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First Page: YA Urban Fantasy

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I held my breath and dove into the crawl space just before a flashlight beam swept across the wall.

A voice came over my ear piece, "Do you have it?"

I shook my head. Of course I had it, but if someone heard me talking, I’d get caught.

The echo of police boots trailed away. After a thirty count to make sure they’d left, I exhaled, and tried not to throw up.

At least I better have it, or we’re screwed. I checked my pocket once more for the gem. Still there. Good.

I wiggled out of the crack and glanced back at the glass case positioned in the middle of the room. Through my mask I could see the motion sensors surrounding the stand that held the Queen’s Ruby just moments before. No wonder I’d set them off. There were hundreds of laser streams pointing out in all directions. That’s what happened when I relied solely on my drawings though-‘I should have checked first before just walking right up to the thing.

"Do you have it" My earpiece crackled again. "Sketch, are you there?"

"Dammit," I chanced a whisper, "Yes, I have the jewel. I’m fine. But for this to work, I need to concentrate." How hard was it to have just a little faith in me? Of course, it wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibilities that I needed more than just a little concentration.

"Yeah, I know. Sorry. Going radio silent."

About time. I didn’t bother with a response. I had an exit to plan, and if my sketches were right, this wouldn’t be your run of the mill everyday escape.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Anon Y Mouse
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 04:31:39

    My very biggest issue with this is that the MC has apparently just set off the alarms for something called the Queen’s Ruby (sounds big and expensive and important) and instead of alarms blaring, gates crashing shut in response and security flooding the place, we apparently have a single cop haphazardly waving a flashlight in the room before disappearing again.

    I don’t buy that at all. If something is important enough to warrant ‘hundreds of motion sensors surrounding it’ then setting said sensors off would not result in a brief cursory glance and then the security guy going “Oh, musta been a fluke” before wandering off for more coffee. 30 seconds after hiding in some crawl space (and how very convenient that is) your hero/ine would be being dragged out of there at gunpoint, not emerging back into the same room she/he just stole that gem from and contemplating how to get out. I’d also hope that the escape plan would, you know, be in place before attempting the theft.

    In general, I don’t have much issue with the writing itself, but the entire scenario you’ve thrown us into is so very implausible and cartoonishly portrayed (feels like a Scooby Doo version of a jewel heist) that I’d be throwing this right back onto the shelf in disgust.

  2. DS
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 05:47:11

    Nope, don’t believe it. Anon Y Mouse has hit it. Especially the crawl space thing. And who wouldn’t put an extremely valuable gem in a vault when it wasn’t being displayed? Just don’t believe it.

  3. Anon Y Mouse
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 06:13:28

    Also? The “relying solely on my drawings”/sketches thing sounds as if you’re going to tell me your MC sketches their visions and having just seen the movie ‘Push’, you’ve yet again lost me because your MC is no Dakota Fanning, sorry.

  4. Lynz
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 06:22:33

    Meh. Doesn’t really do anything for me. Anon Y Mouse nailed the plot problem, but I could’ve overcome that if the writing was fabulous, whereas this… meh.

  5. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 06:32:34

    The writing itself works fine, but I’ve got to admit, I’m questioning the plausibility. Any jewel with a moniker like ‘the queen’s ruby’ is going to be a challenge for the world’s best cat burglar. I’m assuming the main character is young, since it’s YA. Just don’t see a kid/teen being able to pull anything like that off.

  6. Kathleen MacIver
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 06:50:06

    The others mentioned the plot holes. I’ll offer some writing skill areas you can work on, next time you want to tackle that. :-)

    I’ve heard agents and editors say that, for first person writing to work, it has to be done so well that you don’t notice it. I noticed it on this, so I’ll try to identify why.

    I think a lot of it is that it’s not deep enough POV for first person, and you show then tell several times. Telling is frightfully obvious in first person, because we don’t think, “I like his tall muscular frame.” We think, “Wow, he’s good-looking! Great muscles, too.” And we notice the height somewhere along the line. Telling sentences just really stand out.

    (Backstory stands out really badly, too…though you didn’t do badly with that, here. The backstory drops about laser beams that had been set off just need to more closely reflect how a teen might think.)

    For deeper POV, follow his/her thoughts more closely, and keep them in order. First she thinks, “Of course I have it.” Then she counts to thirty. Then she thinks, “I’d better have it, or we’re screwed. That doesn’t make sense. To me, it would seem more natural like this:

    A voice came over my ear piece, “Do you have it?”

    Dang it! How was I supposed to answer without giving myself away? And I’d better have it, or we were screwed.

    See how you don’t have to put the thoughts in italics, because you’re already in deep POV, and the reader knows we’re in his/her thoughts?

    Another example:

    About time. I didn't bother with a response.

    “About time” is deep POV thoughts. Good. “I didn’t bother with a response” however, is very, VERY telling. If we’re reading and following the story, and he/she doesn’t respond, then we’ll SEE that. No need for you to tell it…especially since you drop out of POV to do it. In POV (but still unnecessary) would be. “I wasn’t going to respond…hopefully he’d get the hint.”

    “…if my sketches were right, this wouldn't be your run of the mill everyday escape.”

    That makes it sound as though his/her sketches determined the escape. In reality (unless these are paranormal sketches), the security of the building or some other factor is what’s going to determine the difficulty level of the escape. The sketches merely illustrated that fact, in the same way that it’s not the sketches of the foundation that make a building level, it’s the foundation itself that makes it level.

    Hope this helps!

  7. vanessa jaye
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 08:33:42

    Kathleen and Anon Y Mouse nailed it on the points they picked out.

    The only thing I’d add is, I felt dumped into the scene and my knee-jerk reaction was to distance myself until I got my bearings–which you don’t want; you want to suck your reader in in such a way that they don’t care if the scenery is going by a little too fast. Not have the reader backpedaling away so they get the lay of the land first.

    I think you need a little bit more of a lead in to this opening, perhaps start from the moment your protag sights the Ruby and/or steals it. That adrenalin build up, the fear, etc, your protag would be feeling, (maybe even some adroitly included backstory re motivation/goal), would help connect the reader to a character that was more fleshed out right off the bat.

    Good luck with this!

  8. Sharon
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 10:39:04

    I actually liked this piece a lot. In “Catch that Kid,” kids managed a heist like this. In a short excerpt like this, we don’t know how much extra info the heroine has.

    I didn’t read this like Anon Y Mouse did. Police boots moving away didn’t bring to mind one security guard shrugging his shoulders and getting coffee. It sounded like the cops (more than one) were on the trail, just not on the right trail.

    I didn’t notice the first person. I didn’t feel dumped into the scene.

    It felt YA to me, as it should, because the heroine has someone on the headset who should shut up but didn’t and because she was relying on sketches. I DID wonder how there could be a crawl space so close to a stellar exhibit.

    I thought the action and the writing was very good. The writing seemed professional.

  9. Meljean
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 12:32:46

    I liked the writing (though the deep POV mentioned above would push it to another level) but I also agree with the “dropped in” feeling. I wonder if it wouldn’t help to show the character actually stealing the gem — the tension of that, and the information that can be slipped in about why it’s being stolen can give us a necessary anchor to the character. And so by the time we’re into the hiding and the escape, the focus is on the actual escape (because we want our hero to get out of there) rather than the logistics of the setting.

  10. Anon Y Mouse
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 12:50:29


    I have to disagree with the assertion that we don’t know how much ‘extra info’ the hero/ine has. I mean, if the hero/ine didn’t even know what type of security the gem had (s/he set of the motion detectors because s/he didn’t know they were there) and hasn’t yet planned how to get out (the last paragraph makes it clear there’s been no pre-planning of an escape route), how can s/he be expected to succeed?

    And even if the goal is to have the MC caught, I’d right off be thinking TSTL because who goes into a heist of that magnitude with no real planning? Not an endearing quality in a hero/ine.

  11. theo
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 13:12:27

    Anon Y Mouse, Kathleen and a couple others hit most of the points for me as well. One thing that wasn’t mentioned though and part of the reason I didn’t buy this at all, and I know it’s a very small thing, your MC is looking through his/her mask and sees the motion sensors that they walked right through moments before because they were relying on drawings? But…if wearing a mask that allows said wearer to see those *after* the fact, wouldn’t it also have allowed the wearer to see them *before* the fact? Do you see what I mean? It’s got to be all or nothing. I need to trust the author with the little things as much as the big ones and this really jumped out at me as a ‘stupid’ moment. That and the convenience of the crawl space and the other things that were manufactured to make this work just…didn’t.

    I don’t have a problem with the writing or voice, but if the story is contrived, the writing and voice can be excellent and I still won’t bother to read it because I know it will eventually end up in the wall.

    Kudos for submitting it.

  12. JulieLeto
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 13:15:38

    Just want to say that I think the problem has an easy fix–just have the MC tripped up by one thing that wasn’t anticipated–have the MC have gotten around all the hundreds of lasers, the alarms, the guards, etc. and then one unexpected thing tripped her/him up. It happens to even the best thieves or they’d never get caught. :-)

    I liked the use of first person point of view and thought the tone and pacing was decidedly YA. And I like starting in the middle of the action.

  13. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 15:25:35

    It reads like “Arabesque,” a film I loved, but that kind of scenario doesn’t work these days. I went to the Victoria and Albert jewelry department a couple of months ago, and there’s a way in, a way out, both protected at night by steel shutters, the jewels are behind glass, and I’m betting it was bulletproof, and there are no openings large enough for a human leg, much less a whole body.
    If she’s set the alarms off, the shutters will come down and she’ll be trapped. No crawl spaces or ducts big enough for humans, they were eliminated years ago.
    It’s probably easier to nick the stuff during the daytime!
    As the others have said, the narrative is too distancing, despite being first person.
    And where is the urban fantasy element? Just want to know, because this page is a heist story with no paranormal touches. Actually, a heist thriller would probably interest me more at this stage, we’ve had a lot of urban fantasies recently!

  14. Danielle Thorne
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 18:33:42

    Great feedback–esp. like what Kathleen #6 had to say. I happen to enjoy first person in short stories and in YA–but that’s about it for me. I would def look at changing the opening–the ‘drop in’ effect seems to be a desire for that great first sentence/hook–but you can still have a great first sentence that doesn’t start right in the very middle of something, confusing the reader. Good luck!

  15. k
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 22:31:21

    A very old-fashioned opening – it reminds me of British adventure stories for children popular from the 30s onward. I’m expecting Sketch to be rewarded with some ginger beer and a grateful message from the King once he/she gets back to headquarters.

    You’ve obviously chosen to start with some conflict, which is great, but suddenly dropping readers into the middle of a jewel heist has created a slightly stilted, artificial scene with lots of action but very little tension. Jewel heists are always a little campy so you need to be careful to undercut that.

    I agree with the comments above about point of view and plausibility.

  16. Kristi
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 22:33:40

    I watch too much Mythbusters. First of all, I don’t know a single actual security system for a jewelry, or a museum based on “laser beams.” That is a movie fantasy that people created because it makes for some interesting drama. It isn’t a viable security option, and I don’t even think people can buy “laser” sensors.

    A place guarding a gem like that would have infrared and motion sensors. Heck, my last house had a body heat motion sensor.

    I don’t think this is bad. I LOVE heist stories, but to pull them off, you have to world build a heist. You have to make it hard, and you have to make it plausible or people don’t buy it, let alone steal it.

    Do a little research into modern security measures. Use it to create your personal super secure room, THEN, worldbuild a way to defeat everything you put into that room.

  17. JoB
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 10:44:23

    I like the immediacy and the simplicity of this scene. You put us in physical action with an interesting person and an important goal.

    This is just a good place to be in.

    — Kristi’s advice is spot on. Do considerably more research into modern security methods. That will give you an authoritative voice.

    If your plot allows it, you might put your jewel somewhere that does NOT have topflight security. It would be more plausibly vulnerable and the techniques of old-fashioned pilferage are more fun.

    — You present amateurs doing this. It’s excellent to show them making mistakes. .
    But you don’t want to make them dolts.

    Useless radio noise in the middle of a job.
    Talking back when folks might overhear.
    These may come across as TSTL mistakes.

    Can you put cleverness ‘on stage’,
    (I thirkled the forsham into the control mechanism and waited for the click that said the gears were engaged.)
    rather than talk about it,
    (I have these clever plans.)

    This would give us a balance of the amateur mistakes you need,
    (They have dogs!)
    with the cool technosavvy that makes us respect the characters.

    — I realize you want the dialog,
    and that is good technique.
    But that act of theft, as now drawn, must be an agonizingly solitary moment. The radio dialog comes as a pointless intrusion.

    Dialog would fit more naturally into the scene if you used a pair of thieves, working together.
    Or if vital information needed to be exchanged between the two ends of the transmission.

    — Finally, (and this is just me,)
    I am picking up unintended symbology.

    I held my breath and dove into the crawl space
    we're screwed.
    I wiggled out of the crack
    laser streams pointing out
    How hard was it
    held the Queen's Ruby
    a response
    I had an exit to plan

  18. Anon76
    Aug 16, 2009 @ 12:00:08

    Wow. Not buying most of the set up here. And this is my opinion only, so take it with all the salt in the world. LOL

    Without going into the newer technology thing, it’s just bizarre to me that in such an important heist the person would trot right up to the jewel case. Oh, oops, my mask now shows all the security beams AFTER I have the jewel in hand? And if the alarm was set off by her intrusion, I can’t buy just a persury glance by the security people.

    I also don’t quite get the sketch/drawing reference. If her original drawing failed so miserably as to not include the security beams, then why in the heck would she feel the sketch to get out would be any more reliable?

    On one last note, pay close attention to using the word “I” so much. First person POV is very hard to master, and often harder than third. In such a case, you have to mix up your sentences even more than in third. IMHO, that is why you aren’t getting deep enough into your characters POV. Think of other ways to present the same thoughts without using that crutch.

    Again, my two cents and probably not worth salt. LOL

  19. blabla
    Aug 17, 2009 @ 08:45:42

    Very good writing and so far you've got me hooked…but there is one thing I must address to and that is: what's up with the throwing up?! I swear any writer out there who places their character in a stressful situation makes them want to throw up. Why for the love of Pete do you do that??? Not only is it unrealistic, meaning it completely goes against the nature of the human body, but it also makes me think that the character is incredibly stupid. I'm sorry if I'm being harsh, but when placed in a stressful situation that means life or death for a person, that person will do any thing to stay alive. They will NEVER think of throwing up. Every fiber in their body would be working together as one, adrenaline would be pumping through their veins (meaning even a frail person would be able tackle and overcome some body double their size) if it meant they would get to live for just one more freakin' second! I mean, are you trying to convey the seriousness of the situation, is that what you're trying to do??? If so, please do it in another manner that doesn't have her throwing up. Trust me when I say that a lot of the people in this world have been in stressful situations and they NEVER felt like throwing up. So when the heroine does that it really pulls me out of the story. I hope she has a very good PHYSICAL reason for throwing up; and please, don't give me that “Oh, her nerves did that” or something…another author gave me an explanation of that nature and I rolled my eyes so much that it hurt for three freakin' days.
    Oh by the way, I've been referring to the main character as a girl, am I right? If not, well, nothings been said about the characters gender here anyway…

  20. Christina
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 00:18:42

    I really enjoyed reading this.

    I’ll agree it’s a bit strange Sketch suddenly has a mask that allows her to see motion sensors — since I’d have worn that the entire time, if it was me. But the me who read YA ten years ago probably wouldn’t have cared ’cause your girl has attitude and a challenge ahead of her.

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