Tuesday, July 3, 2012

#1 Baby Slushpile: COVETED

Chapter One: Wingman
Present Day
Caleb learned long ago being friends with Martin MacMurtry required two things, inhuman patience, and a tolerance for impromptu fashion shows. The first remained a struggle, but the second he'd mastered by the fifth grade. Reloading a failed level of Angry Birds, he snickered as Martin left to change clothes for the fifth time.
“Worse than my sister. I mean, come on, we passed ridiculous twenty minutes ago.”
“Hey!” Martin’s voice carried into the living room, along with the rustle of cloth and the clatter of hangers. “There is absotively nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s appearance.”
He hiked an eyebrow, glancing up from waging war against the international pig threat. Did he just say, “Absotively?”
Caleb shook his head, returning his focus to his phone as he stretched out over an expensive-a** leather couch. Martin called it Ashley, which worried Caleb before he found out it was a brand, and not his friend naming the furniture. “What I said still stands. What, were you a runway model in another life?”
“First I’m not just changing clothes. These are strategic choices.” Martin’s words preceded his reentry, his fingers fumbling with the belt around a pair of three-hundred-dollar tattered jeans. “Second, your sister wishes she dressed this good.” He held his arms out and struck a pose, the kind in magazines where it’s clear the guy takes himself, and whatever he’s modeling, way too seriously.
“Uh huh.” Caleb took in Martin’s shirt, a pale pink button-down with a silver fleur-de-lis insignia on the lower left-hand side. “If by dress you mean kick a unicorn until it vomits sparkles all over you.”
“What?” Martin glanced down, running his hands over his chest. The metallic finish of the fleur glinted in the sunlight. Realization crossed Martin’s face. “Pink is a manly color.”
“So’s robin’s egg blue, I hear.” They’d spent the past hour on Martin’s ‘strategic choices’.  Caleb still had on the jeans and a black Spiderman t-shirt he’d worn to school. It was just a movie. “You ready yet?”
Martin gestured at himself while checking his reflection in the floor-to-ceiling window nearby. “You can’t rush perfection,” he drawled.
“I’m not—I’m rushing you.”
“Oh, you got jokes.”
“It’s already eight, so light a fire under it.” Caleb ended his game and shoved his phone into his pocket. The stupid black bird wasn’t exploding when he needed it to anyway. “I don’t plan on being out all night.”
“One second, funny man.” Martin pulled a familiar patch of black felt from the closet near the front door. He may as well have drawn a gun for the way panic kicked around Caleb’s insides.
“Not the beret!” He sunk farther into the couch.
“Oh yeah.” Martin adjusted the hat on top of his I-wish-I-were-Brad-Pitt haircut.
“Don’t, man. I’m begging you,” Caleb muttered from under the pillow he’d pulled over his face. If he couldn’t see the beret, this wasn’t happening and the hat wasn’t real, waiting for him, mocking him. 


  1. Great voice and great humor in these opening pargraphs! I'm not sure actually where the story is going right now, but the voice and humor are so strong that I am willing to go along for the ride for a while to see where this story will take me.

  2. I enjoyed this, but couldn’t tell where it was going so went back to reread your query. (Not saying you need to try to fit that into the first 500 words… just couldn’t remember.) I’d keep reading. I like the voice and the friendship between Caleb and Martin is great. You have the perfect tone of “he’s my good friend and I can make fun of him and he knows I like him even though I’m giving him a hard time.” Nice job.

  3. The dialog/banter flows very well and the personality of each character comes across, as does their friendship. I probably wouldn't keep reading but that's more about content than quality. This is well written.

  4. The dialogue is strong and the lightness of tone engaging - to a point. What I wonder is if there needs to be some conflict set up within the first couple pages to make it as strong as it could be. When I compare the query to the opening I get a different flavor from the query - high stakes etc that is not reflected in the first 500. I wonder if you could lose a little of the fashion show and intro some of the drama. Oh yeah, I am not sure if you are setting up a friendship between a str8 boy and a gay boy but if you are that is interesting. Also, for two young guys, methinks Brad Pitt would be a tad long in the tooth for them to aspire to his haircut. Maybe a younger hot stuff.

  5. I love this. It's witty and charming, and I get the feel of these boys' relationship right away.

    That being said I think most of it needs to be cut. I know how anguishing it is to cut cleverly crafted scenes of witty banter from the wonderful best friends you've created for your MC--trust me. My instigating event was like on page 20 before some heavy cuts. But the premise and stakes from your query are awesome. And we need at least a hint of that right off the bat.

    Something about the missing parents. Maybe a shorter fashion show (or just its results) so we can skip straight to the psycho cultists and the hottie.

  6. I just spent five hundred words reading about what some dude is wearing. That is, um--no. Just no.

    There is no need to have an action-packed scene but you do need to have an ACTIVE opening. As is, this is meaningless banter unless by some stretch of the imagination that pink shirt comes alive and eats him.

    I also had issue with the dialogue because it seemed so forced. It's almost as if you desperately want us to see that they are friends and you packed a whole week's worth of "bromancing" into five hundred words, instead of letting it progesss throughout the novel.

    You need a colon instead of a comma in the first sentence (remove the comma after patience as well), and I would suggest not mentioning Angry Birds because it dates your novel and you want your work to be timeless.

    Your query was my favorite and I was so excited to read your work, but you need to restructure this so we at least get a hint of what's to come if, in fact, you do decide to keep the dialogue.

    Good luck.

  7. I like the voice, but this doesn't sound like the beginning of the book. We've spent a lot of page time getting to know Martin (not sure what you're saying about his character by making him a clothes horse. I hope this isn't your way of letting the reader know he's gay) and nothing about your MC. Seems your first chapter is further in.

  8. I like the voice of the MC, but this scene falls flat for me. It's cute banter between two characters, but it doesn't draw me in. I haven't read the queries, but there is no real action set up here, nothing to get me excited about where they're going next.

    Also, I've never known a boy to be that obsessed with fashion, even if he is self-absorbed. And why does the MC know what a fleur-de-lis is? I don't think I know any guys under thirty who know what that is. And would he really say "light a fire under it"? Some of the dialogue doesn't ring true to me for the age group.

    Also, if this is a gay character you're setting up, he feels like a caricature with the fashion show and the absotively/posolutely, which can come off as offensive. He reads like a stereotype rather than a fully fleshed out character.

  9. Since queries and first pages are often submitted together, as we all know, I hope the following will help. To put you in my frame of mind, I read these pages without having read your query.

    My initial impression: I thought immediately you must be a female writer, because this scene would be perfect...if it were two girls. My thought was Caleb feels straight, while his best friend feels gay--cool, I like it--but there's no way a teenaged boy is going to sit around and play dress up with his male friend (or a female one, for that matter). The other problem for me (not necessarily others) is that the only conflict is the appearance of a beret. This opener thus focuses on the mundane, and there isn't any really conflict or tension. I don't need a sword fight on page one, but some opposition and tension is required. From THE HUNGER GAMES: Prim usually sleeps in Katniss's bed, but today she wakes up in her mother's bed...because it's the reaping and she has nightmares. - Perfect example. A switch of beds ratchets up conflict and interest. I'm not seeing that effect here.

    Then, I read the query...

    My response: what?

    I don't know that starting with clothes is the best way to segue into the story you have planned. It sets this up for Caleb's confrontation with the Sins, et al, to be coincidental (from the query, it really sounded like it is), which has me at an immediate "No" for reading on. Coincidence is rarely a big drive in bestselling fiction. You may serve your story better by starting with an action that somehow puts into motion all of the paranormal things to come - minus the coincidence of his friend taking him out. Or with Caleb searching the net for his parents, as your query starts off. Otherwise, I'm at a loss to see how your query and these pages go together.

    Side note: beware ambiguous pronouns. When there are two he's in your scene, you risk loosing the reader if you start a paragraph with "he" -- like your fourth paragraph.

  10. The very first sentence is punctuated incorrectly. I'd stop right there.

  11. I like the banter but it just goes on too long. I like the dynamic but a flavour of their relationship would be better. It goes on until I'm bored, waiting for something to happen.

  12. You have a nice, snappy dialog going along, but to what purpose? What is the hook that will keep the reader wanting to know what happens next? Where's the conflict or trigger moment creating tension?

    Also, based on the telling in between dialog, your MC knows as much about clothes as his clothes-obsessed friend. Is this the intention?

    As long as the intention is to establish both the MC and the friend as metro, into clothes and knowledgeable about fasion and the cost of fashion then this scene establishes that in their personalities. However, if you wanted a contrast between the MC as indicated by what the MC's wearing, then the MC's voice needs to be tweaked so he thinks more like someone who doesn't know what those jeans cost even if his friend once told him, because the MC doesn't care and wouldn't remember.

  13. I like banter as much as anyone, but unless it is really, really snappy -- by which I mean brilliant and instantly quotable -- it's not going to hold my attention.

    To be honest, you lost me at the end of the second paragraph and I started skimming just to see if the story was going anywhere. (Note that if I were browsing in a bookstore, I wouldn't even have bothered. Like Anonymous @ 6:53, the mispunctuated first sentence had already thrown me -- that whole first paragraph is clunky, in fact, and does not connect well with the first line of dialogue. Given that context, "absotively" immediately pinged as yet another typo even though it isn't.)

    K. E. Cooper's advice is spot on.

  14. I enjoyed this intro. Maybe it helps that I've spent much of my professional life in the fashion industry, so men like Martin are a dime-a-dozen. And no, they're not all gay. Really.

    We've also spent the last couple months watching all of "Boy Meets World", so I'm up to date on long term male relationships between total opposites.:) Even though Friend A may have no interest in clothing, he picks it up over the years from Friend B. Just like Friend B picks up baseball stats from A.

    I like the couch named Ashley!

    But yeah, you're gonna need to cut to the chase sooner. While I could see this scene playing well on stage (a snazzier Felix and Oscar), we're going to need more meat for the book version.

    But I would keep reading.

  15. I just wanted to jump in and say that reading this entry and its comments feels very familiar. My first scene used to be a lot like this, with tons of snarky banter between best friends while they prepare to go do something. But I knew that, on a basic level, it didn't work terribly well as an opening, and my betas confirmed exactly the kind of stuff you've been seeing in the comment section here: great character interactions, no conflict. It took me a while to work out what the conflict was, but once I found it, the opening improved 110%.

    As for how to create conflict, here's a useful recipe:

    1. Give you protagonist a concrete goal in the scene. Make sure it can be expressed with an active verb (rather than something passive like a "to be" verb).
    2. Have your protagonist genuinely pursue this goal.
    3. Put obstacles in his/her way.
    4. Have one of two outcomes: either the character fails to achieve that goal, or s/he achieves the goal...and it makes things worse.

    For example, since people keep using The Hunger Games as a model:

    1. Katniss's goal in the opening chapter is to protect Prim.
    2. She tries to calm her sister and reassure her that the odds are in her favor. She also refuses to allow Prim to take any tesserae for extra entries.
    3. The obstacle to protecting Prim is the inevitability of the Reaping and the Games. Katniss has to calm/reassure/protect Prim in the face of this threat that she can do nothing about.
    4. When Prim's name is drawn, Katniss's protection goes from protecting her sister psychologically to protecting her physically by taking her place in the Games. So she succeeds in achieving her goal...and it makes everything SO MUCH WORSE.

    Voilà! Conflict of the highest quality. :-)

    Hope that helps, and best of luck!

  16. My first impression was that there was some witty dialogue, but that the scene went on too long. A little goes a long way, we get it. Also, with no hint at a real conflict (several readers have brought this up), I'm not sure how far I'd read. I also thought the gay character was a bit stereotypical.

    After I went back and read your query, I couldn't believe it was the same story. The opening feels like your going more for John Green than any urban fantasy, so the tone is off.

    Find where your conflict begins and go there. It sounds like a lot of people are interested in THAT story!

    I think it's a case of cutting your darlings. We've all fallen in love with our witty banter on the page.