#Fall1stHop Critique – The Whispering Gate

Over on her blog, Michelle Hauck is hosting a first page critique where writers create a link to a blog post with the first 250 words of their novel, and then offer feedback to other writers. Sounds like fun :), so here’s mine. Even if you’re not participating in the critique, feel free to comment.

 

The Whispering Gate – MG Modern Fantasy

Chapter 1 – Lonely and Lost

Then

Shorter and skinnier than most nine year olds, Kevin made an easy target for the tyrants of the schoolyard.

One afternoon, sick of the torments Nick heaped on him outside Jefferson Elementary’s main doors, Kevin snuck past a daydreaming hall monitor and out a side door. He made it across and halfway up the street before he spotted Nick sprinting after him. Kevin ran, but knew he’d never outrace the larger boy. The woods! He could lose Nick in the nearby forest, he thought. It was his only chance.

Kevin shot around trees, through brush, and over rocks faster than Nick, and opened up a lead. The fear of being caught and pummeled never left him, though. So, as his pursuer hurled threats and insults at his back, Kevin fled deeper and deeper into the darkening woods.

Desperate for a place to hide and catch his breath, Kevin dove into, and surprisingly through, a mess of tangled brush, and found himself in a hidden clearing. He rolled up onto one knee, stifled his panting as best he could, and listened.

Nothing. Not a single sound to indicate he was still being chased.

“Heh,” Kevin said, allowing himself a relieved laugh. He stopped laughing when he realized he was lost.

The large, round clearing was walled by various types of dense bushes and tall, thick trees, and ringed by hundreds of fragile ivory mushrooms. Above, the late autumn sky was an unhelpful blanket of dark blue nothing.

 

Thanks for reading.

{RDj}

14 thoughts on “#Fall1stHop Critique – The Whispering Gate

  1. I’m not a big reader of MG so please take this with caution 🙂

    Firstly, I do like your imagery, I can see the forest and the two boys running, its done very well.

    But I have a question, does the bully play a big-ish part in the rest of the story? The reason why I ask is, if he does, then I see the reason for starting here, with the chase. If not, then I’m not sure the chase is the best place to start? It’s your call as you know your story 🙂

    As I said, I think you create a great picture but I’d rather know what happens to Kevin after he is lost rather than knowing (at the beginning anyway) how he got lost.

    As I say, this might be perfect for MG and therefore my opinion is that of someone who isn’t your target market, which is fine, but I thought I’d share in case it helps 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with the first comment – I love the imagery and the language (daydreaming hall monitor, tangled brush). And the title! Very nice!

    The only thing I kept thinking while reading is that it would be much more compelling in first person. I know the decision for first versus third is very personal and there are many things to consider. For me, I would have personally felt more invested in Kevin’s story if I could hear his voice. This opening scene would have also felt more immediate and impactful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the feedback!

    Hadn’t considered how much we can’t know about each other’s stories with only 250 words. This is fun 😀

    Nick comes up once again later on, but he’s not a major character. He’s there to help establish a little background for Kevin (which is critical to his decision-making later on) and drive Kevin to a place he’d have no reason to go (the clearing, which holds the mysterious gate).

    The book is in third person because the focus switches between characters per part (of which there are three).

    Thanks for taking the time to critique. Very appreciated 🙂

    Like

  4. The chase and the action are well written and the pacing is nice so far.
    You can ditch “he thought” near the end of the second paragraph.

    If you’re going to start before the chase, I’d sort of like to know why he’s fed up today. The writing and the imagery are nice throughout the page, but the setup and motivation are a little vague. What kind of tormenting? Why today? Maybe some brief, specific details, or mention of a particular event that day that pushed him over the edge to sneak out the school. Otherwise Nick feels like a tool just to get Kevin in the woods.

    The page would end nicely right at his realization that he’s lost, so pushing the existing last paragraph back to the next page would give you more words to play with on the first page.

    Great start! I hope poor Kevin has some great adventures ahead. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m very interested in middle grade, but isn’t your protagonist a little young for middle grade? I like the escape from bullying and hope in the end of your book Kevin triumphs over the bullying. Pinging off another commenter, your second paragraph would be a good place to personalize exactly what torture Kevin suffered that was just too much on that day. I’d also like to know just a little more about Kevin so I can relate to him as other than a skinny bullied little boy. I really like that you start this with action, that’s so critical at MG. I’d definitely want to know what Kevin is going to find there in the woods. Some great descriptive language here.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Michelle and Sherry, nice observations about motivation. Thank you 🙂

    Michelle, Nick is a tool to get Kevin in the woods. I might need to add a few words to that, as you suggested.

    Sherry, EXCELLENT observation about Kevin being too young for middle grade. I can’t say much more without giving too much of the story away, but I will say that this chapter was originally a prologue 😉

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  7. The title pulled me in right away. That alone would have me curious and pick this up off a store shelf.

    I am a writer/reader of MG and though the MC does seem a little young, its not an extreme turn off.

    That being said, I agree about giving specifics as to why today was the day the MC left school and tried to get away from his bully. Making the chasing simplier and in fewer sentences and using it to plug some voice into the MC will make me as a reader care. It has a classical, aloof quality that frankly turns me off a little bit. I want to care about Kevin. Help me do so!

    Hope this helps!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The action kept me reading right from the beginning. I could relate with Kevin easily (although maybe that says more about my elementary school experience…) I was a bit confused by “Then”, but from your comment about this originally being part of a prologue, I can gather that this occurs “before” an important event…

    I got hung up on the last paragraph. There’s lots of detail here, but not too much, I think, if it were re-organized. I’d split the first sentence in two and lose the “various types” to break it up into more palatable chunks.

    All in all, I’d keep reading to find out what comes next!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m gonna type my comments in parentheses. I hope it’s not too confusing.

    Shorter and skinnier than most nine year olds, Kevin made an easy target for the tyrants of the schoolyard.

    One afternoon, sick of the torments Nick heaped on him outside Jefferson Elementary’s main doors, Kevin snuck past a daydreaming(this word bothers me for some reason) hall monitor(maybe it’s because we didn’t have hall monitors, I can’t really picture this. I was imagining a janitor cleaning up a mess and not paying attention to anything except his job) and out a side door (Having said all that, a kid running out of school in what I think is the middle of the day is believable. Though now I’m wondering how he got out of class, but I don’t really think that’s something you need to answer this soon into the story). He made it across and halfway up the street before he spotted Nick sprinting after him. Kevin ran, but knew he’d never outrace the larger boy. The woods!(I don’t like the exclamation point here, especially in this paragraph.) He could lose Nick in the nearby forest, he thought (you don’t need “he thought.” You can put it in italics to indicate it’s his thought). It was his only chance.

    Kevin shot around trees, through brush, and over rocks faster than Nick, and opened up a lead. The fear of being caught and pummeled never left him, though(This could use some rearranging. I would consider starting this paragraph with “The fear of being caught” and omitting “though.” Then, have the second sentence be “Keven shot around”). So(I would omit “so.” It pulls me away from the action), as his pursuer hurled threats and insults at his back(I want to know specifics here. What exactly is he saying? Can Kevin hear the words?), Kevin fled deeper and deeper into the darkening (So maybe it wasn’t in the middle of the days? I know sunlight gets less and less the deeper you go into woods, but there’s still some light. It just made me think it was becoming night, but it could just be me) woods.

    Desperate for a place to hide and catch his breath, Kevin dove into, and surprisingly through, a mess of tangled brush, and found himself in a hidden clearing. He rolled up onto one knee, stifled his panting as best he could, and listened.

    Nothing. Not a single sound to indicate he was still being chased.

    “Heh,” Kevin said, allowing himself a relieved laugh. He stopped laughing when he realized he was lost.

    The large, round clearing was walled by various types of dense bushes and tall, thick trees, and ringed by hundreds of fragile ivory mushrooms. Above, the late autumn sky was an unhelpful blanket of dark blue(Okay, so it is night? Or is it just getting cloudy?) nothing.

    I know that’s probably a lot of probably harsh comments, but I really did like this! It got right into the action, and I like Kevin being lost. It makes me want to read on. I don’t think being in elementary school is too young for MG novel as long as he’s in 5th grade–somewhere around the age of 11. Auggie in Wonder is in middle school, but his middle starts at 5th grade, so the age feels fine to me.

    I think it’s a great start. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Since I haven’t read MG in ages, take this with a ton of salt, because I might be tripping all over myself.

    I love the opening line, but afterwards, this first page loses some of its appeal to me. For instance, I don’t know if this is during recess or class – I assumed class because of the lack of confusion, plus Hall Monitor, and then I wondered why you’d sneak out to avoid your bully during class.

    Also, is the bully relevant? Is he going to show up later? If yes, ignore me, but if not, it feels unnecessary to have him here.

    Aside from that, I liked the language. It’s clear and uncomplicated, but with enough description that I could picture Kevin’s surroundings clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sherry and Emily, I originally had a few words in there that defined the day, but removed them because they seemed unnecessary. I guess I was wrong 😀

    Bridgette and Pinguicha, This is happening at the end of the school day. I could definitely make that clearer. The idea that it could be interpreted as Kevin leaving school early never occurred to me. Thank for pointing that out 🙂

    The scene takes place in later Autumn, when it gets dark pretty early. By the time Kevin finds the clearing, its approaching twilight.

    Thx!

    Like

  12. Overall, I like this. I have some of the same concerns as other commenters. First, if we are going to see Kevin before the chase, then I think having him actively getting away from the bully from the start gives the beginning more immediacy, if that makes sense. Also, I’d leave off, “One afternoon,” because it pulls me out of the present. Same thing with, “So, as his pursuer hurled threats and insults at his back,…” Can you show Nick doing that? Put his words in dialog so that we see the action in real time. I don’t think the opening scene is the place for telling. I think making more of this active would really help to pull me in.

    Hope this helps. Good job and good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Chelly (and others), I originally had the scene start with Kevin running through the woods, and beta readers recommended I go back bit and explain why. Really interesting getting many different eyes on. Some say “It should be this way,” while others recommend something else. Fun stuff!

    I’m torn about giving Nick voice. He’s really a means to getting Kevin where I need him, so while I like the idea of putting the “I’m going to kill you, runt!” stuff into dialogue, I don’t want the reader too invested in the conflict. I’ll have to think more about it 😀

    Thanks!

    Like

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