Saturday, January 3

Real Life Diagnostics: Is This YA Urban Fantasy Opening Working?

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 site. 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: Six


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through February 14.

This week’s questions:

1. Does this opening work?

2. Do you get a sense of the voice?

3. Is it too slow?


Market/Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

I looked in disbelief at the piece of paper in my hand, before breaking into a smile. A plane ticket to Paris.

It had taken me days to plan my summer; it took me three and a half seconds to wipe it clean. So what if I’d lined up a job at Starbucks, sleepovers at Becca’s watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, and a grueling training for the Sydney marathon. Paris wasn’t exactly a hard choice to make.

Mom and Dad looked tentative as if they’d been expecting a different reaction. They exchanged a quick glance. “So…you…you’re okay with this?”

“Are you kidding?” I said, stunned. “I mean, it would have been great to have more notice since ”—I spotted the departure and return dates —“we leave in two days…for the entire summer. But really who cares? We’re going to Paris!”

Mom plopped down on a chair with an audible sigh of relief; Dad nearly melted into the doorjamb.

“So, what brought this on?” I asked, looking from one to the other. “I thought you guys couldn’t get any time off this summer?”

“Well, here’s the thing,” Mom started. “Dad and I aren’t going.”

“Oh. Okay. So…”

Before I could consider the full scope of possibilities of a parent-free summer in Paris, she went on. “And you’ll be staying with Grandpa.”

Something in me went flat.

My grandfather had exiled himself to France upon retirement about a year ago for reasons I wasn’t quite clear about. He and I weren’t what you’d call close. He still saw me as a six-year-old unable to think for myself, or go anywhere on my own.

My Thoughts in Purple:

I looked in disbelief at the piece of paper in my hand, before breaking into a smile. A plane ticket to Paris.

[It had taken me days to plan my summer;] This made me think she planned the trip to Paris it took me three and a half seconds to wipe it clean. So what if I’d lined up a job at Starbucks, sleepovers at Becca’s watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy, and a grueling training for the Sydney marathon. Paris wasn’t exactly a hard choice to make.

Mom and Dad looked tentative as if they’d been expecting a different reaction. They exchanged a quick glance. “So…you…you’re okay with this?”

“Are you kidding?” I said, stunned. “I mean, it would have been great to have more notice since ”—I spotted the departure and return dates —“we leave in two days…for the entire summer. But really who cares? We’re going to Paris!” Perhaps have her think about what she needs to do to get ready here? Feels like a good spot for some internalization to show her personality more

Mom plopped down on a chair with an audible sigh of relief; Dad nearly melted into the doorjamb.

[“So, what brought this on?” I asked, looking from one to the other.] Does she get suspicious at all by their reactions? “I thought you guys couldn’t get any time off this summer?”

“Well, here’s the thing,” Mom started. “Dad and I aren’t going.”

“Oh. Okay. So…”

Before I could consider the full scope of possibilities of a parent-free summer in Paris, she went on. “And you’ll be staying with Grandpa.”

Something in me went flat.

My grandfather had exiled himself to France upon retirement about a year ago for reasons I wasn’t quite clear about. He and I weren’t what you’d call close. He still saw me as a six-year-old unable to think for myself, or go anywhere on my own. Would she think about him when she saw the Paris ticket?

The questions:

1. Does this opening work? 


Yes, though this is a good example of an opening where knowing what the book was about would provide the context for the reader to hit the ground running so to speak. I can see something unexpected has happened to the protagonist, and that there will likely be conflict between her and Grandpa, and something might even be going on with the parents if they feel the need to ship her off to Paris like this. But I don't know who she is, what she wants, why this matters to her (aside from it being Paris), or anything about her to help me connect to her as a reader. I'm not hooked yet, though I am curious to see where it's going (readers chime in here).

I'd keep reading, but it might be worth adding a smidge more in the opening line or two to ground readers in the world and situation better for those who don't read the cover copy right before they start the novel (common for ebooks these days).

(Here's more on setting the scene)

2. Do you get a sense of the voice?

Yes. It feels like a YA voice, teenage girl around 17 I'd guess. She seems solid, mature for her age, responsible, yet still excited about being away from home alone.

(Here's more on voice)

3. Is it too slow?

I don't think so. It might even be a little too fast (readers chime in here), as I'm thrown into the trip before I get a chance to know anything about my protagonist. But it starts right away with something happening, there's a mystery (what's the deal with Grandpa? Why are they sending her away?), and a sense of something about to happen.

(Here's more on pacing)

Overall, it's a solid opening and I'd read on to see where it goes. Easy diagnosis this week.

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.

4 comments:

  1. I like that it starts right off with the ticket. I think we can learn more about the MC by her reactions. It could be flesh out a bit more. I got confused at first by the opening to the second paragraph too.

    It might take longer than days to line up the summer too, especially if she got a job, so the author might consider making that a longer time frame. It would give the second more drama as well.

    So, overall, I liked it.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it :)

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  2. Thank you, Janice, for your diagnosis. It is very helpful as I now see what needs to be fleshed out. So grateful :)

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  3. I agree with the first comment, a teenage girl will change her mind repeatedly over summer plans, so I would say WEEKS instead of DAYS;-)
    As for pace, it is a little quick, but YA does generally move along at a fast clip. Maybe just a little more internal mulling over packing and what to wear. All in all, I like it enough to read on. I'm curious about the Urban Fantasy part, and why her parents are shipping her off.

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