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!