Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop

I’ve been meaning to set this blog up for months. MONTHS. This week, a sick day and Michelle Hauck’s blog hop gave me the perfect excuse to finally get it done. You can leave feedback in the comments, and I’ll be hopping around over the next few days to return the favor. If you’re interested in joining (YES, you should totally do that), the list is open through November 14th. For full details on the hop and to join, check out Michelle’s Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop Post.

Thanks!

MG Fantasy (portal)

Two months of living in a state park campground had opened Sylvie’s eyes to three key facts. First, the park provided an endless supply of dirt—a versatile and highly valuable resource. Second, campgrounds were filled with cheerful (translation: annoying) kids who liked to pretend they were best friends with strangers for a few days. Third, living on the edge of the woods meant having a backstage pass to observe and document animals she’d only seen in books.

Animals like the one Sylvie was stalking Monday morning. Placing each step with care, she crept across their campsite until she stood only about ten feet from the red fox. It locked eyes with her. Instead of bolting into the woods, it yawned. Sylvie took that as an invitation.

She slunk to the ground and inched closer. The fox licked a paw and nibbled between its toes. With her eyes glued to it, she balanced her bag on her back, careful not to let it drag through the dry leaves. One wrong move and she’d spook the thing. A week’s worth of stalking wasted. Poof.

Only a few feet away, she dug for her phone, snapping a twig under her left hand. She held her breath, afraid to look.
Peeking through one half-opened eye, she saw the fox sitting exactly as she’d last seen it. It hadn’t run off. It didn’t even look startled or afraid. It sat in the same spot, kind of bored looking.

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17 thoughts on “Fall 1st Page Critique Blog Hop

  1. Your first paragraph is great! Can tell you’ve spent time on it. Love the voice.

    I’d like more personality from Sylvie. Like when she’s approaching the fox and it locks eyes with her, what does she do? Hold her breath? Look away? Also, I can see her crawling, but where is she digging her cellphone from? Her pack, or her pocket? The pack would seem harder since she’s crawling, maybe a good opportunity for some light stakes. She was so excited at first spotting the fox, she forgot to take her phone out of her bag. Now what does she do?

    Hope this helps 🙂 Good luck!

  2. MG is not my thing, so take everything I saw with that in mind. I like this opening and even though it doesn’t jump into wild action it has something happening and gets me interested in the story and character. I want to know WHY she’s been living in a state park (and maybe even a little more hint of that would sell it better – not sure if it’s too subtle or not). I like Sylvie’s voice but I’m really unsure of her age. Not sure if she’s an intelligent 12y.o. or playful 14 y.o.

    I would say to watch out for passive verbs starting paragraphs (had opened, was stalking). When you’re direct in your action it works better (crept, dug).

    Don’t overuse the ‘ing’ actions as introductory, explanatory clauses (Placing…; snapping…; Peeking…). It’s grammatically fine, but lots of folks view it as hack writing if it’s used too often to extend sentences. Again, see if you can write things directly.

    I do think you could tighten this up a bit. Cut down on some unnecessary words and a little less repetition to keep it moving at a faster pace. But the scene works for me – I want to see if she gets the picture of the fox and I want to know why she’s living in the park. That’s the most important thing – it makes me want to keep reading, so well done. Good luck and welcome to the bloggosphere!

    • I did forget to slip in her age in this last rewrite, doh! And yes, those -ing clauses are my crutch and I get blind to them after a while. I’ll definitely make another pass through for them. Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Welcome to blogging, Michelle! And a good time for me to read this setting bc I just got back from a 2 night camping trip at a state park!

    I love this beginning. I love this aloof fox. (Cut the “kind of” at the end – this fox is definitely bored.) and of course I want to know this fox’s story for sure. And I want more on Sylvie – why does she find all the other kids annoying and why is she so interested in documenting animals? Is she genuinely curious (and why) or is this more about escaping the camp ground kids. Could just use a nod toward Sylvie’s motivation in her animal stalking.

    • Thanks, Faydra. Glad you like the fox. I want to snuggle his furry, aloofness forever. 🙂 I’ll see if I can slip in more motivation clues in the opening. Thanks again!

  4. I too liked the voice and the pace. I’m not a big MG reader (although I do indulge – for the sack of the nephews of course!) But I did pick up on a few minor things
    (i) some of the word choices didn’t come off as MG such as “backstage pass to observe and document animals” – this sounds older, words like observe & document sound like something her parents or older siblings would say.
    (ii) one of the sentences didn’t work for me, it felt a little clunky – “Second, campgrounds were filled with cheerful (translation: annoying) kids who liked to pretend they were best friends with strangers for a few days” – I don’t know if a MG character would call friends or anyone CHEERFUL & I’m not fond of the ( ) I’d rather you found a way to bring that together, maybe something like “annoyed her with their ‘lets be best friends’ fake smiles” – although that’s not great, I don’t write MG so I’m not the ideal person to give examples 🙂

    I really liked the interaction with Sylvie & the fox. I instantly got the impression that there was more going on. My mind made a leap of a hybrid between the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland & Sylvie being a kind of Doctor Dolittle mini-me – and it doesn’t even matter if I’m way off base, what matters is that I’m interested in knowing more.

    Good job 🙂

    • Thank you! I was especially curious about that opening paragraph, because it’s a recent addition to the first page. I will definitely take your feedback into consideration.

  5. I don’t read a lot of MG, but I didn’t get a sense that this was a kid and even scrolled back to top to make sure I’d gotten the genre correct. I guess I’m odd in that my 10yo doesn’t have a phone, so between having a phone and living in a state park (with no mention of parents) struck me as adult. The listing of the three key facts also makes me think older person, and the way she’s describing cheerful/annoying kids doesn’t give me the impression that she’s in any way talking about her peers.

    The first sentence of the 2nd paragraph is too telling for me, and I’m not sure you need it since you then show her stalking the fox.

    I do like the voice here. And I want to know why she’s stalking the fox. I like that, because the fox doesn’t run, suggests that she might not be in a normal situation. Is there a way to inject a little more of Sylvie’s personality into the intro and give more clues through word choice and actions of how old she is? And I agree with others about making it more active. I definitely want to find out where this is going. 🙂 Good luck.

  6. I wonder if your first sentence could include, living alone, or living with… to clarify that point that’s been questioned. I have an interest in middle grade, and I like the quirkiness of Silvie and her relationship with animals. I liked the voice you’ve established with her, seems like a loner who finds her warmth in animals, not peers. I concur with nikola on the backstage pass being unlikely language for middle grade and clunkiness of the second,…–that could lose a few words and not suffer. I think you could end with: ,looking bored. I’d like to read more of your story, nice writing.

  7. Hmm, definitely not my usual kind of read–not for many years, anyway :). But I confess I didn’t feel much connection with Sylvie. The narrative feels a bit distancing, especially in that opening paragraph. It’s hard to imagine a child thinking of herself of having had her eyes opened to something. I feel it’s more likely she’d talk about what she’d learnt, or found out. Distancing readers from the POV makes it harder for them to engage with the character. It would also be better if she expressed some emotion about what she’s learnt. I can’t help feeling there should be some bitterness about the kids pretending to be best friends with her, but it’s not there.

    And, backstage pass? Sounds very adult to me. Not that I spend much time with kids.

    I would also have liked her to be more enthusiastic about the fox, especially when their gazes locked. I remember being on a train once and catching the eye of a pony in a field; it sent a thrill through me even at the great age of whatever it was (twenty? thirty?). Making that kind of contact with an animal has an emotional effect.

    Sylvie needs to come more alive and I think the way to achieve that is to move closer into her POV, and express what she’s feeling. HTH

  8. I like it in general, but I think the first paragraph should probably go. It’s explanation and back-story rather than story. I like the voice of it, but that doesn’t mean it belongs (at least not there, you might be able to slot it in later). Kill your darlings and all that.

    Otherwise, I thought it was great. I’m a little confused about how a child can spend a week stalking a fox. I mean a day, sure, but stalking implies a constant pursuit and I think it would take a dedicated adult professional to have that kind of patience.

    I also found it a bit odd that she’s using a camera phone. With all this effort, I’d expect her to have something better, and with weeks of experience photographing wildlife, I’d expect her to be more prepared, camera in hand. She should have learned that lesson already.

  9. Hi Michelle!

    I love your opening paragraph. I feel like you have a really confident tone which makes me, the reader, trust you!

    I think you could add a bit more tension (emotional or situational) to the scene to hook the reader more and give a hint to the stakes, maybe.

    Maybe add that she’s digging through her pocket for her phone and that she cringed (instead of held her breath) since you go on to say she’s looking through one eye.

    Just suggestions…I’m glad you put it up here!
    Shari

  10. Welcome to blogging!

    This opening hooked me right away but by the third paragraph about the fox, I’d grown a tad bored. I believe its due, as some other commenters have mentioned, to over use of passive and -ing words (I have that problem too!), and the pace felt slow. Adding some urgency would make this opening shine. Despite that, I wanted to know if she got the picture she wanted, and I wanted to know why she’d rather take pictures than play with other kids. It raises a lot of questions that I would read on to find out.

    E.G. Moore
    http://www.emilygmoorewriter.blogspot.com

  11. I loved the casual mention of living in a state park campground. It promises to me that there will be some kind of interesting family arrangement or backstory that I want to hear more about.

    I liked the fact that she wasn’t interested in the other kids – it especially made me think about how she sees them come and go. Making friends with them might feel pointless. They’ll go back home to their friends while she stays there.

    To pick up the pace a tiny bit, you could maybe reduce a bit on the fox. Beyond that, I feel like changing the last couple words to “looking kind of bored” would feel more natural.

    Good luck!

  12. I am so intrigued by this. I love how you are already utilizing setting to create mood and atmosphere. The fox is fantastic, and so very fox like — sly and bored and above it.

    I think you can make the POV feel a little closer, for me I feel like I am being told more about what she is doing rather than totally experiencing it with her. But I feel like I would like her the more I got to know her. Just looking for places to slip into her mind would help that a lot, and also give the piece more of her voice. I like your writing, especially when you are talking about the fox.

    Contrasting, there are moments when I feel the voice is too old and couldn’t be hers. Like “Second, campgrounds were filled with cheerful (translation: annoying) kids who liked to pretend they were best friends with strangers for a few days.” I like the idea of this sentence, and think messing with the structure and word choice could make it feel younger and more personal to Sylvie. Because I feel like these are her feelings about the kids, but right now it doesn’t feel like her voice (to me).

    I do like this though, and would be intrigued enough to read on!

  13. Much-needed disclaimer before I critique: I haven’t read MG in ages, so my feedback might be completely wrong and inappropriate.

    I like your opening paragraph, but I’m not sure it works. You have Sylvie stalking animals for the rest of the page, and while it was well-done, it gives me little insight on who she is aside from her curiosity. Like, where are her parents? Does she live alone in the park, or with friends?

    It’s not that the fox part bad, but (to me), it feels out of place. So my suggestion is, more characterization, and leave the fox part for later.

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