Four on 400 December Contest 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.

THE BOY WHO FELL SIDEWAYS (MG Adventure)

The later it got, the more unfair it seemed.

Why do they get to go? Why not me?

Graeme tossed and turned as the grandfather clock ticked away the early morning hours.

I’m far more fluent in Shianese than Keith, and I’m better than Patricia at… well… nothing really. But crossing an Edge has always been my dream!
A toe poked out from under his blankets. He kicked in frustration, leaving his entire leg goosebumping in the cold night air.

And now I’m wide awake. I won’t get any sleep, and I’ll be cross and dopey for my first day at stupid Maydales, and I’ll never make any friends, and…
He lay back and envisioned his favourite fantasy, the one his much-older siblings would soon experience. Crossing an Edge of the cube-shaped world, and being Sideways.

Sideways! Where he’d walk on walls like a fly and slide up a slope. His gravity from here at home would stick to him for some weeks, until he eventually regravified. But before then…! All the experiments he could try! He’d be a bit scared, no doubt. If he were to fall, his gravity would pull him along, shooting across the landscape like a crossbow bolt. Of course, that wasn’t very likely. The embassy city was safe and well-designed, equally accessible to Shian residents and Anglian visitors.

Suddenly, Graeme sat up. He had a plan. He’d been making it for weeks without admitting it. He got up, dressed, tiptoed to the front hall, and searched the piles of his sister’s luggage, carefully stacked for the early-morning wagon.

Am I really going to do this?

There it was. The largest of Patricia’s specimen cases. Eventually, she would pack it with fascinating flora and fauna samples. But for the outbound trip to Shian, empty. Nearly five feet long, sturdy, padded, and pierced with air holes. A label even marked it “Fragile,” so it wouldn’t end up at the bottom of a pile in the ship’s hold.

Graeme sucked in a deep breath, opened the case and climbed in. He took a final look around the house, so comfortable, the site of so many memories, and nearly lost his nerve. But then he saw his ugly little trunk, full of his new school uniform and his old, tired life; and he lay back and closed the lid.

Laurel: Wow! You’ve packed lots of story into a small space and a very clear kickoff to adventure. Tiny things: “Why do they get to go?” in the second line threw me out and doesn’t feel–to me–as original and gripping as the rest of the piece. Personally, I’d rather get to know Graeme a little more before I hear his voice directly. I don’t think the reader would miss that line if it were gone. I wasn’t positive that “no doubt” was right for Graeme’s voice but I don’t know him and you very clearly do. I love the Sideways concept and the idea that someone can be regravified. Well done! I wonder what’s going to happen next!

Kristi: This is fantastic! I was so sucked in to the story and I love it when a story gives me so much action, but also so many hints at what’s going on ALL without feeling rushed or info dumped. I did feel the change of POV wasn’t really working. Maybe if those parts where in italics? BUT, I would need a good reason for it– and I’d be willing to read a chapter like that as long as it was clear by chapter two why it’s written as such. The only other comment I have is, won’t his sister notice her case is heavy? Otherwise, I love this!

Gabrielle: This is such a unique concept, and I think you’ve got a good start. Kristi points out the changing POV and I agree–that’s jarring. I think you could stand to slow this way down and let us feel it with him more. He comes to his plan too fast. The alternative would be to have him in bed already knowing what he’s going to do, but going over it all in his head–thinking it through, feeling where he is now for the last time. I think this could work really well, with inherent tension as he’s lying in bed freaking out. You’ve got some telling still happening. Try focusing on the micro. It’s the details that will draw us in and avoid those pitfalls.. What are his specific memories as he’s saying goodbye? What will he miss?  You’re on the right track with lines like – goosebumping in the cold night air. I love the line about his old truck too. Give us more detail, and spin it out for us so we’re right there with Graeme and this will be a very memorable story!

Julie: You’ve given us a tantalizing glimpse of a pretty cool world (which feels fantasy/sci-fi to me, not just straight contemporary adventure) and I love the title. I agree with what the others have said about the POV change. I think you’re switching between internals and third person narration, but it’s pretty jarring, especially for the opening page. The theme of him frustrated over being left behind at Maydales as his older sister get to cross the Edge feels great for middle grade, as does the idea that he’d stow away. But it feels a little rushed, which is keeping us from FEELING Graeme’s frustration building up to the point that he stows away. As Gabby said, slowing down and giving us more sensory details will ground us in the world and in Graeme’s experiences.

Best of luck!

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