Turn the Page #2

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Turn the Page, Writing | 4 comments

Turn the Page #2

Happy Friday!

How is everyone feeling this week?

I’m still sick. Tired. I have bronchitis (so much fun). Also, I’ve decided that I’m definitely doing Camp NaNoWriMo, so if you’re on the fence, join me! I wrote a post about it recently and I recorded a podcast on it with the amazing Brian LeTendre about the benefits and why you should take the leap. When it’s up and ready, I’ll let everyone know.

 

Welcome to another week of Turn the Page.

Turn the Page is Pen & Muse’s bi-weekly segment where we help authors. I take the first page of your manuscript and read it. From there, I tell you if this first page is enough to entice me to keep reading. I’m honest, I give feedback, and I welcome our Pen & Muse community to give their honest opinion.  More about Turn the Page can be found here.

Problems with your Query? We’re also looking at those. Details here.

 

Why does it matter if my first page is great?

I’ve worked for several publishers, sometimes as a slush reader, and let me tell you…a great first page makes a huge difference. It can be the difference between a rejection and a full request.

As a slush reader, you open the slush pile and you start reading. You could have something like 100 queries in a single day (or more!). You read the query and it sounds enticing. So to sway your opinion one way or another you open the sample and read the first page. That often was the deciding factor if I requested more or not.

If I didn’t like the first page (whether I didn’t connect with the voice, or I thought there was too much telling and not enough showing, etc.) then I would thank the author for submitting and move on.

Publishers and literary agents get a zillion of these queries all day. In my experience, many of them were not ready to be sent into the world. Send in something great. Refined. Polished. Give them a reason to scream “YES!”

That said, I have a few agent friends who basically brush over queries and directly go to the sample to read. You never know if the agent you submit to does the same thing.

 

A Warning of Sorts…

I will not sugar coat my feedback. I will tell you my honest opinion.

If I think it needs work, I will tell you.

If I think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’ll tell you.

I applaud any writer willing to submit work for feedback because as writers, that’s the only way we get better at our craft. I should also note that this is subjective, so something I hate could be the very same thing that someone loves. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in.

 

Super congrats and thanks to author Christopher Nugent who willingly supplied his first page for review. Kudos to you!

 

Turn the Page

Project Name: A Gnatt’s Tale

Genre: YA Fantasy

 

First page:

Milo hid among the barn’s creaking rafters, his long tail helping the small thirteen-year-old span distances between beams. Below, his male siblings and cousins struggled with leading a horse into its stall while his father Gaelin led the procession. The gnatts, averaging around four feet tall, surrounded the giant horse on three sides. Milo longed to help.

He looked up from his family, peering through the slats of a circular window. Grey clouds gathered on the horizon, promising rain, and he smiled. As he hung there daydreaming, an insect as big as Milo’s diminutive hand skittered along the beam he leaned against. The roach’s antennae tapped his pinky, sending a wave of revulsion up his spine.

He swatted the bug away, sending it plummeting from the rafters, falling straight towards the protesting horse. Milo reached out, shattering his silence, “No!”

The roach bounced off the horse’s head. The animal reared, crying out and tearing its leads from the hands of two young handlers, lifting a third off his feet.

As the horse stamped down, Gaelin wrenched the flying gnatt from the rope just before the boy caught a stray hoof in the head. He shouted, “Away, lads! Get back!”

The team struggled to reign in the whinnying horse while Milo’s mouth hung open. When they got the horse back under control, Gaelin looked around for the cause of the abrupt panic attack, finding his youngest son in the rafters. “Monkey! Get down from there, boy. Barn ain’t no place for kids.”

Standing less than three feet tall, Milo stretched between two beams, looking down.

“But, Pa—”

“Get!”

Milo skittered across beams and down posts, scrambling to escape his father’s shouting. Milo smiled despite the harrowing incident with the frightened horse, promising, I’ll be back.

 

Would I turn the page and keep reading?

Yes, I would.

 

Thoughts

I thought Christopher did a fantastic job setting the scene, introducing us to characters without beating us over the head with information, and I though the pacing was great. I felt like the voice was solid and automatically I felt driven to learn more about the characters. Though fantasy isn’t usually my go-to genre, I enjoyed reading the sample.

The only real constructive thing I have to say/ask (besides the whole Gnatt / gnat thing I asked below) is this: Did you start your story closest to the action? Is this scene important?

Though it does open with action (kid in rafters kicks bug on horse’s head and it rears), I’m not sure what its setting up for the reader. And really, this wasn’t super exciting action in the realm of the kind of exciting action a fantasy book can contain. BUT, this was well done enough and engaging enough to make me want to keep reading to find out A) What happens next and B) What this has to do with the story.

Well done, Christopher. I can tell you worked hard on this.

 

Here are my notes / thoughts / observations as I was reading marked in red:

*Note. This doesn’t mean OMG change everything. I just think it’s helpful to know what I thought as I read this. As you can see many of my thoughts were answered as I continued reading*

 

Milo hid among the barn’s creaking rafters, his long tail helping the small thirteen-year-old span distances between beams. My first thought was, “Wait. I’m confused. Boy has a tail?” Because it’s in a barn I wasn’t sure if you were referring to an animal, but hey, it’s a fantasy so I’ll go with it. I like how you’ve set the stage for the barn and the “creaking” rafters. It tells me this place is old. I know the 13YO is small. Already we know a lot in the first sentence.

Below, his male siblings and cousins struggled with leading a horse into its stall while his father Gaelin led the procession. The gnatts, At first I thought you were talking about bugs (misspelled) because it wasn’t capitalized like you would a last name. But this is their last name, right? So it should be The Gnatts,… Or does gnatts refer to something else? A species?

averaging around four feet tall, surrounded the giant horse on three sides. Okay, I’m getting a sense of these people. They’re small. Leading a horse in a stall is hard work if you’re tiny. I like the way you’re revealing details but not making me feel like you’re info-dumping. Also, I see you’ve noted that these are male family members, so I’m getting a little bit of a sense of what their community (or at least family) is like.

Milo longed to help. This makes me wonder why he can’t.

He looked up from his family, I don’t know if I like this wording, because for a moment it made me go, “Wait, wasn’t he up in the rafters, not on the ground?” Shouldn’t he be looking down? Then I realized that you meant he lifted his eyes and stared out, still in the rafters. But this is just a silly style point that I don’t like. Someone may like it as is.

peering through the slats of a circular window. Grey clouds gathered on the horizon, promising rain, and he smiled. As he hung there daydreaming, an insect as big as Milo’s diminutive hand skittered along the beam he leaned against. The roach’s antennae tapped his pinky, sending a wave of revulsion up his spine. EWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. I was grossed out. Which is AWESOME. Because it means it was believable. After all, this barn is old. Well done.

He swatted the bug away, sending it plummeting from the rafters, falling straight towards the protesting horse. Milo reached out, shattering his silence, “No!”

The roach bounced off the horse’s head. The animal reared, crying out and tearing its leads from the hands of two young handlers, lifting a third off his feet. I had two questions on this. I am not a horse person. SO. Would a horse really freak out over a big falling on its head? Also, how young are the “young handlers”? Are they older than Milo? If not, why do they get to help and not Milo? Not that you HAVE to address this right away, but it’s just what I pondered as I read.

As the horse stamped down, Gaelin wrenched the flying gnatt Again, what am I missing? Why aren’t we capitalizing their last name. Or is this something else? Their… kind of species? Remember readers, I know nothing about this book.

from the rope just before the boy caught a stray hoof in the head. He shouted, “Away, lads! Get back!” Nice. Seems like a very fatherly thing to shout. I like it. It seems like the father is caring, nurturing. He’s not yelling something like “Move over, dummies.” I already have a feel for this loving family dynamic.

The team struggled to reign in the whinnying horse while Milo’s mouth hung open. When they got the horse back under control, Gaelin looked around for the cause of the abrupt panic attack, finding his youngest son in the rafters. “Monkey! Get down from there, boy. Barn ain’t no place for kids.” Hehehe. I love that he calls him monkey.

Standing less than three feet tall, Milo stretched between two beams, looking down.

“But, Pa—”

“Get!”

Milo skittered across beams and down posts, scrambling to escape his father’s shouting. Milo smiled despite the harrowing incident with the frightened horse, promising, I’ll be back. Nice. I like it. Milo strikes me as quite the mischevious one. I wonder what he’s doing. Why will he be back? And that’s exactly why I would turn the page.

 

Thoughts on Genre

I noticed in your submission that you described your book is a YA fantasy. I have to tell you though, this first page reads to me as a MG fantasy. The MC seems young, naïve, small, and the subject matter just seems to fit more with MG. I know that MG tends to feature main characters between the ages of 8 and 12 years old but that’s just a general guideline. I could be completely wrong as I’ve only read the first page (and one can’t possibly tell until they keep reading) but that’s what I thought after reading this first page…I wonder if this is categorized properly?

 

What do YOU think?

What do you think readers? Do you agree? Disagree? Would you keep reading? Do you have any suggestions? Please keep it constructive and helpful. Tell me in the comments below!

 

 

Happy Reading

Jolene Haley, Jolene Haley, @JoleneHaley

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. I love fantasy!
    First of all, I thought it read MG (8-12 year olds would definitely read about a 13 yo).
    The first sentence confused me because I thought Milo and the 13yo were different people. I loved that he had a tail, so right out of the box, OOHH! what is he? Cool!
    I needed a bit more at the beginning… I couldn’t get a good picture of what Milo was doing, is he sitting, trying to walk, jumping from beam to beam? What does his tail look like? Just a hint of description here would really let me see him.
    The male siblings and cousins… was vague. How many? Any features of theirs that stand out? Names?
    The word gnatt got me. I think you can intro that as seeing the small people… like all gnatts… or something to let the reader know if it is what his race is called. You talk of the barn, so I am putting this on Earth…
    I also have no idea if a horse would spook because a bug fell on it… just a question that popped in my head.
    When the chaos erupts… you mention two handlers and a third, being thrown into the air… a bit a description here, some defining feature, plus a name would bring the scene into sharper focus.
    I like Milo. I do want to know more about these little people with tails. What was he doing in the barn… why will he come back? What were they doing with a huge horse?
    Great job! Keep writing! And good luck!

  2. Thank you so much for the feature here today! It’s a privilege to receive feedback on this project, so I’d like share some thoughts on the feedback.

    First, gnatts were named after gnats, to evoke the nuisance reaction, but I’ve changed the race to knatts to get further from the confusion.

    I don’t like telling his age and want to take advantage of every opportunity for Milo to mouth off.

    When Gaelin yells at him, saying the barn is no place for kids, I changed it to “children” for Milo to say, “I’m not a child, I’m thirteen!

    I draw on a real life experience with the horse. When we were learning to ride the one we were looking to buy, a horse fly smacked into the horse’s head. That beast reared, ripping a hitching post it was tied to apart, leaving the crossbar dangling at the end of the lead. The problem might be it’s a reaction only horse owners might relate to. I’m thinking instead of the moment of potential disaster, i might put Milo’s sister up there with him and have them both watching the birth of a colt. In that case, she’d scream at the bug, and they’d get yelled at together.
    However, I don’t have real life experience with a horse giving birth.

    I want to be careful with the number of names, but I might add an antagonistic brother, who towers over his relatives, by name and have him point and laugh when they get yelled at and have him tell Milo to “Get taller, Monkey!”

    I really want to clean up the line about the clouds, because on page two, lightning sets fire to the barn, and Milo rushes in to save the day. That storm changes his life forever by page 6.

    The first page is critical, and this is the most revised page of the entire series. That MG feel haunts me. I’ve already

    • Bah! Phone acted up. I’ve already raised his age by 3 years to what it is now. The thing is, by page 160 ( the halfway point) he’s 17. I crafted an in medias res to show this and introduce the primary conflict, but i’m afraid it’s cheating.

      • I get the too many name in the beginning thing and you are correct, but maybe a unique physical description for a few of them?
        And hey, if you know a horse would spook at that, then run with it and own it. You can even have Milo think something about having seen horses spook to this before…
        So this scene and then the upcoming fire change his life forever? But then the true conflict of the book comes in when he’s 17? Then do we need to see this, or can you reveal this fire later to give us insight into him… in flashbacks or dialogue? Just a thought. I fear that the story doesn’t start here. We can meet him later when things start to happen, and slowly you can show us the past, giving us the picture of why he is the way he is.
        The Knatts works better for me.
        I like him revealing his age by yelling it.
        The more you talk about your ms, the more I am intrigued. :)

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