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!

 

8 on Eight Contest Window is Now Open!

eight on eight 2Fellow writers! The 8 on Eight contest window is OPEN!fireworks-1759_640

 

Q: I must have missed the announcement. What is 8 on Eight? 

A monthly contest that provides one lucky kidlit writer with feedback on their opening eight lines! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a PB, CB, MG, or YA writer feedback on their work from at least 8 of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 8pm (EST) on the last day of November, 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 eight lines. On the eighth of the month, the winner’s eight lines, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from at least 8 of our members. Still have questions? See our 8 on Eight page for additional details.

Remember, the contest window is only open until 8pm EST on December 1st, so don’t wait––enter now!

Best of luck! (And please help spread the word!)

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8 on Eight Feedback for November Winner: Jill Andrew’s INDIGO WAVES

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.

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 November 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.

p1050665 INDIGO WAVES by Jill Andrews

Genre: Young Adult (Contemporary Sci-fi)

 

Freedom, I decided, tastes like salt water. Using a plastic beach shovel for a paddle, I stroked away from my island prison, toward the Gulf Coast in my tiny boat, although calling my contraption a boat may have been a stretch. Twelve detergent bottles, acquired from the school laundry department, were strung together to form a loose circle. A large rainslicker, attached to the ropes with bungees, offered a kind of floating nest in the center.

I paddled until my arms shook and my muscles burned from the effort. The gentle swells that had lapped against the beach were just high enough to make seeing me from the shore difficult. As I paddled further away from the island and the storm clouds moved in, the swells intensified to a relentless four-to-six-foot ascent, followed each time by a stomach churning plunge.

Gripping the plastic shovel against my chest with one hand, I clung to the flimsy rope with the other.

Julie Artz: I love that first line! You’ve provided some great details about the MC’s home-made escape boat, which draws the reader right in to this adventure story. That said, I want a little bit more in this opening about the stakes–what is MC fleeing, and what will happen if s/he is caught by the people she’s trying to escape? That sense of fear/danger will up the tension in the opening and, when combined with the great details you already have, will make this story shine.

Michelle Leonard: Fantastic opening that pulls me in immediately. You’ve included many lovely details, but I’d like just another word or two here and there so I can understand how worried I should be for the MC and how bad the MC’s experience has been in the prison (no long backstory, just a few well-placed adjectives). A few more questions that came up as I read: Is the rainslicker truly a nest or a shade? Is this most likely going to be a short journey. Again, a few simple words will make this all clear and help us understand the stakes. Nice work! I’m very intrigued. Best of luck and stay in touch with us to let us know how it goes.

Gita: Your opening really drew me in—I would certainly keep reading to find out what’s happening and why! I second (third?) what Julie and Michelle said: I’d love some emotional underpinning for the main character here. It doesn’t need to be wordy, but it needs to be there. Also, I’m wondering if could make some of your words count even more. For example, the third sentence is a passive construction. By choosing that construction you miss opportunities to reveal some backstory and show us something about the main character. Who tied the detergent bottles together? Was it the MC? If so, “I’d tied the detergent bottles together” shows us more than “were tied.” Likewise, “acquired” doesn’t tell us much. Were the bottles “stolen,” “snitched,” “scavenged,” “pawned,” “liberated” or something else entirely?

A minor formatting suggestion: your first line is so terrific I’d think about setting it off apart from the rest of the paragraph. Good luck with your writing!

Jessica: This is a very intriguing opening! By way of feedback, I’ll say that I was slightly confused in the opening paragraph. When I read that the MC was paddling away from an island prison, I took this quite literally. But then when I read about the school laundry department, I wasn’t sure if the MC was really in some type of prison or perhaps at some type of remote boarding school that made the MC feel imprisoned (I’m inclined to think the latter since I’m not sure if there would be a school in a prison, but I’m not certain). Good luck with this story!

Richelle: Great opening line! I was immediately intrigued. I’m with Jessica in being a bit confused about whether the prison was literal or metaphorical, and details like the plastic beach shovel and the mention of the school made me lean to the metaphorical. I also agree that some notion of the stakes would be helpful — even when the storm rolled in, I didn’t get a sense of urgency. It seemed more like an inconvenience than a life-or-death adversary. Had your MC been tracking the storm before he/she left? What about pursuers? Are there any? Are there sharks or other threats from the water? Has she left anything or anyone behind that colors her journey with regret? Or is she just anxious to get away? That first line is so evocative of what she’s feeling, but the rest of the opening takes us out of her state of mind and into her physical state. I wonder if you could pin the description of the raft and the journey more closely to her emotional journey, if that might make everything else pop as much as the first line does?

Halli:  I agree with everyone about your first line. It is definitely one of my favorites! Your writing is very nice, it flows well, and your descriptions are well done. I could see enhancing it with word choices, as I think Gita mentioned. I am on the same page with everyone above when they say that they are missing who your character is. Just a few words or sentences about who he/she is fleeing, a brief hint as to why, and then the emotions that go along with those revelations. Should we be afraid for the character? Cheer he/she on? And as the journey goes on, is there terror/anxiety about the approaching storm and swells? Your opening is intriguing! Good luck with this.

Rebecca: This sounds like the start to an intriguing story. I love the first line. It grounds us in your character’s motivation. I can also see from the way you’ve described the raft that she’s no limp protagonist, ready to take on the sea and a storm for what she wants, freedom.

I might like more emotion in the beginning. How does she feel about being aboard the makeshift raft? I get that she’s tired, but wouldn’t she be nervous if not outright frightened to be on the sea with this dodgy raft? I also feel like a tighter focus on her perspective would make the situation even more tense. You mention the view of her from shore. But what about her view? She’s not on shore so I’m not sure I buy that they can’t see her. I’d buy something along the lines of, “I couldn’t see the shoreline over the swells. Hopefully that meant they couldn’t see me.” Also, as the waves start reaching four feet…that’s really big in the type of raft she’s in. Can you “zoom in?” I like the “stomach churning plunge” and I’d like even more. What’s the situation of the raft – e.g. is it holding together or looking like the next wave might pull it apart? And how does she feel going up the swell, then crashing back down. It’s such a great visual, I’d really like to see it. It would naturally lead into more thoughts from her on why freedom is so important to her that it’s worth this risk. Of course all that would take you more than 8 lines. *face palm* But would hook the reader even more, I think.

Thinking bigger picture, I wonder if this is the right place to start. From reading this bit, I’d love to see our protagonist sneaking around to steal the Clorox bottles or other supplies. Or getting a glimpse of how she’s treated in her island prison–what it is that makes her desperate to escape. It might show us even more of your character’s strength and determination, and we’d be more invested in  her success by the time she was facing those 4 foot waves at sea.

Note: I didn’t read the prior comments to make my read “distinct.” Hope I didn’t just contradict everyone. Best of luck with your story!

Laurel: That’s an exciting opening to a story! Talk about setting your main character loose at sea in an unseaworthy craft! So, is the first line hinting at disaster? Drinking saltwater is a good way to go into convulsions, so I wasn’t sure if the narrator doesn’t know (yet) that drinking saltwater would be a bad idea. (If I’ve gone off on an unintended tangent, maybe it would better to have freedom’s scent like saltwater?) The boat is brilliant and vivid in my mind. The contrast of nest and the wobbly-ness of the whole construction makes me properly nervous. I’m trying to reconcile the school laundry with prison and getting a bit puzzled. Is prison metaphorical for school or is there a school in the prison? I’m wondering about the level of danger for the narrator. Also the swells “were just high enough to make seeing me from the shore difficult.” lowers the tension. Why not keep the tension up and make the narrator worry about that too? 🙂 Nice strong verbs and spare language. The tone is almost clinically detached in this opening. If it’s concealing a deeper emotional turmoil, maybe that could be hinted at a bit more. If the MC reminds him/herself that this isn’t the time to think about X,Y, and Z concerns, that would work too. Now I wonder what’s going to happen next. . .a sure sign that your first eight lines are doing their work.

Thanks for sharing your story with The Winged Pen!

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8 on Eight: October Contest Feedback

eight on eight 2

Thank 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.

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 October 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.

Bear with Bear – A picture book about an unusual child who wishes to have an unusual pet.

Bear was exploring a maggot he found in an apple.
“I think you’ll be a scientist like me when you grow up,” Dad said with a smile.
“Yeah!” Bear waved the magnifying glass. “And I’ll have my pet maggot and even a pet snake!”
“Yuck, snakes,” Bear’s little sister, Penelope, said. Then she noticed the maggot and mouthed a long eww.
“What’s that?” Mom twisted up her mouth at the sight of the maggot. “Someone might eat that by mistake,” she said, and threw Bear’s pet into the garbage disposal.

 

Gita: Thanks for sharing this with us! I love this concept. The idea of a strange and unusual pet is charming and I think both children and parents will find it fun. I like that you will be opening their minds to all sorts of new pet possibilities!:) I feel sympathy for Bear when his mom throws his maggot into the garbage disposal, but I wondered if the family as a whole wasn’t a little too familiar or predictable. There’s the adventurous boy, the scientist dad, the little sister who doesn’t like maggots or snakes, and the squeamish mom. Might you consider giving each one a twist that would make them feel more fresh?

Jessica: This is a fun idea! I agree with Gita that it feels somewhat predictable; perhaps looks for a fresh way to introduce the story that will heighten the emotional stakes. Right now, it reads that Bear just found the maggot (he hasn’t even named it yet) so we don’t feel an emotional impact when Mom throws it away. Good luck!

Kristi: Thanks for entering and congratulations on being chosen! I agree with the above comments so I won’t rehash what’s already been said. My first thought is actually concerning your first line. You’re writing about a strange, interesting and new pet– a maggot! There’s got to be a  really exciting way to start this story off. A stand-out first line will grab your reader. It’ll give Bear a voice that immediately creates that bond Jessica hinted at. All the  best as you move forward with this project!

Michelle: So cute and kids love books about creatures that make us squeamish like maggots and snakes! I agree with all of the above and think Kristi’s idea to add some punch to your opening line will go a long way in drawing in your young reader’s interest! For ideas on writing great opening lines, you might want to check this post! I’d also suggest that you think about what can be shown in illustration to leave out unnecessary words like “said Dad with a smile.” I’m a little confused about “A picture book about an unusual child who wishes to have an unusual pet” because we’re talking about a bear not a child. And what makes him unusual. We should probably get a sense of this immediately. Best wishes on your writing! Keep in touch!

Sussu: Thank you for submitted your writing to our contest. Picture books are still hot and we need more.

First of all, I really like the idea of the story: an unusual child who wants an unusual pet. That tells me diversity is going to be on the menu, and more diverse books is a great idea. I was engaged by the story from the start. I felt so disappointed not to know the ending. You got me. The story also shows kids that even a maggot is important and we should care for and respect every living creature. This powerful theme will probably appeal to children. I also like the family dynamics. I could feel the energy and every bear’s personality. I think the story will do just fine. I was hooked and the mention of the maggot surprised me, which is really what you want to do too. My only concern about this story is the diversity. Bear stories are the staple of many childhood, so maybe a different character might work better or surprise us more. Think of a family of birds caring for a maggot. Now, that would be something else. As an illustrator, I see more potential with a character we do not expect. I agree with Michelle that if your intention is to show an unusual character, then go wild with the idea. Being unusual could be interpreted in so many ways; the character could have an handicap too. When we write stories, it is always a good idea to think of our readers and to reach out to all audiences.

This being said, this story is charming and I can see the appeal. Good luck with it.

Julie I agree with what’s been said. Stories with gross factor and unusual twists like a pet maggot seem to have lasting appeal with target age group for PBs (3-5 year-olds), but this needs a fresh angle to stand out. So what can you do to draw the reader into Bear’s story in a fresh way? Make us empathize with his desire for a new, unusual pet, make us sad when the maggot goes down the drain, and make us cheer for him when he eventually (I hope) saves the maggot from the disposal. Is there anything you can do that will turn the traditional gender stereotypes in the current draft on their head? Take the kernel of story you’ve got here and do some brainstorming to see what you come up with. Best of luck!

Richelle: Thank you for sharing! Like my fellow Pennies, I liked the idea of an unusual pet — my children are riveted by the myriad of insects and other un-fuzzy pets that the science teacher at their school keeps in his classroom. I can see this idea resonating. I also agree that your opening line could have more pop and that the strict gender divisions could hurt your story’s chances. I don’t have a good sense of Bear’s emotional connection to the maggot. Why does he decide the maggot should be a pet instead of a pest? How does he feel about his family’s reactions? Does he have a vision for the kind of pet the maggot will be? (When my children ask for pets, they invariably tell me how they will play with them and care for them — tell us how Bear thinks life will be better with a maggot pet!) Finally, I recommend making a dummy — it will really help you see what words/descriptions are extraneous. Good luck!

Karin: I love the idea of an unusual pet, but as there are already many books out there on this subject, be sure to check them out, like Strictly No Elephants and Rhinos Don’t Eat Pancakes. Your first line could be stronger, and I think bear would be “observing” rather than “exploring” the maggot in his apple. And why does Bear say that when he’s a scientist, he’ll also have a pet snake? We want to know why Bear loves the maggot so much that he wants him as a pet. If he’s going to be a scientist, is Bear trying to see how maggot wiggles or how he boroughs a tunnel? For example, you could start like this: “Bear peered through his magnifying glass at Maggot, who was nibbling a tiny tunnel through his apple.” I love the idea of a pet maggot as it’s unique and offers lots of opportunity to explore why a maggot would make a good pet. Maybe he even chomps through Bear’s garbage, turning it into compost! 🙂

 

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8 on Eight October Contest Window is now open!

eight on eight 2Fellow writers! The 8 on Eight contest window is OPEN!fireworks-1759_640

 

Q: I must have missed the announcement. What is 8 on Eight? 

A monthly contest that provides one lucky kidlit writer with feedback on their opening eight lines! As part of our ongoing mission to support writers, we’ll give a PB, CB, MG, or YA writer feedback on their work from at least 8 of The Winged Pen’s contributors.

Q: Sounds exciting! How do I enter?

To enter, simply comment at the bottom of this post! At 8pm (EST) on the first day of October, 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 eight lines. On the eighth of the month, the winner’s eight lines, along with the title and genre of the work, will be posted to our blog with feedback from at least 8 of our members. Still have questions? See our 8 on Eight page for additional details.

Remember, the contest window is only open until 8pm EST on October 1st, so don’t wait––enter now!

Best of luck! (And please help spread the word!)

klee-345135_1920