Announcing: new critique format! A little shorter overall, with the main critique points highlighted in blue to help you scan key points faster. Hope it helps.
Today's post features a first-page excerpt sent to me for critique, as per the sidebar instructions if you're interested. This is taken from a MG/YA paranormal-mystery novel by Cinette Santangelo.
Witches Don't Wear Socks
"But Mom, witches don’t wear socks!” I heard Raz yell. I opened my bedroom door to find her standing outside of my door, at the top of the stairs in her underwear with her hands on her hips and a wide-brimmed, pointy black hat on her head.
“I could dig out a pair of Grandma Stella’s itchy black wool stockings for you, if you’d like.” Mom’s voice carried up the stairwell.
Raz gave a six year-old’s exaggerated huff. “I’ll find something else!” She turned from the stairs and spotted me in my doorway. “Morning, Alex. What are you being for Halloween?”
“Me. What are you supposed to be?” I was beyond slow, first thing in the morning.
“A scary witch,” she cackled, raising her clawed hands next to her face.
“You don’t look very scary.”
“But YOU sure do!” Giggling and shrieking, she bolted for her room and slammed the door.
“OH! Burned by a six year-old. Slipping at your game, are you?” Cassie called from the bathroom across the wide landing.
I hated morning people.
She was applying mascara, and, of course, was already dressed in her cheerleader uniform. Her long, dark hair was styled into cascades of ringlets, and a light blush highlighted her fair, slightly freckled cheeks. She had taken to Mom’s Irish roots, while I had the darker complexion of my Mediterranean-born father.
Stepping out of my room, I felt the usual tingle and pull as I passed through the wards Grandma Stella set over my room.
Starting With Dialogue
To reiterate from my last post: The main reason starting with dialogue is advised against is that the reader is dropped into a scene mid-action without knowing who the characters are, if the character is someone worth caring about, who's speaking, or what's going on. This can be confusing. It's usually better to introduce the story or main character with a sentence or two first.
Middle Grade or Young Adult?
This feels more MG to me. If YA, it'd probably be lower YA. It also depends on the age of the main character and the type of conflict/plot; MG generally involves protagonists ages 8-12, while YA is 13+. There are exceptions, of course, such as THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, in which the protagonist is 11 but the Holocaust theme makes it YA.
Wording and Little Things
1. The phrase "standing outside of my door" reads smoother without the "of." Also, door is repeated.
2. Is the mom trying to dissuade Raz when she says "itchy black wool stockings"? If an honest offer, she might not say "itchy"--since that's negative.
3. Six-year-old would be all hyphenated.
4. Don't overdo caps. I'd omit them on OH. Alternately, you could use italics for YOU.
5. The "light blush highlighted her fair, slightly freckled cheeks" is quite a mouthful. I'd trim that description. Having both light and highlighted is too much of an echo.
6. Cassie has long, dark hair; Alex has a darker complexion. Also a bit too much of a repeat.
7. If the ward/spell is something Grandma has already done, the verb tense would be "had set." And I admit I wasn't initially sure what a "ward" was.
8. The second sentence is quite long, especially if it's MG. It might be better as two: I opened my bedroom door to find her at the top of the stairs. She stood in her underwear with her hands on her hips, and a wide-brimmed, pointy black hat on her head.
9. Would a six-year-old say "Morning," and say her sister's name/Alex? It sounds more like the author is making sure the reader knows the main character's name. To me, Raz would probably say, "Hey. What are you being for Halloween?" but it depends on Raz's personality. She does seem pretty informal to me, since she's bellowing on the stairs in her underwear. LOL
10. The "burned by a six-year-old" phrase repeats the info that Raz is six; this isn't needed. If omitting one instance, I'd choose the first, leaving that line as: Raz gave an exaggerated huff.
11. Cassie sort of appears out of nowhere. Initially, I didn't know anyone else was around, and I thought Alex had responded with that dialogue line. This could be cleared up (a bit) by bumping Cassie's dialogue tag phrase to before she says the line about Alex slipping her game. Or insert a short action phrase by Cassie to introduce her before she speaks her line.
12. I assume Alex is a female--but there's really nothing so far that indicates her gender.
13. The Mediterranean part seemed like a ploy to describe Alex's appearance, and while this is a fairly natural place to describe Cassie, it interrupts the action and story flow a little.
14. Passive sentences, weak verbs: when describing people, places, or things, writers often lapse into weak "to be" verbs like was and were. In this excerpt, the verbs are nice and active until Cassie is described, when phrases like "was applying" and "was styled" appear.
15. From what I've seen (all of chapter 1; Cinette was a 100-follower giveaway winner of a chapter critique) I would label this a fantasy rather than paranormal, but that could be just me, and it could veer off into something more paranormal later.
The "burned by a six-year-old" line works well to let the reader know Raz's age in a natural way. The tone and voice is light and playful; I like Alex's disdain for morning people. There's a hint of conflict on the horizon. I like the tingle and pull of stepping out of the protective spell, the inherent question of WHY she needs that protection, and the nonchalance about magical things in her life. The story feels like an interesting cross between Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Can you add anything else to this critique?
Does this feel more like MG or YA to you?
How old do you think the main character Alex is?
What would make this novel paranormal rather than fantasy--which does it seem like to you?