Saturday, June 25, 2011

Made of Awesomeness Contest #2 (Birthday Blowout Contest)

Well, I would say the last Made of Awesomeness Contest from Shelley Watters’s blog was kind of painful for me.  But I needed to hear everything that you wonderful people had to say.  I went through not only my first page but my entire manuscript, and the result is amazing. One very helpful tip I got last time was that maybe my first page wasn’t where the story really started. And boy was that right! So this is now the first page. 
Here’s how it works: I post my first 250 on my blog for critique. Then on the 27th I will post my revised (revisions come from your helpful critiques) first 250 on Shelley’s blog, and then the amazing awesome agent Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency will judge. Oh ,and the prize is incredible; I want it so badly—it’s a request for the entire manuscript with a partial critique. Yeah, you might want to reread the prize again, because it’s that awesome.  OK, so don’t forget to go to Shelley Watters’s Blog and click on the other writer’s blogs to help them with their critiques. I hope you enjoy my first 250.
Title: “In Irons”
Genre/Word count: YA Fantasy 60,000 words

Liz Kavanagh wasn’t quite sure when she had decided that her thirteenth birthday was going to be life-changing for her . . . but she had. “Baby steps,” she had told herself, laughing as she pictured her new look and attitude. Her new love, maybe?
Liz stood, stretched, and turned towards the stairs, thinking only of her bed and her dreams. Dreams, she admitted, that she hoped would include Christian. 
“Liz, wait. We have something to show you.”
Liz was startled by the sound of her mother’s voice, but she asked no questions. She trailed uncertainly behind her mom as they walked down the hallway and out the front door. The coolness of the summer night swallowed her and she could taste the salt in the air. Her mother’s ivory skin almost seemed to glow in the moonlight. Is there another present? Liz wondered. It must be something big.  A new bike, maybe.
 But there was no present in sight. Liz felt more confused with each step they took, and as they drew closer to the cliff’s edge, she tried to comfort herself with the sound of the waves rolling onto the shore below. Finally her mother stopped beside one of the large oak trees that lined their property. Liz watched in utter astonishment as a door appeared in its trunk. 
Liz’s mother stepped through and signaled for Liz to follow. She couldn’t react. Fear squeezed her throat and kept her from screaming, What is going on?

Well, did it make you want to read on? What did you think? Thanks to everyone in advance for your help. 


  1. Yes, it did make me want to read on. I liked the voice and the writing a lot. minor thoughts: I would condense/combine/shorten the first two grafs into one so we get right to the heart of the story -- her mother calling her.
    Also, I don't know why she is startled by her mom's voice.
    Like the idea a lot. Good luck.

  2. It make me want to read on, too. I was a little thrown by the sense of place. Did she just wake up (the dream)? She moves from the inside of the house to the out to a cliff's edge. I think I would be happier with creating one image in my mind: perhaps being at the cliff's edge from the start. I am just confused by setting but like the suspense you've created and the character.

  3. I also wanted to know more. The piece ends where the questions begin:~ where is Liz being taken by her mother? Why is her 13th Birthday significant?
    Perhaps a little more linking prose at the beginning would provide clarification of her movement from the house to the cliff, or maybe you could begin with her actually on the cliff following her mother. You've built lots of suspense here which will make your readers want to read on.

  4. I agree with the above comments. I also wanted more imagery of the door that appeared in the trunk - Was it also made of bark? Was it different in color? Did the edges glow?

    A little tightening would make this really strong. Aside from that, I would definitely read on to find out what will happen next.

    Good luck!

  5. I love the first sentence––it makes the reader wonder what's so significant about Liz's thirteenth birthday. Does she know, subconsciously, that something big will happen? Hmmm.

    I was a little confused at the beginning, at the "'Baby steps,' she had told herself..." When had she told herself this? Is this something she has *always* told herself, or something she told herself at a specific time?

    But I find the ending very intriguing. I wonder where her mother is taking her and what's going to happen. Great job and good luck! :)

    - Brigid

  6. Just one minor thing to critique - why is Liz so afraid if she trusts her mother and her mother isn't afraid? I believe I would be more curious than afraid, given the same age and situation... well that, and a little 'aha!' moment as everything I suspected turned out to be true - so I used to believe there were hidden doorways around my house, so what? LOL.

  7. Definetly agree with Lissa that the trust issues here sound a little off, or at least they don't really match up and paint a good picture of what the relationship Liz has with her mother is like. This is only 250 words though, so I'm sure you explain it later, it would be just so nice to know early on.

    Awesome work, though, and good luck!

  8. The first two paragraphs seem to me to be happening at another place or time then the rest of the piece. Also the ...but she had part seems to throw off the pacing to me. Also watch that you're starting most of your paragraphs with 'Liz'. Like the ending though!

  9. Okay, well everyone is pointing out things I noticed but I still have some to add. Your MC is too young for this story to be a YA, also the theme of the portal in the tree seems too young for YA. I think you have a middle grade book here. I was intrigued about where her mother was taking her and I'd also suggest you add more description as to how the door appears in the tree. Really show us by action, instead of telling us the door appeared. Something like the tree shuddered and creaked as it split a part -- or something like it but better. Please know you write well and I would read on. I hope this helps and good luck! :D

  10. Very interesting. I think I'd like to SEE more how the door appears in the tree. "I watched as" doesn't show us what's happening.

    Other than that, I love the opening and I'd definitely read on.

  11. Wow, interesting premise!

    A couple of things:

    1) Five of your six paragraphs start with 'Liz.' One is an easy fix, and also removes a passive sentence: "Liz was startled by the sound of her mother’s voice, but she asked no questions."
    --> "Her mother's voice startled her, but she asked no questions."

    2) “Baby steps,” she had told herself, laughing as she pictured her new look and attitude. Her new love, maybe?
    This doesn't sit right with me. You're telling me she had laughed before the narrative of the story began. To be honest, that action doesn't feel relevant. I'd suggest "she had told herself, picturing her new look and attitude. Her new love, maybe?"

    3) " It must be something big. A new bike, maybe."
    The bike feels out of the blue. If this is contemporary, it's not the first thing a thirteen-year-old would picture getting (more like an iPhone...). Unless biking is her hobby, I'd just strike the 'new bike' sentence.

    Of course, just my opinion. Overall, this is a strong, interesting page! Best of luck in the contest.

  12. Interesting piece! I like the setting and the sense of movement from the house (normal, familiar) to the cliff (otherworldly, but rooted in nature). As Susan and Valentina pointed out, I think you could clarify that sense of movement with a little more description in the very beginning. Is this just after a party? Are there some "party leftover" details you could throw in there to give us a sense? (Like dirty dishes or leftover cake?) Give us more contrast, and the (short) journey has more impact.

    One very simple thing I think would make this stronger is to get rid of the past perfect tense in the first paragraph. Just use past. That would make it seem like Liz's anticipation is still ongoing, which it is. (I admit I'm least sure about this suggestion; others may disagree.)

    I also agree with previous commenters that the appearance of the door needs a more thorough treatment. Alternatively, you could give it more impact by breaking it into its own paragraph and end the piece there. That gives us a major hook!

    I'm dying to know what's in the tree, and I'm curious to know why Liz isn't aware of whatever her mother is about to show her. It hints at a whole undiscovered world, and I'd look forward to exploring it. Good job!

  13. Hah, this is what happens when you wander along late in the day! Other people write your comments before you have a chance to! Anyway, I agree that a sense of location and some grounding details in the first sections would be very helpful before getting to the big moment. I was also confused by "We have something to show you" when it appears only her mom is showing her. Maybe that gets cleared up later, but I thought I'd mention it in the off chance that it's a mistake. Exciting idea here. Good luck!

  14. It definitely made me want to read on to see where her mother's taking her! Awesome. My only suggestion is to give us a better feel of setting. I wasn't sure if she was just heading up to bed, or if she'd just awakened. It left me a little confused. Sounds like you have some very solid advice in the comments above. CONGRATS and GOOD LUCK! I hope you win that prize. :)

  15. Oh my God. I just wrote a massive critique and IT ALL GOT DELETED BY MY INTERNET.


    First paragraph really puts me off. I like the first sentence, but your ellipsis breaks the rhythm and the 'but she had' is redundant anyway because we as the reader already know that she's going to have a life change. I wouldn't say 'baby steps' because that sounds a. too adult and b. not impatient enough. Equally, no teen thinks about her new 'attitude' to go with her new look. 'She grinned, imagining herself wearing the clothes that she'd been dying to get for weeks,' sounds much more age-appropriate, and gives the reader a chance to understand what drives her at the moment.

    'New love'? 'Love' is about as taboo a word as you can get when you're thirteen.

    '... and turned towards the stairs, thinking only of her bed and her dreams.' Can't she just walk downstairs? In the next paragraph, she hops from upstairs to downstairs in the hall. Also, why is she thinking of her bed? It sounds completely out of place. Equally, thinking about dreams tends to be very cliched. '... and walked downstairs, fantasising about how great this year was going to be,' removes the cliche but emphasises how she wants to change this year.

    'Dreams, she admitted, that she hoped would include Christian.' You can't really have 'she admitted' and 'she hoped' together because it breaks the rhythm and flow. 'She hoped' continues with her so far positive personality. Also, this is a great chance to flesh out multiple characters. Christian the middle school hottie vs. Christian her best friend and secret crush are two very different pictures that the reader could use in order to establish what Liz is like, as well as who Christian is in general.

    The next dialogue is bizarre. Try a more neutral mother-daughter tone, and top it up with some more dialogue between them, again establishing character. Since not much is happening in these first paragraphs, character is everything, especially when the reader wants to know how she will cope with the weird stuff.


  16. The next couple of sentences also make it sound like Liz is predicting what's about to happen. Or at least is aware of something strange. Why don't you make it more normal? And relaxed? She thinks it's a present, right? Let her ask about what's going on. Question her mum.

    'The coolness of the summer night swallowed her and she could taste the salt in the air.' This sentence is a little bit purple-prosey. Why doesn't she just say, 'The coolness of the air made her shiver, and she hoped that whatever her mum wanted to show her wouldn't take long'? It's a far more natural reaction.

    'Her mother's ivory skin almost seemed to glow...' You don't need 'almost' - seemed will be fine. Also, this is a great chance to talk about mother's looks vs. daughter's looks. 'Her mum was beautiful, but Liz hadn't inherited much more than her brown hair and blue skin, etc. etc.' If you don't do this, chances are, Liz'll end up describing herself in front of a mirror. Which is not great.

    The rest of the 250 words is a bit of a 'huh?!' moment. There's almost nothing that leads us to suspect that THIS is going to happen. Somehow, you've GOT to let the reader tap into the weirdness. I tend to use dialogue to show when something's a little off, but others can use setting, or description. The trick is to show that something is out of place - and have Liz notice it.

    One last thing: Why doesn't Liz just back away from the tree? If a door opened up in it, wouldn't you do the same?

    Anyway, this may seem harsh, but I'm trying to be as honest as I can be. If there's anything I've missed out, it's because this is the SECOND time I am writing this down. (yes, I now hate my computer) Also, do bear in mind that while I write a lot and that this could be great advice (well... decent), equally, I am just one person and as such, it's just one opinion.

    Regardless, I hope this helps!