Friday, November 28, 2014

(52) YA Contemporary: NOWHERE TO BELONG

TITLE: Nowhere to Belong
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Recently orphaned Bailey Scott sucks at lying and has always been protected by her older brothers. Devastated when they're separated, she must now protect them by lying convincingly about the dangers she faces in her foster home, or risk permanent separation when the oldest turns eighteen: her ticket out.

I'd still be standing on the other side of the fence if Jake hadn't raced out of his doghouse, begging me to open the gate. Well, that and the fact that I was out of clean underwear.

After I grabbed our key from under the rock, my trembling hand stopped in front of the keyhole. Jake barked with anticipation, prancing back and forth behind me. I pushed the key into the hole, but couldn't bring myself to open the door.

Frozen in place, I pictured my mom on the other side. What would she be doing at this exact moment if she were here? I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the frosty door, imagining her emptying the dishwasher, wiping down the table and doing a hundred other insignificant things.

Jake whined, bringing me back to the present. Unclenching my fingers from the ice cold doorknob, I yanked the key out of the hole. I was not going into my house without my parents waiting on the other side of that door. Jake and I settled on the cold ground leaning against the porch steps--well, I leaned against the steps and Jake leaned against me.

"Jake, they're not here," I choked out.

He stiffened, looking up at me with anticipation.

"Buddy, you've g-got to understand," I sputtered. "Mom and Dad aren't coming back."

At the mention of their names, Jake bolted up the stairs and eagerly stared at the door, wagging his tail.


  1. This is tugging at me. This moment encapsulates that fear that I have about what would happen to my children if something happened to me. How would they cope?

    And I'm thinking about the unintended fallout of the lies Bailey will tell to be with her brothers. Whose lives will she wreck? Her own? A foster family's?

    I've got questions, and I want to know what happens to Bailey. Nicely done!

  2. Promising premise, but I was confused by the first line. I just wasn't sure where we were. I also think there's too much thinking/remembering going on here. I'd prefer to jump into the story.

  3. This a great opening that pulls me in to read more and find out what's happened to Bailey's parents.

    I do agree that something just doesn't work quite right in that first sentence. Maybe instead something like: "It was Jake, racing out of his doghouse and begging me to open the gate, that at last drew me into the yard. Well, that and the fact that I was out of clean underwear."

    Other than that technical tweak, I like this opening. I like the desperate bit of levity Bailey injects with the underwear comment as she tries to deal with such a traumatic thing.

    Paragraph three could be cut, or moved down to become what Bailey sees in her mind's eye when or if she finally goes into the empty house.

    Good luck!

  4. You have a really strong first scene here. The image of the narrator going "home" knowing it really isn't home anymore, because the people who make it so aren't there--that is so sad and also leaves me with good questions--why aren't they there? What happened?--that would make me want to keep reading.

    That said, I think that you need a bit more set-up as you tell the scene. I want to know where the parents are, how long it's been since the narrator has been there, and a bit more description of the house--is it neglected? abandoned? I'd love some more visual imagery here to be able to see the story as I read.

    Thanks for sharing your writing, and good luck!

  5. I'd suggest cutting the opening parg. The MC is standing there with her dog, and she wouldn't be saying that to the dog. You've written it for the reader, but the reader doesn't exist in your MC's world.

    When she wondered what her mom would be doing if she where there, my mind went to the seamier side of life. I was surprised to find her doing normal Mom things. I was assuming her Mom had run out on them. My thinking was that if she had died, and this had been a basically normal family, there would have been someone in the extended family to take them in.

    I also wanted to know why she was alone. Did she run away after her parents died. Is she already in foster home, but went back to her own home? And why was Jake still in the doghouse? Somebody would have picked up the dog.

    Maybe try to get the current state of affairs on the first page.

  6. You do such a nice job of getting the reader on your MC's side immediately - sympathies firmly in place and curiosity about what happened and - even more - what will happen next front of mind. Great job!!
    I like what the previous commenter said about a bit more set-up. You do a great job of inserting some sensory details - I'm actually hungry for a few more. Some physical details about the house maybe that would give even more insight into what she's feeling and what she's lost.
    Congratulations on a terrific entry! Best of luck!!

  7. The premise is great! We immediately feel for the protag. But something about this scene didn't quiet work for me. I was confused about where she was in the beginning. I think starting with the dog is bit distracting. Maybe start with her trembling hand on the door knob and take us directly to her remembering her mother. And yeah, maybe a little more description about the condition of the house will give us a better sense of how long it's been since they died.

  8. Hey there!

    I think this is a really powerful first scene, but agree with the above remarks; I had trouble situating myself with that first sentence. I didn't get that she was on the OUTSIDE of the fence, with the dog on the INSIDE. You might just clarify with a line about the house, so we can position ourselves in relation to it.

    Otherwise a REALLY powerful scene.


  9. The first lines confused me. It sounds like Jake was left at the house alone in the fenced back yard. I think the part about her still standing on the other side of the fence means that the dog prompted her to enter the yard. But I can't picture if the gate is at the front and the entire yard fenced or just fenced at the sides.

    I liked the lines where she imagines her mom still in the house doing things. You may not need the line 'bringing me back to the present.' I think you can blend the dog whining and unclenching her fingers together.

    Not sure you need to show the stutter, 'g-got.' May come off as too young.

    Your plot sounds interesting and I would definitely read on.

  10. I personally love the line about the clean underwear. In the midst of a story that tackles serious subject matter, I think it gives a glimpse of Bailey's personality, and she sounds like someone I want to know more about. I instantly feel for Bailey in this excerpt.

    I had an idea about something you might want to think about adding. Maybe build more suspense as to whether or not she's going to go in. Have her talking out loud to herself and trying to psyche herself up. Something like "I can do this. I need to do this." And then finally when she comes to the realization-- "I can't do this."

    Great job, Susan!

  11. Wow, this opening really packs a punch! I was already sympathizing with Bailey by the end of this 250 - you put us right into her head. I'm rooting for her and I want to know what happens next.

    I agree that the first line is a little confusing. I would clarify as others have suggested.

    I actually found the mention of the underwear in the first few lines a little jarring. I certainly don't think there shouldn't be any humor in the story, but because this occurs in the 2nd line, and the rest of the passage focuses on such serious subject matter, the lighter comment felt somewhat out of place and gave me a false sense of how the scene would proceed. Maybe this lighter comment is something you could even just move to a few pages later? I think this injection of levity could potentially resonate more if it comes after we know Bailey better, and can see this as a way for her to cheer herself up.

    I'm certainly compelled to read on! Good luck!

  12. I agree with the other readers who were confused by the details regarding Jake, but once you fix those it's incredibly compelling. I also imagined she might express a bit of a wish to be able to experience the world for a moment like Jake, one in which her parents were still alive. Good luck!

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