Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Middle Grade Page Critique: Richfield

First, a squeal--I won Bekah's Worst Logline Ever Contest! Click HERE to visit and view. Way nice, since along with the honor, I won a $25 Amazon gift card. Yay!

Today's post features a sample page sent to me for a critique. (Yes, these can be anonymous! Just let me know when you send it. See sidebar for how to submit.) This piece would be categorized as middle grade fiction, based on the subject matter and the age of the main character.

THE EXCERPT
Richfield
The long dirt road to the main road through the wheat fields seems like an eternity to walk. Although I beat my older sister out the door of our trailer, now she's ahead of me. “Can’t you walk any faster?? Come on, hurry up, were going to miss the bus!”

Finally we reach the main road, and the bus is late. I start to wander, looking at the ground. Sis says, “Don’t go too far, you’ll miss the bus.” “OK, ok! I ain’t going far.” Much to my amazement, I find a frog on the side of the road. Kinda flat, but not too bad of shape. “Hmm, wonder what would happen if I stepped on him?” “DON’T YOU DARE step on that frog, that’s just too gross!” So, being the obedient brother, I step on him. Not enough to squish him, just enough that his tongue came out, un-rolled, and exposed a fly at the end of it. So, I released the pressure off his back and the tongue obliged and rolled back in.

“Sis! You gotta see this!, This is neat!!!” “What’s neat?” she responded. I quickly stepped on his back and the tongue rolled out to show his prize. I let go and the tongue rolled in. “I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT! THAT’S GROSS!! STOP IT!” So, I stepped on him again, but this time, I think the stress got to me and stepped a little too hard. Instead of the tongue rolling out, his guts came out his sides. No more toy.

The bus arrives just as my sister finished vomiting on my frog. Poor guy. We get in and I ride to school.


THE CRITIQUE
Tenses changed to present tense + a few other bits:
"Can’t you walk any faster, [MC's name]?? [she says] "Come on, hurry up, were [we're] going to miss the bus!”

Not enough to squish him, just enough that his tongue came [comes] out, un-rolled [unrolls], and exposed [exposes] a fly at the end of it. So, [could omit this So] I released [release] the pressure off his back and the tongue obliged [obliges] and rolled [rolls] back in.

“What’s neat?” she responded. [responds/says]
I quickly stepped [step] on his back and the tongue rolled [rolls] out to show his prize. I let go and the tongue rolled [rolls] in.

So, I stepped [step] on him again, but this time, I think the stress got [gets] to me and stepped [I step] a little too hard. Instead of the tongue rolling out, his guts came [come] out his sides. No more toy.

The bus arrives just as my sister finished [finishes] vomiting on my frog.

COMMENDABLE STUFF: The voice of this is nicely chatty and conversational, and sounds believable for this age group. It seems to flow well. I find the bit with the frog quite real and amusing, and this is good since humor often plays a big part in middle grade fiction. Especially boy readers enjoy "gross" things like stepping on frogs with party-favor-like tongues, and hearing about someone throwing up.

GENDER and DIALOGUE: It might be good to let the reader know that the main character is male sooner, perhaps slipping in his name when his sister first tells him to hurry. It would also help readability to begin a new paragraph/line every time there is a new speaker; readers 8-12 (middle grade) are fond of "white space," and lengthy paragraphs can be daunting. Adding a dialogue tag [she says] would be helpful at the very first line of dialogue, since it's not ultra-clear it's the sister speaking.

TENSE: The story starts out in present tense, and slips into past tense for most of the latter part of the story. Make sure this is kept consistent, as indicated in red, above.

PUNCTUATION and WORDS: Use only one form of end punctuation: one question mark or exclamation mark instead of two or three. The word "were" should be "we're" (as in a contraction of we are), and inserting "in" into the "but not [in] too bad of shape" sentence would help clarify. The word "so" is repeated three times close together; omitting one or two would be good, probably the second one. A simple "said" might be better than "responded" for the sister's line of dialogue.

I'm not sure of the official policy of using CAPS, but I find them a little distracting. I think I've seen it done in published books, however. Be careful not to overdo it, because all caps tend to wear the reader out. It looks like shouting, which can make the reader feel numb after a while. This also goes for an excess of question marks, exclamation marks, dashes, ellipses, and italicized words. Don't overdo any of them.

Thanks for the submission of this lively excerpt!

YOUR TURN
Can you add or subtract any feedback to this critique?

Do you prefer to write in present or past tense?
When you write in present tense, does past tense often creep in where it shouldn't?

Do you use CAPS IN YOUR STORIES? What do you think about using them?

Do you find yourself overusing question/exclamation marks, dashes, ellipses, or italics?

13 comments:

  1. I'm a present tense fan, I'll admit. And congrats on the logline win!

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  2. Congrats on your logline award! I use past tense. I like your critique! That's a great service to offer:).

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  3. I feel so much more alive and in it with present tense! I think it's definitely the way to go esp. for middle grades and YA.

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  4. I like present tense a lot too. Great thing you are doing here. HOpe you do more!

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  5. Great crit!

    I love to read and write in present tense. Fortunately it's hot right now in YA.

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  6. Very nice critique. I agree with the changes you suggested here. I rarely use present tense but it works for this one:)

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  7. congrats on your win Carol on the crit i like the realness of it but somethings came off as the author's voice and not the boys
    Boys at that age will rarely use the word "sis"
    also I dont think boys really analyze themselves b4 doing their gross stuff - him saying he did bcos he was the obedient bro also came off a little as u explaing stuff to us. if u leave that bit out we will still get the fact that he is rebellious.
    As I said this is a very realistic read, good job

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  8. I don't use caps in my stories, but I thought the first set of caps was fine, since it distinguished that part of the sentence from the rest of it, but I wouldn't use caps the second time. Like you said, best not to overdo.

    I love how you offer these critiques - what a generous thing to do! And congrats on your win!

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  9. Congrats on your win! :)

    I write in past tense, but enjoy reading in either, if they do it well and it suits the story. (A lot of YA lately is done in present tense, and it often works) I don't use caps in my writing and I am very cautious with using punctuation marks aside from periods and question marks. When a writer overuses other punctuation, it pulls me out of the story. Less is always more. (except with glitter...then more is better ;)

    Now, if we are talking my casual emails and comments and even blog posts, well, then I'm lazy and 'colorful' and overuse (okay, abuse) ellipses, em dashes, exclamation points, semicolons, parentheses. (Maybe I am subconsciously trying to get them out of my system?)

    Happy Friday!
    Love,
    Lola

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  10. What a great crit. I love getting them, they are so helpful for my writing.
    CD

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  11. What a nice story! And good job on the critique.

    I have to really watch myself with the tense issue. I'm aware of it in draft one, but I really check for that stuff on the second draft. I rarely use exclamation points, unless someone is screaming or something like that (comments on blog posts are a completely different matter).

    And congrats on your win with Bekah! Your logline was hilarious.

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  12. Reminder: Be Jolly By Golly Blog fest on Monday! Jen and I can't wait for your entry!

    Melissa's blog.

    Jen's blog.

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Hi, bloggy buddies! I respond to all comments via email if you have an address linked to your profile. Sorry, I have had to turn OFF comments from Anonymous users due to Spam.