Today, we bring you another live 250-word critique here on the #EditFoster blog! We're looking at the opening page of a middle grade fantasy today. The full piece submitted to us comes first and one with edits second. (Our edits are obviously bold, italicised, and underlined for clarity.)
My powers will never come to light, Livi thought.
Livi didn’t have patience waiting for the day to come. It wasn’t easy being eleven, and living with mortals.
“Come on freak,” Betty said. Betty arms push Livi so hard she stumbles on her left foot, her hair flying over her shoulder covering her face as she tries to see where she’s falling, but catches herself so she didn’t collide against the floor.
Livi regains her balance, turning to face Betty. “Leave me alone, Betty,” Livi said.
“Make me,” Betty said. Betty has more muscle than Livi making it easier for her to push her around. Betty moves until she’s behind Livi. She grabs Livi by the back of her shirt, and shoves her onto the cold tile hallway floor. Livi’s chest hits the floor so hard the sound of her delicate tan skin slaps into the floor. Betty starts laughing at the state of the weak
Letting out a small moan Livi gingerly rolls over on her side adjusting herself into a sitting position her arms supporting her weight behind her. Livi feels anger she never had before.
I wish Betty stays far away, Livi thought.
It happens so quickly Livi wasn’t expecting it. The air starts to whistle sending paper taped at the wall goes flying down the hall. The smirk on Betty’s face starts falling down her face. The lockers start opening and closing. Betty wasn’t expecting this next when something sends her flying in the air across the other side of the hall landing with a loud crash.
“Fighting in the hallway,” a teacher said.
Although an interesting first line that will most definitely offer some intrigue, consider starting the scene with some action, along with this thought. By letting the reader see the character, they can immediately create a visual to build from. Something that shows them the character, where she is, how she moves and so on, thus allowing the thought to add to this character profile they have started to build. My powers will never come to light, Livi thought. As Livi’s thought is formatted in italics, ‘Livi thought’ can be deleted.
Livi didn’t have patience waiting for the day to come Is it night time now, and Livi is waiting for the next day to come? Or does ‘day’ here indicate a particular day in the future that’s drawing near? Perhaps show the reader where Livi is to clarify this: lying in bed with the covers drawn up to her neck, gripping it hard in frustration until her knuckles turn white, staring into the moonlit room, or similar. It wasn’t easy being eleven, This comma isn’t required as ‘living with mortals’ is not a complete sentence. Perhaps join the two clauses with an em-dash, which will also give some emphasis to the second part. So: ‘It wasn’t easy being eleven—and living with mortals.’ and living with mortals.
So this isn’t night time. In fact, it appears from this paragraph that we are in the middle of the day. So what day, mentioned in the previous paragraph, does Livi not have patience waiting for? “Come on freak," Insert a comma before ‘freak’ to show that this is a name Betty is giving someone. Betty said. ‘Betty said’ could actually be deleted as the following sentence clearly shows that Betty is the one doing the talking here. Betty arms Correct punctuation: ‘Betty’s arms’ push Perhaps simply write: ‘Betty pushes Livi’ or similar for smoother flow. Livi so hard she Is this ‘she’ Betty or Livi? Who is it that stumbles? Perhaps clarify with a name so the reader knows immediately. stumbles on her left foot, her hair flying over her shoulder covering her face as she tries to see where she’s falling Consider deleting ‘as she tries to see where she’s falling’ as it might not be something Livi thinks of at this stage. Falling is rather instantaneous and fast so she might not have time to look., but catches herself so she didn’t collide against the floor. This last sentence has now switched to present tense, but previously it has been past tense. Be sure to pick one tense and then tell the story consistently from this.
The last sentence in the above paragraph is a little wordy and reads rather clumsy. Considering revising to ensure it flows smoothly. Perhaps even build in some visuals so the reader can clearly see the two characters, where they are, what they look like, how they are standing, and so on. Maybe:
“‘Come on, freak!’ Betty lunged forward, reaching out her palms, a snarl curling her red lips.
Before Livi had a chance to react, Betty shoved her hard. Losing her balance, blonde strands of her hair flying across her face, Livi shuffled back…just managing to regain her balance before she connected with the hallway floor tiles.”
Livi regains her balance, turning to face Betty. “Leave me alone, Betty,” Livi said. Perhaps delete this dialogue tag as it is clear from the sentence before the dialogue that Livi is speaking.
“Make me,” Betty said. Again, perhaps delete the dialogue tag and show Betty to the reader so they can see her muscles and how threatening she appears to Livi, and thus avoiding the following sentence which is simply telling the reader this information. Perhaps: ‘Betty pulled up her sleeves and stepped forward, now towering over Livi. She put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows, mocking.’ or similar. Betty has more muscle than Livi making it easier for her to push her around. Betty moves Perhaps use a stronger verb here to show how Betty moves. Does she sidestep with her arms folded maybe? until she’s behind Livi. She grabs Livi by the back of her shirt, and shoves ‘shoves’ suggests Livi’s been pushed forward, yet Betty has grabbed her shirt. Perhaps ‘flings’ would be a more suitable word. her onto the cold tile hallway To avoid using this series of adjectives to describe the floor, perhaps show the reader where the girls are before now. floor. Livi’s chest hits the floor so hard the sound of her delicate tan skin slaps Isn’t Livi wearing a shirt? If so, how does her skin slap against the floor? Could the skin slapping be that on her hands and arms as she puts them out in front of her to stop the fall? into the floor. Betty starts laughing at the state of the weak As this is told from Livi’s point of view, she won’t actually know why Betty is laughing, so perhaps show Betty’s laugh instead. Perhaps: ‘Livi gritted her teeth at the sound of Betty’s cackle.’ or similar. Also, as this is a children’s book, a reader might feel this sentence isn’t written in a particularly child-friendly voice.
Letting out a small moan Livi gingerly rolls over on her side adjusting herself into a sitting position her arms supporting her weight behind her This sentence reads as a little too wordy with many descriptions and movements. Perhaps condense to: ‘Livi rolls over and sits, her arms supporting her weight.’ or similar. Livi feels anger she never had before. Instead of telling the reader that she feels anger, show them. Perhaps: ‘Her hands balled into fists. Heat surged into her face and her body stiffened.’ Or similar
I wish Betty stays far away, Livi thought. Perhaps make this thought stronger to really drive home how much hate Livi has for Betty. Would she wish Betty would die? Say she hates her? Also, delete the tag ‘I thought’ as the italics show it's her inner thoughts.
It happens so quickly Livi wasn’t expecting it. Perhaps delete as this isn’t necessary to tell the reader. Simply show how the wind picks up, etc., as in the following sentence. The air starts to Perhaps delete ‘starts to’ and simple show the wind whistling as this is stronger and more active whistle sending paper taped at the wall goes flying down the hall. The smirk on Betty’s face starts falling down her face Delete ‘down her face’ as the reader knows where the smirk is already and falling suggests the movement is in a downward direction. The lockers start opening and closing. Betty wasn’t expecting this This slips from Livi’s to Betty’s point of view. Perhaps revise for consistency: ‘Betty's eyes widened as she flew through the air, crashing on the other side of the hallway.’ or similar next when something sends her flying in the air across the other side of the hall landing with a loud crash.
“Fighting in the hallway,” a teacher said. Why would the teacher make this statement? Should this be a question? Otherwise, would the teacher say: ‘No fighting in the hallway.’
This is a strong start with action and a hint at some magic, which should definitely hook a reader. By adding in some inner thoughts and emotions to the writing, blended in naturally with the action and dialogue, this will allow the reader to make a stronger connection with the characters and allow for immediate tension to be built. The more you can show the characters, setting, and actions, the more engaging the story will be. Watch out for mixing past and present tense and be sure that each sentence makes sense and flows smoothly from one to the next as you revise.
So that's it! What do you think? Do you agree? Would you suggest anything different? Has this been helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below.
If you would like you first page critiqued here on the blog, anonymously and for free, then please forward the first 250 words of you manuscript to firstname.lastname@example.org now!
Fortnightly on Mondays, we live critique one writer's query letter or first 250 words of their manuscript. Every Wednesday & Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day!