly be any less cool, that she feels like a tortoise. Fantasy is one of my favorite things and I hope you’ll continue working on your story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  9. Darlynne
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 11:50:36

    @Darlynne: Sheesh, that should be “over all” not “overall.”

    ReplyReply

  10. Marianne McA
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 12:25:27

    I found the few sentences confusing – first I had the twin brother inside the room, camouflaged among the chaos, and then he seemed to be coming into the room alongside Di: I had to reread twice to be sure I understood what was happening. And speaking as someone whose eldest daughter lived in such a room as a teenager – you don’t really stop because you notice the mess (it’s always there), you stop because you’re scared that there’s something essential like glasses or a phone under the top layer of debris – you fear that expensive sounding crunch underfoot.
    Also, I totally agree with whoever said that by 15, they’ve being going to school long enough that I’d have expected Di to leave Coby if she had to – my punctual daughter had abandoned the eldest to her perpetual lateness after a year of big school – maybe there could be a reason why Coby couldn’t be late today.

    And Di’s reaction to the hourglass strikes me as rather unconvincing – if something just popped into existence onto my bookshelf, I wouldn’t take it that easily. A heedless teenager in a hurry might not bother much, but she seems a responsible, earnest type. If she decided, say, that it must be a curio which Aunt Janice had brought back from France that she hadn’t happened to notice before – that’d make sense, but I’d like her to rationalise it somehow. (Unless there’s a reason later – if, for instance, the hourglass has magic powers that make people overlook it, her reaction makes perfect sense.)

    Having said all that, I’d absolutely buy the book. I love the chapter title, I’d be interested in finding out what happens next, and I’m a sucker for the best friend with a crush.

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  11. Bren
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 12:29:10

    I wasn’t drawn in. It was well written but I didn’t feel that visceral pull into the story. I felt like I was observing your main character through a glass window. If you want the reader RIGHT there with your character, you have to pull them in as close as you possibly can. Use gut reactions and strong imagery and details to do it.

    An antique hourglass was sitting on the bookshelf. It hadn’t been there a second ago. Di stepped towards it but paused when a peculiar wariness swept across her. She checked over her shoulder, certain she was being watched.

    Here’s where, as Courtney suggested, you could insert more description about the hourglass itself since it will be a key player in the story. Also, going deeper, I want to know about the “peculiar warines” that sweeps across her. What does that feel like? Allow us to crawl inside her skin and sense that moment.

    Her skin crawled, the back of her neck prickling. (for example) Instead of telling us about the peculiar wariness, show it to us.

    The hallway was empty.

    Di turned back to the hourglass. Something about it drew her in. She stepped forward again.

    What does “drew her in” really mean? Does she find it mesmerizing, hypnotic? What are her physical reactions to this sensation?

    “Got it!” Coby thundered down the stairs, slinging his bag onto his back.

    “Finally.” Di forgot all about her find as she threw a last, panicked glance at the hallway clock.

    This part lost me because she just mentions that the hourglass was not there a few seconds before, now it is and she’s getting all kinds of ooky feelings from it. And now it’s forgotten? Hard to believe.

    From its glass case, two solemn figures were watching her.

    Di spun on the spot, searching for the source of the reflection. Of course there was nothing… there was no one else home.

    OOOh! Freaky moment here! You should capitalize on this, put more emphasis on it and ESPECIALLY give us a taste of Di’s panic. Heart thudding in fear, breathing stimulated, maybe sweaty palms, etc. Put us in Di’s skin especially at this moment.

    Coby pushed past her to the front door. Di didn’t move.

    “You coming?” He paused.

    Di looked back at the clock. The faces had gone.

    Or they were never actually there, Di thought her way back to safe, planned normality. She eyed the hallway mirror, ensuring that her long, brown hair was immaculately pulled back and her uniform crease-free, then she followed Coby outside.

    This moment happens so fast that we, the reader, hardly have time to register it before we are running out the door and back into Di’s normal world again. Di is questioning her sanity at this point and then dismisses it with a glance in the mirror… Maybe she thinks she was up too late last night reading or she shouldn’t have had that last Mountain Dew or she shouldn’t have skipped breakfast after having skipped dinner the night before or she was too immersed in the latest Stephen King novel that now the creepiness was bleeding into her real life or… whatever…

    Oh and ugh about checking herself in the mirror. Not a device to use to describe your character’s physical traits.

    You have the two biggest hurdles accomplished in writing YA: tone and voice. Those are no easy feats and you’ve done very well here. Just work out some of the other kinks and this could be a very intriguing tale!

    Best wishes as you continue to write.

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  12. Rosy
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 12:31:55

    I would’ve kept reading, but only because I like concise writing.

    That being said – there’s such a thing as being too concise. While I have a good idea what Cody looks like, Di and Josh are complete blanks. And the transition between “in the house” and “on the bus” was so minuscule that I honestly didn’t notice it at first. I had to go back a couple sentences and try to figure out how Josh appeared.

    I’d like to add my vote to the “there’s nothing wrong with informality” side. The writing does need a little touch-up, though.

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  13. Bren
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 12:32:34

    oops I guess we can’t edit our comments anymore. *sadface* My apologies about the various typos.

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  14. Liz Mc2
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 12:46:55

    I really like the idea of a punctuality and organization obsessed girl drawn into a fantasy adventure involving clocks and an hourglass. But as others have said, it remains too much of an idea here, not developed.

    As a romance-reader, I’m perfectly happy to find romance in my fantasy, but the fact that a hint of romance with Josh seemed like the moment with the most emotion, and ended the excerpt, disappointed me a bit. To me, the romance was the least fresh element–it’s not what would make me want to pick up THIS book rather than another, and I was left wondering whether the intriguing fantasy would take a back seat to the love story. That may well be unfair and based on the chance of where your first page cuts off. But it seemed like we rushed past a lot of good stuff to get to meeting Josh.

    Also, I assume this is a typo, but the stray comma in your first sentence makes your protagonist actually DEAD, not stopping abruptly. I almost stopped dead right there.

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  15. Katherine Amabel
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 17:37:45

    Wow, so much for me to work on. Thank you everyone for your great advice!

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  16. Katherine Amabel
    Mar 24, 2012 @ 17:48:26

    @Courtney Milan: Since submitting this I’ve added description but your suggestions make me want to go even further. Love your books, by the way. :)

    ReplyReply

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