Friday, November 30, 2012

(51) MG Adventure: Dust and Bones

TITLE: Dust and Bones
GENRE: MG Adventure

Stranded in China after his father’s mysterious abduction, 14-year-old Ethan befriends Mei Li, a beautiful 16-year-old pickpocket. Together they must combat an ancient and immortal evil in a desperate quest to save Ethan's dad—and, perhaps, all mankind.

Ethan leaned on the windowsill while his father snored on the sagging bed. Though the early evening air was cool, it hadn’t helped the tiny, sweltering hotel room one bit. He turned up the volume on his iPod to block the traffic and the snoring.

His watch read 8:30 p.m., but still Ethan knew he should be exhausted. He hadn’t slept, really slept, in days. The flight from San Francisco to Beijing had been a bouncing, turbulent terror and Ethan had been afraid to sleep, lest he wake up in the Pacific Ocean. At least the train from Beijing to Xi’an had been on the ground, but the crowded smoke-filled compartment hadn’t offered much more opportunity for sleep.

Jetlag, Ethan had learned over the last eighteen months, is a wicked tormentor, though—it makes you dead tired when you should be awake and bright-eyed when the world around you is sound asleep. His father apparently paid no heed to jetlag; he was comatose the moment his head hit the pillow. Ethan had offered to take the floor and knew that he’d probably regret it. Space being nonexistent, he thought maybe he would fit under the bed, but the drooping mattress and creaky springs warned him otherwise.

His stomach rumbled. He knew his dad wouldn't want him to go out alone;he was funny about things like that.

Ethan glanced out the window.

I'll only be gone a minute. It's just a block away.

He grabbed his backpack, slid silently from the room, and closed the door behind him.


  1. There's nothing technically wrong with your entry, but it moves too slowly for me. When I get to the end of your sample, the only thing that's changed is that Ethan decides to go get a snack. In between that, we get his thoughts on the hotel room, the snoring, the flight, and jetlag. I think your real story starts with Ethan sneaking out; you could condense the middle parts into a quick one or two lines about the flight and how jetlag is keeping him awake.

    I think China is a very cool setting for a story. Good luck!

  2. I agree that it would probably help to move the action along a little quicker. I like the bit about being afraid to sleep lest he wake up in the Pacific, but I don't think you need two full paragraphs about jetlag. The writing is strong for the most part.

    I do have to wonder if a 14-year-old protagonist is a little old for MG. By the time you get to teens, you've usually entered YA territory. Of course it also depends on the content of the book, but I'd be surprised if it's really MG. Good luck!

  3. I loved your logline--wonderfully unique concept and setting, but I'm not sure your story is starting in the right place. Especially after reading the great logline, I wanted to see some of that intrigue right away, and the jet-lagged beginning didn't really deliver for me. I wish we could see the next page! I'd still really want to read on. I'd love to see the scene where Ethan meets Mei, and hope that's what happens next.

    Oh, btw, love your title, too.

  4. I totally agree--the logline is wonderful, but based on the ages and the writing, I'm wondering if it skews toward YA. You're definitely a talented writer! Best of luck!

  5. Ooh, great logline, really makes me want to read it! You write well and paint a nice picture of the hot, noisy room and his jetlag.

    Suggestions: If he's 14 and Mei Li is 16 (and there's some romance?), this probably isn't MG, and the voice doesn't sound very MG either. Perhaps make him 15 and just call it YA? Unlike some of the other commenters, I don't mind how this starts, since I'm guessing he's going to return to the room and find his dad gone, so a little build-up and back story is fine for me. However I do think you can tighten it up a bit:

    'His watch read 8:30 p.m., but still Ethan knew he should be exhausted.' reads slightly awkwardly, maybe 'It was only 8:30 p.m., but Ethan knew he should've been exhausted.' The word 'lest' isn't one a kid would use. I'd take out 'though' after 'wicked tormentor', I stumbled over it.

    I'd cut 'Ethan had offered to take the floor and knew that he’d probably regret it. Space being nonexistent, he thought maybe he would fit under the bed, but the drooping mattress and creaky springs warned him otherwise.' - he isn't going to sleep on the bed right now, so we don't need to know about it. I'd also take out 'he was funny about things like that.' - it seems perfectly normal to me that his dad wouldn't want his 14-year-old son wandering off alone in a foreign country.

    I know this seems like a lot of nitpicks, but I do really like the sound of this novel and would definitely read on. Good luck!

  6. I tend to agree with Girl Friday. I don't think the opening is too slow (though I like GF's suggestion to cut the bit about sleeping under the bed). The thing with this contest is that we're seeing only 250 words. What seems slow here won't feel that way at the beginning of a book. I think this is a fine way to set up Ethan being in a foreign country. Cutting right into "action" would feel too abrupt to me.

    I think the phrases "lest" and "paid no heed" are some that stand out to me as not being how a 14 year old talks. About that 14 year old: conventional wisdom says he's too old to be an MC in middle grade, but I don't think that rule is hard and fast. Just be aware of it.

    When you say "his dad was funny about things like that", I wondered if Ethan was being sarcastic since most parents wouldn't want their kids out alone in a foreign city.

    This is a great concept!

  7. Your logline drew me in right away. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to read more. Anything to do with China is sure to make me want to continue because of the potential it creates.
    I think you paint the imagery of Ethan leaning out of the window while his dad snored, very well. The way he thinks is about right for a fourteen year old, apart from 'lest' and 'paid no heed', and the part about his dad being 'funny about that' is typical teenage sarcasm. A little tightening up of the opening sentences would improve the flow. I agree with other commenters that your novel would do better as a YA. I'm assuming there's going to be some romance along the way, so perhaps a decision needs to be made there.
    Apart from that I think your novel has been set up very well. I know I would like to read more.

  8. This sounds really intriguing to me. Saving mankind is a pretty ambitious task! I love the concept, I'd definitely read on. I agree with the others, with your MCs at 14 and 16, it sounds more YA than MG.

  9. Great premise. I see a few opportunities to show over tell, like showing how Ethan felt the heat of the sweltering hotel room rather than stating it. There are varying opinions on how much to tell vs show and how much backstory to add in to a beginning. There's a lot of reflecting here rather than the character doing anything other than looking out a window. Maybe there's a more active scene between Ethan and Dad that can get the story going, like roaming the streets of Beijing where they could discuss the flight and whatever brought them to Beijing.

  10. I really like this one. The apprehension, the setting, the whole thing screams adventure to me.

    I don't think the ages are an issue. MG vs. YA is more about content than it is about ages. There can even be a little romance, as long as it's clean.

    Also, I don't mind this opening at all. It's only like what - 200 words? I think it builds to the inciting incident perfectly.

    The only thing that bothers me is the mention of the potential plane crash, but that's only because I'm terrified of flying.

    Anyway, good luck to you!

  11. You've done an excellent job at describing the setting. I really saw a clear picture of where Ethan is and how he's feeling. And I want to know what happens when he goes out. Good job pulling me into the story. Only thing I might delete is the line about his dad not paying attention to jetlag, as we already know he's sound asleep, so may be a little redundant. Good job!

  12. I love the fact this is set in China, that it has boy and girl MCs, as well as both mysterious abductions and ancient and immortal evils. (In short, the story sounds like a cool one.)

    Having said that, although the writing is good and flows well, I end the piece without much of a handle about Ethan, beyond his fear of flying and his thoughts on jet lag. I'd prefer to find out whether he was excited to be in China, whether he's been there before, what he felt about accompanying his dad--even his reaction to his dad's snoring. I would also, in such an exotic setting, like more attention to sensory details--the smells, any strange noises, perhaps even the taste of polluted air. In essence, I feel you may be starting by emphasizing the wrong things to be worried about.

    I wish you the best of luck in the auction--I'll have my fingers crossed for you.

  13. I do like the way this starts--it has texture and tells me the setting will be a vital part of the story, not just a backdrop. I think that 250 words invested in setting up is fine.
    Love the "I'll only be gone a minute. It's just a block away." I'd be tempted to end the section there.

  14. I don't have aproblem with the pace, I think it reads smoothly, other than some of the vocab choices other commentors have picked up.
    I think the rationale for him making the decision to go out unaccompanied is well done, andI'm guessing he meets his pickpocket when solo on the mean streets of Beijing.

  15. I am drawn in by your logline, I want to read more. I don't feel as if this moved too slowly, except perhaps the description on how they arrived at the sleeping arrangements. The details of his travels are vivid. I do think, however, that starting with a character ruminating may not be the best way. Also, sometimes the prose reads a little too formal and writerly: the first sentence of the third paragraph, for example.

    I like how the tension is already set up and my mind is ready for the adventures ahead for Ethan.

  16. Given the terrific logline, the into moves quickly enough. I think it's best to carefully lay the scene rather than to hit the reader between the eyes. Slipping out the door into the night is plenty to hook me.

    However, I agree that this does tend toward YA. But that's easy enough to fix; change the genre to "YA Adventure."

    Good luck.

  17. There are too many uses of sleep in your third paragraph. That's my only nitpick.

    I love the fact that he sneaks out on the first page, because we know IMMEDIATELY he's in trouble. That his dad is funny about those sort of things is nice, too.

    You've started with a bang, you've got your protag halfway up a tree, and I sense you've got a big old pile of rocks to throw at him. Nice.

  18. Not sure that an immortal evil makes the book adventure rather than fantasy. And maybe a bit more about why he is traveling, like his " travel writer father" or "researcher father" ...apparently paid no heed...etc. Whatever his father is (as we don't know at this point.)

    Overall, love it.

  19. Since the appropriate age label of this submission seems to be up in the air, let’s start there. It’s unusual for characters to be this old in a manuscript and still have it be characterized as middle grade. This section alone isn’t enough for me to say where this would better sit. If there’s more than the most innocent of romances (and by that, I mean blushing, giggles, and hand holding) this might sit better in YA. These fence-sitter ones are always hard, and I find myself rejecting the vast majority of projects that can’t decide where they really belong.

    I like that you’ve chosen to start with Ethan sneaking out, since it sets the story up with a cause and effect action from the start. Sneaking out never ends well, and based on your logline, this time will be no exception.

    But there’s been a whole lot of introspection in these opening paragraphs, and we haven’t gotten very far. I know Ethan’s hungry. I know he’s with his dad. I know his opinions on flying and the heat in the hotel room and why sleeping on the floor just isn’t really an option. I have no idea who Ethan is or why he and his dad are in China or why he’s been on the road suffering the torments of jetlag the last eighteen months. And I don’t think I have to know all of this in the first 250 words, either. But I’m wondering why what I do know is more important than what I don’t. If I was just laying this information out on a table and choosing what I think is important, I’m not sure I’d be selecting the details you’ve chosen to write about.

    You have an easiness to your writing, and with the exception of a few questionable word choices, I think you know how to build character and voice. Now the focus (especially for adventure) is nailing down your peaks and troughs of action, and when you need to build tension and keep things moving, and when you need to take the time for introspection and let the reader “catch his breath.” And all of that comes with the rest of the manuscript.

  20. This excerpt is more of a flashback rather than placing me in the here and now, which makes me wonder if you're starting the adventure in the right place. Don't get me wrong, I love the premise and the writing, and I think some of the set-up can be worked in, but I'd like to see more action. For example, if you started with the last line, and then worked in how tired he was while wandering the streets of Xi'an-- and then something "BAM" happens-- I'd be one happy camper. Again, like I said in another crit, these first 250 words wouldn't stop me from reading. Good luck!

  21. I'll bid 10

  22. Give me 60, why not?


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