Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#2 First Line Grabber 500

Title: Issue 339
Genre: YA Magical Realism

"Why would you kill off a superhero's parents, and every girl he's ever loved, like that?"

The calm voice broke; the young man in the ski mask clenched his fingers. He sat otherwise statuesque in the rolling chair by the writer's office door as the writer jumped--how long has he been here?

The writer coughed, ruffling the paper-stacks that towered like armed guards atop his mahogany desk. "You okay there, buddy? What's with the--oh, I see." He pointed his pencil eraser at the faded red sharpie scribble over the intruder's left eye. "You're a Gavalon Mask. Wow--a 'hardcore' fan. I never published 'Gavalon.' I--"

"Answer my question, Mr. Writer."

The balding man stiffened. "Your question. Yes. I'm sorry." He wasn't. He felt disrespected, but he was above norms like 'respect'; he'd tolerate the freak. "Issue 339, right?"


"Here." The writer smiled, closing his laptop. The cover of the comic he un-shelved showed a muscular black-haired man, torso twisting, hand grasping towards the fourth wall as his mouth opened in a silent scream. "Betrayal" with an exclamation mark, in bright red letters, bulged above his head. "Rave reviews. Sold out in stores first week."

"Why that ending?"

"You mean how'd I come up with it?"

"No. Why." The teen's knuckles whitened. Teeth clenched. The writer raised an eyebrow.

"You didn't like it," the writer said, leaning forward.


"Well I--" The writer chuckled, settling his glasses higher on his nose. The critics' glowing accolades still tickled his ears, so his words lilted like sound-bites of a TV interview. "I realized that to truly strain the character in a way audiences didn't expect, I'd have to break the one relationship they completely trusted--his relationship with his best friend. Take that away, and who was he? An entirely new study--complete shocker plot-wise. I could almost see it, like on TV, and when it comes out in theaters fans everywhere will cry. It also brought out the theme of evil inside our--"

"Why kill the girl?" The mask whispered.

"Oh, well of course, Jackie was voted least popular girlfriend of the four. The reader's poll decided 'die'--surely you knew about that. It was so good--almost painful to write." The writer shook his head, reveling in his good fortune. "I love my readers. Fans like you make--"

"I'm not a fan."

The writer stiffened. The young man had spoken aloud--loudly--for the first time in the conversation, and the voice sounded a little like the writer's own, a little like his son, a little like a superhero he'd watched on television as a little boy, and a little like his father, too. Before the writer could remark, or chuckle, or relax, two hands moved. One hand brought a gun out of a coat pocket.

The other slid the ski mask off the young man's face.

The writer had just enough time to not believe his eyes before a bullet impacted his chest.


  1. A dark yet effective opening. It has the strength of the reader sensing something (the imminent danger) that seems to be lost on the victim. It also has the virtue of provoking you into reading more - if only to get a sense of the who and the why of this interaction. The only problem I foresee is - if the MC is the shooter - you have already stripped him of any sympathy that could be present - he is a murderer after all. So, I would need to see IF the shooter is the MC or, if not, where this is going. But I would read more pages to find out. Nice job.

  2. Oi...Authoress <3 do we not do italics? The "how long has he been here" is supposed to be in italics. If we don't do italics here, never mind! ^_^

  3. I started to become confused at how long was he there? I wasn't sure what pov this story was being told from.
    Originally, I thought it was an editor talking to a writer. It was a surprise to discover it was a crazed fan (which I like the idea of) but a lot of questions run through my mind while reading this. Wouldn't the writer have more of a reaction to find a fan outside his door asking a question while wearing a mask? Wouldn't his replies show more emotion or at least hint with body language instead of just giving an answer almost immediately to why he killed off the girlfriend. The piece about the reviews clouded the story for me, was it what was going through the writers mind or the fans? I think with a bit reworking this can be a strong opening but a few things need to be clarified.

  4. Petre, My entry was supposed to have italics as well. I don't think we get them.

    This is very compelling. I don't read a lot of 'meta' stuff, so I was a little confused in places. I think it's the POV, it sounds a little like 2nd, although it's not quite.

    I'd keep reading to see if I could solve my confusion thought.

  5. I'm sorry but I had to read the opening several times to figure out what was going on. If I was in a bookstore, I wouldn't bother.

    While I sympathize with the young man's disgust with the writer's inane reasons for killing cartoon people off, his punishment is pretty extreme.

    I'm disgusted and horrified with the young man, not intrigued. Perhaps this is a dream sequence or a video game but I wouldn't stick around long enough to find out.

  6. Thanks all! @Margot Does it help to know the teen's not a fan? The last segment's 'sposed to hint that he's a character from the author's story.

  7. I like this scene but the POV is too distant. If you want to tell this from the writer's POV, you need to get closer and give us some panic and feelings. We don't panic if he doesn't. For example, if someone shot me, I wouldn't think "Oh, a bullet just impacted my chest."

    Having said that, if you are killing off the writer 500 words in, I am guessing this is actually some kind of prologue and I have a totally different opinion if it is. If it's not and you are about to move forward with the story of the boy, then this needs to be his POV.

  8. I really like this! You painted a vivid picture, I could see the scene play out before my eyes.

    "The writer had just enough time to not believe his eyes...." is my favorite line.

    It reminded me of Misery, which I loved, so I would definitely keep reading.

  9. I also liked the line "just enough time to not believe his eyes," and I did get the sense from that that the young man is a character from the comic books, which in reading through the comments is the point. So now I feel smart. :)

    But I do still feel very distant from the characters, and because of that it's still difficult for me to figure out who's POV this is supposed to be. Maybe it's a prologue, in which case as a reader I'd probably skip over it. If I'm looking at this in the book store, I'd flip to later pages, give them a skim, and see if the rest of the book still has this distant voice. If so, I'm putting the book back. Intriguing premise, but the distance makes it much harder for me to connect with any of the characters.

    And as Happy Dolphin mentioned, if the shooter is the MC, sympathy is gone at this point. That can be hard to recover from.

  10. LOVED this entry! I think the tension and the pace are both perfect. I've learned a lot about both characters in only 500 words, and it definitely leaves me wanting to read more. Note to authors...don't kill off your MC's loved ones. ;)

    Good luck with this!

  11. I really liked this. I was very much drawn in about what was going to happen and I was shocked that the writer got shot. I'm assuming this is a prologue and not chapter 1? The voice seems perfect for a prologue, but a little distant if this is the way the whole book will be written.

    Good luck!!

  12. I really liked this. I was very much drawn in about what was going to happen and I was shocked that the writer got shot. I'm assuming this is a prologue and not chapter 1? The voice seems perfect for a prologue, but a little distant if this is the way the whole book will be written.

    Good luck!!

  13. Actually, it does help. And if I'm understanding you correctly, the writer is having a dialogue with his own character as he's composing the next issue. I like that premise.

    The problem is, in a bookstore I I wouldn't have the benefit of you whispering in my ear to aid my understanding.

    I'm guessing you want to hold the surprise for a little while. Meantime the reader is having a difficult time figuring out what is going on and which character is going to carry the story forward.

    Other readers seem to have no problem, so maybe it's just me. I do like your clean writing style.

  14. The writing here is VERY clunky, with a lot of cliches and unnecessary modifiers. I'm sorry to be harsh, but there has been a lot of very strong YA coming around recently, and in order for it to even have a chance it needs to be extremely, extremely strong.This has the fun "who IS this?" thing going, which helps, though. But the level needs to rise.

  15. @Margot I think you're definitely "write" (I'm not sorry--I needed that pun =P) that I need to watch it since don't have the benefit of explaining to my reader. I am taking a bit of a risk with the violent intro (I like it--it really ties the rest of the book together) so I'm definitely keeping my ears open for ways to clarify or mitigate that risk.

    And yes, the voice through the rest of the story is very different. Much younger and warmer! Thanks again, everybody!

  16. I was still confused about the POV. Finally by the end I figured this must be a prologue. But I think your writing needs to be cleaned up a little.

    And I didn't understand how the comic could have sold out in the first week if he never published it?

  17. A good idea, but some of these sentences are too long. I get confused trying to juggle them. Ex: " He pointed his pencil eraser at the faded red sharpie scribble over the intruder's left eye" It's just too much.

  18. I don't like this as an opening scene--if you confuse a reader right off, the reader won't bother continuing. When I first started this, I thought, "oh, another superhero story, and one with cliches." I realize that it moves away from that, but into another area where there has been a lot done: the relationship between an author and his creation. Yours would have to be beyond well-done to break out in these two crowded areas.

  19. I don't think this POV works particularly well-- it is too distant and for a YA I prefer you start with a YA POV.

    I also echo that this feels a bit too familiar for me.

  20. I found myself very confused. If given this manuscript, I would not continue reading. Much of my confusion probably stems from the fact that this starts with dialogue. Often when we start with dialogue and NO setup up front, I find that I simply don't know who is talking, and don't care.

    I'm not saying it has to be PAGES of setup - but a paragraph setting the scene would not be a bad thing.

    And if the tone and style of the rest of the story is going to be "younger and lighter", why start out with this deceptively dark and weird opener? Seems like you might alienate one part of your audience and disappoint the other. But perhaps I am misunderstanding.

  21. I was pretty confused about POV and what was going on here. I read the opening couple of paragraphs a couple of times before I "got" it. I also find narratives where no one gets named to be particularly clunky and cumbersome (the writer, the teen, the mask, the writer, the writer, the writer). I am not opposed to the concept of the hook here but I don't think it quite worked in execution. Some more clarification will help center the reader in the story so we know where to grab onto it.

  22. Ammi-Joan PaquetteAugust 31, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    I join the others who didn't really get what was going on here. I would also strongly encourage you to revisit your prose. Just for an example, in your second paragraph:

    "The calm voice broke; the young man in the ski mask clenched his fingers. He sat otherwise statuesque in the rolling chair by the writer's office door as the writer jumped--how long has he been here?"

    1. Whose voice? Character hasn't been introduced and it's not clear who's actually speaking.
    2. "Statuesque" does not mean "as still as a statue," which I suspect you intended, but rather tall and willowy and graceful.
    3. "how long has he been there" -- sudden switch from past to present tense. Why?

    All very small and arguably insignificant things. But coming so soon into the text, they set off major alarm bells, so I would encourage you to take great care with your language.

  23. Hey, I just wanted to thank all the agents who stopped by. I didn't respond to your comments because I needed some time to think about them and revise; I ended up deleting the whole beginning and starting over from scratch, and I'm actually much happier as a result. Thanks so much for being honest and not mincing your words at all! Thank-you especially Ms. Paquette for being so specific.