I’m not supposed to say anything about what happened. I promised. However, I never promised I wouldn’t write about it. Don’t worry, Giara. No one will ever read this. Once it’s all down I'll light it on fire. I just have to get it out of my head. No one would believe it anyway. But in case it does get out, in case someone decides that this pile of papers might mean something, it never happened. None of this is real. Nothing like this is even possible. That cover it, Giara? My name is Jayne Alverez, and right now I'm in a mental hospital. I know, cliché, right? If I was making this up I would have started it in a better place, but that's not where the story starts. That’s where it ends. Try not to forget that while you're reading.
Nice voice that feels right for the YA audience you're going for.
quote:it never happened. None of this is real
quote:If I was making this up I would have started it in a better place
It's interesting that the MC is asserting that her tale is not true for the sake of Giara, but also trying to convince hypothetical readers that she is not making it up. I guess I can see how an adolescent might do that, but I'm still not entirely sure that it works for me.
I think the opening paragraphs from "I'm not supposed..." to "...cover it, Giara?" could be trimmed and still get the general point accross, so you'd have more room to get into story in the 1st 13.
The term "mental hospital" comes across as a bit offensive to me. Now maybe that's what your character would call it regardless, but in my mind anyway even psych ward feels more PC and I'm sure there are other things you might call it.
Appart from those nits it deffinitely sounds interesting and I love your title.
[This message has been edited by Ethereon (edited October 19, 2010).]
It's a really good start with an engaging voice.
Humor, mystery, and horror (which I'm assuming from the mental hospital) are three of the big emotional beats for young adult. (Wonder and adventure are the other two, for middle grade. Add romance for young adult.) (That's according to David Farland.)
From the voice, and it's hard to tell from just thirteen lines, I'm guessing this is more middle grade than young adult. (So's MAGE STORM, as it turns out.)
Yep, good voice, it pulls me in. Although, i half agree with the last poster, you can skip that sentence, it distracts from the reading. But on the other hand, it could stay. That's why i "half" agree.
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I just read your opening. Not to bad, everything is clear and you get a feel for what your MC is feeling. But at the same time it's kinda cliche-ish. That could work for a YA book or the writing might be well done enough so the reader won't mind the opening has been used a few times. That has happened before.
That is the only flaw I could find. If you want to call it a flaw.
Hmm... Can you give any examples, LDWriter2?
I was worried about the same thing, which is why I posted the first thirteen. I wanted to see if it seemed overwrought, or over done. I was aiming for a Percy Jackson type feel, but I hate when my subconscious picks up on things other people have done.
But (sorry) I think you slip from true - "My name is Not Jayne Alverez" - I mean, trying to keep it secret, right? Which, clearly, raises the issue (internal to the story/voice) would he let it out where he is? Not that I don't like it, it reads true/nice but would the protagonist commit even that much truth to paper about self?
quote: Hmm... Can you give any examples, LDWriter2?
If you mean cliche-ish. Pratically the whole thing. From the part where she says don't worry and promises to burn it afterwards but she has to write it down, all the way to the fact that she is in a mental hospital. All of that has been used before more than a couple of times. But as I said it depends on how well it is written and I'm not sure if it matters as much in YA.
Of course there are many books with similar openings so don't let what I say discourage you...if you were. Maybe for today's audience add some anger. Notice I said some but the book is yours and I'm not an expert on what sells.
I agree with LDWriter2 in the sense that the "warning" to the reader opening has been done by many authors, many times. You mention Percy Jackson, and yes, his opening is similar. I've read the same warning-type opening device in many books, specifically MG or YA.
However, I do think the opening works as far as pulling a reader in. My concern would be that if you are seeking representation or a publisher, they may instantly shy away from requesting a full read of your manuscript because they won't find the intro fresh. An already published (popular) author can get away with it since he/she doesn't have to run the gauntlet to get in the publishing door. If you're trying to pass the publishing gatekeepers, then you run the risk of instantaneous branding of "cliche" - won't read further.
Maybe it would be more effective to start with some interesting action or dialogue that hasn't been done before?
For the title - love it. Great YA appeal. Seems to tie directly to your concept since you start in the mental hospital. The title is extremely original and has none of the cliche of the opening. I think if I were an agent, reading the title would have me very excited, but then I'd feel a little let down to read the first 13 as it wouldn't seem as original as the promise of the title.
Amanda and LDwriter, I think you are right about this opening, it does seem a little familiar, the whole first chapter, now that I've reread it, seems like something I've read before.
My question, is when does it become a bad thing to be like other book in a genre? This story has its own culture, system of magic, characters, and plot twists. Is it bad to be writing in a familiar style, or about overdone locations?
I wonder if that means I should try to avoid common archetypes, but doesn't that include say wizards, or magic, or aliens, or zombies, or any of the many creatures that make up standard Speculative fare.
I think sometimes people want to read what is familiar. I hope there is a market for this, but if not, at least I will be adding to my skill of typing quickly.
I'm really not trying to argue, or say your comments aren't valid. I think you both are completely right, and that worries me, makes me not write as confidently as I did before. Honestly, I think I am only arguing with myself to make myself go back to writing the story and keep going.
But thank you for your comments, I'm gonna chew on them for a while and hopefully make the story better. ~Sheena
Awesome, nice work. I read almost exclusively in the YA/Middle grade genre and you're tapping into a well-understood and very popular trope, so I wouldn't worry too much about it seeming familiar. This is not something to be avoided as much as in adult fiction. Kids like frames of reference that make sense to them or patterns that are familiar. Your job as the writer is to fill in with details and your world and your authorial voice and all that to make a unique story.
I'd differentiate this "I said I wouldn't tell but I'm writing it" kind of opening (and the "I'm in a mental institution and nobody will believe me anyway") from waking up because this is much more about setting the stage, giving the reader clues about the narrative style, what to expect about the story (for instance, right off we're going to assume it's something speculative of fantastical because of the words the MC used to describe why she isn't going to tell.)
My main suggestion is to make sure you get right into the details after this brief opening, make sure either you dive right into the retelling of events (and set a good scene - a character, in a setting, with a problem...problem can arise by end of chapter 1/2 but should arise pretty early in this kind of narration, I think) or situate the reader with the MC wherever she's at. (nitpick: you might reconsider your spelling of Jayne. I assumed male as well, though this is 99% influenced by the Jayne character from Firefly, which is a guy and which is not likely a super-well-known figure for teen readers seeing as how the show went off the air years ago after only one season, but you never know. And I don't know if the writers on that show chose the spelling because it's a standard thing for a guy or something. I had never heard the name for a guy before nor seen that spelling. Just a thought.)
But honestly, keep it up - this is great and is a great hook for what should be a great story. Now you have to deliver on the promise you make with this great opening! Good luck!!
I don't think it's bad to start with an overused device IF you're already in the business, have an agent and publisher and can get away with it. Look at the beginning of basically any James Patterson novel - the devices he uses work to hook a reader. They work time and time again. He's always at the top of the NY Times bestsellers. Yet most of the time, his beginnings are cliches! (No offense to JP - I actually like his books a lot, and his writing style is fast, intriguing and catchy, which is why the device always works).
What my concern is (and I have a similar dilemna in starting with a cliche with a book I'll post for crit in a bit), is that if you're trying to get through the gatekeepers (meaning agents and publishers), those readers are so savvy that you have to hook them with originality to even get them to request a read. Maybe they will look past the fact that they've "heard it before" and something will spark their interest. But maybe you'll hit a reader that immediately has a pet peeve against that type of opening because they've seen it before. You never know. My own opinion is that I would like to start in such a way that they will get to what IS original about my book without them formulating an instant rejection based on their own bias of what's fresh and what's not.
As far as other archetypes, if it weren't for them, then I doubt some recent vampire authors would have even been published. They are published because they are writing what is "hot" - but the twist to that is that they hit on a concept that has an original twist. I could say there are a million and one "in love with a vampire" stories out there, so why did Twilight strike a cord with Rachel Vader (agent)? It was the twist - it was the dilemna forced by the MC and the Love Interest - a girl falls in love with a vegetarian vampire with a strong desire for her blood. That was the twist that made the cliche original. Harry Potter as well. How many wizard stories were out before HP became such a phenomenon? Many! What made JKR stand out was that HP attended a Wizard School, connecting the old apprentice wizard story to something kids could relate to - attending school, and thus the cliche was not only reborn, but brought into a better frame of relatability for the average reader.
Archetypes are important for stories. The challenge is to write them in an interesting way.
As for confidence, don't lose it. You're a great writer. Regardless of the device used to open your story, it still hooked me. I would have still kept reading. Your writing style is easy to read. Your voice was on par with what I would consider a typical teen voice. You nailed all that. You're doing all the right things. But since I am having a similar challenge in the beginning of my own novel, I thought I'd bring it up, as I've been wrestling with this question myself.
KayTi's comments are interesting too - that kids like a familiar framing. I hadn't thought of that. I also like that she says to get into the action faster. If that were the case, I think that would nix my reservations about the opening feeling cliche.
Posts: 33 | Registered: Oct 2010
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I believe that every story has a best place to start. I also think that beginning writers have a hard time finding the right place to start.
A lot of new writers fall into the easy (cliche) ways to start, like waking up or hello my name is bla bla bla let me tell you my story. It isn't that these are wrong places to start. It is only that they have been misused so much that it is a challenging to convince the reader that you are starting in the right place and that you know what you are doing.
I recognized the cliche in your beginning before others pointed it out. But you convinced me with the strong voice and the confidence in your writing that this was the right place to start, that you had a good reason to start here, and from the many "love it," comments, I think you convinced a lot of other people as well.
There is no way to know for sure that agents will agree with me, but I am reminded of a query on query shark. The Shark says over and over again, "Do not write your query in first person; it is too gimmicky." And then there was an awesome query written in first person that she absolutely loved because the voice was so engaging. Don't be afraid to break the rules even if you are an unpublished writer. If it works, agents and editors will get it.
Now if you find a better place to start the story, by all means use it. But if you feel in your heart that this is where your story begins despite being a cliche, trust your instincts.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited October 25, 2010).]
quote: But thank you for your comments, I'm gonna chew on them for a while and hopefully make the story better. ~Sheena
I think you can still use the basic idea but do it differently. Maybe have her fight with another patient or an orderly. I mean verbally not so much physically and make it short. Maybe someone reads over her shoulder and makes fun of her but she goes to a corner or back to her room and continues writing.
Or she bangs her fist against the wall and says I wish I wasn't in here it's all your fault---. If you hadn't done such and such I wouldn't be here. But that is a bit cliche-ish too.