Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Page Critique: MOVE

Hi bloggy buddies! Today's first page excerpt is a YA contemporary by Ferris Robinson, entitled Move. Please add your helpful feedback below.

Also, THANKS to Medeia Sharif for giving me the Very Inspiring Blog Award last week! Go forth and visit her fun and informative blog HERE.


I have thirty seconds. My thighs are on fire, but I crouch low to the mat and circle him, moving in and out quickly. I shoot in and grab his leg, then explode up through his body. Again. And again.

Sweat streams into my eyes, but I couldn't see him clearly even if he was really there. I watch him, my imaginary opponent, as Three Doors Down blasts Kryptonite around my head. If I go crazy now will you still call me Superman? I check the clock above the door and go again. I'm on my two hundredth shot when I feel a jolt of electricity right behind my elbow. I lose my balance, and stumble in the middle of the take down. I look at my time; 199 take downs in twenty minutes. I failed.

She should have warned me. Made a noise. Stomped her f****** Eskimo boots. Something. She's lucky I didn't jab her in the eyeball.


Erin Abercrombie taps her ear, and I take my ear buds out. I don't know what to say. I should have said something earlier, back last spring when it happened. Her sister OD'ed and woke up dead. Or didn't wake up at all, rather. Heroin. I don't bring it up.


"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. Didn't want to freak you out if you saw me in the office."  

1. Opening Line and Paragraph: good, then fuzzy. The first line is immediately compelling; time restrictions are always a great way to introduce tension in a scene. As the paragraph continued, I found the "him" ambiguous, and wondered if "opponent" would be a more descriptive word to use instead. I also wasn't sure what was going on with the part about exploding up THROUGH the body. It's explained in the second paragraph, but I'm not sure a first paragraph should be this unclear or confusing to the reader. Would it take some of the initial punch away if "imaginary opponent" was used in the first paragraph instead of "him"? I also wasn't sure why he'd need to explode up through the opponent's body again and again…was he adding to the total numbers of takedowns by doing this?
2. Other Unclear Things.
"…When I feel a jolt of electricity right behind my elbow. … She should have warned me. The "she" surprised me when I read it, and I wondered how it related to the jolt of electricity. Does she have electric superpowers? Did she shock him with something?  Did she merely zap him with static electricity? Does he feel her presence as a sort of electrical force? It might be nice to have these things explained (without feeling explainy).
3. The swearing: Stomped her f****** Eskimo boots. I asked Ferris if this was how the word would appear in a final version, and he said no; in the manuscript it's spelled out as a full F-bomb. The asterisks were just used for public sensitivities on this blog (which is very considerate of him). Anyway, using this word in a YA book is a controversial topic.
Questions Ferris should ask:
--By using this language, this novel might end up on a controversial list, and parents and others would object and possibly protest it; is that acceptable to him as a writer?
--Does the use of these words add a level of realism to the work that wouldn't otherwise be achieved? How much would it change the story if those words were omitted?
--How many times is this word used throughout the book? Half a dozen, or fifty? Are all those instances necessary to the plot, character development, and story arc? My suggestion would be to make sure the word is crucial to every scene it's used.
4. Three Doors Down and Kryptonite. These words are italicized in the excerpt, but since Three Doors Down is a band…band names are usually just capitalized rather than italicized (though that may vary from publisher to publisher). Since "Kryptonite" is a song, enclose it in quotation marks. CD or album titles are displayed in italics, but songs are enclosed in quotes.

Kudos and Overall Thoughts: This is definitely gritty and realistic in tone, which seems fitting for a contemporary guy story. From the very first page it promises action and fighting and nice terse/tight dialogue. It hints that it will deal with tough topics like heroin usage, or its aftermath. I like how the line about the Eskimo boots fits very naturally into the scene, revealing something about the female character who's being introduced.

What feedback can you add to this critique?
Did you know album titles are italicized, while songs are put in quotation marks?

What's your opinion on using swearing/cursing in young adult literature: does it add more realism--since teens really DO talk that way--or should writers avoid these words and use an approximation of reality instead?

Would you WANT your manuscript to be negatively controversial, banned, or challenged--since doing so garners more public attention?


  1. I'm working on a school project right now (and technically shouldn't be here), so I'll just drive by here.

    Here's an article on song titles and album titles.

    I'll come back later.

    1. Good link with good examples! Thanks. :)

  2. Swearing is a tough you said, "since teens really DO talk that way". I lean toward the no side in YA. But I think it depends on the word and the story. A well placed word can be appropriate to make the scene believable. I don't like strings and strings of cussing. It's a waste of time for me to read it. It's there for shock value. I was raised by parents who said that if you cuss, it's because you have lack of a better word. I always fought hard to find that better word. My hope is that teens will too.

    Always learn from you on these critiques...

  3. 1. I wonder if virtual opponent might make it clearer. Or was it an imaginary opponent? I'm confused.
    2. 'she should have warned me...' about what? That she's there? This would indicate virtual as opposed to imaginary, imo.
    3. The reference to the heroin OD is also confusing to me. What does it have to do with what's happening? Is this the first time the narrator has seen Erin since then?
    4. The f word. I'm in favor of it. It makes it more real for me. Just be careful not to overuse it, even if your character was a trashmouth like I was :)
    5. I like how the action pulls me in to the scene, makes me want to know what's going on, who the narrator is, what they're doing (a virtual wrestling practice maybe?), and who Erin is and her significance.

    hope this helps :)

  4. I'd mention about quoting song lyrics that some bands are more copyright zealots than others. What is no-big-deal fair use to one group is "pay me a hundred bucks per word" from another (the Beatles for example). YA author Sarah Dessen skirts this by inventing fake bands and fake hit songs which she can quote freely. (Not a bad idea, methinks).

    You do visceral very well, and yet it seems to me the dramatic focus is lost with this extended description of a video game (Wii wrestling I think?). I want to be knocked sideways by the information in the fifth paragraph about Erin. THAT is your real hook. Maybe condense the first two paragraphs a little--more narrative summary--so the hook hits harder rather than getting a little buried as we try to get our bearings.

  5. Great feedback for your featured writer, Ferris Robinson. I did not know that songs are put in quotation marks - thanks for the tip. As far as cursing in my stories, since I write MG, I don't have to worry about such issues! Take care, Carol ~

  6. I'm very interested in this story. Good critique Carol! My impression from only seeing the first 250 is that this is a guy (or girl) that's hardened and tough as seen in his/her language, fierce choice of past time, and relatively nonchalant way of mentioning a heroin overdose.

    Based on this assumption, I wonder where they are (school? juvenile centre?). Depending on the level of "toughness" the author wants to portray, I think swearing can be appropriate if it's used well. If the character would sincerely not use another word in his inner dialogue, then it should stay. If he's just at school, an angry but 'regular' kid, then maybe it should be taken out because we can already see his hostility in his other mannerisms.

    As far as the imaginary fight scene, I was a bit confused about whether he was just messing around (shadow boxing) or whether it was a game. A word of clarification here or there may help clear that up. Or maybe this is something the author's audience would definitely know?

    To answer your question Carol, I wouldn't be upset at all if a book I wrote was challenged or banned, but I'd hope it would be about more than one f-bomb. If my subject matter caused dissent and controversy, then great! There's always been a place in our world for books like that, and there always should be.

  7. Great critique, Carol. I'd like to add that I don't think you need the first sentence. You are showing the urgency in the second sentence. Best wishes with your ms!

  8. Hi Carol,

    I love that you do these great critiques all the time! As usual, yours is spot on. I thought this page had a lot of potential, but found it hard to follow the action and the characters, so maybe just a brief establishing shot of the location and the set up would help ground us, and then a line or two of narrative woven in to the scene to give us a better foundation about who the players are and what's going on. There's a fine line between wanting to keep reading to find out more and being too confused to keep reading smoothly!

    Thanks for sharing this and for all the time you give to the writing community!



  9. I know an established author who does use the f-bomb in her YA books and she finds it's sometimes difficult to deal with the backlash from parents. Her books are banned from the school lists too, which is a great market to get into.

  10. Carol,

    I'm always lurking around your blog. Your critiques are always spot on. I learn so much. Thanks for posting these.

    One of these days I'll get up the guts to send you some of my work.

  11. Nice action, but I was also a bit confused by the "up through his body" phrase.

    Another great post, Carol!

  12. Another great critique! I enjoyed the short, sharp sentences at the start of the excerpt.

  13. Nice critique Carol! I was also confused by the "up through his body" phrase but wondered if it was wrestling lingo that I was unfamiliar with . . .
    I agree with Talli too - those short, sharp sentences really grabbed my attention.
    At the end of the excerpt I definitely wanted to know more about the setting, characters and the upcoming events . . .

    On the subject of the F-bomb, I think it should be used sparingly. I'm not a fan of swearing in books - for some reason it seems to leap out from the page more than it does when we "hear" it. Although it's true that swearing has become accepted in many ways, not all teens swear, and I think it really depends on the audience for the book. It might not work for a general teen market, but it might work for a very specific one. I'm not sure having the F-bomb on the first page is just forthright, or if it's putting it out there too early.

  14. Hey Carol! Sorry I haven't been by sooner! Been meaning to get over here. Can't wait for October!
    Not much I can add to your crit. I thought the voice in the piece was really good and strong. So important for YA.

  15. I would agree that it is compelling but confusing. I feel wrong-footed and a little frustrated that I don't know what's going on yet. I think confustion for a sentence or two can fly, but then the reader needs an anchor.

    I don't have problems with F-bombs... use them sometimes. Parents and teachers may have issues but young people don't... might get you banned from a school library, but I think swearing sets a certain tone that is often the best fitting tone for the story.

  16. Carol, you took the words right out of my mouth--or the type right out of my fingers, I suppose. Let me add that I loved the first line. It left me asking a question and with a sense of urgency, but I became disoriented quickly.

    I echo the "through" comment, and it is advisable to avoid quoting lyrics for a couple reasons: copyright and dating your piece. Of course, that's a preference. Some songs are timeless. The electricity, while an excellent sensation for touch, left me a little disoriented because I don't know much about this setting. I haven't had enough time in this world to comprehend "normal". For all I know it's a tazer shocking the MC. And that leads me to my biggest problem with this opening: it sets up a false reality. (Unless I read it completely wrong.) I love the imagery and the concept of duking it out with your imaginary nemesis, but I would suggest revising so the MC and his/her reality/setting is established before taking these kinds of liberties. As a reader I didn't know if I was on an athletic mat or in a busy school hall. Finally, I don't know the gender of the MC. I would assume it's a girl because the MC's friend is female, but the wresting allusion made me think "guy."

    The voice is definitely there, and the tension is palpable. The story premise is likely very solid, but I think this beginning starts us off on shaky legs. That's nothing to be ashamed of. I think beginnings get rewritten more than any other part of a book, and this one will get there too.

    *backing away, watching for flying fruit*

  17. Aside from the few things you've pointed out, I thought this was fantastic! I really got into it!

  18. This is definitely gritty. Good call on the "Kryptonite." I wasn't sure where the jolt of electricity came from, so that might need to be clarified. I also would not use the swear word. I'm not sure it's necessary. It indicates a strong hatred toward Erin.

  19. This got my attention. :)

    I would put the heroin issue later and just imply that something serious happened since this excerpt already seems packed, unless that's why they're going into the office together.

  20. Great critique, Carol. I have to admit I was rather confused by the whole scene. But there's definitely a voice there. I'd keep reading!

  21. I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to Carol for this site, and to all of you who have taken the time to comment. It is incredibly helpful, and I look forward to doing the same for you. I'm not sure if it's appropriate to post rewrites, but I've taken your feedback to heart, and really, really appreciate it so much!

    I have thirty seconds. My thighs are on fire, but I crouch low to the mat and circle him, moving in and out quickly. I shoot in and grab his leg, then explode up through his body. Again. And again.

    Sweat streams into my eyes, but I couldn't see him clearly even if he was really there. I watch him, my imaginary opponent, as Three Doors Down blasts Kryptonite around my head. If I go crazy now will you still call me Superman? I check the clock behind the basketball goal, and go again.

    I lunge so deep my left knee skims the wrestling mat, then spring back after lifting him up. Light on my feet. Smooth. Every ten seconds I power up under him for a take-down.

    I move through the chorus – not a single break. My thighs feel like they’ve been boiled.

    I'm on my two hundredth shot when Erin Abercrombie suddenly grabs my elbow.

    I lose my balance, and stumble in the middle of the last take-down. I look at my time; 199 take-downs in twenty minutes. I failed.

    She should have warned me. Made a noise. Stomped her fucking Eskimo boots.

    Something. She's lucky I didn't jab her in the eyeball on accident.

    She just taps at her ear, and I take my ear buds out.


    "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. Didn't

    want to freak you out if you saw me in the office."

    She jerks her head toward the little glassed-in room in the corner of the gym.

    "No. That's okay. I'm just going over moves."

    "Yep. Okay, then. I'm getting the picture forms. Here. Here's yours." She thrusts a sheet of paper at me. "You know I'm the team manager this year? Erin? Abercrombie?"

    "Yes. No. Okay." I should not speak at all.

    1. So much easier to follow. I REALLY like that I know his/her physical location.

  22. Interesting piece... Nice to stop by and see another version. I still felt a little confused at the end of the first para. But that could just be me xx

  23. Like you, I love the first sentence; definitely a good use of the ticking clock to ensure tension. Also love the varied sentence lengths of the first paragraph. The imaginary opponent and burst of electricity feels like fantasy/sci-fi, so I kind of want some more clarity on exactly what's happening.

    That said, the rewrite posted in the comments totally takes care of all my issues. There's enough grounding details for us to know where we are without an info-dump, and we get to see more of the character in action as well as hear more of her(?) voice. Awesome!

  24. I loved this excerpt! I agree there were several things her that confused me, like the "up through his body" and the electric charge, but it's so well written and really drew me in. As usual, your critique is so insightful and you make excellent points.

  25. I agree with Carol's crit. I think this is a really strong start. Just a little more clarity and it'll be golden. I think the f-bomb is fine if it's going to be a gritty type of book, which it seems it is.

  26. Like you, I liked the engaging opening but I was a little confused as to what was actually happening. A bit more explanation and this will be stellar!

  27. Full kudos to your critique. I can only echo whats been said. I loved the first sentence. Period. And what followed, was a little confusing. Can't tell if its drug infused imaginary fight and the MC is day dreaming whilst listening to music.

    Still, I say go back and start from the opening sentence. Work out what your are trying to tell the reader and re-write it. For the record, I don't mind swearing, I think its realistic to YA language in reality - though in books, I know others have different opinions. If you choose to write a certain style, then stay true to it. I like gritty, thats all I'm saying. Grab us with the rest of the excerpt as you did with the opening! Good luck!!!

  28. Wonderful critique, as always, Carol. I was immediately pulled into this excerpt, but like others who commented, I became a bit confused about what was going on. Sometimes clarity comes with more reading, but as is I wouldn't mind more explanation.

  29. Carol, you do have a great skill critiquing other's work.

    First line hooked me too.


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