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April 7th on 7th

This is 2016’s second 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.

Check out the first 7th on 7th, in which I talk about wordiness, breath units, and cleverness.

pg70pit writing contest logo

7th on 7th

THE ORIGINAL PAGE

[Adult Literary Horror]

The backpack’s been emptied every time I shop, but I go through it again, and then the sturdy dressers. Finally I pull the suitcase from underneath the bed. It’s still heavy with stuff that I apparently hadn’t unpacked.

Guardian hops down from her window seat and approaches lazily, before sitting down next to me. While her tail is quivering with curiosity, she feigns nonchalance while bathing her paw. I give her a quick scratch before digging into the bag.

“Shield. Three pairs of socks. A spare turban.” I continue unpacking the suitcase, and once everything is piled on the bed, I have to admit defeat.

“Just proves how dumb you are.” Daniel’s voice comes from the bed, but Guardian doesn’t seem to be reacting to him at all. “You pack a shield and what is that? A stick? But you forget your charger?”

“It’s not a stick.” I bite off the angry reply as I tense. “It’s … Besides, it would’ve been helpful if you’d told me that when I was packing.”

“I assumed you were a responsible adult.” His voice takes on that sarcastic tone, almost bored, that I remember from school. “But clearly I was mistaken. Have you even fed that animal today?”

Her name is Guardian, and yes.” I clench my hands and turn away from where he sounds like he is. “And I went to the pharmacy. It’s not my fault they didn’t have the meds in stock.”

“Oh, boohoo.” He sneers, and I can almost imagine the smirk on his handsome face.

MY NOTES

  • Without context, it’s a bit difficult to understand what’s going on. I’m assuming Daniel is a spirit or ghost? How, why, or by whom has the backpack been emptied?
  • My first impression is that this page is burdened by inconsequential stage directions. Read my post on disorderly and overcomplicated descriptions here. In short, do away with the “before” and “then” and “while.”
  • Also check my post on overused words, specifically regarding the word “that.”
  • Is the narrator talking to him/herself in the “shield” line, or does, s/he know Daniel is there? It seems awkward to say those things out loud. Why not remove the quotes?
  • Rather than tell us “Guardian doesn’t seem to be reacting to him at all,” show us. What is Guardian doing instead?
  • Don’t capitalize dialogue tags. “…boohoo,” he sneers.
  • “almost imagine” is an oxymoron, if not redundant. You “almost see [literally]” or you “imagine.” Almost counts for nothing in imagination.
  • The dialogue doesn’t feel natural to me. Or perhaps it feels too natural, and therefore doesn’t flow as well as fictional dialogue might. Part of the lie of fiction is that readers don’t see how much we edit the words they end up reading. Now, sometimes stories and quirky movies go overboard editing dialogue. “Nobody actually talks like that” is a common critique of John Green’s novels or the movie Juno. But dialogue in fiction needs to work harder than real-life verbal discharge. That means reading the words aloud, removing inessential conjunctions (and, but) and replacing audible ellipses (um, uh, well, erm) with visual ones (…).
  • I don’t know the context with the pharmacy and medication, so any edits for that might not make sense, but here it goes:

THE REWRITTEN PAGE

[I admit, this definitely changes the voice. Since you know the context, you’ll be able to make it work in your own style.]

Every time I shop, I’ve emptied the backpack, but I search through it again, then rummage through the sturdy dressers. No charger. [No sign of the charger / I still can’t find the charger / My search proves fruitless]

Guardian hops down from her window seat and approaches lazily, stopping to stretch and bathe her paw. I give her a quick scratch, and her tail flicks under the bed, to my suitcase. [The suitcase! / Then I remember the suitcase]

It’s still heavy with stuff I apparently hadn’t unpacked. I pile its contents onto the mattress. Shield, three pairs of socks, a spare turban…

I sink back to the floor in defeat.

“Just proves how dumb you are.” Daniel’s voice comes from the bed.

Guardian’s ears don’t even twitch. Either she doesn’t hear him, or she’s feigning nonchalance. “You pack a shield and—what is that? A stick? But you forget your charger?”

“It’s not a stick.” I bite off the angry reply. “It would’ve been helpful if you’d told me ______ [told you what? not to forget the charger?] when I was packing.”

“I assumed you were a responsible adult.” His voice takes on that tone I remember from school: sarcastic, almost bored. “Clearly I was mistaken. Has your animal been fed today … or did you forget?”

Guardian, and yes, I fed her.” I clench my hands and turn away from where he sounds like he is. “I went to the pharmacy. The meds weren’t in stock.”

“Boohoo,” he sneers. I can imagine the smirk on his handsome face.

2015 Entry: Make a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul

Think of that dark bit at the top of NASA’s map. The vast forests that cover Canada and Siberia, endless acres of pine trees dropping needles onto the frozen soil. There is your Undernet. Empty of cities and roads, ringing the top of the globe, quietly expiring a quarter of the oxygen needed by seven billion humans who, if they think about it at all, imagine it drifted up from the rainforests.

And so it is with the Undernet. Compilers for old programming languages no one needs anymore. CCTV images of empty sidewalks proving that no crime has been committed. Images of kittens doing things that only make you smile. And databases, databases, databases. Data, feeding the Internet frenzy—without being thought about at all.

You want to track evil in this forest? It takes a bit of effort. It’s not like you type “terrorist” in a search box and hit enter. No one lists explosives and chemical weaponry as skills on Linked-in. No, it’s not easy. But I was getting good. Dad even said. And then, just when I’d discovered the biggest attack ever, I found myself unable to do anything about it.

I just had to hope the Chinese had a long lead time on the stuffed dolphins. As Carol Anne drove me from the hospital to the foster home, I knew I’d be too tired to make a break for it that night.

But then again, there was also Peter. Maybe I wouldn’t have to run from the foster home. Maybe he really could help me.

Intended Audience: Teen
Word Count: 87,000
Genre: Thriller
7-word description for your MC: Not Daddy’s Good Little Hacker Girl Anymore

Deconstruction

Now, this entry isn’t perfect, and not always will your 69th or 70th page start so seamlessly. But let’s look at what this entry did wrong and what it did right.

MARKS AGAINST

  • This starts off in second person, which makes me wonder who the narrator is talking to—me, the reader, or a fictional character? Will second person factor in later?
  • Because of the first sentence, I actually had to request the full manuscript to make sure this was the 70th page. It didn’t feel like a random excerpt. It was, though!
  • “And so it is with the Undernet.” is redundant to the earlier “There is the Undernet,” which is out of place. I’d remove the one in the first paragraph to replace the one in the second paragraph.
  • I’m not sure what she means by “Compilers.” Are those programmers—people—that lurk in the Undernet? The other listed items are things, not people, so the parallelism throws me off.
  • I’m not a fan of the sentence “Images of kittens doing things that only make you smile” because “images” was already used (why not replace that with videos or GIFs?), and “only” is a misplaced modifier.
  • Several expletives and “that”s, which could be rewritten.

MARKS FOR

  • This does world-building in a very conversational way. Written differently, I likely wouldn’t care about what the Undernet was, but written this way, I actually do care. This is a subjective, feeling-based reaction, but it works. This entry got a handful of requests.
  • Specifically, it uses a vivid metaphor to explain—and show—how the Undernet works, without launching into an academic dissertation.
  • I love these sentences: “You want to track evil in this forest? It takes a bit of effort. It’s not like you type ‘terrorist’ in a search box and hit enter. No one lists explosives and chemical weaponry as skills on Linked-in.” Sure, they get “LinkedIn” wrong, but they show some sense of humor as well as the obstacle to the character’s goal.
  • She mentions a Dad, but then she’s being driven to a foster home? I want to know why. This is another reason I had to confirm this was, in fact, the 70th page. It’s very unusual that a 70th page would include world-building, obstacle, goal, and a mysterious situation all in one single page.
  • The page seems to be all about the narrator until the final couple of sentences, when I (as a judge) am reassured the novel isn’t about an isolated character.

Make a Little Birdhouse got five requests during 2015’s pg70pit.


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7 thoughts on “April 7th on 7th

  1. roughseasinthemed says:

    Couple of points I disagree with. Primarily, he sneered isn’t necessarily a tag. The author could write the comment and then add the action. I thought it worked ok as was. Same sentence, almost imagine, i think that’s valid. You can’t quite imagine something, it’s vague, so therefore it’s ‘almost’. I do however agree with you on the repetition eg while and before.

    • Lara says:

      All right. I’d prefer the sound of “Almost picture,” though.

      I’m not a fan of “sneer” as a dialogue tag, but it’s common enough that I’m not going to die on that hill. It’s technically a facial expression, not a sound, so the narrator wouldn’t know he was visibly sneering if s/he can’t see him.

  2. Kimberly Moravec (@KMoravec314) says:

    Hi, it’s Make a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul here. Wow, Lara, thanks for the deconstruction, with excellent points! My 70th page just happened to fall at the beginning of a chapter…I was actually quite annoyed when I realized that. I didn’t expect to make it through because it was such a big chunk of expository info-dump, but I’m glad to hear that the info-dump (for the most part) works!

    The five requests were a really wonderful boost. Since then, some of them have been rejected, I received one very kind and insightful R&R, and as for the others, I am still waiting to hear. The road to publication is always longer than expected, and there are some issues with the manuscript (like the expletives) that this round of submissions and rejections has highlighted. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to put a better book out there, and as authors only get one debut novel, I’m glad to get a second chance.

    Also, I’d just like to say that participating in online contests like #70pit16 was a really valuable part of the submission process for me. Competing in (and, for me, usually losing) contests is a great way to get a clear, unbiased idea of where I’m at with my writing and where it needs to improve. Thank you, Lara, for coming up with the idea for it last year, and best of luck to everyone who takes part this year!

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