Young Adult Critique: Workshop Submission #7

Let’s reenter our workshop series, here with a submission from writer C.C. I hope you all had some amazing holiday times with loved ones. Now it’s time to buckle in and head into 2020 writing. And if you want to, you can shout to the world that you’re Too Kidlit To Quit in 2020. 😉

Some beautiful imagery is always nice in a novel opening, but too much can distract.

The Workshop Submission

No one remembers a beginning. Even though a beginning is one of the most important times in an existence. Not the existence, but a specific one.

I worry that this opening is too vague-sounding to really hook readers. I’m not interested in “an existence” in general, or philosophizing about beginnings. I’m interested in getting an actual beginning on the page. This sounds like a bit of throat clearing, with the writer not knowing where to start, I’m afraid.

It was an ocean. Then it was a river. It was whales and sharks. Nautiloids, ammonites, horseshoe crabs—forever it was assumed.

What is the first “it” referenced? What is the last “it” referenced? Specifics are key when starting a story, and here, you refer to two different “it” subjects, but I’m not clear on either. Consider that confusion is not the same as mystery.

But then something shifted. A shrinking. It got colder, then warm again. The salt drained out, replaced with fresh water from mountains far north and from all the rain. The porous limestone banks hold testament to their existence. A scrapbook, a social media before there was a way to capture images for the future to see.

What is the “it” that gets colder? Is this the same “it” or a different it? I feel like the writer is using “it” to stand in for general “things” or “the atmosphere,” but since “it” is used so often, IT is hard to keep IT straight. Also, what is “their” in the limestone sentence? The banks “hold testament to their [own] existence”? I see the grandiose scale that this writer is trying to evoke, but it’s too slippery, I’m afraid, for me to latch onto. I’d much rather start in specific action, in a specific setting, with a specific character. I do see some very lyrical writing here—the writer clearly has a strong sense of the writing itself! But sometimes, by leaning on this strength, they could have a blind spot elsewhere. In this example, a sense of action and character is lacking.

Sturgeon still swim to the salty water to spawn. The armored fish were once as plentiful as the frills on her gills, but thanks to their delicious eggs and their sportsmanship when it came to dying, they’d been hunted to almost extinction. Humanity will be the cause of the sixth major extinction, no doubt.

I really like “their sportsmanship when it came to dying,” this is a really interesting turn of phrase. But who is “her” (the one with the gills)? Is it the sturgeon’s gills? The gills of a main character not yet named? The pronoun really throws me here.

But she’s digressing, trying to get to the topic of humanity. Humans who have changed her river with their farming and industry. Such diligent creatures like the ants who pontoon on the rivers’ surface to float from one side to the other.

It’s amazing how often writers include “notes to self” in their own prose. Here, this writer says that the narrator (I’m guessing this is the “she” here, but whether that’s the same “she” as the one with gills is still unclear) is “digressing,” but I think the writer is aware on some subconscious level that they’re the ones digressing. Always listen to your gut! The inclusion of ants here only muddies things for me. I’m waiting for the focal point, and I’m not seeing one yet, I’m afraid.

It’s not just the topic of humans though that she’s trying to get to. Her mind is like the river. It is always flowing in one direction, yes, but there are cypress knees to get around. Topics come up like bubbling underground springs.

Some truly lovely writing, don’t get me wrong. But, like the river, this opening meanders. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to latch onto, as the reader. My hunch is that this writer hasn’t found their true opening page yet, and that’s totally okay. This provides some nice imagery, and some potential places to start.

That’s all they wrote! Tune in next week for more workshop.

Struggling with your beginning? Hire me as your novel editor for in-depth developmental advice. You can also sign up for my Crafting Irresistible First Pages webinar with Jane Friedman on January 15th!

One Reply to “Young Adult Critique: Workshop Submission #7”

  1. Excellent points, Ms. Kole! I totally get what you’re pointing out and the tip “confusion doesn’t equal mystery” is getting a sticky note and placed on my desk where I can easily see it. Thank you for your expertise and having these workshops to help us improve our writing! I’ve put this story aside for a year but this critique makes me want to dive back in.

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