Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Page Contest

This is my submission to Victoria Marini’s First Page Contest hosted by Shelly Waters!
Email: andrew.rosenberg at writerunner dot com
Title: Teen Alien
Genre: YA SF
Word Count: 55,000

Will return all critiques! (Make sure you leave a link in your comment)

Revised Submission (Thanks for the input!)

They say before you draw your last breath, your life hits replay.

They never said it could happen after.

Grett Hawk’s eyes stared up at the pale blue sky. Her heart and lungs lay still. A sharp rock spur impaled her belly, her jaw hung to one side, and her knees and elbows bent at impossible angles.

Two mule boys argued above her body, screaming in girlish voices. One grabbed her broken hand and yanked. Her shoulder separated in a sick, painless snap. The other seized her shattered wrist, grinding the cracked bones. They hauled her out of the ravine, over the jagged, blood-smeared rocks that had blendered her body.

Grett could neither move, blink, nor speak, only stare at the solar trees that crowned the ridge top. On Gwanda, trees were dead things, floral simulations. Grett was as dead as those machines, but by some miracle, thoughts still coursed through her head.

Is this what death is like? Grett wondered. She felt night-sky calm, disinterested in the assault that had just claimed her life.

Uninvited holovid-like images impinged her mind, of whips lashing the mules boys while a white-haired girl laughed at their torment. What do they know of suffering? she had thought. Grett’s mother and sister were dead, killed in action by the enemy. Someone had to pay. Someone had to suffer as much as Grett. Why not the dirty mules? They had overturned her mother's shrine with their frivolous play.

If her guts could clench they would.

Original Submission:
They say before you draw your last breath, your life hits replay.

They never said it could happen after.

Grett Hawk’s eyes stared up at the pale blue sky. Her heart and lungs lay still. Ribs jabbed through her side, dislocated jawbones and broken teeth dripped blood down her throat, and guts oozed out of the gash in her belly.

Two mule boys argued above her body, screaming in their girlish voices. One grabbed her broken hand and yanked, separating her shoulder in a sick snap. The other seized her shattered wrist, grinding the cracked bones. They hauled her out of the ravine, over the jagged, blood-smeared rocks that had blendered her body.

Grett could neither move, blink, nor speak, only stare at the solar trees that crowned the ridge top. Like all plants on Gwanda, trees were dead things, machines designed to simulate real trees. Unlike her, they did not have thoughts still running through their heads.

Is this what death is like? Grett wondered. She felt night-sky calm, disinterested in the assault that had just claimed her life.

A vision intruded into her mind’s eye, an image of whips lashing the mule boys until their backs bled. She had laughed at their cries. What did they know of suffering? Her mother and sister were dead, killed in action by the enemy. Someone had to pay. Someone had to hurt as much as Grett. Why not the dirty mules?

Unease electrified as her life replayed across her mind’s canvas.

35 comments:

  1. Very brutal. Lots of violent imagery. I like a little gore in my books, but I question how much violence is appropriate this early in a YA novel. Love the opening line. It's all very well-written, but I might tone it down a little. Would the perspective character know all these details about her own injuries anyway if she's all hazy with pain?

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  2. Wonderful. Hunger Games-eque. Creepy :) I like it.

    Wouldn't she be in extreme pain? Or is she too delirious?

    Gwanda is a fictional universe, I assume. 

    Would she really be uneasy if she was in such a violent, painful situation?

    I don't think it's too violent. It's definitely violent, but so are all the good dystopian YA novels.

    I like it! I'd definitely read more; good job :)

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  3. Wow. That was deliciously creepy. The last line read a little awkwardly for me. Unease electrified what exactly? But the rest is strong, vivid, and compelling. I get the sense that she is completely detached from what is happening to her physical body and that fascinates me! Well written. That is a first page to be proud of!

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  4. Ouch! O.O

    I love the vivid imagery, the graphic details are handles very well...I like it and that's not my usual thing. =)
    I absolutely love the first 2 lines...they grabbed me in!
    I agree that the last line doesn't flow as well as the rest...and instead of "a vision intruded into her mind's eye" I would just leave out the into: "a vision intruded her mind's eye".  More brief and dramatic, IMO. ;o)
    Also, I love "night-sky calm" ...it's perfect!

    Great job, and thanks for the help with my 250. =)

    xox, Shannon

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  5. This actually is toned down from earlier versions, but I understand your point. I'm not sure I should start it this way either. It may work better as a flashback scene later on.
    She's actually numb and feels things more matter-of-fact without emotion. I cut out a couple lines from the 250 that describe her condition in more detail so I could get a couple other things in. 
    Thanks for the critique!

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  6. Interesting thoughts. I'm trying to make this like an out-of-body experience but she's still aware of what's happening to her corpse.
    I'm working on that last line. 
    Thanks for the feedback!

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  7. Thanks,Kimberly!
    I think you nailed what's going on.I'm going to redo that last line.

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  8. Movie-like images lit her mind. Whips lashed the mules boys while a white-haired girl laughed at their torment. What did they know of suffering? Her mother and sister were dead, killed in action by the enemy. Someone had to pay. Someone had to hurt as much as Grett. Why not the dirty mules who had upturned her mother's shrine?

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  9. I have to admit -- I wonder where you're going with this opening!

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  10. Grett is going to get a second chance at life, but she'll have to learn a few things first...
    Thanks for the comment!

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  11. I liked the darkness to it. So my thing. Like others I like the opening two lines.

    Here's a thought - this might read better in present tense. As I was reading it, I found myself changing it to present tense and I don't ever do that. For example, try saying "Two mule boys argue above her body, screaming in their girlish voices. One grabs her broken hand and yanks, separating her shoulder in a sick snap. The other seizes her shattered wrist, grinding the cracked bones. They haul her out of the ravine, over the jagged, blood-smeared rocks that have blendered her body."

    Because you start out with so much action, the present tense makes it stronger to me. Just a suggestion. :)

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  12. LOL!
    I've been going around suggesting that they use past instead of present.
    I like your changes. Hmm........will consider!

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  13. The writing and imagery are both great in this.  I'm definitely intrigued.  Sitting back from an objective perspective, the first two lines feel a bit more like a pitch to me, something I'd probably read on the jacket cover.  I think you've done an excellent job describing the body/the feel.  I wonder, a little if we need to know something, even something very small about the character before we get this graphic.  Or maybe it's better we don't.  I'm not sure.  Just thinking out loud. 

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  14. Wow! This is an eye opening and attention grabbing start!  The descriptions are gory (love it), but is it suitable for YA? I do MG so I'm not sure where they draw the line in YA. I guess if they do sex and drugs, gore is probably ok.  I'm interested to read more to find out how Grett ended up falling into the ravine.

    I am a bit confused as to whether she's dead (which the last breath and heart and lungs lay still suggest), but Grett can still stare. Andrew you mention below that she is numb and unemotional about things.  If she were dead she wouldn't feel a thing, including numbness (though this isn't part of the 250 words so i will ignore it).

    I agree - lose the last line. It doesn't make sense. Nice effort.

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  15. A pitch you say? Hmm...and this is an agent contest...;)
    Yeah, it is kind of omniscient 2nd-person authorial voice, but her life does sort of replay over the next couple pages so it's not out in space.
    It's always hard to figure out exactly how to start a story.
    Thanks for the input!

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  16. Like Westley in The Princess Bride, Grett is only mostly dead.
    It gets a little clearer (and a lot stranger) as the chapter unfolds.
    I'll think about making the descriptions less graphic and more just alluding to injuries. (Arm bent wrong way vs bones sticking out).
    Thanks for the comment!

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  17. Immediate and gripping!  My only gripes--it did read a touch graphic, but that's just me.  I think you could find more subtle--but equally arresting--ways to describe the guts and blood.  Again, though, I'm a wuss about graphic stuff.  Also--I felt like we took a bit of a "break" to say "like all the plants on Gwanda..."  You could probably serve that line better by just saying "the sumulated trees were dead things, like her..." Because in Grett's vision, she wouldn't note the origins or mechanics of the trees, so perhaps now isn't the time for us to do so, either--there are more pressing matters at hand.

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  18. Seems a consensus is forming that it's too graphic. 
    AFA the trees, I wanted some hint in there that this isn't Earth and we're in a SF setting where SF stuff happens. I can look at condensing it a bit.
    Thanks for the input! 

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  19. As others have mentioned, there's a to love about this opening. You definitely know how to turn a phrase and you've got world-building and stakes right off the bat! What concerns me (and may concern an agent) is that this sounds like a prologue to me. One where it starts at the MC's lowest point in the book, then reboots at the actual beginning. Sometimes they work, but usually they come off as gimmicky and hide a slower starting pace. Obviously, there's no way to know this for certain with just one page, but it's that last line you've got there that makes me wonder if this is really where the story starts. 

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  20. Prologue? Noooo!
    Okay, it's a prologue. It's when Grett first discovers that she's "different". I'm considering using it as a flashback later in the story. It is a low point, but she comes around later to another low point that echoes this one. 
    I'm also thinking about using the prologue as a short story to be a teaser for the main novel, since the prologue has it's own arc.
    BTW did you catch my updated version? 

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  21. Okaaaay I am LOVING this! Unlike most of the commenters, I don't think it's too graphic, although I will say that I've learned with my own YA writing that what is, or isn't 'too' graphic is up for debate. Personally, I wouldn't change a single thing in your opening, graphic-wise. 

    My one small quibble is with the line about Grett's mother and sister being dead. The addition of how they were killed (in action by the enemy) throws a sort of random scrap of info into what is already a scene crowded (albeit masterfully) with information and world building. I found myself hesitating and thinking 'Wait, now there's a war? Between who? Are they close the front lines? How did civilians get caught?' etc. which pulled me out of the last few lines and made them less powerful. 

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  22. Thanks! *blush*
    I think you're reading the toned-down version.
    I can see your confusion about that line. Trying to make it a flashback to the events that led to Grett being pushed into the ravine, but her current situation isn't war related (except that her family died in the war).
    I'll think about how to clarify or if it's needed.

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  23. You put me right into Grett's world, right into her head immediately. I'm interested. I don't think it's too graphic, I have a feeling the imagery fits into Grett's world. I definitely like the new version better. Great entry!

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  24. Looks like the new version has a better balance of gore vs impact.
    Thanks for stopping by!

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  25. Okay, submitted. Thanks everyone for their input!

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  26. Yikes, this is gritty. Nice!

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  27. Thanks, Laura!
    Glad you liked it.

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  28. Brutal, but well-done. This definitely reads like a prologue to me, like we're going to go back and live through what brought Grett to this place. Is that the case? Because to see the aftermath of such an assault, I'd almost like the opportunity to live through the assault.

    And do you ever worry that this is too brutal to be sold as YA? Probably not.

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  29. This was visceral and gritty. Your word choices and inner thoughts really pulled me in. I got a great impression of the world she inhabits without being overwhelmed. Her back history stitched in seamlessly with her current turmoil. I loved it.
    Edge
    of Your Seat Romance

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  30. Hi Tom. How'd I miss this response?
    I'm actually thinking of toning it down a bit. 
    The assault isn't much--she gets hit in the back of the head and falls down a steep ravine. What she's about to see is what brought her to this place.

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  31. Thanks!
    Now to revise the thing...

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  32. Andrew,

    Long time, no read.  I'm glad I popped by for this gut-wrenching snippet.  You have such a visual way with words.

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  33. Thanks, Cat!
    It's my first foray into YA.

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  34. Brutal; descriptive of both the world and the characters.  It does read like a prologue - or maybe more like foreshadowing.  I expect the next page to begin with her and her family, and the build up to this scene; with this being the mid point of the story plot.  It could work. 

    This draws me in.  The only seqment that pulled me out was "Is this what death is like? Grett wondered. "  The question just seems out of place, and the reader already knows she's dead.    Otherwise, this was a good read.

    ...........dhole

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  35. I could have sworn I was already following your blog, Andrew. Is this a new one?

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Thank you for your contribution to this discussion.