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Feedback on reworked Chap 1

Hi all

Hope you are all well.  I have been tweaking my first chapter that I posted a few months ago.  I can't decide if I need to do a blank page rethink or stick with it so I have done an edit based on the invaluable feedback from the TownHouse last time.  I have got to the point where I can't see the wood for the trees so any thoughts will be much appreciated!  Particularly I am a little worried I am trying to cram too much information in and I need to tease some of it out in a later chapter instead.  

The genre is YA fantasy time travel.  The chapter is 1300 words.  Much thanks in advance!

All the best


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Replies (14)
    • I don't mind reading it for you.  I'm not an expert but I did act as co-editor for several short story competitions. However, I'm not sure how to go about getting hold of your text.

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      • Hi Anne Thank you very much!  It should be a word document called Chapter 1.docx attached to the post.  I can see it just above the Replies box in the Attachments box.  Let me know if it still isn't showing and I will investigate :) image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=322&dpx=1&t=1608200122

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      • Hi, Rebecca. I have attached your file with mark-ups. They are my personal opinions so deal with as you wish. You have some good lines in the opening, so that's great. Be miserly with the adverbs ending in 'ly', especially at the end of sentences. I look forward to reading other comments. Remember the 'hook'. Perhaps it arrives with the police, but do try to get it in early. Rob.

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        • Hi  Robert

          Thank you so much!  This is really helpful and I really appreciate you spending the time on this!  Yes you're right I have let those adverbs creep back in!  I do go through and purge them every now and again but when I re-write sections I forget again.  I will have a think about the hook, it arrives a little later on in the next chapter so maybe a re-jig needed.  I will think.  Thank you again!

          All the best 


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        • Hi Rebecca - thanks for posting this for us to read. First chapters are notoriously tricky to get right.

          There's some nice writing in this chapter and I particularly like the image of her self esteem fitting in a small change purse while her class mates would fit in a swag bag. But I'm not convinced you're starting your story in the right place. For me, these three pages are over packed with four contending potential hooks. And yet none of these hooks offer any particular personal peril to your main character.

          First hook we have is that a girl has disappeared. But it happened months ago and is unconnected to Eleanor. There's no suggestion it might happen again and could just be a runaway girl. So it's a bit of gossip and no threat to the main character.

          We learn that Eleanor has joined this new school mid-term, has been forced there by a step father, isn't happy and has no friends. This gives lots of potential for angst, but at the moment is just setting. There's no big threat.

          Eleanor has a plan to go to the school office, and expects this to change her friendlessness. But there's no hint of what it might be. I'm not yet invested in Eleanor as a character, so a mystery trip to the school office doesn't really hold any intrigue.

          Lastly we've got the appearance of the prefects on the grass when they are in the classroom. To me this is the most interesting development. Here is a mystery. And yet it doesn't at this stage impact on Eleanor in any way. 

          So for me this story isn't starting in the right way. I would suggest finding something that has a clear connection to your MC and offers peril/threat to her. (By peril I don't mean immediate physical danger, but something that will cause Eleanor issues that she needs to act to correct.) Show us clearly that Eleanor has a quest.

          I hope some of that is helpful, but these are just my thoughts and opinions, so take what feels right to you and discard the rest. Good luck with the editing.

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          • Thank you so much Kate! This is really useful feedback and I really appreciate you taking the time to read this and feedback. Its really good to get an outside perspective on the hook issue! I find it very hard to be objective.  I did feel like there might be too much going on but I wasn't sure. I will have a rethink about the hook as your explanation definitely crystallises what I'm aiming for so thank you for that. My inciting incident is her seeing a double of herself and that used to be my hook so maybe I need to go back to exploring that idea. Maybe she could get into trouble for something she didn't do... You're right - first chapters are so hard! Still something to mull over during Christmas! 😁

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            • I like the idea of seeing herself! Immediate hook.

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            • Hi Rebecca. Good to see your new chapter 1. It's tighter than I remember from the version I read back in the summer and I think I like the way you've jumped straight into the arrival of the police car at the school, although in another sense I feel that you might have lost a bit too much of the description of the setting that you had in your previous version, like the fact that it was the start of a new term and the feel of the school in general.

              Having read a previous version of your full manuscript and Kate and Robert's feedback on this chapter 1 re-write, I think I agree that there's not enough in this first chapter to hook the reader in or to make us feel invested in Eleanor. 

              I know what you mean about struggling to see the wood for the trees. So, I've got a few radical suggestions for you to take or leave, from my knowledge of where your story is going:

              1. How would it be if you actually made this Eleanor's very first day at Marlington? I think that way, you could heighten Eleanor's sense of anxiety, feeling out of place and not having a clue what's going on. Then, when there are police out in the school grounds, and other students gossiping about a missing student, she can be internally questioning what is this place I’ve been sent to? I thought it was a posh respectable school! Also, if it’s the first day back in a new term, Helen could have disappeared right at the end of the previous term and it would make sense that the police were coming back in and that students were still gossiping about it.
              2. If it is Eleanor’s first day, she could also be reflecting on the slimy headteacher who she had to endure a meeting with at the start of the day and the stand-offish prefects who reluctantly showed her around.
              3. Given that Helen disappeared some time ago, does it really make sense for the police to turn up with their blue lights flashing, unless there’s been some new incident? Might it be more realistic for the students to see the fluorescent yellow of police jackets walking down the corridor with a teacher or the headteacher and then Eleanor gazing out of the window and noticing more police and a police car outside, perhaps even with a sniffer dog?
              4. Could the prefects that she sees outside be apparently ‘spying’ on whatever the police are doing out there? Afterall, I know from later in the story that they’ve got a vested interest in what’s happened to Helen.
              5. If it is Eleanor’s first day, there probably needs to be something that helps her to recognise the students outside. She could recognise Joe and Simon as the two boys who showed her around earlier. But perhaps the prefects also wear a different coloured blazer. I like the fact that she recognises the other two of them as Ryan and Carmen, even though they’re in the classroom. Again, if it’s her first day, perhaps she could assume that they both have identical twins but think that this is an unlikely coincidence.
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              • Continued...

                6. I know, having read the rest of the story, that what Eleanor wants to go to the school office about is to see if she can get into the running club. I don’t think there’s any need for the mystery around this – when asked about whether she’s ship or silver, you could bring in the thought that her real talent is running, but that Marlington show no interest in sporting prowess in their admissions process – only whether you’re academically gifted or had parents with money. But perhaps one of the prefects who’d shown her around had mentioned all the clubs you could be in, including the running club – she’d go straight to the office to sign up for that, then she’d show them what she was good at.

                7. You mention that she took the entrance exam but failed. Perhaps she took the entrance exam back in the summer with the plan that she’d start in September, at the beginning of year 10, failed, had a ‘stay of execution’ from having to move to Marlington from her old school, but then her stepdad had persuaded her mum to send her anyway, after Christmas. There’s also then the sense that she’s a late arrival at the school, so even more of a fish out of water, where other newbies in year 10 started back in September (and incidentally took all the spare places in the running club, as she’ll discover later).

                8. I think you could also bring in a little bit about her friends from her old school when you mention the messages on her phone - heightening the sense of having been pulled out of the familiar friendly place to this new, strange school.

                9. If you want to lose some detail, I would perhaps leave out the OPES inspectors. Do they have any function in the story at this stage? Could they turn up later?

                10. I do think you’re right not to put the bit about Eleanor seeing her own double in this chapter, unless of course she catches a glimpse out of the window of the back view of a girl who looks remarkably like herself (same colour and length of hair) - perhaps spying on the prefects who are spying on the police. Of course, that girl will be in an ordinary, non-prefect blazer, so she will be in trouble for being out of class. You could perhaps then plant the seed for the reader that perhaps she's seeing her future self, without actually confirming that or making it too obvious that she is.

                I hope you don’t mind all these radical suggestions. Of course it’s your story, not mine and I realise they’ll affect more than just your first chapter, but I think that making this Eleanor’s very first day, will automatically help to make your readers feel more invested in her – after all, we’ve all had experiences of first days in a strange new school or job, and if this new school feels like an immediately creepy as well as aloof place, all the better.

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                • Hi Paul

                  Thank you so much for taking the time to give such extensive feedback.  

                  I am definitely going to have to mull over the idea of it being the first day of school. I might write a version and see how it reads.  I agree that would make the anxiety much more intense (and relatable) but I worry it might make the situation less desperate i.e. if you have been there a couple of months and you still don’t have friends then you would feel very anxious.  But maybe it doesn’t matter.  

                  I really like the idea of the prefects showing her around as that might open up a different set of tensions and actually could maybe even be an entirely alternate first chapter.  And I like the idea of her seeing a glimpse of her future self.  I think you are right that the full realisation that it is her a double of her should come along later.  But it could be foreshadowed.  I am going to have to see if I can cut a few of the items (like the inspectors) and see if I can expand on some of the core things.  

                  Thank you very much for investing more time in my novel!  Very much appreciated! :D

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                • Hello Rebecca. I like this. I like the “ship or silver?” question and her confusion over it. I like the description of her tiny self esteem. I liked the descriptions of place and her feelings there. I liked intrigue of the police turning up, the doubles and her desperation to get to the office. However I did feel a bit like they vied for my attention and weren’t apparently connected. I haven’t got any clever suggestions but found other people’s comments made sense here. I am not a very experienced writer but as a reader I enjoyed the style and was intrigued enough by the story to want to read more. So I reckon that’s a good start. 

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                  • Thank you so much Kate – it is really useful to hear what you enjoyed and I am glad that everyone is saying the same thing about there being too much vying for their attention.  I think I will try and strip it back to the core question and try and be ruthless in dumping/shifting the rest.   I really appreciate the time you have taken responding the chapter!  

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                  •  Hi Rebecca 

                    I like your writing style and the description of Eleanor’s awkwardness and self-consciousness is well done.  I particularly liked the ship / silver comparison and “she was just wondering if she should write an F on top to save the teacher some time.” It is well written, but coming to it as a reader, imagining picking it up in a bookshop and reading the first page, I think the beginning would benefit from a little more intrigue or threat. 

                    As others have said, perhaps you could start with Eleanor's arrival at the school. At the moment, Helen's disappearance is presented as a fact, told rather than shown, very early on. It is so understated that it is easy to miss on a first reading. I didn’t sense that Eleanor has any connection with Helen’s fate.

                     I don’t know how the story develops, but I wondered if the opening would be stronger if, for example, Eleanor has taken Helen’s place at the school. She might not realise there is mystery surrounding Helen initially. Her lack of self confidence could be shown in her fear that she is not as good as this mysterious Helen. Was Helen popular? Liked? Feared? What sort of hole has Helen left and how much pressure is Eleanor under to fill this hole? Could there be lots of judgemental comments like “Helen would have said ...” “Helen was good at ...(whatever)”? If Eleanor initially identified herself with Helen of felt overshadowed by Helen, it might be more of a shock when Eleanor learns that Helen has disappeared and the police are involved. 

                    Or as an alternate suggestion, I looked back at your first post and you say it is a time travel adventure. You mention the clock in this draft. I like the shadow of the clock tower, its looming nature. Could you make the presence of the clock even stronger to hint at a time related theme? Perhaps even open with the clock tower? T

                    I find openings difficult. I am returning again and again to the beginning of my writing as my themes become clearer, I'm a long way from getting it right. 

                    In general, as a reader, there's a lot I like in your writing style. Eleanor is well drawn. I would like to read more.  I just feel you would benefit from a stronger opening couple of paragraphs. Hope that helps a bit, Alison 

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                    • Thank you very much Alison for taking the time on this.  I really appreciate it.  

                      Your suggestions are really helpful.  I will have a mull over.  I may delay the revelation about Helen disappearing to make it pack more of a punch.  Once the reader is more unsettled about the school maybe.  I like the idea of Eleanor being a replacement for Helen's position.  The rest of the story does complicate that if I did it at a school level but there is maybe a smaller version of this i.e. she is put in her science lab team or something.  And that might be a better way of her finding out that Helen has disappeared and would add a lot more tension in relation to Eleanor.  I also love the idea of the clock having more of a presence too.  It used to have a bit more of a looming description but I cut it so I will review and see if I can ramp that up a bit.

                      I am glad you enjoyed the style - that is good to hear.  Thank you again for your ideas!

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