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February 7th on 7th

This is 2016’s first 7th on 7th! Where I take a blog subscriber’s seventh page and show you how I’d improve it for the upcoming #pg70pit contest. See the #70pit16 contest schedule here. See more about how to enter the contest here.

7th on 7th

THE ORIGINAL PAGE

“Got ya!” Zane snarled. I saw a hand grab Arlo’s arm, so I took a giant step backward. “Hey!” Arlo squeaked. I heard his pack hit the pavement before the door closed.
You might be wondering why I didn’t rush to the aid of my best friend. The simple truth is, I couldn’t. I wanted to, but my feet were stuck to the floor. I could move neither backward nor forward. It was the darndest thing.

My ears were working fine, though, even through the thick door, I had no trouble hearing:
Zane: “Where’s Nelson? I got business with him today.”
Arlo: “He…he…he was right behind me.” Arlo cannot lie to save his life – nor, apparently, mine. Luckily, my feet came unstuck at that moment and I turned and ran back down the hall.
Twila was still standing beside the tree in front of the school, but I’d rather face Twila alone than both of them together. I shoved the doors open and ran as fast as I could, which, truthfully, was not very fast. My goal was the corner where School Street turned onto Elm. I didn’t have a plan after that point.
Ten steps from the front door of the school, a claw seized the collar of my green windbreaker and jerked me backward. “Whoa! What’s your hurry, Nelson? I was thinking we’d take a little walk together, you and me and Twila and Arlo. Fact, you can carry Twila’s bag for her.” Zane couldn’t carry Twila’s bag; his hands were full. He had me by the collar in his right hand and Arlo by the collar with his left.

MY NOTES

  • I’m having trouble visualizing this. Nelson can see Zane through a thick door? He can see Twila before opening the doors to get outside where she is? (On second read, I did see the “pack hit the pavement before the door closed.” On first read, I was too distracted by the “squeaked”)
  • The sentences themselves are wordy. A breath unit is the number of syllables between punctuation points—the number of syllables one would need to say in one breath. Keep most of them between 8–12 syllables. I’m seeing some lengthy breath units, as well as some alliteration which could turn into tongue-twisters: “still standing beside.” Middle Grade especially needs to be easy to read aloud, and the way these sentences are constructed suggest that the writer hasn’t read them aloud.
  • This page has some red flag words—filtering especially. Read Overused Words and revise accordingly.
  • Middle grade can get away with dialogue tags, but they need to work. You can’t “hiss” words that don’t have an “S” sound. Likewise you can’t “squeak” words that don’t have an “eeee” sound.
  • Why do we need to know that the windbreaker is green at that very moment? We don’t—it adds a detail that distracts from what’s going on, slowing down the reader in an intense section to note, by the way, this jacket is green.
  • The “You might be wondering,” “darndest thing,” and “luckily” sections are too cutesy—they’re darlings that need to be deleted. A writer should guess what a reader is thinking, but not call attention to it. And the “luckily” suggests that Nelson couldn’t move because the writer was forcing him not to. I’m sure these were included for humor’s sake—this page does have some humorous parts—but cleverness often gets in the way of a writer, serving as a neon sign that says “Stop what you’re doing! Stop reading! Look at me and how clever I am!” I’m guilty of this, too, especially in early drafts. But consider this:

“A mature artist never calls attention to himself, and a wise artist never does anything merely because it breaks convention.”

—Robert McKee, Story

THE EDITED PAGE

“Got ya!” Zane snarled. A beefy hand sunk its fingers into Arlo’s arm. I took a giant step backward.

Arlo squeaked. His pack hit the pavement before the door closed.

I should’ve gone in there.  Should’ve rushed to the aid of my best friend. But my feet were stuck to the floor.

My ears were working fine, though. Even through the thick door, I had no trouble hearing:

Zane: “Where’s Nelson? I got business with him today.”

Arlo: “He…he…he was right behind me.” Arlo cannot lie to save his life – nor, apparently, mine. That was enough to unstick my feet. I turned and ran back down the hall.

Twila would still be outside, but I’d rather face her alone than both the both of them together. I shoved the doors open and ran as fast as I could, which, truthfully, was not very fast. My goal was the corner where School Street turned onto Elm. I didn’t have a plan after that point.

Ten steps from the front door of the school, a claw seized the collar of my windbreaker and jerked me backward.

“Whoa! What’s your hurry, Nelson? I was thinking we’d take a little walk together, you and me and Twila and Arlo. Fact, you can carry Twila’s bag for her.”

Zane couldn’t carry Twila’s bag. His hands were full: my collar in his right, and Arlo’s in his left.

2015 Entry: Love is a Battlefield

“And these?” Zinnia’s thumb brushed one of the wooden beads swinging in his dreadlocked hair.

“Not everyone wears them,” Leo said.

A tingle of warning crept up her neck. Zinnia brushed it away like a worrisome fly.

“Why do you?”

He arched one eyebrow.

“I…shouldn’t answer that.” He stood, moving away.

The dark forest was quiet. The monsters were either asleep or silently stalking their prey. A branch cracked in the fire, startling Zinnia.

“What do they mean?” She insisted, knowing she provoked him.

Leo turned sharply, meeting her gaze.

“I wear one bead for every death I’ve caused. It’s a warrior’s duty to know his crimes.”

Zinnia looked away, grateful for the distance between them. Grateful, as well, for the reassuring weight of the dagger at her side. Then it dawned on her. He had finally let slip a clue about himself. She fixated on that, pushing aside thoughts of the murders he’d just confessed to.

Is that what you are? A warrior?”
********
Leo stopped pacing and studied the girl across from him. If he wasn’t mistaken—and Leo rarely made mistakes when it came to the true nature of a person—Zinnia Delacroix was not only astute, but defiant. He had seen it even at their first encounter. With the Ambassador’s blade pressed to the soft skin of her neck, she had been ruled not by fear, but calculation. She was looking for a way out.

The Council was expecting someone malleable. Someone they could bend to their will.

The Council was going to be disappointed.

Intended Audience: Teen
Word Count (e.g. 75K): 108K
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Romantic Fantasy
7-word description for your MC: Neither pawn nor player. She’s queen bee.

Deconstruction

Those last three lines are what sold it for me. Now, this entry isn’t perfect, and not always will your 69th or 70th page end on such a perfect cliffhanger. But let’s look at what this entry did wrong and what it did right.

MARKS AGAINST

  • That this book is in two POVs concerns me. It’s hard to do, especially if the point-of-view character switches back and forth in one scene. This excerpt does it well—notice the author’s indication of a scene/POV change—but I would want to make sure she pulls it off elsewhere in the manuscript.
  • Too many sentences start with “A,” “He,” or “The.”
  • The sentence “He arched one eyebrow” should be in the same paragraph as “I…shouldn’t answer that,” otherwise we assume Zinnia is talking again.
  • Same goes for “Leo turned sharply, meeting her gaze” and the dialogue which follows.
  • “What do they mean?” She insisted—”She” should not be capitalized here.
  • There’s a bit too much emphasis on gazes and where people are looking (gaze, look, study). I’d check the rest of the manuscript to see if the author overuses eye language.
  • “Then it dawned on her.” This is a cliche and filtering language. This line alone is enough for me to say “no” to a page in this contest. But the surrounding sentences—”Grateful, as well, for the reassuring weight of the dagger at her side” and “She fixated on that, pushing aside thoughts of the murders he’d just confessed to”—were good character insights, which let me overlook the filtering, at least enough to read more.
  • I assume “She was looking for a way out” should be “She had been looking for a way out,” but it’s hard to say definitively without context. “She was looking for a way out” implies that she’s still looking for a way out, but it also implies that he’s still pressing a blade against her neck.
  • The word count is a bit high (buying a debut novel more than 100K words is a risk on the part of a publisher), but this contest isn’t concerned with any of that.

MARKS FOR

  • Dreadlocks. That line is a good example of a “golden detail”—one specific image that details an aspect of a character’s personality. (Eye or hair color tells me the DNA, not personality of a character. It’s not a golden detail; it’s mostly irrelevant.)
  • I also appreciated that the author gives us the dreadlocks detail through the POV character’s interaction with it. Zinnia is interacting in her world, not merely observing and listing the kind of stats that would appear in a police report. She’s also pressing her boundaries: touching this guy, pushing his buttons. She’s active rather than passive.
  • Leo’s POV is very telling—in a good way. Each new detail is given from Leo’s individual point of view (this is what voice looks like in 3rd person) and characterizes not only him, but Zinnia as well. This is “telling” done right, when the observations of the character characterize him or her, and when the observations give the audience insight to inner conflict.
  • This makes me want to read more! I can see conflict between Leo and Zinnia, inner conflict within Leo, and a threat in The Council which could lead to worse than Zinnia having a knife pressed to her throat (a.k.a. high stakes).

Love is a Battlefield got three requests during 2015’s pg70pit. “I enjoyed pg70pit so much. I cannot wait to see what pages make the final cut this year.” This manuscript was later chosen for Pitch to Publication. “Many fulls out for consideration, but no big news… yet!”

4 thoughts on “February 7th on 7th

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