February Four on 400 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.


Tainted Seeds, Young Adult, Contemporary Suspense, Chapter 1

Bree turned back to her older sister, who lagged behind despite her longer strides. Lily’s Adidas sneakers scuffed the cracked sidewalk with each unhurried step through the deserted neighborhood.

“What a waste of a summer day,” Lily said once she caught up.

“Come on, this is important to me.” Bree pressed the voter pamphlets protectively against her sweaty Say No to GMOs T-shirt. She’d spent the entire week mapping a route and rehearsing her speech. The least Lily could do was be more cheerful.

Her sister flicked her blond hair over her blistering, red shoulder. “You’re always chasing rainbows and leprechauns. No one’s going to vote for higher taxes to buy lettuce and light bulbs for schools.”

Bree forced a laugh. “People just need to be educated,” she said, but her voice had lost some of its earlier conviction as she took in yet another row of bungalows with peeling paint and weed-covered lawns.

“Aren’t you tired of having doors slammed in your face? It’s your sixteenth birthday. We could go to the mall, and I could help you spend that birthday check.”

Her sister had a point. Few residents in their working class town could afford much beyond the basics, and their resistance to change was only one of a thousand reasons she needed to get out of Boren Valley—or Boring Valley as she and her best friend Madeleine called it. Too bad she was tied up with camp counselor training today. She would’ve been more encouraging.

“I’m never going to make a difference around here.” Bree sighed. “Don’t know why I even bother.”

Lily bumped Bree affectionately and changed her tone. “Hey, that’s what makes you, you. It’s in your DNA.”

Bree fiddled with the glossy leaflets. “You’re not like me. And I’m nothing like Mama-Meri.”

“Nope. You must’ve gotten your ‘drive and determination’ from Mr. Banks.” Lily snickered as they climbed the crumbling steps to the next house. “And the stubbornness that’s always getting you in trouble too.”

Bree rolled her eyes. Mr. Banks was code for their shared sperm donor. All her differences from the rest of her family had been attributed to him from her darker coloring to her curves to her book smarts.

An elderly woman opened the door. With her hunched spine, she was even shorter than Bree.

Lily thrust a pamphlet into her wrinkled hand.

Kristi: There’s a lot to love here. Lots of little seeds have been planted that are sure to play into the suspense aspect of the story. My biggest overall comment is that I find this all very telling instead of showing. Bree is already wearing a Non GMO t-shirt and passing out pamphlets, so we don’t need an overload of details about her and her mission. The paragraph about the town was also too telling. I thought the details of the weeds in the yard and peeling paint were so perfect–THAT shows me the neighborhood! Having said that, I do really like these girls and I really have an idea of who both of them are. Kudos for creating two great characters!

Gita: Nice opening! You’ve done a great job, in a very short amount of time, of creating two distinct characters, each with her own personality and a shared backstory. Knowing that it’s YA suspense, I’d love more details to create an even more ominous feeling. So far the only details that read ‘suspense’ to me were the deserted neighborhood and crumbling steps. A signal characteristic of suspense is the feeling that something vital to the character’s well-being is at stake. Could you amp that feeling up—and create more tension about whatever that something is—in these opening lines? The more of that you have, the more hungrily your reader will turn the page. Good luck!

Halli: Thank you for sharing! This genre is one of my favorites. I loved the descriptions of the neighborhood: cracked sidewalk, peeling paint, and weed-covered lawns. That shows so much about the socio-economics of the neighborhood and how it contrasts with Bree’s mission. You did a nice job giving us a peek at Bree and Lily, with their clothing and comments, however, I agree with Kristi and Gita that some parts are too telling. I would like to see less telling – give us just enough to let us get a feel for each character –  then add a little suspense. At the beginning, that’s what the reader is there for. Thanks and good luck!

Karin:  Lots of great stuff here from the topic of GMOs to their sperm-donar father and intrigued to learn how you will play the two off! I agree you can cut some of the telling, which will also work to make it more suspenseful.  Bree’s mission can also be a little clearer as we learn she’s distributing voter pamphlets and she has a T-shirt against GMOs, but then Lily mentions  light bulbs in the schools. But you can show this later when she introduces herself to the elderly woman. One way you could tighten and hook the reader is cut paragraphs 2-5, so second paragraph would be “Aren’t you tired of having doors slammed in your face?” which I love! Remember you don’t need to tell the reader everything–you want us to be curious about finding out what’s going to happen. Thank you sharing this with us!



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