Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On The Block Concession Crit #10

TITLE: Ben Seeker
GENRE: YA suspense

Freakishly big for his fifteen-years and unable to recall his origin, a man-sized boy enters a sleepy farm town in search of his mother, but instead finds trouble. His quest for normalcy pits him against gangsters, sets dark operatives upon him, and awakens his capacity to care for others.
Ben stepped down from the road weary bus and stood at a dusty crossroads in a flat farm valley, alone amongst endless rows of tomato bushes drooping in the sun. As the bus rumbled off he set his jaw firmly, but when he reached into his pocket and touched the picture hidden there, he smiled.
The distant mountains were barely visible in the dirty air, just as his past was obscured by hazy memories. Up ahead, Ben hoped, was the light to uncloak his origin.

He chose the smaller road, and in the fifty minutes it took him to walk to town, only one pickup truck passed by. While it approached Ben averted his eyes. He didn’t want the driver stopping to ask questions such as: Why was a stranger walking on this road in the heat? Ben had his reasons, but saying them out loud . . . that would sound crazy. 

Lone country roads could be trouble, so Ben was glad when the driver did not slow. Ben was man-sized big and didn’t look like a lost kid in need of help; but actually, he was beginning to see double because of the heat. 

At last Cabrillo Diablo came into view like a wispy mirage and a blur of treetops. Cabrillo Diablo meant devil’s goat cheese, and while Ben pinched his nostrils he thought the name made sense. The musty air was a cow-manure cocktail; but hopefully, the burning stench was the smelling salts he needed.


  1. There's so much to like about your logline. It builds suspense (which is good, since that's your genre). :)

    There are elements in the first page that really provide suspense well: the hidden photograph, Ben's size, what lay ahead and why it would unveil his origin. Good job there! I wanted to read on.

    My critiques are:
    1. Avoid over-use of adjectives. In just the first paragraphs you used road-weary, dusty, flat, endless, dirty, hazy. You can paint a vivid picture with fewer adjectives. Just choose those that are most descriptive.

    2. I think you could combine some paragraphs for more impact. For example, the paragraphs starting with "He chose" and "Lone country" could be combined this way:

    He chose the smaller road. Although lone country roads could be trouble, Ben was man-sized big and wouldn’t look like a lost kid in need of help. In the fifty minutes it took him to walk to town, only one pickup truck passed by. Ben averted his eyes. Even though he was beginning to see double from the heat, he was glad when the driver didn’t slow down. He didn’t need anyone questioning why he was there. He had his reasons, but others might find them crazy.

    I think you have a good start and you make me want to know more. That's what every first page requires. This may just need some fine-tuning and editing.

    DurangoWriter (author Mandy Mikulencak)

  2. Like the idea for the story! I think the pitch needs a bigger oomph. Like what's keeping him from leaving town?

    Overall, I liked this and I'd like to see where it's going. The last two lines were my favorite!

    However, it's a tad overdone with lots of adjectives that don't add that much. You are missing several commas needed for clarity.

    road weary bus – I'm not sure you meant to anthropomorphize the bus

  3. I agree with the other commenters that the first paragraph, especially, is a bit overwritten. Your writing really takes off when you get us close to Ben's perspective (his thinking about Cabrillo Diablo is funny and gives us great character hints), rather than just using physical descriptions of the setting. I'm curious about a 15-year-old 'man-sized boy.' Aren't a lot of fifteen-year-old boys already man-sized? Or is he really big even for a man, so it's particularly striking that he's so young? Regardless, the concept is cool and Ben seems like an interesting, unique protagonist.

  4. I can see the setting very clearly, but it might be a skosh too much. Dialing it back a bit might be to your advantage. I like the first sentence of your pitch very much, but the second line loses me--it's not obvious what the stakes are.

  5. The last two paragraphs are strong, but you need to tighten and clean up all the rest - or just cut some of it. There are some few jarring notes: road-weary bus? The firm jaw, the hidden picture, distant mountains, obscure past - all a bit cliched and vague to boot.

    Try getting rid of all of it, except having him climb down off the bus. Then go straight to "He chose the smaller road," and off you go.

    Somewhere in here you're going to want more about him and his search for his mother - maybe save it for a punch at the end of the page/chapter.

    This sounds intriguing, but you don't want such a meandering beginning. Get into the story and the scene faster.

  6. I like the premise of this story, but I think the opening sentence is long and lacks hook. I think he would take the picture out and look at it ... not just touch it.

  7. I love the last paragraph on Cabrillo Diablo. There's originality and spark and writer's voice. I would trim the adjectives up to then. We're not invested in the character yet so the details of the terrain aren't gripping. It's a cool idea for a book, best of luck.

  8. You say he finds trouble, then list two troublesome things and one nice thing. I would detach "awakens his capacity to care for others" by making it its own sentence, or at least separate it with a "but" of some kind.

    Love the name of the town. But I don't think Ben would pinch his nostrils. He doesn't seem like the squeamish type. Plus if he just breathes everything in, it makes more sense when you describe the smell of the town.

    I love the idea of a mature teenager headed to a seedy town on a quest. Feels like an original idea. Wish I could read more...

  9. Nice concept! I agree about the adjectives. There are 6-7 in the opening sentence alone. My thought would be to have him get off the bus, and go straight to the Cabrillo Diablo parg. because just the name of the town is interesting and draws the reader in, and as he walks to town, then give us the info about him and his past and what he hopes to do. And then end the page with, Up ahead. was the light to uncloak his origins.