Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Page Critique: MANIFESTATION FILES


Today's excerpt for critique is from Chihuahua Zero's YA urban fantasy entitled Manifestation Files.  Please add your feedback below!

THE EXCERPT

     As Mom and I stood outside of customs, she reviewed the list the umpteenth time.
     “All right,” Mom said, rapidly scribbling on her sketchpad. “You know your role once the exchange student arrives. You’ll have to guide him around.” She flashed her paper. On it was an assortment of local attractions only the locals would be interested in. Minor museums, cheap historic diners, and Forest Park’s attractions.
     I looked from the list. “At least you’re not suggesting the Arch.”
     “But that’s expensive, honey.” She flipped a few pages and jotted some illegible writing. “Now, treat him nicely.”
     “I will…”
     “If he has any questions, answer them.”
     “I know…”
     “And be careful with any experimentation of any sort—“
     “Mom!” That again?
     “I know that you didn’t want me signing us up, but I think that housing an exchange student would be a great experience for the both of us.”
     “You already said that,” I said, “but I doubt that our current circumstances—”
     “Don’t worry. I bet that by the end of the year, you’ll look upon this experience quite fondly.”
     I spotted someone headed our direction.
     A teenage boy dragged a rolling suitcase behind him, weaving through the small crowd among the customs area. He was definitely the exchange student.
     He tripped at our feet.
     I rushed to help him up before Mom could fully react. However, the exchange student already began lifting himself up with the suitcase handle. His legs shook. By the time he stood, he wore a sheepish grin that acted as a blatant cover-up.

THE CRITIQUE
1. First impressions. The dialogue flows and it's a good intro page, pretty clean. As far as first lines, it's decent but not overly gripping or intriguing. I also expected more inner thoughts and reactions since this is written in first person; this is quite streamlined. The mother seemed controlling, which causes conflict, but the tension maybe could be notched up to strengthen the scene (being careful not to go melodramatic or angst-saturated).

2. Gender. Most YA has female protagonists, so I made an assumption the main character was a girl. I was surprised to learn that the MC was a male named Bryan! However, it did make more sense that the mother was pushing Bryan/a son toward hanging out with a male exchange student, rather than her daughter. Perhaps the mother could call him "Bryan" in her dialogue, or else indicate in another way that the MC is male. Gender should be nailed down on a first page so the reader isn't disoriented later.

3. Character reveals. Chihuahua Zero wanted to know specifically: Is enough about Bryan shown on this page? What impression do you get from Bryan and Finn's meeting?

I definitely would've liked to see more details about Bryan's personality. There are some nice hints at underlying tensions and his character, but I'd like to see more of what Bryan is thinking and feeling. As far as the meeting, I didn't get much of an impression of Finn, the exchange student, other than he's clumsy and shy and he was carrying a suitcase. There's not much of an exchange other than Bryan noticing Finn is embarrassed and trying to cover it up.

Chihuahua Zero directed me to his first version on Janice Hardy's blog: HERE. If you have time, skim through that and compare! During revision he tightened and omitted some very strong lines (and voice)--such as this description of the exchange student:

“Umm...sorry about that.” His British accent was soft, timid, like a feeble-lunged flutist.. “Phineas Walker...but call me Finn.”

My opinion is that the strongest version of this story lies in the melding of these two versions. I prefer the mother being in the scene rather than the father, though--it shows the father's absence rather than telling about it.

 4. Wording/Picky Things.
--Rapidly scribbling. "Scribbling" means to write hastily or untidily, so the adverb "rapidly" really isn't necessary.
--"Telling" dialogue. The mother's line about "you know your role" is Telling, as well as lines like "I know you didn't want me signing us up" are info the characters already know and would've discussed before this point. Thus, they're mentioned only to inform the reader. I'd rather be shown by Bryan's actions, attitudes, and inner thoughts that he didn't want to be signed up, etc.
--Non-teen dialogue. Bryan's line about "I doubt that our current circumstances" doesn't sound teen-like to me--unless he's very intellectual or formal (which may hinder readers relating to him).
--Ambiguity. I wasn't sure what "experimentation" meant. It sounds like he does science experiments or is secretly sadistic, or else plays mind games with people. Perhaps rephrase? While it piques reader interest, you don't want to give an impression that's too far off. CZ says the true meaning is that Bryan is gay; does this word hint at that to you?

YOUR TURN
Did you read this thinking the main character was female rather than male?
How would YOU answer CZ's questions: Is enough about Bryan shown on this page? and What impression do you get from Bryan and Finn's meeting?
If you read the first version on Janice's blog, do you agree that it has more voice, and that the best version would be a meshing of these two versions?

32 comments:

  1. yes, I assumed the mc was a girl, too, so I'd make it clear he isn't! Having the mom call him by name would be a great way to make that clear up front, maybe here:

    I looked from the list. “At least you’re not suggesting the Arch.”
    “But that’s expensive, Bryan.” She flipped a few pages and jotted some illegible writing. “Now, treat him nicely.”

    also, I don't think you need all those dialogue tags. The story would read smoother and you'd get to the meeting sooner - imo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Since I revised that line out (deleting the entire list part eliminated some headache), I inserted Bryan's name somewhere else in the first page. This one clarification should be enough to prevent confusion.

      By the way, I would like to thank Carol for critiquing my page! "For the umpteenth time", as Bryan says. I would recommend her if you need someone to give their constructive thoughts for your page.

      Delete
  2. This has an interesting and intriguing premise and I would have liked to read on. It didn't bother me that I was unsure of the gender this early on, but I agree that the dialogue was a tad telling at points. Nice excerpt and review.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks!

      One problem I had with this chapter was finding the exact point to begin. If I began with Finn tripping, there wouldn't be any context. The problem is establishing that:

      * Bryan and his mother is hosting an exchange student,
      * Bryan is reluctant about it,
      * and he doesn't really like his mother.

      Delete
  3. How would someone send you a page to critique?
    -Theresa

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    Replies
    1. The guidelines are listed right under her profile in the sidebar!

      Delete
    2. And I should make sure to mention how to do so in my POSTS once in a while, because a lot of people read the posts in Google Reader rather than visiting the blog. Send the first 250ish words to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com, pasted into the email. :)

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    3. Thanks so much! Will be waiting patiently for your critque!

      -Theresa
      theresamjones.blogspot.com

      Delete
  4. Great points. I too thought she was talking to her daughter
    Xx

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    Replies
    1. Wow. I can't believe I caused that much confusion. It probably because most protagonists in YA are female, therefore that's the default.

      Delete
  5. I wasn't sure if it was a boy or a girl *until* the experimentation line. That convinced me it was a girl, because I thought the mom was talking about, ahem, *that* kind of experimentation! Which made me wonder why she signed up for an exchange student if she's afraid her daughter will ... ahem.

    But since it's a boy, that throws a monkey wrench into my thinking. Getting Bryan's name in there would clear that up, but what does experimentation mean? Since this is an urban fantasy, I am now thinking along the lines of magic and such, which explains the "our current circumstances" line.

    I'd suggest carefully deciding whether or not you need that reference on the first page, or whether it could be more naturally added later. If you really want it on the first page, I'd go ahead and be slightly more specific than "experimentation." What IS it that she's afraid Bryan will do with (to?) the exchange student?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's less fantastical than you think. Bryan's yet to discover the masquerade. She's referring to "sexual experimentation", and "current circumstances" refers to borderline money troubles. :p

      And I meant Bryan's mom to be more teasing than afraid, being the embarrassing and over-tolerant type. It seems like I didn't put that point across clearly enough. I'll consider that when going for another round of revising.

      Delete
  6. I, too, assumed the MC was female. However, I found the excerpt intriguing. Great review, Carol. Good luck "Chihuahua Zero!"

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  7. I pretty much agree with what you said. I had no clue the MC was a boy. There definitely needs to be some mention of his name to clue the reader in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the current version of this page, there now is his name.

      Delete
  8. I thought it was a girl, and was surprised the mom was pushing the MC to hang out with a male exhange student. I definitely need to know a bit more about Bryan somehow here, some "male" inner dialogue or description. What kind of experimentation is it . . is this something to be worried about? a special super power manifesting itself? what? Maybe I don't need to know here, but a hint would be nice.

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    Replies
    1. Nah, as I probably said above, the "experimentation" part is more mundane--and got axed since the last revision.

      Delete
  9. yes, I assumed the MC was female as well. And I had no idea what the experimentation was about. Being an urban fantasy, I was thinking maybe it meant magic or something.

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  10. Just tagged you in the Random Acts of Kindness Blitz. Have a great weekend Carol!

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  11. I thought the MC was female as well. Still, it's a great piece and I wanted to keep reading. I assumed the next part was a continuation of the awkwardness in meeting Finn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right. Awkwardness ensues, although what type of awkwardness, I'm still working out.

      Delete
  12. Great critique, Carol. The one thing that confused me is: why is the mother planning their time together while at the airport? Wouldn't she already have those details worked out?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was supposed to be a way to show Bryan's mom's enthusiasm, contrasting Bryan's reluctance.

      However, I'm considering doing something else. Perhaps a sign with the exchange student's name on it? ("You didn't need to decorate it.")

      Delete
  13. Great crit, as usual! I think this is a strong first page, but agree that we could use more of a feeling of Bryan, so pumping up the voice would be good. I did think "experiment" meant in the sexual way, and so once we establish that Bryan and Finn are both boys, that makes sense to me since it's supposed to be a reference about his sexual orientation. Is he gay, or is the mom just thinking he would randomly experiment with another boy? Either way, she does seem way neurotic, which adds some juicy drama for sure. Nice job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm...neurotic. That's a trait I hadn't actually thought would apply to Bryan's mom. Let me think about it.

      And you're right about Bryan's orientation. Since it's too obvious, I'm going with a more subtle nudge.

      Delete
  14. Excellent critique! I agree with the comments that Bryan's voice could be stronger - I thought he was a girl initially for some reason. I really enjoyed this first page and I'd definitely read on.

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  15. Yes, I thought the mc was a girl. And no, the mention of "experimentation" didn't make me think he was gay - my impression was that he'd blown up the kitchen doing a science experiment or something. I enjoyed reading this, and I thought your critique was great.

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  16. Very interesting excerpt, and very good critique. I think you're suggestions were spot on.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  17. I wasn't sure at first whether this was a first page or a chapter later on. Since this is the book's opening, I think a rework of the first line to make it stronger and dynamic is needed to reel in the reader. The word "mom" a few times so soon feels clunky. I think the first line should focus solely on the main protag. He's standing outside of customs and how does he feel? Is he excited, totally freaked out? Something to clue us in whether he's going on vacation or escaping from a threat. The second line can introduce mom. I agree, something to get the name or protag gender in there right away is essential. It's needed information.

    Also agree on more internal reflection from Bryan. He can think some of those plot explainers rather than saying them, which the initial critique mentioned sounded particularly non teen speak.

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  18. I love your critiques. You catch so many things!

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  19. I kind of thought the mc was a boy before we knew the name. I agree you have to introduce the name asap. I pretty much agree with everything Carol said.

    I would keep reading...I think that having a male mc is good and more books need to be written with them.

    Are you from STL?

    ReplyDelete

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