Four on 400 August 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.

 

No More Magical

Chapter One

If magical was like milk and went sour after the date on the carton, then Gracie Emily Everett’s had expired. Her magical world disappeared the day her daddy did. Her heart didn’t sparkle anymore; it was as dull and flat as a mud pie.

“When you see something ordinary transform into something extraordinary before your very eyes, pay attention, Gracie,” her daddy always told her. Like a spider web with which-way patterns that shimmer in the sun, she thought. Magical was how you saw the world. Or maybe it was how the world saw you. Either way, it was gone and she certainly wasn’t looking for it.

She stirred her cereal and watched the flecks of sour milk cling to the Cheerios. “Gracie,” her mom yelled, “don’t forget to feed Wilbur and water the geraniums. Walk to the library, young lady. No bike riding.”

“Don’t worry,” Gracie yelled back, pouring her breakfast into the sink holding her nose. “I know the drill!” Doesn’t mean I’ll follow it.

They bumped in the hallway, her mom fumbling with her phone. “We’ll do something fun later, I promise.” Reaching out to kiss Gracie, she dropped her phone, her kiss disappearing into thin air.

“Sure, Mom.” Gracie stomped back to the kitchen. Lately, it was always the same. Same reminders. Same promises. Trying to balance without tumbling over, she squatted like her mom’s Yoga pose and poured kibbles into the MEOW dish. Wilbur rubbed her legs with his velvety fur. At least Wilbur loves me, she thought, groaning as she stood. These library books are heavy.

“Got to go!” Gracie rushed through the living room. “Time for Book Club!” The screen door slapped her backpack as she scrambled down the front steps. Wilbur snuck out with her, scampering off into the woods.

“Be careful!” Mom shouted out the door.

Daddy’s bicycle helmet hung from the rusty nail on the garage. Gracie pounded past as hard as she could, hoping her heart wouldn’t notice, but her breath caught like tangled twigs and gave her away. Oh, snark, don’t cry now, she thought. She scooted around the ruts and rocks on her gravel driveway, focused on one thing. Her bike. She knew she’d never make it to the library on time, even with her running skills. “You can do this,” Gracie told herself. At the end of the driveway, she whirled around. The coast was clear.

Halli: Thank you for sharing! Let me say how much I love the opening paragraphs. They are so full of voice and wonder and sadness, with just enough setting detail for me to get a basic visual without overshadowing Grace. It reminds me of SAVVY by Ingrid Law. I have two additional comments about this piece. First, in the sentence starting with Reaching out to kiss Gracie, she dropped her phone… I know what you are trying to say but I stumbled over it. This is such a powerful revelation, I would hate for it not to have its desired impact. Second, I am not sure what the problem is with her bike. Why is she forbidden to ride it? Did something happen? It seems significant so I’d like just a tiny teaser. Thanks again. Good luck!

Gita: I loved the beginning of this story! Your writing is lovely and immediately compelling—magic being lost is something that will definitely keep me reading. You’ve got a lot going on in the beginning—as you should!—so I’d encourage you to slow down a bit and take your time. This doesn’t mean to let go of the tension around your protagonist’s scattered mother and the missing father, but to consider how to balance the urgency of the different things you want to tell us. Specifically, if your MC is dealing with issues around her parents, I’m not sure that additional tension around getting to book group on time is necessary. It feels like too much, too early. I see that it provides a reason for her to have to take her bike—but it also may direct the reader away from the other concerns already in play. I think you may need to choose what you want to show right up front and what you can hold off on until a little bit later. Thanks for sharing this with us! Happy writing!

Karin: Your writing is strong and vivid and immediately pulled me in! I just have a few comments. In your first paragraph you introduce several metaphors. In the last sentence, you say her heart is “dull and flat as a mud pie” –even though this has a nice rhythm, I think it would be stronger if you tied it to the sour milk metaphor and said something like “Her heart didn’t sparkle anymore; it had curdled the day Dad….”  I am sorry but when I hear the name Wilbur I immediately think of Charlotte’s Web. Finally, I didn’t understand why Gracie’s mom didn’t want her to bike to her book club. At first I thought it was because it wasn’t ladylike, but then when Gracie sees her dad’s bike helmet, I wondered if it was because he had been hit by car. Great beginning! Good luck!

Kristi: I too was really taken in with so much of this! I’m a big voice person and I love a good metaphor so I really fell for this! I have to say the Wilbur thing also took me out of the story. I think it’ll work if we know Gracie loves the book or her dad read it to her over and over–something that gives it a reason to be there. Also, when her mom didn’t want her to ride the bike I actually thought this might be set in the 50’s or something, then you mention her Mom’s phone and I was jolted back to the present. I’d also be sure there is a reason for this– or at least hint at it. Does it remind her Mom of Dad or is it how Dad disappeared? The other thing was while I loved the metaphorical reference to sour milk, when Gracie really had sour milk in her bowl it struck me as too much. I know Karin commented above that she wanted a reference to it again at the end of the paragraph and I can see that working, but as long as it’s all metaphorical, not real. I don’t know why it seemed overkill for me. I wish you all the best with this! I want to read more!

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August #Fouron400 Contest Window is Open!


Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 4th of August, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the fourteenth of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the July Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on July 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

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Meet the Winged Pen Pitch Wars Mentors!

Pitch Wars, Winged Pen Pitch Wars MentorsIt’s Pitch Wars time and this year 4 members of The Winged Pen are sharpening their pencils and cracking their knuckles, getting ready to help a lucky mentee revise their ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT so that it shines in the agent round! We know what awesome advice these ladies have provided on our own manuscripts and we want to make sure anyone considering submitting to Pitch Wars chooses them!

The Winged Pen Pitch Wars mentors are:
Julie Artz and Jessica Vitalis – co-mentoring middle grade
Gabrielle Byrne – mentoring middle grade
Marty Mayberry – mentoring adult

Have you ever been on the other side of a writing contest…submitting? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

Julie: I was a hopeful in 2014, but wasn’t selected. Then I entered a new manuscript in 2015

A photo of author Julie Artz
Photo credit: Gail Werner

and was selected by the amazing Juliana Brandt. She managed to cram what I think of as an intensive MFA into two months, teaching me about story structure and writing emotion and so much more.

I’m a big fan of contests (having also been in Pitch Slam and a few others), but the biggest thing I’ve learned is that everyone needs to find their own path. I didn’t get my agent with my Pitch Wars manuscript, but I still think everything I learned during the contests allowed me to write the manuscript that got me my agent.

Jessica: The one and only writing contest I ever entered was…Pitch Wars! I was absolutely sure my manuscript was as polished as I could make it on my own. After 120+ rejections on my two previous manuscripts, I was desperate for a mentor to help take my work to the next level. Unfortunately, I wasn’t selected. *cue wails of despair*

The good news? I got a call from my agent (who had seen my manuscript during WriteOnCon) offering representation the day after the mentees were announced. This whole experience taught me several valuable lessons: don’t rush the process (after I felt the manuscript was “ready,” I set it aside for a few months and then read/edited with fresh eyes before sending it out, which was something I hadn’t done with the two previous manuscripts), there is no one right path in this industry, and most important of all: NEVER GIVE UP!

Gabrielle: I’ve entered several contests, including Pitch Wars. The first time I entered, I didn’t get in. The second time, I squeaked in as the very last alternate. What did I learn? I learned tons about revision, and diving in, and persisting. I also learned that without fail, the writing community would bolster my spirits and push me forward, if I reached out. That book eventually got me represented, in no small part because of those Pitch Wars revisions.

Along the way, I made some really good friends as well as critique partners, and I’ve had the privilege of watching people I know and love rise to the top of their game and get published.

Marty: I was a PitchWars Alternate in ’13, but got no requests. This hit hard, but I ultimately signed with my agent (for that MS) through a Twitter pitch event. So, hang in there. There are many different paths to success.

 

What draws you into a story?

Julie: There is a magic combination of fresh premise (even in a retelling!), compelling voice, and starting the story at the point where stakes and conflict will come together in the right way to make questions pop into my head as I read. Then I know I’m hooked.

Jessica: Voice, voice, voice, and voice. Oh, and did I mention voice? (Also: an intriguing premise accompanied by superb writing.)

Gabrielle: I want to connect with the character. That’s partly about the voice, but it’s also being clear about what’s at stake, and what those stakes mean to the MC. The world building (fantasy or otherwise) is a huge draw for me too. A well written world can be such a vivid experience, and if it’s accompanied by clear stakes, and a unique voice, it’s pure gold.

Marty: There’s probably an echo here, but Voice. Hook me with a character I want to follow for 80,000 words.

In an ideal world, what would be your plan for working with your mentee?Pitch Wars, Pitch Wars Mentors

Julie: I’m very big-picture oriented. So I’ll be deep diving into the character arc and major plot structure in my edit letter, along with looking for themes, motifs, and imagery that can be used not only to up tension in the story, but to reinforce the character’s arc. I’m also a big believer in homework, so my mentee can expect a list of comp titles to check out, as well as craft articles/blog posts and maybe even books to refer to during revision.

My amazing co-mentor, Jessica Vitalis, is way better with the line edits than I am, although I’ll also take a look for repeated issues like wordy dialogue, junk words, emotional telling, and saggy pace/lagging tension in a second pass.

Jessica:  Typically I start with a detailed (and lengthy) edit letter covering big picture elements (plot, structure, character development, etc.), which leads to a week or two of intense brainstorming. After the big stuff is done, I go crazy with my red pen. Along the way, we’ll get to know each other really well and become critique partners and BFFs (you did say in my ideal world, right?). Of course this year I’m co-mentoring with the inimitable Julie Artz, so we’re going to be double trouble the whole process is going to be extra amazing.

Gabrielle: Like with the other pennies, my mentee will get a long edit letter. Depending on what I think the issues with the manuscript are, I’ll share my thoughts about the pacing and character arcs, the world/setting, the dialogue, the secondary plot lines, the character relationships, and the prose. If there’s a big change–to plot or character–that I want to recommend, I’ll probably already have mentioned it to them, but we’ll have a more in-depth conversation about it early in the process.

It’s possible I’ll give my mentee a week or so of “homework”.  This might consist of reading a book or two critically, with particular things in mind, or it might be short writing exercises to strengthen particular skills, or both. After my mentee’s done their edits, I’ll comb through the manuscript a second time and we’ll tighten things up, and smooth things out. Voila!

Marty: I’m co-mentoring adult with Léonie Kelsall year. We’ll offer our mentee what I gave my prior mentees: Complete read-through with edit letter, ongoing discussion about edits & support as needed, plus a second read-through if there’s time, which will include line edits. We’ll also help with the synopsis, query, and first page/pitch for the agent round. We’ll be there for our mentee after PitchWars when they get requests, offers, etc., and then promote their books when they sell. We’re the complete package. LOL.

Lightening round! Fasten your seat belts!
Favorite writing snack?

Julie: Macadamia nuts or roasted almonds. With oodles of tea, of course.

Jessica: I don’t necessarily have an all-time favorite, but right now I’m on a peanut M&M binge.

Gabrielle: Sourdough toast with almond butter, popcorn with Siracha, or cashews with Thai spices, depending on the scene. Coffee. That’s a snack, right?

Marty: Lately: pickles, especially Sweet Chili Thai. And Earl Grey Tea.

Favorite 5 minute break between writing/revising chapters?

Julie: Twitter! Or loving up on my kitties, who typically sit in my lap while I’m working anyway.

Jessica: I often get cold when I write, so I occasionally do jumping jacks or burpees to warm up.

Gabrielle: 5 minutes? Sheesh. Make coffee, I guess. Light a candle maybe? If I need a real break though, I take a long hot shower, or go on a walk. Both really help work through blocks and problems.

Marty: Walk, walk, walk. I aim for >14,000 steps on my pedometer daily.

Favorite writing craft book?

Julie: Story Genius by Lisa Cron changed my writing life.

Jessica: I’m currently obsessed with Story Engineering.

Gabrielle: My newest obsession is The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird, but I’ve long loved Stein on Writing by Sol Stein as well. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

Marty: Stephen King’s On Writing.

Thanks to Julie, Jessica, Gabby and Marty for being on the blog today! Thanks also to Brenda Drake, queen of Pitch Wars, for hosting the awesome contest and to the whole team that helps her run it!

If you want deep a little deeper on our mentors, you can find last year’s interview of the Winged Pen Pitch War Mentors or click their names below to find their Pitch War bios and wish lists.
Julie Artz
Jessica Vitalis
Gabrielle Byrne
Marty Mayberry

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

 

 

4 on 400 July 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.

 

Working Title: Gravenhurst, Upper MG Fantasy

CHAPTER 1—EVERETT

            Everett opened his hotel room’s closet door, glancing at the mirror that reflected his sleepy eyes and blond, bed-head hair. His reflections in the mirror hanging on the other door directly behind him followed the previous one, but instead of getting smaller they were all the same size. And, one of the reflections was an ugly, yellow-green face. He rubbed his eyes. This shouldn’t be.

            He looked again, no strange face glared back. What’s going on? Another one of his imagi-morning experiences. Every morning for the past week he’d seen the strange, ugly green face. He thought it was because he was hungry or maybe because he was not sleeping as well as he did in his own bed.

            Hunger. That’s what it was.

He shrugged, and reached for a shirt.

A large black bat exploded out of the closet. Its wings brushed Everett’s head, then it circled above him.

            “Get away!” Everett ducked, waving his arms wildly as he ran around the around the room, avoiding the circling bat.

            The bat, about the size of a dove, with weird, oversized, red eyes, hovered near the ceiling. Everett stood still. His heart pounded and his chest heaved from huge gulps of air. He grabbed a wooden hanger and swung at the bat, missing each time. It moved faster than any bat Everett had ever seen as it flew toward the suite’s sitting room at the end of the hall. When he got there, the bat was gone. It had to be hiding. He poked the hanger behind a dark blue velvet couch, four wingback chairs, and matching dark blue velvet drapes.

Nothing.

            Bats couldn’t just disappear. Or … appear…

Everett wouldn’t have been as startled if the bat was in their barn back in Michigan. Besides, how could a bat that size get inside a downtown London hotel? The windows couldn’t be opened.

And something else …

Those large, bright red eyes that had followed his every move.

            Everett checked his photographic memory, mentally paging through each science book and nature magazine. Bats’ eyes were black or brown, but the cones inside the eyes reflected red from a flashlight. There were no red eyed bats … and no flashlight.

            After several slow, deep breaths, Everett noticed a pink sticky note on the coffee table:

Meet us in the restaurant downstairs.

Tell Jillian to hurry up.

Mom.

Jessica Vitalis: What an interesting opening; thanks for sharing! I love the idea of a bat attacking a boy in a London hotel room and appreciated the details you used (velvet couch and wingback chairs, etc.). The first couple of paragraphs didn’t necessarily do their job in terms of pulling me in to the story; my suggestion would be to start with Everett opening the closet door in the hotel and having the bat swoop out at him–maybe he even has the imagi-morning experience as his gaze sweeps past the mirror but it’s within the context of trying to get this bat out of his room (i.e. a passing glance in the mirror), which I think could be expanded quite a bit before revealing that the bat disappears. The action will suck us in and you can layer in details as far as traveling and not sleeping well, etc. as the action unfolds. Good luck!

Julie Artz: I’d love to read a MG fantasy about a boy with a photographic memory and a quirky voice (loved the “imagi-morning experiences”), but I agree with Jessica that this opening didn’t draw me in as much as I wished it had. Starting with a mirror felt a little cliche and jumping between the yellow-green face and the bat felt like too much for the opening scene. I wasn’t sure where my attention was supposed to be focused. I’d like to know a little bit more about what Everett wants in this scene–is he worried someone else will see the bat or that he’ll get in trouble? Why is he chasing it? What is he going to do now that it has disappeared? Maybe slow down a bit and immerse us more in this bat scene as a set-up for whatever is going to come next. Good luck!

Gabrielle Byrne: I think you’re on the right track with your active verbs and sharing some setting details (I also liked the wingback chairs), but it feels too busy to me. I think it may be that you’ve started in the wrong place, which happens a lot with drafting, to authors at all stages. I think we need to bond more with Everett–care more about him, to care about these weird things he’s experiencing. Who is he, and why is he in London instead of Michigan, and how does he feel about being there? If he’s been having these experiences the last few days, what’s that doing to him? We know he’s tired, but what is that like for him, and is he scared to look in the mirror–afraid of it happening again? Try backing the scene up a little, to when he’s thinking about just getting up, since he can’t sleep anyway. Play with this first page and try writing it a few different ways, focusing down on what it would be like to be Everett and what’s at stake for him in these first few moments. Good luck!

Marty Mayberry: What a creative premise! I love the idea of a yellow-green face in the mirror and a red-eyed bat bursting from the closet. You’ve done a great job describing the scene, as well as feeding in little details about Everett, without making this feel cumbersome. As others have noted, that first paragraph didn’t draw me in as much as I’d hoped. Starting with action (seeing the ugly, yellow-green face in the mirror) felt rushed. My preference is to be introduced to a character before things start to happen to him. I also wasn’t sure of Everett’s age in this initial scene. The fact that he was alone in a hotel room led me to believe Everett was an adult. Perhaps backing up and starting with an introduction to Everett and why he is alone in the hotel room (i.e., his parents are waiting downstairs, he has to hurry or xx will happen, etc.) will help ground the reader. Then you can introduce the face/bat. All the best with this!

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The July #Fouron400 Contest Window is OPEN!

Q: What is Four on 400? 

A monthly contest that provides ONE LUCKY MG or YA WRITER with feedback on their opening 400 WORDS! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a MG or YA writer feedback on their work from four of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 4pm (EST) on the 5th of July, one winner will be randomly drawn from the Triwizard Cup. The winner will be notified and given 24 hours to submit his or her opening 400 WORDS. On the fourteenth of the month, the winner’s words, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from four of our members. Still have questions? See our Four on 400 page for additional details.

If you’re not sure how to leave a comment, check our FAQ page!

*Please check your email SPAM filter to make sure it will allow an email from info@thewingedpen.com

Want a chance to win an extra entry? Go to our Facebook page and find our post about the July Four on 400 contest. Then like and/or share our post. While you’re there, like our Facebook page if you haven’t already!

Remember, the contest window is only open until 4pm EST on July 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

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