Saturday, December 26, 2015


Name: Karen McManus (@writerkmc)
Genre: Contemporary
Title: One of Us Is Lying
35-Word Pitch: One murdered creator of a notorious gossip app. Four high-profile students whose secrets he was about to spill. They're the obvious suspects--but someone's pulling strings. If they can't uncover who, they'll take the fall.
First 500: 
BRONWYN: I've never had detention before and can't believe I've gotten it today of all days. I actually had a date. Sort of. Okay, not an official date, but our mathlete team is headed to Epoch Coffee and my crush offered to buy me a latte.
When put that way, it sounds a little sad. But I was still looking forward to it. Now I'm stuck in afterschool heck courtesy of Mr. Avery, who's under the impression I brought a cell phone to history class.

Which I didn't, since Mr. Avery is famous for doing what he thinks are sneaky, random spot checks every Thursday. I don't know where the Android knockoff he pulled from my backpack came from, but it wasn't mine. Unfortunately, Mr. Avery is a give-detention-first, ask-questions-never kind of guy.
I take a seat next to Cooper Clay, wondering what he did to land here. Cooper usually spends his afterschool hours on the baseball diamond, honing a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball that has major league scouts drooling.
Nate Macauley tips his chair back and smirks at me. "You take a wrong turn? This is detention, not student council."
I guess he'd know. Nate's been in trouble since fifth grade, which is right around the time we last spoke. The gossip mill tells me he's on probation with Bayview's finest for ... something. It might be a DUI, it might be drug dealing. He's a notorious supplier, but my knowledge is purely theoretical. One Long Island iced tea is a wild night for me.
"Save the commentary." Mr. Avery checks something off a clipboard and closes the classroom door.
I feel an outraged sense of injustice, the way I used to when my sister did something wrong and I got punished. I shouldn't even be here. I should be at a hip fair-trade coffee house, flirting awkwardly over differential equations.

"Mr. Avery." I raise my hand until I notice Nate's smirk broadening. "That wasn't my phone you found. I don't know how it got into my bag. This is mine." I brandish my iPhone in its melon-striped Kate Spade case.
"You too?" Addy Prentiss turns to me so quickly, her blond shampoo-ad hair swirls around her shoulders. She must have been surgically removed from her football-star boyfriend in order to show up alone. "That wasn't my phone, either."
"Me three," Cooper chimes in. His three comes out thray. Cooper moved here from Mississippi in eighth grade, and still has a southern accent.
"Somebody punked us!" Simon Kelleher leans forward with his elbows on the desk, a strand of floppy dark hair grazing his sharp cheekbone. He looks spring-loaded, ready to pounce on fresh gossip for his infamous tell-all app, About That. Teachers have been trying to shut it down for years, but Simon's always one step ahead.
We all stare pointedly at Nate, who tips even farther back in his chair. Another millimeter and he'll fall right over.


  1. Pitch: Clear, suspenseful, and intriguing – not much I can add here!

    First 500: Love the immediate sense of character and voice – among several different people, no less – and there are some turns of phrase in here that are pure gold (e.g. “flirting awkwardly over differential equations” – ZOMG XD) What I missed, though, was the feeling of suspense and danger that so awesomely permeates the pitch; for all that something’s clearly going on with the planted phones, things seem very normal here by contrast. I wondered if there might be a different starting point that would generate that same gripping sense of urgency and out-of-joint-ness? Could you open with somebody discovering their secrets are about to be spilled, for instance? Could you open with the murder or its immediate aftermath and then flash back? Not knowing how your story unfolds, I don’t know whether either of those would actually work, but I get the feeling there are definitely high-tension moments available to launch from. Just something to think about!


  2. Hello Karen!! Thanks for entering #YayYA!

    Before I critique your work, remember that all advice in writing is subjective, and you are welcome to take or leave my two cents. Whatever works best for your story! Also, I haven't read the previous critiques, so I apologize for redundancy.

    I LOVE your premise. Groups working together have always been my favorite kind of mystery, which, BTW, you may want to add to your genre.

    So you have a great voice and it looks like a great cast of characters... who you're a little too eager for us to get to know. Personal rule of thumb of mine is for the first pages or so to only have one or two main characters. Overloading us with multiple ones makes it hard for us to keep track of who is who. There's also a LOT of dialogue from all of these characters. I know you know who is who, but for us poor ignorant readers, we need a little more page space to get used to everyone.

    You may just be starting in the wrong place. Otherwise your writing is really clean and polished. Thanks again for entering and happy writing!!

  3. Hi Karen!

    For the pitch, maybe explain why the creator of the gossip app would try to spill random personal info about four random teenagers that would make them up for arrest.

    For the five hundred, there's a lot of the main character talking to the reader.... You should try to show more of what is going on around her then tell us what happened. Maybe start where the teacher pulls the random phone out of her backpack and then her reaction to it. Also, if she's never been to detention before, how come she avoided Mr. Avery trying to get everyone in trouble in the past? How would some teachers manage to shut down a popular social media app? Or did someone in the school make it and it's just a school thing? I also wouldn't introduce so many characters in the first five hundred since the reader is trying to get to know your main character!
    The idea sounds intriguing though and I wish I knew more about the app!
    Hope this helps!

    -Bethany #5

  4. Hello Karen!

    I don't read much contemporary YA, so you'll have to take my comments with a grain of salt. That said, I think the idea of a gossip app is fascinating! It seems like a great plot device, creating both conflict and mystery.

    Your writing is easy to read and very funny - you have some great lines in there ("had to be surgically removed" =D). The only suggestions that I can think of are fairly broad. I feel like we get too many characters introduced in 500 words. It is hard for me to say "get rid of this one" because I loved all your vivid, quick descriptions of them. But I am missing a sense of the main conflict.

    Your pitch sets us up for an intense mystery thriller. I am guessing Bethany is one of the four students you mention. But even in 500 words, I think we should be able to get to the core of why she is in the story. You establish that she is an honor student who was framed into getting detention, but the way you narrate this situation makes it feel more like the start of a contemporary romance rather than a murder mystery. I can understand the desire to go from funny to grim, but I personally feel like the first 500 should act kind of like an overture to the rest of your piece. Give us at least some hint of the horror and confusion to come.

    Also, if Bronwyn is one of these four students whose secrets were about to be spilled, perhaps we could get a hint of that secret? I know this is a lot for 500 words to do and maybe at this point in the story, she doesn't even have secrets to conceal yet. I guess all I am thinking of is that old saying "Start your story as close to the end as possible". I would like some sense in this first 500 that the conflict, the big, serious conflict, is starting already.

    These suggestions might not make much sense in the greater context of your story, since it seems like you are going to have multiple narrators and an evolving, complex plot. In which case, I'm intrigued enough by the pitch to want to read how it all goes down!

    1. Urgh, meant to say "Bronwyn" not "Bethany"... who just posted above me =P