4 on 400: February Feedback

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest! Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.

Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

The Mouse and the Mustang
Middle Grade Animal Adventure 

The Mustang’s rusty fenders moaned as a gust of icy March wind whipped across the car lot. Inside the car’s trunk, carpeted in a nest of woven hay, Kenny forced himself into his teacup-size bed. He tucked his nose under his tail in hopes that he could sleep tight. Outside, the distant tow truck’s engine roared by. Clatter, clang, slam. He shivered as another car was dumped into the lot of tired, broken cars.

He snuggled deeper. Maw always kept his bed tidy, a perfect fit. But so much smaller than his siblings’. He peeked at the large white mounds of his brothers and sisters settling into their hay craters.

“Head down, Kenny,” Paw said. “You need to sleep to grow.”

Kenny tucked his head under his arm, one eye peeking out. When Paw turned away, Kenny wrinkled his pink nose upward to breathe in the scrumptious scents of dawn and the rising sun that melted the night’s frost.

Drats! I’m missing another sunny day.

Maw’s bedtime kisses always started with Kenny, the youngest of her litter of five.

“But I’m not growing,” Kenny whispered.

She touched her nose to his and pecked his lips. “Patience.” Sniffing a few stray blades of hay, she tucked them into place around the rim of Kenny’s bed.

Patience. Kenny clenched his white paws. The word made him want to jump out of his pure white fur. It made him want to pop out of that rusty hole, high in the trunk’s corner, and run loops around the tires and strewn metal parts. A little daytime playtime would be a nice change from Paw’s supervised nighttime outings.

“Why do we have to sleep all day?” Kenny asked Maw.

Her answer was always the same. “It’s when mice sleep.” Maw turned to tend to his twin sisters.

It doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why waste perfectly good sunlight sleeping?

Even when Paw took them out at night, they all had to stick together, only allowed to go three boring cars in each direction. Except Denny, Kenny’s oldest brother. Paw had taken him all the way to the edge of the lot to teach him how to dig for seeds by the chain link fence. Two whole times.

Kenny couldn’t stop thinking about the other night when he’d spotted a group of mice scampering away in the distance. It wasn’t the first time.

Michelle: Bravo on pulling us in with your setting description. I feel like I’m in the junkyard with Kenny! You’ve done an excellent job with setting up the conflict and building sympathy for Kenny. This sentence threw me off: “He tucked his nose under his tail in hopes that he could sleep tight.” Kenny doesn’t want to sleep tight, does he? I think you should make this clear up front. Maybe something like, “He went through the bedtime motions of tucking his nose under his tail despite having no interest in sleep.” Overall, this is a great start. Good luck and keep in touch with us!

Halli: Wonderful use of senses in your setting descriptions starting with the first line and the Mustang’s fenders moaning. You make the junkyard come to life! My other comment is the line where Kenny says he’s not growing. I am guessing that this will be central to the story, but the line seems to come out of nowhere and after a short response by his maw, he changes the subject. If this is in fact an important part of the story, I would like to see just a little bit more about it in these first few pages. Great job and beautiful writing.

Rebecca: I agree! Your sensory details pull me into the story and help me visualize the little trunk-nest in the junk yard. Well Done! I only have nitpiks. “…scrumptious scents of dawn and the rising sun that melted the night’s frost.” I might imagine the warming air of dawn has a scent, but the rest of the sentence makes it sound like the rising sun has a scent. Something like, “He visualized the rising sun…” to transition us to sight from smell would fit better.  The gap between “You need to sleep to grow” and Kenny’s comment on growing threw me. If you gave that line to Maw, it would flow more smoothly, I think. Lastly, the “white” describing his paws then his fur are close together. Could you change one to a different adjective? All the best of luck with your story!

Kristi: I really fell in love with all the details here! You’ve paced this all so, so well. To be honest, I find your writing lovely, my main comment would be concerning your title. The Mouse and the Mustang sounds like a picture book. Look, titles really aren’t the most important thing to be concerned about at this stage, but I’d still think of something “older” so an agent doesn’t think you don’t know the difference between PB & MG. And one last thing, I’d second Halli’s comment to highlight the main thread early on– even if it is a small phrase, just to give us a hint as to where this is going. Great job!

And a bonus critique!

Karin: I think Kenny definitely deserves some “daytime playtime”!  You’re so good at capturing mood and voice that I think you could do more with this important line, “Drats! I’m missing another sunny day.”  Every night Kenny goes to bed he must think the same thing. Why is this night different? If you tweak this line with a little more of that feeling then it will become more believable. Finally,  I’m very curious about the group of mice he spots while on a night outing, but I have no idea how he feels about them, so would like an adjective or phrase, letting us know if they looked friendly, not friendly or up to no good or if it was unusual to see other mice.  Finally, if referring just to the smell and not Kenny visualizing the sunrise then you could clarify by saying, “…Kenny wrinkled his pink nose upward to breathe in the scrumptious scents of dawn as the rising sun melted the night’s frost.” Well done!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *