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!
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.”
“If he has any questions, answer them.”
“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.
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?
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?