Critique Corner: The StoryShadow

Author:          Mac M.

Genre:           Middle Grade Action/ Adventure                                 

Chapter one:

“Is that homework?”

Bren looked up from the math book on his lap and the stack of notes on the bench next to him. A girl wearing a Fiction Island tank top stood in front of him. She was a year or two younger than him, and pretty. The Mardi Gras Party Gras roller coaster behind Bren roared past, with the sounds of both mechanical churnings and riders’ screams.

He shrugged. “I guess.”

“Why are you doing homework here? Aren’t you on vacation?”

“I live here, actually. My dad works here.”


He glared at her. “Of course really. I mean what I say.”

“Okay.” She crossed her arms. “But, homework? Here?”

The next set of roller cars blasted past. She watched them, wide-eyed. He didn’t bother looking, accustomed to the sounds of the ride.

“I like doing math,” Bren said. “It’s relaxing.”

“What is it, algebra?”

“It’s linear partial differential equations.”

“Um, oh.”

“Shaylene,” a voice called. “Get back in line.”

“Have fun.” Bren watched her run off, to join her family in line for the ride.

Bren turned his attention to his homework. He completed three more problems, only once having to stop to keep a breeze from blowing his notes away. He started the fourth problem while simultaneously considering how many mathematicians and numerologists take the number four for granted, when he saw someone of interest walk by.

The man wore a garish Hawaiian shirt, more garish than most tourist shirts. His hair was an unwashed greasy mess. His spindly white legs sprung out of his jean shorts and into a pair of cheap flip-flops.

Bren stuffed his homework into the backpack at his feet. He stood, slung the backpack over his shoulder, and followed the man.



7 thoughts on “Critique Corner: The StoryShadow”

  1. Thanks so much for the feedback, everyone. My personal life going insane means I wasn’t able to respond until now.

    The question of “MG or YA?” continues to haunt this one. The book was originally intended as YA, but most everyone who’s read it agrees that it’s better suited to MG.

    Bren is a genius, which is what I was hoping to establish by having him to ridiculously complicated calculus. He’s not angry in this scene, he’s just a very, very serious guy.

    Good call on the girl’s T-shirt. I hadn’t considered that it could be interpreted that she works there. It was supposed to be a way to introduce the name of the park right off the bat.

    Thanks again, this has been hugely helpful, and I have a lot of ideas for improvements!

    1. Mac, I’m glad you found this round helpful! I think it’s important to hear what other writers think of our work and also so motivating. I always want to dive back in and make my writing better. Thank you for participating. Good luck with your story!

  2. I love the setting for this story and the contrast between the idea of sitting on a bench doing math – calculus, no less (shudder) – and being at an amusement park. I’ll admit I was a bit confused at first about the girl. I wasn’t sure what Fiction Island was – I take it that’s the name of the amusement park? – and then I thought she was an employee of the park since she was wearing a shirt with the name on it. It wasn’t until she was called back into the line that I realized she was visiting the park. Until then, I really thought she worked there, and then I was trying to remember the child labour laws. :o)

    I loved the way you fit the description of the rollercoaster – the mechanical churning, the screams – into the story. We have no doubts this is a scary ride and a weird place to be doing math for fun.

    Despite his strange fascination with math, this kid would be my new hero if I was young again – he lives at an amusement park where his dad works?! Aces!

    I’m intrigued by the man he’s following and why he’s doing it. Reminded me a bit of something Harriet the Spy would do.

    Thanks for sharing your writing.

  3. Mac,

    Who doesn’t love the idea of being in an amusement park, especially if there’s a story there? As a writer one of the biggest challenges we face right up front is “the hook.” That’s what draws a reader into your story and sets the stage for them to want to read it. You have a fabulous opportunity here to use this setting and create a more compelling hook. A hook can be crafted around an action scene or perhaps something that begs a question, anything that drives the reader further into your story.

    I know this is middle grade, but perhaps you might consider moving up to YA since your voice is much more mature (as pointed out by some of the other critiques).

    I also like that you’ve introduced a female character with a little moxie. Usually the male characters are the ones making the advances so it’s a refreshing change. I hope we read more about Shaylene. And what’s the deal with this strange greasy man? I’m intrigued. Keep writing!

  4. Mac,

    I am not going to mention the age level because I think that’s been covered, but yes I agree Bren sounds older than middle grade. However, I really like his voice. He sounds smart and grounded and very unique. I really liked the math in an amusement park idea. I must admit I’ve never seen an opening like that before and it flows with Bren’s voice.

    In the second paragraph you overuse the word “him”. It’s in the first three sentences and is off-putting. Try rewording to drop a couple and I think it’ll flow better.

    Overall, I think this is a great start. I’m intrigued as to why such a smart boy would drop everything to follow a tacky greasy man, and I really want to know more about Bren. Great opening!

  5. Hey Mac!
    I love the setting here. People watching, adventure, new experiences, etc . . . so much is possible at an amusement park.
    I think your mc’s voice is right on the edge of upper middle grade, though I think you can still make it work as long as your subject matter and story line stay well in MG range. However, my one critique would be to encourage you to reexamine your hook. Your first 500 words are your ticket into your reader’s mind and heart. Make sure you are starting the story in the right place . . . Bren seems angry, he calms/grounds himself by doing mathematical equations, and then suddenly follows a dodgy looking stranger. LOVE. Perhaps let the girl come into play later? Just a thought. Keep up the good work!

  6. Love the title and the setting. An amusement park is a perfect spot for a middle grade adventure- especially when your dad works there. It might be even better if Bren LIVED there! (Just a thought.) The voice here sounds older than middle grade though. I’d love to know if Bren is older than 13 (the max age for this category) because this opening passage reads more like YA. For ex. “She was a year or two younger than him, and pretty.” Even though the narrator is saying this sentence, it still conveys the voice and sounds too old. Another ex.: “He saw someone of interest walk by.” A middle school kid might say “Someone weird walk by.” The math references sounded mature too (even if Bren is a mature character for his age) especially when the girl asked if it was algebra. Not many 10-12 year olds know what algebra is yet. So I would either change this to YA if your MC is 15 or older or try nail that middle grade voice. (Not an easy thing to do!) However, I really like that Bren (awesome name BTW) has such a math oriented mind. It’s great to see a character have a unique trait! I like many of your descriptions also: the roller coaster roaring by in the opening paragraph, the breeze blowing his notes, and the physical appearance of the man. I like the ending paragraph too. It sets the stage for a good mystery or adventure. Overall, this is a strong start. It just needs some tweaking. The concept is there and that’s a huge part of it. I would definitely keep reading. Good luck with this. I think it has strong potential. 🙂

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