Saturday, November 8

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This YA Opening Hook You?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the blog. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: One + one resubmit


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through November 15.

This week’s questions: 


Does the opening hook you?
Is the description of the setting adequate?
Since the scene has no dialogue, is there enough internalization/emotion?
Do you care about the main character?
Does the story have a unique voice?


Market/Genre: Young Adult Romance

NOTE: There's a revised snippet of a humorous novel up for those curious to see how the writer reworked it

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Background: “Forever Remember” is a young adult romance and my first novel. I am deliberately breaking the rule – Don’t start a story with someone waking up! – because my protagonist’s main goal/need is to stop the nightmares about her father’s death. Jasmine falsely believes she can forget the past by dating her secret crush, Tyler, but he doesn’t know she’s alive. So she enlists the aid of her foster brother, Dean.

I sat up in bed with a scream trapped in my throat. I peered through the darkness at little Hannah Hoover, my newest foster sister, in the twin bed next to mine. She turned over and went back to sleep. Not me.

I knew if I closed my eyes, I would see my father’s face streaked with blood, hear him whisper his last words, “Forever. Remember.”

I couldn’t forget, even if I wanted to.

I untangled my long legs from the twisted sheets and stepped out of my bed and over to Hannah’s. I gently tucked her favorite pink blanket around her tiny frame. “Sleep tight, Sunshine,” I whispered, like my father did for me when I was little, before the car accident, before the nightmares destroyed my sweet dreams.

I changed out of my nightgown and into running clothes, t-shirt, shorts, socks, and sneakers, all black for camouflage, and tiptoed into the bathroom. By the soft glow of Hannah’s Star Bright Night Light, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my unruly hair, and pulled it into a pony tail.

Using the railing as a guide, I snuck down the dark stairs to the kitchen. I sat at the old oak desk, turned on the computer monitor, and typed my ID and password on the keyboard, hoping for an email from my foster brother, Dean King. The first name in my inbox was from . . . Dean. Finally!

I opened the message: Time to meet Prince Charming. Call me.

My Thoughts in Purple:

[I sat up in bed with a scream trapped in my throat.] This is a good spot for some internalization that she just had a nightmare. How does she feel about it, both physically and emotionally? I peered through the darkness at little Hannah Hoover, [my newest foster sister, in the twin bed next to mine.] Nice details to show she's a foster kid. Why does she look at Hannah? Is she worried she woke her up? She turned over and went back to sleep. Not me.

I knew if I closed my eyes, I would see my father’s face streaked with blood, hear him whisper his last words, “Forever. Remember.”

I couldn’t forget, even if I wanted to. Nice and creepy.

Good spot for some internal hint of why she gets up I untangled my long legs from the twisted sheets and stepped out of my bed and over to Hannah’s. I gently tucked her favorite pink blanket around her tiny frame. “Sleep tight, Sunshine,” I whispered, like my father did for me when I was little, before the car accident, before the nightmares destroyed my sweet dreams.

[I changed out of my nightgown and into running clothes, t-shirt, shorts, socks, and sneakers, all black for camouflage, and tiptoed into the bathroom.] What's her plan here? By the soft glow of [Hannah’s Star Bright Night Light] nice detail to show this is Hannah's room, not Jasmine's, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my unruly hair, and pulled it into a pony tail.

Using the railing as a guide, [I snuck down the dark stairs to the kitchen.] I'm not sure what her goal is yet I sat at the old oak desk, [turned on the computer monitor, and typed my ID and password on the keyboard] This seems like a lot of attention to something everyone is familiar with. Why not "I turned on the computer and checked my email?", hoping for an email from my [foster brother, Dean King] is he part of the same family?. The first [name] email in my inbox was from . . . Dean. Finally!

I opened the [message] email: Time to meet Prince Charming. Call me.

The questions:

1. Does the opening hook you?


I'd read on. Although I'm not sure what the goals are, I do see that something is going on and there's a plan to act. I'm a little unsure about a few things though. Jasmine gets dressed in all black like she plans to sneak out, yet nothing is mentioned about doing so. But when she checks her email, she's hoping for something from Dean. If she didn't know she had an email, why did she dress to go meet him? Was she going out anyway?

You might consider adding a word or two about her goals at the start and what she plans to do. I see her acting, but I don't know why and I'm feeling a little lost. I don't have enough context to be hooked by wondering what she's up to yet.

This holds true with her smaller actions as well. For example, she wakes up from her nightmare and immediate goes over to tuck Hannah in. It's a sweet move and I like that she does it, but Hannah does nothing to indicate she's waking up and might squeal if Jasmine is indeed sneaking out. Why tuck her in and risk waking her? She then changes and goes downstairs and I have no idea why until she logs onto the computer. I'm also not sure how Dean can be her foster brother and not be in the same house. Is he from a previous foster home?

A little internalization in these areas would clarify her motives and some of these details, and draw readers in better.

(Here's more on hooking readers in the opening)

2. Is the description of the setting adequate?


Yes (readers chime in here). I liked the small details about Hannah's room, like the twin beds and night light, that suggested Jasmine was the new kid. It's a dark room in a foster house, and the family is probably middle class (old desk, computer in the kitchen, two-story house). I wasn't sure if the bathroom was down the hall or off Hannah's room though.

And one totally nit-picky thing--a lot of attention is spent on her doing the mechanics of checking her email, which seemed odd to me, like there's a reason for showing that much detail that isn't coming through in the story yet. Some of the phrasing/terminology also felt a little off-- "first name in the inbox was from Dean" instead of "the first email was from Dean" and "opened the message" instead of "read the email" or "opened the email." With text messaging, "message" has a different connotation these days. As I said, really nit-picky, but those two sentences jumped out at me and made me stumble a little, and I just wondered if there was more going on there. (and this could absolutely just be me)

(Here's more on describing your setting)


3. Since the scene has no dialogue, is there enough internalization/ emotion?

Not yet. I wanted a little more to get a better sense of who Jasmine is and what she's doing (readers chime in here). As I mentioned in question one, I see her doing things, but there's little emotion behind it. I assume her nightmare scares her, but she never shows any emotion or exhibits any details of distress. Is her heart racing? Is she sweating? How does she feel about having the same nightmare again? I like that she doesn't dwell on it, as I think that makes it work even though it's a waking up from a nightmare opening, but a tiny bit of emotional description would give a better sense of who Jasmine is.

I also like that she checks on Hannah and tucks her in, but what's the emotion behind that? I get a hint of it with the mention of her father, but it feels a little detached since there's nothing behind it. Did Hannah start to wake up and she wants to soothe her? Is she craving human contact? Is she trying to recreate that childhood memory? I can see there's a reason there, just not quite what it is for sure.

(Here's more on describing emotions)


She dresses to sneak out and goes downstairs, but there's no sense of nervousness about getting caught, no eagerness to find Dean's message. I really don't know how she feels about anything she's done in this snippet yet, because she expressed little emotion except maybe show some frustration about waiting on Dean's email.

You don't need a lot, but a line or two would help show how Jasmine feels and let readers connect to her better.

(Here's more on internalization)

4. Do you care about the main character?

Not quite yet because I don't know her, but I can see that I probably will (readers chime in). She's sweet to Hannah, so she's exhibited a likeable trait right away, and she's a foster child, which makes her sympathetic. She's also sneaking out to do something, which makes her a little rebellious and shows her independence. I don't feel that she's let me in yet so she's still a bit distant. Toss is a little internalization to show her personality and I'd like her right from the start.

(Here's more on making readers care about the protagonist)

5. Does the story have a unique voice?


It sounds YA to me, and there's a voice here, though I'm not hearing Jasmine's voice yet, because she hasn't done anything to show it. Internalization is where character voice really comes out. Once you add that in, I think Jasmine's voice and uniqueness will shine through.

(Here's more on creating character voice)

Overall, I like this snippet and I'd read on. The waking up doesn't bother me since it moves quickly to Jasmine doing something and isn't trying to create false drama. This is just her normal life. A few minor tweaks here and there and I think this will be a good opening.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Janice,
    Thanks for the critique and your constructive suggestions. As a newbie writer, I have lots to learn about character internalization and voice. Thanks for your help.

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  2. I, too, wondered about Dean being her foster brother if he's not living with her? Also about her dressing in camouflage but not going out to do anything secretive. I think this shows promise, just some more details and nailing down the character needed.

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  3. The Hunger Games has a "just waking up intro" that's really well written. You might want to take a look to see how she uses motivation and noticing to introduce the details of Katniss's life.

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  4. This is a great critique. AND I really enjoyed the writing as well! I would be interested to read this word. Both Janice and the author, keep it up :)

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  5. Thanks, Stephanie! Your comment made my day!

    ReplyDelete