Sunday, July 24, 2011

GUTGAA Week 4: First 200 Words

For the final week of the Gearin' Up to Get an Agent blogfest, hosted by the amazing Deana Barnhart, we are perfecting our first pages! First we're posting them on our blogs and hopping around to give feedback and advice. (One of the query contestants last week was smart enough to take MY advice and made the finals!) :D (No, I'm not bitter.)

Then, by Tuesday at 3:00 PM EDT, we email our official entries to Deana, where they will be judged by a team of preliminary judges and then by Agent Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency and by writer Monica B.W..

Yes, yes, I know. I just posted for a first page contest last week. That was a different contest. With different judges. And different participants (probably). If you helped me out with that one, feel free to either help again or ignore this post.

UPDATE: Once again, based on the awesome comments, I've revised the first page and would like feedback on whether I've been successful in fixing the issues you all saw. The original is just below, with the revision after that. Thanks, everyone!

So, without further ado, I present my first 205 words for my YA Fantasy:
Brina knew better than to go out in public looking less than her dubious best.
She knew it, but figured hurrying home for her mother’s birthday party would merit a special dispensation of luck. She didn’t even bother to grow to human size first, but left her purse and car keys with Moria and launched herself out the palace window.
The first flash came from her left and, like an idiot, she twisted toward it. Which is how the photographer’s zoom lens caught her: eyes opened wide, long braid slicked back from her face with her own sweat, and limbs sticking out at startled angles from her workout tank and short-shorts. All of it glowing softly brown in the dusk.
As a special bonus, the magazine’s cover photo had captured the moment her four bright white wings had frozen in shock, sending her plummeting a few feet downward. The resulting portrait could have been entitled “Freak, Falling” but instead the headline proclaimed: “Human-Pixie Hybrids: The Last American Taboo.” That worked, too.
Naturally, it was taped to her locker first thing Tuesday morning. The cover hadn’t been torn carefully, and a jagged gash ripped halfway through Brina’s right wing. As if she needed help looking ridiculous.
So, what do you think? Got any advice that will help me beat you in the contest? :D

REVISION (210 words):
Brina knew better than to go out in public looking less than her questionable best.

She knew it, but figured hurrying home for her mother’s birthday party deserved a special endowment of luck. She didn’t even grow to human size first, but left her purse and car keys with her best friend Moira and launched herself out the palace window into the sweltering air of San Antonio, Texas.

The first flash came from her left and, like an idiot, she twisted toward it. Which is how the photographer’s zoom lens caught her: eyes opened wide, long braid slicked back from her face with her own sweat, and limbs sticking out at startled angles from her workout tank and short-shorts. All of it glowing softly brown in the dusk.

As a special bonus, the magazine’s cover photo had captured the moment her four bright white wings froze in shock, sending her plummeting a few feet downward. The resulting portrait could have been entitled “Freak, Falling” but instead the headline proclaimed: “Human-Pixie Hybrids: The Last American Taboo.” That worked, too.

Naturally, the magazine cover was taped to her locker first thing Tuesday morning. Brina stopped dead in the middle of the hallway, forcing her human and pixie classmates to swerve around her.
 Annnd... cut! Is that any better?

29 comments:

  1. Robin-I'm enthralled. I want to know more and that is always a good sign. Thanks for being brave and putting this out there. I think it's great!
    KP

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  2. Oooo I love it. I'm immediately interested in the conflicting ideas: Car key and a palace window, Human-Pixie Hybrids, work out clothes and wings. All of it sounds so cool. And I love the VOICE. I would love to read this.

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  3. This is great! I get what's happening right away.

    However, it does seem to drop me in a bit too early, if that makes sense. I think agents R.G. or K.N. wrote about this recently. I need to understand a pixie being outed in a newspaper--give me some buy-in as to the history or character (maybe one sentence???).

    It's probably just me though because I'm a ding-bat. I love the imagery in this!

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  4. Hi, Robin, I have a few graph-specific thoughts:

    1. The words "dubious best" didn't hang together for me.

    2. Watch for unneeded commas before conjunction words that don't have an independent clause following them, e.g. ", but figured" wouldn't get a comma. You grabbed my interest with "She didn’t even bother to grow to human size first." But who is Moria? That threw me. I like the visualization of going through the palace window.

    3. Great imagery.

    4. Also great!

    5. Also also great!

    P.S. I've left a response to your comment on Bird's-eye View, http://robinweeks.blogspot.com/2011/07/gutgaa-week-4-first-200-words.html.

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  5. I agree with Alleged Author - I felt a bit lost with no context to start me off.

    I agree with Michelle that Moria thew me too.

    I also found the word "dispensation" didn't quite fit with the voice you had created and made that sentence that little bit more tricksy to understand. Perhaps "dishing-out" or something more straight forward?

    Anyhow, great voice and intriguing plot. Teenage kids would love this I think and really have got the whole culture right - with the magazine and paps!

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  6. The voice is great. I would agree that I need a little more regarding the background. I felt a little lost, but overall, I'm intrigued. Great start!

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  7. This opening caught my attention! I loved the voice of the narrator, and the uniqueness of "human-pixie hybrids".

    I think it might have helped to know she was a "human-pixie" before she flew out the window, because at that point, I was wondering whether she was a bird or some other small creature.

    The phrase "dubious best" made me stop and think, and I'm not sure if you want your reader to have to do that right at the beginning of the story. Same with "special dispensation of luck". I liked the phrase, and thought it fit well with the tone, but I had to stop and ponder on what it might mean.

    I think it's really cool that other people obviously know she's a human-pixie hybrid, and I really wanted to read on to see where this is going.

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  8. Thanks everyone! I have a question--most people who read the book will read some sort of back cover copy first. This is the pitch I posted for the last contest:

    Humans are used to pixies, but human-pixie hybrid Brina will have to leverage her differences to understand her heritage, slow the flow of illegal dust, or win the heart of a certain charming Midsummer ass.

    Is it bad to assume readers will read something like that and take their background from it? The centuries-long background is rather hard to sum up in a sentence and I don't want to start with backstory.

    On Moira--will it help if I call her "best friend Moira" ??

    Michelle & Andrea--I'll find something else besides dubious and dispensation. :( (Me likee those words!)

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  9. I liked the "dubious best". I thought it said a lot in two words.

    Since I've read the book, I can no longer give you first impressions, but I'm with you. Most people will have read the jacket and come into the story knowing what Brina is.

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  10. Nicely done. You've transported me to your world, created empathy for the MC, established the mood:) I think mentioning Moira is her bff would be helpful. Also, watch your use of 'had.'

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  11. I love it. Love the idea, love the voice. I want to keep reading :D

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  12. I liked it too, the dichotomy of the imagery is fun. Even though I liked the way "dubious best" sounds -- it stopped me as well.

    I also wanted the action to be happening now -- so when I realized it had already happened and now we're at the present with her locker (yes?) I felt cheated just a bit.

    I love your voice so much I want it to be happenening now. Does that make sense?

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  13. Oh, I loved this! The imagery was beautiful. Love your voice. I definitely want to read more!

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  14. Robin-

    Looks like you've already received some spot on advice! Intriguing premise!

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  15. Oooh, I really like this!

    This is probably just me, but what does she mean, 'her dubious best'? I think I know what you're trying to get across, but I just kept catching on that sentence.

    That's all I really got! Awesome job, I'd read on!

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  16. OK, intersting. You lost me a bit on the first line. How does 'dubious' have anything to do with the way she looks? I think you meant something else here and just picked the wrong word. And, I'm not feeling how she felt that the rip in the peice of paper across her wing made her look worse. It was just a rip in a peice of paper.

    Just my thoughts --take 'em or leave 'em :)

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  17. I agree - great voice and premise here! The fun you're having with something ancient in the modern world is clear.

    I wonder - if switching this around would help with concerns others had about starting in the present and being better grounded in the story. Maybe start with, "The (magazine) cover hadn’t been torn carefully, and a jagged gash ripped halfway through Brina’s right wing." And then kind of work your way back?

    But, I'd love to read more! Best of luck in the contest ~ :)

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  18. This does exactly what it's supposed to - intrigue the reader. I don't know which world I am in, how serious her 'outing is' and what the celebrity angle is - but I don't want to know it all at once.

    I like the tweak suggested by Donea Lee that starts at her locker with the torn magazine cover.

    good luck!

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  19. Hi Robin, I don't think it's WRONG to take the background from the back cover, but I think Donea has a great idea -- to start with the photo on the locker.

    Yes, nix dubious and dispensation-- they stopped me.

    Yes, add best friend Moria.

    I love the voice and premise. Just wonderful.

    I'd nix the last line because I think it's too obvious and doesn't justice to the great voice you've got going.

    Thanks for sharing! Love it.
    --Lora

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  20. LOL, everyone! When I originally wrote [this draft of] the first page, I started with the torn magazine taped to the locker--and readers got confused then, too. Plus, I realized I had a flashback on the first page, which didn't seem advisable, so I went with a fast-forward instead. *Hangs head in hands*

    So it looks like I need more clues. I've rewritten it a bit, changed the tricksy words, and packed in a few more details. Please check it out if you can and tell me if I've made things better (or worse). :)

    Thanks so much for all your advice!

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  21. Oh wow, I LOVE this! Love your concept, voice, and execution. Brilliantly done, Robin :)

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  22. Thanks, KV! (Which one did you read? Did you read the revision?)

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  23. I read both and I like the first one better. I didn't feel lost because the voice is strong. That strong voice tells me I can trust that any holes will be filled in later.

    In fact, I think that's a good thing. So many first readers complain when you leave out small details or set up future reveals, but those things are essential to catch my attention. Which you did well in this brief preview.

    Good job.

    -- david j.

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  24. Great job on capturing my attention. I loved how she jumped out and you said she hadn't grown to human size yet. A little confusing but got me reading more. I also liked how the picture was normal it told me a lot about the world.

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  25. I like your revision, except for the last paragraph. I think the first last paragraph is better.

    I'm not at all confused about what's going on, but I'm not sure if that's because I already know what's going on. If I didn't, I might think that we're flying out a window getting our photo taken and then suddenly in a hall at school. Then again, I might not. You might need a virgin reader to tell you how that works.

    I love your description. I can totally see how she looks--"startled angles"=AWESOME, and I think the jagged torn photo is cool.

    I do wonder if seeing her wing torn through on the cover would make her think she looks even more ridiculous, or would it make her wing hurt? Makes my shoulder blades tingle just to think about a ripped wing.

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  26. I like how the last paragraph clarified that her classmates were human and pixies too. I hope you kept in the line about worrying about looking ridiculous somewhere, I think it showed her voice well.

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  27. If only this were a 250 word contest.... :) Thanks so much for your advice!

    *Goes off to make hard choices between torn magazine covers and mentioning human classmates*

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  28. Hi Robin! I agree that the revision is very strong, but I actually like the first-last paragraph better than the second-last paragraph. However, since this isn't a 250 word contest, I think it's totally up to you to pick the graph that fits better with the overall flow of the story.

    I LOVE your voice, and I love the idea that a pixie can be caught in an awkward moment while flying. The only thing that kind of threw me off was the mention of a palace in San Antonio, TX. Perhaps it's a fairy palace that only fairies can see? But if that's the case, I don't think the photographer would be waiting right outside... I dunno, I was kind of thrown off by it for some reason...

    Overall, though, excellent job! Best of luck to you!!

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  29. Thanks, Lisa! I ended up using the revision... with the first-last paragraph. :)

    What? You didn't see the palace the last time you were in San Antonio? :) That's probably because I had to rewrite history to get it there. :)

    My full genre description is YA Urban Fantasy with Alternate History--but that's awfully long to say.

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