Saturday, May 9

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Opening Page Grab 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 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: Three 

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through May 30.

This week’s question: I want to know if the page grabs/hooks you.


Market/Genre: YA or NA

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

When I was seventeen, I stabbed my uncle. I left him in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor with his pants down around his ankles. Then I stole his car and drove it off a steep embankment. I hadn't planned to run away with all the fanfare, but I figured it would be easier if people thought I was dead. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to come looking for me.

Of course, I wasn't behind the wheel when the car nosedived into the water. My friend Dimitri helped me push it over the edge. We stood on the bank and watched as the black sedan crashed into the swollen flood waters of the river below. A smile tugged up the corners of my mouth while the roof of Uncle Matthew's car bobbed up and down right before disappearing around the bend downstream.

I buried my face in Dimitri's chest, and he hugged me tight. The breath hissed from my lungs with relief. I was finally free.

"You have your bus ticket, right?" he asked as I threw my bag into the backseat of his car and climbed inside.

"Yes," I said. I cupped my hands in front of my mouth and blew into them to warm my fingers from the chilly night air.

"Do you think he's dead?" Dimitri took his eyes from the narrow back road long enough to glance sideways at me.

"Nah." I shrugged. "But if he is, then he got what he deserved.

My Thoughts in Purple:

[When I was seventeen, I stabbed my uncle.] A strong statement, and I’m curious why. [I left him in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor with his pants down around his ankles.] And now I do. I can easily see why she stabbed him without her having to explain it Then I stole his car and drove it off a steep embankment. [I hadn't planned to run away with all the fanfare, but I figured it would be easier if people thought I was dead.] This suggests she wanted to run, but things got out of hand and the stabbing might have been accidental [The last thing I wanted was for anyone to come looking for me.] She could just mean because she stabbed her uncle, but something tells me there’s more to it than just that, which is intriguing. If he was a predator, she could have just told the police that, but she didn't.

Of course, I wasn't behind the wheel when the car nosedived into the water. My friend Dimitri helped me push it over the edge. We stood on the bank and watched as the black sedan crashed into the swollen flood waters of the river below. [A smile tugged up the corners of my mouth while the roof of Uncle Matthew's car bobbed up and down right before disappearing around the bend downstream.] It’s been retrospective up until here, so I’m a little unsure of we’re still in the past or if this is a current memory. The “when I was seventeen” suggests this is still the past, so perhaps tweak the tense a little to show that

I buried my face in Dimitri's chest, and he hugged me tight. The breath hissed from my lungs with relief. I was finally free.

"You have your bus ticket, right?" he asked as I threw my bag into the backseat of his car and climbed inside.

"Yes," I said. I cupped my hands in front of my mouth and blew into them to warm my fingers from the chilly night air.

"Do you think he's dead?" Dimitri took his eyes from the narrow back road long enough to glance sideways at me.

"Nah." I shrugged. "But if he is, then he got what he deserved.”

The question:

Does this page grab/hook you?


Yes, I’d read on. I like the voice, the setup is intriguing, and there’s a sense of things about to happen. It offers enough story questions to pique my interest, and answers enough questions so I have context to understand the scene. I can see why she’d stab the uncle and run, though there’s still lots here to discover.

I’m curious about where this girl will go, what will she do now that she’s on the run, will anyone come after her, and what might happen with her friend who helped her. I’m also curious about what really happened and if there’s more here that what’s on the surface.

I do wonder where the story will go, as there's nothing here yet to suggest that. It could be about her on the run avoiding the ramifications of this night, or it could be about something totally different and she's just telling us this now. The cover copy would likely explain this however.

It reads smoothly and I can feel for a girl who felt she had to stab someone and fake her death to get away from what is most likely a terrible situation. She conveys the information very matter-of-factly, and I wonder if this is a cover to deal with what’s going on or her way of coping. Is she strong or pretending to be strong?

You mentioned this being either a YA or NA novel. If the novel stays with her as a teen, it’s probably YA. If it jumps ahead in time and she’s in her 20s, it’s probably NA.

Overall, this works for me and I’d read on. Readers chime in.

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.

10 comments:

  1. Very intriguing. I would definitely keep reading.

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  2. Definitely agree.

    I especially love those first sentences, a true example of how to make your key points at top speed. "When I was seventeen, I stabbed my uncle" nails the core fact and the age that makes it so grim. adding "I left him in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor with his pants down around his ankles" adds just the right amount detail to add some color to that bare-bones statement, plus implying why she had to stab him, and then it moves on.

    Well done indeed.

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  3. I would read on, hoping it would remain in the Y/A genre. Nice writing. I hope the title is as strong. Can you reveal what that is?

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  4. It certainly grabbed me. I would definitely read on to see what's happening with this character in the present.

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  5. Thanks all for the compliments. I'm leaning more toward leaving it YA. And the working title so far is "Starry, Starry Night."

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  6. I'm not sure I'd read on, but primarily because of the genre and the darkness of that opening line. It's eye catching, no doubt about it. But it's the kind of eye catching that draws me in.

    What I am curious about is that everyone assumed the speaker was female. The voice sounds very masculine and the lack of emotion (except for the tearful moment against Dmitri's chest) sounds more masculine than feminine. At least to me.

    I thought a teenage boy was narrating until Janice began her crit.

    So I'm curious.... What markers suggest a female narrator?

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    Replies
    1. For me, it was the uncle with his pants around his ankles. Stabbing him sounded like a teen girl defending herself to escape an abusive family member. While it's entirely possibly a guy would be in that situation, odds are higher it would be a girl.

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  7. Very engaging. I would read on.

    A couple of comments:

    "A smile tugged up the corners of my mouth while the roof of Uncle Matthew's car bobbed up and down right before disappearing around the bend downstream."

    When you say the car disappeared around the bend, I get the impression that it was floating. Do cars float when pushed into rivers? I assumed it would sink rather quickly.

    Like Carrie, I too thought the narrator was male until people pointed out otherwise.

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  8. That first sentence --wow. Nailed it.
    A little timeline and pacing issues. Jumped a bit from the past to the present but nothing a little tweaking wont fix.
    I'm intrigued. I actually want to read your story. Good job!

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