Many thanks to those of you who responded to the first edition of It's a Start: Work in Progress and have submitted your first lines for comment! I have received six new "entries" so far, with a possible seventh coming. In the interest of keeping these posts to a reasonable length, I'm going to take a look at the first three on this post and the remainder later in the week.
If you are interested in submitting your novel's beginning for a future edition, please go ahead and leave the first 8-12 lines of your MG or YA work in progress in the comments section or send me a Personal Message via the Verla Kay Blue Boards (where I am known as LindaBudz).
Before we get started, the disclaimer: I'm not an agent or an editor and have no real standing to offer these critiques. My opinion may not reflect the opinion of anyone else in the kid-lit world, much less publishers, so please take my comments for what they are ... one person's reaction.
The Twelfth of Never (Middle Grade), by Brenda
Please make Elvis leave the building. Never mind this song, My Way, is the reason I’m named Presley. Forget I secretly love it. Just not like this, here, now.
The cheap school p.a. speakers crumple Mom’s favorite song like tin foil, then rattle it around the almost-empty cafeteria. And there’s no air, just thickly sweet Snickerdoodle exhaust from the lunch ladies baking at 7:50 a.m. And most of all, outside the far, far double doorway, I keep catching glimpses of Greenhaven Middle School’s Most Popular crowd.
My queasy tummy demands I stay put, even though standing here, next to Mrs. Beemer, will make me more visible to the hall dwellers if they ever come in. We’re on the stage, encircled by chairs. Mrs. Beemer bends to unzip her backpack, and the neckline of her dress sags, revealing her wrinkly chest in a giant bra. Could I feel any more uncomfortable?
She cranes her red face up at me. “Would you be a dear and go round everyone up?”
First let me say, I love the title! And the fact that the MC is named Presley. I also like the details here ... not "cookies" but "Snickerdoodles," not "doors" but "the far, far double doorway." We have sound (a rattling version of "My Way"), smell (the cookies), touch (a queasy stomach) and sight (Mrs. Breemer's wrinkly chest). We also have lots of little conflicts ... the secret love of the song, the embarrassment at seeing the teacher's cleavage, the concern about being spotted on stage by the popular crowd.
A couple of things tripped me up. First, and maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I didn't even realize Elvis did a version of "My Way." I think most people associate that song with Sinatra and so the first paragraph would confuse them. Of course, kids might not even know the song at all and might just figure, OK, that was some old Presley song. So you might be safe. But, unless "My Way" is important and will come into play later, I might suggest substituting a song more strongly associated with The King.
Second, I was taken out of the story a little by the stage. None of my school cafeterias had stages, but maybe some do? Does this caf double as an auditorium at this school? Maybe that becomes clearer in the coming paragraphs.
Overall: I definitely want to read more. I want to know why our MC is on that stage!
Lure of the Moon (YA Fantasy), by Sue
Chapter One: A Time to Run
As Peter raced from the campsite his stomach quivered.
It wasn’t the heat from the cherry sun that had his brain sizzling.
Humiliation and gloom spurred his anger. As Peter ran, he vowed,
"Dad will never get that chance again!"
Hmm. Dad will never get what chance again? This vow definitely pulls me in. And since every kid can relate to feeling furious with his/her parents, this makes a great connection.
This entry was emailed to me in this format. Maybe the line breaks are a product of the email, but I got the impression it's intended to appear this way, a poetry form. Until recently, when I read Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, I'd have thought such a form would be distracting and tiresome, but in that book, I found I enjoyed it. If this novel is intended to follow that format, I think based on this brief excerpt it can be done well.
The one issue I had here was with the word "sizzling" in relation to the MC's brain. Didn't work for me ... I realize the phrase isn't meant to be literal, but it gave me a gross visual.
Overall: I'm not a big fantasy fan, but I'd keep reading to see where this is going, and, again, I am eager to learn what ill deed Dad has done!
Untitled, by Beth
If Maddrid found him first, the world's death was only a matter of time. The tribunal sat around the fire watching their leader in anticipation.
"He is twelve?" Their leader asked perusing a large file.
"Yes, sir," another replied.
"It says here-"
"It's a lie," The leader gave him a hard look, " I am sure of it, Oralabor."
"Does Maddrid know yet?"
"Was it an accident?" Oralabor asked referring to the file.
"No, sir. It's his choice. He has had the opportunity."
"We must be sure."
"I am. He is the one. The only one."
OK, again, I'm not big on fantasy, but I am intrigued. What is the deal with this tribunal? Who is Maddrid? Why is he the only one? Who's the twelve year old in the file?
I did have a hard time following who is saying what. I think this needs to be made clear. I especially think we need to know which of these speakers is the MC and what his/her perspective and place within the scene is. A respected member of the tribunal? A spectator? Is the MC the "him" in the sentence "If Maddrid found him first ...." or is the twelve year old? I do appreciate the sense of mystery here, but I need a little more clarity, if that makes sense. Some internal monologue on the part of the MC might be a good way to do this.
Another potential issue, and this is something I learned from Miss Snark, is that big dangers such as the death of the world tend to interest readers less than personal dangers. That's not to say the world can't be in danger, but we also want to know what's at stake for your MC.
Overall: I'd like to have some more clarity, but again, I'm very intrigued to know who these characters are.
May thanks to Brenda, Sue and Beth for putting their work out here. I hope others will chime in with their impressions of these first sentences in the comments section. Best wishes for your works in progress!