Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Feedback: Fresh Beginnings

Just a bunch o' writers putting it out there... 

... and, HERE WE GO! Summer 2014 of Teachers Write Friday Feedback is on!

*everybody breathe*

Good! Are we ready?


If you haven't read THE RULES, STOP HERE!

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(Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200).

Please read the RULES and abide by them! There are a LOT of you (Yay!!) and I don't yet know how many of you are going to BE BRAVE and participate here (hopefully many!), so there could be a lot of excerpts. Please keep them brief so we can get to them all!

As a reminder, I am travelling today en route to EIGHT COUSINS BOOKS in Falmouth MA (please stop by after 3 pm if you are nearby -- or tell nearby friends -- and say hi!). I will also be at BUNCH OF GRAPES in Martha's Vineyard on Saturday! (same -- same!), so you may hear from me very little before late night tonight, but you are in incredibly capable hands with my dear and talented writer friend Amy Fellner Dominy, author of OyMG, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION and the forthcoming YA, A MATTER OF HEART (Delacorte 2015) (Double yay!!!!)

Speaking of which, here's an awesome little book surprise for you all: This is the first I'm ever doing of one of these. I get to do Amy's A MATTER OF HEART COVER REVEAL!!!!


(Hey! If you did not click on that video, go back and do so. We need full atmospheric sound effects here!)


Ah, isn't it lovely?!?! Congrats, Amy!!!
In further celebration, Amy has agreed to give away a signed ARC to one of today's participating TW FF campers, so I will do a random drawing next week and let you know at the beginning of next week's post! We're awesome, I know!

my lovely friend, Amy. 
Okay, without any more of my rambling, here's Amy to talk about

Fresh BEGINNINGS:

I’m thrilled to help kick off the beginning of Friday Feedback with a discussion of—what else—beginnings!  

If you’re just beginning a story, you know it’s both exciting and terrifying.  You can’t wait to bring your idea to life…but where do you start? And how? 


There are so many elements to introduce at the start of a story:

•Characters

•Setting

•Your voice and style

•Mood and atmosphere

All of these elements are vital to hooking a reader, but I’m going to suggest there’s something even more important to introduce on your very first page. Something that will make your beginning stand out:

A problem.

At its most basic level, stories are about people with problems.  As readers we’re hooked when we start wondering, “What’s will happen?  What will they do?  How will this turn out?”

Study the opening paragraphs of your favorite books and see if you don’t discover a problem.  For instance, in the first Harry Potter, by the end of page one we know the Dursley’s have a dark secret and it’s their greatest fear that it will be uncovered.  In The Hunger Games, we know by the end of the first paragraph that fear is working through the family.  That “This is the day of the reaping.”

To write a great beginning, start with a great problem.

This isn’t always easy.  OK, so it’s never easy.  But here’s something to try that usually works for me: 

Start your book at a moment of change

This is sometimes called The Inciting Incident.  Think of it this way:  Your character’s life is chugging along as usual and then something happens to change everything.  A problem is introduced.  Or maybe an opportunity?  There’s a death.  A visit.  A tornado.  An accident. A murder. A trip.  A new job.  Someone new moves to town.  Something is uncovered…discovered. 
 
Whatever it is that happens, life can not go on as it did before.  That’s the moment of change.  And it can be a heck of a great place to start your story.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan
“Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.  We’re moving today. I’m so scared, God.”    Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume

What is that moment in your story? 

Write it down. 

If you can’t write it down, if you’re not sure what it is or if there really isn’t one, then you may not have enough conflict in your book.  Give your character a problem—the bigger the better—and show us why now. What’s just happened?  What’s just changed? 

If you’ve got it written down, then ask yourself this:

Can I start my book when everything changes?  If not, how close can I come? 

Of course, there will be exceptions.  Maybe you have a character that is so unique, you first have to introduce us to that person and their daily life.  That’s okay.  You’ll hook us with voice and character, like Sherman Alexie did for me in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which begins with the line: “I was born with water on the brain.” (Which is actually a problem.)

If you’re writing fantasy, paranormal or sci fi, you probably have to set up the world and the type of people who live in it.  Even so, you can hint at the problem through the details you show. 

For example, in The Program by Suzanne Young (a world where teen suicide is epidemic), the first paragraph is just a description of a girl sitting in her school classroom.  But, the windows are sealed shut—in case anyone gets the urge to jump.  Immediately, I know that something is wrong in this world and I’m hooked.

What is the detail in your story that will keep us reading? Can you sneak it in to the first page…the first paragraphs?

With all of that said, the best way to know if an opening grabs a reader, is to go to the source and ask. And since it's Friday Feedback, that's exactly what we'll do today. Below is the beginning of A MATTER OF HEART. I invite you to be brave and post your beginning in the comments. 

And, remember the rules: What works? What doesn't, if something doesn't? And mostly, since it's a beginning, does it hook you? 



I can’t breathe.

There’s no time.  

All around the pool, coaches yell and pace along the edge of the pool as if that’ll make us swim faster.  Parents shout out names I can’t hear.  In the water, it’s a different kind of sound.  The whoosh and thrum of the surface  breaking over my cap.  The churn of arms and the fizz of an exhale.  The chant of pull, pull that I repeat in time with the Bmm Bmm of my heart. 

Mostly, I just hear the scream of my burning lungs.

I don’t listen.

In the last leg of a hundred free, there’s no time for breathing.  Not if you want to win.

Pull, pull


Twenty-five yards left.  That’s it.  Almost in reach.  Everything I want is almost within reach.  

_________


- Amy & gae






229 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. It was the screaming that Owen noticed first.

    The time was 12:15. Lunch had just ended. The fourth grade stood in the hallway waiting for students taking turns in the bathrooms. Owen had been daydreaming. Summer was coming and the window at the end of the hallway was open, filling the air with the smell of cut grass. The aroma made Owen feel sleepy.

    The cause for the alarm was unclear until a fourth grade girl ran out of the bathroom yelling, “Spider!” The screaming inside the bathroom continued.

    “Girls! Stop screaming!” The fourth grade teacher, Miss Reina, marched into the bathroom. A moment later, she backed out again, pushing two girls behind her. “That is indeed a large spider, girls. But it is not necessary to scream. We do not scream in school.”

    “I want to see it!” Liam tried to duck around Miss Reina. The class crowded the bathroom door, pushing for a chance to see the spider.

    “CLASS! Up against the wall, in line, NOW!” Miss Reina barked at them. The boys groaned in disappointment. Assembled against the wall, the class fixed their eyes on Miss Reina. Liam was visibly pouting.

    Owen waited and observed.


    (Little Terry = Terry Turner - I hope that the quantity of dialogue/short paragraphs makes this length appropriate. Deleted a chunk when I realized I was crossing the line.)

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    1. I'm literally trying to get out the door, but I love your excerpt, Terry! I think you do a great job capturing the age appropriate voice/descriptions and the opening line is a great hook! And of course, SPIDER! Eeek! No criticism right now! On you go!

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    2. Hi Terry. What a great first line--totally hooks me in. I'm also wondering just how big that spider is...and wondering if Owen will get involved. A fun beginning-- thanks for sharing.

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    3. Terry--I love this! Great opening. But (as a bug lover--cough) I'd love to see a couple of boys scream, too (or maybe the teacher can be a man, and HE can scream), and maybe another girl could be just as interested in the spider as is Owen.

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    4. Sarah - Thanks for pointing out what should have been obvious! I was worrying about the portrayal of my female characters later, but hadn't paid attention to the stereotype here. I don't think the boys would scream (since it's in the girls' bathroom!) but I can absolutely add a female voice of reason "It's just a spider!" and it gives me an opportunity to introduce one of my favorite characters earlier. **On this topic - I only have simple research I pulled off the internet on wolf spiders. Any recommendations? It's not a large part of the book, but I want to get it right.
      Thank you Gae and Amy too! It's really helpful to hear whether it is working, and what is working.
      Terry

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    5. Perfect first line for a hook! Well done.

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    6. I missed it too, Terry! But I think Sarah makes a great point! And love your idea of a female voice of reason.

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    7. A wolf spider is perfect! (And having a boy scream could be quite funny! :D)

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    8. Sarah- after your comment, I realized that one of my boy characters would totally be freaked by spiders and bugs, and I can have his little sister push his buttons with it. Thank you for this inspiration! It will also give me some comfort for writing the discomfiting sequence of events following the wolf spider. Even my dad was upset by what happens to the spider.

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  3. Good Morning Amy! Thank you for being here. I am that eager-beaver camper that is up early and waiting for the word "GO"! This week has been a wonderful jolt of energy.
    What works: the immediate association of "can't breathe". No one that I know deals well with that feeling. I work with middle school kids...and in their dealing with drama, problems, crisis etc. breathing, or not--or not efficiently, is a big part of the scene. So, that gets me.Swimming in a lane makes me a bit anxious because I worry about my breathing. So, you REALLY got me there.

    Also, "in the water...different kind of sound" works because immediately there are two worlds and the narrator is going to be speaking to us from the world in the water....maybe a metaphor throughout the story?

    The problem is that everything this character wants is in reach....can s/he make it? I do want to know. This narrator is putting everything s/he has into reaching that goal.

    What doesn't work: Um, it works! I really have a hard time finding what doesn't work. I do have questions. If this is a beginning...I am hooked.....it really hinges on whether the narrator makes the goal or not. What's in his/her way? Is it self-doubt? physical problem? External pressure from coach/parent/rival? not winning? This is all easily described in the next bit of the story. I also wonder if this is a dream? flashback?
    I think the "not listening" to the burning in the lungs is a wonderful hint of problems to come. Am I right?!
    I'm definitely hooked. I'm also the kind of person that has an early impression and then will ponder this throughout the day. I may come back later too.
    Thanks again....can't wait to see what others say.

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    1. I agree that it all works (which is good because it's already out in Advance Review Copy! Or any day now, I should say! Hope you come back later! Welcome to Friday Feedback!

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    2. Well, clearly I need to get my hands on an ARC. What a tease!

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    3. I've got a lot of swimmers at my school & this would be perfect. The description reminds me of something one of my students wrote this year...burning lungs...It must happen! Great sense of the competitive nature of the character. Makes you wonder what keeps things out of her reach!

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    4. Linda, thanks for all the wonderful feedback! And you're right...there just might be a bit of foreshadowing there. ;-) And yes, Stefanie, burning lungs is something I've experienced in a pool. (I'm not nearly as good as swimmer as Gae!) So glad my words feel authentic and part of the high school experience. I love Abby and I want high school students to love her too! :-)

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  4. So many challenging exercises! So much to think about! I am grateful for this summer workshop. I am actually a playwright but the exercises are helping me go much deeper in creating the world of the play and the characters who live in it. Here is my short piece of writing:

    There were five keys in the carved wooden box and today I had the money to buy them. The agony of babysitting my little sister, Emmie, was about to pay off.
    “How much are the keys in the box?” someone standing too close to me asked.
    That someone was Maxie Willard and I was about to lose my box of keys because Maxie never lost.

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    1. Maureen, I love this! For me (as those who read The Summer of Letting Go might already know), keys are always intriguing. I might do this with the last sentence to give it more oomph. Food for thought: That someone was Maxie Willard and I was in trouble because Maxie never lost.

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    2. Maureen, I am definitely hooked. I can feel the exhilaration the protagonist has for having worked so long and hard to get the keys. Then, I'm thinking "oh no, you can't lose it now." I so want them to do something to Maxie so, at least this time, they don't win. Great beginning. Thanks for sharing.

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    3. It's a great intro! There is mystery, desire and an antagonist tossed in with a powerful twist. So short...nice rule following...and so powerful!

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    4. Awesome characterization. "Standing too close to me" says a great deal about both characters, and I especially love "Maxie never lost." It is a bitter punch.

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    5. Hi Maureen, we're kindred spirits-- I also started as a playwright! I could do a whole post on the things I've learned as a playwright that have helped in writing novels--you'll use your craft in both types of writing. As to the excerpt, great start! I'm hooked by the idea of the keys. What do they open? Why five? She's been saving for them so I know they're important. Again, why? And why does Maxie want them too? So in just a few sentences you've created a lot of questions. Nice!

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    6. Thank you all so very much! I will take every one of your comments and questions to head and heart. I will carry on...In my mind right now...Maxie thinks she wins this one but she doesn't...but Bea (the main character) has to find a way to stand up for herself...that's her journey in the play.

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  5. I'm so motivated by Teachers Write! Thanks for doing this!

    Amy, I really love your first line. It draws me in and sets up questions in my mind right away. And I'm definitely hooked, because I want to see if this character wins and gets what they want.

    Here's the beginning of my work-in-progress:

    I take a long, yoga-style breath and Dad’s face crumples with worry. It’s happening again. The sick-to-my-stomach feeling. My chest squeezing tight. I have to make it stop. Everyone in the art class is going to think I’m weird if I lose it right here. I hate being the kid everyone whispers about.
    I can’t stop my fingers from shaking.
    “Breathe, Ayla,” Dad says. “Talk it through.”
    I try. I really do. But what if I have a heart attack in there while they’re all watching? No one wants to spend their summer hanging out with a freak.
    My breaths go in and out, in and out. Too fast.
    “Ayla, you love art,” Dad says. “You’ll do great. Everyone else is here to learn, just like you.”
    The pain in my stomach spreads into my chest. If I have a heart attack, the paramedics will have to get by all the people in the community centre lobby. They might not get here in time.

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    1. Aw, Andrea, I love this! I think you not only set up great tension, but you make us care about your character that fast because we get inside her anxious brain. No criticism yet, so, voila! Keep going!

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    2. Andrea - This: "Dad's face crumples with worry." was a an excellent hook. Whatever our heroine is unnerved by, clearly it is apparent to the adults (and likely to everyone, since we know adults are oblivious). I love that you tuck humor into her fantasy/horror. I'm feeling empathy and wry appreciation of how isolating fear becomes.
      No crit from me - I want to read more.
      Terry

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    3. This character sounds fascinating. You did a great job showing he anxiety. The train of thought in the last paragraph is perfect.

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    4. Hi Andrea. First, thx for the feedback on my first line. It's a line that will come up more than once and in different ways, so that's a relief!

      Now, on to your lovely opening. I'm definitely hooked by Dad's face crumpling and by the line "it's happening again." Along with giving me questions, you've given me hints to Ayla's character that make me care about her. She's brave--she's fighting to get through this and there's a lot at stake since everyone will see--a nightmare for all of us wanting acceptance. Keep going!

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    5. What works: If the author is describing a panic attack--I guessed right! And, young people (sorry---my lens is so stuck at YA I have a tough time thinking about other lit. I promise I'll try) really, really struggle with anxiety. There are so many students dealing with anxiety, taking meds for anxiety, seeing therapists for anxiety. I've wondered if all this anxiety existed when I was in school and I didn't realize it? Or, is this a PROBLEM (ah ha!) of this particular generation.....the need for speed, immediacy....etc. But, I digress. Have you read Laurie Halse Anderson's the Knife of Never Letting Go? It's amazing in it's description of anxiety....and this reminded me of that. If this is NOT a description of anxiety.....I've got it all wrong and need to re-read to understand better. I think this is a very current topic to be writing about and I hope you keep doing just that.

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    6. Thanks for the feedback! I'll keep working on this story.

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  8. Gae, Thanks once again for hosting Friday Feedback. You actually posted my all time favorite beginning line ever written, "Where is Papa going with that ax?"
    The cover of Amy's book is beautiful and definitely draws me in. The opening scene is one I can relate to as a former competitive swimmer and mother of one.

    My WIP is a sequel to my first young readers novel, Blessen. The working title is Sunshine. I am posting the beginning of Ch. 2 because, after reading this post, I am considering having the book start here.
    I wake up with Momma’s arms around me holding on for dear life.
    “What?” I ask looking up into her soft blue-green eyes.
    “You were crying, Blessen. Did you have a nightmare?”
    “Uh, yeah, I guess. I don’t remember.”
    Images float back to me. Stormy clouds. A hovering space-craft of some kind, orange, metal, menacing. Was I being abducted by aliens? I shouldn’t have watched that movie.
    Momma holds onto me for a few more minutes. I relax in her soft arms and breathe in the fresh fall air. The windows are open, and I hear the papa cardinal calling. Sweet, to, to, to, to, who. He’s loud this morning.
    “Momma,” I whisper not to disturb the quiet of this soft moment. “Why do we dream?”
    “Hmm. I’m not really sure. I think it’s nature’s way of clearing out all our thoughts and worries. I keep having dreams about Pawpee, but he is younger and able to walk like he was when I was growing up. I think it’s God’s way of telling me to remember my father the way he was, strong and kind.”
    “Then why am I dreaming of aliens coming after me?”
    “That’s probably directly related to what you watch on TV. Maybe you need to turn that thing off.”
    Momma’s one to talk. She likes to watch all those crazy housewife stories. The Real Housewives of Orange County is her favorite. They bleep out all the bad words, but I know good and well what they are saying, and it’s not too nice, if you ask me.
    “Go on and get up now, Blessen. You need to be gettin’ on to school soon.”
    I jump up, throw on a sweatshirt, slip my feet into tennis shoes, and scurry on out to feed Miss Sunshine.

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    1. I'm feeling some foreshadowing in there, and it's great. I also like the line "...but I know good and well what they are saying and it's not too nice, if you ask me." This says a lot about her character. Good job.

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    2. Hi Margaret--if you've discovered that your second chapter might be your first, you're in good company. That happens to me, and it's why rough drafts are meant to be rough. You find your story where the action begins.

      This opening starts with drama of the nightmare and that's good. I love the voice, the humor, and also the thoughtfulness of the question "Why do we dream." These are characters that I want to get to know--nice work.

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    3. Margaret as always lovely and authentic. On you go!

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  9. First I want to say thank you for taking time to do this, much appreciated! Second, I WILL be on the Cape this weekend and I love 8 Cousins (and their name) but I won't be leaving until 7pm tonight:(

    On the first morning of summer vacation, Penelope Glass was kneeling by her wall trying to do a headstand.
    She was not packing for sleepover camp, like her best friend Gen Chu.
    She was not getting ready for the first day of work like her older brother Simon.
    And she was never, EVER speaking to Leena again.
    “Penelope, what are you doing?” Her mother appeared at her doorway, staring at her.
    “Practicing.” Penelope’s voice was muffled as she tried to kick herself up again.
    “Practicing what?”
    “We did gymnastics in gym class and I am practicing to become a great gymnast.”
    “Really? I thought you were going to be a great detective.”
    It was true. Penelope always wanted to be a detective. She loved reading books like Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew. She had a detective notebook, and an invisible ink pen. She just needed a real mystery to solve.

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    1. Rebecca- I love it! The rhythm of the 'not' sentences followed by what Penelope always wanted to do. Then you hit the problem on the head to give the readers a sense of where the story is going. "She just needed a real mystery to solve." I'd absolutely keep reading. Fun!
      Terry

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    2. I too love the rhythm in the first few paragraphs. It was a great hook. Great way to convey her emotions.

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    3. Rebecca, love this! Love that you open with a headstand because it's quirky and unique and also sets the age of the character so well and tells us so much about her. Also love the last line because it tells us just what to expect: we're going to get a mystery to solve! Great stuff,! Keep going!

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    4. Rebecca, I also love the "nots." It makes me wonder why she's not doing any of those things--is it her choice? I also love the hook at the end about the mystery. If detective work is her passion (which is seems to be) I wonder if she's on her head for a sleuthing reason--because a detective book suggests that you have to look at a problem from all directions...and she is looking FOR a problem.:) Just a thought--nice work!

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    5. What works: Love the tone and pace of this...the names Penelope and Gen Chu and Simon and all the "nots".....so like a kid. The problem is revealed in what Penelope is not doing....wonderful. I can picture this kid in my head.

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    6. Amy, what a great suggestion! Love that!

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    7. This is so great, thank you everyone! It has given me some ideas on how to tighten and clean up what I have written. Thanks!

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  10. WIP for feedback. TIA for any thoughts.

    Alice May Thatcher
    (Youngest and newest domestic at the Guilder Estate1934)

    I'm going out back to
    sit by the ivy
    hot tea in my cup.
    I’ll say hello to July’s
    morning before the rush.

    The flower garden brims
    with color shrugging off dew.
    Petals draw open to light,
    straight stems
    on duty for Mrs. Guilder’s
    selection of gladiolas
    for the rosewood table.
    I look past all this fuss
    down to the flat, brown Hudson.
    Upstream, tiger lilies,
    queen ann’s lace
    and black-eyed susans
    tangle wild with
    thoughts of home
    and you.

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    1. What works: It is vivid with a strong developing sense of place. I love YA like Crossing Stones by Helen Frost and this reminds me of it. The historical fiction written in poetry is such an interesting format. Your word choice and your patience really work for me.

      I am hooked and would love to see more.

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    2. Linda, this is so lovely! At first my concern was that it might set the scene without giving a hint of a problem or conflict to come but then the last line does that beautifully. I want to know where home is and who is she missing. One small suggestion for the opening...I wonder if it would be a little stronger to make it present/immediate. In other words, instead of her going out, could it be more like "I sit out back by the ivy..." Again, a small thought and since I am in awe of anyone who can write verse (I can't!) please disregard if that messes with your rhythm! Very nice!!

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    3. "... brims with color shrugging off dew." Love that! I'd love you to push that last line a bit more so that the longing (and maybe even a hint of a conflict in the longing) is palpable =ing a hook!

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  11. oh, phooey. the formatting came out all wrong. There is a line break between rosewood table and I look past.

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  12. Thank you, Gae and Amy, for looking over our opening lines! I am so thrilled to participate in TW this summer, and especially Feedback Fridays!!

    Here's the opening of a short story I'm working on:

    The scent of unwashed hair and bodies, dampness, and roasted meat gave way to the perfumes of the Atlantic as Eamon opened the door and stepped out of the stone house he shared with his mother and sisters. He set a chair beside the doorway on a soggy patch of moss and watched the churning waves beyond the field in front of the house. The island’s dock, just visible from his vantage point, not too long ago housed the last boat left on the island. Eamon and his father had made the boat from ash trees they harvested on the mainland two years ago, and the family grieved the day the father left the dock to fish and washed up dead on the shore with the boat's splintered wood.
    Eamon put his arms at his side and with his fingers, he felt the wood of chair. He traced the sunken imprint of the seat, and the rough, splintered legs. He placed his head on the back of the chair and smelled the burning peat piping from the chimney overhead. He could fall asleep right there, the earthy scent entering his body and a cold mist, a brief respite from the heavy rain certain to come, peppering his face.
    Picking up the chair after a few moments of rest, Eamon walked a dozen meters to a square field penned in with stones where the family once raised sheep. In the middle of the field he found the patch of grass where rested a pile of broken wood from his father’s dining room chair. Standing on the pile, he held the chair he’d been sitting on high overhead and dropped it to the ground. The back of the chair broke from the seat. He picked the seat up again and threw it down hard. The two front legs flew off. Four times more he picked up the largest pieces, and again and again he dropped them until they were small enough that he couldn't tell the difference between the ones already there and the ones he had just made.
    On Eamon's walk back to the house, he looked at the abandoned village spread along the coast, houses with thatched roofs taken by the season's earlier storms. He could hear only the thrashing sea and the wind as it ripped around his body.

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    1. Great description of breaking the chair. The repetition of his movement and the deliberate feel of the writing make for an intriguing character and scene.

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    2. Alex, you've done an amazing job of creating and describing a unique setting that really comes to life. I'm very intrigued by why he's breaking the chair. At first, it seems like something treasured so that's a great twist and the hook for me. I want to know what's happened, what kind of life he's living on this island and why he's smashing chairs. My one suggestion is to consider tightening the opening. Consider which details are most important and which ones you can weave in through the following paragraphs. But very nice writing --thx for sharing!

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    3. Alex, I really like the voice of this. You create rhythm, imagery and sounds, rooting the reader in your setting in a way that establish a real confidence, so your reader is ready to go where you lead. I am curious about this character, but already have a sense that time, tradition and loyalty are key to this character or place. I enjoyed reading it.

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    4. Alex, I really like your final few lines:
      "On Eamon's walk back to the house, he looked at the abandoned village spread along the coast, houses with thatched roofs taken by the season's earlier storms. He could hear only the thrashing sea and the wind as it ripped around his body."

      I want to know why the village is abandoned and what Eamon is going to do next. Great build-up.

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    5. agree with Amy's comment! Lovely writing, great work with setting, but I feel almost overwhelmed by it, and would love it simplified. Also very intrigued by this: " and the family grieved the day the father left the dock to fish and washed up dead on the shore with the boat's splintered wood." Wonder if it comes up again? Keep going!

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  13. Not so much a WIP. This is mostly a twist of Tuesday's Quick Write, but I am playing around with the idea of these characters.

    Sofie, my sister. I do love her. She is my sister after all, but it is complicated. The stories surrounding her are complex, and few are flattering. Friends, who intellectually knows of my love toward the wayward sister, do not always understand. She manipulates and takes advantage of everyone in my family, especially my parents. It’s heartbreaking more often than not.

    Beneath the anger and hurt though is a great deal of love. A simple explanation would involve the virtues of family, but such platitudes pay tribute to the sister spot in my life, but not to the actual human being that is my complex, aggravating, selfish, loving, funny, attention-needing sister.

    Memories of my sister as a child weave through my thoughts of her. These memories often speak to the person she is now. Still a child. Struggling to find love and acceptance. Behind a history of pain and abandonment.

    Sofie could not have been older than 6 or 7 as she stood on the stage next to a piano in front of a small audience of mostly strangers. She was a beginning piano student for a family friend whose other students were older and more musically accomplished. I remember this moment clearly, as it stood in such clear contrast to Sofie’s usual mask. Instead of a boisterous attention hoarder, I saw a little girl shaking as she attempted the first few simple notes of a simple song. She appeared quiet and small.

    In that moment, I saw my little sister. The sister that my family occasionally sees, but few others ever witness. After several foster homes and abandonment from families that she had learned to trust all before the age of 4, Sofie has learned to put up defenses. She shows anger before weakness and often demands attention. Moments of shy quietness are few. I’ve seen her embarrassed and unsure, but never was it so obvious. In those few moments my sister’s strong defenses lifted, and I the little girl I saw then is still there. I hope.

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    1. Emily,
      Your first paragraph is full of voice for your first person character. After that I don't get an image of the little sister. Not until the piano scene. There I can see her. I'd advise you to think about more showing than telling. Show us the sister through action and dialogue. There is obviously a lot of emotion here, but as a reader, I am separated from it. Draw me in with showing.

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    2. Emily, what you've done here is create a very interesting portrait of a sister. It feels like the basis of a character and a relationship that you could definitely develop into a story. This is all good character work (and that's so important!) but for your story beginning, you want to start with action. SHOW us Sofie in action with her sister. Show her being manipulative and selfish and then let us see that glimmer of her vulnerable self. I'd suggest you start with the paragraph about Sofie at the piano recital and develop that as a scene--let it play out in real time and see where it goes. Thanks for sharing, and keep going!

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    3. Emily-
      I already love Sofie. And more importantly (?) I love your narrator. I love the contrast between the vulnerable inner child that the narrator sees and hopes for, and the manipulative sister that friends see.

      I think you have the core language in here, and the essence of these two characters. I agree with Amy that it will hook your readers if you show us the image of Sofie at the piano, maybe followed by an example of the manipulating Sofie who the narrator's friends see...? I love your ideas and the vulnerable complicated Sofie you are portraying. Please keep writing and sharing, I think you have an important story to tell here and I'm longing to read it.
      Terry

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    4. think Amy makes excellent comments here! What I love about this piece is that there is obvious and inherent conflict and emotion... you've started digging and now we need to see it PLAY out. Action, yes! Show vs. tell. Hope it will open up for you and develop into something. I think you're on your way!

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  15. had this scene, but I had to change it. Originally Hanna just found the chicken. I needed to add a little more drama to it and connect the chicken to Hanna. Thank goodness for Teachers Write! I'm actually motivated to revise.

    “Dad, how’s that chicken?” He immediately knew which one I was talking about. Every year we would get one hundred chickens, feed them, raise them and share them with family and friends. This year the chickens had been attacking one, pecking at it continuously, not letting it near the food or water. Smaller, skinnier with even less feathers and more bare spots, you could pick it easily out of the crowd. “Not great. I think they made a mistake when they packed them,” he said. “That chicken might actually be a she.”
    Usually when I lifted the latch to enter the chicken pen, chickens would look up from there pecking and wander over to me, hoping to herd me faster to the feeder, I guess, but not today. Today the clucking had a higher sound, angrier and the focus was not on food. There was a ball of white feathers in one corner and dust was rising, reflecting golden in the light. With a squawk and a rush of feathers, out she came, angry red welts and even less feathers on her body. She staggered towards me, a few steps, and fell.
    I dropped the feed scoop. The chickens left their corner, distracted, and trotted over to the feed, while I took a couple quick steps across the pen to check out the helpless chicken. It was her. Who know that even chickens could sense differences?
    “Dad! Dad!” I yelled. “They got her! Come on!”
    “Hanna, what’s up?” He called back as he entered the pen.
    “Can we help her?” I looked at him.
    “You know they don’t all make it, Hanna.”

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    1. What works: I love it. That's what works. It is so specific and so strange (in a good way) that it delivers an experience of the natural world that I'd never been in, but by reading it through to the end I believe this experience would affect me as a person. I heard Jack Gantos talk at SCBWI this winter, and he said when we finish a book the only thing that changes is us. Books don't change. The book is the same. We change. And I get that here.

      What doesn't work: So far, nothing.

      Am I hooked? Share more please. Wonderful.

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    2. Love this opening. And I am seriously worried about this chicken now.

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    3. Stefanie, what a great beginning! Who knew I could be so interested in chickens. :-) What really hooked me was when the chick comes out squawking with welts. The scene is very dramatic and though it works well as it is, I wonder if her worry and fear for the chicken can come out even stronger in the very first line. After all, she arrives at the pen and doesn't see her chicken, right? And she knows the others are picking on it. Instead of "How's that chicken" maybe you might try, "Where's my chicken?" And then her hand fumbles with the latch because something isn't right in the pen and the chickens are clucking differently and she doesn't see the little one. Then you can tell us the history of the little chick as she goes in. Again, just a thought--keep up the great work! (And hang in there you poor chick!) ;-)

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    4. Stefanie-
      Very compelling! I love how you are telling us about chicken behaviors and the connection you are building between Hanna and her chicken. I am confused by one part though - are all the other chickens male? (And I wouldn't notice if I weren't so invested!)

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    5. Amy just gives great advice! And, I, too, am so worried for this chicken. And for Hanna having to face the reality of it, and what it will mean for her. Keep going!

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    6. Wow! Thanks Brian, Amy, Terry & Gae...That is so much great feedback. Amy, I do really like your idea of how things don't sound right in the pen before Hanna opens it. It will certainly build the tension. I see a change coming!

      As a quick background, this is based on the pet chicken I had as a child and this scene is how she became my pet. Brian, when you raise chickens for meat, you receive males and if you want egg layers you buy females. Every time I've presented this story to someone I've had to include a lot of details because the world of a hobby farm and chickens seems to be one that people don't really know in our growing world. Right now my daughter wants chickens and has presented to town council to get them to change the by-law so we can have a couple in our suburban backyard. Hopefully, I'll have lots of direct research on this story soon! Thanks to everyone for your amazing support!

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  16. Good morning everyone! I'm having a great time reading all the entries. Just wanted to let you know I've got to run out for a couple of hours but when I get home I'll dive back in. So keep posting and I'll "see" you all soon. :-)

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  17. Good Morning Gae and Amy, Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity to learn and share with you and the other authors who are all donating precious time to work with all of us. This is my 1st TW, I am entering my 26th year as a middle school teacher. Currently in 6th grade, I love my students, and am working on a PB manuscript as well. Here is the beginning, starting with a change:

    * Hank stood in the lobby of doggie daycare. His tail wagged for workers to come and welcome him, but no one did. His eyes roamed the room looking for something familiar. He was definitely not at the vet.

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    1. Hi Tina! Welcome to TW and thanks for posting. (And for 26 years in teaching-WOW!!)

      I also am working on picture books and just like a novel, they need a beginning, middle and end. I think this works great as a beginning. Hank is obviously in a new place so I see that things are changing--that's a great hook. Why is here? What's going to happen next? I also really like that he's wagging his tail and everyone is ignoring him. I feel for him! Only one suggestion--I'm wondering if you want to tell us right away that it's doggie daycare? If this is Hank's POV, then he doesn't know. He only knows he's in a strange place. Just something to think about if it should fit in to the world of the story. Very nice beginning!

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    2. Love! And, great food for thought from Amy. Keep going!

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    3. Thank you both for your time to comment. I value your suggestions very much.

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  18. It was four thirty in the afternoon on a warm summer afternoon and Kasni Vittuli was thinking about calling it a day.
    She was supposed to work on her writing until five o’clock, but being an author she was her own boss and could make her own hours. When you write in an old garden shed behind your home, it doesn’t take long for the commute home.
    She sat there enjoying a slight breeze wafting in through the screen door of the shed, staring at a vase of wildflowers that sat on her desk, gathering up the energy to make the trek up to the house. As her eyes rested on her unfinished manuscript, she felt a pang of guilt for stopping early. She knew she had a deadline and it had to be finished by the beginning of September. Yet, when the storyline was based on her own life, it was hard to relive all of those experiences day after day, even though she was tweaking the facts and changing scenes to make that fact less recognizable.
    Why had she thought this a good idea, to base the novel on the happenings of her life? It hadn’t been easy to live through the events in the first place, why would she want to rehash the painful memories that lingered long afterward?
    She pushed back her chair and stood up, going over to the screen door to look out over the yard leading to the house. The lawn stretched lush and green up to the gardens that surrounded the house, with wildflowers and roses tangling amongst the shrubs and bushes. She made an effort to begin closing the windows, but paused as the phone began to ring. She hesitated a moment, wondering if she should just let the machine pick up, but then picked it up and answered.
    “Kasni?” a somewhat familiar male voice replied to her greeting. Her heart beat faster at the sound of his voice, but no, it couldn’t be, not after all of this time.
    “Garan?” she questioned softly, “Garan Karl?”
    “Kasni, I’m in trouble. Can you help me?”

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    1. Hi Kristina. Well, how can I help but love a story about a writer! :-) Your writing is lovely and you set the scene very well. The hook is a very strong one--a voice from the past with a problem. That creates all sorts of questions in my mind. My one suggestion would be to try to move the hook up sooner, perhaps by tighten the earlier paragraphs, or else weave more problems/drama into the set up. For example, her deadline is in a few days, she's horribly behind, or she can't face the pain of the scene she must write next.

      Remember, you want to give the reader a reason to turn the page and the first page is generally 12 - 15 lines. That's why you want to create some questions as soon as possible. Great start--keep on keeping on!

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    2. Thank you for the advice! I appreciate it.

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    3. Hi, Kristina, yes, as I was reading, I was thinking almost what Amy wrote... what I think is that maybe you can really start around the third paragraph that starts with "Why had she thought..." or even combine that with the next one "She pushed back her chair" and that that may be your start giving us a quick set up to that very powerful presentation of the voice from her past which I LOVE. Keep going!

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    1. Amy, I love the opening lines from A Matter of Heart. I think it perfectly describes a swim meet from the swimmer's POV.

      Definitely hooked. I can't wait to read it, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my daughter whose been a swimmer for the past six years.

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    2. Thanks so much Monica! I love hearing that, believe me. I spoke with a lot of swimmers during my research so hopefully your daughter will relate. Well, except for the life or death situation Abby faces. ;-)

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  20. My work in progress...

    My name is Shoshana, but everyone calls me Shosh. I’m 9 years old, a fourth grader and a “very well-adjusted kid.” That’s what my third grade teacher last year told my Mom, when in conferences the fact that my parents have been divorced since I was in kindergarten came up. Mom came home and announced, “I guess Mrs. Speck has it in her head that when you survive from kindergarten to third grade with your parents being divorced AND you are a nice, smart, hard-working kid that you should not be so well-adjusted.” Apparently, I am the poster child for kids from divorced families.

    Ben was just a baby when they split up. Now, he is 5 and he is the ONLY person in the world allowed to call me Shoshi. We are good buddies, Ben and I...87% of the time. The other 13% we fight over issues of fairness: fair sharing of toys, fair splitting of the last piece of cake, fair amount of time spent with Mom, fair number of chores, you get the point.

    Mom is famous for hollering, “I am NOT the referee!” when she gets that crazy look in her eyes like she’s about to lose it. I don’t really blame her for getting so mad when we argue. Mom works real hard…she gets me on the bus, drops off Ben, works all day, gets us home, makes dinner, organizes stuff, gets us where we need to be and she is definitely most of the time awesome. I say most because no one can be awesome all of the time.

    Not only am I, as I once heard Aunt Stella say, “a child of divorce” but I am also a Jewish kid, THE Jewish kid. That’s to say I am the only Jewish kid in my school, until Ben comes to kindergarten next year.

    In fact, I should be sleeping but my mind is wide awake. Hanukkah is two days away, Christmas break starts in ten days, but I am just not feeling it this year. I am not in the spirit. It’s hard to be though, when you come to school and it looks like the Christmas Fairy sprinkled Christmas into every corner and crevice of your school and every kid seems to be smothered in red and green, reindeers ears or Santa hats. Every. Single. Day.

    Don’t get me wrong…I like celebrating Christmas with my friends. I sing the songs, know ALL Twelve Days of Christmas, love the lights, shop with Santa, get going about Gingerbread design. I would just appreciate some small recognition of Hanukkah. Shouldn’t we recognize everyone’s holiday? Talk about issues of fairness, right?

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    1. What works: Shosh is overwhelmed. So many kids are. This feels very real. The sense that kids are left to deal with and wade through so much of the hard stuff...stuff without good answers...and such a young age.

      What doesn't work: I am overwhelmed...especially when it gets to the last passage or so about Christmas. I don't know where to invest my emotional heft with Shosh. My natural inclination is the divorce and the relationships between within her family.

      Am I hooked: absolutely yes, but the hook starts to lose me with Christmas...maybe it is too much too soon?

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    2. Hi Dana. There are so many things I like and can relate to with this opening. Like Brian said, the sense of being overwhelmed and also that she's well-adjusted; she's handling it. I was also the only Jewish kid in my school growing up and so the issue is near and dear to my heart. (Well, what do you expect from an author who wrote OyMG!) :-)

      So, you have a lot of good "stuff." Issues, I mean. Potential problems and challenges for Shosh. Now, we need you to focus us on the problem of the story. Give us a hint at least. Is she tired of being so well adjusted? Is she going to change things this Christmas? What exactly is the problem that Shosh is going to deal with? Let us in and you've got a great beginning. Thx for sharing!

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  21. 1. What works for you?
    The sense that adolescents know, really truly are experts, in the things they love. I can believe that this character has been swimming, competing, to varying degrees of success, for a quite some time. When we were (are) that age we love sharing what we know.

    Also, some of the specificity of word choice...fizz struck me as quite nice.

    2. What doesn't if anything, and why?
    My misreading! I read "chum" instead of "churn"...my mind blinked to "chum" as in shark bait and it distracted me. And then I looked again and saw it was my misread.

    3. If it's a beginning, does it hook you? If it's not, does it compel you to keep reading?

    It does because I believe it is a kid. And I want to know more about them.

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    1. Thanks Brian! And you made me laugh out loud with the thought of you reading 'chum.' I got a great image of a story mash between A MATTER OF HEART and JAWS.

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  22. I've known the quote for as long as I can remember. We memorized it as kids. It was the starting point for the "family meetings" Dad would call when he felt like we were stepping out of line. A rousing speech delivered by the father of our country before his troops went into battle. Dad has always fancied himself a field general. I used to revere him. l used to revel in the language of the quote. The call to action. The honor of the cause. "Freemen or slaves." "Brave resistance or abject submission." "Conquer or die." He has the quote plastered everywhere. Over the mantle at home. On the desk in his classroom. And here, above the player's entrance to football field, where we each tap the sign and cry out "CONQUER OR DIE" as we race onto our field of battle. Black marker in hand, I add my own sentiments to the quote.
    "This is bullshit."

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    1. What works: The last line. I made me laugh because it made your narrator likable. His point of view is etched in me and I do indeed want to know more about hi..assuming it is a him.

      What doesn't work: As a reader, the line "A rousing speech delivered by the father of our country before his troops went into battle." distracted me for a beat. For me, The line that ends with "family meetings" was enough to transition into "Dad has always fancied himself a field general." Which, by the way, I really like and I get an immediate sense of their relationship.

      I do indeed want to know more. I am hooked.

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    2. Wow, Greg--this is great! I could feel the simmering resentment of your character toward his father. I love how you set up the scene with the "used to" sentences and then finished with your character clearly and unequivocally revealing his current feelings toward his father. Underneath this all I get a sense that your character also feels betrayed by his father and that his foundations have been shaken by the loss of these early truths. Powerful!

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    3. Greg, very nice opening. I got a good feeling for the main character and the last line made me reevaluate the relationship. I'm definitely hooked and intrigued. Also, it reminded me of Friday Night Lights when they would all hit the sign on their way out. That was always a powerful moment of brotherhood, and team--I wonder what's happened to make this guy spurn all of that. Nice writing--keep going!

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    4. Well done- the last line also made me laugh. I honestly want to read more and see where you go with this. Thanks for sharing!

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    5. Hey, Greg, that last line! As everyone is saying! I'm almost thinking you may want to work a little backwards if this makes sense: have the MC walk out to the field, tap the sign, then have the memory about all the quotes from his father they remind him of, and then the punchline, I reach up and write bullshit... so by having him enter the field first, we're immediately with him now and invested, and the memory stuff isn't the start but the middle of the opening. Not sure if that makes sense as I'm typing fast... play around with the order, but great stuff! Keep going!

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  23. Here is the opening of a YA Historical Fiction-- I am into my second year of revisions and have been writing it for the past five years.


    I am alone in my family. I don’t mean no one loves me. Papa loves me. He teaches me how to work the fields and how to hold and bite a fig so no juice is wasted. He pays Padre Michael to teach me how to read and then asks me to read to him beneath the silver shade of an olive grove. He calls me “his Beppina” and wants nothing more than for me to love him back. But I can’t love him in the way he expects.

    Papa wants nothing. I want everything. Holding his finger, soiled and callused, to his mustache, he slips me small coins when Mama is not looking. But one coin is not enough. And it isn’t even coins that I want.

    My heart dissipated like sea foam when Papa balked about America. I only brought it up with him just that once. Just that once. But it still swells inside me. A vast ocean pulling me to an other side that Papa doesn’t understand.

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    1. Brian this is lovely. Especially the ocean imagery in the last paragraph. (The verb swells is perfect.) I've learned so much about your character in three short paragraphs.

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    2. Brian, this is a lovely opening. I especially love the details like eating the fig and her learning to read--I get a nice feeling for her upbringing and life in a very short time. The hook is that she wants to go to America--that's very strong and I want to keep reading to see if she can reach that goal. The only suggestion I might make is that you do such a great job of specific details that I want more of that in the line, "I want everything." Everything is so vague--and is it even true? Does she want everything or does she really want America? If so, what does America represent to her? What is she yearning for? If you can give me a little more right there, I think it would strengthen the opening even more for me. Great start!

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    3. Oh, the fig line is lovely, and I love the short concise sentences that are loaded with longing. I agree with what Amy suggests (just a minor thing... you don't have to spell it out, but maybe just a little more) and the word dissipated throws me a little... feels so sophisticated for the rest of the voice? Just lovely writing though. You can tell you've revised and revised. Keep going!

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  25. The wall of heat and noxious new car smell hit me as I tumble into the backseat of our new silver Camaro. My sweaty little legs instantly stick to the vinyl and as pull them off my souvenir sunburn, the prize of a day of unbridled freedom,wandering the wild oaks and wading in the shallow stream. The searing pain shoots up my spine announcing its existence. We left too soon. The time he spent with his friends was also unbridled- beach chairs slung out on the dusty picnic grounds, music and rollicking conversation- more rollicking as the wine continued to flow and the pungent circles of smoke rose above their heads and tangled with the sweet smell of the barbeque. I know this car is fast, and I am old enough to understand that Dad is way too drunk and way too high to be driving home.

    The canyon roads are narrow and winding.I can already barely breathe, but I pull the jacket over my head. Maybe it is better to suffocate than die in a fiery crash. “Though I walk through the valley of death…” I recited this prayer over and over and added a few Hail Marys knowing full well I needed her to be praying for me at this hour of my death.

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    1. Hi Dawn, what an interesting opening! I love the imagery--especially "souvenir sunburn" --what a great line. I was confused at first when I got to the line, "the time he spent with his friends...." I didn't understand who "he" was but then it becomes clear --probably just need a paragraph break before "we left too soon."

      I'm hooked by the danger of the drive home--will they crash, and then I'm not sure what to think about the last line. Is she going to die? I'd definitely read on to find out.

      One thing you might consider: I don't have an idea of how old this girl is. "Sweaty little legs" makes her sound very young but then she describes the scene using words like "rollicking conversation" and "pungent circles of smoke" and I picture an older teen. That may be an issue of finding your character's voice--sometimes that doesn't come for a while (at least it doesn't for me) so keep going with that in mind. Thx for sharing!

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    3. agree with Amy's comments! intriguing and work with some of her tweaks! Keep going!

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  26. Amy--
    Thanks for your time and for sharing the opening lines to your book! I was immediately transported to the pool and finished up wondering what will happen--will she make it or not? I like what Linda commented about your character "not listening" to the scream of her lungs. I also found it intriguing that your character notes that though she knows they are there, she can't hear the coaches or parents. So, what or who does your character hear or listen to? You have me wondering....

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    1. Hi Molly. Thanks for the feedback! I hadn't consciously thought about what she's listening to but after reading your comment it's obvious to me that what she's listening to is the sound of her heart. Because it's not quite right, although she doesn't know it yet. As I said, I didn't consciously think about that when I wrote the scene. What a nice discovery for me! :-)
      Thx!

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  27. A first draft- First time sharing
    Boxes! Who dies and leaves boxes? There was no time weed out the important from the temporary. My grandfather’s life is stored in the garage, shoved into corners and stacked in plastic tubs. Inside, hide my first grade drawings, Father’s Day cards and photos. Lots of photos and some negatives. The boxes of faces stare out, waiting for their story to be told. The relentless “who” wait while my mother, the keeper of memories, sorts.
    “I wonder,” she murmurs as she shuffles through a box. “I wonder if we have it.”


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    1. Hi Lynn. I love this beginning! I'm so intriqued by the idea of boxes and hidden secrets. The writing is lovely, too, especially like how you describe her mother as "the keeper of memories." Then, very quickly, you hit me the zinger in the last line. Am I hooked? You bet. I want to find out what they're looking for, and why there's no time. Keep going!!

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    2. Oh, I'm definitely hooked! I especially loved this sentence,"My grandfather’s life is stored in the garage, shoved into corners and stacked in plastic tubs. Inside, hide my first grade drawings, Father’s Day cards and photos." Lovely! Can't wait to read more!

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    3. Oh a treasure hunt - so pregnant with possibilities! I am hooked already! As you continue this story, I would be most intrigued if you helped me visualize some of the moldy treasures that constituted grandfather's life. Interested to find out exactly what mom seeks...

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    4. PS - I know the girl doesn't see it as a treasure hunt. Perhaps I have seen too many episodes of American Pickers. :)

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  28. Thank you for sharing the intro to your book as well as the beautiful cover art!

    What works: There is tension from the first sentence. The short, simple sentences create that rushed feeling of anticipation, and I was already catching/holding my breath before we ever got into the water. The water descriptions and sensory images also work really well for me. The "whoosh and thrum", "churn of arms" "fizz of an exhale" bring me into the moment. I am not a swimmer, but I was right there with her, arms stretching and lungs burning.
    What doesn't work? It's all working for me.
    Am I hooked? I NEED to know what happens! I have this idea that she doesn't win or something bad is about to happen, and I really want to see what happens!

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    1. Hi Jennifer! Thanks so much for your feedback. And you're right--something bad is about to happen, so I'm glad you have that sense of breathlessness.

      I wish I had ARCs to pass out to everyone! :-)

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    2. I wish you did, too! I cannot WAIT to read this--like Jennifer mentions in her comment, I too was THERE. Great cover, btw...

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  29. He hadn't been thinking. Not really. The shot wasn't planned, he told himself. It just happened.

    His aim had been surprisingly true, a missile burrowing itself into the curious eye of the intended target. A small animal - ground hog he thought - screamed in surprise and pain, the intensity of which froze the smile on the boy's lips. The wounded creature fled into outskirting woods, its bleats of pain and terror blanketing every inch of the boy's perceptions, like pleas of mercy to an uncaring God. Tears sprang to the boy's eyes as he listened to the song of sorrow devolve into a chorus of whimpers ending in a final coda of silence. The woods were still again, save for the whispering afternoon breeze. Those woods would never again offer solace to the small creature who so recently left its womb to experience life, now returning to die. Neither would they give comfort again to the small boy who cried silently from his treeside perch, the sound of sin burnt into his heart and throbbing there like an untended burn the remainder of his short life long.

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    1. Holy wow! That is GOOD. I love your use of language, and the duality of the animal and boy. I was so invested right from the beginning.

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    2. powerful.
      loved the line--"his aim had been surprisingly true"

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    3. Matt, that's such a haunting passage. I feel for the poor animal and I can hear the cries the way you described it, ending in death. I can feel the horror of the boy and I can empathize. Really, really nice. Now, I want a sense of where this story is going--how this is a problem for the boy? Why is it a sin, and if it is, why is he in a tree with a gun to begin with? That's very intriguing!

      Nice work--keep writing.

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    4. Thanks for this encouraging feedback! I'm afraid I cheated a bit here...I was chewing endlessly on the beginning to my "real" story when a sad animal cry out in the woods where I write prompted this little free write. I think I like it enough to explore further, though with a bit of tinkering it might make an interesting poem just as it sits.

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    5. Wow- such emotion! I don't know if I feel worse for the boy or the small animal. You did a beautiful job describing his retreat back into the woods and the sudden silence again. I especially appreciate your final line:
      "the sound of sin burnt into his heart and throbbing there like an untended burn the remainder of his short life long"
      Thank you for sharing!

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    6. This is powerful! If you choose to continue with this, which I think you should, keep in mind you've captured a narrator with a deep interest in music-- he hears a song, chorus and coda in the death throes of an animal. I'm intrigued. -Jen C.

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  30. This is my second chapter which may now become a first after today's lesson. This is very rough, but I did want to get it out there.

    One thing that I've learned about human nature is that homo sapiens are inherently selfish. We are even born pre-programmed with a flight or fight instinct for self preservation. Do we lie? Cheat? Kill? We sure as hell do when it protects us from pain, death, or ...discovery. So, if you were to ask me if I feel bad for the lies,the cover-ups, and the collateral damage, I could honestly answer that I’m not the least bit sorry. In fact, I take a bit of twisted pride in my antics-at how far I was able to push people to the point of no return. You see, I didn't kill those kids. Didn't give them their guns or pull the trigger. But I might as well have. I gave them something much more deadly. An idea. I planted the seeds and watered the gardens of their misery making them believe I was right there with them. Hand in hand. We were our own versions of Romeo and Juliet-with one fatal twist. I pulled them to the edge, only to turn around at the last second as they slammed into oblivion. You can’t hate me for self preservation. It was always part of the plan. I guess you could call it a suicide pact, but what they didn't know, what they couldn't have known-is you don’t make a pact with the devil.

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    1. Jennifer, so glad you shared your beginning. I think your instincts are right--this feels like a good place to start. There are so many lines in here that draw me in. The idea of lies, coverups and collateral damage. "I didn't kill those kids." And also, that an idea is much more deadly than a gun. I want to know what happened!

      I do think you'll need to introduce us to a problem for the devil. Right now, the devil seems to have everything his/her own way and doesn't feel too badly about it. Will there be consequences? Or is someone coming who will challenge the devil and not fall for her/his plans. Lots of potential here--very nice writing. Keep going!

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    2. I agree with Amy on this one. Intriguing beginning. It makes me curious! Hmmm, who IS this person...

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    3. Good stuff, Jennifer! I love the Romeo and Juliet with a twist line because it hints at something new and somewhat horrifying. Intrigued! Keep going.

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  31. Here's my beginning--the story takes place in 1942, btw...

    It sounded like a bomb. That’s the first thought that crossed my mind that even halfway made any sense. A bomb. A bomb come down here in podunk Gunner, Texas in the middle of the day.
    But it wasn't a bomb, it was a bolt from the blue. I found out later that’s what they call them, bolts from the blue. Sounds almost poetic, don’t it? But it ain't. I can sure as salt tell you it ain't.
    A bolt from the blue is a strange and rare type of lightning that shoots from the clouds all the way down to the ground traveling way outside the normal range for lightning. I’m talking about 25 or even 50 miles from the actual thunderstorm. Not a storm cloud in the sky. Not one wisp of gray to give a body even a hint of what’s coming. An act of God, you might say; and I sure did. This was an act of the Almighty alright. A message sent directly to me. My poor Celia never stood a chance with a sinner like me for a daddy.
    The look in her eyes right before it hit will remain with me all my days. She knew something wasn't right. She knew. You could see it in her eyes, but nobody would have guessed what was ‘bout to happen but the good Lord himself. Lightning doesn't just strike out of the clear blue sky, does it? I guess we all know the answer to that one now.
    And I’m the one to blame. I am a man who has done terrible, terrible things. I ain't been who I should be in so long I can’t remember. Maybe never. And it is my fault that Celia is gone; mine completely.
    In my quiet moments I search for answers that I know I will never find. I try to have as few quiet moments as possible. Whiskey helps, and then like God himself, the whiskey turns on me, too.

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    1. Mrs S. -- I love how this starts with the sound of a bomb--definitely draws me in! I'm with you as you describe a bolt from the blue and then the death of Celia, his daughter. Times are hard, for sure, and this character is tortured. That's all great!

      Now, to make this opening stronger, I wonder if you can hint at what this man wants? What does he wish for, yearn for, hope? Or what is about to change in his world--or change him? The bolt of blue is a huge moment but it feels as if it happened in the past and that he's fallen into the bottle. That's all good-but where does it lead? Does drinking lead to something? In other words--can you give me a hint of where this story is going? What the story problem with be?
      Great job--keep writing!

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    2. everything Amy says, and I love, love, love that last line.

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  32. Okay, first, I want to share my thoughts about the swimming excerpt above:

    1. Like others have commented before, the first line draws me in. But I think the first line works well because of the second line. The two short, stacked sentences convey urgency and they are really effective. I also think your word choice is outstanding. The sounds are virtually audible and the imagery captures the essence of a swim race. In particular, I liked: “whoosh and thrum of the surface breaking over my cap,” and “the fizz of an exhale,” and the “scream of my burning lungs.”

    2. One suggestion I would make involves the third line. You say “all around the pool” and then nine words later you say “the pool” again. I think you could shorten this line to match the urgency of the previous two. Of course you need to expand it a little more to give us the information we need to enter the story, but I think it would work well to eliminate the first adverbial clause and just write: “Coaches yell and pace along the edge of the pool as if that’ll make us swim faster.”

    3. Yes, you hooked me. I want to read more!

    ***
    And now, I would like to share part of what I wrote during the quick write on Tuesday. Right now it is the tentative beginning of a YA novel, but I am in the very beginning stages. I have droves of notes about where I want to go, but I'm still in the discovery stage and trying to decide if this is a good place to start, or if I need more back story before I get here.

    ***
    I found it by accident.

    Beneath the dust and the boxes. Behind Mom’s old prom dress and two-dozen winter coats.

    I didn’t notice it at first. The ridges around the opening weren’t that obvious; the leather strap blended in with the crusty old luggage tags scattered haphazardly on the floor. I passed it at least three million times: each time I escaped the insanity of my family kitchen, slipped through a crack between Dad’s sweaters from 1999 and my little sister’s newborn baby clothes, inching toward the back of an enormous closet where I hid everything that meant anything in my life.

    I still can’t believe I didn’t look down any one of the times my fingers gripped the rusty chain, and I felt a gritty residue coat the palm of my hand. I can’t believe none of my coughs, sneezes or sighs scattered enough dust to reveal the crease in the wood. Mostly, I can’t believe this secret remained hidden for nearly all of my childhood.

    But it did.

    And in an odd sort of way, that fact made it all the more perfect now.

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    1. Hi Laura. First of all, thanks for the feedback on my opening paragraphs. I'll definitely take another look at how it reads and whether it might flow better without those words. It's such a dance of rhythm and voice, isn't it?

      I really like your opening. The idea of hidden secrets is so compelling and I'm immediately wondering after the first line just what she found. Very nice!! Since you hook us up front with that line, you can spend some time describing the closet for us and setting up the world a little bit, so all of that is good. This is where your backstory can come in if you need a line or two--but right now I'd say you're starting the story in the right place. The last line is also very good because it takes the tension up a notch--what is it and why is now the right time to find it? So, my best advice for you is to keep on writing!

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    2. What Amy said! Go on, now. :)

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  33. Here we go! This is a very rough excerpt - not even sure if it's a beginning or a flashback or something else. I'm just trying to be brave! :)

    ****************************************************

    “Un! Un!” Malevna called. “Ooh, where is she that good-for-nothing … ?”
    Just then a girl came running around the corner of the garden fence, stumbling to a stop right in front of Malevna. She was clutching her apron, but at the sudden stop a single tomato spilled out and plopped onto Malevna’s left shoe, spilling it’s ripe guts everywhere.
    The girl slowly raised her eyes up to look in Malevna’s stern face. “I’m -- I’m here,” she whispered.
    “I see that,” sneered Malevna. She inhaled deeply, pursed her lips, and raised her hand as if to strike the girl. When the girl didn’t cower or flinch, Malevna dropped her hand. Through gritted teeth, she said, “Be sure you mend my dress today, the blue one. I’m going into town tomorrow.” Then she turned, rubbing her shoe in the grass in a failed attempt to rid it of tomato pulp and seeds. As she walked back into the house, she called over her shoulder, “That’s not an excuse to neglect your usual chores.”
    The door slammed and the girl was left alone in the yard.

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    1. Hey Beth...just an FYI: I replied to this but somehow it didn't follow your post. It turned up down below. Sorry--not even sure what I did! :-)

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    2. No problem. I still got feedback. :)

      You're right; it is a very Cinderella beginning, but the story I'm envisioning is maybe a bit more Alice in Wonderland -- I think. I'll just have to keep writing and see where it takes me!

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    3. Beth, I'll just tell you this: I like your writing and your tomato details very much! Keep going! :)

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  34. HI, Gae! I hope the weekends' readings are off to a good start! Thanks for sharing this inspiration before you left. It's a great lesson in beginnings.

    I'm not sharing the opening of my novel, but something newer I'm working on, which is a transition toward the end of the novel, from the POV of the antagonist who has been invisibly pursuing the MCs throughout the book. The main character (Michael Roonan) has always had empathy for this guy, who otherwise appeared to have been a thug for the IRA. This piece reveals the event that made it all change for the 3 men, back when they were boys - important to an overall theme of how civilians are pulled into war/conflict. Sorry, it's a little thiller-esque.

    ***

    The dead boy in the canal was a color you never lose from your memory. The words for colors fail you. Not white, not green. Color of the moon, of a coin at the bottom of a puddle. Those pallid arms, wavering hand, bloated abdomen. Fish belly. At your mother’s table on Friday nights, at nice restaurants for every year after in your life, you beg them, “Take the plate away. I can’t have skin on the fish.” It never leaves you.

    He was a Catholic boy. He had a name, once. He’d been Ryan, when he’d yet had a face. He’d been someone’s trusted friend, the kind you knew would stick up for you. When he’d been Ryan. Now he was “the dead boy in the canal” to all the lads, and always would be. The floater. The thing haunting their nightmares, white skin flaying out into the brackish water, eyes opening to a viscous piscine stare.

    They could get you, too. Anyone.

    That ate at Sean Morris, nights. The fish-skinned fear sickening his insides, converting fear into something new: someone had the power to make Ryan into that thing in the canal, and it could happen again, any time.

    You weren’t a man if you didn’t stand up against it, he repeated to himself, and to Stevie Roonan. They could smell the sick on each other’s breath, the night they’d snuck down to see the body, still in the canal, the guards not yet fished it out.

    “You got to be willing to put your own neck on the line. Patriots, is what we are.”

    There were men, Sean Morris knew, who would kill the dead boy’s killer. It was a war and there was no honor in looking the other way and hoping for peace. “Be a man,” he chided Stevie. Later, in Belfast, feeding pipes with bearings and black powder, his hands shook. Stevie said it back to him as if their shared laugh: “Be a man.”

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    1. Elissa, this is such evocative writing. Creepy, too, but in a very good way. I won't think of fish the same way again just from reading this! I won't critique this as an opening, since you've said it isn't one. It does pack a visceral punch and that's great! Thanks for sharing.

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    2. Elissa, what can I say? I'm a fan. Keep going.

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    3. Amy and Gae, thanks so much! I have so much revision work ahead of me, any encouragement is really helpful. I'm trying a highly recommended technique of actually *retyping* the whole draft as a means of revision. "O.O" Yes, it works... but I'm 2 months in and only 10%done. Ugh! It's really hard to keep motivated through finishing, so thank you so much for your words. Now.. back to it...

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    4. Oh, and I meant to have really emphasized: thank you both so much for the time you've taken to give feedback on everyone's writing. It had to have taken forever and you've both been so thoughtful and supportive. Know that your efforts really mean a lot!

      And thanks to all the participants who've jumped in with comments, as well. It's neat to see how insightful and supportive people are being to each other. Yay, TeachersWrite! :)

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  35. Hi Beth. Thanks for posting--it does take a ton of courage to put your work out there, and you've made it past one of the hardest steps!

    I really like your opening. This feels like a Cinderella story to me, and I'm a sucker for those. I'm drawn in by the little girl and the single tomato spilling out. I love how you described its "ripe guts." Also, the girl doesn't cower or flinch so that's intriguing. She has courage then. Now I want to know what does the girl want? Does she have a secret dream...or a secret? Is there hope of her escaping Malevna? How? What will it take?

    It's not always easy to know if you've found the beginning of your story until you've written more of it. So I wouldn't worry about that now while you're discovering your story. Just keep writing--this girl has a story to tell and I want to hear it! :-)

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  36. The opening of my YA Sci Fi. Still a work in progress.
    “Run, get out of here, now. Remember, if anyone comes asking you’ve never seen me. Look at me. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
    I felt her grab a hold of my face and turn it towards her. All I could see was a round dark shape where I knew her face should be. Everything was out of focus, fuzzy. It felt like I had just stepped off The Spinner at Kings Dominion, the ride that turns you around in circles until you feel like you’re going to pass out or puke. For some reason I found myself nodding as though I understood everything she was saying, although I’d be the first to admit that none of it was making any sense.
    She stopped talking, reached over and placed something into my hand. It felt like money. I closed my hand around it tightly making sure I wouldn’t lose the grip.
    “I know it’s not much but twenty is all I got. Get yourself something to eat and remember stay in the shadows. Avoid main roads. Trust no one, and whatever you do, don’t let them find you. Stay safe sweetie and let God be with you.”

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    1. Great opening, Devine One! You've dropped us right into the middle of the action. There's obviously big trouble brewing and it feels like the world is changing for our character and that everything is at stake. I'll turn the page to find out what happens next. I also like the idea that everything is out of focus. It makes me wonder. Is it stress? Is she drugged? Is it something other-worldly? Creating questions in the mind of the reader means you're off to a great start. Keep writing.

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    2. Hi Amy, Thanks for taking the time to reply. I appreciate it. I will definitely keep on writing. Enjoying it.

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    3. It is a good opening! You've got us right in the thick of intrigue. Keep going.

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  37. Amy,

    Thank you for modeling the vulnerability to share this, and for donating your time and expertise to help us improve as writers, and teachers of writing. It is such an honor to participate in this "camp".

    What works:
    I love the short sentences that punctuate the intro. In few words you put me right into the intensity of the moment. "I can't breathe." "Mostly I just hear the scream of my burning lungs."
    Am I hooked?:
    Completely. I want to know what she yearns for that is just within reach.

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    1. Thanks Greg! It's very cool for me to be a part of this community. I respect so much what you do as teachers (and have no idea how you do it!) I'm glad if I can share a little of what I've learned--unfortunately, most of it the hard way. :-)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts--I'm so glad you like the opening!!

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    2. What works: Like others, I love the title. Maybe the beginning of a trilogy? Devineone, Devinetwo.....?
      I also like the problem of not understanding with the time pressure of having to go right now! And, as a Virginia Girl by choice....I think that the King's Dominion references is spectacular. There's only one KD....right?
      This works! very fast, very in the moment. I wonder if what was placed in the main character's really is money? Is it something else that will lead to the sci-fi part? I'm curious. How far are you into the project? I hope you keep going.

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    3. Thanks for the kind words. I am a little over halfway, about 30,000 words in. It is going to be a trilogy titled 15 Days. Each book will span 5 days.

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    4. very cool! I guessed it! yipee...there must be a prize for that :)

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  38. This is the beginning of the prologue for my novel-in-progress. Side note: after the prologue, the rest of the novel is written from Lillis' point of view (Dara and Harry's daughter). Here goes nothing!!

    Prologue: Monday, June 8, 2144

    “Lillis can never know why I have to go,” Dara said to her husband at the Terminal. “Ethan too when he gets older.” She glanced down the hall at the daycare where she knew their children were being watched.
    Harry was already shaking his head. “No. They should know—they should be proud. You had the courage to do what I couldn’t—”
    “And you never can, Harry!” Dara’s eyes were insistent. “You need to be here for the kids. They need you.”
    “I need you.”
    Dara grasped his hand. She’d known it would be hard to leave Harry, to leave her family, but thinking of his pain was unbearable. There was so much she wanted to say, but she couldn’t find the words. And even if she could, would it make a difference?
    She peered over her shoulder as unobtrusively as possible and spotted the black uniforms immediately. She was being watched. It wasn’t safe to talk here. It had never been safe to talk, to put voice to her questions. She wondered how long they had watched her before deciding to interfere.
    As much as Dara loved her job, she was by no means happy to board this particular ship. She knew once she landed at this destination, there would be no coming home.

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    1. Hi Megan and thanks for posting. This is a strong beginning, coming at a moment of change. I really like that we see black uniforms--that's making the danger more concrete.

      I'll throw out an idea here: If the story belongs to Lillis, then I wonder if you can drop us a hint of what will be waiting for her when she's an adult. In other words, is there some sort of task or danger for her or secret that Dara is leaving her? Maybe there isn't and that's OK, too, but if so that would nicely lead in to the story turning to Lillis POV. Great job--keep going!

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    2. Ditto Amy's feedback. She's really been doing a bang up job. Keep going!

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  39. Amy, captured by the opening ; my granddaughter is a swimmer so I can relate. One of the varsity swimmers at her high school had to quit swimming due to a heart condition. She eventually received a theory dog to alert her when she was going to lose consciousness.

    Here is a sample of something I am working on.

    My eyes sprung open in the darkened room. I lay in the bed trying to decide if perhaps I might fall back asleep, but the numbers on the clock radio filled the room with a lime green glow and my mind began its predawn ritual of worry. Not wishing to wake my husband, I rolled from the bed, fumbled through the jumble on the bedside table to retrieve my glasses, phone and iPad, and quietly snuck from the bedroom to the sanctuary of the “new couch,” a couch we have had for thirty-seven years, certainly not the newest couch in the house, but indisputably the most comfortable. I piled the square pillows around me, building a nest to cradle my aching back and hips, and settled in to await the dawning of a new day.

    My head pounded as if the infantry was marching through my house, raising a cloud of urine-tainted cat litter dust and releasing a flood of post-nasal drip down the back of my throat. I heard the click of the thermostat and knew the AC soon would be blowing chilled air throughout the house. The door at the top of the stairs swung open and bare feet shuffled across the oak-grained floor. Glancing up, I saw the ghostly image of my night-gowned sister illuminated by the nightlight as she traveled to the bathroom and back to bed. The stairs began to creak and I knew my husband was half-awake and making his way to the recliner in the media room upstairs. After much mumbling and grumbling and creaking of leather, he and the ancient black cat inherited from my mother following her death 14 years ago fell into sonorous sleep.

    Slowly the dark sky began to turn a pale gray, the birds began to sing their greetings to the rising sun. Cars traveled down the street, slowing as they approached the stop sign, accelerating as their drivers continued on their way to work.

    And suddenly, the whine of the coffee grinder and the heady smell of Ruta Maya beans brewing . It’s another day in Texas.

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    1. Elizabeth, that's so interesting about the swimmer your granddaughter knows. I didn't know about theory dogs but I've heard of moms who prowl poolside with defibrillators--crazy! (And I have no idea how to spell that word, by the way.) Thanks for sharing that!!

      Your story excerpt is full of wonderfully descriptive phrases. I can see this woman and it feels just so...REAL... right down to shuffling to bathroom and back. Now I think your challenge is to weave a problem in to these paragraphs. Why is she so restless? What is worrying her? Is another day a good thing or a bad thing? Let us in on her problem, on what's haunting her sleepless night and we'll be hooked! Thanks for sharing!

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    2. Elizabeth, I think Amy is exactly right! You do a great job setting scene here and crafting some really potent details, but right at the end I want you to leave me with the hint of conflict. The last line seems almost like a conclusion, not a pull toward what will come next. You've got the chops, keep going!

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  40. This has been my trouble, and this is awesome advice!! To be honest, I DON'T KNOW what the overarching problem for my character is. What happens when your character is just an ordinary girl in an ordinary life with ordinary problems - nothing huge, but small things? Is there a story there, then? Thinking....

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    1. Holly this is such a great question and I'm not sure there's a good answer. As soon as I tell you that you need a big enough problem to sustain an entire novel, someone like Linda will suggest a book that seems to defy that. :-)

      I think, as a writer, you make your job easier if you give your character a problem or a goal that requires struggle. It gives you something to write about and gives your character a chance to test themselves and grow. But I do think ordinary problems can definitely work. What really matter is whether those problems are ordinary to your character? If a bad hair day is life and death (and it was to me for many years) then it becomes a big problem. Does that make sense?

      I hope so! Good luck!

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    2. Hah! Bad hair was a life and death problem for my sister too (she slept with a ski cap on in her teens, in the days before gorgeous kinky hair was coveted as it is now! But Amy is right... when we read fiction we need some conflict. It can be a universal problem the way we all have, but it has to be essential to the character that they resolve it. The character has to want or need something and we have to want them to get it. Even if that thing is, say, peace of mind, or a sense of self esteem, etc. Sadly for those of us (self included) who struggle to tell BIG stories, there still has to be a story. :D

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    3. Amy and Gae - Thank you! These are great answers. I love that you brought up hair. Hair has definitely been a big issue for me since it's very curly - I can certainly pull experience from that. ;-) I'm going to read a bunch of leads tomorrow since I loved the examples given in the post and really dig deep. Lots to think about! Thanks, again!

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  41. I suggest you read Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf by Jennifer Holm. It's a story told in "stuff" all the paper scraps of a 7th graders life....and the problem(s) of her life emerge from the evidence of the stuff. It's a great study in what I think of as "backwards writing". You might even form a "stuff" notebook for your character to see what emerges.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion Linda! I'm not aware of that book but it sounds like a great concept!

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    2. pooh cool! Plus, it's Jennifer Holm. Also, what you can get away with as story in an MG book may be different that the stakes you need in a YA book. May be. Food for thought. Good question!

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    3. I think "pooh" was supposed to be "soooo" but I was so tired last night, who knows? ;)

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  42. Amy, your beginning is absolutely solid and authentic. As a middle school coach, I can see and hear those parents (and myself!) in your words. I have swim kids who I already know would enjoy this narrative. Is this scene resolved right away, or do you make readers wait a while to find out what happens?

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    1. Thanks Matt! I appreciate that so much. In the first scene, you find out what she wants, how close she is, and then...trouble strikes. First chapters are definitely a challenge...so many hints to drop without giving away too much too soon! :-)

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  43. Thank you so much for doing this, Gae and everyone else. I am having such a blast and finding so much inspiration from all of you. Here's my piece. It's copy/pasted started about half way down my first page and into just the first paragraph of my second page:

    Today was a special day for Anna. It was the Friday before her first day of school as a junior at Bay Area College Prep. School started on Monday. The weekend was hers: Today was a hike at Pt Reyes with her best friend, Kate, followed by family pizza night at home. Her dad was even making an appearance- the thought of this rare occurrence just made Anna giddy. Then, tomorrow brought volleyball tryouts. Anna was a shoe-in. She’s played volleyball since childhood, and even made the varsity team last year as a sophomore, so tomorrow would be a piece of cake. Plus, at volleyball, everyone is so wrapped up in their own performance and game that Anna’s difference rarely arises. On Sunday...
    Before she could even think about Sunday, it dawned on her. She’d have to face the reality of her difference again on Monday. She’s enjoyed a carefree summer without having to worry about her difference, or gift, as her mother calls it. It’s been easy for Anna to go through day to day life with her difference away from the crowds of her peers, judgement, and pressure of high school. She’s visited the mall on Market St. without worry, jogged along picturesque Crissy Field immersed in sounds of her favorite bands coming through her iPod, and ventured down to Santa Cruz and up to Stinson Beach with her best friend, Kate.
    Kate. Anna considers Kate her one saving grace. Unbeknownst to Anna’s mom, Kate knows all about Anna’s difference, the difference she is supposed to take with her to the grave. Kate is the only person Anna feels she can trust. The only person she has ever confided in, aside from her mom- who discovered the difference, or gift, when Anna was just two years-old.

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    1. Christina, this opening is very intriguing. At first it seems as if Anna is normal and doing normal things. The first line is great, but then I started wondering what was so special about the weekend...and then you drop the bomb about her being different. I also really like that her mom calls it a gift and that she's supposed to keep it a secret. That adds to the mystery and of course mystery means questions and questions mean I must turn the page to read more. I think there might be places where you can tighten this up, but right now I'd say keep writing!! Nice work!

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    2. Hi Christina! Happy Friday!

      Your beginning definitely works- and I am hooked! I'm wondering if this is fiction or real- it seems so real. Also, I love the Bay Area references. I've read books before that are set in a place I know, and I always feel like an insider.
      I was wondering about her dad- is he out of town or truly gone out of her life? Just something I wondered.
      Nice start! I definitely am ready to read more!

      Jennifer

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    3. Christina, I'm intrigued too -- wondering if the difference is something rooted in realistic or fantastical, actually? Do watch your tenses. I'm confused about the shifts sometimes, but these are worries for later revisions. Right now, Keep Going!

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  44. Amy--I loved your first few lines! As a former high school swimmer, I could really identify with the feeling of having screaming lungs and the intensity of the last lap. I really want to know if your main character wins (or stops breathing...?)

    Here's the first few lines of a short story I've been working on:

    When I finally opened the door—after clicking open the three rusting deadbolts, sliding the chain, and, of course, peering through the clouded peephole—I found Alex standing nervously on the blood-stained welcome mat, wilted flowers in one hand. He just narrowly blocked my view of the tangled wreckage that was the result of the four-year and twenty-seven-day mass obliteration of life by the undead. It was a spring evening, May 19th to be exact, but the usual signs of the season you had come to expect—birds chirping, a feeling of buoyant optimism—were gone, replaced by murky skies, scorched earth and the hopeless feeling that the traditional divisions of the calendar year were victims of the devastation too.

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    1. Wow Kate, this is a very cool beginning. There are lots of nice "moments." All the locks are a sign that things are not right in this world and then I love the "blood-stained welcome mat." That paints a great picture. I also like how you used the date to show that this world is not like our world, and that nothing is as it was. I'm interested to find out who Alex is and why he's there with wilted flowers. All in all, a compelling start. Keep going!!

      And I'm so glad you could relate to my opening as a swimmer. I wish I was a swimmer like Gae but truth is, it's not my best sport and I had to interview a lot of swimmers to get it right. :-)

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  45. Amy – thanks for modeling how to create a strong beginning that will engage the reader.

    What works: “Everything I want is almost within reach.”The last line of the excerpt really hooked me. The action drew me in but what usually sustains my interest is the hint of something bigger, something that goes beyond the surface. This line got me wondering (and caring about the character) – is everything the character wanted related to swimming success or something more?

    What doesn’t work: I watched my daughter swim competitively for over 14 years and I now swim laps. Your description of what goes on during a race, both above water and below, is “spot on.” This passage brought back many memories. Did you ever think of slipping in something about the smell of chlorine?

    Was I hooked? Absolutely! When is the pub date?

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    1. Jennifer, thanks so much for the feedback. And you're right--I should have the smell of chlorine there. I know I do in other places--it's such a distinctive bitter odor, isn't it? The book comes out May 12, 2015. I wish it was sooner but at least I can share the cover now and I'm excited that ARCs will be ready soon and I'll get to send one to someone in this amazing group. ;-)

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    2. FYI, I know I'm weird, but I love the smell of chlorine... maybe because it means water/pool.

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  46. “We can’t leave!” moaned Sandy as she slammed The Hunger Games shut.

    “They’re calling for an evacuation because of the hurricane warning. Your father and I have talked and we’ve decided it's time to leave the island. You need to pack up now!” her mother said firmly.

    The cottage’s windows were beginning to rattle. It sounded like someone was pelting small pebbles on the skylights. Hard. Sandy stomped off to the bathroom and threw her toothbrush and floss into the paisley toiletry bag. Her grimace reflected in the mirror as she raked a brush through her windswept, knotty hair. Glancing at the artsy photograph of rolling waves by the seashore, Sandy was instantly taken back to what had happened before breakfast. She took the worn fishing knife out of her pocket and cupped it in her hand, remembering.

    As Sandy was running down the beach, she felt something tug at her waist. “What the -” Sandy cried out as she found herself entangled in fishing line. A lanky, blond headed boy came on the run when he saw what had happened.

    “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” the boy repeated as he helped Sandy untangle herself from the fishing line.

    “Usually no one comes out to this part of the beach so early. That’s why I fish here.
    By the way I’m Art.”

    For the next two hours the two sat on the sandy beach talking, with only a few stray squawky gulls for company. They found out some of the things that connected them; running, a passion for dystopian novels, being an only child, love of dogs, and fans of the same bands. But the talk was not all that connected them.

    “Oh, shoot!,” Art cried out as he jumped up after looking at his watch. I’m going to be so late!”

    “Late?”

    “For my dishwashing shift at the Pelican Inn, Art started to walk toward the village.

    “Bye,” Sandy softly said, looking down at her feet.

    Art stopped and patted his shorts pockets. “No pen, no paper,” he said. “Here,” Art held out a fishing knife. “It has my name and address engraved on it. Meet me at 4:00 outside the Pelican Inn. You can give it back to me then. I’ll show you how to clean these fish I caught.”

    “Thanks,” said Sandy and she ran back to her cottage.

    After packing up the cottage and car Sandy’s family caught the last ferry. Getting out of the car on the ferry, Sandy stretched, looked up and saw the clock under the flags flapping in the wind. 4:00

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    1. Jennifer, I think this is a strong opening, and one that hooks me because I can relate. (Well, not to the hurricane part.) But I can imagine myself at that age meeting a boy and setting a time to meet and I'd be DEVASTATED if I had to miss it. Even for a hurricane. Perhaps she can check her watch at the beginning so we know there's something she has planned? I also wonder if you might want to show more of the scene with Art, rather than tell us about it. That might be a good idea, especially if it's an important relationship to the story. One other thought...does Sandy think about defying her parents? Plan to hide or escape or circle back? Even if she doesn't ultimately do any of those things, it might create more drama (and more questions) for your opening scene. Great work--keep going!

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    2. Amy - your comments are really helpful - lots of fodder for revisions. I appreciate you taking the time to give such thoughtful comments.

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    3. Jennifer, I agree with everything Amy wrote... you have a really intriguing conflict going on -- romantic meeting eschewed by mother nature -- will she sneak out, put herself in danger, will they ever catch up again, etc., etc.

      I'm going to take the liberty to do a super speed flash edit because there are places where, by just making your language more active (changing the many "ing" participle thingies (can you see I'm not a teacher or MFA? Hey, I'm a lawyer!) and getting rid of some extra words, the action will start to pop more. Also, things like the adverb firmly in the first para... the interesting thing is, if you don't want it, you don't need it because guess what? YOUR dialogue choice did it all on it's own by adding the word, "now!" ;) And I know this is rough and you might find your way there on your own in the revision process, but it's a great way to illustrate to others, too, how:

      “We can’t leave!” moaned Sandy. She slammed The Hunger Games shut.

      “They’re calling for an evacuation because of the hurricane warning," her mother said. "Your father and I have agree it's time to leave the island. You need to pack up, now!”

      The cottage’s windows began to rattle as if someone was pelting small pebbles on the skylights. Hard. Sandy stomped to the bathroom and threw her toothbrush and floss into the paisley toiletry bag. Her grimace reflected in the mirror as she raked a brush through her windswept, knotty hair. The artsy photograph of rolling waves took Sandy back to before breakfast. She took the worn fishing knife out of her pocket and cupped it in her hand, remembering.

      As Sandy ran down the beach, she felt something tug at her waist. “What the -?” Sandy cried out as she found herself entangled in fishing line. A lanky, blond boy came on the run to her rescue.

      “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he said, helping Sandy untangle herself from the fishing line. “Usually no one comes out to this part of the beach so early. That’s why I fish here. By the way I’m Art.”

      For the next two hours the two sat on the sandy beach talking, with only a few stray squawky gulls for company. Turned out they both liked running, shared a passion for dystopian novels, were both an only child. They both loved and were fans of the same bands. (Maybe add something like, "just thinking about it gave Sandy goosebumps." Let us see how she's feeling about those connections!) But the talk was not all that connected them.

      “Oh, shoot!,” Art cried, as he jumped up looking at his watch. I’m going to be so late!”

      “Late?”

      “For my dishwashing shift at the Pelican Inn. Art (looked back at her, as he started to walk toward the village).

      “Bye,” Sandy said, looking at her feet. (she didn't want him to go...?)

      Art stopped and patted his shorts pockets. “No pen, no paper,” he said. “Here.” He held out a fishing knife. “It has my name and address engraved on it. Meet me at 4:00 outside the Pelican Inn. You can give it back to me then. I’ll show you how to clean these fish I caught.”

      “Thanks,” Sandy said, and she ran back to her cottage.

      After packing up the cottage and car Sandy’s family caught the last ferry. Getting out of the car, Sandy stretched, looked up and saw the clock under the flags flapping in the wind. 4:00

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  47. Hello everyone! I am late to the party! I've been thinking about this all day. Most of what I've read seems like narrative, but I've been secretly thinking about writing a book. This is the beginning of a professional piece I wrote in my Writing Project Summer institute in 2012. I'm really just still mushing the idea around, but here's my *beginning* . Thanks for any thoughts!

    Writer’s Notebook? In Kindergarten? First grade? Before you fall out of your chair, stay with me. It’s not as crazy as you might think.
    The idea of a writer’s notebook is not new, and many writers have written about its use. In his book A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, Ralph Fletcher describes notebooks as his most important tool for living a writing kind of life. Aimee Buckner (Notebook Know-How 2005) says, “A writer’s notebook gives students a place to write every day... to practice living like a writer. It’s a place for them to generate text, find ideas, and practice what they know about spelling and grammar.”
    What is it about the writer’s notebook that makes it worthy of 5 and 6 year olds? Although the notebook may not look exactly the same as it might with a writer over the age of 8, the reasons for having a notebook at all are very applicable, regardless of the age of the writer. If the craft behind the notebook is so powerful, then perhaps it’s the structure that can be successfully adapted for our youngest emergent writers.

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    1. Welcome to the party Jennifer! :-)

      You've thrown me for a loop because what you've shared is non-fiction and the objectives are very different.

      That said, I do still think it's important to give the reader a reason to turn the page. I think you've done that by proposing something different, something new with the idea of a writer's notebook for K and 1st grade. Also, I really like your opening paragraph. The writing is very accessible, the voice feels like the voice of a friend. I wonder if you can maintain that conversational voice throughout?

      Good luck with this--it sounds like a great idea waiting to happen.

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    2. Thank you so much Amy for the feedback! I am LOVING Teachers Write and it's definitely got me thinking about so many different possibilities. Have a great weekend!

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    3. Agree, Jennifer! Not my area of expertise and maybe great to share on a Q&A Wednesday, but I think what you have here sounds intriguing! Keep going!

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  48. Lorraine scrubs the pan stuck with rice with extreme focus like she's an eye doctor doing cataract surgery. To this day, she still always burns rice into the bottom of the pan. Using her forearm to wipe the summer heat from her forehead, she glances out the small window that sits over the stainless steel sink. Squinting her eyes, she tries to make out what seems to be a shadow in the backyard, but it’s too dark. “Ben, when are you going to fix the flood light outside?”

    “What Lorraine?” Cal calls over the television blaring commercials.

    “The flood light! When will you finally fix it? It’s been months.”

    “It’s on my honey do list!” Ben shouts.

    Lorraine sighs just as the sliding glass door shatters to pieces. A large rock lands on the tile floor. “BEN!” screams Lorraine as she ducks and runs out of the kitchen.

    Ben races towards the kitchen and almost collides with Lorraine. Ben grabs her and puts her behind himself as the continue into the bathroom that sits just off the kitchen.

    “Ben, call the police, ” Lorraine forces out from deep within her shaking body.

    “Shhhh, I’ll take care of it. Just stay in here and be quiet,” Ben says as he closes over the bathroom door.

    Ben sees the rock lying under the small, circular kitchen table. He notices that it has a white paper attached to it under a rubber band. He looks out the gaping hole of the door into the backyard, but he can’t see a thing. He mutters frustration to himself about not fixing the floodlight earlier. He plucks the note from the rock. It is typed and says:

    “Once you’re in, you can never leave.
    Next time, we won’t miss your wife’s head.”

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    1. Hi Mrs. Curt. Thanks for sharing your opening! I immediately like the voice of the opening paragraphs. I get a sense of Lorraine in her mundane life with her husband who is watching TV as if everything is perfectly ordinary, but you don't spend much time there before she sees the shadow. That's a great hook. (I got a little confused by her calling Ben and having someone named Cal answer--maybe a typo?) For me, what really ups the drama and interests me enough to keep turning pages is the note that Ben finds. You've raised a lot of questions with that and of course I'm going to want to keep reading. Very nice!

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    2. What Amy says. I wonder if you can up the drama sen more -- if Ben knows he's involved in something and sees the rock with the paper tied to it -- I'd love to see him react to his fear/doomed knowledge of what it might be, before reading it. Something small, but that we get to see where he stands on the developing intrigue. Keep going!

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  49. I made it through many of your wonderful, brave posts!! Really, you don't need me here today. Amy has done far better than I could ever do. If I can, I'll go through the rest tomorrow, but I'm thrilled you were all in such good hands. My eyes are closing. Amy, you are the bomb! THANK YOU!!!

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    1. Hope it was an wonderful day, Gae! We missed you, but you were here in spirit. What an amazing group of teacher-writers you have. I'm so inspired at the work they're doing. Thanks for letting me be a part of things.

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  50. I just want to thank you both for this opportunity -- and your time and effort. I have learned so much.
    1) What works -- I was hooked from the beginning. I was already creating scenarios about why the character could not breathe. I think the short lines in the beginning created a sense of urgency.

    At the risk of sounding like a teacher...your word choice resonated. I was able to visualize the action. I thought it also helped to give the reader a sense of who the character was (determined, focused).

    The repetition in the last two lines put extra weight on the word "reach". It made me think that there was more going on than just that one competition.
    Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks so much for the feedback and I love the "teacherly" comment. )I will never outgrow wanting to impress teachers.) :-) Best of luck with your own writing!!

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  51. Having trouble posting, but I feel like I'm learning a lot!

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    1. Yikes. hope your posting troubles don't continue! I hate that. :(

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  52. Hi Amy,
    What worked: Love the short, stacked opening sentences. "Can't breathe." Who can't connect to that feeling? And the last line hooked me even deeper: "Everything I want is almost within reach." So I ask myself, what does she want? I'm sure it's more than wining this race. I'm hooked; I want to keep reading.

    What didn't work: t lost the sense of urgency a bit in the first long sentence. Perhaps using "All around" and "along" as well as the repetition of the phrase "the pool" slowed it down. What about: "All around the pool, coaches yell and pace the edge as if that’ll make us swim faster."

    Here's a piece that I'm trying out:

    The cat.
    It is a big marmalade cat.
    When I see a marmalade cat, I always remember the day my first grade teacher died.

    Miss Rogers was in her reading chair--it looked like any wooden library chair only with very short legs. Gathered around was a reading group. I was at my desk like others in my reading group. Softly Sally Ruth slipped past me. Oh no, Sally Ruth, I thought, you’re in big trouble. We were never to interrupt a reading group.

    Without a word, Miss Rogers turned to Sally Ruth and as she did her pencil slipped from her fingers and clattered on the wood floor. The hollow sound echoed in our quiet classroom; all eyes were on Sally Ruth and Miss Rogers. Miss Rogers leaned forward to pick up her pencil and as she did, she slumped slowly to the floor in a heap.

    Someone gasped and then the room was still--very still, too still for first grade.

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    1. Amelia, hi! Lovely, poignant piece. From the tone, it feels for very young readers, which is interesting since it's really a gut wrenching start... but what I really love is that, if it is, I really feel the memory from that small child's point of view, close to the ground, etc. I'm going to take this opportunity to do my first super speed flash edit of the summer... if I do it well, not even sure you'll know what I've changed... Keep what you like, disregard anything that f**ks with your rhythm. ;) Let's see:

      The cat.
      It is a big marmalade cat.
      When I see a marmalade cat, I always remember the day my first grade teacher, Mrs. Rogers, died.

      She was in her reading chair--it looked like any wooden library chair only with very short legs. A reading group was gathered around her. I was at my desk like others in my group. Softly, Sally Ruth slipped past me. Oh no, Sally Ruth, I thought, you’re in big trouble. We were never to interrupt a reading group.

      Without a word, Miss Rogers turned to Sally Ruth and her pencil slipped from her fingers and clattered on the wood floor. The hollow sound echoed in our quiet classroom; all eyes were on Sally Ruth and Miss Rogers. Miss Rogers leaned forward to pick it up and as she did, she slumped slowly to the floor in a heap.

      Someone gasped and the room was still--very still, too still for first grade.

      Lovely work here! (yours, not mine). The reason I moved Mrs. Roger's name up is, for me, it really gives immediacy to the loss when you give her name right there in the sentence. We all will bring to her name whatever it conjures for us... it's not really essential. Go either way. And, I love that last line SO much, and so much of the imagery you have with that pencil/moment. Keep going.

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    2. Hi Amelia! Gae did such a thorough job on your excerpt, I'll just say "ditto."

      I wanted to thank you for the feedback on my excerpt. Will definitely take a look at those opening lines and how I might tighten for the final. Thanks!!

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  53. Ooo Gae is going to love your piece since she's the swimming queen. What worked for me is that I was on the swim team in high school and I know that breathing obsession. It felt very real. I connected all the way through.

    Here is my beginning...
    Five Years Old: 1974, New York City, NY
    Lying in the unfamiliar hospital bed feels strange and sad. My hernia was operated on just hours before; was born with it they say but it lay undetected for a few years. It was the first time ever spending a night without my beloved twin brother Matthew. Though now I was missing him and feeling lonely, it was he who was usually the needy one. In fact, I worried that though he was at home, he would not be okay without me. We slept in a red wooden bunk bed. I in the top bunk because that bed made him nervous. He liked me to flip my head over so he could play with my hair as he fell asleep. We talked and laughed for at least a half hour each night. My mother hadn’t wanted us to share a room because, “You are a girl and he is a boy!” We looked at her blankly when listening to that argument. We watched her set up a pretty room with small pink tulip wallpaper and a white bed. We followed down the hall as she set up a handsome room with red and cream ticking wallpaper and a red wooden bunk bed. We endured the bedtime routine in our respective pretty and handsome rooms and then when I heard her heels clicking on the foyer hardwood floors, I hopped out of bed and raced down the hall to climb the ladder of his bunk bed. This night in the hospital room was more than just a night away from home. I picked up the phone after my mother had gone downstairs to retrieve some coffee. When she returned I was fast asleep, the phone receiver warm and snug in the crook of my neck. She picked it up to find Matthew; his voice my passage to sleep.

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    1. Ah, Kimberly, I am SO excited about Amy's "swimmer girl" book, indeed! :D

      I love so much of the imagery in this piece, especially the brother flipping the sister's hair. I'm going to do a super speed flash edit here too, simply to remove/change (IMHO) language that feels too old for the voice. For example, in the first sentence, you may not need "unfamiliar" since you have strange and since a hospital bed by definition will conjure unfamiliar for almost any reader, right? And I know there can be more complex language if it's a narrator looking back, but here the voice seems mixed, some spots taken down to the voice of a child, others not. So I made it consistent throughout. Merely food for thought. Take what you like, dump what you don't, and keep going!

      Five Years Old: 1974, New York City, NY

      Lying in the hospital bed feels strange and sad. My hernia was operated on just hours before; was born with it, they say, but they just found it. (Maybe she wants to tell in kid terms (4-5 words, what a hernia is, if reader won't know?). It was the first time ever spending a night without my twin brother Matthew. I was missing him and feeling lonely, but he was usually the needy one. I worried he would not be okay without me.

      At home, we slept in a red wooden bunk bed, me in the top bunk because that bed made him nervous. He liked me to flip my head over so he could play with my hair as he fell asleep. We talked and laughed for at least a half hour each night. My mother hadn’t wanted us to share a room because, “You are a girl and he is a boy!” We looked at her blankly when she said that.

      We watched her set up a pretty room with small pink tulip wallpaper and a white bed. We followed down the hall as she set up a handsome room with red and cream ticking wallpaper and a red wooden bunk bed. We'd wait out the bedtime routine in our pretty and handsome rooms and, then, when I heard her heels clicking on the foyer hardwood floors, I'd hop out of bed and race down the hall to climb the ladder of his bunk bed.

      This night in the hospital room was more than just a night away from home. I picked up the phone after my mother had gone downstairs to get coffee. When she came back, I was fast asleep, the phone receiver warm and snug in the bend of my neck. She picked it up to find Matthew; his voice my lullaby to sleep.

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    2. Kim-
      I don't know if this story is based on a real memory, but it *feels* real. What beautiful images you're creating here! Thank you for sharing! I especially love the heels clicking down the hall, Matthew playing with your hair, and talking the narrator to sleep. Beautiful.

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    3. HI KImberley. Just checking in to say thanks for the feedback on my excerpt. I think it's amazing how many have chimed in with experience on the swim team. YAY for swimmers!

      I thought your excerpt was lovely--it felt so real, I could see it all so clearly in my mind. I like how it starts with her being in the hospital. I do wonder what the problem is--can you give us a hint of what's coming? I think that would strengthen the opening even more. :-)

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  54. As a reminder to all, I do these super speed flash edits because sometimes it's easier to show you than try to explain. It is okay not to agree with them, or to chime in if they work for you and why. I hope they are helpful to everyone when reading them, and also, even if you don't agree with a particular edit, the point is mostly to have you thinking about being really intentional about your choice of words, about becoming consistent in your voice, in learning not to use more words than are needed if they bog down the pace or the thought, etc. But if you had ten editors, you would always get ten different edits. That's why they are NOT gospel, merely food for thought. xox

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  55. I've got to run for a while, I'll be back!

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  56. Better late than never! Finally, I am finding some time to catch up! Thank you for this outstanding opportunity to read, write and create!

    What works: Reading the first lines of A Matter of Heart, creates an image in my mind. Being a swimmer myself, I connect to the character's thoughts. The beginning of this story grabs me and hooks me. Makes me want to know more when I read the words, "Everything I want is almost within reach." I feel that there is more than the win of first place in the swim event.

    Sharing my story beginnings:
    The heavy metal latch on the back door clicked shut securing both doors, as Dad closed the solid, hinged doors, using as much strength as he could muster up. The combination pad lock was attached and it too, made a loud clicking sound. There was no more room in the moving van for anything else. No more memories would fit inside the U Haul truck. It was time to head down the road. Time for family to depart on a new adventure. Time for a new beginning in a new chapter of life.

    The moving van moved slowly down the driveway as Dad struggled with the gears of the large truck. Jill waved from the rolled down window.

    “Are you ready? Let’s go, Sue!” Mom demanded. “We need to stay together. We need to follow Dad and Jill!”

    Sulking, Sue grabbed her satchel and opened the passenger car door. Mom needed Sue to navigate the family travels. Several folded maps would guide the family during the two day moving adventure.

    Somehow this winter day, in January of 1973, seemed surreal. It did not seem quite right for Sue. The caravan of one moving van and the family station wagon headed south, out of town and out of the city. Before long, the travelers would cross over the state border and into Iowa. Looking behind, out of the back window, of the Ford station wagon, Sue waved good bye to family and friends [who remained in her mind and dear to her heart], to the land that she loved, and to the home that she was leaving. Vowing to return, she silently made a wish, that she would one day return to the Midwest.

    “Check the map,” Mom ordered. “Hurry! Are we headed in the right direction?” Mom questioned with great uncertainty.

    With a sassy attitude, Sue replied, “No, Mom. We are headed south. We need to turn around and go back!”

    ~Suzy Leopold

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  57. I'm feeling a little greedy by extending into the hours of Saturday, but only just got to everything. What a treat to read all the excellent starts by participants and learn from each response to them! Thank you.
    ---
    I love your start, Amy. I love the focus and determination that is concentrated in the little bit you've shared; it tells me so much about your character. I was drawn in by the short intense sentences and particularly enjoyed "the whoosh and thrum" and "churn and fizz". I'm excited to read it!
    --
    I can still see Lola in her orange and pink party dress, complete with fairy wings and tiara, dancing with a group of equally ridiculously dressed four-year-olds, laughing her contagious little-girl laugh. “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” I loved that she didn’t care about getting grass stains on her frills and tulle; it was one of many wonderful little paradoxes about Lola. Another little girl had black and green striped tights on with a yellow dress, and another wore red sequined slippers, but when I sang “Welcome to Munchkinland”, no one laughed, and one of the caterers looked at me sideways. I did, however, get one little red-headed girl to sing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” with me for a couple of lines, but she didn’t understand why and we didn’t remember all the words. Lola simply watched, smiling.

    I can imagine Lola twirling away, wand in one hand, crumpled pink napkin with sugar cookies in the other, getting distracted in her typical little kid way, or skipping off hand-in-hand with Mariko to look for more red flowers to sing to, they way they liked to. I can even imagine her walking up to an unknown adult to charm her with a story about her imaginary pet pony Pegasus and getting led away by the hand. I cannot see her going toward the edge of the lawn where the perfect green grass transitions to shadowed ochre rocks, stumbling over the difficult terrain, clambering over big boulders, and then falling into the crashing waves below. Well, now I can. But I don’t believe Lola would do that, and that is what they finally said must have happened. And now I can’t help but see it. Over and over again in my mind as though I witnessed it.
    ~Jen C.

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    1. Hi Jen. Thanks so much for the feedback about my excerpt! I love that you chose words like "focus" and "determination" because they perfectly fit Abby, the main character. Yay!

      I think your opening is great. I love how you create the pattern of "I can see/I can imagine." That leads perfectly up to what she couldn't see or imagine--and that gives us the hook. I want to know what happened to Lola. I want to know how this person is dealing with it. Did it happen the way they said? And what a loss as you've described Lola. Nice work--keep going!

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  58. Hi Gae and Amy! I realize it's sooooo late but it's still Saturday here in Chicago and I feel like I have to post something for the first Friday Feedback of Teachers Write. Even if you don't respond (which I totally understand if I'm too late!), I'm going to post my piece.

    Thanks for sharing this "swimming" start! I love the anticipation of making it to the wall but also the hint that there is more at stake than winning this race. I also love that while it seems like everything is just in reach, there is a looming sense that this main character might have some disappointment or challenges coming her way. I definitely am excited to read more! Thanks for sharing!

    Here's mine! Hooray for Teachers Write 2014!

    Today is like any other day. I wake up on my own, get dressed and leave the house. No one makes me breakfast or offers to give me a ride. No one asks if I’m packing a lunch or if I have money to buy something. No one wonders when I’ll be home. No one kisses me goodbye or wishes me a good day or leans out the door and waves me off.
    Today is like any other day except for one thing. Today, I’m pissed. The crappy feelings of every day before rise up like bubbles in rapidly bowling water. They churn and roil, rumbling around, making my entire body seethe. I’m done making excuses for them and telling myself I expect too much.
    It sucks to have to convince myself to stop caring. To tell myself I’m better off being independent with no one to answer to. To make myself believe that if I don’t rely on anyone, they can’t let me down. To pretend I'm the strongest 18-year-old girl in town and that it feels pretty kick-ass.
    It really sucks because none of it’s true. I’m like any other teenage girl. I care and I want someone to care about me. I’m happy being independent but it would be nice if someone checked on me once in a while. It would be nice to have someone I can talk to about work and my screwed up family and how I’m the biggest fake in town and that it feels pretty wretched.

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