Four on 400: January 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.

AMBASSADOR OF ATTALON (MG fantasy)

Clarine Hearthsgaard was going to be sick.

She glanced about, wondering if anyone felt as nervous as she did. At least one hundred other applicants, all twelve years old, stood around her. The day was clear and warm, as were most days of High Summer in the Kingdom of Attalon, but Clarine could not enjoy it. Instead of spending her free time swimming in the lake or running through the narrow streets of Glenarm village with her best friends, Lucas and Branwyn, she was here.

Competing to be a Knight.

She must have lost her mind. She was of average height and average hair and average face. Maybe the Tournament judges would be more impressed if she were taller or richer or fiercer. More knightly.

Sweat made the collar of her linen shirt scratchy. The crowd around her shifted and mumbled. Something was happening. Clarine tried to peek around the people in front of her, but she wasn’t tall enough.

“Welcome, hopeful students,” boomed a deep voice. Clarine managed to catch a glimpse of the speaker—a knight dressed in full armour minus his helm, despite the heat. Even from near the back of the group, Clarine could tell the man was huge, the bulk of his armour looked like a piece of the Mordrin Mountains had broken off and learned to talk.

“I am Knight Stoutthelm. Welcome to the official audition for the prestigious Knight Academy of Attalon. The Squireling Tournament. We have well over one hundred applicants here, but only thirty available places to be won. The bravest, cleverest, and most skilled applicants will be successful and be granted the chance to serve his Magesty, King Percival, as a Knight of the Realm. And that’s if you survive your schooling!”

The assembled crowd of parents and well-wishers tittered amiably, but no one around Clarine made a sound. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and her stomach lurched again. She hoped her didn’t make a fool of herself in front of her father.

Another knight swept towards Stoutthelm and handed him a scroll. “Applicants will be divided into pairs. For the next two days, you will compete with and against your partner. Scores are tallied individually, based on a combination of points earned during your performances and the judges’ observations during the tasks.”

Stouthelm paused before reading the names. “Remember, Applicants. Be brave. Be clever. Be Knights.”

Gabrielle Byrne:  I think you’ve got a good start here. I’d focus on slowing it WAY down. You’ve got a lot of plot crammed into the first page, and not a lot of description, or character building. Take time to introduce us to Clarine. For example, maybe she’s talking to the next person in line behind her, who won’t stop muttering about the scuffs on their shoes. Maybe she comforts them, or tells them to shut up, or ignores them. Whatever she does, will inform us about who she is. I’d incorporate some more setting into her actions too.  Spin the scene out over the first five pages or so, and let us get to know her. You did a good job incorporating some world building into your descriptions with “the bulk of his armour looked like a piece of the Mordrin Mountains had broken off and learned to talk.”  Nice work.

Sussu: Thank you for trusting us with your story. I enjoyed reading this. I found the story charming and paced nicely.

Nice first line and setting. I only suggest mentioning the courtyard and the parents earlier because it’s hard to figure out where they are and why the parents are there.

Details could give the reader a precise picture that stays long with them. “The day was clear and warm” is good, but consider, “The heat tickled her neck. The sun set her dark hair ablaze.” “He was a foot taller than the students,” etc

“She must have lost her mind” could be stronger with an action. Nice to have some kind of inner conflict to drive the story. Add more details, like “She couldn’t hurt a fly” or “she was a scrawny as a cricket.” This makes the MC stand out and gives us more clues.

I love the voice and the atmosphere of the story. This sounds unique and fun. Good luck!

Jessica: What a fun premise! Your first line really drew me in. Another line I loved: Sweat made the collar of her linen shirt scratchy. Right away, I knew exactly what she was feeling. By way of suggestions, I’d encourage you to bring this same level of detail to the first full paragraph. “Glanced about” and “anyone” were too vague to pull me in; I think there’s real opportunity here to pull us in with specifics. Similarly, I found “swimming in the lake” and “running through the streets” to be disappointingly vague (although the “narrow” streets did help). How does the water feel when she plunges in? Is there a certain shop she loves to run by because of the smell? Or because they hand out free samples? We can learn a lot about her by how she sees and thinks about her world. I think Gabrielle’s suggestion to slow down and not try to fit quite so much information into the opening is a great one, but overall you seem to be on the right track. Nicely done!

Julie: I LOVE this concept. But the title is a bit dry for such a great story. You’ve got some great world-building details in here (the Squireling Tournament, etc.) but I also think you’re starting with too much summary. Focus on the moment Clarine knows everything in her world is about to change and start there. Maybe she’s paired with her worst enemy (or her crush!) and that’s what makes her feel nauseated. Then you can sprinkle in some of these details, but focus on building her character–what she wants, what she’s afraid of–and tell us the details like that there are only 30 spots available and what she likes to do in her free time later. You’ve got a great knack for description like the scratchy shirt and armor looking “like a piece of the Mordrin Mountains had broken off and learned to talk,” so if you can make the rest of it that vivid, you’ll be set!

 

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

8 on Eight: September 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 September 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.

One Two Green – Picture Book

The animals are all hiding at our favourite zoo.
Where can they be? Mr Monkey – I see blue!

The meerkats are cheeky; trying their best not to be seen.
But we’ve spotted a few. There’s one… two… green.

I pink I saw a pelican paddling on the lake
And look! A purple popped his head up like a snake.

Yellow there Mrs Zebra! You’re a little bright my dear.
Look out Mr Giraffe! We’re all the way brown here.

Jessica: This is the type of story that is fun to snuggle up and read with a toddler. But the rhythms don’t feel consistent and I can’t quite put my finger on the connection between the specific animals and the colors mentioned with them. And then the numbers in the title make me think there’s a third connection between animals, numbers, and colors that I’m missing (and need to understand to fully engage with the story). Hope this feedback helps–thanks for sharing!

Gita: Thanks for sharing this story with us! Toddlers love zoos and they love to look for animals (or people, or objects) described in a book, so you’ve got some thematic connections to your listeners right off the bat. Because there are quite a few zoo-visit picture books, you might want to consider how you would pitch your version. That is, what unique take on the zoo-visit story are you offering? Good luck with your revisions and happy writing!

Michelle: This looks like it has the potential to be a cute concept book with fun rhymes. If this is a concept book, I think you should give some thought to what concept you want to demonstrate. If you’ve chosen colors, numbers, and animals, I think stepping back and working on how these concepts interrelate will help you find a way to help your preschool readers make important connections that will help them understand our world. That being said, doing so with three concepts will be a bit tricky. Here’s an article that may be useful: Concept Books for Young Children. Best of luck and please keep in touch with us!

Kristi: I’m a sucker for a great PB and I can already imagine some of the illustrations in this. I think my BIGGEST comment is going to be on rhyme. If you’re going to do it, you have to be a master. Here’s an excellent blog post by Josh Funk (whose books you should definitely check out– he does rhyme like Dr. Seuss himself!): here and here. The place it stuck out to me the most is: And look! A purple popped his head up like a snake. I get it, you want to keep the meter, but then you sacrifice the style and it makes it sound very amateur. I DO however LOOOOOVE it how you’ve used “yellow”, “pink” and “brown” as other words. That is outstanding! Again, though, those words sound like the words you’re trying to say, so There’s one… two… green feels off to me. Bottom line, keep it consistent.

Karin:  What a colorful idea for a picture book! Your idea to pun on the colors will, I am sure, delight readers. I like how you use colors as verbs and nouns with the animals, but not sure it works when you replace the animal with a color as in “purple” for “turtle.” Your sentences are dynamic and snappy but your meter is not consistent. Rhyme isn’t just about rhyming the end word, it’s about the rhythm or beat of each line. For more on this check out Dori Chaconas’ wonderful post entitled Icing on the Cake: Writing in Rhyme and Rhythm. Good luck!

Halli: Thanks for sharing your writing with us. I like to see books about animals because boys and girls love them. As for the story itself, I do think you have a lot going on. Animals, colors, and numbers. They do not seem to be used consistently, which may confuse the reader as to the true story you are trying to tell. I would suggest choosing two of the three and basing your story on those. Hope our feedback helps!

Katharine: I love wordplay and picture books, so this one is really fun for me. I am crazy for the line “I pink I saw a pelican…”! I would encourage you to go even further with silly lines like that (and “Yellow there, Mrs. Zebra!” So good!), and to do it consistently throughout. Consider dropping the rhyme. I don’t think you need it, and focusing on the puns with the color is enough work (and fun!). Without the rhyme, you can more easily explain the game, which I am guessing is a spot the animal picture, with the relevant animal in the color you mention. Such a great concept. Of your puns, I didn’t think “green” worked well for “three” (so I would also suggest trying to find a different title) and I wasn’t sure what “purple” was supposed to be. The others I was able to figure out, and the illustrations will help. Best of luck with this one, and thanks for sharing!

Richelle: Thanks for sharing! I am a novice PB writer, but I do have a couple of thoughts for you. I agree with my fellow Pennies — your wordplay is super cute! (Like Katharine, I LOVED “Yellow there, Mrs. Zebra!”) In those spots, I can really visualize what might be happening on the page. I also agree that there may be too many concepts. In the first eight lines, I feel like we should have a strong sense of what your book is (i.e./a color concept book, a find-the-hidden-picture book, an animal book, a counting book), and right now, I’m not sure which of those concepts you’re going for. I did take a PB seminar at the SCBWI Oregon Conference, and one of the tips I gleaned from that was to make a dummy, complete with your own stick-figure drawings. When I did that for my WIP, I was able to see much more clearly how the story should unfold. You might try that and see how it shapes up. Good luck!

Sussu: Thank you for sharing this amazing story.

After I read this story, at first, I thought well, someone got carried away.       The first thing I noticed was what I thought was a spelling mistake, “I pink” for “I think”. The fact that the story plays with the alliterations made me reconsider. I took a step back, and after a second look, I laughed. I believe the kids will do the same and will want to come back to the PB to catch all the little details they missed. I love especially this part, “I pink I saw a pelican paddling on the lake.” AndYellow there Mrs Zebra!” for “hello there!”  And “purple” for “turtle.”

At first, I didn’t know what you were doing with a blue monkey, a cheeky meerkat, a pelican paddling, a purple popping its head, a bright zebra. What? But it’s just irresistible. It’s nonsensical. I can already see the kids looking at the pictures in shock, then paying more attention to the words, and finally decide that this PB is just silly but so interesting. Wait for giggles and good hearty laughs. Wait for them to create nonsensical words too. It’s so important to sensibilize little kids to words and the language.

That’s exactly what you want to do with a PB, make the kids react and laugh. And think, think, think! I believe this work is brilliant! Thanks for sharing and surprise me. I’m glad you entered the bot.

 

  

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

8 on Eight September 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 September, 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 September 1st, so don’t wait––enter now!

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

klee-345135_1920

8 on Eight: August Contest 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.

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 August 31st. 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.

 

ZACH BEACON STRIKES OUT: Contemporary middle-grade novel

I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. “Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you.”

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup—and fell over laughing.

I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.

“All right, Zach, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout.

I rested the bat on my shoulder. “Aw, Coach, we’re just messing around.”

“Zachary!” yelled a voice from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”

Jessica: This opening does a good job of pulling me in to a concrete scene. That said, I can’t quite put a finger on Zachary. In the first line, he issues an ultimatum to the pitcher and glares at him, which makes him seem quite intense. But then the butt-wiggle (which I love) tells me he’s a total goofball. My sense is that he’s baiting the pitcher with the first line, but I’m not sure why he would glare, rather than grin or something more consistent with him being a clown. In addition, I wonder about the voice yelling from the stands. It feels as though the voice knows Zachary quite well, which makes me think Zachary would immediately recognize it (Mom or Dad, perhaps?) rather than think of it as “the voice,” which feels unfamiliar. Overall, though, this is a solid opening that would make me want to read on. Nice work!

Michelle: Love your opening! A lot of first-person POV middle-grade opens with the MC telling you a bunch of stuff, but you smartly skipped all of that and pulled us into the scene. You do a great job of giving us glimpses into the MC and his relationship with Joey, which is no easy task within 8 lines. I agree with Jessica that the word glare threw me off, because at first I thought Zachary and Joey were adversaries. But I’m pretty sure they’re buds.

Just a couple of things I want to point out. The sequencing here threw me off.

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup—and fell over laughing.

I’d done my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. It gets them every time.

I think you need at minimum a paragraph break between Joey’s dialogue and his action since the bat-waggle butt wiggle happens before he falls over. Even better, I think having Joey do something else before the windup would help- like wipe the sweat of his face, adjust his cap, nod with a focussed gaze on Zachary. Also, should the last sentence here say, “It gets him every time?” Or is this a move he always uses on the pitcher?

It would also be nice if we know how the coach reacts to what Zachary says to him before you break to the voice (is this someone he knows?) in the bleachers.

Have you considered writing this in close third POV? I’ve been playing with your words in my head, and I think it would work really well with your story.

I would definitely want to read more! Keep in touch with us about how things go!

Richelle: You have a lot of zing in this opening — I love how it moves. I agree with Jessica that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the glaring, smack-talk Zachary and the butt-wiggle Zachary. While I love both moments, it does feel like two different kids. When we later learn that this is spring try-outs, it made me wonder: Does Zachary take try-outs seriously? Or is he assured a place on the team and so feels comfortable joking around? What about Joey? Is he nervous about making the team? How do their respective attitudes about try-outs color this interaction?

I also agree with Michelle that the sequencing of the pitcher falling over and the butt-wiggle — it threw me off, and I had to read twice to figure out what was happening. And since I love character motivation, I really wanted to know why Zachary was joking around. Is he trying to mess Joey up? Trying to lighten the mood for everyone? Is that his way of shaking off his own tension?

Generally, I would love to see Zachary interacting more within the scene. How  does he respond to Joey’s trash-talk? How does the coach’s gentle rebuke made him feel? What does he want out of this moment — to make the team? To get attention? To get under Joey’s skin? To get try-outs over with?

Thank you for sharing. I love the title, and as a baseball fan, this seems like a very fun read! Can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Halli: Thank you for sharing your work! I am a huge baseball fan and the title grabbed me right away. You have a great opening here, getting us right into the action. Reading this, I felt like I was in the stands watching the kids play. You did a great job of setting the scene with just a few words – I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. Even those not familiar with baseball would be able to identify with that.

My comments are pretty much the same as the others. At the beginning, I though Zach was taunting Joey by glaring at him, but come to find later, they are friends or at least friendly acquaintances. Just changing that word will make all the difference.

My other comment is about the order of the sentences involving the butt-wiggle and Joey falling down laughing. They seem out of order so I’m current, then thrown back. As a reader, I prefer to keep moving forward. I am also in agreement about identifying the “voice” from the stands. Unless you have a reason to be mysterious, which we may not know in these eight lines, I would identify that person.

Katharine: I love a MG sports story! Fantastic title, and your MC sounds like loads of fun. I also love that you start us right in the action – perfect! And the butt wiggle dance is hysterical. My son did something similar in his short-lived little league career.

I agree with the other Pennies about the disconnect between the glare aimed at the pitcher and the goofing off behavior. I think it would help if you changed the word glare to something a little more clearly silly and over-the-top, like “shot him my best [insert baseball player – sorry! don’t know baseball!] scowl.” I also found myself a little thrown when I heard it was the last day of spring tryouts, which sounds kind of important and like he wouldn’t be goofing off. Is that right? If so, I hope we get a sense quickly of how Zach is actually feeling – is he goofing off because he’s super nervous? Does he think this is all a joke? Is he trying to impress someone in the crowd? Oh, and I would agree with the others that if that yell from the stands is a parent, he’d identify the voice immediately.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck with it!

Kristi: I love it when a story makes me laugh in the first few lines. Zach’s spunk and goofiness make this instantly engaging. I agree with the previous comments that you can change the sequence of the butt wiggle and then the pitcher falling over. I do like having the coach comment that they need to knock it off, but then I think you need to get back to Zach and focus on him. How is he viewing the situation and the impending tryouts? You’ve drawn us in with a great start, so don’t lose us! This sounds like such a fun read. All the best with it.

Rebecca: I love your MC’s voice and the fact that you’ve started in the middle of the action! Everyone else has already talked about the glare and identifying who “the voice” is so I won’t belabor it. What I think is important here is that it sounds like you have a very strong picture of Zach in your head. Good for you! That’s tough to do, right? But so important. So now your work is to convey that clear picture to your audience, and that’s even harder. Sometimes the only way to see how a reader will react is to share your work, like this, and see where the reader reaction is not what you intended, and make adjustments. I had a best friend smirking at my MC in a first chapter for months before I realized my critique partners thought he was making fun of the MC. But I thought the best friend’s natural reaction to most things was a smirk. He was just a laid back guy that found the humor in everything, even annoying things that happened to his best friend. But figuring out that it was being read differently than I’d intended and fixing it allowed me to convey both characters more strongly.

Great job on your opening lines and best wishes for your progress with the story!

Sussu: Thank you for submitting to The Winged Pen. It takes courage to put your writing out there. Kuddos to you!

This opening, IMO, does a good job setting the mood. It reflects the title well. The opening also does a good job answering the question who? Where? I immediately know what’s going on and I can picture the game easily. The problem is this setting has been used a lot and I wonder how you could make it a little more original.

The conflict is clear though and pulls me in right away. But because the story wants to be funny, the tension I sense in the first sentences disappears completely when Joey laughs. I feel like this is not supposed to be funny because Joey and Zachary are rivals of some sort. Zachary “glares” at Joey and dares him. I feel like the beginning goes in different directions. It’s not grounded enough for me. Also I’m not sure I like that Zach explains himself “We’re messing around.” I’d like him to be more daring. I’d like to see more of his personality breaking through. For example, saying “Let it be, coach!” would make him sound more courageous and more daring. That’s definitely how he appears in the first sentence. Of course the voice has to reflect the age better.

Also, I found the switch between tenses confusing.

What I would recommend for this beginning is 1) to keep everything in one tense.2) Then the actions should appear in the order they happen. 3) I also would like to see the consequences of what Zach does, and the stakes. The beginning could work well as a mini-scene and hook the reader better as such because it would have a beginning, a middle and an end. And we would then want to read more to see what’s going to happen next. Remember that each part of a story (dialogue, scene, chapter) answers a question. What is the question here and is it answered?

EXAMPLE:

I knocked the dirt from my cleats and glared at the pitcher. “Gimme a fast one, Joey, if you’ve still got it in you.”

“Whatever, man. It’ll be midnight before my arm gets tired.” Joey went into a windup.

 I did my signature bat-waggle butt-wiggle. So what? It got them every time.

Joey fell over laughing, missing the ball. Strike.

“All right, Zach, knock it off,” said Coach Clark from the dugout. “You’re done.”

I rested the bat on my shoulder. “Aw, Coach, I can’t be done.”

“Zachary!” yelled my mom from the stands. “This is the last day of spring tryouts. Pay attention!”

Joey cackles.

Seriously, mom!

Thank you for trusting us with your story and good luck in the publishing world.