This is the intro to one of my new YA short stories. I find that, when I'm not able to get the words to accomplish what I think I want them to, offering them up to other pairs of eyes almost always nudges me in a direction that ultimately works well.
Billy Mecklenburg cleared the school bus steps in one jump, and sprinted down the sidewalk towards his waiting van. He could hear the frantic laughter and trampling feet following him. This was the kind of fan interaction he was going to miss while his band was out of town. He turned around and ran backwards so he could enjoy the sight of three Metzgerhund street team girls scrambling to get off the bus. One was carrying a video camera. A fourth girl, his cute-as-hell trouble-making friend, Lindsay, exited the bus, carrying an unplugged microphone, and showing her typical devious grin. “Just one more question for your fans, Emperor Meck!” “Yeah, make me late for my first day at my new job.”
[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited May 25, 2011).]
Not a bad start - I just have some age confusion. When Billy jumps off the bus, I assumed he was 8 (just felt tat way). Then you said he had a band and was going to be away, so I'm trying to figure out if he's 16 or so. It caused my reading to stall while my brain tried to reconcile the discrepancy. I read it again, but still don't know how to picture it. Try adding something to make this clear - anything from the blatant "Eight-year old Billy" to a more subtle "sprinted towards his waiting van that he'd be old enough to drive in 8 years."
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I don't really know where this story is going. Is it a science fiction story? A fantasy story? Is it just a story about a kid going to play music? I need something more. Some kind of hook.
Secondly, I'd replace the last name of the main character. It is too hard for a kid to read and remember. I mean, I'm 27 and I have a hard time remembering it. It's just a cumbersome word. Try something simpler and you should have better luck (but not too simple). Actually, while you're at it, I'd replace the first name too. Billie is too typical and reminds me of those old black and white classroom movies where Billy is the upstanding American kid with above average values who will probably never get laid. Give him a more interesting first name like Vincent, Terry, or Sean. Just not Billy, Bob, or John.
The writing is solid for a YA story, but again I have no idea what it is even about except that some kid has a cute girlfriend and he is going off to play music for 3 months. You might be able to fix this with a proper title, but as it stands now we have no way of knowing what the story entails. As a result, I probably would not continue to read it.
Fix this by skipping over all these details you've used here. We don't need to know any of this until later. Get into the story right away, or at least show what the point of it is. I'm assuming there's some kind of scifi/fantasy twist at some point, so explore that early on, or at least hint at it. All of these other details can come later.
[This message has been edited by jcavonpark (edited May 25, 2011).]
NoTimeToThink: I was hoping the mention of a van would suffice in explaining Billy’s age. There are other clues later on in the scene, but I tend not to cram all of them in to the First 13 out of concern that it will read like an infodump. The original version opened with the “Sixteen year old Billy Mecklenburg...” approach, which I ultimately anticipated would NOT be necessary; my next wave of proofers will be my 14 year old son’s friends, and I’m curious to see if their age range leads them to instinctively assume that Billy is at least 16.
Jcavonpark: Normally, I don’t even add the MC’s last name in an intro, especially if the POV is with him/her. Mention of Billy’s last name this early may or may not remain in the final version. His first name, however, stays as is. It has meaning (which, coincidentally, doesn’t really come into play in the series, but definitely gets airtime in the novel). I absolutely agree with your concern about not having a solid idea about what the story is about. The true theme becomes perfectly clear later in this scene, but it’s not sufficiently touched on within the first 13...which is why I push myself to write more attention-grabbing intros with this very exercise.
I am having trouble with the conflicting images. Rock God rides a school bus? He has groupies that are going to make him late for his first 'job'? When you say 'job' I'm thinking a suit and a briefcase, or at the least, a bib and spatula to flip the burgers. Are you sure 'gig' wouldn't be better? Other suggestions...
quote:Billy Mecklenburg cleared the school bus steps in one jump, and sprinted down the sidewalk towards his waiting van.
Shorten. cut down the sidewalk and consider changing 'his' to 'the'
quote: He could hear the frantic laughter and trampling feet following him.
consider chasing over following
quote: This was the kind of fan interaction he was going to miss while his band was out of town.
Cut while his band was out of town.
quote:“Just one more question for your fans, Emperor Meck!”
Maybe the question comes in the next few sentences but teh next statement is not a question.
Consider revising that opening, Crank. Oh btw, I'm still addicted to Dicewars. Thanx much.
I also had significant age confusion issues. I immediately assumed Billy was an elementary school kid for a number of reasons: - his first name. Perhaps it's different in other geographical areas, but in my experience people named William are only called Billy when they're little kids. You've said the name is significant, so you'll need other strong cues to establish Billy's age. (Just thought of some exceptions... Billy Connoley (sp?), Billy Joel, Billy Madison (except he's a kid who never grew up)) - he jumps off the school bus. Again in my experience, the only teenagers who still take the school bus are either under 16 or can't afford to get a car/pay for gas. Those who are stuck taking it tend to despise the bus and are way too cool to run or jump. I realise from further into the paragraph that Billy is being chased?, but I'm talking about my first impression. - "his van" actually didn't come across as a cue for older age for me. On the contrary, I envisioned his family's mini-van with Mom behind the wheel ready to drive little Billy to soccer practice or something.
I was also a little confused by the statement that Billy would miss this kind of fan interaction while his band was on tour. Wouldn't there be tons of fan-interaction on tour? Or do you mean that security keeps the fans away from the band when they're touring and they don't get to mingle? I even wondered if you meant that the band was touring without Billy, thus he would miss the crowds of fans, however he seems to be quite capable of drawing a crowd on his own...
[This message has been edited by Ethereon (edited June 01, 2011).]
I had the age confusion too. Billy jumping off the school bus running to a waiting van (I was thinking it was Mommy waiting at the bus stop). So, I am not sure.
My next thought, once I saw he was in a band and I assumed he must be olde, was why was he taking the bus if he had a van to ride in? If it is his van why didn't he drive it. If his friends (band-mates)own the van, wouldn't them pick him up from school?
I know that seems silly, but I think him jumping off the bus (as I picture a kid would do) while running to a waiting van makes me think of a kid. I think perhaps having him run off the High School campus to a waiting van with the girls chasing him would clear a lot up on the age without info dumping.
Last, on the topic of him missing the fan interaction while he was out of town. I assume he must not be going on a tour with his band. Later is seems he is going to a new job.
Just as I expected, you folks illuminated an aspect of the way I told the story that was instead debilitating what I wanted to accomplish. I will say...I never imagined it would be how Billy's age was projected, but your points led me to see exactly what all of you have stumbled over.
While reading your crits, an alternate opening came to mind. I'm still working on the fine points, but I believe it will project Billy in the light I want you to see him in.
Once I finish this story (I'm anticipating it to be just shy of 20K), I have a group of teenagers lined up to read it. Their feedback will be critical in determining how I proceed with the rest of the series. If anyone from Hatrack is interested in doing the same, let me know, and don't forget to pass something my way for me to review in exchange.
One other major comment to address...
quote:Oh btw, I'm still addicted to Dicewars. Thanx much.