Friday, November 29, 2013

(58) YA/Speculative Fiction: CROWDED

TITLE: Crowded
GENRE: YA/Speculative Fiction

Having never seen a sunrise, sixteen-year-old Leo Noble breaks out of the subterranean slums beneath a futuristic, overpopulated NYC, spurring a citywide manhunt that puts every citizen under fire.

I have a name passed down so many times, it’s worn out like the shirt on my back. Ever since New York City Authority put the One Child Policy into effect twenty years ago, citizens in our underground zone passed both their first and last names down to their children. But our family has been doing this for generations. I'm Leon Noble the eighth, or maybe ninth—the number got lost somewhere in the 21st century.

The number’s not the important part. Down here in the slums, all that matters is giving your children a bit of you that says, “Hey, I was here!” My twin sister and I both carry pieces of our family’s past, as she has my mother’s name, Annabelle.

Today is our sixteenth birthday, where we’ll soon endure the last of our yearly commencement ceremonies. We should’ve left for the zone square by now, but Mother still frets to make us as presentable as possible.

She buttons a black suit jacket over my old stained t-shirt. My outfit feels much less special this year—I wear this drab top all the time. In previous years, I wore a crisp, albeit oversized, white collared shirt that buttoned all the way down under the jacket. After the ceremony last year, I bent down to pick up a couple of pennies and split the back straight in two.

“Looks like you’re getting a bit too big for this jacket,” my father says with a smirk, looking me up and down.


  1. Really like the setting and interested in how this futuristic world will come to life.

    While I got a lot of orienting information in this opening, I wasn't as drawn in as I hoped. I kept getting tripped up on this commencement ceremony versus what happened last year.

    I like the idea of a name being worn like a shirt and I get the idea their change is fortunes is relatively recent.

    Best of luck with this.

  2. I highly enjoyed this novel. Phil has a bright future ahead of him.

  3. The pitch for this one gripped me hard. I'm really drawn to characters who buck societal norms, take a risk, and reap heavy consequences (maybe because I never rebelled as a teen and always wish I had).

    We get an immediate sense of who your character is, and the passing down of names is a gorgeously expressed idea. I'd love to read more of this one!

  4. This opening is almost entirely background material. The tone and structure is, listen because I'm going to tell you a story. It's an efficient way to get information down, but it would be so much more interesting if you simply started telling the story and let the details flow naturally.

  5. I thought the log line was lacking, in that it only tells us what the catalyst for the story is. We don't know why he's being hunted, or what will happen if he's caught.

    The opening felt slow because the story doesn't start. Instead, we're filled in on the current situation by the MC. The information in the first three pargs could be shown through dialogue and action through the course of the story. Perhaps start with them getting ready for the commencement.

    Mother still frets to make- perhaps mother still frets over making.

    I wear this drab top - 'top' seems like something a girl would say, not a boy. Perhaps 'shirt.'

    Good luck!

  6. This is intriguing, and I love the idea of a character who's never seen a sunrise breaking out.

    For me, "twenty years ago" in the second sentence just leaves me doing math about how much longer his family has been doing it (year wise) than others, so I'd cut that and save it for later.

    "Today is our sixteenth birthday, *where* we'll soon endure the last..." doesn't exactly make sense because a birthday isn't a place. I think I know what you mean, but I feel like maybe it's missing a word, or just a re-phrase.

    Also, I think "stained t-shirt" is more interesting than, "I wear this drab top all the time" and I don't think you need both. I'd cut that second sentence so that it goes straight from stained t-shirt to "In previous years" which is a great memory.

    To me, here "smirk" would mean the father's being condescending. Which is great if that's what's happening, but I thought it was more that his father is proud he's growing up, in which case I think I'd describe him differently

  7. I'm conflicted because there is a lot of telling here and setting up of the premise, but I am really intrigued by the premise.

    Still, I wonder if you started with the interaction with the mom, being sure to have a little tension between them, and then got to some of the background information later if it might work better.

    Either way, sounds like a great idea. Good luck! :)

  8. I agree with others in that there is far too much information given that could be much more fun to read in dialogue. The voice is also not authentic as a teen boy. Terms such as 'frets' and 'top' and possibly 'outfit' feel too feminine for me. The premise is interesting and I'd love to see where this goes.

  9. I like this setting, a world so crowded poeple can only have one child (not an unrealistic premise) and where they pass on their name from one generation to the next. And the opening line pulled me in.

    What I'm missing in both the logline and the entry, however, is a real sense of conflict. The logline indicates there will be a hunt for this character, but what compelled him to go "above ground" in the first place? I think a few more details could turn what is an already intriguing premise into a real grabber.

    Best of luck with it!

  10. The part of page one I found myself thinking of, by only after the fact, was: wait. One child per family, and Leon and Annabelle are twins? I can't help but wonder how this society deals with the genetic lottery conspiring against its best-laid plans. So, in that sense, my "critique" is really just my intense interest in seeing what will happen on page 2 and beyond! It's a subtle detail, but that family situation seems to have built into page one a potential for conflict that could drive everything that occurs after.

    Good luck!

  11. For me, this is an instance where starting with backstory really works, but it's a matter of taste. I think it works because its context for the character who has an emotional stake in the constructs of his world. I get him already just based on that, and it's a powerful way to hook your reader. You hooked this reader, at least. :) I appreciate the voice and style of this excerpt and will look forward to reading the book when it's published. It's above the ordinary. Nice job!

  12. The premise and world building are really interesting and hooked me in, but I wish this opened up with a scene that showed me more of the getting ready and let the details reveal themselves along the way.

    There are ways to do this really easily if you ground us in the scene: Where is Leon getting ready? Who is he with? What are they talking about?

    Let his fingers drift to the back of his jacket to reveal the memory about the split. Have someone call his name and four people look up to reveal the history about his name.

    Recalling the memories from past ceremonies must be important but it does get confusing toggling the narrative back and forth between what is happening now and what the MC is remembering from before--especially when you use present tense which keeps the focus on the now, now, now.

    This did read a little like the opening to Divergent to me and the premise sounds really exciting. The log line is great!

  13. Great premise and title! I think the log line is succinct and says just enough to make me want to know more about these subterranean slums, when in the future this takes place, and how one boy causes a city-wide hunt. Very intriguing!

    I do feel there's a lot of telling in the first few paragraphs, but I've noticed this with several entries so far and I think it might have a lot to do with the nature of contests. When we know someone has the first 5 pages or more in their hands (rather than 250 words), it's easier to take it slow, but I think there's a propensity to put everything up front, and I've no doubt that this story takes its time going forward. I'd only suggest, as Valerie said, presenting some of these details through action and dialogue.

    Great work and good luck!

  14. The leap from discussing names to talking about the upcoming ceremony felt awkward to me. I really like the way talking about the names builds the world, but perhaps you could save that bit of info for a moment when someone speaks his name, or perhaps when they call it at the ceremony.

  15. I like the premise, and the fact that it raises some class issues--that the underground area is "slums."

    I agree with commenter Cheyenne about there being a lot of backstory upfront, and that this may be because of the nature of contests, and trying to ground us in 250 words. What I want to see more of is the individual voice of a character, which oftentimes can be shown in dialogue and (inter)action. Several people have said that it doesn't sound like a 16-year-old boy--but what if this sort of more feminine feel is what the author is trying to show? Having someone other than the MC note this would be an effective strategy "Why do you always sound like Annabelle?"

    Nit: He's Leo in the logline and Leon in the excerpt.

    Good luck!

  16. I really like the line about the number being lost somewhere in the 21st century. I just think its a great sentence lol.

    I agree too much explaining though, and it would be better to learn everything through the story.

  17. I definitely agree with pretty much all of the 'nits' mentioned in previous comments (Leo/Leon, for example) but the one that I wanted to really mark is the twin thing. If that's one of the central tension plot points of the book (and, like the person who commented on before, I hope it is) then the reference to it here is far too casual and calm. It reads, in this excerpt at least, as 'no big deal' and I'm really hoping it actually is a big deal. Otherwise, there's pretty much nothing other than a growth spurt to provide any tension in this opening.

    There's a wonderful world sitting there that we're being told about but it desperately needs to be shown. It's a dystopian NYC with population control and probably more rules and regulations to boot. Show it.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE 'the number got lost somewhere in the 21st century.' That one line makes me want to keep reading alone.

    After reading the log line I definitely want to read the rest of the book, but there is a great deal of room in this opening to really grab the reader by the throat and never let go.

  18. I really loved this opening. Starting off with the passing down of names hit me hard in the heart, somehow, and automatically made me care for this character that's the carrier of his ancestor's name.

    I definitely get a feel for Hunger Games here, what with dressing up for some kind of special event. Not sure if this is a good or bad event, but I get a sense of dread anyway.

    The line "split the back straight in two" tripped me up. To me it makes more sense to say "split the back straight down the middle" - for some reason the original line made me think it had something to do with the pennies.

    Another nitpick: the word "albeit" doesn't seem to fit the voice of this boy who is supposedly from the slums. Also "frets" - just little words like that give me a feel for your character's vocabulary and their background, and both of those don't sound natural coming out of the mouth of this character (whom I realize I barely know at this point.)

    I really want to read more of this.

  19. Hi there!

    I think you have an extremely well written, stimulating pitch. Kudos! You’ve obviously thought about your readers—and your hard work shows. I’m hooked! However, I’m concerned that I’ve read this exact same pitch—breaking out of subterranean slums beneath a futuristic, overpopulated city—in a variety of different ways over the past year. Right now, I’m acquiring for Spring or Fall 2015—and there are several books within a similar vein that are coming out in Winter/Spring 2014. So, tell me—what about your story sets it apart from any other that is currently on the market? What would make it stand out on shelves and make it memorable to readers? Help me sell your story to my sales team . . . because I want to!

    I feel like this excerpt isn’t the best indicator of how compelling and enjoyable of a read your story has the potential to be. It’s a very normal scene, and doesn’t provide much insight into Leon’s character or the crux of the story thread. Foreshadow here why Leon feels the need the break out . . . use each scene to build reader interest, thread by thread. Your descriptions and dialogue are so immersive—I have no doubt that you can do it!

    You mention Leon’s twin sister—what’s the story behind their relationship? How does she play into Leon’s journey? The relationship between siblings always makes for a fascinating read, particularly if it’s done well. Does she know that Leon is going to escape? Does she go with him?

    I think if you focus on why Leon feels the need to escape in either your pitch or somewhere in your excerpt, you’ll set your novel far apart from others within the genre to really make it feel new and alluring to readers. I can’t wait to see more!

    Good luck!

  20. I think your logline, while intriguing, needed to be just a few words longer - why does his breaking out put everyone in the line of fire? (Also 'under fire' sounds slightly off to me.)

    This first page has a bunch of fascinating concepts and some very good writing, but as others have mentioned, I found it just too static. I don't mind a touch of telling at the start of a book to ground me, but there's too much here. I think this would have much more impact as a more active scene. You clearly have the writing chops, intriguing setting and interesting MC in place to do that.

    Good luck!

  21. I like the premise but the logline doesn't hook me. I want to know the stakes. What happens if he gets caught. I like the idea of the names being passed along and the bit about the exact number getting lost, but I need more detail and more dialog. Why is he underground? Is it because there is a one child policy and he has a twin? I think the opening might be more effective if we were introduced to the MC and world during the action. Show him getting ready and mom fussing intead of paragraphs of exposition.

  22. You do a good job making me feel the bleak existence Leo faces, but I'm not sure if his family (and all in the slums) are prisoners or not. The logline makes it appear Leo's mere escape from the slums sets off this frantic manhunt and I begin to want more answers than the logline and 250 give.

    If you can show how the unique choices or actions of Leo can affect his future, I'd feel a little more comfortable.

    The Hunger Games similarities may play a factor in whether or not your story can garner positive attention. You might try to highlight the differences in Crowded, to set it apart from those books which it will be invariably compared.

    Good luck!