8 on Eight: December Feedback

eight on eight 2Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s 8 on Eight contest! Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest*.

Below, we’ve posted the first 8 lines from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least eight of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

*Reminder: there is no 8 on Eight next month. Enjoy your holidays!

GATES ON THE WAY TO THE GREAT UPSTAIRS (Contemporary YA)

My story starts in the same place that it ends: Dad died almost a year ago, and I killed him. I didn’t use a gun – I wasn’t even there when it happened – and I didn’t hire anyone, either. It’s just that I’m responsible, and if I ever explained my role in his death to Mom and Jeffrey, they would never forgive me. So this is my secret, one I’ll carry with me until my last day.

If I’m right, that’s exactly eleven days from now.

I’ve closed my door so I can think in peace, but that doesn’t stop Jeffrey from barging in unannounced wearing his Thor helmet. He’s just gotten home from trick-or-treating, and as usual, he’s the superhero of bad timing.

Richelle: This is a very strong opening! I like the mystery, the shocking nature of her confessions, the details about the narrator’s brother — it’s all really working for me. Although the opening phrase is evocative, I am not sure you need it. I got a little hung up on “My story starts in the same place it ends” trying to figure out what that meant and how that would work. It wouldn’t keep me from reading on at all, but I think the statement about the father is enough of a grabber. I also think you can make the transition from the macro (I have this huge secret) to the micro (I’m sitting in my room when my be-costumed brother bursts in) a little snappier, too. Why is the narrator thinking about all this now? Is this the first chance in a while to be alone? Or is this routine? Is the eleven-days-until-I’m-dead information new? What is it about this particular moment of brooding that makes it special enough to start your story? I don’t have much more to say — you’ve hooked me in just a few lines! Great job — and good luck!

Michelle: Whoa! I’m intrigued and dying to read more. I only have two small suggestions. 1) I agree with Richelle. Kill the first part of the sentence. It makes the opening even stronger! 2) IMO, the third sentence is clunky compared to the rest of what you’ve shared with us: “It’s just that I’m responsible, and if I ever explained my role in his death to Mom and Jeffrey, they would never forgive me.” Play around with it a bit. Maybe two separate sentences. Or maybe (and this is what I truly believe), we don’t need you to tell this. We’ll figure it out soon enough when you show us in the story. Good luck! And keep in touch to let us know how it goes!

Jessica: This is fantastic; I’m definitely hooked! By way of suggestions, I’d agree with Richelle and Michelle; I think you can easily drop that first sentence and it will better capture our attention. Michelle’s suggestion that you might be able to drop the sentence about telling Mom and Jeffrey also resonated with me; I think you could play with the wording such that you could move right from the opening to the secret. Finally, I’d encourage you to double check your use of em dashes; these look to me like en dashes (or even hyphens?) and em dashes don’t typically have spaces before or after. But overall, this is a great opening. Nicely done!

Gabrielle: I think this is a great opening, and you have tension and conflict right where it belongs. I don’t disagree with any of the other Pennies that have commented, but I’ll add that I think you can tighten up the prose a little. Play with using some shorter sentences. They have more inherent tension. So, for example, “I didn’t use a gun. I wasn’t there when it happened. Before you ask, I didn’t hire anyone, either.”  I agree you can lose the “I’m responsible” line. It’s redundant here, and less powerful that what you’ve already said.  I love the introduction of the brother. You could work in a little more setting detail in the last paragraph, I think, so we can see the space she’s in.  Great, compelling beginning.

Kristi: Wowza! I’m jumping on the “I’m hooked” wagon with everyone else. Definitely very compelling. One of the my favorite lines is when you give us the 11 days the MC has to live. This definitely sets off the ticking time bomb right away. There really isn’t anything for me to add except that I totally agree with what has already been said. You can definitely shorten and cut some of the above to tighten the tension. My only suggestion would be to have your MC doing something other than sitting and thinking. Yes, you can probably get away with this because of how you’ve set up your first line, but why waste space. If he was doing chin-ups or bouncing a ball or even just on his computer, anything to give him a bit of action.

Halli: Well you had me at the title! And kept me going the more I read. Unlike the comments above, I don’t mind the first sentence. For me, the sticking point was after “I wasn’t even there when it happened.” A suggestion would be to take out the line of not hiring someone because that is just one of hundreds of possibilities of someone dying outside your presence. And I do agree with tightening up the sentence starting with I’m responsible. Fantastic job! I will be keeping my eye out for this 🙂

Julie: You’ve gotten some great advice (man, it’s always hard to go last!). I agree with Kristi that the “eleven days from now” line is the most evocative for me and if you can rework this a bit to put that in the spotlight, while using some shorter, more tension-filled sentences, I think you’ll have a must-read opener, especially since your premise and title are so intriguing. I’d say spend some time thinking about what makes the story start right in this moment–what triggered her to think about her father’s death while she sat there in her room on Halloween–and that might help you punch up what is already a solid beginning. Best of luck!

Rebecca:  Your topic is compelling. We know from the first sentence that something big is going to happen in this story and that the timeline is tight. That’s great! I also like your YA voice and the “superhero of bad timing.”

But you’re start has a telly feel. No action, dialogue or setting. I would break up the internals. A natural place to do this would be to have the little brother barge into the room with some dialogue. I think that also giving your MC an action, a nervous tick, or movement around his room so we know that’s where he is, would break this up and allow the reader to picture the scene while we’re hearing the heavy concerns on the MC’s mind through the internals.

All the best with your story!

 

6 thoughts on “8 on Eight: December Feedback

  1. Thank you so much Winged Pen Friends!!! What fantastic advice you have given me!! I wish you could read my entire manuscript. Good wager you guys could make a rusty can shine! And I am so grateful for your encouragement. It has truly lifted my spirits, which I always appreciate!

    I don’t have too many lingering questions about your wonderful comments. I’ll be sure to shorten sentences where possible, and I’ll noodle with the line about my MC’s responsibility. There’s a clear consensus on those points. And I will experiment with adding setting details at the outset along with having him do something nervously beyond just thinking (my MC, who is a boy, btw, has several nervous habits; it won’t be hard to insert one!).

    The only really hard thing to lose is this part of the opening line: “My story starts in the same place that it ends…” If I could get a bunch of kids in a room after they’d read my book and start a conversation with them, I would ask if Evan’s story does, in fact, end in the same place that it started. I actually structure the end of the book much like the opening just to play with the idea. What changes and what stays the same? It might be a tough sell for you guys, but I sure would love to let that stay.

    All that said, I will end where I started. Thank you so much Winged Pen Friends!!! What fantastic advice you have given me!!! And thank you for running this contest, a fabulous gift to the kidlit writing community!

    1. Sorry, but I’d like to chime-in first by reiterating what appears to be the consensus: that it may be better to drop the opening sentence. It’s more tell than show, and could confuse readers. One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever gotten, was to figure out what the story is you are trying to tell.

      While I agree the MC’s confession to being responsible for the death of the father, is the main attention-getter! The line that states his last day will be in eleven days, is equally intriguing. It implies death for him is imminent. Why? If you could expound on that, and show a connection between the two storylines.

      Continuity in content can be tricky to maneuver. But after some reflection and re-evaluation, including taking into account the advice given here, I’m sure you’ll be able to come away with a tighter grasp of the plot.

      Best of luck to you!

    2. Hi Laura! So glad you found our feedback helpful. As for your question about your opening line, you should never let anyone convince you to change something you feel strongly about. In many good (most IMO) books, the ending mirrors the beginning. You could consider pointing out how it “ends just as it began” at the ending, where it will be more powerful (your beginning is already powerful enough). Whatever you choose, we’re sure you’ve got a gem of a story here, and keeping the opening line as is will certainly not sink your chances of landing an agent. Best of luck!

      1. Hi Laura,
        I think Michelle’s hit on a great solution. At the start, it doesn’t function the way you want it to, because we can’t feel it–in the way we would at the end. I suspect it works for you, as the author, because you know what’s coming! Best of luck to you.

  2. Putting the idea about the story ending as it began at the close of the book is an intriguing notion. I will definitely give it a try! Thanks again so much for ALL of this excellent feedback. I am so grateful!!

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