Wednesday, January 14, 2009

4 SECRET AGENT

TITLE: Ballet Dreams
GENRE: Middle grade



Melissa's spine tingled when she crossed the threshold into the unfamiliar dance studio. Would this one be the one? The one she'd love?

Her last ballet class in November seemed ages ago. After it had ended, she'd cried her goodbyes to her Nebraskan dance buddies, arms around each other. Now in this California town of Sierra Nigel, she'd bugged her parents to let her try three studios where she could follow her passion: ballet.

Melissa struggled to just walk instead of bounce toward the classroom. She set her bag next to others in the hallway but paused outside the dance room and pulled on her hands. The other students would be friends. Would they like her? Dressed in tights and a black leotard, she shivered in the cool air.

Melissa waited until the last students entered before she slipped in and took a spot at the end of the barre. Warm, sweat-ladened air enveloped her body. Her shoulders relaxed. A faint whiff of flowery perfume from an earlier class tickled her nose while she stretched her tight legs.

Ten girls leaned along the worn double wooden poles drilled into the wall. They peeked at her before they murmured in each other's ears. Melissa longed to exchange quips with them. She gave them a small smile. Maybe they'd become friends.

At the other end of the barre, a tall girl's regal attitude demanded attention. She stood like a queen among a half-dozen "ladies-in-waiting." Chin lifted, she swept her heavy-lidded gaze around

32 comments:

Sarah Erber said...

I'm not really hooked, but I don't read MG very much.

I think you have a good story going, but I wish there was more dialog in the first page.

GillianG said...

I think you have good descriptions here and have set the stage well, but I wonder if you could start with the actual class and weave the backstory in later, that might make it really hook people right away. As is, I'd read more just to see what happens, so good job.

Sheila said...

Very nice descriptions - the feel and smell of the room, her own nervousness. But I didn't find the stakes hugely compelling. She's wants to pursue her passion - if it's her passion, wouldn't she be more focused on finding an excellent teacher than making new friends? Also, what happened at the first two? A hint about why they failed to grab her would be good.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I can feel Melissa's nervousness and I like the descriptions. I wouldn't read further because this isn't the type of book that interests me. But I could see it intriguing young girls...especially those who dream of being ballerinas.

Crimogenic said...

Me too, I can feel Melissa's nervousness, but I wasn't quite hooked. If the problem's going to be with the one girl, I would rather there be better clue of it.

Authoress said...

I feel the protag's pain as the "new girl" in class, but there isn't enough conflict to hook me.

I think her discomfort might be better illustrated with less "telling" and more actual interaction. Less details would make the scene feel less cluttered, too. I don't think we need to be told that she's wearing tights and a leotard, for example, since that's standard for any ballet class.

Good start; I would pare and whittle.

Aspiring Writer said...

Your writing gets stronger as it goes along. The opening is awkward. Two words in you've got the cliche of the tingling spine.
I would wait to work in details about Nebraska and California. Dive right into what the reader can relate to. She's new. She's scared. She wants to fit in. Get the conflict in faster. What's going to get in her way?

Angela said...

The one thing that threw me here is that you open with it feeling like the MC will decide if this will be the 'it' studio or not, but by the end we get the feeling she's trying ultra-hard to be a fit for the studio/ballet group. Make sense?

You had some great sensory description. Best of luck!

John Zeleznik said...

I don't "feel" MG on this one. It feels more YA maybe? The vocabulary is a little advance. I could be wrong on that!

The name Sierra Nigel bothers me. It made me stop reading. Spanish and English so jarringly put together.

Ballet doesn't do much for me...that aside I thought the details and images were very well done. I "felt" the studios as you described it.

The "regal" girl...be careful for cliche! Do something to make her different.

Charlie V said...

Nice. Clear, concrete descriptions. I’m there. I can feel the anxiety of being new to class and wanting to be liked. Would she wonder though if her schooling from Nebraska would measure up to California? I hail from NE and know we have great talent here, but I also know that NE tends to be thought of as ‘behind the times’ on the coast. I also would like to feel that dance means more to her... give her more reason to 'have' to be there and fit in... or will she fit in?

Bethlene said...

Your descriptions are great, really put me in the room.
You started out with spine tingle, left me hoping this studio would be magical for her, or the one. But I don't find out if it is. I might read more to see her opinion by the end of the class. But there isn't enough to have me truly hooked yet.

Jarucia said...

While I'm sure a good MG book about dancing would likely have a nice group of interested readers, I had a couple problems with this piece.

Third paragraph presented issues. Something's mistyped and one of the movements described didn't make sense.

Overall, the language used in this piece comes off as too advanced for younger readers. Not the words themselves, but the turns of phrase. If we're looking through Melissa's POV, would she actually think "...longed to exchange quips with them"? Would she describe her own feelings that way? It doesn't ring true for a MG narrative voice.

Melinda said...

I'd like to read a ballet story, but this one didn't hook me. Saving the backstory for later and getting to the action faster would help. Also, I agree that some of the language doesn't sound like middle grade.

Ann E. Bryson said...

I did like the description of the Queen and her entourage--effective.

Laden not Ladened?

I'm not sure I'm hooked.

AC said...

I liked this and found myself caring about Melissa.

You probably don't need the "Sierra Nigel". I was also wondering why she's going to three different studios. Has she already been to the other two, or is she trying this simultaneously. I realize this might be explained soon.

I liked the description after she slips into the room. Really puts the reader there. I'd probably also look for a different way to describe the regal girl since "queen" and other similar references like "queen bee" have been used an awful lot.

This is good!

Ali Katz said...

What's her greatest concern? Finding the right school or fitting in, or both? I think the story might be better served by focusing on her rather than her surroundings.

I love ballet stories (wrote one myself). You could make this much more compelling.

mermensing said...

I'm afraid I'm not hooked.

The idea of a home-spun Nebraska girl transplanted to sophisticated California is a good one, but so far I don't feel the tension.

I think Melissa would be quite insecure about measuring up to these California girls. When they murmur in each other's ears, I think Melissa would be wondering if they're talking about her. Looking at the run in her tights, sizing up her unstylish hair, etc.

I do like the fact that we have spotted her nemesis--the tall girl--this early.

Megs said...

Yes. I'm a sucker for dance classes (make it ice skating and I'll love it more) - but you also managed to put people in that dance studio with Melissa.

This is better than the earlier version, which I think alternated between two views.

The only thing I snagged on was you mentioned Melissa's name a little too much. Because the focus is all on her, you can get away with a less noticable 'she'. Or word it otherwise.

Trish said...

It's well written, but I think it needs a better hook.

beth said...

This did not grab me solely because it felt like an info dump--too much backstory before I was given a chance to care about/like the narrator. You're showing me her problem and situation, but I have no incentive to care. Is there a way to either jump more directly into the action or to create sympathy more?

blodwyn said...

I'm with the others who said that this feels like a bit too much of an info dump. Perhaps her thoughts could be intersperced with her actions as she surveys the room. But I'd need it to be more active to be hooked. I have read other excerpts from this story and found them quite good so I think a more solid, interesting beginning would serve it well.

Anette J Kres said...

Doesn’t hook me…
Because I have no hint as to what the conflict will be or why this girl is unique.

fairchild said...

Not enough conflict/action here to hook me. Her nervousness jumps off the page and the descriptions are well done, but it seems to be taking a while for the story to start.

Sarah Jensen said...

I think my 11 yo would love this. My seven yo too. They love dance.
I enjoyed it and would read on.

Lori said...

Not hooked yet. The "MC moving to a new town" is a really overdone plot device and cliche in the YA/MG genres. Also, not much is happening in this section save the girl musing about her future and lining up at the barre. I'd like to see this get into the action/conflict/plot faster.

ink wench said...

This is well written, but there's not enough here to hook me. The tension of being the new kid is so overdone in MG/YA that I can't get into it. I bet there's more conflict coming that would make a stronger/less overdone opening. Good luck!

Julie Butcher-Fedynich said...

Cut some of the description and get to the grit. Your writing is excellent.

Secret Agent said...

Dance always interests me, but there are some wobbles in the writing here that prevent me from fully engaging. Plus, opening with a cliche - 'spine tingled' doesn't help you. We have a very obvious set up of the class bitch at the end - and I think we see that coming a little too easily. More subtlety please!
Wish I could say I love it, but I'm afraid I'm not quite grabbed.

Anonymous said...

It was a nice description of an everyday occurence, that in no way made me see any conflict that was enough to write a whole book about. Again the move is not the issue. Please people get over saying everyone starts with moves or dreams. The issue is no conflict. Which for all we know could majorly develop in the next few pages. And SA my spine tingles when I'm nervous. Whoever said it was beyond MG was wrong (maybe for someone with ADD, but then if they are like my nephew, no book would make them happy.)

Merc said...

Not hooked, sorry. I think it could use a bit of tightening, and save some of the backstory and exposition for later. I liked the first para, but it dragged a bit after that. I'd cut the second para entirely and focus on the present situation and how she reacts; you can share her history later. :)

Good luck,

~Merc

Suzette Saxton said...

If you trim this up a bit, it'll be great. I like that it is taking place at a ballet class instead of in school.

mjb said...

Some good writing in bringing in various senses, but there isn't enough tension yet. I like someone's suggestion of starting out in the class and save the backstory to weave in later.