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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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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Four on 400: June 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: Patty Pat

Lower Middle Grade

Patty had nightmares about feeding the roosters, but the hens were sweet. She looked forward to their soothing cackles and bright eyes. They fluttered and jumped with excitement when she rounded the corner of the garage carrying a big bowl of carrot and potato peelings and leftover breakfast mush.

Patty tipped half the contents of the bowl onto the floor of the hen shed and watched the hens play with pieces of carrot and peck at the mush. The little brown hen hung back and then darted forward to get her share while the big speckled hens fought over a long piece of carrot peel.

Reluctantly Patty moved to the other side of the shed where the fighting roosters strutted and crowed in their cages. They were prettier than the hens, all reds and greens, shining purple-black feathers and swooping tails. They were also mean, beady-eyed, and sneakier than any villain the Lone Ranger thwarted on the radio. They stared hungrily at Patty and scratched up the dust in their cages with hard, curved claws.

Feeding the roosters made Patty wish she were one of the two big girls who helped Mother with the sewing and heavy housework. Or one of the two little girls with easy chores like feeding old sleepy Ming Chow, who had never nipped anybody. Ever. Patty felt stuffed between her sisters, and not just when they piled into the Buick, the little girls on the big girls’ laps, Patty squeezed between with the back of the front seat for a view.

Imitating the brown hen, Patty quickly opened each cage door and tossed food inside. Still she was pecked twice and nipped once. She had just darted in to check the latch on the last of the cages when she heard the Buick pull into the driveway. Dad was early. Maybe he was going to Three Lakes after dinner.

“Got the chickens fed, Patty Pat?” asked Dad. “Fed and watered,” Patty replied. Patty and Dad climbed the back steps together. Dad took off his hat inside the little screened porch and set it on the shelf.

Patty could see Joan and Connie already at the kitchen table swinging their feet as they waited for Mother to bring them stew and biscuits. There were only five places set. The big girls must be decorating for a dance. Or maybe they were at a movie.

 

Kristi: I love this setting. It’s reminiscent of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, which I read and re-read as a kid. A few things will really tighten this up and get the story moving. Your first line is only okay to me. I’d love it to have more punch. The entire first paragraph can be condensed to really draw in your readers. I’d suggest something along these lines:

Patty had nightmares about feeding the roosters, but the hens were sweet. She looked forward to their soothing cackles and bright eyes. The hens fluttered and jumped with excitement when Patty rounded the corner of the garage carrying a big bowl of vegetable peelings and leftover breakfast mush.

In your 2nd paragraph you overuse the word “hen.” In fact, I’d cut it and move on to paragraph 3 because that’s where I feel like you’ve hit your stride. I like the mention of the Lone Ranger and the radio and the family car. All of these things really set up where we are and what her life is like. Also, I loved that you planted a few things like dad being home early and not sure where the sisters are– this works perfectly in making me wonder if somethings up.

Karin: I completely agree with Kristi’s comments. I really like how you manage to anchor us authentically in place and time.  I would suggest tightening a little more and perhaps giving us a little more sense of what Patty wants. All we know is she’d rather be sewing with the big girls than feeding the hens and roosters. I love the reference to the Lone Ranger but would would cut one of the three adjectives describing the roosters. In paragraph five, I was confused as to how Patty was imitating the brown hen. Also, I would add “rooster” in here to remind us that she’s feeding them now. Also, not sure what the difference is between pecked and nipped. The ending makes me want to read more so I can find out why the older sisters aren’t there. Well done and good luck!

Gabrielle: Your prose is lovely–simple and evocative. I’m right with Patty Pat in the hen house. I agree with Kristi about too much use of the word “hen”, and would add that you also repeat “mush” too frequently. I would keep the first sentence of your first paragraph, but move it to the end of that paragraph. It gives us some good tension, with her fear of the roosters, but you could flesh it out a little with some details of the nightmares. Does she just have to feed them again and again in her sleep, until she wakes in a cold sweat, or do they get huge and chase her, or something different? Your line about the radio is a very clever way to show us we’re not in today’s hen house.

Overall, I think this is a great beginning, and it reminds me some of A YEAR DOWN YONDER by Richard Peck, though I do wonder a little about what’s going to be at stake. Hopefully, there will be an upping of the tension fast. You’ve got a good set-up with her being smashed between her sisters, but I want to see her decide to do something about it, or for there to be hints of something huge coming toward her that will throw a wrench in her life–soon. For example, In A YEAR DOWN YONDER, the heroine is leaving her mother and the life she knew behind, thrown into her crazy Grandmother’s life to make her way. She’s miserable, and we see every moment of her longing for home. As an aside, the scene you paint is easy to see, but I think you could also squeeze in a detail or two about Patty’s physical appearance that would help us see her better. Also, please mention what kind of creature Ming Chow is, so we can see her too! Nice work.

Rebecca: I like this start! We definitely see Patty is stuck in the middle of a large family and get a good sense for her life on the farm. Like the other’s, I’d like to know what the story’s about. Is Patty’s goal to be seen as one of the “big girls?” But this is only 400 words and I like your writing, so I’d keep reading.

 

The June #FourOn400 Kidlit Writing Contest is Now 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 June, 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 June 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 June 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

 May The Fourth be with you…

 

4 on 400: May 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.

Biting Secrets

YA Paranormal Romance

It happened the day the world went dark. Meteorologists still have no explanation. Experts blame the lining of the planets–others propose NASA blocked the sun’s rays with some experimental exposition. In my opinion, the Earth stopped rotating that day. At least, it did for me.

I’m scrubbing my surfboard for the third time tonight. It’s gleaming, ensnaring me with hopeful operation, but I won’t bend to its will. Not now, not ever again.

“Abigail,” his voice calls over the two-way radio.

I scrub harder, stripping it of the lies, its betrayal, of its vivid bloody warranty.

“Abigail, it’s going to disintegrate.”

I glance over my shoulder, sighing. Lucas leans against his balcony, smirking at me. His wild ringlets are sculpted to the base of his head, indicating fatigue.

I groan and grab my radio. “What do you want, Lucas?”

“You can’t scare me away, ice queen. It’s a full moon.”

I sigh, standing to face him. Lucas and I have been toying with walkie talkies since we were ten years old. We only live a few feet from each other, our balconies peering over the water at proportionate levels. On a serene night, our voices even stretch within reach. But tonight, the waves crash with ferocious intentions, snapping and snarling in an undulating captivity.

I hold the receiver to my lips. “Is this our new normal? Every time the moon is full, you bother me?”

“It depends,” he says. “Are you going to rub your board raw with every full moon?”

I glare at him–his gut-wrenching grin caked on a chiseled platter–and I can’t help but smile.

“Well, you know how I see it.”

I laugh, shaking my head. “Right, I have two options.”

“One, you run away with me. We can even go to the desert for all I care.”

“Or two, I surf again,” I mock him.

We linger in tarried silence under the loud moon. I’m weary with its volume, but I remember it clearly the night I was attacked: massive, scarring, morbid. I sigh as the waves crash in the distance–thunder orchestrating between the swells–and I try to ignore my synapses as they fire off salty images.

“Seeing as we’re only sixteen,” I finally break the silence, “I don’t think option one is on the roster.”

“Which leads to option two–my favorite option.”

Rebecca: You have an intriguing first paragraph. I like that it sets the stage for a paranormal story. I’d love more clarity on is what the night was like, other than dark. What does it feel like to have the planet stop rotating? How long has it been dark? The characters do not seem to be acting like something out of the ordinary is going on and if they did, that would act as a bridge between the opening and the intro to your characters.

The relationship between Abigail and Lucas sounds promising, but here were also some things that didn’t come across clearly. The surfboard “ensnaring me with hopeful operation,” the loud moon and “his gut-wrenching grin caked on a chiseled platter.” You need a bit more for the meaning to be clear to the reader.

Best of luck with this project!

Halli: I’m intrigued from the first paragraph. What happened that day? Why did the world go dark? It must be something huge if NASA can’t figure out what happened. I second what Rebecca said about wanting more information on this. You can still introduce the characters, but a suggestion would be to do so in relation to the dark event. By diving into the characters in an event like that, readers would be able to see and feel another side of them. One filled with deep emotion like fear. One more thought as I read this, I feel there are too many adjectives. It slowed down the reading for me and did not highlight those that were most important. Thanks so much for sharing! I love YA paranormal. Good luck!

Richelle: You’ve set up a super interesting premise, with a lot of interesting questions — how do they know when it’s day and when it’s night if it’s dark all the time? How are they coping on the other side of the world where it’s always day? What’s happening with food/crops? How has it impacted the animals and the weather? Fascinating! Because that was so intriguing, I found the conversation not holding my attention as much as it should. Can you feather in the information in that first paragraph as you go through the story, rather than dropping it up front? I also agree with Rebecca and Halli that you might consider using clearer language and fewer descriptors, especially up front. I love your creativity, but a few times, it took me right out of your story. Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

Gita: The world went dark? Count me in! I love the idea that something is happening on a cosmic level right at the beginning of your story and that it somehow may mirror what’s happening with these two teenagers. So yes, I’m intrigued. In that first paragraph, though, I’m a little unclear about what your narrator says when she notes, “At least it did for me”—does that mean the world didn’t go dark for others? Or is this a comment on something else? I’d clarify that. You’ve received so much good feedback above I don’t have much to add beyond a couple of suggestions for how to tame your metaphors, which as my fellow Pennies have said, confuse/distract rather than deepen our understanding of what’s happening. One, because you’re telling the story in first person POV, all these metaphors are ones Abigail is creating, since she’s the one telling the story. Is she really thinking of Lucas’s grin as “gut-wrenching” and “caked on a chiseled platter”? Two, you might consider honing the metaphors so they belong to one family of metaphors at a time (about the moon, or waves, for example) and simplify each metaphor says only one thing at a time, like “gut-wrenching.” Three—which is connected to my first point—these metaphors are a chance for you to show us who Abigail is and how she thinks. You’ve got a flair for words—now make those words work double-time for you. Happy writing!

Gabrielle: My favorite part starts with the dialogue, “Abigail, it’s going to disintegrate.” and ends with “within reach.”  In that section you’re revealing a relationship by having one character react to the actions of another. More importantly, he reacts to what those actions tell him. It’s got depth. You’re also painting the scene really well, without distracting us with some of the too-heavy prose that my fellow Pennies have pointed out above. Sometimes it’s the simplest language that is the most poignant, because it serves the characters.  It will be the people and what makes them special that will draw us in and keep us. Paint them first, and make us love them. Thank you for sharing your writing with us, and good luck!

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4 on 400: April 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.

 

Casey Buckles and the Keeper of the Ice Caves

Middle-Grade Adventure

Casey Buckles clutched the torn note, certain its words would lead to his death. He’d found the paper, jammed between the fridge and kitchen cabinet. Thinking it a lost homework page, he plucked it out, horrified at the one sentence.

He sank back in the bus’s musty seat, squeezing his hand around the ominous message. The rickety old coach jostled him about as it bumped along the dirt road. A cold sweat blanketed his arm making it look like the surface of a wet peach. He closed his eyes. The load of noisy kids and vinyl odor made his head swim with scenes of his demise: a slow death, trapped in a pool of water, freezing over.

The grayish paper lay limp across his palm as he unfurled his fingers. Although its contents freaked him out, he hadn’t shown it to his mom. She’d already been hiding her tears at him leaving. This would’ve sent her over the edge.

He smoothed the paper across his thigh to reread the chicken scratch:

Marty, your family, danger, killing, get to the ice caves.

A shiver tingled down his back at his dad’s name. His boring family being in danger was laughable, but he cursed his father all the same for sending him off to these mountains in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. His hand tremored as he hoped the note was nothing, a joke. After all, he was just going to summer camp—a camp with ice caves.

Outside the window, a dense forest slid by. Pine trees lined the road, offering peeks into the deep darkness beyond. A skittish brown squirrel flew up a tree trunk, disappearing into a shadowy knothole. Casey would’ve liked to join the squirrel. He contemplated sneaking out the bus’s emergency exit to take his chances in the forest. Bigfoot would be cake, compared to four weeks at camp, with a bunch of strangers—oh, and dying.

Enough. He clenched his jaw. His imagination might be off base with the note, but he had to be prepared to keep his family safe. Even if he knew he’d probably fail. He wasn’t athletic, couldn’t swim, and was scared of bees. Yeah, the honey making kind. How could he keep himself safe, let alone his parents?

He pulled a tablet from his backpack, giving the screen a couple of swipes to display the camp’s webpages he’d downloaded last night.

 

Sussu: Thank you for choosing The Winged Pen and trusting us with your work. First of all, I have to say well-done. This is a nice beginning with high stakes. There is a disturbance and I know what the story is about. However, 1) The pace is fast, so fast the passage sounds more like a summary. Show Casey’s reaction when he picks up the paper, his astonishment, the fear growing in his heart, and explain why he would take this threat/warning seriously. Would he hide something that would put his family in danger? 2) Although I appreciate the fact that Casey is facing the problem alone, I thought the initiative and the voice felt very mature. This being said, the writing ran smoothly and was engaging and this is something I would read. Good luck.

Jessica: This sounds like an intriguing story and I love your use of detail (vinyl odor, wet peach, etc.). However, I agree with Sussu that there is quite a bit of room for fleshing all of this out; as it stands, there are several items that might confuse the reader. In particular, it’s not clear why Casey would take the threat seriously, especially since we are told that the thought of his family being in danger is laughable. It’s also not clear why he’d be imagining his own death (trapped in a pool of freezing water) so vividly. Finally, I’d encourage you to flesh out how/why he feels responsible for keeping his family safe–since he’s left his family behind, what makes him think there’s anything he can or might be expected to do? The way the note is written, it sounds to me like he’ll be safe at camp and thus should be more worried about the family he left behind. Thank you for sharing your work and best of luck with your revisions!

Laurel: Are there really ice caves in Idaho? What a fascinating setting! This passage made me think about how to decide what information to withhold and what to reveal. I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to suppress the contents of the note. It almost feels like the suspense would be greater if we knew what it said up front. Say, right after the one horrifying sentence. 🙂 If Casey then thought about all the reasons this message was bad, the tension could still escalate in the same way you’ve built it in here. Are there words missing in the sentence because Casey can’t quite make out the chicken scratch handwriting? The message’s contents could get more attention from the reader if that handwriting hint was a touch broader. I was a little puzzled that Casey thinks about keeping his family safe. The note is addressed to the father, so I thought Casey was in danger. (Hence the icy pools.) There’s a lot of nice detail in this passage that makes the setting feel real. Best wishes for many readers!!

Julie: I agree with everything that’s been said. You’ve got an exciting premise, a fabulous character name, and some intriguing details. But slowing this passage down will help draw the reader in more in this first scene. You’re trying to grab us with an intriguing first line (which is important), but since the next two sentence jump into a the past and then the next paragraph jumps forward–from the kitchen where the note was found to the bus–it’s a little jarring. I also wanted some more details about this world to give us a stronger sense of whether he’s in a present-day world or a magical/alternate world. Some of the words evoke a classic or old-timey feel (rickety old coach, ominous message, shadowy knothole), but then he’s sitting in a vinyl bus seat, swiping a tablet, and using slang like “cake” that feels much more modern. Address these few small things and I think you’ll have a winner!

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The April #Fouron400 Kidlit Writing Contest Window is now 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 April, 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 April 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 April 5th, so don’t wait––enter now! Good Luck!

Four on 400: March 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.

 

HEART OF THE HUDSON

MG Historical Fiction

“When I see the likes o’ ‘im,” Mrs. Macgregor bellowed, lumbering into the kitchen and across the freshly scrubbed floor, “I’ll give ‘im a slap on the ear!”

Cara ducked her head and curled into a ball as she knelt by the wash bucket on the floor.

“When ‘e fancies showin’ up, send ‘im in ‘ere,” Mrs. Macgregor said and huffed out of the kitchen through the drawing room door.

Cara pushed herself to her feet and surveyed the trail of footprints. “Ugh,” she groaned, knowing she’d have to start over. If the floors weren’t spotless, she’d pay for it later.

The back door opened a crack and Will peeked through the opening.

“Well, speak of the devil,” Cara said, glaring at him.

Will lifted a finger to his lips, shushing her. “Where’s Igor?” he whispered, using the nickname they called Mrs. Macgregor.

“Follow the footprints,” Cara said, angrily gesturing with a sweep of her hand.

Will eased the door open, but stood awkwardly in the entrance.

“You were supposed to be here hours ago.” Cara dropped the brush into the bucket and droplets of water littered the floor.

“I lost track of time.” Will raised his arm, hoisting a line of fish in front of him. “This should make her happy!”

“Your fish don’t fool me. What have you been up to?”

Cara planted her hands on her hips and rose to her full height. She still only reached the top of his shoulder, so she narrowed her eyes disapprovingly.

“You sound more like Igor every day.” Will frowned as he stepped through the doorway.

Cara ignored his biting remark. “I can tell you’re up to no good. There’s something different about you.” She wrinkled her nose. “I could smell you before I could see you, so it’s not a girl you’re trying to impress.”

She took in her older brother’s ruffled appearance – his knee-worn pants and ill-fitting shirt that exposed two inches of forearm. Will squirmed as Cara looked him over from head to toe, like he was a prized hog at the market. Will’s curly, black hair was matted and he sported the ever present dirt smudges on his face.

Honestly,” she said. “How can a person who practically lives on the water get so dirty?”

Fear prickled along her skin. Will’s blue eyes sparkled – almost feverishly. “You’ve been out to the ship!” she gasped.

Gita: Thank you for sharing the beginning of THE HEART OF THE HUDSON with us. I love (and write) historical fiction and by the time I got to the disparity between Cara’s fear and Will’s feverish excitement over the mysterious ship, I was eager to read on. Because beginnings are so important, I’d love to see you get the reader to that point more directly. I’m curious about your choice to start with Mrs Macgregor—in particular, with her dialogue. Not only is it in dialect, but your story’s first lines are uttered by a character who soon exits the scene. My preference—both in writing and reading—is to use word choice and word order to convey dialect. For me, changing the spelling would be a last resort if I felt the character’s voice wasn’t clear enough. I’m also wondering: do you need to start the scene with Mrs Macgregor? Another option would be to see how it feels starting with your protagonist Cara, bent over the wash bucket, just before Will comes in, at which point Cara’s angry statement, “You were supposed to be here hours ago,” introduces the real action and gets us closer to the conflict. Good luck with this! Happy writing!

Laurel: I really enjoyed the strong moment at the end. I felt Cara putting the pieces together to come to a conclusion. The excitement about the ship jumps right off the page. As a reader, I’m in the moment. I want to know what’s going to happen with that ship. This line really gives us Will’s personality: “‘Where’s Igor?’ he whispered, using the nickname they called Mrs. Macgregor.” Personally, I find it challenging to begin a story with a line of dialogue. It took me years to realize that SHOW DON’T TELL doesn’t always apply to the first line of a story. A quick sketch of setting or situation is a much more efficient start. So, I say, be brave, go ahead and TELL at the beginning. And then don’t TELL anywhere else. For example: “Will lifted a finger to his lips, shushing her.” is a SHOW AND TELL. For example, “lifted a finger to his lips” SHOWS what “shushing her” TELLS. I always cut the TELL when I find these in my own writing. Two little details: who is Will trying to impress? What kind of living on the water keeps you clean? A tiny bit more of Cara’s thought process could set the reader up nicely for the realization at the end. Looks like a lively story!

 Gabrielle: Thanks so much for sharing your story! I think You’ve got some great character development right at the start, and I’m especially fond of the way Cara draws herself up to look at Will. We get a sense of both her character, and her appearance in relation to him, which is great. I agree with Laurel that it would be better not to start with a line of dialog. You can give us some more setting and sensory experience that will draw us closer to Cara before you dive into the stakes. Even a sentence or two will do a lot to pull us further into the scene. I think Igor’s (their nickname is too funny) dialect is a little too much. You can achieve the same effect, and tone it back. It’s a little distracting. I really like the twist of the last sentence, where she figures out what he’s been up to, but you defuse it by naming the emotion. You can give us a little more of her experience in the moment here, to go with her physical reaction, and then trust your reader. If an idea of where he’s been comes to her, wafting on a thick scent of mudflats and seawater–and if then her skin prickles and her stomach drops, we’re going to know she’s figured out something that scares her. I’d love to learn more about that intriguing ship!

Halli: Thank you so much for sharing your work! I love when people go for it. It’s a scary, but necessary part of our industry. First let me say I really like Cara and Will! I can see myself following them on many adventures and I don’t even know what they’re up to yet 🙂  I do like the way you really put Cara’s personality out there – by having her rise to her full height even though she’s shorter than Will – as just one example. She is definitely the more level-headed one of the two. As some of the others mentioned, I was thrown a bit by the first sentence. I read it a few times before I really got it. Is introducing this character necessary at the very beginning? The way you described Cara with the bucket and her dismay at the footprints clearly shows her position and situation. I enjoyed the last half of the submission even more and found myself trying to figure out where Will had been right along with Cara.

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