Fixing the First Page Feature #33

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Somehow, March is nearly over and it's time for the next Fixing the First Page critique—woohoo!

As 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!

Title: MECHANICAL

Genre/Category: YA Dystopia

First 250 words:

"I took deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart. 
You can do it. You have to do it.

One more breath, two, three… 
It was early morning, but I still glanced around to make sure the street was empty. Not that many people lived in the area either way. I was surprised when I was informed I had to wait on that spot. In any case, the roof of an abandoned two-story building was the perfect hiding place. 
The air was calm and cool, oblivious to my state of mind. I was glad no one would ever notice this moment of weakness. I wasn’t afraid of a technical failure, but of an emotional one. Failing though was something I never allowed to myself. 
A man appeared in the corner of the street, starting me out of my thoughts. I studied him carefully. Around 40, tall and thin with a receding brown hairline. The description fitted. For the last hour, I had half wished he wouldn’t appear, almost hoped he would choose another street or time. But that was not my lucky day and definitely not his. 
He looked around him once or twice, but other than that, he looked certain no one was watching him.

No one but me. I tried to swallow my fear and resisted the urge to close my eyes.

Just do it already. 
One more breath. And I pulled the trigger of my rifle. 
Less than a second later, the man was lying motionless on the pavement."

Okay, so! I'm pretty partial to in medias res openings myself, because I like jumping right into the story. But the danger with these kind of openings is if you move too quickly and don't provide enough introspection and explanation, so they can sometimes be confusing and readers may find it difficult to connect with the protagonist. Which is what I'm seeing here.

As a reader, I have a lot of questions right away: why does she have to kill that guy? Does she do this often (is she an assassin)? What was he doing that he didn't want to be seen? What was she afraid of? You don't necessarily need to immediately answer all of the questions, but you definitely need to answer the most important one of why. Why is it so important that she kill this guy? Why does she have to? Without knowing the stakes, as a reader I don't really care if she succeeds or not, because I don't yet know why it matters. And because she's killing someone, it also makes it a little more difficult for me to connect with her, because from a reader perspective right now it just seems like she killed someone in cold blood.

Okay, so, with that said, let's take a look at the line edits:

"I took deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart. 
You can do it. You have to do it.

One more breath, two, three… 
It was early morning, but I still glanced around to make sure the street was empty. Not that many people lived in the area either way. I was surprised when I was informed I had to wait on that spot. A few things about this sentence: first, this would be a good place to give us more information—when who told her to wait there? And why was she surprised? What's different about this particular case? In any case, the roof of an abandoned two-story building was the perfect hiding place. 
The air was calm and cool, oblivious to my state of mind. As a reader, right now I'm also oblivious to her state of mind. :) Which is to say, this would be a good spot to give us a glimpse! What is she feeling right now? It'd be good to show those emotions before she comments on her weakness, because otherwise we're not really seeing much of anything that could qualify as "weakness." I was glad no one would ever notice this moment of weakness. I wasn’t afraid of a technical failure, but of an emotional one. What would qualify as an "emotional failure"? And what are the consequences if she has one? We need to know the stakes to really understand why this matters to her—and why it should matter to us. Failing though was something I never allowed to myself to fail
A man appeared in the corner of the street, starting me out of my thoughts. I studied him carefully. Around 40 forty, tall and thin with a receding brown hairline. The description fitted. For the last hour, I'd had half wished he wouldn’t appear, almost hoped he'd would choose another street or time. Why does she wish that? If she has to do this, why would she want him not to show? But that it wasn't not my lucky day and definitely wasn't not his. 
He looked around him once or twice, probably making sure certain no one was watching him. A couple reasons for this adjustment: firstly, I'm trying to make her sound more like a teen (sure versus certain, for example). Secondly this is her perspective, so I'm clarifying that this is what she thinks he's thinking. And third, rather than telling you to try to describe what "sure no one is looking" looks like, I think it's easier (and more effective) to adjust the sentiment a bit and say he's looking around for this reason rather than he looks like he's sure no one is looking. But if you prefer the latter, feel free—just describe what that looks like, rather than stating that's how he looks. 

No one but me. I tried to swallow my fear and resisted the urge to close my eyes. Okay, so rather than stating she's scared, it'd be much more effective to describe how that fear physically affects her and show it reflected in her thoughts. I wrote a post a while back on writing emotion effectively that you might find helpful with this. 

Just do it already. 
One more breath. And I pulled the trigger of my rifle
Less than a second later, the man was laying motionless on the pavement."

So there we have it! I think basically what this opening needs is more filling in, from clarifying the stakes, to a bit more explanation as to why she's there, to more time to really sink into her mind and see what she's feeling on the page. Interesting start overall, with room to flourish. If I saw this in the slush though, I'd probably pass because it still seems to need some work before it's ready for submission.

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks stakes, showing emotion, and more in the 33rd Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

On Writing Family and Platonic Relationships

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Sometimes, when writing a book with a romantic subplot, it can be easy to forget about other relationships. From acquaintances, to friends, to family, we all have some kind of relationship network, however large or small, and primarily good or bad it may be.

But especially in YA where romance tends to nearly always be present and family is often—er—killed off, it's easy to write yourself into a situation where the protagonist and love interest are the only people of importance in each other's lives.

And while that can sometimes work in a story, let's be honest—most people's circle of relationships is way more complicated than that.

In YA, platonic relationships that stay platonic are somewhat uncommon, and family relationships tend to go one of two ways: either everyone pretty much gets along (save for the occasional sibling bickering), or there isn't much family in the story at all. (There are exceptions of course, but, you know, generally speaking.)

In my own writing, I've been trying to challenge myself to write dynamic relationships, especially with family members. In Beyond the Red that mostly comes out in sibling relationships, but in one project in particular I'm working on I've been trying to focus more on a dysfunctional family unit and the complicated relationships therein. In part because I think there's still plenty of room for that in YA, and in part because to be frank, I have very complicated family relationships myself.

To the point, platonic relationships—whether through family, friends, or acquaintances—are a pretty huge part of everyone's lives, and certainly a big part of most teens' lives. While it's easy to let a romance overshadow other relationships in a character's life, it can be good to stop and consider what other people are important in your protagonist's life—and how those characters can help develop the plot and your protagonist along the way.

What are some of your favorite platonic and family relationships in YA?

Twitter-sized bite:
Romances aren't the only important fictional relationships. @Ava_Jae talks writing platonic & family relationships. (Click to tweet)

Fake Writers Don't Exist

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If you've been in the online writing community for any extended period of time, chances are likely you've come across who says or implies you must do something to be a real writer, or if you aren't writing a certain way, it isn't real writing. Sometimes the implication is accidental and the writer will clarify and apologize; sometimes it wasn't and they'll double down when called out.

Over the weekend we had another incident along those lines, when a pretty well-known author tweeted that writing = pen and paper. Some disabled writers, myself included, talked about why the implication that writing on your computer or phone, etc. isn't real writing is problematic and damaging, especially to the disabled community. But the whole incident got me thinking about this false set up of Real vs Fake writers.

So let me reiterate the title of this post: fake writers don't exist. It isn't a thing. And neither is fake writing.

Writing is writing, whether you put words down with pencil and paper, a keyboard, dictate, tapped on your phone, or some other way—and if you write, you're a writer. It doesn't matter if you started this morning, or three years ago, or three decades ago; it doesn't matter if you've been published; it doesn't even matter if you want to be published. The only requirement to calling yourself a writer is to write. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Twitter-sized bites:
How do you know if you're a real writer? @Ava_Jae says the answer is simple. (Click to tweet
Author @Ava_Jae talks about why "fake" writing and writers don't exist. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: On Breaking Writing Rules

I share a lot of writing rules and strategies both here and on my blog, Writability. But does every writing rule need to be followed? And what if a writing strategy doesn't work for you? Today I'm talking about exceptions and breaking the rules.


RELATED LINKS:


What do you think? Have you broken any writing rules in a way that worked? Have any of your favorite books? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Does every writing rule need to be followed? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about exceptions. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #33!

Photo credit: Ju Muncinelli on Flickr
Yet another quick pre-post post to announce the winner of the thirty-third fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the thirty-third winner is…


ELENI DATSIKA!


Hooray! Congratulations, Eleni!

Thanks again to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in April, so keep an eye out!

Discussion: How Do You Feel About Hyped Books?

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For the most part, I've generally had good experiences with hyped books. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, for example, were all pretty intensely hyped books that completely lived up to the hype for me.

But there have also been more than a handful of hyped books that I was cautiously interested in—or even very interested in—until early reviews came out, revealing problematic elements or disappointing things that made me remove the book from my TBR. Many have gone on to continue to be successful, but the early reviews made me pause and think twice before picking them up—for which I'm glad.

But there is always the chance, of course, that the massive hype surrounding a book will inflate expectations so much that it'll be hard for the book to live up to it. I think the closest experience I've had with that is a YA book I was really looking forward to for a specific aspect of representation—until a review came out with really troubling information and I pulled the book from my TBR. But I think, in most cases, I've been able to avoid too much disappointment in that area by either only pre-ordering the books if it's from an author I've loved before or if people I trust have said they read and loved an early copy of the book. By being somewhat cautious in that sense, I've been able to cut down on some reading experiences I wouldn't have enjoyed otherwise.

So I suppose, in a sense, the same source of (much of the) hype—social media—can also serve as a buffer for disappointment if you follow the right people. So for me, when I see a book getting hyped and I see people I trust giving it a thumbs up I can pretty safely pre-order without worry of disappointment. And it's worked well so far.

How do you feel about hyped books?

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you feel about hyped books? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet

Discussion: How Many Projects Do You Work On Simultaneously?

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Once upon a time, I only worked on one project at a time. That's still my preferred method of working—I like to be able to focus on a single project and divert all my energy into that project until it's done, a method that's often allowed me to finish both first drafts and thorough revisions relatively quickly.

Then I started getting published and joined the world of deadlines I didn't set for myself.

Right now I have, oh, five projects simmering at once,  counting a half-plotted project I have to start drafting this summer on a not self-imposed deadline. One has been thoroughly revised and is waiting for external feedback, one has been partially revised but had to be set aside for a deadline project, one is a short (for now) deadline project, and one is my 2016 NaNo novel which...I'll get to when I get to. Two are Sci-Fi, two are Fantasy, one is a Thriller—all are YA. Which is to say I've been keeping really busy.

Though it's been interesting to transition from one project to juggling several in different stages at a time, in a way it's also been encouraging because I have plenty to work on—which has helped dispel the fear of "what if this is the last book idea I ever come up with?" And it's pretty cool knowing I've got several real, on-the-page, ready-to-work on projects, some of which (all of which?) may one day be published.

Working on many projects simultaneously has been a lot of work, and sometimes it feels like the workload will never end (which is why breaks are so important!), but it's been gratifying so far. This may very well be how my writing career continues for the foreseeable future, and I am very okay with that.

How many projects do you work on at once? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How many projects do you work on at once? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)
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