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Feedback on Chapter 1 and 2

Hello

I am definitely feeling a bit anxious right now!  I am quite new to writing and haven't shared my work outside of a couple of family members, however, I often read through comments on this thread and I have already learnt loads so I thought I would take the leap.  I was wondering if anyone would be so kind as to give me some feedback on my first two chapters.  The book is a YA time-travel adventure.  I have included chapter 1 and 2 but for information, the main character is on track to see a future version of themselves on the school roof at the beginning of chapter 3.  I find it so hard to assess my own work!  I often wince reading it but have no idea why.  Any comments will be gratefully received.  I send my thanks out in advance.  Hope everyone is having a good weekend.

All the best

Rebecca

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    • Hi Rebecca,

      No need to be anxious. We're nice here - well, most of us!

      I read the first three pages - at close to 5,000 words, there is a great deal here. Your writing is descriptive. In some parts it's spare (lean). In other areas, there are opportunities to lose some words but improve the narrative. Here's an example:

      She reached the classroom door.  Pushing her weight against the oak, she entered the classroom. The door hinges shrieked.  

      Becomes:

      She reached the classroom door, pushed her weight against the oak and its shrieking hinges, and entered.  

      It's not much different, but perhaps a bit more streamlined. Also, the hinges have to shriek before she enters.

      Another:

      Eleanor cast her eyes down to her school bag, sitting on the desk.

      Becomes:

      Eleanor looked at her school bag (you have already said the bag is on the desk).

      The ability to make your point, still powerfully but in the fewest words, was a key learning point for me. It just takes practise.

      My other big recommendation is to introduce character dialogue as early as you can. I can't see any in the three pages I read.

      Good luck.

      Neal

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      • Hi Neal

        Thank you so much for taking the time to give me this feedback. I love it when someone points out something you just didn't notice. Of course her bag is on the table. 😁 I do become word blind after a while and I suppose it's just practice as you say. I will go back through with a fine toothcomb. 

        Yes apologies. That was a lot to upload! I am an over explainer and I think I just word dumped without thinking how much I had uploaded. Very grateful for your time in looking at the first few pages. Thank you very much!

        Best wishes

        Rebecca

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        • My pleasure, Rebecca.

          I might post something of my own later, so you will have your chance for revenge!

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        • Hi Rebecca, 

          We've all been there and know how scary it is to put yourself and your writing out there for the first time but this shows that you're serious about your writing and that you want to make your MS the best possible and is not afraid to ask for help.

          I like how you started with something very relatable — the awkwardness of an under confident teenager and the feeling of invisibility in high school, which is great for YA and makes her relatable, but I'm not sure you started in the right place. You have almost 2 pages saying in different ways the same things, Eleonor is a loner and she's insecure. So the section comes across as very overwritten and I have to admit I started skimming to see when something would be happening. You could very easily tighten the opening and take out what is redundant. I think we as writers tend to over-explain in our early drafts because we’re trying to find the right images and feelings that stick and in a way at that stage we are telling ourselves the story. For example in the opening regarding self-consciousness you have the stomach, the squeaky shoes, the furrowed glance, the stomach again, etc... With so many images at once, the feeling of awkwardness actually becomes muddled, because my mind is jumping from one direction to the next.

          Another example of redundancy to illustrate: "The sound of chatter outside the classroom door made her head snap up.  They were coming.  Her classmates were chatting and laughing as they approached the room.  Eleanor sat up straight and pressed her feet and knees neatly together.  She raised herself up in her chair an inch and smoothed down her school kilt."

          In this short extract I have bolded all the instances where you repeated the same action in a different way. It's only a short extract but over a whole MS you end up with an inflated word-count and it slows your pace.

          You can convey the same meaning with just, for example, just to illustrate the point: "Her head snaps up at the approaching crescendo of chatter and laughter. They were coming. Eleonor straightened up, feet and knees pressed together."

          Down from 54 words to just 22 words.

          Through your writing I get the impression that you have a very clear idea in your mind of your scenes and what's happening which is great but you have slipped into an excess of stage direction (glances, wiggle, lean, flop, furrow, stare, take deep  breath, etc...), which again is quite normal in early drafts but comes off a list of stage direction. Again all it needs is tightening, picking the important ones that will paint a clear picture.

          The disappearance is a good hook and I like the sense of mystery but because of the overwritten and redundant parts at the start it comes too late into the chapter. The dialogue to introduce it as well feels a bit on the nose and "as you know Bob."

          It's all I have time for, sorry. I am hoping Kate will swoop in later on and cover filtering and psychic distance as they are two other areas that can benefit from some strong edits.

          I know it might seem like a lot but it is nothing different than what we all have to go through, and nothing that a good round of edits can't fix.

          I hope this helps, and good luck with your editing.

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          • Hi Laure. 

            Wow thank you so much! I think I had an inkling it was too wordy but your example and advice really helps clarify why. I can't tell you how useful this is. I am actually looking forward to editing it with this in mind. Thank you so much for spending the time to go over it. I really appreciate it. 

            All the best

            Rebecca

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          • Hi Rebecca! Well done for taking the leap! 😁 

            First of all, I really liked your chapters. I thought you introduced Eleanor really well, and the school is well-drawn too. There's some lovely setting up of mystery and also future conflicts, and I think Eleanor's self-consciousness and loneliness make her a character that the reader will really want to root for.

            I agree with Neal that your writing is beautifully descriptive, and you've got a real knack for finding clever metaphors and similes. I do think that occasionally these could be made even stronger by being a bit more focused - an example would be that lovely compariosn of the classroom filling up being like a 'bubbling drink'.

            'The door creaked open and the classroom started to fill like a bubbling drink being poured into a glass.  Soon chatter surrounded her.'

            It's so nearly the perfect image... but because it's generally applied to the room filling up rather than the thing (chatter) that the room is filling up with, it doesn't quite hit home as strongly as it might for me. Maybe:

            ‘The door creaked open and excited chatter started to rise in the room like the sparkling bubbles in a fizzy drink.’

            There are several moments like that, where the intention is absolutely spot on, but the text just needs tweaking a bit to really land the moment. But hey, that's what editing is for! 😀 

            I also thought that there were a few places where we need to be more closely taken into Eleanor's thoughts and emotions, so that you're showing us rather than telling us what she's thinking and feeling. If we're riding along inside Eleanor's head as she experiences her world it'll be easier for us to empathise with her predicament and share the moment with her.

            Again, I think this requires only slight changes to what you've already got, just to really tighten up the writing. No big changes!

            Laure's notes above about reducing the word count by looking for those redundancies and repetitions are a perfect example of the sort of tightening that could be done. I know, because I'm doing the same thing on my WIP following her similar advice to me! 😂 

            I haven't had the time to write detailed thoughts on the whole extract you posted, but I have jotted some inline comments into the first four pages in a new document. Feel free to take them on board or to ignore them! They're just thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading.

            Oh... and I also thought that you could lose the first two lines. 'It was impossible to move unseen through the vaulted corridors of Marlington School.' is a cracking openeing sentence!

            I hope my notes, such as they are, aren't too scary! I think you've got a really promising start here. I really liked Eleanor and felt for her, and I wanted to find out how her story developed! Super stuff. 



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            • And the reason why Laure mentions the sort of tightening that can be done is because it had been pointed out to her by her tutor in her own writing 😂 

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              • Hi Jon

                Wow! Thank you so much for spending the time on this. I really appreciate it. And for your encouraging words. I'm delighted you likes Eleanor for a start. That's fantastic.

                Thank you for the example of the classroom/drink metaphor. That really does make it clearer. I will look to focus on what I'm trying to achieve more closely.

                I have really struggled with showing over telling so it's really useful to have this flagged as I get complacent in writing and then also can't see it once it's down in black and white.

                I haven't had chance to open your notes so will reply properly once I have gone over them. Thank you very much for spending the time!

                All the best

                Rebecca

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              • Hi Rebecca, I feel like we're in a similar place with our writing - like you, I'm fairly new to writing and certainly new to sharing it with other writers. I've enjoyed reading chapter 1 and also the comments that others have made. It was easy to get a good sense of exactly the type of school you were describing and Eleanor's sense of not belonging there. Like Jon, I loved the image of the other kids coming in like a bubbly drink. 

                As secondary school teacher myself, I think you got a lot of the behaviour of the kids in the classroom about right but I think it would be more realistic if, when the teacher is talking to Carmen at the front, the noise in the rest of the room is more than just a hushed chatter. Even though the teacher has already issued an instruction to the whole class, because she's now talking to Carmen, a group of year 10s (even in a fancy private school) will still probably carry on chatting noisily

                A few other thoughts (from an inexpert writer):

                The soft bit, between Eleanor’s stomach and lungs, tensed awkwardly as her school shoes announced her arrival to the line of receptionists.  Each footstep sang a clear note on the polished flagstone.

                I didn't get at first that you were  telling us that Eleanor's shoes were squeaking. Could even you start the whole book with something like...

                The squeak of Eleanor's shoes on the polished flagstones echoed around the high vaulted ceiling of the school vestibule, announcing her arrival to the line of receptionists. The soft bit, between her stomach and lungs, tensed awkwardly. Next term she was getting some rubber soled shoes. She didn’t care how hideous they might look.


                But the soft bit between her stomach and lungs jumped upward like a frightened animal and span round, burying its head deep in her stomach. Do you need to say 'between her stomach and lungs' again? I like the frightened animal image though.


                Her shoulders relaxed and the flutter in her stomach disappeared.  Almost immediately, however, she started to scold herself.  If she just got it over with then at least she’d know. I think you could you replace the middle sentence with just.. She scolded herself.


                The sting of disinfectant was swooping around the corridors as well as a strong smell of beeswax and varnish that prickled in her throat and tried to crawl into her nose from the wrong direction. Love this. Schools have such strong and distinctive smells, particularly at the start of term. There are particular smells that immediately take me back to my own school days, without necessarily being linked to a particularly memorable incident. Could you have the disinfectant smell merging or blending with the beeswax and varnish instead of just saying 'as well as'?


                Her insides squirmed. Everyone must be looking at her sitting there all on her own. Can you help us to feel what she's feeling about everyone's eyes looking at her, rather than just telling us that she thinks everyone's eyes are on her? You could even describe her reaction first - of letting her long dark hair fall across her face in order to hide from the stares from the rest of the class.


                The woman was wearing some unusual jewellery, a strange material that Eleanor had never seen before.  She met the eye of the man as he sat down and they both quickly withdrew their look. Who is looking at who here? Is it the two inspectors looking at each other? That's how I first read it, and wondered why they would quickly withdraw eye contact. Or is it Eleanor looking at the man?


                A movement and flash of colour from the quadrangle below caught Eleanor’s eye. Two police cars were crawling around the edge of the lawn toward the main entrance. A flash of blue perhaps?

                Continued in next post...

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                • Continued from above...

                  Carmen’s smart cropped hairstyle accentuated her striking face.  She had strong make-up on and a perpetual scowl.  Carmen’s eyes were scanning the room of pupils and she was biting her lip. I can picture the sort of student Carmen is straight away but I think you need to do something to link your first two sentences here and I find myself what's the significance of her biting her lip? In what way is she biting it? What's it saying?


                  Eleanor looked back outside.  It was so odd that a student had disappeared and she hadn’t heard a single word about it until now. Eleanor was painfully aware she didn't have any friends, but shouldn’t she have at least heard something?   It had happened only a few months before she had started. If it had been her old school, it would have been all anyone talked about for at least a year.  She sat staring out at the pristine grass and scanned over her memories of the last few weeks of school.  Nothing, not a hint of her.  It was as if a ghostly, shadowy presence filled in the gap just by its absence.  A pang of grief, for a girl she had never met, passed over her.  She shook her head slowly.  Poor Helen. 

                  I get what you're trying to say here, but I reckon that groups of students tend to move on and forget things remarkably quickly. If whatever happened to Helen happened before Christmas, it would be ancient history by the time we get to after February half term. That said, if it had happened immediately before Christmas, you could imagine there should have been some gossip about it at the start of the new term in January. Eleanor could be wondering whether she'd missed catching that, being new.


                  I do want to read chapter 2 (and more) at some point because I like the premise of the book and the hint already of what's to come with the prefects disappearing around a distant corner and walking into the classroom at the same time. Also, please do feel free to ignore everything I've said because I'm a novice myself so it could all be wrong.

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                  • Hi Rebecca – well done on getting up the nerve to post. It’s always scary, but usually worth it. I think this is a great set up for a YA book. All the school room angst they love. You’ve had some great feedback from L and Jon. I agree with what they’ve said, particularly about the repetition of ideas, and won’t repeat what they’ve said. L mentioned filtering and psychic distance which are two crafting skills that are important to get to grips with, so here are some notes and links for you to look at.

                     

                    Filtering is an unhelpful name for when you filter information through the perspective of your character. When you drop the character in front of the reader, they stand between the reader and what is going on in your story. They hold the reader at arm’s length. If you can get rid of that, the reader can become much closer to your character and more immersed in the story. 

                    Filtering words can also have the effect of making a piece more telly (as in show don’t tell). It’s a good idea to do a filtering edit with your work and take out any but the essential ones.

                    Filtering words are those of cognition like wondered/hoped/thought/felt or action like looked/saw/heard. 

                    For example, in your text:

                    Eleanor wondered if she should put an F on the top to save the teacher some time. – We are in Eleanor’s point of view, so it has to be her wondering this. There is no need to include the filtering ‘wondered’. Including filtering words can pull the reader out of the moment. So, rephrasing this it could be ‘Perhaps she should put an F on top to save the teacher some time.’ Or sinking deeper in to Eleanor’s head you could get rid of the ‘she’ completely. ‘Putting an F on top would save the teacher some time.’

                    It’s still obvious Eleanor is thinking this, but taking out the filtering makes the writing more immediate.

                    Also watch out for using actions in a similar way. You can end up with what feels like a list of stage direction. From the same paragraph. She reached/she entered/she would/she chucked/she wriggled. Because Eleanor is your POV character, it has to be her doing these things, so you can often lose the action and infer what’s happening and that feels more natural and less like a list. Eg ‘The classroom’s door hinges squealed as it opened. No one inside. Great. At last a chance for some peace…’ I’ve knocked out the first three ‘she did somethings’ with very little effort and put us in her head.

                    When you use Eleanor’s name in a scene, this can also have the effect of pulling the reader out of the story. Where you’ve got several people, you have to use names to identify who’s doing what. But in this case, where you’re alone with Eleanor, using her name drops her in front of the reader and adds that distance again. You’re in Eleanor’s POV, so once you’ve established that, I’d suggest using her name only when you really need to.

                    Here’s a very good blog about filtering from one of Jericho’s tutors. It will go into a lot more detail and explain it better than I can.

                    https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2016/07/filtering.html

                     

                    Taking out filtering is one way of closing the psychic distance. This is something Jon mentioned when he was talking about riding around in the character’s head more. It’s a measure of how close you are to the character. And the closer the reader is, the more they will engage and empathise with the character and experience what the character is experiencing. And that will suck the reader into the story. PD therefore also ties in with the idea of show don't tell. It's the difference between feeling like you're at an event or being told about it afterwards. Higher PDs are also a great way to show high emotion and stress.

                    Rather than going into details of how to manipulate PD, here’s a blog which will explain much better. In fact all the blogs in Emma’s toolbox blogs are worth a look.

                    https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

                    One thing you do use a fair amount is free indirect style, which is a great way of closing the PD and putting us in the character’s head. You’re giving the character’s thoughts directly to the reader. Eg ‘Why was everything so ornate in this place?’ – note the lack of filtering and she/Eleanor.

                    So that’s the technical stuff. I hope it helps with the editing and you’ll get a few light bulb moments from the blogs. Good luck.

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                    • As always, Kate, wonderfully clear and useful advice. For all of us! Thank you! 🙂 

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                      • Cheers Jon. 😀

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                        • Hi Kate

                          Thank you very much for taking the time to go over this and explain so clearly. That is really helpful and I will have a good look over those pages from Emma Darwin.  I was vaguely aware that I should cut out words such as thought, wonder, saw, etc. but I hadn't got as far in my understanding as to apply this to actions too.  This is so useful to have this explained.    

                          I do intentionally use free indirect speech but I definitely don't have a full handle on the other levels of PD so I will delve into that too and see if I can wrap my head around it.  

                          As I said to L yesterday I am really looking forward to revising with this in mind so thank you again.

                          Best wishes

                          Rebecca


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                        • Hi Rebecca, it's great that you felt able to share your writing - we all shiver a bit when we do it. I think you have the start of a great YA story and can add little to the excellent comments above. I look forward to seeing the new version.

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                          • Hi Barbara, that is great to hear!  Thanks :)

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                          • Hi Rebecca, I've just enjoyed reading your second chapter. I like the ongoing sense of tension in Eleanor. The development of these prefects who get away with dressing and acting however they like but who can obviously be quite cruel in applying to others the rules that they themselves seem to be above.

                            I'm not sure I realised from your first chapter that Eleanor is wearing high heels and that seems a bit strange - is it part of the uniform? If so, it feels a bit odd. Perhaps that's intentional.

                            I'm assuming there's going to be some development between her and Ryan and I like the hints you drop and her observations of him, particularly 'The Marlington uniform was immaculate, except when Ryan was wearing it' I wonder whether you could strengthen this a bit more by adding 'The Marlington uniform for boys was immaculate, except... Because you've already implied that things like the girls' kilt are a bit awkward and have then just talked about the high heels - perhaps Eleanor thinks the boys uniform looks better/easier. Just a suggestion, without knowing Eleanor very much yet.

                            I'm not sure I'd have Ryan looking at her and frowning when he doesn't hear her. Isn't he still preoccupied with what his friends are doing? I'd imagine him asking 'What's that?' but still then immediately looking away from Eleanor to check on his friends again so that Eleanor wonders whether he'll even hear her the second time. Could you even put in her mind the desire to grab the form off him and write it in herself in order to speed things up for both of them (not that she actually does that)?

                            Does she ever hand the form in?

                            I noticed a little typo - You've written 'Disappoint was still biting hard' rather than Disappointment, I assume.

                            I was taken completely by surprise to read that this big thing that she wanted to ask about at reception was to be considered for the running club. Fair enough, but why hasn't her sporting prowess shone through yet in PE lessons? Maybe because she's no good at hockey or whatever winter sports they play. Perhaps the headteacher could even hint at the fact that he's heard nothing of note about her from her PE teacher?

                            I think you could simplify Mr Butterworth's words to say 'We pride ourselves on having a very close relationship with parents' - of course it's with the parents of our pupils.

                            Also this sentence doesn't read quite right: Eleanor was barely listening she was staring, imagining if her Mum and Step-Dad were called into school.

                            I would probably write it as Eleanor was barely listening. She stared into space, imagining her  Mum and Step-Dad being called into school. Or you could even jump straight to imagining her sitting between them in front of the headteacher.

                            Also, why is Mr Butterworth asking her to let him know about the Advanced Philosophy class when he knows enough about her to know that she's not doing well academically and presumably that she's not been at the school for very long? Could he instead suggest that she would be better served spending more time on her core studies than thinking about getting involved in extra-curricular activities?

                            Finally, what happened to the misdemeanour note? Could she either intentionally or absent mindedly scrunch it up in her hand at the end of the chapter? Or perhaps realise that this will be another black mark against her name for not having handed it in?

                            Hope you don't feel I've been too critical. I like how things are developing and am looking forward to hopefully reading more soon.

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                            • Hi Paul This is fab! Thank you so much! I will go through your notes with a fine toothcomb later but the feedback is really appreciated. I'm also hoping to find a minute later to read over your chapter 2 😁

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                            • Hi Rebecca,

                              I haven't read all of your work, but I read the first couple of pages and scan read the rest. I read quite a lot of YA, so was interested to read yours. You definitely seem to know your genre, and capture the general feel of YA in your story.  

                              Feedback wise I would say that it probably needs a bit more dialogue, you use good descriptive language, but maybe the sentences could be a bit shorter, and language a bit more concise.  I wondered too how it would work to begin more media res, so that we start in middle of the action rather than at the beginning, and maybe in a first person perspective, rather than third person?  Sometimes I find it useful to play around with perspectives and see what works best. But that's just a suggestion, feel free to ignore it! 

                              Overall, I can see it has lots of potential. Stephen King says that the first draft should just be you telling the story to yourself, and you can edit on the second and third drafts, so don't worry too much with the details yet. 

                              Well done, and keep on keeping on.  Hope to see more as it progresses.  

                              Good Luck

                              Kelly x

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                              • Hi Kelly

                                Thank you so much for spending the time to read my chapters! I'm really glad you can see potential particularly as you know the genre. I had been wondering about in media res and starting with dialogue so I'll try that. As you say I might play around with a few options and see what works. I have cut the first couple of paragraphs already so I'll see how it goes from there. I'll keep an eye on my sentences. Along with YA I read a lot of classics and I think it shows sometime! 

                                Thanks

                                Rebecca :)

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