Thursday, April 30, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #12

Name: Tiara Jackson

Twitter: @Shareesay

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Title: Morrow

35 Word Pitch: Imani, an Orphan, never thought she’d be entangled in an (illegal) inter-class romance.  After spontaneously meeting Andrew, an Achiever, she must decide what’s more important: a broken heart or some broken laws.

First 500: 
Shielding herself against the chill of the dairy section, Imani skidded her cart to a stop, and briefly considered if she’d be the one grocery shopping if she had parents. Maybe she’d be sprawled on the couch, caught up in some stupid commercial, when their van rolled into the driveway. Then her dad, with jingling keys, would yell in for her to stop being lazy and come help with the bags. She’d sigh—maybe groan—and roll her eyes. But ultimately she’d get up to help. Walking past each figure with a heavy paper bag and a snarky-early-afternoon-smile.

Something like that.

The fantasy dissolved into a dark stretch of nothingness when she recalled something a teacher had made them repeat five times over back in second grade:There’s no sense wanting what Achievers have because you will never have it.

It made sense. The ‘you’ wasn’t personal, nor was it an insult, at least from that teacher’s mouth. It was a fact. Orphans didn’t covet because it was pointless. So instead of dwelling on what she lacked, Imani edged her cart over to the cool, metal shelves popping with bright yellows and oranges and subdued whites, and picked up a bag of sliced cheddar. Tonight was macaroni night. Pressing her fingers ever so slightly into the plastic, she mouthed the price. In this life, she was mom, dad, everything.

The bag landed atop two boxes of cereal with a small smack as she whipped the cart around and started humming to herself. She’d taken two steps forward before clenching her fist and swearing emphatically. That was a little too loud.Glancing over her shoulder, she tentatively checked to see if anyone else was in the aisle, anyone close enough to get her in trouble. The old couple a few feet back didn’t even look up from their mozzarella.

I forgot to grab cantaloupes.

The last thing she wanted to do was march back across the store, but she couldn’t go back to the Andersons without everything on the list. Mrs. Anderson was a great woman (Imani wouldn’t mind having her as a mom), but she did not appreciate carelessness. Sighing, Imani thumped her fingers against the cart handle and started walking, drifting in and out of the classical music lilting from the overhead speakers. With every step, she made a game out of stepping on only the colored tiles, all the way to the produce section. Sidling up next to the overflowing cardboard bin of melons, she inhaled the fresh scent of newly showered vegetables. Propping one leg lazily on the cart, she grabbed the highest one of the scaly pile and shook it to determine the ripeness.

“Nope,” Imani popped the ‘p’ and grabbed another cantaloupe, shaking it like the maracas she’d played with in elementary school. The second one failed the test, so she squeezed it more firmly. Too hard. Tossing it back, she grabbed another one and mindlessly returned to quality testing, listening for the seeds.


  1. I’m torn...I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the vividly rendered everyday details and hints about the alternate-world class structure, but I’m also not sure there’s enough tension/forward momentum here. I wonder whether you might find a starting point closer to where the rubber hits the road – even if it’s her getting home with the groceries and facing Mrs. Anderson’s disappointment (because she forgot something, took too long, whatever). The writing’s great, but I’m not sure you’re getting the mileage you need out of this scene.

    “Fantasy” also implies - to me, at least - a more otherworldly setting. Depending somewhat on the outcome of the story, “dystopian” might be a better fit, although I know people seem down on that category right now. Maybe someone more familiar with all the genre monikers can suggest something that might fit better?

    In the pitch, I’d strike “spontaneously,” which doesn’t quite seem like the right word in this context. I think you might want to revisit the ending of the second sentence, as well, which doesn’t give us any new information over “illegal inter-class romance.” Is there some way to work in more details about your characters’ personalities or the circumstances that bring them together?

    Hope this helps!

  2. To clarify one point - meaning someone more familiar than ME with all the genre monikers!

  3. Hi Tiara,

    In fantasy, it is often considered a good idea to open with something in your world that is similar to something in our world. You certainly do this by opening in a supermarket and the similarities between your supermarket and any ordinary supermarket immediately makes it clear to the reader that your world is like the real world. You also use your opening to effectively introduce the notion of Orphans and Achievers. This gives the reader some clear expectations, which is exactly what you want to do in your opening.

    However, I think there are a couple of things which could do with more clarity. For example “ In this life, she was mom, dad, everything.” but later on “Mrs. Anderson was a great woman (Imani wouldn’t mind having her as a mom)”

    This last sounds like Mrs Anderson looks after, or is in some way responsible for Imani, so Imani, the Orphan, is not exactly entirely self- reliant. You don’t need to tell us everything yet, but if you can give a clue as to what role Mrs Anderson plays in Imani’s life, I think it would work well as a way to hook the reader’s interest.

    Also: “She’d taken two steps forward before clenching her fist and swearing emphatically. That was a little too loud.Glancing over her shoulder, she tentatively checked to see if anyone else was in the aisle, anyone close enough to get her in trouble.” Why would she get into trouble? This is an intriguing clue you could expand on to explain your world to us.

    Then: “The last thing she wanted to do was march back across the store.” Why not? Why is this a big deal? It’s only walking across a shop. This is another opportunity to tell us bit more about your world. It might not be so similar to ours after all. But, a little further on, there is a contradiction. You’ve told us Imani didn’t want to cross the floor of the shop but then you show her making a game of it and taking great care selecting the melons.

    There is tension in her fear of being overheard, in her fear of walking across the shop. It’s an excellent thing that you’ve been able to introduce tension so quickly but I don’t think you’re taking full advantage of it. You need to give us something indication as to what’s going on. Why is she afraid or what is she afraid of?

    I think if you could build on the tension and give us less of the general normal world stuff, keeping just enough to show the similarities between your world and ours, your opening would be very strong.

    Hope this is of help. I like your concept and your opening makes me think of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which I loved. Best of luck with it!

  4. So my first thought is, what makes this fantasy? It's pretty important with genre pieces to really lead with the genre. The only hint I get of a fantasy setting is the alternate social structure, and I think there are probably more subtle ways you could work that in rather than just sort of having her think about it as she does her shopping. She could interact with other people in the store and show her status by how they treat her. You could also bring forward why she doesn't want to cross the store. Is her being there a problem. Is it outside of her caste to do the shopping?

    If there is magic in this world, this might be a good place to show it. Nothing splashy, just everyday stuff she takes for granted. Right now this reads more or less as contemporary. It also doesn't really have a huge sense of urgency to it. She's just doing the shopping and thinking about her society. Maybe start the story a little closer to where the action starts. The writing here is good, don't get me wrong, I like it and the voice is excellent but nothing about this screams illegal inter social-caste romance fantasy, and that's pretty important.

    I hope this is helpful and, of course, if none of this rings true to you feel free to disregard. Good luck.

  5. If fantasy isn't quite right and you don't want to call it dystopian, you could try alternate reality. I like how you establish stakes in the pitch. It's very hard to make stakes sound fresh for a romance novel.

  6. There aren't any real flaws in the writing, except that it's boring. It's because the main character is bored, and because there aren't any clues as to when the story is actually going to start. The interesting stuff, the whole premise, and orphans v. Achievers is presented in a kind of infodump kind of way, and we are watching a character go grocery shopping. The biggest conflict is that she forgot the cantaloupes, which makes it as riveting to read as a grocery list.

    Now the good things. You have a great concept, and a fabulous voice. I can tell you know how to write, you are simply starting the story at the wrong place. Where does the story actually start? Is it when she meets cute boy? Then start the second she meets cute boy, all of this back story could be in her motivation to look away.

    Anyway that's my two cents, and I hope it helps.

  7. I'm having a difficult time giving you any help here, namely because the pitch, while finely written, does not grasp me at all. I'm sorry to say it that way and don't mean it as harsh as it sounds - I'm sure fans of forbidden romance will gravitate for it, but for me as a reader I always hated romance (forbidden or otherwise) in the books I read. My advice is to find one other thing that sets your novel apart and focus on that in tandem with the forbidden romance to give it more universal appeal if you're so inclined.

    I very much like the way you introduce your character as an orphan without telling us "I'm an orphan." It gives us a sort of wistful look at life with parents and instantly makes the reader connect/emphasize with her. That said, the rest of the excerpt, which also introduces us to the concept of Achievers, needs a bit of spicing up. You can fit some of this exposition in a little later and start when there's a little something more going on - or maybe go straight into more of a flashback in which something bigger happens, then bring us back to the grocery store, so it feels like the action keeps moving even if what you're giving us in in the past. Best of luck! Sounds like an interesting concept!

  8. Good morning!

    I love the wistfulness in the beginning, but once I get into the grocery store I want to know what makes her scared about swearing. Why is she afraid to cross the store again? Does she suffer from anxiety? Is it because she isn't an Achiever? If it's anxiety, let us know her heart is racing, palms are sweaty, she hates being around people, or places or whatever trigger that fear is causing. If it's because people are looking down at her, give us an example, have someone sneer at that lowly orphan being in "their" store.
    Make that grocery trip be a look into something that grabs us, not just a mundane chore that ends in a ripe melon :)

    Carry on that wistfulness throughout her shopping, "Man it would be nice to have a mom show me just what a ripe melon looked like" as she shook one with uncertainty.
    It does sound like an interesting concept and makes me want to know why she can't have a relationship with an Achiever :)

  9. In the pitch, you don't need spontaneously. If they were thrust together or something use an active verb. And, as opposed to she must decide... Use an active verb. 'She struggles (You probably can do better) between Love and Compliance or yada...

    And, (I am likely coming from a bad YA perspective on this) I think the 1st 500 seems too introspective. I'm not as much of a fan of drawn out pining. But, this is a YA and a romance. So.... Yeah. I don't know. Maybe add a hint more physical activity?

  10. First off, your pitch: I personally love it! I’m intrigued by the story concept and would definitely read more but I’m a sucker for romance where it shouldn’t be happening :)

    Your 500 Words: I like this opening, but I feel like you’ve got maybe TOO many thoughts in that first sentence. What if you broke it up a bit ….consider this: Alone in the dairy aisle, Imani skidded her cart to a stop. She let her back rest against one of the chilled doors and wondered what it would be like to have parents who did the grocery shopping.

    Also, I found myself getting a little too hung up on the amount of details you’ve used. While some of them work, I’d encourage you to take out some of the -ly adverbs (lazily/scaly/firmly/mindlessly) as those can be viewed as the sign of weak writing. Also, work to avoid making comparisons that feel out of context to the story (two here for me that I read as such were the ones about her stepping on only the colored tiles (is this going to be relevant to the story somehow?) and shaking the cantaloupe like a maracas.

    Overall, I think my favorite line is: In this life, she was mom, dad, everything. THAT is an awesome way to describe being an orphan and you nailed it!

  11. Hi Tiara!! :D

    I'm going to crit your entry thoroughly, but remember that all advice is subjective in the art world and you are more than welcome to burn mine if it's totally opposite of what you think is best for YOUR story! :D

    I want you to know that your entry transported me right to the grocery store. Heck, I could SMELL the linoleum and hear the checkout beeps in the background. I could shover with her in the dairy section. GAH. The way you got those little, everyday details across was PERFECT.

    So like the previous critters, I got taken aback by your genre label, and thought maybe it was dystopian or sci-fi in reality, but that was because I was going off of the Orphan and Achiever thing. It crossed my mind that this might be OUR world, and OUR era, and this whole Orphan and Achiever class deal is an underground thing. If so, then this is urban fantasy (or contemporary, same thing, just different label based on if it's set in a city or not).

    All that said, I think your opening is strong. I also got confused over Mrs. Anderson... is she Imani's teacher? I just think you need some clarity in getting plot elements across to your reader. I often have this problem myself... I often have to remember that while I KNOW what I mean by this or that in my pitch, and it frustrates me when people don't understand, my readers DON'T know what I mean by this or that, and I have to show it to them. I'm sure you'll have no problem with this, since you have no problem masterfully transporting us into the details of the mundane.

    Can't wait to see where this goes! :D You're obviously very talented and spent a lot of time on this. Yay for you!!

  12. I like the pitch and fantasy isn't normally my cup of tea. However, I am finding that I can get into it easier if its contemporary and yours is. I like hearing her thoughts about being an orphan and what her life is like. How old is she?

    Your writing took me to the supermarket with her and I could picture the entire thing. Nicely done. I have so many questions though-- Which is a good thing because I want to know more!

    Im guessing that orphans and achievers are classifications in the world your writing in. I felt like I needed to know that she was an orphan but maybe the classification could be called something different? Are there that many orphans that they would need a classification all their own?

    Why is she afraid that someone will hear her swear? Why doesnt she want to go back to the produce section? Are orphans in some sort of danger? Who is Mrs. Anderson? Is that her boss?

    Like I said, lots of questions! I really like your idea though. I wish you the best!