Fixing the First Page Feature #25

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We are exactly one week from August! And so the time is here again, to critique another first page here on Writability. Yay! 

As per usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Let's do this thing. 

Title: RISING

Genre/Category: YA Historical Fantasy

First 250 words: 

"Ailis slipped out from the glow of the street lamp into the shadows of the porch. Shivering from the cold, she peered down the lonely alley. Ivy hung low over the wooden eaves, offering concealment from the road, and from the British armored truck that was parked in front of the flats across the drive. She hadn’t expected the enemy’s presence so near. From her orders, she knew Pedlar’s Cross was occupied, but not that the Tommies were taking billets on the same street as her dispatch. 
She took a deep breath and tried not to tremble, but to hold back the fear. Her Mam had cautioned that this work was not for young people. She said the risks were too high and her daughter had no business endangering her life like the men do. Ailis refused to hear of it, yet her Mam’s voice echoed in her ears, even though she was miles from home. 
'You can’t imagine what they’d do to you, Ailis. If they catch you they’d be shearing the wool clean off your head, fixing you for a hanging,' she had said. 
It didn’t matter though. Ailis was going to defend her homeland alongside her da, and alongside the man she loved, too. She tapped on the door with the brass knocker as quietly as she could. Three taps, silence, and two taps. 
She wrung her hands, both to keep them warm and to settle her nerves. Being seen outside this late at night was a crime."

Wow! So no question about it, this is a great opening. We've got instant conflict, some beautiful imagery, and tons of tension right off the bat. Upon a first glance, I'm very impressed and definitely want to read more. :)

Now for the in-line notes.

"Ailis slipped out from under the glow of the street lamp into the shadows of the porch. Beautiful opening imagery. Shivering from the cold, she peered down the lonely alley. I'm cutting "from the cold" to condense—and also given her situation, she's probably pretty afraid too. Ivy hung low over the wooden eaves, offering concealingment her from the road, and from the British armored truck that was parked in front of the flats across the drive. All adjustments made to condense. She hadn’t expected the enemy’s presence so near. From hHer orders, she knew said Pedlar’s Cross was occupied, but not that the Tommies were taking billets on the same street as her dispatch. Adjusted to remove filtering ("she knew").
She took a deep breath and tried not to tremble, but to hold back the fear. The fear bit of the sentence is unnecessary, IMO. The trembling/deep breath plus the following thoughts already shows her fear well. :) Her Mam had cautioned that this work wasno't for young people. She said the risks were too high and her daughter had no business endangering her life like the men do. Ailis refused to hear of it, yet her Mam’s voice echoed in her ears, even though she was miles from home. Great (and nicely placed) detail.
'You can’t imagine what they’d do to you, Ailis. If they catch you they’d be shearing the wool clean off your head, fixing you for a hanging,' she had said. Fantastic world building and setting up of stakes here.
It didn’t matter though. Ailis was going to defend her homeland alongside her da, and alongside the man she loved, too. More nicely placed information. She tapped on the door with the brass knocker as quietly as she could. Three taps, silence, and two taps. And another nice detail—great job. :)
She wrung her hands, both to keep them warm and to settle her nerves. Being seen outside this late at night was a crime." Great world building, tension, stakes, everything.

So in case it wasn't obvious in my notes, I love this one. The world building is really well done, the details are fantastic, I can picture everything, and I need more! Most of my notes are just focused on condensing to make it read even more smoothly, and I would 100% keep reading if I saw this in the slush. Also, I don't know if Dianne plans to enter #PitchWars, but if not, you should definitely do that thing, Dianne. :)

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Dianne!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next critique giveaway in August!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks condensing, great world building and more in the 25th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: YA Anthologies

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So I'm in the middle of reading my first ever YA anthology (Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke), which I'm really enjoying. It's been a while since I've really sat down with some short stories (the last I read were for class) and more than that it's the first time I can remember that I actually picked up some short stories for pleasure reading. And so far, at least, it's been a great decision.

I've noticed YA anthologies have slowly become more popular as of late, from A Tyranny of Petticoats to Slasher Girls and probably many others I'm just forgetting about right now. And it makes sense—it allows a bunch of kick-ass authors to collaborate into one book with a bunch of awesome stories. It also makes for easy bite-size reading, because you can read a story in a sitting, which generally doesn't take too long.

In Slasher Girls, the stories so far have been about twenty to thirty pages each, and it's been a good experience seeing the arc of a story laid out and completed quickly (probably would be a good writing exercise too!). All in all, it's been an interesting experience so far, and I think I'll probably want to do it again, so I'll have to keep an eye out for more anthologies. So I'm curious—have any of you read any YA anthologies? And did you like them? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
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Fixing the First Page Winner #25!

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Another quick Thursday post to announce the winner of the twenty-fifth fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the twenty-fifth winner is…


DIANNE GARDNER!


Yay! Congratulations, Dianne!

Thank you to all you fabulous entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in August, so keep an eye out! :)

(Updated to reflect new winner after previous winner passed!)

How to Condense Without Losing Anything Useful

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It's not uncommon for writers to rely on filler words while writing—and especially while first drafting. From filter phrases to adverbs all over the place, drafts that aren't scrutinized to condense the writing are often full of words that unnecessarily clog up the writing.

Good news is while this is totally not something you should worry about while first drafting (seriously), when the time comes to take care of this issue, it's relatively easy to do. Time-consuming and painstaking, yes, but thankfully not too difficult to do.

To make it even easier, however, I've decided to add to my how to make cuts without losing anything useful post with more easy-to-remove words to look out for.

  1. Starts/begins to. This is actually a tip I picked up from my editor, and it's a good one—9/10 times when you preface an action with "starts to" or "begins to" you don't need that phrase. Just by describing the action, the readers assume it's just started unless otherwise stated. 

  2. Immediately/without warning. Like "suddenly" these words are usually unnecessary. I'll refer you to the other post for a longer explanation. 

  3. That. I'm not going to say you never need "that", but oftentimes I find "that" is super overused. In sentences like "She said that I should go," for example, removing the "that" improves the flow and we don't lose anything by cutting it. 

  4. Up/Down. For these two I only mean in very specific cases: sitting up/down, standing up/down, etc. In those cases, the up/down is unnecessary. 

  5. Dialogue + action tag. I see this a lot, and tend to do this a lot when first drafting and just slapping words down, but when you have a dialogue tag and an action tag, you usually only need one—and oftentimes I go with the action tag because it's more visual (although there are exceptions, of course). So, for example: "'Where've you been?' he said, scowling" could be condensed to "'Where've you been?' He scowled." 

  6. -ly adverbs. One of my last condensing steps is to go through and do a search for "ly" to cut down on my adverbs. While I definitely don't recommend removing all of them (adverbs can be useful!), writers in general tend to use them more than necessary, so it can be good to go through and do a quick sweep. 

So those are some words I look out for when condensing my writing—what phrases or words would you add to the list? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Need to lower your word count but not sure where to start? @Ava_Jae shares six easy condensing tips. (Click to tweet)
Do you tend toward wordiness? @Ava_Jae shares six ways to condense your writing. #edittip (Click to tweet)

Vlog: About My Editing Services

Someone asked, so I'm answering. Today I'm talking about my editing services and why you may want to work with a freelance editor.


RELATED LINKS:


Would you ever consider working with a freelance editor? Why or why not?

Twitter-sized bite: 
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How to Get Your Characters to Connect

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So I've been doing a lot of editing lately, while also first drafting and reading, which means I've been thinking a lot about characters. Specifically, how to spark that magical character-reader connections.

Oftentimes, when writers are querying, they'll hear from agents or editors that the reader just didn't connect with their work. There can be a million reasons for this, but when the connection is missing from your characters, I've found there's often a reason you can point to directly in the manuscript, and many times that reason is a lack of depth in the POV.

When reading, the best books don't make you feel like you're reading about someone, they make you feel as though you're experiencing whatever the characters are experiencing. You feel their pain, you know their emotions, you hear their thoughts, you see what they see and smell what they smell and feel what they feel. Of course, you aren't literally experiencing everything, but a great book will make the connection feel so deep it's almost as if you are.

So how do you accomplish that with your characters? There are a few keys you can focus on to really deepen that connection:


  • Show emotion. I wrote a whole blog post on writing emotion effectively and the difference between telling and showing emotion, but the short version is this: every time you see a named emotion ("I was so angry," "he looked sad," etc.) in your WIP, stop and think about how you can rewrite it without naming that emotion. Think about what that emotion makes your character feel physically, how it affects their thoughts, and actions. Think about what it feels like to experience that emotion— and rather than naming it, describe it instead and let the readers put together the pieces. (P.S.: A truly excellent resource that makes this a billion times easier is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi—I can't recommend it enough!)

  • Cut down on filtering. Similarly, I've also already written a blog post on how to (and why you should) remove filter phrases, but I'll do a quick summary here: filtering is a form of telling, and appears in phrases like "I thought," "I remembered," "I saw," "I smelled," "I felt," etc. It's often unnecessary and adds a layer of distance between the reader and the character because you're filtering what your character is experiencing through writer-speak. By removing the phrases whenever possible and just describing your characters experiences instead, the writing becomes more immediate and helps to establish that sense of closeness to the POV character(s). 

  • Get us in your POV character's head. What are your characters thinking? Why do they make decisions the way they do? How do they come to one conclusion or another? In limited third or first person POV, readers should know what your POV character is thinking (and feeling) at all times. Even if readers disagree with your character's reasoning for one decision or another, they should see your character's thought process there on the page, so they never have to stop and ask themselves, "but why did they do that?" This often requires slowing down while writing to think about what your characters are thinking or feeling as the events of their story happens—but this is vital to getting your readers to feel as though they really understand your characters. 

So those are my top getting-your-characters-to-connect tips! Now I want to hear from you: what gets you to connect to characters in books you read? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Having trouble getting readers to connect to your characters? @Ava_Jae shares some connection-forging tips. (Click to tweet)  
How do you get your characters to connect to readers? Author @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #25!

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So incredibly, we've hit July's halfway point and August is on it's way, which means it's REALLY FRIGGIN' HOT. (Seriously, I'm used to balmy, cool summers in my state and this year has been The Worst.)

But in much happier news, it also means it's time for the twenty-fifth Fixing the First Page feature!

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

Rules!

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Wednesday, July 20 at 11:59 EST to enter!


a Rafflecopter giveaway
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