Thursday, July 28, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Today's first page submission comes from Max. Thanks so much for the entry!
'Lily Watterson is dead, but she has a plan: she’s going to find Death and ask for her life back. However it’s a dangerous world Lily’s found herself in, where monstrous creatures feast off spirits and the ghosts of children are used as streetlamps. It’s going to take all of her courage to get the second chance she so desperately wants.’
Further down and further in
Lily Watterson died in her school-clothes. She had been dead for over three hours, though it felt like longer to her.
L I L Y W A T T E R S O N
The air was crisp and the roads were icy. There was little to suggest the world would break.
“Lily, up. Up for school.”
“But I don’t like school...”
Mum yanked away the pillow and said: “You don’t want to be late, Lily-pad.”
This was true. In a perfect world Lily wouldn’t be late because she wouldn’t even go, for she would be too busy exploring the park, uncovering treasures hidden in the trees, in bushes, and buried under snow. When she brushed her teeth in the mornings, an adventurer stared back from behind the bathroom mirror (the thought never failed in making her feel warm).
When others looked at Lily, though, they saw a girl far too small for ten years old. Dirty blond hair, blue eyes, a quiet sort of face. Lily vanished under your nose. If you were silent enough people’s gazes slipped over you.
She was secret.
In the car Mum said: “Amy’s mother rung. Why didn’t you tell me about the party this Friday?”
“I, I forgot.”
Lily stared out of the window. She’d never been a good liar.
As the car pulled up beside school, Mum brushed her daughter’s face a last time. And there, creeping up Lily’s back like a spider, a chilling sensation as though something huge had just happened, something enormous; yet goodness knew what.
What I liked: I have to start out by saying that I love the synopsis. I think having the spirits of children as streetlamps is a fun and incredibly creepy idea (my critique partners know that I'm a sucker for creepy stories, especially MG). Very Neil Gaiman-esque. Your writing is strong in terms of grammar/sentence structure, and within a page you've managed to create a protagonist who I'm rooting for. This is of the utmost importance - your audience needs to connect with your main character, or else they won't continue reading. I also get a real sense of Lily's age (even without you mentioning the fact that she's ten years old). Again, capturing the "voice" of a protagonist in the 10-13 age range is very difficult, and although Lily and her mother only have a few lines of dialogue I can already imagine her as a fifth grader.
My overall critique: In my opinion (and I'm aware that others may disagree with me), I think you're starting the story in the wrong place. Although your first line is intriguing, you've still broken one of the top unofficial editor rules for first pages: never begin with your main character waking up in bed on a seemingly normal day. It's cliche, it's been done a million times, and it annoys the hell out of editors/agents no matter how good your writing is. Since we've already established that Lily is dead, the rest of this page reads as some sort of flashback. I would therefore suggest one of two options (keeping in mind that I don't know anything about the rest of the story):
a. Start your book off with Lily in the afterlife. Don't just give us two sentences, then switch back to when she was alive...I'm honestly more interested in what it's like now that she's dead. Save the flashback with her mom for later when your readers are invested in Lily's character.
b. If you want to keep the flashback, I'd suggest choosing a different scene....again, the whole waking up thing is a turnoff for editors.
As someone who has written a book set entirely in the afterlife, one issue you're going to run across in the novel as a whole is stakes. If your character can't die or get injured, what's at stake? Keep this in mind when you're writing, because it's difficult to keep up the tension if the reader isn't honestly worried about what will happen to Lily.
~"The air was crisp and the roads were icy. There was little to suggest the world would break." In these two sentences you have three "to be" verbs: was, were, and was. You're a stronger writer than that. "To be" verbs are weak and passive, and if at all possible you should try to replace them with stronger words. For instance, "The air was crisp and ice slicked the roads" gets rid of one "to be" verb without changing the meaning of the sentence.
~'Mum yanked away the pillow and said: “You don’t want to be late, Lily-pad.”' Replace the colon with a comma.
~'In a perfect world Lily wouldn’t be late because she wouldn’t even go, for she would be too busy exploring the park, uncovering treasures hidden in the trees, in bushes, and buried under snow.' You used the word "would" three times in this sentence. It might be fine here, but just be conscientious of word repetition, as it disrupts the flow of your story.
~'The thought never failed in making her feel warm.' I'd change 'in making' to 'to make,' as it sounds less awkward.
~'Lily vanished under your nose. If you were silent enough people’s gazes slipped over you.' You utilize the second person in these two sentences, but you seem to refer to two different "you's." 'Lily vanished from under your nose' indicates someone in Lily's presence, while 'If you were silent enough people's gazes slipped over you' refers to Lily herself, but through a generalized statement. Linking these two sentences together is rather confusing. If you don't need to use second person (which you don't here), I'd suggest taking it out.
~'In the car Mum said: “Amy’s mother rung. Why didn’t you tell me about the party this Friday?”' Again, change the colon to a comma.
~“I, I forgot.” Change the comma to an ellipsis to convey stuttering.
~'As the car pulled up beside school, Mum brushed her daughter’s face a last time.' I'd change it to "one last time."
~'And there, creeping up Lily’s back like a spider, a chilling sensation as though something huge had just happened, something enormous...' You need a word between the comma after "spider" and the word "a". I'd suggest "came".
~'Yet goodness knew what' sounds awkward.
Overall I really enjoyed this sample, and once again, I love the premise! Can't wait to see where you take this. If anyone else wants to add to/dispute my critique, feel free to do so!
Monday, July 25, 2011
Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.
Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?
I'd like to start off this review by saying that ICEFALL is very, very different from THE CLOCKWORK THREE. They're both MG with crossover appeal into YA, but the similarities end there; whereas THE CLOCKWORK THREE takes place in a fictional city reminiscent of NYC in the 1800s, with elements of steampunk and fantasy, ICEFALL centers on a Norse/Viking-era princess trapped in a small fort during a long and grueling winter.
I'd say the thing I loved most about this book was Kirby's prose. It's gorgeous and lyrical without overwhelming the story, and I found myself rereading certain passages enviously (I mean it, people, this guy can write). His characters are well-drawn, and as a reader I became fully immersed in the world he created, from the rich Norse myths of gods and trolls to the personification of the glacier as a lurking, groaning beast. As someone who writes historical fantasy I really appreciate when authors do their research, and in this sense ICEFALL is nothing short of perfection. Kirby obviously learned a great deal about historical Norsemen before writing this book. While the historical facts and tidbits are accurate, he manages to insert them into the story without it seeming like a history lesson, which is of the utmost importance when writing for children.
ICEFALL is a very unique story; I've never read anything remotely like it, especially not in the MG genre. Although the book's pacing relies (for the most part) upon subtle intrigue and tension rather than full-on action, it never gets boring, and the building suspense around a possible traitor within the fort will keep younger readers hooked. Rich details and Norse myths bring the setting to life, and it hits a surprising number of emotional chords (the goat Hilda in particular...when you read the book you'll know what I mean). The only parts that bothered me were the young characters' ages (Solveig and her siblings)...although you get a vague sense of how old they are based on their interactions, I really wanted to know their exact ages so I could better picture them. Other than that, I found ICEFALL to be a wonderful and refreshing read.
Matthew Kirby's done it again. There are many authors who can write well in a single genre, but who struggle to produce work outside that limited sphere. Few can slide between genres with such ease while still maintaining high quality work. As someone who loves books in all genres, I truly can't wait to see what Kirby comes up with next!
Friday, July 22, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Developing a main character can be one of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel, particularly when working in first person. How can you make your character stand out? What part of their voice is unique?
As a writer I’ve struggled a great deal with character development, and up until last year I didn’t have a very good grasp of how to create compelling protagonists. I’ve improved a lot since then but I’m always looking for opportunities to get better. I think, as writers, it’s helpful to talk about the areas in which we struggle, so I thought I’d do a post with some tips on creating main characters.
2. Figure out your main character’s driving emotional force. Usually it’s easy to identify a driving physical force - this is the plot, or the goal your character is trying to attain. In Harry Potter, Harry is trying to defeat Lord Voldemort so he can save himself and his friends. But what’s his driving emotional force? For Harry, I’d say it all goes back to the death of his parents and his desire to have a family. This emotional force permeates all seven books and drastically influences Harry’s actions (think of all his pseudo-father-figures, such as Sirius and Dumbledore). The driving emotional force should probably be even more prevalent in your story than the driving physical force.
3. It’s not what your character thinks, it’s HOW they think it (I feel like I’ve done a post on this before...have I? If so, sorry for the redundancy). This one sentence completely altered my view on developing protagonists. Everybody thinks differently, and if you can discover how your character thinks/what they focus on, you can integrate it into your story. When I wrote The Color of Yin, I decided that my main character would have synesthesia - when other people speak, she sees their words as different colors in the air (her mother has orange words, her sister has purple words, etc). Yin comes to associate different colors with different emotions, and whenever she thinks she thinks in terms of color. Knowing this about my main character really helped me develop her story. There are so many different ways to do this...if your character is methodical, maybe they make lists in their head. Maybe they count things when they get nervous. Identify how your character thinks, and use it as a basis to determine what they think.
4. Map out your character's deepest fears and desires. What do they have nightmares about? Do they have any phobias? How do they deal with fear? In a life threatening situation, do they run or fight? If they had three wishes, what would they be?
So there you have it....some tips for developing unique protagonists. If you have tips of your own, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments! We’re all writers here (mostly) and we can all learn from each other.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Harry Potter is all about growing up. Not only do JK Rowling's characters grow up, but the books grow up as well...her writing, plotting, and tone become more and more sophisticated with each novel. Same with the movies - compare the original Chris Columbus film with Deathly Hallows II, and it's astounding how far this story has come.
I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at age six. It was the first novel-length book I ever read on my own, and I was in Kindergarten at the time. I remember sitting in the living room with my little sister. My dad came home from work, held up the copy of Harry Potter he had just purchased, and said, "You girls need to read this, I hear it's fantastic." At the time we blew him off...after all, what did a grownup know about kids books? But a few weeks later, when I found myself in need of something to do, I picked up Harry Potter and began to read. The book was more advanced than what I was used to (after all, most six-year-olds are just starting to read) so it took me a long time to finish, but from the beginning I was hooked.
My aunt Kathy and uncle Steve gave me Harry Potter books two and three for my seventh birthday (along with a hedgehog Beanie Baby). By the time book four came out I was a huge fan, and I participated in a summer reading program at my local library in order to win a copy of the book since my mom wouldn't purchase it. At my cousin Allie's fifth grade birthday party (we're the same age) we attended the release party for Order of the Phoenix, where we dressed up in costumes and got Sorted and engaged in all sorts of nerd-licious activities. One summer, my dad, who's a wood worker, used his lathe to create specialized wands for me and my little sister. I still have an old notebook from first or second grade in which I designed lesson plans for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, and Transfiguration so my sister and I could play school - Hogwarts style school, that is. And one of the very first stories I wrote was a Harry Potter rip-off in which students attend a magical school called Hogsmeade.
When the first movie came out, my mother picked me up from school along with my sister and two of our friends. She wouldn't tell us where we were going; turns out she had secured tickets to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, during which I remember marveling at how old and mature Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked (I was eight at the time). So began my obsession with the movies. My sister and I purchased Harry Potter Scene It, and we would have epic battles over who could answer the largest number of trivia questions. I've gone to many midnight showings and I stood in line at midnight for the sixth and seventh books. By that time I was fourteen, on the cusp of entering high school.
Harry Potter defined my generation, and it defined my childhood. I remember running around at recess in elementary school with scars painted on our foreheads. When I first read the Sorcerer's Stone all those years ago, I never would've imagined that I would end up here, in NYC, at Scholastic's premiere for the eighth and final film. I'm 18. I just graduated high school, and this is my first summer on my own. I have, in short, grown up, which is both terrifying and exhilarating and depressing.
For me, Harry Potter is more than just a story; it's a representation of my childhood. It started as the first book I ever read on my own, and now, twelve years later, the final chapter comes to a close just before I enter my first year in college. The books grew up and I grew up with them.
A bittersweet end. And now would be the appropriate time for me to say, "mischief managed."
Instead, I'd like to think the mischief has only just begun.