Thursday, January 14, 2016

Talkin' Heads #30

TITLE: Emily's Guide to Owning a Castle
GENRE: MG - Light Fantasy

12-year-old Emily has followed strange sounds down to a well beneath her a castle. There, she finds a mysterious boy trapped in a well who seems to know her and doesn't want her to call for help.

“Your face is strange. You do not resemble Anne Elizabeth,” he said.

“I’m not strange. I’m American,” she retorted.

“American? I have never been there. Is it far from here? Tell me about your people and your land.”

“I didn’t know there was anyone in the world who didn’t know about the United States,” Emily said, laughing. “I live in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a city with all the usual stuff. The parks are nice. My friends and I play soccer together outside a lot. It doesn’t rain as much in Phoenix as it does here. It’s a desert so it’s sunny and hot all the time.”

“Do you wish to be in Phoenix?” the boy asked.

“Sometimes, I guess. I mean, I miss it a lot, but I like it here too.”

“You are sad to be so far from your friends and your home,” he said.

“A little. Where are you from? You can’t have lived down there all your life.”

His eyes looked beyond her. “I too am from a place far away. A place with sunlight, starry starlight, and moonlight filling the sky. Even when clouds gathered, lightning lit my path so I was never in darkness. I was happy there.”

“Can’t you get back? Can I help you get back?”

“You would help me?”

Emily grasped the iron grate and pulled with all her might, but it did not budge. Exerting herself so much made her yawn. Between her tiredness and growing uneasiness, she was ready to leave. “I can’t get this off myself. I’ll go and get help.”


  1. I think this exchange would work better if you reduced it. Delete the 'Tell me about you people...' bit and shorten Emily's response.

    Although the characters are definite, the conversation is too real (i.e. slow) to engage the reader enough. IMO

  2. Hi!

    So, 2 things:

    1. I understand that you want the boy to be strange and otherwordly, but his dialogue is so stilted and formal that it doesn't feel natural at all.

    2. Emily's dialogue about Arizona is too dense. People don't talk in fat paragraphs like that. Trim it down!

    Also, "The perks are nice" doesn't sound like something a 12-year-old would say. Be careful to keep your MG voice consistent.

    Good luck!

  3. You have two very distinctive voices here, which is great.

    I would suggest you read your dialogue out loud and decide what sounds like something a 12-year-old would say, and what sounds a bit stilted. Remember that people rarely speak in complete sentences. I think you need to do some cutting and editing to really make this piece shine! Example:

    "I didn’t know there was anyone in the world who didn’t know about the United States."

    You really need to show her AMAZEMENT that someone hasn't heard of the US.

    "Wow! You've never heard of America? What about Disney World? The Statue of Liberty?"

    "It’s a desert so it’s sunny and hot all the time." True, but not very intriguing. Try to make the boy, and the reader, FEEL the sun and the heat.

    "It's so hot in the summer that when you breathe it's like you're swallowing fire."

    By cutting words and adding images, you'll have a much sharper scene.

    Best of luck!

  4. I could hear the voices as distinct--the American girl and the old-fashioned, stilted boy. I'm surprised she didn't take the boy's first comment--"Your face is strange," more personally, or ask who Anne Elizabeth is--although her identity might have come up earlier in the story. The last paragraph of narrative doesn't ring true to me. Wouldn't exertion lead to breathing harder instead of yawning? The reference to growing uneasiness is telling--there's no supporting evidence. This is a good start. Adding more specific information will pull the reader in deeper. Thank you for posting, and good luck!

  5. I can clearly tell by speech patterns who is speaking, so you've done that well.

    Three things tripped me:

    "she retorted." First, the dialog makes it plain who the speaker is, so it's unnecessary if you feel like axing it. Second, what she says doesn't strike me as much of a retort but rather an explanation, so it feels like the wrong word to me.

    Him asking about her people and the dense paragraph about Phoenix. If someone says "tell me about your land," I'm going to say, "Um... like what? It's... okay, I guess. Lots of asphalt and tall buildings. And, uh... oh, we have a football team. That's interesting, I guess." Her list is long and seems a bit too prepared for it's length. Usually to get a whole list, people have to tease it out of me by asking questions.

    "starry starlight"—only because it's oddly repetitive and not parallel... no, sunny sunlight or moony moonlight.

  6. The two voices are distinct, which is a big plus. However, I agree that the boy's language is a little too formal. He is still a child, after all. His language can be formal-ish while still boy-ish. "Tell me about your people" is a bit weird for anyone to say. "Tell me more about this American" or some such would be more believable, I think.

    "Starry starlight" tripped me up a bit. It's a very redundant phrase and does nothing to give the reader an idea of what that starlight actually looks like.

    I agree that most people, especially adolescents girls, might have some questions if a conversation began about their looks. Who is this Anne Elizabeth? Why does it matter that she doesn't look like her? These are things I would definitely want to know, and I would question the boy right away.

    I think this is a really good start, as the characters have unique voices. Keep your target audience in mind when you make your word and phrase choices. Hope this helps!

  7. I like the boy's dialog just fine, since he's not a normal boy. Although, you don't need the "the boy asked." I have to agree with what people said above about Emily's dialog.
    I think Emily would react to his remark about lightning - either becoming curious or calling him a liar.

  8. I agree with previous comments- great start, two clear voices, watch the long paragraphs of info dump and complete sentences. One thing I can add is the notion of "on the nose dialogue". Usually people don't say exactly what they are thinking- they hide things, withold information, avoid answering questions- especially two strangers speaking for the first time. This makes the dialogue more interesting to the reader- he has to fill in the pieces. As you revise, try not to have everything so out in the open. In that spirit, cut the line: "You are sad to be so far from your friends and your home" and "I was happy there."
    Good luck!

  9. Thanks for the comments and critiques, everyone! I knew this scene sucked and it's been bothering me. Your suggestions are going to help me whip it into shape. :)