Wednesday, November 11, 2015

PitchWars Critique - THE GOODNIGHT IRENE'S

PitchWars is at its heart about the writing community. And even though at the end of the day Mindy McGinnis and I were only able to choose two mentees, we still wanted a way to give feedback to the many many many others who had been kind enough to share their work with us. Our decision to do this via our blogs, rather than a private email, is so that (hopefully!) everyone can learn a little bit from this feedback.

I'm happy to say that quite a few people have been generous enough to take us up on this offer! So, through November, Mindy and I will be posting these critiques on Mondays and Wednesdays. Make sure to look for them on both of our blogs as we'll be posting totally different critiques.

And for anyone out there looking for personalized feedback, I am now offering manuscript critique services which you can find out more about here.

You'll see my comments in red.

Dear Agent,

Keelie Frandsen is nineteen. A twin. A high school senior. A great artist. A questionable poet. And a failed, repeat offender, suicide risk. So 19 is a bit on the older side for a YA protagonist. Also, I feel like this first paragraph could be a little punchier. We don't really get to the interesting stuff until that last sentence and while that final sentence did grab my attention I felt like it's message was a bit garbled. She's attempted suicide several times and failed? That's what it's trying to say, right? I feel like it might be better to be more clear and less clever here. 

Hanover New Hampshire is a typical Ivy League college small town, flat-voweled trust-fund babes, crew team camaraderie, deep winter snows, retired senators and a million SUV’s. Keelie  lands there in her senior year, sticking out like a screaming beacon: new to a high school smaller than a fishbowl, strong southern drawl, grubby paint stained fingers, brother so hot he’s scorching the local girls breathless. Okay there's a bit too much set-up here about New Hampshire and Keelie. All we really need to know is she's new in town and it's a rough adjustment for her senior year.

It should be the perfect antidote to a year that saw her best friend murdered and her mother jailed; the ideal place to keep her head down and stay invisible, anonymous until she can graduate. Okay, I'd start with this sentence - the stuff about the best friend and mother is interesting and also very specific. But Chris with his wild thick hair, beautiful paintings and a calmness deeper than Grannie Sue’s well opens up possibilities that the recent past never let her consider. I don't know who Chris is or what her connection to him is. And Pru Dailey has other ideas too, thinks she knows exactly why Keelie wanted to disappear. I also don't know who Pru is and what her connection to Keelie is. Along with the other girls in her very exclusive club, The Goodnight Irenes, she means to coax Keelie back into the black hole she just crawled out of and help her escape. So it's like a suicide club? Because that's interesting - but again it's not clear. In a query you don't want to make the agent have to play guessing games - everything should be crystal clear and right there on the page.

First page:

There are reasons for things
Even if none are apparent
Who can say why life draws a map of cold, long dead stars on our hearts
Who can say why we yearn after that oblivion, even though we're standing on lush grasses Warm breezes on our face
Warm hands cradling us
Still oblivion calls
And its song is sweet 

This place is SO not North Carolina.
I scanned the cafeteria slowly, looking, yearning. Thirty-nine weeks in this hole. Scenic Hanover New Hampshire, the smallest town I’d ever done more than just drive past on the highway. Thirty-nine weeks until graduation and escape. I can’t imagine how I’ll make it through with my sanity intact.
Stop it, idiot.
The place became more familiar every day, but not comfortable. Not one bit. It was just another waystation before the rest of life. Whatever and wherever the rest of life might be.
Stop. Stop lookin’ for her.
But I couldn’t stop. Everywhere. Every day. Looking for Beth. Might be nice to give a hint of who Beth is and why she's looking for her.
Looking for a ghost.
If my iPod could play music loud enough to silence the chattering people in the room, having it on headphones would’ve deafened me. Sia’s voice wound around my head—whispery and rich as a dark, sweet slice of molasses pie.  
It didn’t help to ease the panic clawing at my throat. Clanking plates. Chairs scraping. Laughter and voices so loud it should have smashed windows, weird, flat accents. This sentence reads as if the loud voices should smash windows and also smash the weird flat accents.
I’d forgotten how soul destroying it was, school. Why has she forgotten?
Four days here and a trapped moth of panic still fluttered at the back of my throat.
An avalanche of bodies pressing on you in the halls.
The choking pressure of waiting for a teacher’s attention to hone in on you, wishing you had some sorta force field to hide behind. 
Being new multiplied it by a thousand million trillion

The voice here is good. I think you are maybe hitting the same beat of being uncomfortable and unhappy a few too many times without adding anything new to it. I know it's tough in just the first page but it's always nice to get a hint of the plot and where the story is going.

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