Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Name That Genre: Critique Round #1

TITLE: Working Title- The Year of Season Jones
GENRE: MG- Contemporary

I bounced down the stairs to my thirteenth birthday dinner with optimism radiating from the depths of my soul. Or at least what I thought was my soul. It was going to be a good year, I was certain of it. This was the year I would be a brace-face no more, and I was sure it would be the year my unruly hair would decide to cooperate. (I was praying the flat-iron I requested for my birthday would be sitting on the dining room table.)

"Happy Birthday!" Mom said.

"Thanks," I said with a smile.

Lingering at the dining room table, I studied my presents, looking for a long rectangular box that would be sure to hold my greatest desire. Winter crashed into the chair on the other side of the table rolling her eyes at me. I looked my younger sister over and decided I would be nice to her tonight; after all, we are only twelve months apart. "Irish Twins," my mother calls it. Winter's birthday is in two days.

My family is a bit hippy-dippy. In other words, my Mom and Dad are complete lovers of all things natural and hand-made. They both wear hand-knitted socks with their Jesus sandals and some organic form of clothing on a daily basis. Mom and Dad prefer to do everything outside. Which is why I shouldn't be surprised that they named me and my sister after weather, Season and Winter Jones. Sigh.

It made life difficult for Winter and me, we always seemed to be the butt of bad weather jokes. I particularly disliked, "It's going to be a tough WINTER SEASON this year!" But Winter and I rolled with it, and tried to act like we had normal parents who weren't into veganism and reading the Zodiac signs.


  1. I like how you've set up the characters here; I can definitely both tell what kind of people the Jones parents are, and hear Season's "voice."

    I'm not quite hooked yet, as I don't have any sense of what's going to happen in the rest of the story. To me, it's just a character sketch so far (though a nice one).

    I think if you added even a subtle hint at things to come, that would go a long way to making this opening more "grabby" to me. I'm interested; I just don't know anything about the story yet.

  2. I did not like the way Season was hoping for a flat-iron and then the story jumped to describing her parents and how she and her sister were named. I agree with Rachelle, a hint of what's to come might keep me interested.
    The writing is good but I need something to hold my interest and I need it sooner rather than later.

  3. You have a good set up here. The tension between hippie parents and modern kids who don't appreciate Mom and Dad's weirdness could be very interesting.

    My concern is that there's quite a bit of telling, especially in the second half of the story. You tell us about her name and her sister's and the teasing they get. You tell us how the parents like to dress and their hobbies. Could you show us these things as the story unfolds? By that I mean, instead of saying how the parents usually dress, introduce them and show us what they're wearing right now. Then we're in the scene with the MC instead of sitting outside it while she tells us a story.

  4. I agree with the previous comments about your opening veering into telling territory. You've created some memorable characters, but it's more fun to get to know them a little at a time.

    To me, the dialogue after the first paragraph is a missed opportunity to show more about the characters and situation. You could even combine the main character's dialogue with the next paragraph to improve the flow.

    For example:

    "Thanks!" I said over my shoulder. I almost forgot to say it because I was too busy studying my presents...

  5. This is a fun, bouncy scene that shows a good juxtaposition of the sisters. It's nicely written and I like the character, but not a lot is happening. I don't write contemp, though, so maybe it deserves a slower, more introspective start.

    Her mom seems to pop up out of nowhere. I realize she's somewhere downstairs, but some acknowledgment of it before she speaks would help root me. It seems like a weird transition from talk about when Winter's birthday is to what kind of socks her parents wear... I get you're trying to explain their names, but maybe move that to the front of the paragraph, or give it at least some mention as a lead in.

    The last two paragraphs are getting very expository. You could weave some of that back story in later. Or maybe actually show her parents being unusual (I want to see a hippy-dippy mom, not be told about one) and other kids making stupid jokes about their names as the story progresses?

  6. You say that the girls are named after weather, but Season and Winter are not weather. When people describe the weather, they don't say it's winter, they say it's snowing. Sorry, it's just that sentence alone would make me put the book down.

    I don't see what all the family stuff has to do with anything either. You can show people giving bad weather jokes later. Just like you can describe all the hippy dippy vegan stuff when you get to her birthday cake. Instead, you're stopping everything to tell me this stuff, and it's making it hard to see where the story is going.

    The voice is good, there's just a lot of clutter in the way.

  7. After the opening, there's too much telling going on. All the details about mom and dad, and her and her sister's names can wait a bit and be revealed more naturally. For instance, when mom or dad come in contact with one of her friends, she could show her feelings about how they're dressed. Or maybe she reacts when someone makes fun of her families vegan practices, or belief in astrology. Maybe her mom didn't get the coveted flat-iron because her horoscope predicted disaster.

    I'm interested in this girl and if her greatest birthday desire is wrapped up on the table. (Haven't we all been there?)

    The scene needs more tension and some idea where the story is going to keep the reader's interest. The backstory info. dump is bogging it down.

  8. I love the names and Season's distinctive voice! She's so understated and yet has clearly inventoried in her head all her parents' (to her) awkward weirdness. I want to learn more right away, even just a hint, about how she is going to diverge from their world view/way of living!

    Personally, I wasn't distracted by the joke descriptions, although I agree that the story "tells" a lot here where it could show. That said, I think you can use "telling" in a personal way to "show" Season's character more. For example, include more about how she feels (uncomfortable? annoyed? bemused?) when people tell these jokes and via her internal response, suggest more about her relationship with her sister. Is she irritated at being paired up with Winter? Does she feel a sense of togetherness even though they are not that close? Does she resent that Winter gets to be a specific thing and she's just a blah type of thing (season)? Etc. (I'm just making up those assessments of their relationship as examples, obviously.)

    I'd also love to see some sharper edges right away. By that I mean showing us what *really* matters to Season and give us the small supporting details to illustrate this. E.g., is her hair a huge problem for her confidence at school because she feels different/not cute/not "in,"/etc., hence her interest in the flat-iron? Does she secretly sneak off and compulsively eat McDonalds, and therefore is strikingly different from her parents in this way? Is her favorite color neon orange, AKA the opposite of crunchy home-dyed handknitted socks? Sometimes I have to drag these details from a character, but other times I just have to ask and it's all there. Regardless these details are what make characters distinct and interesting and people to root for (or hate!).

    Good luck with your writing! Hope to see more of it here some time!

  9. Though much of this is charming, as others have said there's not enough here to hook the reader in; this is all normal everyday stuff, and there's no hint of real conflict yet. I'm certainly fine with slower openings that spend a lot of time creating a sense of the character and their world, but there still has to be that hint or two of what the MC's biggest challenge is and where the story's headed.

    I was also a little puzzled by 'Season' and 'Winter' being referred to as 'weather'; if the girls were named for weather, wouldn't they be Sunny and Rainy (or perhaps Windy)? And if their folks were going for seasons, why not Summer and Winter? Those are both names I've encountered (though the person I met named Winter was a guy!), and I've never heard of anyone named Season (not that hippy folks who like creative names wouldn't use it, of course!). In any case, it seems like their names don't really go together (since winter is a season, it's not as if they're 'equal'), and I get the impression that's what you were going for. So you might want to rethink that.

    I also caught a few minor punctuation issues. You need a comma after 'other side of the table,' and the commas after 'named me and my sister after weather' and 'made life difficult for Winter and me' are incorrect; the first should be either a dash or a colon, while the second could be replaced with a dash or a semicolon, or just a period, making the second part a separate sentence.

    It looks like there's plenty of potential for a great story here, but in the first 300 words you need to let us in on the conflict -- even if it's just a teeny tiny hint -- and I agree that you may want to weave some of the info about her parents in a little later instead.

  10. This starts off interesting, but then you suddenly stop the story, turn to the reader, and start explaining things. Every time you do this, the story stops. It's like an actor in a movie who suddenly stops acting, turns to the camera, and begins explaining the story to the audience. It doesn't happen because it stops the movie and takes you out of the story. When you explain things to the reader in the story, you're doing the same thing. People do it all the time in first person, but you really shouldn't. Just let your story happen.