Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Name That Genre: Critique Round #6

TITLE: The Girl Haunting His Head
GENRE: Upper Middle Grade- Science Fiction

Thirteen-year-old Kurtis heard his heartbeat for the first time. Not the sound of his withered lungs choking on his breaths. Not the sound of death. Life, that’s what he heard pounding from his flesh, and it was a nice change. Nice enough for him to smile for a second. He stood on the rooftop, under an ocean of red stars as his heartbeat tapped against his chest like somebody knocking on a door. Like somebody wanted to get in. Or get out. And that’s when Kurtis remembered something. An important thought dropped into his head.

Happy endings were gone.
All of them.

Kurtis remembered they were extinct in his world, a planet called Serius. His dad had warned him about it right before he dumped the boy off at the HOME.

A nuthouse for kids.

But that wasn’t as bad for Kurtis as having a girl inside his head. A girl haunted his head, to be exact. He was pretty sure, no, he was positive that ‘normal,’ everyday people shouldn’t invade other people’s heads. It just wasn’t right. ‘Normal’ people should get to know each other in person, greet each other with a simple ‘hello,’ a handshake, or even a smile. Not everybody agreed with him though. Not the girl haunting his head. But then again, she wasn’t his version of ‘normal.’ She had her own special greeting too.

You need to make an effort in life and maybe life will make an effort with you,” she said. Her words burned like little fireballs.

Kurtis grabbed his skull. One hand for each brain hemisphere. He wheezed and worried. All of this was too much. Too unexpected. The girl should’ve at least shown herself once, especially since she was wandering around his head unseen and uninvited.


  1. Great job setting your scene. I can see Kurtis on the rooftop of the home, under the red stars, trying to escape his life on some level. Looking up, thinking about his life. I can also see Kurtis having some sort of conflict going on in his head. But this is where it gets a little fuzzy for me.
    As I was reading, I wanted more clarification on why he was hearing his heartbeat for the first time. And more clarification about his withered lungs. Is the air thick in Serius? Polluted? Is he dying?
    Also, could you give us a hint as to why his dad dumped him at the home?
    I love the idea of a girl haunting his head. But is she real? Did he meet her once and now he can't shake her? Is he really crazy?
    I hope this helps! Good Luck!

  2. 1)GREAT opening line. I immediately want to read more.
    2)I’m not sure what else your lungs would choke on BESIDES your breath. Originally I read this sentence as just “Not the sound of his withered lungs.” It was more powerful (in my opinion) when I read it wrong. Others might not agree.
    3)You say “somebody knockING on a door.” Then you say “somebody wantED to get in.” I think this would sound better if the conjugations matched.
    4)“An important thought dropped into his head” seems redundant. Depending on whether or not you need to adjust your word count, you may consider dropping this line completely.
    5)You start repeating the word “head” quite a bit. I would look for other ways to say things so that that one word doesn’t keep popping up.
    6)I’m not exactly sure what I think of this head hitchhiker. At first, since you used “haunting” several times, I thought that she was an actual ghost. However, when you got to “the girl should’ve at least shown herself once” it made me wonder if that’s not the case. However, since this is only the first 300 words, I’m hoping that it gets cleared up.
    Well done!

  3. The writing here, I think, is pretty solid. I only have a few comments.

    First: What color is the rest of the sky? (That's probably just my issue, and I'm really nitpicking.)

    Second: I don't get the thought that dropped into his head. Why are happy endings extinct on this planet? That sounds more like fantasy than anything else, unless you mean that happy endings are 'rare' and you're just overstating it. Either way, I'm not sure what you mean...

    Third: I think you should have the HOME and it being a nuthouse for kids in the same place. (Maybe different word for nuthouse?) Also, why exactly did his dad put him there? (the girl inside his head? Maybe just make it a bit more clear.)

    Like I said, awesome job with the writing. Take or leave any of my comments, of course.

  4. I would like more clarification within the first 300 words. What is a nuthouse? Is it for people with mental disorders? Was he dropped off at the nuthouse because his dad thought he would be safe there? Does he know why this girl is in his head? I'm sure these questions will be answered as the story unfolds but more clarity in the beginning might help pull me in more. Overall nice job. I would definitely read on.

  5. For me there is too much telling (vs. showing) about the girl inside his head. If she is a major factor in the story, which I assume because she's introduced on the first page, consider letting the reader learn about her from hearing her voice. Let the boy and the girl have a dialogue, let us hear her speak. Then let us hear his reply and help us get a sense of his feelings towards her by what he says/reacts. It would be much more engaging. It would also ratchet up the tension.

  6. I enjoyed the prosody of the first few paragraphs. The only very minor changes I'd suggest would be to change "heartbeat" in the sixth sentence to "heart," to help the rhythm and avoid the repetition from the first sentence. I don't think you need both "Kurtis remembered something" and "An important thought dropped into his head."

    That second large paragraphs ("But that wasn't...) starts to get a little wordy for me, though. I started to get bored with the ongoing rant about what was normal (I know what's normal--I only want to read about the parts that are abnormal) and the repetition about there being a girl in his head: "... as having a girl in his head." "A girl haunted his head..." "...invade other people's heads." "...the girl haunting his head..." "...wandering around in his head..." etc. I think that paragraph needs some chopping and streamlining.

    It's an interesting setup, though, and an interesting setting.

  7. This is a really interesting. There are a couple of things, though, that are giving me pause and taking me out of the story.

    Him hearing his heartbeat for the first time makes me think he either hasn't had one or he's doing some physical for the first time. It's not clear, and given the sci-fi nature of the story, it could mean he's an android and not human, and I'm assuming that he is human.

    You're also using his name too much. It's slowing down the pace of some of the sentences. And there is entirely too much talking about the girl in his head. Clearly she isn't normal or she wouldn't be in his head. The way you set it up made me think that he had met her before. I don't see why he's assuming that she's a real girl at the same time he's accusing her of haunting him like a ghost.

    Also, the no happy ending thing is confusing.

    I love the detail about how her thoughts burn his brain. :)

  8. You have some really interesting concepts here. I'm looking forward finding out why his father dropped him off at some kind of insane asylum and also why all the happy endings are gone. I also want to find out why he's just now hearing his heart beat for the first time. Is it related to being abandoned by his father?

    I'm concerned that not much happens in this opening, and I don't have a strong feeling for where we are. He's on a rooftop, but I don't know if its the HOME or some other building. And the whole opening is him hearing his heart beat and thinking about the girl. You could move things along more quickly by cutting some repetition. You refer several times to the fact that he's being haunted and that the girl is uninvited. We hear a lot about it, but it's still vague. What does it mean for her to be haunting his head? Is she a ghost? Is she a live person? Can she read his mind? If you dive straight into their interaction, you could get to the answers more quickly.

    One final nitpick--I wouldn't include his age in the first sentence. That's good for a query letter, but it feels forced in the text.