Hi everyone! I went to an Oregon SCBWI retreat over the weekend, and it was a blast! I met agent Karen Grencik, editor Emma Dryden, and--can you believe this?!--Ellen Hopkins, author of CRANK, BURNED, IMPULSE, (etc.) and the newly released PERFECT. All of these ladies were really approachable, and I actually ate dinner with Ellen Hopkins one evening. Woo!
When Ellen Hopkins began speaking, she asked, "How many people before this retreat had already heard of me?" and half the hands went up. She went on to say that if we write YA, we SHOULD have heard of her. All of us as writers should be keeping track of the bigger names in YA--and she's been on the bestseller list eight times for her books! Her novels, interestingly, are all written in verse. Most of them have been on banned lists, too.
Today I'm featuring a critique of the first page of Michael Di Gesu's YA contemporary novel, THE BLINDED GARDENER.
One moment I’m my Dad’s personal punching bag, and the next, well, I’m a pawn in his maniacal master plan. That is, until Danny stepped into the picture and discovered my secret.
Dad forced me to move across the country, and once again, I found myself at a new school, the third in two years. It sucked having a dad in the military.
The warning bell rang for first period. The halls cleared with the slamming of doors. As I wandered about searching for my classroom, I heard someone approach me from behind. I turned and saw a blonde guy walking up the center of the hallway. Long bangs fell over his eyes as he loped past me with a kind of natural ease.
How blind is this guy? Didn’t he see me standing here, fiddling with this useless map.
“Hey, dude. Could you tell me how to get to room 305?”
A slight curl formed on his lips as he faced me. He tossed his head. Platinum fringe shifted to the side and revealed freakish blue eyes that glanced toward me, unfocused.
Holy shit! Is he blind? Stoned is more like it.
“I’m heading that way.” His deep voice held a trace of a southern accent. He turned and continued his long strides.
I envied his height: well over six feet and me just an average dude.
“You better move. Connors loses it when you’re late.”
I rushed to catch up to him. His hand overshot the rickety metal banister. On the second swipe, he made contact and climbed the stairs.
I certainly don't mind the opening, and I think it works well, but I'm a little torn. The first 2 paragraphs are a macro view introduced from a future vantage point. On one hand, I'd just like to get to know the main character and be shown those background facts as the story progresses rather than being told--that he's his dad's punching bag, that Danny discovers his secret, that the MC has just moved and his dad is in the military. On the other hand, the lines do set a mood, a tone, and a conflict right off the bat. We get a tidy and interesting set-up before we move on to the scene.
Picky Little Things
1. In the first line, it says "my Dad." Dad needs to be UNcapitalized, since it's used with the pronoun "my." Like my mother, my computer, my box of pencils. Since it's a relationship label, it's just a regular noun and thus isn't capped. If it's used as a proper noun--used like someone's name--then the word is capitalized. It's used correctly in the second paragraph.
2. Blonde vs. blond. Blonde with an "e" on the end is traditionally the spelling for a girl, and blond is the spelling for a guy. It's becoming more common to refer to a girl's hair color as blond, but I'm not sure of the reverse. The website englishplus.com states that blonde is just for females and blond is for males. I've seen it both ways in books.
This is a picky thing. Just be sure you are CONSISTENT within your manuscript. On another note, sometimes "blonde" is used when you're referring to a person (the blonde got out of the car) and blond is more often used when used as an adjective (he had blond hair).
3. I'm not sure about the phrase "loped past me with a kind of natural ease." I like the way it sounds, but really, "lope" in and of itself already means to take long easy strides, in a relaxed manner. Thus the second part of the phrase may be a bit redundant.
4. This phrase is a question and needs a question mark: Didn't he see me standing here, fiddling with this useless map.
5. I wasn't sure of the dialogue line about being stoned. It almost made me doubt that Danny was truly blind, and I thought that the MC was saying Danny actually was stoned instead, and that's why his eyes looked freakish. Later I verified that he was indeed blind, but then I wondered if perhaps he was stoned on top of that. (?)
6. Is there a reason the metal banister is rickety? Does this rickety banister play into the plot? Does it show that the school is run-down and short of funds? Is it foreshadowing something that will happen later involving this banister? If none of these things, if there isn't a purpose, it might be best to keep this as a simple banister without the added adjective, since school banisters aren't usually rickety; they're pretty sturdy.
I like the voice and wording here in this excerpt, and I didn't find much to comment on except picky fiddley things. We get a good feel of the two characters' personalities, and the passage flows well. I like the line about the MC being "just an average dude." The excerpt is a nice casual type of inner dialogue, and sounds authentically teen boy. I also like the startling description of Danny's "freakish" blue eyes the first time we see them. It's almost seems like a kind of foreshadowing--on one hand this guy is loping, natural, and helpful…and on the other, perhaps there's something else going on with him? Maybe I just like to read foreshadowy details into things, but if it's there on purpose, it's a great subtle hint.
Have you heard of Ellen Hopkins--especially if you write YA?
Can you add any other helpful comments to the above critique?
Did you know brunet refers to males and brunette refers to females? (I didn't either.)
Do you think the first 2 paragraphs provide a necessary set-up, or would you rather be shown the details mentioned there?