Monday, June 15, 2009

First Pages: YA / Final Score

The game was not going as planned.
It was a short season, eight games compared to the ten they’d played last year. With only one stadium, the rotation of football, baseball, and soccer was now shared with track and wrestling teams, in hopes that the added variety would quell the worst of the violence.
Decent voice, but I am immediately impatient with the way you're withholding information. What violence?
It had the opposite effect. The feet of thousands of fans stomped, rocking the stadium in the frigid wind. They were hungry, literally, and wanting entertainment, wanting, Alex Winter knew, as he lifted his head and panned the throngs, to kill someone.
Ok, some good tension. But still no clue for the reader, dammit. Really? The crowd wants to kill someone? Why??
Long ago they’d changed the scoring system. Alex was six when the meteors plunged to the earth, but days before that chaos he remembered sitting with his brother Garrett, eating popcorn from a ceramic bowl, watching football.
That's it. I'm lost, and getting pissed off. What kind of story is this? Where are we? What's going on?
After each touchdown, Alex would count on his fingers, trying to add six points and blurt out the new score before the scoreboard changed. Garrett would punch him if he got it wrong. Their father had just left the family, and their apartment, and minds felt large, liberated from his presence. Watching football with Garrett, Alex could forget the dark figure dragging him from his bed in the middle of the night, forget the terror that had hovered his every thought, forget the piles of papers, garbage, dishes stacked floor to ceiling, hoarded by his father, the telling indication of a sick, sick mind.
Grrr. I'm turning the page, but you've got about a paragraph more leeway before I stop reading.


Anonymous said...

Author here:

It's a dystopian YA, not a sports novel.

I didn't feel I should info dump the "world" that quickly, so I sprinkled it throughout, the further you read the more it makes sense. Is that wrong?

(At the end of the game in question the MC will lose his place on the team, thereby kickstarting his journey -- he has to find a way to eat, since he's no longer paid to play football. And yes, at the end of the games there are murders -- it's not a democracy.)

Think more The Chocolate War and less Disney princess.

All comments welcome. I can take it. I've been rejected by the best. Bring it on, people. :)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Maybe if you start as he's suiting up for the game? I think even the scattered way yuo're handling it feels a bit like an info dump.... the meteor attack seems to come from no where, and the sentence about the crowded season and rotating schedule is WAY TMI to process when you're trying to get into a characters head.

Even is Distopian novels, the CHARACTER is important. In this beginning, I feel like you're hammering me with an interesting setting before I have a chance to get to know your character---

If you start with suiting up, you might be able to convey the twisted sense of the world a bit better? You know, the protective gear is different, his brother snarling at him about keeping score, someone on the team peeking out at the crowd and saying 'They want blood tonight. I hope this doesn't end like the Haysworth/Wallinshed game..." Give a slow sense of weirdness and wrongness..... The meteors aren't super important at this point, I think... the cause of dystopia is never as interesting as the dystopia itself. (Think 1984 and Brave New world... do we ever really KNOW what crisis preciptitated the change?)

Still, The character seems like he has a lot going for him--I'd just like to see more HIM, less info dump, on the first few pages. I want to FEEL what he feels, not hear about government regulations and watching TV when he was 6......

MelissaPEA said...

I see an exciting idea at the core of this. It feels almost like a futuristic, gladiator type of manuscript.

However, I agree with Deidre. You have too much info from the get-go. You're bogging down the reader in rules. Do we really need to know the number of games they played last year or the fact that they only have one stadium, which the different sports share? Or that they just changed the scoring system? You're interrupting your own scene of action with these rules.

You also have too much going on, like Deidre said. The meteor, the sicko father who made their minds and apartment feel larger when he left, the sibling squabbles. Get into your story quicker, easing the backstory in at moments when it's truly needed. Also, be careful about cramming too much into individual sentences. Example: "They were hungry, literally, and wanting entertainment, wanting, Alex Winter knew, as he lifted his head and panned the throngs, to kill someone." You have important thoughts in there, and they're getting lost.

Work on tightening the beginning. Decide what your ultimate purpose is for the first page, and stick to that goal, without getting too caught up in minutia.

Good luck!

Buffra said...

Might be due to what I normally read, but I caught on pretty quickly to the "not our normal game day" bit. Still, if others are getting stumped, it makes sense to tighten it up.

I personally LIKE knowing that their lives were normal ones we can relate to until there were meteors that hit. Maybe just some ways to smooth it out and make the transitions more clear?

Good luck.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I really like the premise of this. But I'd really like to have more of this character's experience being in the game. It feels a little distant. I like the stomping of the crowd but how about the thud of getting slammed, breathing hard - that copper taste in your mouth, sweat stinging eyes or making it hard to see, sweat making a scalp itch under a helmet or the communication between players - there could be a lot of great emotions there.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree with what Deidre said...
Also, I didn't want to be taken out of the moment so quickly. I felt the part "Long ago they'd changed..." broke the momentum you had going. Keep us in the action (even back up a bit like Deidre said) and give us the history bit in a non-action moment.
Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

I was struck by EA saying she was impatient with the witholding of info in the first paragraph.

Seems like there is a difference between "discovering" what is going on AS you read and a book that "tells" you what you are reading. Neither is wrong, just different. The Grim Reaper first page a few posts down tells you "I am the Grim Reaper." This one isn't quite that simple, you might have to read a bit first. A literary voice as opposed to a chick-lit type voice, maybe?

Editorial Anonymous said...

I think there's an important line to be observed between 'intriguing' and 'confusing'. I LOVE being intrigued. I HATE being confused.

So no, you don't have to give everything away-- definitely hold enough back to draw your reader through the story. But holding too much back will have the opposite effect--that of shutting your reader out.

Sheila said...

I really enjoy a good dystopian novel, and I think you have some very interesting details here.

The problem is that your first sentence has us in the thick of the game. The very next sentence doesn't fit in that moment. If he's in the middle of the game, why would he be thinking about the short season? His attention would be on the game and why it was not going as planned. I think that's what EA means about withholding info. You drop an intriguing story question on us (the game not going well), and then you immediately segue elsewhere.

So, stay in the game and what he is thinking/experiencing, or do what Deirdre suggested and step back to where he is preparing for the game. The backstory makes more sense then, as he's lacing up he can remember watching "Old-style" football with his brother, back when touchdowns were 6 points and the losers didn't have to die, or whatever you have changed.

I think you can focus on the game at hand, and the stakes, and wait on telling us about the meteor and the sick father. How he plays the game will show us his character (is he a dirty player, etc.). So we get to know him. Then, when he loses his spot, you can introduce the family dynamics.

Good luck!

Emily Kokie said...

I have to say, the voice of this kept me reading even though I felt a little "hide the ball" and was feeling impatient.

And I will also say that I got a Chocolate War feel from it pretty quickly - so I wondered if there was more going on (funny then to read the author's comment - you got the right feel).

BUT, I'm not sure how much longer I'm hanging in to figure out what is happening, AND I wonder how many readers don't reach the "clues" because they see sports all over the page and think it's a sports book.

It has some real nice bits, and nice voice, and I think the premise sounds interesting, but I'm not sure starting with the sports info is going to hook the reader you want to hook.

good luck.