If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for when our next contest window opens at 8 PM on June 30th. 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.
Halo and the Boomerang Effect, MG Fantasy
Halo held her hands in front of her face, fascinated as each finger faded in, then out, reminding her of those holograms used in space movies. Flicker. Flash. Flick, flick. Zap. Her whole body shifted into solid form, and once again, she became a resident of Loblolly Pines.
After each eleven-month disappearing act, she loved her magical homecoming within the Christmas tree. Materializing never got old.
Ten cartwheels along the branch brought her to the trunk. She leaned in and sniffed. Pinewood with a damp muskiness…best fragrance ever. Halo nudged a finger under a sliver of bark and tugged. Snug. The sap’s tackiness confirmed a healthy tree.
Julie: I love the title–it’s perfect for middle grade and instantly made me want to learn more. You’ve created a lot of mystery around Halo in these first few lines (What is she? Why does she disappear for 11 months out of the year? Why does she reappear in a Christmas tree?). You do a great job of showing us that she’s tiny (if she can do ten cartwheels along a tree branch!) and I love the sensory details of the sticky sap and the damp muskiness of the tree. But I’m not as grounded in the opening paragraph as I wish I was. I love the image of a hologram, but I’m wondering if focusing on what materializing feels like (which is internal and unique to Halo’s experience) would be better than focusing on what it looks like (which is external, like we’re watching a movie instead of experiencing it from Halo’s perspective). Best of luck–this sounds like a great story!
Laurel: Thanks for sharing your story! Here’s a bit of feedback from my reader experience. Of course, every reader sees things differently, so if I’m the only one going off on that tangent, feel free to ignore. I felt Halo’s fascination with her fingers and tripped when I got to hologram. After reading this first paragraph three times, I got a “Beam me up Scotty!” image. Hologram says 3D-projection to me, rather than flickering. Halo and hologram are close in sound but very different in meaning. Is there a connection or am I looking for one in the wrong place? The zap puzzled me. (Were there zaps in Star Trek?) I start out very solidly inside Halo, looking at her fingers, and then I’m outside her body watching it flash. A bit more of Halo’s reactions might clue me in to the direction you want me to go. I love the specificity of loblolly pines.
The next paragraph made perfect sense until I got to “within the Christmas tree.” Why a Christmas tree? Whose Christmas tree? Or is Christmas tree short-hand for any kind of conifer? Is it a live tree in the middle of the forest? Or a cut tree in a house in the town of Loblolly Pines? Was she “within” the tree or did she materialize on the branch? “Materializing never got old” made me smile. Is there a cost to materializing? Maybe that will come up later in the story. 🙂 There’s a tiny speed bump for the eleven-month disappearance because Christmas falls in the 12th month. It’s all correct, but it made me stop and subtract for a second.
The third paragraph tells me Halo is outside of the tree because she’s doing cartwheels on the branch. I liked the cartwheels and felt a bit nervous about being scratched, since pines often have so many sharp twigs. It didn’t occur to me that Halo was small until I read Julie’s comment above.
The last paragraph was easy to follow as a reader. I wondered if you needed “pinewood” instead of “pine.” Halo checking the health of the tree hints at an intriguing caretaker role for the forest. “The sap’s tackiness” surprised me because I expected to read about the bark. Is there a connection there that’s important for the reader to know? Or is it enough to say that “Snug bark meant a healthy tree”? Or that her finger is sticky? I love that you engage the senses of smell and touch in this very small passage.
I love the loblolly pine setting and “the boomerang effect,” whatever that turns out to be! Lots of interesting hooks in the opening of your story! Best wishes for success with it!
Gabby: I think the title is great, and I like the first sentence as well. I’m not wild about the one word sentences that follow though, for two reasons. One, you’ve already told us her image is fading in and out, so it feels redundant. Two, as Julie points out, it takes me out of the action, instead of pulling me in.
You’ve got some great intrigue in the next sentence, but no stakes yet. I think you could maybe leave the fact that it’s a Christmas tree for later, as it will certainly need more explanation. String us along into her world with breadcrumbs as they become relevant. Let it just be a tree, for now. Focus on her having been gone eleven-months and what that feels like. She loves materializing, but give us more. Her body language/actions in the last paragraph imply she’s really glad to be back (to be home?), but is she wondering what’s she’s missed? Maybe she knows what she’s missed, and can’t wait to catch up. Maybe she’s wishing she could be in two places at once. Maybe she’s keeping one eye open for the cat/snow/fall/friend/whatevs.
You need there to be some tension in these first lines. Micro-stakes is fine, but give me some conflict. You’ve done well with the sensory descriptions, but I’d cut the “snug” line, and I’m not sure why we need to know about the health of the tree here. It feels like a jump. An intriguing beginning! Best of luck.
Michelle: This is very intriguing! When I read the first sentence, (which I really like) I wanted to know how it feels to materialize. Bring in some more senses. Is it cold? Hot? Tingly? Fizzy? Like Gabby said, I don’t really think the one word sentences add much. You could say something like, “Each time her fingers flickered,…(then add how it feels).”
I don’t think the second paragraph adds anything that we need to know just yet. Having it where it is seems like backstory. I’d save it for later. Love the sensory details in the third paragraph. They make me want to read more! Good Luck! Keep us updated on your progress!
Kristi: I LOVED this! Your 1st line had me thinking about Search for Wondla. Then, the 10 cartwheels to the trunk line really drew me in. Everything kind of solidified in my head and I could start picturing it all. I agree with Michelle that you can get rid of the 2nd paragraph at this stage and use that to add a hint of what’s to come or a hint of danger or stakes. It’s never too early to add those kinds of things. Otherwise, I’d for sure keep reading.
Gita: An intriguing beginning! This feels fresh to me, which makes me eager to read on. There’s a lot of mystery: I don’t know who or what Halo is, where she comes from, or even where she is (at a tree farm or in a house). But that’s ok with me. Still, I’d be even more willing to follow Halo into this story if I felt a little more emotionally connected to her in these opening lines. We learn that it’s a “homecoming” for her to materialize onto the tree, but I don’t get a sense of how she’s feeling. It makes me wonder: is the place she lives the rest of the year different from Lobolly Pines? In what ways? Do these differences matter to Halo (I hope they do)? Which does she prefer? If Halo travels between these places, is there any tension for her in the process? What does she want? When I fall in love with a character, it’s because she’s a thinking, feeling, wondering being who’s at odds with her world—even if only a little bit. I’d love to see more of what Halo’s feeling/thinking right up front as a way of bringing out the tension that’s going to keep your reader reading. As an example, here’s EB White’s opening to Charlotte’s Web:
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
You can check out the earlier, less tension-filled versions here. Happy writing!
Rebecca: I love sci fi and fantasy, so this story is right up my alley! I also like your start with very cool magic, but as others have said, you could slow down here to introduce the sensations that accompany her fading and appearing at in new place and how she feels about it. When you create a new world, it is very important that the reader can visualize is so that they can experience it with your characters. Because this means of transport is so far off from our poor, muggle experience, you want to take the time to really get the reader grounded in it and bring them along. That will get them more invested in the story.
Great start! Best of luck with your story!
Halli: Thanks for entering the contest! As just about everyone said, I love your title. I have been known to choose books on titles alone. I think you have some wonderful detail and descriptive sentences here. For some people, that is the hardest part, so job well done! The first paragraph is very interesting and definitely grabs my interest. I agree with the other critiques about needing to be more in Halo’s mind by describing her feelings and internal thoughts and not external observations. For me, sometimes that comes down to wording. For example, you wrote: reminding her of those holograms used in space movies. The words “reminding her” remind me that a narrator is speaking. Try the sentence without it and see what you think. I do love the last sentence of paragraph one.
The second paragraph threw me just a bit. I see it is a transition between materializing and the tree – which I assume her checking to see if it is healthy will be significant. It may be because there are several different thoughts in this short space: materializing, an eleven-month absence, and the Christmas tree, and one of the biggest ones (the eleven-month absence) is not explained.
Paragraph three goes back to the wonderful details: ten cartwheels on a branch, the damp muskiness. Wonderful!
Great job! Hope these comments help.
Karin: This sounds lovely and different! I think Halo is some kind of fairy or ghost, but then why is she watching space movies? Also, space movies pulled me out of this world into a very different world. Not sure if you did this intentionally. Anchor us into Halo’s world by giving us a sense of her size, and whether the tree is inside or outside, decorated or not. Also, maybe an aside after “snug” to indicate that this is a good sign. “Good. very good.” Then she can say, “And the sap’s…” By increasing the build up, we know this is a very important part of Halo’s job and we’re intrigued to learn more!