Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Name That Genre: Critique Round #1

TITLE: Starling's Flight
GENRE: NA Contemporary

Starling twisted the pegs on the neck of her mandolin wondering how she should break her father’s heart. She’d never broken his heart before. Sure, he hadn’t liked all her boyfriends and he’d yelled at her few times about her grades but this was different. This was what he lived for and she was turning away from it.

“Check, check one, two,” her father adjusted his microphone as he spoke. His hair was thinner now, Starling thought but he’d worn the shirt she’d bought him last Christmas. It made him look slimmer. It also made her feel guiltier. Starling twisted another peg as her mom started tuning her fiddle. Her mom was probably the best musician of all of them, but it was her dad’s passion that kept them going.

“You almost ready?” the guy who ran the festival asked. He was a pot-bellied man in a cheap white shirt and expensive cowboy boots. His name was Jim, or James or something. Starling couldn’t quite remember even though she’d known him for years.

“Almost,” Starling’s mom replied. Her dad gave the sound man a thumbs up and looked at Starling. She nodded at him feeling guiltier than ever.

“Okay, you got about three minutes.” The emcee smiled and stepped off the little stage. It was really just a glorified trailer with a small plastic wall behind them. They’d played in a lot worse places though. Starling strummed her mandolin into the microphone in front of her. The sound man adjusted the levels until she nodded at him. She was ready to go. Her gaze wondered lazily over the crowd as her little brother took his turn at the microphone.

The crowd was small but it was early. They were the first band of the day as usual.


  1. I enjoyed reading this piece. The setting is unusual and the fact that they play antique instruments in a festival is original. I am not sure you meant to say the MC "should break" her father's heart. It sounds like she is trying to hurt him on purpose as a revenge scheme. On the contrary, I think she is trying to figure out a way that would help him swallow the pill. Maybe you could have proposed a few ways she could do that and let the reader see how she thinks.

    It sounds odd that somebody would know a person for years but does not remember his name. Maybe you could elaborate on that. Is it a character trait?

    Maybe adding a little bit more conflict could help to reel in the reader more. I mean, you do not tell the reader why she wants to leave the band. Okay so she does not want to follow her dad's dreams and she wants to follow her own dreams. That's a very common theme. What would make this theme more interesting? What's the twist? I would have liked to see this more.

    But I was reeled in enough to want to know what happens next. Good luck.

  2. I like the set-up. She wants to leave the family band and is going to break her father's heart. I too was thrown off by her not knowing the name of someone she knew for years. I just don't feel the conflict. It is well written and I would read to the end of the chapter to see if it draws me in further.

  3. The details you include do a great job setting the stage (as it were) for the story. We get the success level of the group -- since they're the opening act 'as usual' and that this is truly her dad's dream. I think limiting Starling's confusion about the emcee's name to whether it's Jim or James might work better. I also thought that perhaps injecting a physical/visceral description of Starling's guilt might bring her emotional state to life (does her stomach knot, sink or?) rather than 'made her feel guiltier' and 'feeling guiltier than ever before'?

    That said, I like the setting and the fact that Starling does care about how her father feels and is struggling with how to proceed. I'd keep on reading!

    Just an FYI -- you have a typo near the end -- wondered for wandered.

  4. I like the premise but I want to know why she's breaking her dad's heart, maybe just add a sentence about going to medical school or moving to Europe to study art or whatever it is. I agree with the name thing, she'd know it even if she didn't like him. Since they are at a festival, I'd like to see more atmosphere of it. Is the main character sad to play in her last gig? Give us the smells, fried foods, cotton candy or if it's a Renaissance Faire, the smell of the horses from the jousting fields, the oversized turkey legs,, the clang of swords. Maybe have her look out on the grounds as she's thinking about her dad. Good start!

  5. Excellent first line! It says to me that no matter what she does, she's going to hurt him.

    I feel like there's a little too much dancing around the "this" that's at issue in the first paragraph. But I do enjoy the concept of a girl leaving her family's band... lots of things at stake there: loyalty, income, independence... nice set up for family drama.

    There might be few too many uses of Starling's name. The pronoun will suffice until you reference the mother.

    With regard to Jim or James, it seems illogical because the prose says she knows him. It might be less confusing if you adjusted the narrative to not knowing his name even though they played at the festival every year.

    "Her gaze WANDERED..."

    The opening shows nice use of description, and I have a good picture of what the family does. Given the first line, however, I'm a little disappointed that we didn't head straight into conflict. I'm hoping this won't be a typical family show and we get a problem within the next few paragraphs.

    There's a bit of telling in how "guilty" she's feeling that gives this a younger voice than I think you're aiming for with NA.

    (I also agree with Kathleen on the atmosphere. I can't tell if this is Renn Fest or a county fair...)

  6. I like this set up. As I said in the original contest, the word "should" break his heart sounds wrong. I sounds like she is plotting and can't wait to do it. I get the idea instead that she dreads it, but feels she must.

    "She nodded at him feeling guiltier than ever." seems like it might be better to show it. For example, "She nodded at him, but avoided eye contact."

  7. My two cents or what I’d do if I were doing it, which I’m not

    First paragraph is great, making the conflict of the story apparent. I would not want to know why she is leaving yet, as someone mentioned. Leave me to enjoy some mystery for a while. I wouldn’t use ‘break his heart’ twice, something instead like hurt or devastate

    Second paragraph, I want to see dad’s passion. Don’t care so much about the mom just yet. She can be described two paragraphs down when she speaks.

    Not much point in introducing Jim right here. More important is the characters reaction to ‘You almost ready?” What’s her internal answer? How does dad show that he is more than ready?

    Dad’s thumbs up is a hint of that passion. Good.

    So, sounds like they are playing a dumpy venue and they’re the opening act, but the dad is into it, and she’s not. Cool. Just want to see the girl’s internal state and the dad’s external enthusiasm pumped up more.

    Best wishes

  8. I really like the premise of a girl planning to leave the family band. I'd like to know a bit more about where they're playing, who's in the audience, etc., but that might be coming soon. Also, as others have mentioned, rather than outright stating twice that she feels guilty, it might help if you show us through her actions and responses. But this is a good opening!

  9. Your best writing are paragraphs three to the end. This is where I got caught up in the story and understood the scenes. (Plus I liked your voice here.) The repetition of breaking the father's heart (first break, then broken), the lack of some important commas (at least 4), and a missing "a" (he yelled at her a few times)hurts paragraphs one and two. I would weave that information in after paragraph three.

  10. My immediate impression is that, in the first sentence, the MC wants to break her father's heart. And not reluctantly. Next. . . the fact that he has yelled at her before but this is different. . . this seems to imply that something worse than a fight went down. So. . . she wants revenge? Is that why she wants to break his heart?

    But then it seems she is turning away from her father's dreams for her -- musical dreams, apparently, as indicated by the instrument. So perhaps this isn't a revengeful desire but a kid who wants to go her own way and isn't sure how to make that clear.

    The MC's guilt in paragraph two clears this all up.

    By the end of the entry, I have the nagging feeling that this kid is going to get herself out of the family business by sabotaging a concert. So you've built up some tension. I'm just not sure it's the right tension.

    Why doesn't she just talk to her family?

    Thanks for putting your work up for critique!

  11. I thought this was an interesting premise and just about everything you need on a first page is there. One thing I would have liked to have seen is what she wants to do instead of playing in the band. Does she have a dream of her own? Does she just want to be able to hang out with her friends? Is she just tired of the band after all these years?

    I don't think it has to be on the first page, but it would add more conflict if it was, because then there would be something pitted against being in the band. I just don't want to do it any more, isn't as interesting as I don't want to do it because I'd rather be painting, or having a better social life, or whatever it is that she wants. There is no conflict in making a decision. The conflict comes in the choosing. Do I want this or that?