Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#3 First Line Grabber 500

TITLE: Washed Up
GENRE: YA Contemporary

My parents first had me committed when I was six years old. They found me floating above the tiled bottom of the pool, with the pockets of my sundress filled with rocks. The second time, I was eleven. I jumped off the lower deck of the cruise ship we were holidaying on, in the middle of a wicked storm. Now I am seventeen, and have just been dropped off at the Royal Alexander Centre for Mental Health for the third time in my short life. The process has remained the same; Mom hugs me, all tear-stained and snotty, my brother stares at me, his eyes brimming with tears as he wrings his ball cap, and Dad stays in the car. My doctor, an attractive man in his mid forties, Rick, takes me to his office. An orderly is putting my bags in a room, after undoubtedly searching them first.

“Sit,” Rick orders as he points to a well-worn leather sofa. I obey, popping my sandal-clad feet on the coffee table and unwrap a candy from an old-fashion jar. I take a deep breath, enjoying the familiar scent of the old books he stocks his shelves with but doesn’t read. “I saw you last month; you were fine. What happened?”

“I just needed to be in the water,” I murmur as I stare longingly at his aquarium. If I were a fish none of this would be an issue.

“I know you need to be in the water,” Rick says as he reaches for a sucker. “But you also need to breathe.”

“I don’t,” I protest, feeling a sense of familiarity as we slip into a conversation we’ve already had. “I was only down there for six minutes; I would’ve come up if I’d known they were there.”

“You were in a public pool,” Rick replies, his forehead wrinkling as he massages his temples. “The lifeguards found you, floating face down in the deep end. Mothers wailed, kids screamed, people thought you were dead.”

“I was just trying to catch my breath,” I say as I rip the candy wrapper into confetti.

“You fought against the lifeguards when they tried to pull you out. You kept diving back into the water and swimming to the bottom. It took three of them to restrain you until your parents got there.” Rick’s blue eyes drill into mine, wordlessly asking for an explanation I’ve already given a hundred times.

I sit in silence, remembering the bliss of being underwater. The call of the serene, blue pool was too much to ignore. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be around water unsupervised, but I just couldn’t help it. I had meant to come up before the morning swim class got there, but I lost track of time. I maybe overreacted with the lifeguards, they were just trying to help, but they took me out too soon. People don’t understand that I need to be in the water. Rick has classified my need as a number of different things ranging from suicidal tendencies to schizophrenia.


  1. This is so neat.

    I do think Rick's statements come across a bit like an "as-you-know, Bob"--she already knows the stuff he's telling her. His description, "mothers wailed, kids screamed"--he wasn't there, she was, and she already knows this. It's kind of cheating.

    Otherwise, I love the premise so much! This is incredibly unique. I like your mc. You're not looking for dedicated readers/critique-ers, are you?

  2. Another good one. I am wondering what this girl is. I don't think she's a mermaid because there is no mention of a tail. The fact that she can stay under water so long hints that she has some type of out of this world ability.

    I definitely would continue reading.

  3. I still like this and would read more. It sounds like we are going to read the story of one young person's battle with mental illness. Personal and intriguing.

    Since it is YA Contemp. and not fantasy, I'm assuming it's not about mermaids. Should a mermaid appear, I would read no further.

  4. I would definitely read more, but I agree with Petre Pan that the doctor's dialog needs to be reworked. Otherwise, I'm really intrigued by what's going on in the mc's head.

  5. I like this, and also agreeing with what's already been said. With cheeky 'let's get the audience in on what's happening here' dialogue, it weakens what otherwise is a very strong opening.

    Trust your audience, they're smart. They'll catch on without that. Maybe a few hints in internal monologue instead of the dialogue with the doctor would work better for the reveal.


  6. I'm on the fence with this one. It feels like it must be paranormal or fantasy because an actual human can't do this but you've classified it as Contemp. If I bought a Contemp and it read like this, I might stop reading because I'd assume these were mistakes. If I bought it as Fantasy, I would keep reading.

  7. I'm on the fence with this one. It feels like it must be paranormal or fantasy because an actual human can't do this but you've classified it as Contemp. If I bought a Contemp and it read like this, I might stop reading because I'd assume these were mistakes. If I bought it as Fantasy, I would keep reading.

  8. There's nothing wrong with the writing but the subject of what is apparently a severe mental illness would not compel me to read further. YA contemporary seems to preclude the possibility that this would be a "fish out of water" tale - i.e. mermaids. The possibility for a compelling read is there (to see someone disturbed telling how they see the world)but she has already decribed things that are not humanly possible (6 mins breath holding, floating with rocks, surviving a jump from a cruise ship) - so that makes me think the writer is not necessarily going to be the best guide for a mental illness journey handled realistically.I know that we are supposed to view mental illness with sympathy and understanding but as we have seen (at a recent Batman movie for example) mental illness can also mean a very dangerous person who needs to be confined.

  9. Ammi-Joan PaquetteAugust 29, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    This is an interesting topic but seems to move really quickly. Here we're just on the first page and we're already into an in-depth analysis of the main character's deeper thoughts and reasonings, without knowing anything about this person--not even age or gender--or having had a chance to learn to care for him or her.

    Some of the statements also don't feel quite realistic to me. "If I were a fish none of this would be an issue." Is this a genuine thought, like it's an option for consideration?

    "Mothers wailed, kids screamed, people thought you were dead.” This doesn't sound like the way a person would really talk. I actually felt that a lot throughout the conversation--it felt quite forced, possibly trying too hard? Let us find our way slowly into the character's world, get to know him or her. It's good you're going for tension, but it has to be feel natural to the scene, not artificially ramped up for what might be perceived as shock value.

  10. I agree with the previous discussions about the dialogue, particularly with the "mothers screamed" bit. It felt forced.

    In an earlier first line grabber comment, I also mentioned that I feel like there's a genre disconnect with the details such as floating with rocks in pockets. That seems more like fantasy, not contemporary.

    Taken alone, I actually like the "If I were a fish" part. But due to the seemingly impossible flotation and holding breath for six minutes, it makes one wonder if that is an option, as Ms. Paquette points out. If this was marketed as YA Contemporary, I would not read on.

  11. I found this pretty interesting and would read on to get a feel for what kind of story it's going to be. I'm wondering if she's going to actually be crazy or if we're supposed to question that? I agree that the dialog is too on the nose, but I think the premise could be a good one.

  12. I like this and would definitely keep reading. But it seems like a lot of telling. I think you have opportunities to show things (eg: instead of telling us the doctor is attractive, show us what he looks like)

    Good luck!!

  13. I would deffinately read further too. But, when I saw it was a contemporary... I get really confused. And now I'm thinking maybe you don't know what contemporary usually means: nothing fantastical. This story could happen to us or someone we know, today. A mental illness works as a contemporary, and maybe that's what this is-- but it doesn't read that way.

    Becareful seting readers up for paranormal but ending up with a contemporary. I think you'll end up alienating some of them. Those who don't want fantasy/paranormal will stop reading early if they think that's where it's going. And those who read on expecting mermiads, Sirens, curses, or whatever else, could potentially be dissapointed. Twists are good, but not nessesarily in the very basics of genre.

    Or maybe I'm wrong. I'm no expert, but that's how I see it.

    I think you have a good story, genre is just confusing us!

  14. It's got a bit of double-whammy issue for me: If it's mermaid, there's a lot out there (and it's been mislabeled). But if it's contemporary YA about mental illness, then it's going to need to show a LOT of plot movement, or it's going to be an internal piece that will end up being suffocating, and the writing would need to be one step sharper to succeed.

  15. I like the premise, but I agree with the others that I'm not sure where this is going... Under the Sea or Over the Cukoo's Nest.

  16. I can't help but comment - I hope I'm not breaking the rules....

    Sorry Ariel, we are going to The Nest, Interrupted

  17. Wow, this is very interesting. I like the dialogue and the flow of the story.

  18. I agree with all the commentors who were confused as to what this story is. If it's a YA Contemporary, and the narrator is crazy, that's fine. But I wouldn't start this way as it immediately brings up the questions of whether this is paranormal, fantasy, etc.

    I agree that you should just take it more slowly, introduce us to this narrator, and that will answer these questions.

  19. I like the way its written, but it's not coming together for me as to what I should expect. Granted it's only 500 words and we don't NEED to know all the secrets of the book in the first page, but I find myself wanting to know more. I think if you're setting up a mermaid story, starting with them thinking she's crazy is genius. Haven't seen that before. That is why I'd totally read on only because the confusion I get from the information so far will bother me until I find out haha

  20. If this is a mislabeled mermaid story, I'm out. If this really is a contemporary about a crazy girl, I think the writer started in the wrong place. Unreliable narrators are fun when that realization comes to you slowly as you read-- when you start like this, I find her hard to relate to and would pass.

  21. I concur with what has been said. I assume this is a mental illness narrative, but I'd rather have some sympathy in and interest for the main character before getting the big ol' dose of crazy.

    If indeed it is a merm-fantasy, I'm out.

  22. I agree with most of the comments here. I actually read the sample without checking the label 1st and when I thought you were heading into paranormal/mermaid territory, my interest waned. But initially it just seemed like it was a mental illness story and I felt much more compelled at that point. Not sure if there is a labeling issue here or not but I am interested in this if it is indeed straight contemporary. I do like the voice even if there is a bit of work to be done here (excising the as you know, Bob element for example).

  23. Thanks for all the comments everyone! It is indeed contemporary. Melia, my main character, is not a mermaid.

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