FRIDAY FEEDBACK – House Invader: The Best Surprise Ever

Tanya Suffolk has submitted today’s submission for Friday Feedback. It’s a piece from her junior novel, House Invader: The Best Surprise Ever aimed at children 7 years and over.

House Invader: The Best Surprise Ever

Chapter 1

Life’s pretty good when you’re a cat. Relaxing twenty-four hours a day is definitely one of the many benefits. There are some days that are extra special for pets like me. Today is one of those days. It’s Christmas and every year Melody, my girl, spoils me rotten. This year Melody is finally going to give me the best Christmas present of all… a new name! I’m sure of it! Now that she’s ten I think that she finally understands that Princess Boo Boo, the name she gave me when she was three, has to change. I am a boy after all!

For now though I’m going to make the most of this long summer holiday sleep in. I rub my soft, brown cheek against Melody’s warm hand. She sleepily starts to scratch behind my ear. Yes, life is good when you’re a cat!

‘Merry Christmas Princess,’ Melody yawns.

MY FEEDBACK

Life’s pretty good when you’re a cat.

Love this opening line, but then the tension falls away in the next bit, partly because the voice becomes older when you use words like ‘definitely one of the many benefits’. This is also telling not showing. You could show why life is good for this cat – and relate it to something kids would appreciate.

Perhaps you could say something like. “You get to watch television whenever you want and just by breathing mouse breath all over everyone, you get to sit in your favourite chair.”

There are some days that are extra special for pets like me.

I’m wondering if this cat would see himself as a ‘pet’ or whether he would see his humans as pets.

Today is one of those days. It’s Christmas and every year Melody, my girl, spoils me rotten.

This last part of the sentence is ‘telling’. It would come alive for the reader so much more if you showed how your character gets spoiled. Perhaps where your character is here and now shows how spoiled he is. Perhaps Melody put a rug over him while he is curled up on her bed…or slipped his food bowl next to him and he has accidentally put his head in the food. There is room to develop the character more and use even more humour to show his world to the reader.

This year Melody is finally going to give me the best Christmas present of all… a new name! I’m sure of it!

I think you might need to mention how your character might know this. Why does the character have this expectation? Just because Melody is getting older isn’t a strong enough connection. Perhaps Melody has given ‘Princess’ a hint – or something he takes to be a hint, but isn’t really one at all.

Now that she’s ten I think that she finally understands that Princess Boo Boo, the name she gave me when she was three, has to change. I am a boy after all!

There is a point of view issue here. How does he know this unless he can read her mind…or unless she has said something? Perhaps a friend has teased her about giving a boy a girl’s name? This seems to be an important part of your character’s situation so take the time to explore it more and show why Princess is making this assumption.

For now though I’m going to make the most of this long summer holiday sleep in. I rub my soft, brown cheek against Melody’s warm hand. She sleepily starts to scratch behind my ear. Yes, life is good when you’re a cat!

‘Merry Christmas Princess,’ Melody yawns.

Love this last paragraph. It shows humour and has a great hook at the end.

Tanya you have a great premise and some fabulous humour in your story that I think young kids will love.

I felt that your character was speaking directly to me and Princess came through to me with a strong voice. You need to make sure that his voice doesn’t sound too old in parts – and also show his character not just through talking, but through actions and reactions as well. Show things happening directly to him. Reflecting on things that have happened (like being spoiled at Christmas) slow the pace of the story down, which isn’t always a bad thing, but you need to be careful of overdoing it at the start. Readers want to get to know your character and their story straight away.

The text flows well, but try to minimise character’s ‘explaining’. You can say how they feel, but usually in response to a piece of action. Try to use actions where possible For instance, show how much he hates being called Princess by making him behave in the way that cats do when they are annoyed with you – perhaps he turns his back or swishes his tail.

I can see a lot of potential with this and that it would definitely appeal to your target age group. A lot will depend on how you develop your characters and incorporate the action into the story. Have you read the Selby books by Duncan Ball? These are about a talking dog. There are also the Jack Russell Pet Detectives series by Sally and Darryl Odgers which you might find helpful.

Normally you wouldn’t complete more than one book to submit a series. You would submit the first manuscript, a series outline and a synopsis for the first three books. You might even submit a ‘series bible’ showing who the characters are and where they live. You need to check out the guidelines of the publishers you want to submit to – perhaps even ask them how they would prefer you to submit your series proposal. Here’s a link to a great guest post by Alessah Darlison at this blog about how to plan and pitch a series.

Good luck with your writing, Tanya. I hope you have found my suggestions helpful.

If you’d like to submit your 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Feel free to mention if you have a particular problem or question with the piece you have sent. Can you also please include age of intended readership and approximate word count of intended manuscript and put FRIDAY FEEDBACK in the subject line of your email.

Thanks.

Happy writing:)

Dee

FRIDAY FEEDBACK – THE MAKING OF ALBY

Today’s piece for Friday Feedback is provided by Karen Ann Collins. The 150 words are taken from Chapter 3 of her children’s adventure novel for 9-12 year old readers. Karen’s novel, ‘The Making of Alby’ is set in an English village in 1939.

Chapter 3 – Old Arthur

Alby decided to take the laneway that led from the Old Rectory to St Mary Church. He was aware of the local legend of Arthur the headless gravedigger, who walked aimlessly around the church grounds with a shovel looking for children to bury, and the thought of cutting through the graveyard terrified him. But the lane was the quickest route, and he was eager to get to the manor and the older boys who would be waiting for him.

Half skipping and half running; Alby practised his dribbling by keeping a medium sized flint rock as near to his feet as he could.  Chalky had told him that he needed to work on his technique and that until he could control the ball while running at full speed, he couldn’t hope to win a place in the Eastling Under 11s.  Kip kept close hoping he’d soon be sent to retrieve the strange looking ball. . . 

This is an intriguing, well written piece that gives us a good sense of who Alby is and the setting of the story. My suggestions mainly relate to tightening the text.

Alby decided to take the laneway that led from the Old Rectory to St Mary Church. (With something like this, I would probably just say “Alby took the laneway…” I don’t think you need ‘decided to’ because the reader can see by his actions that this is a choice Alby has made. And also, would you say St Mary or St Mary’s church?

He was aware of the local legend of Arthur the headless gravedigger, who walked aimlessly around the church grounds with a shovel looking for children to bury, and the thought of cutting through the graveyard terrified him. But the lane was the quickest route, and he was eager to get to the manor and the older boys who would be waiting for him.

Just by reordering this paragraph, I think you can tighten it up a bit. Statements like ‘he was aware of …’ aren’t really necessary because we know you are in Alby’s point of view and if he wasn’t aware of the legend, he wouldn’t know to be scared by it.

So I would probably suggest something like this.

Cutting through the graveyard terrified Alby because according to local legend, a headless gravedigger named Arthur wandered the church grounds with his shovel, looking for children to bury. But the lane was the quickest route and Alby was eager to get to the manor where the older boys would be waiting.

Half skipping and half running; Alby practised his dribbling by keeping a medium sized flint rock as near to his feet as he could.  Chalky had told him that he needed to work on his technique and that until he could control the ball while running at full speed, he couldn’t hope to win a place in the Eastling Under 11s.  Kip kept close hoping he’d soon be sent to retrieve the strange looking ball. . . .

This paragraph works well. It gives us important information about Alby, his age and what he wants.

The only thing I would comment on here is that you have changed point of view in this paragraph from Alby’s to Kip’s. I’m assuming from what you have written that Kip is a dog. Unless Alby can read Kip’s mind he can only assume what might be going on in Kip’s head, he can’t know for sure. So it might make things clearer if you said something like. “Kip kept close as if he was hoping he’d soon….”

A couple of other things you might want to think about. If you start character’s names with the same letter, it can get confusing for the reader – eg Alby and Arthur. You can always list all the names of your characters on a separate piece of paper in their letter categories and this will help you identify if perhaps you might need to change a character’s name.

I quite like your title, The Making of Alby, but I’m wondering whether this title would appeal to today’s 9 to 12 year old readers and whether they would be familiar with the term, “The Making of” and what it means.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Karen. I really like the sound of Alby and his adventure.

If you’d like to submit your 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Feel free to mention if you have a particular problem or question with the piece you have sent. Can you also please include age of intended readership and approximate word count of intended manuscript and put FRIDAY FEEDBACK in the subject line of your email.

Thanks.

Happy writing:)

Dee

FRIDAY FEEDBACK – CELESTE

Thanks to talented teen writer, Celeste who has provided today’s piece for Friday Feedback.

Celeste is in Year 12 and is writing this piece as part of her studies.

I tell Liam to spread his map out over the table while I’m flicking through the pages of the book. Finally, I find the chapter on creatures and start explaining to Liam about what Antoinette told me at graduation. “At graduation, right before Justin and Anastasia showed up, Antoinette was telling me about the first war and the Orb. She mentioned that the Coven also had mythical creatures like dragons and goblins as part of their army’s defence”.

I pass him the book and draw a circle around the map with my finger “Look at the map Liam. The Coven’s headquarters is hidden in the middle of this massive forest. Remember how Nick said they think it’s underground and they can bet that it’s going to have defences above ground?” I’m now pointing at the pictures in the book of dragons and giant serpents “I bet that’s their defences”.

You write well, Celeste and your character has a very strong voice. You have established a strong setting and cause for tension in your story. From this piece I can tell that there is conflict ahead for your main character and her friends.

My suggestions mainly relate to tweaking the story to tighten it up and make it as strong as it can be.

When you find yourself using words like, “I tell…”, think about whether it would be stronger to actually have the person say the words.

Here’s what I mean:

I point to the table. “Spread your map out, Liam.” I flick through the book on my lap and find the chapter on creatures.

Or instead of saying things like, “I start explaining”,  just get your character to explain.

For example:

“At graduation, right before Justin and Anastasia showed up, Antoinette was telling me about the first war and the Orb. She mentioned that the Coven also had mythical creatures like dragons and goblins as part of their army’s defence.”

Try to keep things as simple and as clear as you can for the reader. This could mean breaking up some of your dialogue into smaller pieces, with responses from another character in between.

Here’s what I mean:

I pass him the book and draw a circle around the map with my finger “Look, The Coven’s headquarters is hidden in the middle of this massive forest.

(Celeste, you could put in response from Liam here.)

I find a page full of dragons and giant serpents. “I bet that’s the above ground defence that Nick was talking about.”

One more tip

Think about whether a word that ends in ‘ing’ is the best word to use. Sometimes words with these endings slow the pacing of the story down and force you to use unnecessary extra words.

For example:

Instead of “I was hunting”, use the words “I hunted”.

Thanks for sharing your piece with us, Celeste. Keep writing:)

I enjoyed reading your work and I hope you found my suggestions helpful.

If you’d like to submit your 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Feel free to mention if you have a particular problem or question with the piece you have sent. Can you also please include age of intended readership and approximate word count of intended manuscript and put FRIDAY FEEDBACK in the subject line of your email.

Thanks.

Happy writing:)

Dee

FRIDAY FEEDBACK – HEATHER GALLAGHER

Heather Gallagher has provided today’s Friday Feedback. This is the beginning of her chapter book.

Rex was sucking the life out of an icy pole in front of the orangutan exhibit.

On the other side of the glass sat Harta – or the orangutan we would later learn was Harta – sucking his thumb. It struck me then that that was kind of weird. Thumb-sucking is one of my little brother’s more embarrassing habits.

‘Hey Ezzie,’ Rex called out to me. ‘Watch this!’

Rex, without taking his eyes off Harta, put a hand up to his head and scratched his own bright orange hair.

Harta lifted his scarily human hand up to his head – and scratched.

Rex, finished his icy pole, put down the stick, smiled and scratched his bum.

Harta, baring his own large teeth, scratched his bum.

Rex – now grinning like a finalist on ‘Australian Idol’ – put his left finger up his nose and began to pick.

Harta extended a hairy red pointer and rammed it up his own nose as if searching for buried treasure.

Heather,

This is really funny and I think kids would love the orangutan mimicking the boy. We get a really good feel for Rex’s sense of humour and this makes him endearing to the reader. His actions are  just the kind of thing a kid would do.

I would probably have liked to see you set the scene a bit more. Some things to think about – things the reader might want to know. Are they at the zoo? Why are they there? Is it someone’s birthday? (this can be a good way of getting age information across) How does your main character feel about being there? You could also take a bit more time to introduce Harta. What is he doing when he first sees Rex? Is he sitting bored in the corner or doing antics of his own? I think there is also room to let the reader know more about Harta in terms of size, age etc if relevant to your story.

I was also interested to know how old Rex was. This kind of information helps ground the reader in the story and relate to your character.

It struck me then

I’m not sure how old Ezzie is, but this sounded quite adult. I don’t think you actually need it. Could Ezzie just say, That was kind of weird?

or the orangutan we would later learn was Harta

I don’t think you need this and it takes the reader out of the story. It’s actually a point of view change. If you want readers to know that you know Harta’s name, you could have one of your characters read it on a name plate on the cage.

Rex, finished his icy pole, put down the stick, smiled and scratched his bum.

Would he perhaps pause for effect here to make sure Ezzie is watching? Also, I’m wondering if he might stuff his stick in his pocket or in the bin (being environmentally friendly).

Rex sounds a bit old to be a thumb sucker. Is this vital to the story? Perhaps the orangutan sucks its thumb like Rex used to.

You may have done this already, but in case you haven’t, the reader would need to know where this is set. Could you relate the mimicking actions to the setting.

Also, pretty soon you are going to need to give the reader an idea of the sort of story this is. A mystery? An adventure? Where is it heading?

As a reader, I’d definitely be interested in reading on, Heather and finding out more about Rex and Harta.

If you’d like to submit your 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Feel free to mention if you have a particular problem or question with the piece you have sent. Can you also please include age of intended readership and approximate word count of intended manuscript and put FRIDAY FEEDBACK in the subject line of your email.

Thanks.

Happy writing:)

Dee

FRIDAY FEEDBACK – KELLY McDONALD

Today at Friday Feedback, Kelly McDonald has kindly agreed to share 150 words from her YA horror novel.

Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

The essence that was Terry stirred in the darkness, hovering in the rafters, still connected to his corpse by a thick silver chord. He was between the worlds, literally, one foot in, and one foot out… His thoughts were scattered, but his mind was still aware, and he was waking. It was because of her. He could sense she was drawing near. He willed himself to become more present in the here and now. Here she comes.  He could feel her, smell her… almost taste her. He quivered in anticipation. Here she comes….

*

They were brats. All three of them were nothing but smelly, dirty, troublesome stinking brats. Shelley was annoyed already, and they had only been driving for twenty minutes.

Shelley rolled her eyes at her brother Tim. He was entertaining Robbie and Lochie, other wise known as ‘The Twins’

Love your writing, Kelly. It’s very evocative and flows well and there are many hooks in your opening scene. It’s an intriguing setting, Terry is a character who attracts interest and your opening piece raises many questions for the reader. I know you are deliberately holding back information for the suspense value but I felt like I needed to know more about the situation – perhaps who Terry was and how he had died.

I’m wondering if you could give us more about Terry so that the reader feels as if they identify with him more, and care what happens to him. I felt like you moved out of Terry’s point of view and into another character’s head so fast that we didn’t really have time to get to know him.

I was a little overwhelmed that in the first few paragraphs I had been introduced to five (possibly six) characters and I didn’t really feel as if I knew who any of them were. In a novel like this you have to find the balance between suspense and giving the reader enough information to allow them to know what’s going on.

Especially if this is a YA story and you want YA readers to engage with your characters, I think you need something to identify your characters as being YA. At the moment, this felt like it could have been a piece for adult readers. One way you could connect directly with teen readers is mention the age of one of your characters. Perhaps it’s Terry’s birthday, the day he dies. Another way is to make his ‘voice’ more teen. Make his feelings sound more how a teen might feel. For example, “17yo Terry was really pissed about dying.” Not saying you should use these words, they are just an example of how a teen might think. Look at some YA novels – particularly horror ones and see how other writers have captured the teen point of view and ‘voice’.

Also, seeing as this is a horror story I was wondering if it should get into the horror pretty much straight away.  Horror is scary. I found the beginning intriguing, but not scary. One thing you could experiment with is starting with an action scene – perhaps how he died rather than an introspection scene. Here’s an article you might find helpful in making your story more scary http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/scary.html

I was  pulled up by the phrase “Here she comes” which seemed to contradict the tense of the rest of the paragraph. You could consider using something like, “She was coming”…

*

They were brats. All three of them were nothing but smelly, dirty, troublesome stinking brats. Shelley was annoyed already, and they had only been driving for twenty minutes.

Shelley rolled her eyes at her brother Tim. He was entertaining Robbie and Lochie, other wise known as ‘The Twins’.

Once again, this next piece is well written and intriguing but I’m wondering if you could give some hint of the connection between Terry and Shelley.

Good luck with this manuscript, Kelly. As a reader, I definitely want to know what’s going to happen next.

If you’d like to submit your 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Feel free to mention if you have a particular problem or question with the piece you have sent. Can you also please include age of intended readership and approximate word count of intended manuscript and put FRIDAY FEEDBACK in the subject line of your email.

Thanks.

Happy writing:)

Dee

FRIDAY FEEDBACK – STELLA AND THE SIDECHICKS

Stella and the Sidechicks is a 14,000 word novel for children aged 9-12 by Judy Hannah. Today she shares her first 150 words.

“Goody-goody, two-shoes!  Little princess!  You’re not invited to my birthday sleepover!”  Stella sang, like we were five-year olds.

“Really!  Who wants to go to your dumb sleep-over, anyway?” I tried to match her singy-songy voice, but I didn’t do it well.  I ran away.  I was trembling. I felt like crying and yelling.  Stupid, mean Stella.  She was about to turn twelve, but she was such a big, bratty baby.  And what’s worse, I usually ended up acting the same way, not because I wanted to, but just to keep things even.

I’d gotten well away from Stella, so I could get myself back together.  I closed my eyes.  Breathe.  Relax.  That’s better: I felt calm again.  I hadn’t seen Lara yet so I went looking for her.  I ran round the corner of the school hall and there she was: my best friend, crying, no, more like sobbing. 

“Lara?” 

Judy, I love the title of your story, and the way you get inside your main character’s head. Her age is spot on for the age of the intended readership.

She also has a strong character voice, but you might want to run this piece of writing past some twelve-year old girls and ask if they found the things she says and does authentic for that age group. Some of the dialogue and actions make your character sound a bit younger than twelve.

“Goody-goody, two-shoes!  Little princess!  You’re not invited to my birthday sleepover!”  Stella sang, like we were five-year olds.

Your opening dialogue gives the impression that the other girls are naughty and your main character would spoil their fun. Is this the impression you are trying to give?

And with girls this age, they might be more likely to talk about how great the party is going to be in front of your main character and not directly come out and say, “you’re not invited.”  This would also give you room to show how the character feels about all this rather than telling the reader. Or if they do taunt your main character, they might call her something even worse relating to what she looks like, who her family are or a bad habit she has. Or if for example, she told on them for doing something bad then they would call her a Dobber or a Dibber Dobber. Not sure if ‘Goody-goody two shoes’ is something that would be said by today’s 12yo, but I could be wrong. As I suggested earlier, you might like to ask some twelve-year olds. See what they think?

“Who wants to go to your dumb sleep-over?” is a great line.

It shows that your character is prepared to fight back, and that stops her being a ‘victim’. This is in character with a 12yo, but when you have her say things like “Stupid mean Stella”, this makes her sound very young and the whole rest of the that paragraph makes your character sound unlikeable. “Keeping things even” doesn’t really seem to be a justifiable reason for your main character to behave in the same way as Stella and in fact she would be a lot more appealing and the reader may care about her more if she took the high road…if she didn’t succumb to Stella’s nastiness.

It’s great that you are showing her internal feelings… ‘I felt like crying and yelling”.  But this could be stronger if you showed her doing an action to show how upset she is. For example, “I squeezed back the tears” or “My finger nails dug into my palm as I tried to hold my anger tight inside my clenched fist.”

Also, I found myself wanting to know your main character’s name right from the start, and I think this would help readers identify with her too.

Judy, I’m really interested to see how the conflict between your main character and Stella and her gang develops. Lots of great potential here.

If anyone else has some constructive suggestions to make about Judy’s piece of writing, please leave your feedback in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like to submit 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email it to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*au 

Happy Writing:)

Dee


FRIDAY FEEDBACK – MIA’S MARVELLOUS MARKERS

Today, author, Tracey Slater is generously sharing a piece of her WIP, Mia’s Marvellous Markers, a humorous junior novel for ages 6-9.

Please feel free to contribute your feedback at the end of this post.

Mum was always worried about teeth turning rotten because of too much sugar. Whenever Mia or her sister complained, Mum would say to Dad, ‘Show them what lollies do, Trevor.’ Dad would beckon the girls over and open his cave of a mouth. Every tooth in Dad’s head had a black filling, making him look like he’d been crunching flies and they’d got stuck in his teeth.  Seeing Dad’s fillings stopped Mia asking, but didn’t stop Mia daydreaming about lollies, or wishing. Now, thanks to her magic pens, she could have all the lollies she wanted whenever she liked. And she didn’t even have to share.

Thinking it might taste of blueberry or bubble gum, Mia chose a blue lolly. Her mouth watered as she undid the wrapper. The wrapper crinkled like real cellophane. She popped the lolly into her mouth.

‘BLEURGH!’

MY FEEDBACK

Tracey, I love the idea of a kid who can get whatever they want just by drawing it with magic pens. There’s heaps of room for great humour here. And I think young readers will relate to parents giving them a hard time about their teeth.

If this were my manuscript, I would probably bring Mia into the story a bit earlier. You want your reader to engage with your main character as soon as possible to hook them into your story.

So I would probably start with something like this:

“See what lollies did to your Dad’s teeth,” said Mum.

Mia gaped into Dad’s cave of a mouth, at every black-filled tooth. It looked like he’d been crunching on flies and they’d got stuck there.

Mia tossed her head. Now thanks to her magic pens she could have all the lollies she wanted.

Tracey, I was wondering about the next line “And she didn’t even have to share”. Why doesn’t she have to share? I think you might need more explanation here because it makes her sound a bit unlikeable. If it’s because Mum and Dad don’t eat lollies then that’s fine – but I think you have to show the reader why. Or is it because she draws the pictures in her room where nobody can see? In that case you could mention this.

It sounded like Mia had already drawn the lollies when Mum pointed out Dad’s teeth to her. If she hadn’t, then you need to make this clearer. Does she do this in her room? Does she draw her favourite lollies – if so, what are they. By  developing this more you can show more of Mia’s character and also how she creates these things with her magic pen. I think the reader would be curious to know how all this works. Does she need special paper, does it take a while, is she a good drawer etc?

I think there needs to be more of a transition between the teeth scene and Mia choosing the lolly to make it clearer for the reader, and also you could add some action/conflict and setting here.

I’m wondering whether Mia accidentally draws things or whether she would specifically draw something that she wanted. In which case if she wanted blue bubble gum, she would draw it. There is more room for humour here too if she tries to draw something and it doesn’t come out quite as planned.  Your story, it’s up to you, but by making your character more proactive and in control of the story, you will bring her closer to the readers.

You use some great descriptions. I could picture the crinkling wrapper and I loved Mia’s reaction to putting the lolly in her mouth. I can imagine a kid being really impatient to do that.

Great story idea and loads of potential for a fun character and hilarious misadventures.

Thanks for sharing your WIP with our blog readers. I hope you’ve found my comments helpful.

If anyone else has some constructive suggestions to make about Tracey’s piece of writing, please leave your feedback in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like to submit 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email it to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*au 

Happy Writing:)

Dee

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FRIDAY FEEDBACK – BULLROARER

Thanks to author, Ian Trevaskis for providing today’s piece for our Friday Feedback.

Last week we had a great discussion about the Friday Feedback piece submitted by Tania McCartney, so feel free to chime in with your comments at the end of any of the Friday Feedback posts including this one.

Your comments don’t have to agree with mine:) This segment is all about providing different perspectives and feedback and thought provoking discussion to help writers submitting their work to the segment, and readers of this blog.

As we all know, there are no hard and fast rules about writing. Everyone has different ways of doing things and it’s a case of deciding what works for you.

BULLROARER

The boys were led away from the campsite and through the trees. Each one had been marked with his totem and his body patterned with white ochre and clay. As he marched behind his protectors Warra-warra could hear the mournful sound of the sacred bullroarer, the turndum, growing louder and when he stepped into the clearing where the ceremony was to take place he could see the initiation tools laid out on a flat piece of bark. They gleamed dully in the firelight. Warra-warra took a deep breath and stood tall as one of the Elders, a man with a bushy white beard and his own scars of manhood, chose a sharpened stone and turned to face the initiates.

The Elder raised the stone to the stars and sang a deep and sombre song to the sky spirit while the men adorned with the sacred markings and Eagle’s feathers shuffled and danced around the boys.

excerpt from Bullroarer by Ian Trevaskis

MY FEEDBACK

This is a well written piece and an intriguing story, Ian and you set the scene well.

I think there’s opportunity however, to give the reader more to draw them further into the scene and your main character. I wanted to know how old Warra-warra was, and I think there are opportunities to do this when you talk about the initiation ceremony. Do all tribes intiate their boys into manhood at the same time? If so, at what age? How does Warra-warra feel about this? Is it something he has looked forward to for a while or does he fear it?

I also found the ‘led away’ (which indicates passiveness and not voluntary) contradicted later on when you said he marched behind his protectors.

I’m wondering if you could start this story with more of a hook and filter the details of the ceremony into the story as they relate to the action. For instance, what if you started with Warra-warra being initiated and make him the focus of the story right from the start?

Here’s an example:

Warra-warra tried not to quiver as he faced the Elder, a man with a bushy white beard and his own scars of manhood. Warra-warra’s mouth trembled as the Elder raised the sharpened stone.

He sang a deep and sombre song to the sky spirit while the men adorned with the sacred markings and Eagle’s feathers shuffled and danced around Warra-warra and the other boys.

This would automatically increase the tension as the reader wonders what’s going to happen to Warra-warra, and would draw the reader closer to him.

It would also give you the opportunity to show what’s going on in Warra-warra’s head as this is happening. If he’s afraid, you might show him shivering. If he’s excited, you might show him shifting from one foot to the other.

Or if you want to use more setting detail to start with, you could do something like this:

The mournful sound of the sacred bullroarer, the turndum, gripped Warra-warra as he stepped into the clearing where the ceremony was to take place. He shuddered as his eyes were drawn to the initiation tools laid out on a flat piece of bark.

This might not be how your character is really feeling in your story, but I have tried to use these as  examples of how you can make your setting more active, and show how your character feels at the same time.

Try and use your setting as part of an action sequence, not just setting detail on its own.

As he marched behind his protectors Warra-warra could hear the mournful sound of the sacred bullroarer, the turndum, growing louder and when he stepped into the clearing where the ceremony was to take place he could see the initiation tools laid out on a flat piece of bark.

You’re telling us what he can hear and see, but I don’t know how he feels about all this. Isn’t an initiation ceremony one of the most important events in a young man’s life? I think there’s room for action and reaction and more detail with relevance to the story.

For example, what kind of tools are they? Do they frighten him? Does he squirm? Does he fidget? I didn’t get a sense of how Warra-warra is feeling about his initiation. Is he afraid, excited?

Readers engage with characters more if they can relate on a deeper level – if they can feel what the character is feeling.

As I said, this is a well written piece Ian, but by making the setting and action work together and making Warra-warra the focus right from the start, I think readers will engage with your character and your story more.

I hope you have found this helpful.

If anyone else has some constructive suggestions to make about Ian’s piece of writing, please leave your feedback in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like to submit 150 words for Friday Feedback, please email it to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com*au 

Happy Writing:)

Dee

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FRIDAY FEEDBACK – HOW TO BE EIGHT

This week we thank wonderful author and ACT State Ambassador for the National Year of Reading, Tania McCartney, who has kindly agreed to share a piece of her Work in Progress with us.

How to Be Eight by Tania McCartney

Wake at 5am.

Wake in a really fantastic mood even though you’ve had only four hours sleep because mum and dad threw a wild party in the back yard last night and they’re now in bed with their faces smooshed into the pillows, snoring like elephants. You know because you go in and check on them. Poke Dad’s face with your finger. He doesn’t move. Push the tip of your finger into his nose. He snorts. Bend down and pick up one of his stinky socks and hold it under his nose so it twitches and he starts to wriggle. Mum stirs. Skulk really quickly out of the room.

It’s still dark. Rummage around in the kitchen until you find the torch. Turn it on. Go to the hall mirror, stick the torch in your mouth and puff out your cheeks. Human face lamp. Use torch to ferret for crinkly packets in the pantry. Turn in horror as Big Sister appears in the darkness. Big Sister threatens to dob.

Run screaming into bedroom where snoring elephants turn into trumpeting elephants.

Time: 5.10am. Bad start to the new year.

Tania, I love the voice of your character. It’s very strong and his laconic humour comes across very well. It has a kind of Wimpy Kid feel to it.

If your character is eight, I was wondering if his voice sounded a bit old in parts like when he ‘rummages’ for his torch. I’m going to address this more in the comments on the title of the book.

I love the image of the human face lamp. It’s very vivid and very funny.

POINT OF VIEW

Things to think about.

Using ‘second person’ point of view talks to the reader, but makes it harder to get close to your character. Am wondering if this might be hard to sustain over a novel length piece. It also gives the impression that you are giving the reader a ‘lesson on how to do something’ rather than telling a story.

This point of view adds to the tension but it can also make it difficult to vary the pacing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it, just suggesting you keep these factors in mind.

HOOKING THE READER IN

While the strength of your character’s voice provides a great hook, the story actually starts off with quite a bit of information. You might want to think about a couple of things here. Is it relevant to tell the reader that the parents had a party last night? Is this necessary to the story. Is that fact going to hook a reader in?

I don’t think you need to say that your character knows what his parents looked like sleeping because he checked on them. The reader will know that he must have seen them to describe what they look like.

I’m wondering if you could start with something like:

It’s 5am and you’re standing in your boxers in parent’s room. Push the tip of your finger up Dad’s  nose . He stops snoring like an elephant and snorts. Bend down and pick up one of his stinky socks and hold it under his nose so it twitches and he starts to wriggle.

Also, the other question I had about the start was I wanted to know why your character was doing this to Dad. Was it to stop him snoring, revenge for keeping him awake, some other reason? Otherwise it just seems like a random act. I’m wondering if most eight year old kids would just head to the pantry.

So if the scene with Dad doesn’t have relevance to the story, then you could go straight to the pantry scene. On the other hand, if you wish to keep this scene (and it is funny) then you need to show its relevance in the story – perhaps it was Dad’s snoring that woke him up. If there’s no reason, it seems unlikely that kid would risk waking parents when his real goal seems to be the pantry and food.

‘Big Sister threatens to dob’ is an example of where this kind of point of view tends to lead you into telling rather than showing. If you had dialogue here, For example, “I’m telling on you Bob, you thieving little rat,” this tells you that the main character is a boy and tells you something about his sister and their relationship.

Even though the voice is strong, you still need to make it clear to the reader at the start, the age and gender of the main character. Using their name is one way of getting this kind of information across.

THE TITLE

How to Be Eight is a great title, but as I said earlier, I feel like the voice of the main character sounds a bit older than eight.

Also you mentioned to me that this book is written for readers aged 7-11. Readers generally like to read about kids a bit older than they are, so 10 or 11 year olds might be put off by an eight year old main character. (And I’m making an assumption here that this is where the title comes from). Seeing as your main character’s voice does sound older I’m wondering if you might consider changing the title to something like, ‘How to Be Ten’.

I really love the voice and the humour in this piece, and there’s loads of potential for a great fun story.

I hope you find these comments helpful.

Happy Writing:)

Dee

If you have constructive suggestions for Tania, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like feedback on 150 words of your Work in Progress, email them to Dee*at*Deescribe*dot*com

Please also include the genre, age of readership and final estimated word count. 

FRIDAY FEEDBACK – The Octopus ODDyssey

Today’s writing snippet is kindly provided by my good writing friend, Sheryl Gwyther. Sheryl is the author of Secrets of Eromanga, Princess Clown and Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper.

Here’s an excerpt from Sheryl’s work in progress, The Octopus ODDyssey.

I have an excellent reason to hide from Bufo Bentley. It began with a dirt-spraying wheelie on my bike and a bagful of textbooks on my back. Over I flipped, but the bike kept going, right into Bufo’s new Avanti Mountain Bike.

He wouldn’t have noticed the scratch on its frame except I wasn’t alone in the school bike shed. The word went out … Bentley’s gonna get Danny O’Leary.

It meant I can’t hang out in the Dirty Duck Café on Friday nights – it’s enemy territory since Bufo and his mates (a.k.a. the Toad Gang) took it over. Instead, I tramp with Finn, Ant, and Leah, deeper into the shadows of Brownie’s Swamp.

‘We’ll miss out on the Dirty Duck’s half-price milkshakes.’ Ant slaps the air around his ears. ‘Plus I’m getting eaten alive.’

‘Serves you right for not using mozzie repellent.’ Leah’s torch flickers into the dense paperbark forest at the side of the track. ‘Let me concentrate or we’ll end up lost.’

Sheryl, I love your opening line. It sets up your story problem and you just know that your main character is going clash with Bufo. It also creates tension right from the start and makes the reader want to keep reading.

But then the tension dissipates because you give the reason for the conflict straight away and it’s told not shown. I’m wondering if the reason for the animosity can be fed into the story as it progresses. Perhaps Bufo sends him a bill for the bike and he can’t afford to pay it.

Explaining what his excellent reason is also drags you back into past tense, which slows the pacing down. It also means that in the third paragraph you have conflicting tenses “it meant” and  “I tramp”.

The swamp is a great scene and the tension picks up again here.  if this were my story I would probably go straight to the swamp. Here’s what I mean.

I have an excellent reason to hide from Bufo Bentley, which is why I’m tramping deeper into the shadows of Brownie’s Swamp instead of enjoying the half price milks shakes at Dirty Ducks.

Another thing you might want to look at is word repetition. In the second paragraph, you mention the word, ‘bike’ three times. If you did want keep this paragraph here, you might want to think about expanding your descriptions more and this will allow your reader to picture what’s going on, enable you to choose alternative words, and reveal things about your character.

Here’s an example:

I was doing wheelies when my backpack full of last week’s homework slipped to one side and unbalanced me. I lost control and hit the dirt but my wheels kept going.  My bike skidded into Bufo’s brand new Avanti and it toppled to the ground, its spokes creased and a scrape the size of a fifty cent piece on its shiny black frame.

Thanks for sharing this piece with us, Sheryl. I can’t wait to hear what happens to Danny in the swamp, and more about his conflict with Bufo and whether he stops hiding.

I hope you found this feedback helpful. If you have any constructive suggestions about Sheryl’s piece, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

If you’d like feedback on your 150 words, send it to FridayFeedback*at*Deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Happy writing:)

Dee