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!


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: July 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 July 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.

Everett P Holliday the Fourth for President, MG Chapter Book

Everett P. Holliday the Fourth Does Not. Share. His. Room.

Everett P. Holliday the Fourth was going to be president. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not until after second grade at Endeavor Elementary School. But, someday.

 After mayor, like his grandfather, Everett P Holliday the Second. After, governor, like his great, great, great grandfather, Samuel E. Holliday.

Everett the Fourth, soon to be president, did not want to share his room. Not even if it is with his cousin. Presidents do not share their room. He was sure.

“Dad, I don’t think I should share my room?”

“Why not?” asked Dad, up righting the finished the bunk bed assembly.

“Presidents have important stuff to do. Presidents have meetings. Presidents need privacy.”

“That is true,” said Dad.

Gabrielle Byrne: I love the voice. Already, I know Everett, and I like him. I sympathize with him. You’ve got great tension and stakes right from the start. And it’s funny. The sentence that begins with “after mayor” is awkward, and takes me out of the scene. You could go with something more clear there, like, “First he’d be a mayor, like his gfather.” Then he’d be a governor etc. etc.

You’ve got a double “the” in the bunkbed sentence. You’ve also got some funny tense stuff happening between the first sentence and the fourth that feels wonky. In the first sentence he does not share his room. In the fourth sentence he did not want to share his room. I think there’s good character building happening through the structure of the first sentence. He’s making a declaration. If, by the fourth sentence, we begin to see that maybe he’s not so sure he does not share. his. room., I think that would help amp the stakes. I think I see what you’re trying to do with the statement “Dad, I don’t think I should share my room?” ending with a question, but I think you can give us more, and make it more powerful, by cutting that line here, and instead showing us how the MC feels through his body language. This will also help set the scene and let us better visualize our hero. So, for example, something like: “Everett tugged at the edge of his over-size Abe Lincoln T-shirt, threw back his shoulders until the blades touched in back, and picked his next vital words,” Or something. Then the line about Presidents having important things to do.  Let him build up his case. Let us see his body language, and maybe his dad’s too. Does his Dad know what’s coming? Is he exasperated with his boy’s ambition, or is it endearing? End with his statement, I shouldn’t have to share my room, or I don’t want to share my room. Or, the next sentence could be him holding his breath, waiting to see if his father will make the intuitive leap from potential presidents needing privacy, to Everett needing his own space.

I think this story has a lot of great potential, and the voice is super fun and engaging.

Good luck with it!

Sussu Leclerc: Thank you for being brave enough to enter your story into the contest. We are happy to help. I love the idea of this story. I think kids can relate to the character. In fact, sharing one’s room is a big deal for anyone. Our room is private and belongs to us in full rights, I agree. The motivation of the character is believable, but what makes your character even more interesting is the way he justifies not sharing his room. He is the president of his class. No, wait, I read that wrong. He is the future president of his class maybe or maybe of the whole nation. That cracked me up. I feel plenty of room for character change or for conflict in just the first lines. Bravo! The only thing that I questioned in this sample is the use of interrogation marks. I’m not sure they’re adding much to  the story. Although the dad is asking a legitimate question, he could also say “And why not!” in shock because parents always expect kids to obey. Besides, this comes when he is done fixing the bunk beds, not before. The kid seems ready for a big battle. He is definitely on the defensive just the way he talks, so I was expecting more resistance from the parent. This is why adding some indication of the tone the dad adopts would be helpful to understand the attitude of the parent and how he will react to Everett’s antics in the rest of the story. Maybe the dad could frown or grin, amused, or look surprised. Overall, I think this is well done and I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing.

Kristi: Hilarious! The voice jumps off the page– and I’m a sucker for good voice. Gab and Sussu have already mention the two things that jumped out at me (tense issues and awkward wording of the mayor/governor sentences), so I won’t rehash those points, but I do want to say that I’d love to “see” Everrett do something. Gab hints at this in her comment and I agree that it’d be nice to see some kind of subtle action that gives us even more of Everrett’s personality. Having dad put together the bunk beds is such a great way to show us this is all new and happening right now. I really want to read on and see what happens! All the best with this.

JessicaV: Thanks for sharing this sample. I, too, love the voice and this opening has great tension. In terms of feedback, I agree with all of the comments made above. In addition, I’d encourage you to work on the pacing when he starts interacting with his dad. You could do this by deleting the sentences that read, Presidents do not share their room. He was sure. Then, you could jump right from the sentence about the cousin to action and dialogue that focuses on showing this thought, rather than telling us. For example: Not even if it is with his cousin. (Insert action as suggested by Gabrielle) “Dad, Presidents do not share their rooms.” This would tighten things up considerably and set you up to show, right away, what Dad really thinks of this grand plan to become president (hopefully, Dad isn’t so hot on the idea!). Good luck with your revisions!

Richelle: I love the energy here! It zips and is funny, and I love the idea of a second grader with huge ambitions (and a weighty legacy to inspire them). I agree with everyone else: I would love to see what Everett is doing in this scene. Is he actively trying to interfere by jumping on the bed or making a mess his dad has to work around? Is he trying to maintain his dignity and make what he thinks is a serious, adult-style argument? When I was in elementary school, there was a boy who wore a suit and tie every day because he said he wanted to be a businessman and he was practicing — what does Everett do to practice for his future as President? Does he have posters of Presidents on his wall (soon to be covered up by this new bunkbed arrangement)? A couple of tiny, well-placed details like that could really make Everett jump off the page and draw readers into your story even faster. Thanks for sharing!

Michelle: I LOVE your opening lines. They really draw me in, and I instantly want Everett to be my President! I’m assuming you’re speaking of the President of the United States, in which case I’m pretty sure president should be capitalized. I agree that your second paragraph needs a little reworking. Maybe inserting the word “being” would help. “After first being mayor, like…“After next being governor, like…” In the sentence with his cousin, I think you can condense it: “Not even with his cousin.”  In the scene with his dad, I’d like for him to see the bunk bed, make some kind of gesture (hand on hips, poked out lips, something to deepen the scene) and then say, “Dad, Presidents do not share their room.”  Then he could do something like gaze at the book about Presidents on his desk to give us clues about his commitment to his plan. I love Richelle’s ideas (above) that relate to this. Also, after dad’s last statement, some hint of dad’s facial expression would be good to tell us what dad thinks. Best of luck with this fun read! Keep us in the loop with how it goes!

Julie: This is such a great concept for a chapter book and I love the contrast in the opening lines between achieving his dream of becoming President and finishing the second grade–that got a chuckle out of me for sure! I agree with what everyone else here said (aren’t my critique partners the best?), especially that adding some more action into the scene will not only show us more about Everett’s unique personality, but will also give you an opportunity to show us Everett through the Dad’s eyes. How does he feel about his son’s presidential ambitions? Is he accommodating, or is this the most recent in a long series of things that Everett refuses to do because of his desire to be president (perhaps he also refuses to clean his room or brush his teeth or whatever because presidents don’t do that kind of thing)? The interaction between Dad and Everett can show us a lot of this in very few words if it’s done just right, and will build the tension (and possibly also the comedy). Best of luck!

Halli: This sounds very cute. I love stories about kids reaching for the stars and dreaming big. My favorite sentence is Not until after second grade at Endeavor Elementary School. That shows me he isn’t going to let his age stop him from doing anything. I have a few comments about these lines, basically about consistency. My personal preference is to have topics/ideas together. You start off with Everett not wanting to share his room and then move into his dream of becoming president and following in his ancestors’ political footsteps. Then you go back to sharing the room. My suggestion would be to delete your first line. You mention it again before the dialogue and opening with him wanting to be president and talking about his family sets up his character. We see a determined kid and learn he is in 2nd grade. I want to read on because I have a feeling achieving his goal won’t be easy and I am interested to see how he pushes through. Next we see he doesn’t want to share his room which is the first stumbling block.

Going to the section about sharing his room, you mention that phrase several times in that paragraph and then again in dialogue. I think you can tighten up that section, possibly inserting action, emotion, and/or description instead. I believe that will draw the reader in more and tell us more about Everett.

And the last thing is that I too had a question about tenses. That is definitely not my strong point, but it didn’t read smoothly. I am not sure if chapter books are usually past or present tense, but I believe you have a little of both here.

Good luck with this story! It’s fun.


8 on Eight: June Contest Feedback

Theight on eight 2ank 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 June 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.

Halo and the Boomerang Effect, MG Fantasy

Halo held her hands in front of her face, fascinated as each finger faded in, then out, reminding her of those holograms used in space movies. Flicker. Flash. Flick, flick. Zap. Her whole body shifted into solid form, and once again, she became a resident of Loblolly Pines.

After each eleven-month disappearing act, she loved her magical homecoming within the Christmas tree. Materializing never got old.

Ten cartwheels along the branch brought her to the trunk. She leaned in and sniffed. Pinewood with a damp muskiness…best fragrance ever. Halo nudged a finger under a sliver of bark and tugged. Snug. The sap’s tackiness confirmed a healthy tree.

Julie: I love the title–it’s perfect for middle grade and instantly made me want to learn more. You’ve created a lot of mystery around Halo in these first few lines (What is she? Why does she disappear for 11 months out of the year? Why does she reappear in a Christmas tree?). You do a great job of showing us that she’s tiny (if she can do ten cartwheels along a tree branch!) and I love the sensory details of the sticky sap and the damp muskiness of the tree. But I’m not as grounded in the opening paragraph as I wish I was. I love the image of a hologram, but I’m wondering if focusing on what materializing feels like (which is internal and unique to Halo’s experience) would be better than focusing on what it looks like (which is external, like we’re watching a movie instead of experiencing it from Halo’s perspective). Best of luck–this sounds like a great story!

Laurel: Thanks for sharing your story! Here’s a bit of feedback from my reader experience. Of course, every reader sees things differently, so if I’m the only one going off on that tangent, feel free to ignore. I felt Halo’s fascination with her fingers and tripped when I got to hologram. After reading this first paragraph three times, I got a “Beam me up Scotty!” image. Hologram says 3D-projection to me, rather than flickering. Halo and hologram are close in sound but very different in meaning. Is there a connection or am I looking for one in the wrong place? The zap puzzled me. (Were there zaps in Star Trek?) I start out very solidly inside Halo, looking at her fingers, and then I’m outside her body watching it flash. A bit more of Halo’s reactions might clue me in to the direction you want me to go. I love the specificity of loblolly pines.

The next paragraph made perfect sense until I got to “within the Christmas tree.” Why a Christmas tree? Whose Christmas tree? Or is Christmas tree short-hand for any kind of conifer? Is it a live tree in the middle of the forest? Or a cut tree in a house in the town of Loblolly Pines? Was she “within” the tree or did she materialize on the branch? “Materializing never got old” made me smile. Is there a cost to materializing? Maybe that will come up later in the story. 🙂 There’s a tiny speed bump for the eleven-month disappearance because Christmas falls in the 12th month. It’s all correct, but it made me stop and subtract for a second.

The third paragraph tells me Halo is outside of the tree because she’s doing cartwheels on the branch. I liked the cartwheels and felt a bit nervous about being scratched, since pines often have so many sharp twigs. It didn’t occur to me that Halo was small until I read Julie’s comment above.

The last paragraph was easy to follow as a reader. I wondered if you needed “pinewood” instead of “pine.” Halo checking the health of the tree hints at an intriguing caretaker role for the forest. “The sap’s tackiness” surprised me because I expected to read about the bark. Is there a connection there that’s important for the reader to know? Or is it enough to say that “Snug bark meant a healthy tree”? Or that her finger is sticky? I love that you engage the senses of smell and touch in this very small passage.

I love the loblolly pine setting and “the boomerang effect,” whatever that turns out to be! Lots of interesting hooks in the opening of your story! Best wishes for success with it!

Gabby: I think the title is great, and I like the first sentence as well. I’m not wild about the one word sentences that follow though, for two reasons. One, you’ve already told us her image is fading in and out, so it feels redundant. Two, as Julie points out, it takes me out of the action, instead of pulling me in.

You’ve got some great intrigue in the next sentence, but no stakes yet. I think you could maybe leave the fact that it’s a Christmas tree for later, as it will certainly need more explanation. String us along into her world with breadcrumbs as they become relevant. Let it just be a tree, for now. Focus on her having been gone eleven-months and what that feels like. She loves materializing, but give us more. Her body language/actions in the last paragraph imply she’s really glad to be back (to be home?), but is she wondering what’s she’s missed? Maybe she knows what she’s missed, and can’t wait to catch up. Maybe she’s wishing she could be in two places at once.  Maybe she’s keeping one eye open for the cat/snow/fall/friend/whatevs.

You need there to be some tension in these first lines. Micro-stakes is fine, but give me some conflict. You’ve done well with the sensory descriptions, but I’d cut the “snug” line, and I’m not sure why we need to know about the health of the tree here. It feels like a jump. An intriguing beginning! Best of luck.

Michelle: This is very intriguing! When I read the first sentence, (which I really like) I wanted to know how it feels to materialize. Bring in some more senses. Is it cold? Hot? Tingly? Fizzy? Like Gabby said, I don’t really think the one word sentences add much. You could say something like, “Each time her fingers flickered,…(then add how it feels).”

I don’t think the second paragraph adds anything that we need to know just yet. Having it where it is seems like backstory. I’d save it for later. Love the sensory details in the third paragraph. They make me want to read more!  Good Luck! Keep us updated on your progress!

Kristi: I LOVED this! Your 1st line had me thinking about Search for Wondla. Then, the 10 cartwheels to the trunk line really drew me in. Everything kind of solidified in my head and I could start picturing it all. I agree with Michelle that you can get rid of the 2nd paragraph at this stage and use that to add a hint of what’s to come or a hint of danger or stakes. It’s never too early to add those kinds of things. Otherwise, I’d for sure keep reading.

Gita: An intriguing beginning! This feels fresh to me, which makes me eager to read on. There’s a lot of mystery: I don’t know who or what Halo is, where she comes from, or even where she is (at a tree farm or in a house). But that’s ok with me. Still, I’d be even more willing to follow Halo into this story if I felt a little more emotionally connected to her in these opening lines. We learn that it’s a “homecoming” for her to materialize onto the tree, but I don’t get a sense of how she’s feeling. It makes me wonder: is the place she lives the rest of the year different from Lobolly Pines? In what ways? Do these differences matter to Halo (I hope they do)? Which does she prefer? If Halo travels between these places, is there any tension for her in the process? What does she want? When I fall in love with a character, it’s because she’s a thinking, feeling, wondering being who’s at odds with her world—even if only a little bit. I’d love to see more of what Halo’s feeling/thinking right up front as a way of bringing out the tension that’s going to keep your reader reading. As an example, here’s EB White’s opening to Charlotte’s Web:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

You can check out the earlier, less tension-filled versions here.  Happy writing!

Rebecca: I love sci fi and fantasy, so this story is right up my alley! I also like your start with very cool magic, but as others have said, you could slow down here to introduce the sensations that accompany her fading and appearing at in new place and how she feels about it. When you create a new world, it is very important that the reader can visualize is so that they can experience it with your characters. Because this means of transport is so far off from our poor, muggle experience, you want to take the time to really get the reader grounded in it and bring them along. That will get them more invested in the story.

Great start! Best of luck with your story!

Halli: Thanks for entering the contest! As just about everyone said, I love your title. I have been known to choose books on titles alone. I think you have some wonderful detail and descriptive sentences here. For some people, that is the hardest part, so job well done! The first paragraph is very interesting and definitely grabs my interest. I agree with the other critiques about needing to be more in Halo’s mind by describing her feelings and internal thoughts and not external observations. For me, sometimes that comes down to wording. For example, you wrote: reminding her of those holograms used in space movies. The words “reminding her” remind me that a narrator is speaking. Try the sentence without it and see what you think. I do love the last sentence of paragraph one.

The second paragraph threw me just a bit. I see it is a transition between materializing and the tree – which I assume her checking to see if it is healthy will be significant. It may be because there are several different thoughts in this short space: materializing, an eleven-month absence, and the Christmas tree, and one of the biggest ones (the eleven-month absence) is not explained.

Paragraph three goes back to the wonderful details: ten cartwheels on a branch, the damp muskiness. Wonderful!

Great job! Hope these comments help.

Karin: This sounds lovely and different! I think Halo is some kind of fairy or ghost, but then why is she watching space movies? Also, space movies pulled me out of this world into a very different world. Not sure if you did this intentionally. Anchor us into Halo’s world by giving us a sense of her size, and whether the tree is inside or outside, decorated or not. Also, maybe an aside after “snug” to indicate that this is a good sign. “Good. very good.” Then she can say, “And the sap’s…” By increasing the build up, we know this is a very important part of Halo’s job and we’re intrigued to learn more!

Good luck!



8 on Eight Contest Feedback

eight on eight 2


Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s 8 on Eight contest! Opening your work up to feedback takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm. If your name wasn’t drawn from the Triwizard cup this time around, keep an eye out for our next contest window (on June 1st). 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 thoughts in the comments section below.


(MG Historical Fantasy)

September 1940

I pressed my cheek against the cold train window. My heartbeat thudded with each chug of the engine, taking me away from Mother, waving her hanky from the platform edge. She faded into the blanket of fog and out of sight, but I kept my face against the glass. Edwin couldn’t see me cry, no one could — especially not the classmates sharing my compartment. My first time away from home and branded a crybaby? No, thank you. Besides, Mother said I had to be brave. Instead, I squeezed Purrl, my beanbag cat, hidden under my grey school blazer, until my breath stilled.

Michelle- The image you’ve evoked is so lovely. I feel sympathy for your MC, a girl I assume, and we can immediately relate to her. Your words are beautiful and carefully chosen. You could play around with phrasing to maximize the impact. For example,

My heartbeat thudded with each chug of the engine taking me away from Mother. Waving her hanky from the platform edge, she faded into the blanket of fog and out of sight.

I kept my face against the glass. Edwin couldn’t see me cry. No one could — especially not the classmates sharing my compartment.

For the last sentence, take out “Instead” and see what you think. Also, I think “steadied” would be better than “stilled.” Is this your inciting incident? If so, it seems a bit early, and we haven’t had the chance to get to know your MC before. If not, you’ve done a great job of bringing tension in right off the bat. Nice! I would love to read more. Good luck!

Richelle — I agree with Michelle (surprise!) that this scene is so evocative. I like the little hint of voice we get from her “No, thank you.” and the name of her cat, and I feel immediately invested in her situation.

I would love even more of that voice! Does she have any feelings about leaving home other than sadness? Is she angry? Proud? Excited-but-sad? Terrified-but-determined-to-be-brave? Are there ways you can inject her description of the scene with a bit more of her feelings and personality?

Also, I’m a bit concerned that a child being sent off to boarding school or evacuated from London on a train is definitely an opening I’ve seen before. (Though I may have read more classic British children’s literature as a child than most modern kids!) A familiar opening could be OK if you quickly take it in a completely unexpected direction. But I don’t know if it’s enough to hook a modern reader.

Gabrielle — Nice job! You’ve got a great start on an evocative piece. I agree with Michelle about playing with the phrasing. I’d break up your sentences into shorter ones to raise the tension.

I would leave off “instead” as well. I think I’d also either share more about Edwin or take that line out of this paragraph, and leave him out until we get a real introduction. We don’t know who he is here, or even where he is, so that line is distracting. Just adjust the next sentence accordingly. I was thinking about the people outside the train, so it took me a second to figure out how her face against the glass kept people from seeing her cry. Easy fix. Just add “and away from the classmates sharing my compartment” to the against the glass sentence. Then you could cut that from the crybaby sentence.

You did a good job working in senses. In terms of Richelle’s comment about your character’s feelings, I wonder if she’s being forced to leave, or leaving voluntarily, but under duress? It could be powerful to reference that in some way right at the start. My last question for you is whether you’ve played at all with putting this in third person? Might be worth trying a chapter or two and compare them to see which you like more, and which feels stronger.

Jessica: Your writing is lovely and I adore the voice that comes through in the latter part of this sample (as well as the name Purrl). But I’m going to have to agree with Richelle––this feels like an opening that has been done before. The first couple of sentences are so general that they could really be used at the start of almost any going-off-to-school-on-the-train scene.What is it about your story that makes it unique and special?  I’d encourage you to really dig deep and find a way to hook us right away with the first sentence. Give us the great voice we see toward the end of the sample or find a way to convey that you have a story or MC that we’ve not seen before.

In terms of specifics, I’ll note that the the first time I found myself engaged with the text was when we reached the image of the mother fading into the fog; unfortunately, the very next line pulled me right back out of the story. I think Edwin must be a classmate on the train with the MC, but the way it’s worded, I can’t quite tell if he’s in the car with her (if he’s not, then the MC doesn’t need to worry about him seeing her cry. And if he is, then why single him out if she’s “especially” worried about the other classmates?). Also, be careful with the phrase “breath stilled.” This, to me, implied dying, which I don’t think is what you intend to convey. 🙂

Kristi: This is gorgeous. I LOVE the writing. I think you’ve left me with just enough questions that I’m intrigued, but not confused– which is exactly how I like books to start. You’ve also set the time well with little details of the train, hanky and school uniforms. I can really picture all of this and really know that it’s historical without having to be told. Kudos!

I’m also loving the hint of voice, but I’d love to see it highlighted in every thought. The “No, thank you” is perfect, but I do think you can amp it up in all your 8 lines. Strong voice will seep into every syllable. It doesn’t need to be overdone, but definitely it can be a strong undertone.

I’m going to agree with the above comment that this might not be the best place to start. My current WIP started with waiting and then on the school bus and my agent was quick to tell me to find the “real” beginning. You don’t want to lose an agent at this point. Beautiful writing can win them over, but don’t take the chance of them having read 20 other “bus/train/car” scenes and throw yours in the slush, too!

Laurel: This is the kind of atmospheric story I like. It’s rich enough to fully engage the imagination. The lovely meter of the first lines matches the heartbeat thudding to the train’s rhythm. I’m going to list the promises to the reader I get out of these first 8 lines. If I’m totally wrong, maybe my reader reactions will still be useful. If not, follow the first rule of feedback and disregard. 🙂

1. NOTHER LAND has an echo of Never-never Land. The title matches with the historical fantasy genre and hints something about the kind of place that will be on the other end of the train ride. Who will be in charge? Will the world be like PETER PAN or LORD OF THE FLIES?

2. The 1940 made me think of children leaving for the countryside to escape the war, but the school blazer hints they are headed to school. For good or ill, a train to school evokes Hogwarts.

3. Edwin, whoever he is, is good at calling people names and maybe worse. One cannot show weakness in front of him. I wondered if he was a classmate or a sibling, but I don’t think I have to know exactly in the first 8 lines.

4. The MC doesn’t want to show weakness to the classmates. Maybe Mother can’t see the tears from outside the train. Vulnerable and trying to be brave is an appealing mixture.

5. Mother’s hints about bravery suggest school isn’t the only threat in the MC’s future. Hmm. I just realized that I don’t know if the MC is a girl or a boy. Something about Prrrl made me lean towards girl, but that could be prejudice on my part.

6. Mother is so present that it makes me wonder if she’s all the family the MC has. Is Father just at work? At the War Office? or no longer alive? I don’t need to know this yet, but I’m wondering.

Small nitpicks: I wonder if you want a paragraph break before Edwin? Is it couldn’t or shouldn’t see the MC cry? Overall, more paragraph breaks might let the voice come out more in contrast to the rich historical fantasy world.

Nice work in a small space!

Karin: I’m immediately pulled in, so well done! I’m intrigued by the title, and think you intentionally want the comparison to Neverland as the British evacuation of children from the cities during WWII was called Operation Pied Piper.

I love Purrl, the beanbag cat, and don’t mind the introduction of Edwin as it hints at trouble. While I did like the sensory details of cold glass and heartbeat in time to the chug of the train, I agree with my fellow pennies that resting your cheek on a cold glass has been done a lot and even Mother waving a hanky and disappearing into the fog is a little cliche. You can start here but if you do, her (I’m assuming it’s a girl) experiences must be very real and unique to her.

In an SCBWI workshop, author Jennifer Jacobson talked about the importance of incongruity. Cold glass, foggy, tears are expected choices. Sometimes emotion can be heightened by the unexpected. For example, perhaps it’s the first sunny day in a week. I used to live in London so remember the endless cloudy days, but an incongruity like the first sunny day in a week can intensify the reader’s empathy as it feels a more real, more true.

Sounds like a terrific story. Good luck!

Sussu — Thank you for choosing The Winged Pen! We’re glad to have you today.

This is a pleasing entry. The words are well chosen and one image in particular transported me into your world. I was pleased by the diverse choice of sensory words like “cold window”, “chug”, “squeeze.” The action moves fast, which is good, but maybe a little bit too fast for the moment. It would have been nice to open a window into the soul of the protagonist, dig deeper, to help me connect with her more. Maybe she’s never been away from her mom and she might be thinking that no one will understand her like her mom. Maybe her mom is a single mom and the protagonist is afraid she will feel alone and lost. A connection could be established here to foreshadow a feeling of deep loneliness or guilt and hint at the nature of their life together. Is she fighting those tears off? Are they gathering behind her eyelids or is she standing straight and composed? Knowing all of this could help the characterization and would tell me more about who this stranger is.

Because this is historical fiction, I was expecting some more hints at the setting. What could we see in 1940 through the window of a train and inside the compartment that we would not see today? What about the fashion and the mom’s hairdo, hat? People around? The machineries? What makes the protagonist’s mom stand out in the blanket of fog that the protagonist will keep in her mind week after week, month after month? Would it smell of picnic baskets around the compartment, or cold tobacco, or even ink? Would the buzz of school kids envelop the protagonist? She seems all alone in this train, yet Edwin seems to be watching her and she shares the compartment with other classmates. I don’t know who Edwin is, yet you mention his name alone, without cluing me on what kind of a relationship they have and why he would be so judgmental of her.

And where are they heading? What country is this? Does this train station have a name?

It is a good idea to have the name of the protagonist mentioned as soon as possible. Name give good clues about status, origin and time. There are a few places where this could happen. For example, in here, “My first time away from home and branded a crybaby? Adele the crybaby. ”

Despite a lack of clear setting (time/place), I could sympathize with your protagonist and I had a clear picture of what was going on.  Thank you for being so brave to share your entry. I enjoyed it.


The 8 on Eight Contest Window is Open!

eight on eight 2Fellow writers! The 8 on Eight contest window is OPEN!


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, 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 May, 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 May 1st, so don’t wait––enter now!

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