Thursday, April 30, 2015

#YayYA Critique Party: Entry #5

Name: Molly Cluff
Genre: Contemporary
Title: House of Murals

35-word pitch: Starving for close relationships after her stepbrother’s death, CIMBER must determine if the students at her aunt’s art school can offer her genuine friendship, or if they’re using her to suck up to their director.

First 500:

“Light cue 98, standby.”
I stood far enough away from the curtains backstage that I didn’t need to peer, but I could see Prospero center stage. He delivered his line with a crisp, practiced diction: “And deeper, than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.”
 “Light cue 98, go,” I muttered into my headset. In response, the lights deepened to an interplanetary purple, star-like points dotting the scrim.
The actors playing Alonso, Sebastian, and Ariel filed out onto the stage. With stage left mostly empty now, even in the semi-darkness, I could see that Jackson wasn’t there—and that he hadn’t moved his chess set onstage.
Probably sleeping in the dressing room again, the lazy cuss. And he needed to go onstage soon.
I buzzed out a breath, then scooted the table with the chess set myself, careful not to disturb any of the pieces. I understood that the chess set was expensive and putting glue on it would have been a horrendous sin, but moving the table when the pieces weren’t secured down was like trying to make a house of cards on a raft out at sea.
Jackson rushed in from the hall, throwing on his velvet costume jacket. Noticing me hefting his set piece, he stepped in to lift from the other side. “Sorry, it won’t happen again,” he said.
Well, yeah, I thought, giving a humored eye-roll, happy closing night.
“Thanks, Cymbeline.”
            My name was actually Cimber, but the fun part of being in a high school Shakespeare troupe is that they come up with killer nicknames. Although, Cymbeline was a guy.
I thought the nickname was great. Normally the actors referred to me by it just when talking to each other—but this was the first time I’d heard it actually directed to me. Actors hardly ever spoke to me directly anyway. I lived on the outskirts of their gaggle, because between my marking tardies and shushing everyone backstage, being Stage Manager basically made me an eighteen year old killjoy.
            I loved it.
            Finished placing the table, I paced back to my post, and noticed an actress crouching, examining her lower leg.
            I was about to tell her, “Stay on deck for your entrance, Eva,” but instead said, “Oh my gosh” when I noticed the fat line of blood stretching from her knee to ankle.
            “I cut myself walking through the scene shop.”
            “Don’t let it get on your costume.” I bent down to hold the end of her knee-length vest away from the blood. “Jackson,” I said, “Get us a bandaid.”
            “Is there time?”
            I listened. Over the sound system, I heard Prospero deliver his line: “I do forgive they rankest fault . . .”
            The progression of the script blazed before my mind; I could even envision where the lines fell on the page. Alonso and Prospero both have more lines before Jackson’s entrance. And Prospero has a long bit of monologue.
“We have time,” I told Jackson.


  1. Starting from the top!

    Genre: Looks good!

    Pitch: Don't capitalize the character name. That's just for the synopsis. I like this, but it could be a little stronger. If you can find a word or two to steal and give me something about Cimber's personality, that'd be awesome! Stage-dictator, stage manager, aspiring director anything that gives us both her reason for being at the art school and a sense of her personality would help anchor this even more. As it is, you have her defined by her brother's death and that reads like she doesn't belong at the art school for any reason other than her aunt runs it.

    Text: Love this! It's great! My only advice is to not be afraid to use 'said'. Especially at the beginning. It reads stronger than the seemingly more descriptive words and focuses the reader on what she's saying and the blocking.

    The only other thing I suggest you consider is tightening up some of the asides and backstory. We probably don't quite need to know how she feels about her nickname in detail yet. Leaving it simple like "That's the first time anyone's called me that, to my face anyway." Would actually be stronger, even though as an author it doesn't feel like it should be.

    OK, well, I hope I've been of any help at all! The standard caveat's apply! If I've made suggestions that go against your authorial voice you win, I lose. That said, I hope it gives you a new way of looking at your piece and maybe seeing ways to make it even stronger!

    Best of luck!

    -Lana (@muliebris)

  2. Hi Molly,

    This reads really well. I’m enjoying your writing and would definitely read on. There is a lovely sense of backstage atmosphere and convincing character development. We learn that Cimber isn’t very popular but she loves being Stage Manager and having a nickname. Jackson is always late and Eva has cut her leg causing a minor emergency. You manage to create tension with these fairly minor events, which is a great tribute to your skill.

    In your pitch, it sounds like Cimber has to work out whether her new friends are genuine or just using her. Your writing is so good, I’m sure you can make a story out of anything, but this sounds a little short on plot and stakes. Having said that, I imagine you do have a plot and stakes, but they just didn’t come across fully in the pitch. A 35 word pitch is so hard to get everything into!

    Thanks for sharing your work and best of luck with it!

  3. First off, the voice in this is great. You have a wonderful sense of place and what Cimber wants right away. She has something she's good at and passionate about on page one and that is a hard thing to bring forward with so few words.

    On to the critique: I wonder at the word choice of "peer" in the first sentence. I get that using "see" seems wrong, but it might be better. Mostly it just pulled me out of the narrative a little. So, something to think about.

    I really like the line about here being an 18 year old killjoy and loving it. That's great. I would agree with Lana that we maybe don't need the backstory about how pleased she is at the nickname just yet. You could keep it, but maybe pare it down. Like just how it makes her feel physically when Jackson calls her that, for example.

    I would say that the description around finding Eva on the floor is a little clunky. I think it's the filtering word you use, "notice". I'd just describe Eva on the floor after she paces over. Also, maybe have her actually say the dialogue she's thinking and then stop short when she sees the blood. I hope that makes sense.

    I also think with the last paragraph you could lose her envisioning stuff on the page and just jump to the lines themselves. It might flow better.

    That's all I've got really. Good work, good luck and I hope this helps.

  4. Hiya!

    So I was an 18 year old stage manager, and you've got the details exactly right. I Love that view of the limelight from the side of the stage, and the actress with a huge gash who is more concerned with messing up the show than with her bleeding leg. You've done the theatre world justice, and I'm super sold both on the writing and on the concept.

    I don't really have any comments except that I'd want to read more. And sometimes, isn't it just good to know that an opening is finished?

  5. I agree with what's been said about capitalizing the name in the pitch. I find it distracting.

    Your voice is very authentic. I do agree with Lana about the nickname. That part felt a little tell-y to me. But the rest had great movement and action that also established character and setting. The most important things for opening pages!

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  7. Hi Molly!

    This looks like it's going to be very funny!! The pitch was well done in my mind.
    However, I think the MC should have a little more stress about things in her play about to go wrong and mess everything up. You should show her sorta freaking out on the inside. Maybe have her continuously checking a watch or something to see how many minutes she had left for the next scene or something. But otherwise, awesome way to begin this!
    Is Jackson her cousin? You hinted at it but I didn't quite pick it up one hundred precent!
    ~Cayla (#2)

  8. Hi Molly,

    I'm loving this! You've created such a palpable, authentic world right away and I'm getting a good enough sense of Cimber's character to want to stick with her and read on.

    There are a few moments that felt a bit off--like others have said, "peer" took me out of the text for the moment. Maybe I'm alone on this but so did "buzzed a breath." Is that from the ear piece?

    I see what Bethany means about wanting nerves to create stakes in the scene, but I guess what I got from this is that Cimber is pretty together. I think it works nicely with the whole "killjoy" characterization--which, by the way, is hilarious.

    It's hard to say without knowing where the book is headed, but I have a feeling your pitch isn't doing the story justice. Based on this limited window, I want to see more specifics on Cimber's character and her world -- after all, they're so much fun! And unless it's critical to the plot, maybe take out the step-brother backstory to give yourself some extra words.

    Hope this helps!


  9. Hi Molly!!

    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

    As someone who has participated in stage as both an actor and a backstage hand AT ONCE, you had me right there in the scene :D I love how Cimber appears nice to her stagemates but saves the snark for her personal thoughts. Per Katy and Cayla's comments, if Cimber isn't nervous, then maybe show how she's a little frustrated with everyone. Unless she's a levelheaded person (then yay for her!! :D )

    A little silly question: is Cimber's name pronounced Kim-ber? Or Sim-ber? I read it as the latter and while it's not that big of a deal (really, it isn't), I just thought I should let you know I stumbled over it the first time I read it.

    Also, I get from your pitch that her stepbrother's death really devastated her. If that's the case, maybe mention him in this first 500, even if just in passing. Maybe thoughts of him could be distracting her, conflicting her grief with her focus.

    Two little details: after "peer" I would put "through," just to complete the sentence cleanly. And eighteen year old should be hyphenated as eighteen-year-old :D

    That's all I have to say! I LOVE stage and The Tempest so much and I've always wanted to see more YA about stage. I may not read much contemp. but this is one I'd definitely pick up!! Way to go!!

  10. Hi! Me again!

    In a contrasting/opposite kind of way I wanted to point out this pitchslam entry:

    If you're a theater person, I thought it might help you to look at a contest successful pitch that screamed Actress persona. Maybe it would trigger the juices for a Stage Manager trying to explain the same kind of things, only, with your plot elements instead. The longer I think about this, the more that's kind of what feels missing. You have such great voice in your piece I want it in the pitch, too.

    Hope I haven't made things worse!

  11. I was intrigued by your beautiful writing. You had me wanted to read more. The scene was laid out very well without get overly descriptive. I would like to know more about Cimber herself. In the pitch, you mention her stepbrother's death, so maybe that should come into her thoughts at some point. I'm sure it does later. Giving all the information from the pitch in the first 500 is sometimes not the best approach.

    I liked her comment about loving who she was. An eighteen year old kill joy. It showed me a strong trait in her, but it did leave me a bit confused. I thought she wanted more friends? I thought she wanted to become more approachable? Maybe she doesn't know all of that at this point in the story though.

    These are just some thoughts. Take what you will and leave the rest. Overall, a great premise that had me wanted to read on.

  12. Hello

    Loved the flow of the writing I agree with everyone about peer. peek maybe? glance? I dunno. I wonder if her step brother has already died or if this is something that takes place later on in the story.

    The part where she sees the blood and thinks more about the costume than the injury made me smile hehe. I wanted to keep reading. I did like Lana's suggestion about saying " Leaving it simple like "That's the first time anyone's called me that, to my face anyway." Would actually be stronger, even though as an author it doesn't feel like it should be."
    It would put me more in her head and see instead of her telling me :)

  13. Everything looks and sounds good to me. The writing is solid. Though, a hint of me has trouble believing teens would fear an authority peer, or that that peer would love it.

  14. Your pitch draws me in with a strong emotional pull, but leaves the stakes open-ended. If the worst happens, then what? She at exactly the same place she started.

    It’s very difficult to start off with dialogue, though not impossible, but in this case there is no indication who is speaking or who is hearing. Make that clear if you decide to keep the first line.

    Muttered? Wouldn’t the speaker have to speak clearly so there would be no mistaking what she said?

    I like the phrase “interplanetary purple”. Nice.

    Yes, the fact that no one moved the chess set creates tension, but I don’t have enough invested in these characters yet to let this conflict pull me in.

    Love the “house of cards on a raft sentence”!

    The reason anyone would want to be a killjoy is definitely going to need explanation for readers to connect with this character! Or does “it” refer to being part of the Shakespeare troupe? Unclear.

    The idea expressed in your pitch is interesting. Work on making your stakes clear, and improving the tension in your first 500. Could you work in something that hints at the death of her step-brother, or the idea that this is a start-over for Cimble in a new place? Best of luck!

  15. Sorry! I meant Cimber, not Cimble, and i also pronounced it as Sim-ber.

    I see other reader really liked the kill-joy line! Maybe I'm the kill-joy. :) But I am honestly puzzled because you do state in your pitch that she wants close relationships. Just something to think about.

  16. Okay, first off, I think you win (or at least, tie with Rachel) for best feedback. Thanks for being such a positive encourager for so many here! Have loved reading your comments not just for me, but all the others, because you offer them so well!

    All right, House of Murals time:

    Starting with THE PITCH:

    • I think some others have hit on this but I think your pitch could offer a wee bit more in the stakes department. Quite honestly, I relate to this dilemma. It’s hard when you have a more character-driven plot in mind (can I get an amen?) Since I’m a literary fiction kind of girl, I’d still be interested in what you got going on here. One thing about Cimber’s name that kind of stuck out to me when I’d just read the pitch only—it doesn’t feel like a name I’d find in a contemporary read so much as a dystopian pick (I think I must have The Hunger Games’ Cinna on my mind!) Probably just me though!!

    All right, now the good stuff, THE FIRST 500:

    • You tackle addressing the name question—well done, you! (and unique!)

    • Admittedly I am NOT a Shakespeare fan, but oohhh I want to be (it’s like I love everything around him, I just struggle to actually READ his stuff). Because I recently read it, and it’s now become, like, the FIRST thing I think of when I think Shakespeare in a book, your story instantly makes me think Station Eleven (which starts with a staging of King Lear but then its plot strays VASTLY different—or so I’m guessing!—from yours after that…just a random aside I couldn’t help adding!)

    • Your writing is really great. Very clean, very visual, great voice. Not much I’d change here!

    • I would MOST DEFINITELY read more of this! Let me know if you’re interested in critique partners through this contest! At the very least, looking forward to cheering you on with you pitch this for Pitch Wars!

  17. Re: the Pitch - I like that we immediately know Cimber's suffering the sting of her stepbrother's death, but I feel like we need more set up for conflict than "Are these kids being genuinely nice to her?" which feels more like a middle grade issue than a YA one. From reading the excerpt, it feels like the book is going to be about more than that, so maybe figure out a way to work more into the pitch?

    Re: the Excerpt -
    The opening line had me squealing with delight. Theatre! Light cues! Stage managing! My life from age 6-27! I'm hooked! And it's Prospero on stage! Yay! The Tempest! Moving on...

    I loved this line " like trying to make a house of cards on a raft out at sea" not only because it's a great description but because Tempest fans know it begins with a wicked storm that sweeps everyone out to sea, so there's that added loveliness (not sure whether it was intended, but keep it).

    So true about the way the stage manager gets treated, too. It's a thankless job. I worked at a theatre for years and my best friend was the stage manager and I hated seeing how (some) actors would act like she was invisible even though she kept things running.

    I may be biased here because I am a fan of contemporary, I love theatre/Shakespeare, and my book also features a dead brother/grieving sister, but I'd read on.