Critique Corner #1: UNTITLED

By: Riley M.

Genre: YA Contemporary

*1st 500 Words

Her keys are the way I remember them. It’s been two weeks and they’re all I remember. Sure, there’s the fact that she was the only girl who ever kissed me and the fact that her second grade school picture is still in my wallet and the fact that she’s dead. But no, it’s the way the first key still looks freshly minted after four years and that the second key looks like it’s from the 1800’s and she never told me what it went to, and the house key that actually went to my house instead of hers.

This morning, the 20th of November. Her keys were at the creek in her backyard, just past the last row of trees, hanging from a branch on the birch tree we used to swing on. Cass never left them there. I thought they’d feel safe, like she did, but they didn’t. They were knives, slicing my palm from the life line all the way up through my veins but I don’t miss her.

The girl with the tattoo on her neck asks me if I “miss Cassandra because she always saw us talking” and I glance in her direction for all of three seconds before she walks away. Owen catches up with me, his sneakers falling into a clomp clompclomp clompclomp rhythm next to mine, and he struggles to catch his breath.

“Econ homework?”

“Not a chance.”

He snorts. “Damn, August, you’d think after all this time, this might be a reliable system.” We round the last corner before Owen is due to Economics and I’ve got a free period. “Some friend you are…”

He has twenty-seven seconds before the bell rings. “Hey,” I shoot back, “Cass is the one who steals my homework for you to copy. I’ve always been against the whole thing. Blame her.”

Owen just stares straight ahead out the doorway, frozen like he’s never seen me before. I know what he’s thinking. It’s the same thing everyone is.

I lied to you, just now. I don’t have a free period. I’m supposed to be in Calculus but I’m not really sure what I’m doing there anyway. 32% on the last test and an average in the 40s isn’t exactly the sign of someone who has all the answers. Truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing at all, sitting in my old pick-up truck, clutching Cass’s keys and willing myself to do something other than this.

I know I could sit here for another six hours, listening to nothing but the rattle of her keys but I know that isn’t what my mother wants. My mother hated hates Cass.

I trace the outline of the big key with my index finger and am suddenly brought back to the last time I held these keys, before everything happened.

7 thoughts on “Critique Corner #1: UNTITLED

  1. myinnermg says:

    Hi Riley!

    Very interesting start to this story! I’m interested in August & Cass’s story. The one main suggestion I’d give would be to hone in on what you want the reader to know most of all right up front––do the keys have something to do with her death? As the first 500 words are prime real estate, I’d want your main focus to shine brighter than anything else. I hope that makes sense!

    Great job on this! I know you’re going to do great things! I wish I’d started writing at your age! (-:

    Melyssa

    @myinnermg

    from the currently untitled beginning of a chapter one:

    Her keys are the way I remember them. It’s been two weeks and they’re all I remember.

    (Very intriguing first line!)

    Sure, there’s the fact that she was the only girl who ever kissed me and the fact that her second grade school picture is still in my wallet and the fact that she’s dead. But no, it’s the way the first key still looks freshly minted after four years and that the second key looks like it’s from the 1800’s and she never told me what it went to, and the house key that actually went to my house instead of hers.

    (There are a lot of things to get in that last paragraph, which is great, but, for me, the memory of “her”-I’d love to know her name somewhere up there, btw- and the memory of all the keys kind of take away from the powerful “she’s dead” line. Maybe just give us one thing to focus on right up front. The thing you want the reader to get the most (-:)

    This morning, the 20th of November. Her keys were at the creek in her backyard, just past the last row of trees, hanging from a branch on the birch tree we used to swing on. Cass never left them there. I thought they’d feel safe, like she did, but they didn’t. They were knives, slicing my palm from the life line all the way up through my veins but I don’t miss her.

    The girl with the tattoo on her neck asks me if I “miss Cassandra because she always saw us talking” and I glance in her direction for all of three seconds before she walks away. Owen catches up with me, his sneakers falling into a clomp clompclomp clompclomp rhythm next to mine, and he struggles to catch his breath.

    “Econ homework?”

    “Not a chance.”

    He snorts. “Damn, August, you’d think after all this time, this might be a reliable system.” We round the last corner before Owen is due to Economics and I’ve got a free period. “Some friend you are…”

    He has twenty-seven seconds before the bell rings. “Hey,” I shoot back, “Cass is the one who steals my homework for you to copy. I’ve always been against the whole thing. Blame her.”

    (I’m assuming that Cass is the one who died yes? If so, the tense would change here to: Cass was the one who stole my homework for you to copy. I’ve always been against the whole thing).

    Owen just stares straight ahead out the doorway, frozen like he’s never seen me before. I know what he’s thinking. It’s the same thing everyone is. (ohhh, what are they thinking? I’d love to know that right here. (-:)

    I lied to you, just now. I don’t have a free period. I’m supposed to be in Calculus but I’m not really sure what I’m doing there anyway. 32% on the last test and an average in the 40s isn’t exactly the sign of someone who has all the answers. Truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing at all, sitting in my old pick-up truck, clutching Cass’s keys and willing myself to do something other than this.

    I know I could sit here for another six hours, listening to nothing but the rattle of her keys but I know that isn’t what my mother wants. My mother hated Cass.

    I trace the outline of the big key with my index finger and am suddenly brought back to the last time I held these keys, before everything happened.

    I’m just as curious at the end as I am at the beginning as to what happened! (-:

    • myinnermg says:

      Oh! I just noticed that the strikeouts I made didn’t make it past comment security. EEK!!
      Consider eliminating “I lied to you, just now.”
      See if you get similiar feedback, but I feel like the lines after that stand strong on their own without directly addressing the reader. (-:

  2. swirlandspark says:

    Hi Riley! Your opening has a great YA feel to it. It drew me in right away!

    I have two thoughts on this opening paragraph. My first thought is that here’s a main character who has a lot of stuff going on emotionally. And his thoughts are random and scattered. He’s referring to a girl—the only girl he ever kissed. He’s known her forever since her second grade picture is still in his wallet. He’s in denial that she’s dead. Instead he is trying to focus on something else. Like the keys. First one, and then the other. And then he thinks back to that morning. This is a really cool way to open the story!

    My other thought is that if the keys are not all that important to the story, then you may want to pare down the references to them. Do they play a role in her death, or something else? My guess is they are important and may set the stage for things to come. If so, I love the idea of his random thoughts as he tries to get through this day. I love the line, “I thought they’d feel safe, like she did, but they didn’t. They were knives, slicing my palm from the life line all the way up through my veins but I don’t miss her. I’m guessing they may have a symbolic meaning for the two of them. I’m also intrigued to know why he’s trying to convince himself he doesn’t miss her. I also like all the strike-throughs. It’s a cool way to show what he’s trying not to say.

    I like the glimpse we get into his life at school, like kids making off-handed comments as they rush through the hallways. He mentions that he knows what they’re all thinking but he never says what that is. I would love to know what they’re thinking! You’ve done a nice job of weaving in information too—like the fact that his mom doesn’t like Cass and that Cass often stole August’s homework for Owen to copy.

    I liked when he addressed the reader. It pulled me close to the story, though I’m wondering who he sees the reader as? A friend? A person reading the news events of his story? It would be great to know this!

    I like the last line, but I think you could be more specific than “before it all happened.” That sounds pretty generic. Perhaps you could find a way to entice the reader without giving anything away?

    Overall this is a fascinating opening. You’ve definitely set up a great story, with a lot of potential. Thank you for sharing your work. I wish I could read more! 

  3. Nicole P. says:

    Hi Riley,

    This is a very interesting 500 words. I like how you’ve written it, showing his depression and inability to let her go. Especially when he’s talking to Owen. I could really feel the pity coming from his friend as he looked at August for not addressing her in past tense. Only thing I have to comment on is that at the end when you put “before everything happened”, I would have liked to know what it was. Just clarify there and you’re good to go. Hope this helps.

  4. Scarlett Kol says:

    Riley,

    This is an interesting opening. I am definitely intrigued enough that I would read on.

    Personally I love that the chapter hangs on the keys. The work feels kind of frantic and disjointed, but I get the feeling that this is how it was intended. Kind of like stream of consciousness. But the keys, they ground the piece together and show the character’s mental state by their externalization of their grief on these inanimate objects. Similar to other comments above, I do hope that the keys play into the mystery otherwise this would be misleading to the reader.

    That being said the first line seems odd to me. “Her keys are the way I remember them.” It threw me off because my brain didn’t immediately picture a keyring, but more like music keys or scales. Maybe it was just me, but adding some description might clear that right up.

    I really liked the sound of Owen’s feet. It helped get you in August’s head and how he experiences the world. I did find the jump between the first and the second paragraph from the internal to the external to be a bit jarring. A transition sentence or thought might be useful here.

    Overall, I thought it was great. Well done!

  5. emilygmoorewriter says:

    You’ve already received great advice above, and I’d echo all their thoughts. The change from internal/external was jarring, and it takes about 250 words for us to get a better feel for the MC. I appreciate grief and the clinging to something such as keys as a coping mechanism, but this is a bit much to swallow unless the keys are vital to something further along in the plot. I’d encourage you to tone the keys down. Make the reader wonder a little more in a positive way rather then just wondering the significance.

    Hope this helps! Best of luck!

  6. Daniel Beerse says:

    Riley,

    Interesting first 500 words, especially the reference to these keys. (What are they and what role do they play in the story).

    Like Scarlett though, I too had a bit of trouble with the first sentence and had to re-read it to get the gist of what type of keys you meant. I think better clarification here would be good. After all, you don’t want to confuse your reader in the first sentence. Also (maybe it was just me) but your cross-outs “she’s dead” pulled me out of the story because they drew my eyes away and I was immediately trying to figure out if it was a mistake or intentional. I think I know what you were trying to do (show that the character was trying to ignore the reality of the situation) but perhaps there’s a better way to do that.

    I like the way you set up the initial mood, somber, and right away I want to know what happened to Cass and who she was. Good start, I would definitely read more!

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