It’s not often I get a volunteer’s excerpt that has so little room for improvement, but I have to admit, today’s selection is just shy of perfection! Can you still learn things from it? You betcha! I love getting to point out the good stuff and you can bet I’ll be taking some of the principles we glean from Lindsey Louck’s first 500 words to use for my own writing.
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Mia: I love one word titles. This one is evocative, telegraphs a life moving forward and yet raises questions. Just what a title is supposed to do. Good job.
Lindsey: I’m happy you like it! The original title was A Boy and Her Scratch, but it received some mixed reviews from family and friends. Sail better captures the theme of this story, I think.
In the three years since I’d become addicted to iron, only six items have rushed down my throat by mistake. Most of those accidents were during the early days of college when I hadn’t yet accustomed myself to the nudist colony called my dorm and early morning fire drills. I swallowed the sixth piece, an iron washer to be exact, on the day I became a fugitive.
Mia: Color me intrigued. It’s always interesting when the protagonist has something unique about them which puts them on the edge of human experience. A compulsion to eat things that aren’t actually food, a disorder called pica I believe, certainly qualifies. What this opener signals to me is a heroine who has an imbalance in her life—something that will be explored further in the special world of your story. The fugitive bit is a great example of an embedded hook—a tantalizing tidbit of information that draws your readers forward.
Lindsey: Like probably most writers, I struggle with the opening paragraph and giving it that special oomph to keep readers reading. I’ve rewritten this one countless times, but I feel it sets up the main character and at least some of her struggles nicely.
A soft shudder rolled under my feet, a welcome sensation even though it chased tingles up and down my legs. Bright lights tracked across the floor-to-ceiling windows, shimmering through the snowflakes that clung to the glass. Deep blue ink had poured over the sky hours before, a reminder that I’d been sitting here all day. I stretched my legs out in front of the red circular benches that dotted the Waiting Room as feeling pricked its way back into my limbs.
Mia: Whoa! We aren’t in Kansas anymore. I love the details you’ve chosen to share with us about your special world. A tiny movement beneath her feet that the heroine welcomes and the feeling pricking back into her legs engage our tactile senses, something that is often neglected. As writers we tend to focus more on the visual and let our readers’ other senses go begging. The only thing wrong with your ‘Deep blue ink’ pouring over the sky is that I didn’t think of it first!
Lindsey: LOL! This actually used to be my first paragraph, but it felt like something was missing before it.
Mia: The something missing was a way for us to bond with your heroine, which you fixed brilliantly.
“Now docking the Nebulous passenger cruiser and the—” a soothing robotic voice said over the loudspeaker, but a nearby wailing child drowned her out.
The Sky Dock, nicknamed the Waiting Room by me for obvious reasons, was the tallest building in the city and shaped like one of those ancient staples on elongated legs. Passing ships that were on the smaller side could dock under our feet for a short length of time to trade passengers or drop off and pick up cargo.
Mia: Again, the judicious selection of a few unique details paints a vivid picture of your heroine’s world. And because we’re in first person POV, I don’t even miss dialogue—something I usually crave in the first 500 words of a story. Since we’re in the heroine’s head, we’re having a very intimate conversation with her as we view her world through her eyes.
I normally write in 3rd person because I like to explore multiple POVs throughout the story, but 1st does have the advantage of creating an immediate and intimate bond between the reader and the protagonist. I notice you chose to use past tense, Lindsey. Have you experimented with present tense? So many YA novels and a good many literary ones use it.
Lindsey: I’ve written a couple stories in present tense, but I don’t feel I’m very good at it. My sentences tend to become too short and choppy for some reason in present tense. I’m sure it just takes some practice.
As for first person, that’s the only POV I can comfortably write in. Eventually I’ll crawl out of my comfort zone and attempt third person, but first person allows my character to tell me their story. My job is to just transcribe everything they say!
Excited chatter erupted, which thankfully smothered the Christmas carols I’d heard on repeat for the last however long I’d been here. People stood and gathered their belongings. I had only me. I craned my neck over the crowd of travelers, but the icy blonde guard at the other end of the long room hadn’t made a move to open the doors. But once she did, I’d see Pop and my sister Ellison again after ninety-three days.
Mia: Good way to place us in the calendar year. The sense of being alone in a crowd is deftly done. I like that the guard is female. You always seem to slip in an unexpected twist.
Lindsey: Thanks! :)
Much as I wanted to stand and position myself to throw my arms around them, I couldn’t. The baby sitting on her mom’s lap next to me had her chubby fingers wound through the chains twisted through my hair. She blinked up at me with a pair of dazzling blue eyes while she stuck a fistful of iron into her mouth with a big grin. I smiled, at both our similar tastes and the thought of seeing my family again.
Mia: If the baby is on its mom’s lap and it has your heroine’s hair & its embellishments in its little fist, the protag’s hair must be super-duper long. Like hanging below her bum cheeks long. Is that accurate? It’s the first detail that yanked me out of the story. Also, is there a way to reword the second sentence so you don’t have an echo of the word “through?”
Lindsey: Yep, her hair is long, so maybe putting the word ‘long’ before ‘hair’ would help make that clearer. I’ll do that!
Her mom started to rise, and when she noticed who her baby was attached to, she jerked back. Her gaze snagged on every piece of metal I wore: the long, delicate chains spun through my hair that hung past my ass, the tight leather corset with metal spikes running down the sides (not to mention the ladies spilling out the top), the belt with six inch thorns, my steel-toed boots. Yes, I wore pants, but they didn’t count because they were one of the few things I owned not made of iron. I didn’t mean for my clothes to growl ‘I will eat your children,’ but judging from the look on the woman’s face, I might as well have gnawed off an ear already.
Mia: Well, that answers my previous question. However, as a mom, I have doubts about this one not noticing who was next to her. When my kids were little, I was the hyper-vigilant type and your heroine might have made me change my seat on the bus. That said, what a brilliant way to sneak in a vivid description of your protagonist—and one that made me laugh at the end, which mitigates her fierce appearance beautifully. I wonder if you could make the mom distracted by a cellphone (or whatever personal communication devise is common in your story’s world) so it makes sense for her not to have noticed the heroine right away.
Lindsey: That’s an excellent point! Maybe the mom could be distracted with her Mind-I, which is like a smart phone implanted in the brain. Or maybe she could have another child with her who is throwing a temper tantrum. Hmmm…
Mia: What a total pleasure this opener is to read. This is how it’s done, boys and girls. Lindsey has dropped us into the heroine’s world and made us scramble to keep up, giving us just enough information to keep moving forward. She’s set some great embedded hooks. Her heroine has a unique situation what with the pica, the wardrobe that screams “go away” and her hinted at fugitive status. Lindsey’s carefully chosen details bring her world to vibrant life in a minimum of words.
I cannot wait to read more. Please tell me this story is coming out soon!
Lindsey: Thank you so much, Mia! I really appreciate it! I hope to have this story spit-shined and ready for release by October. It has some spooky elements to it that would be perfect for that time of year!
Lindsey R. Loucks works as a school librarian in rural Kansas. When she’s not discussing books with anyone who will listen, she’s dreaming up her own stories. Eventually her brain gives out, and she’ll play hide and seek with her cat, put herself in a chocolate induced coma, or watch scary movies alone in the dark to reenergize.
She’s been with her significant other for almost two decades.
Ok, gang! A critique group is only as strong as the minds gathered around the kitchen table. Now it’s your turn to share some suggestions & encouragement for Lindsey. Please weigh in on Sail!