Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA BONUS Entry #24: Can't Go Back to Yesterday

Maria Stout
Genre: YA Fantasy

Title: Can't Go Back To Yesterday

35-word pitch: Goonies meets National Treasure when a teen and a librarian join forces with a sarcastic gremlin to decipher the clues and solve the mystery of the disappearance of his clan.

First 500 Words:  
               Adjusting her wig, Laney ran through her checklist knowing she had to look perfect. Makeup: precise. Hair: on. Outfit: dirty. On this October evening the details needed to be just right. She headed down the dusty hallway towards the noise. Turning the corner and crossing the threshold she smiled at the sight of the horde in the room crowded with mismatched furniture and a bank of lockers.
These are my people.
Pausing in the doorway, she looked at all of the ugly, disgusting faces, each one more hideous than the previous. Some faces were disfigured and bloody; others were covered with scales or fur and didn’t look human. And then there were their eyes; oddly colored irises - yellow, red, completely white - with irregularly shaped pupils. There was an unmistakable energy in the room. Again, Laney smiled because this felt like the right place for her. Five months ago she wouldn’t have imagined feeling connected to anything in this town, but things have a way of changing and in this case all it took was one ‘yes.’ An Alice In Wonderland quote floated into her mind. 
‘Every adventure requires a first step.’ Hhmph. This is fun, but I think I’m gonna need to get out of this town before I really find adventure. 
As she scanned the room, someone near the bank of lockers caught her attention. He was moving around, so it was hard for her to get a good look at him.
Who’s that? I don’t remember that face before.
Just then a man stepped into the center of the group. At seven feet 300 pounds, he loomed over everyone else. The loose curls of his greasy, shoulder length hair hung in his face. Gashes across his forehead and cheek dripped red into his goatee. He wore a butcher’s apron that looked like it had been sewn together from pieces of skin.
“We’re all here for the same reason. Are you ready?!” His deep, gruff voice called out.
“Yeah!” The group responded loudly.
“Whose house is this?”
He thundered as loud as he could. “I SAID, WHOSE HOUSE IS THIS?!”
“THIS IS OUR HOUSE!” They shouted getting more and more hyped up.
A petite woman in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt joined the imposing man in the center of the group. Her short bobbed hair was dark with purple streaks through it. A wide grin had spread across her face as she addressed the group.
She laughed gesturing for them to quiet down. “Okay, my monsters. It’s going to be a great night. We already have people lining up outside. Opening night last night was good, but I want tonight to be great! People come here to be scared and I don’t want you to stop until you’ve gotten ‘em good. Last night we had a lady peed her pants. Not that I like the mess, but let’s aim to do it again. Use your best scares and give them a good time.”


  1. Hi Maria!!

    Your concept sounds amazing! The gremlin and librarian stuck out art me, but as the pitch reads now, its a bit of a mouth full and takes a few times over to decipher.
    You could try something like this:
    "Goonies + National Treasure: A teen, a librarian, and a sarcastic gremlin join forces to decipher the clues to solve his clan's disappearance"
    but I think something that would tighten it more is if you gave us some stakes. If they don't solve the mystery, what happens? Where's the risk? I know there's not much room in a pitch, but stakes are always important.

    Your first line is awesome! Sucked me in right away! Definitely has voice.

    "Turning the corner and crossing the threshold she smiled at the sight" is missing a comma. It should have one between threshold and she.
    Also, she had the feeling of being happy and excited at this (I'm assuming) halloween party or haunted house, but the next line about her wanting adventure outside the town is kinda inconsistent. Maybe throw in a hint that something here is boring. School or the people?
    Or something like, "Five months ago, she wouldn’t have imagined feeling connected to anything in this town, but things have a way of changing. This party was almost perfect, but she still wanted something adventurous to do."

    When she's wondering about the guy near the lockers, she just thinks about how she hasn't seen him anywhere. Since we're new to the story and character and town, maybe throw in "at school or sports or other parties" or something along those lines to give us an idea of where she could've but didn't see him.
    Also, talking about this height and weight feels like you're telling us. Maybe make it more sarcastic "Having the presence of seven feet and 300 pounds, he loomed over her and everyone else."

    I hope this helps! :D

  2. I think you need to ground us a bit more. These are actual monsters? She knows they exist?

  3. Hi Maria!

    Very cool comps. Makes me want to know more! The last part of the pitch is a bit sticky with "of" showing up twice. Bethany has a good solution in her comment. And I agree about the stakes. What will the teen and librarian stand to lose as they solve the mystery?

    Your first lines are catchy, and I LOVE the outfit: dirty part. :) I'd like to have a bit more grounding as to where she is. Could you add the place when you have her cross the threshold? Maybe say the threshold of the bar/underground rave/pedicure get the idea.

    Love the Alice quote! I played her in high school, and she's been a part of me since. Her extra dialogue with the quote is a bit confusing, however. Maybe separate the two? I think you could eliminate her extra thought entirely for pace and flow. The quote give the reader enough.

    Your line, "And then there were their eyes." I think it might have more power if you say "the eyes." It sounds...creepier? Again, it's a chance to show her voice.

    I'm not sure she would know the stranger's exact height and weight. Her description of him is a great opportunity to let her voice show. Is she snarky? Serious? Analytical? Show us by how she sizes him up. (See what I did there? Size? No? Okay...)

    I'm intrigued about your story and look forward to seeing how you ground us a bit more. Thanks for letting us read your words!

  4. Part One: I couldn't get all my comments in with one post because I went over the word count, so I'll post two times. I hope that's ok? I had fun reading your entry.

    Your Pitch: “Decipher clues and solve the mystery” is redundant. Save words and just say “solve the mystery.” As someone pointed out to me for my own pitch…what are the stakes? I think I’d also like a name to go with it instead of just saying “teen.”

    Your 500 words:
    Wonderful voice! I had a good sense of the place and time. Love your opening line! Also, and maybe it’s my mind in the gutter, but “Outfit: dirty” can be construed in more than one way :-)

    As I mentioned elsewhere, some editors are sticklers about present tense words (this, here, now) in past tense narrative. Maybe it would be good to not have them in the opening pages? I do feel grounded in the scene.

    “Toward” is mainly used in US publications, “towards” in UK publications. I don’t think it matters, but pick one and make sure you are consistent throughout the MS.

    Add a comma after “Turning the corner and crossing the threshold,” and I think “she smiled at the sight of the horde” is a wordy. Consider “she smiled at the horde in the room crowded with…”

    “She looked” (she heard/felt/saw/etc.) is filtering. Instead of saying she looked at all of the ugly, disgusting faces…consider rewording to remove the filtering and make it more active, like: She paused in the doorway. The ugly, disgusting faces, each one more hideous than the previous, gawked and gestured at one another. Something more polished than my example, but active.

    “Some faces were disfigured and bloody” – telling. It also reads like a thesis statement. Meaning, you open the paragraph telling me the faces were disfigured, and then the rest of the paragraph shows me how they were disfigured. Great in term papers but don’t belong in our MS. Specificity is always good and will help paint a strong picture instead of just saying disfigured and bloody.

    “Others were covered with scales or fur” – this is passive voice. Suggest to reword. Like…Scales covered bulging skulls…Oddly, irregularly – the dreaded adverbs. Can we try: And the eyes: yellow irises, some violent red, others white, all with kidney-bean shaped pupils. It’s an opportunity to add voice and show.

    “There was an unmistakable energy in the room” – this is telling. Is there music and dancing? That shows happy energy. Are the folks arguing and shoving each other? That shows negative energy. Big difference, and with a telling sentence it’s open to interpretation.

    I was left wondering what the ‘yes’ is in “…in this case all it took was one ‘yes.’” I expected the next sentence to tell me what she said yes to. The following sentences also didn’t answer the “yes” question. Does the reader find out soon? Otherwise, when the answer is finally revealed the context will be lost.

    Suggest to reword for better flow, though it might be stylistic preference: “A quote from Alice In Wonderland floated into her mind.” Even if you don’t use the suggestion, watch out for “into” vs. “in” – into refers to movement and in refers to placement. For this sentence, use into.

    We go from Laney being happy among “her kind of people” to “I’m gonna need to get out of this town.” That was abrupt for me. There were indications that she liked where she was, but this internal comment suggests otherwise.

    Add specificity here – “…someone near the bank of lockers caught her attention.” For example, “…someone near the lockers waved their arms, signaling to her, but it was hard to get a good look because he was darting between a werewolf pack and a zombie.”

    “I don’t remember that face before” is a little surprising because it sounded like everyone was in costume or wearing a mask. Maybe add a comment about how his human-face stood out amongst the monster horde.

  5. And here's Part two of my feedback!

    “Just then” is filler. Suggest to delete. Also, how would Laney know his height and weight? How about you show us by explaining how his head nearly reached the ceiling or how his bulging stomach knocked over a girl with its bulk?

    The word “his” sounds repetitive in the greasy sentence. How about rephrasing and making more active to something like: Greasy, shoulder length curls covered his face.

    In dialogue, add the tag after the first sentence so that we know who is speaking. Thus, the following becomes: “We’re all here for the same reason,” his deep, gruff voice called out. “Are you ready?!” Question, is this the same person who was signaling to Laney earlier? The one whose face she didn’t recognize?

    To get rid of the adverb, try: “Yeah!” the group cried.

    Add a comma after shouted, so: “THIS IS OUR HOUSE!” They shouted, getting more and more hyped up. But “more and more hyped up” is telling. Can you show? Are they jumping up and down? Are people climbing onto the furniture?

    Short and bobbed are redundant. I think you can say: “Her bobbed hair was dark with purple streaks.” But that’s a tad passive! So, let’s try: “Purple streaks wove through her dark, bobbed hair.” Something like that. And delete “through it.” You don’t need that bit.

    Comma after laughed, here: “She laughed, gesturing for them to quiet down…”however, “gesturing for them to quiet down” might be considered a little telly. What kind of gesture? Can you describe it?

    I think you are missing the word “who” here: “Last night we had a lady who peed her pants.”

    I focused a lot on line edits because I think that is what was needed. Otherwise, the setting sounds fun and I’d keep on reading!

    Hope I helped you out! Let me know if you have any questions.


  6. Hi Maria,

    Pitch: Anything with a Goonies reference gets me interested! Sounds great! One thing that confused me a bit was the mention of "his clan." I presume that is the gremlin? Is clan the best word to use? Also, you had a few extra words and I think you could use those to give more details on the teen (specific age, gender).

    500 words:
    Fun beginning! I had to read a few times before I figured out what was going on. You may want to make it a little easier to ground the readers straight on. You could do that by giving us more details immediately on how she's dressed. The checklist is engaging, but describing makeup as precise doesn't give us the details we need, and contrasting it with a dirty outfit is strange but not enough to figure out she's in costume.

    You may want to consider referring to it as something like a pre-Halloween as opposed to an October evening. Readers might get the setting faster.

    Some of the internal dialogue doesn't entirely ring true to me, specifically when she sees the person in the middle of the crowd and stops to wonder who that is. And speaking of that moment, I think you need to give us more. He was important to point out for a reason, but there's no description given of the guy, and no indication why he caught her eye (and if he was in a disguise, did she know she didn't know him?).

    Picky things, but there are several sentences in the first paragraph missing commas:

    "Adjusting her wig, Laney ran through her checklist[,] knowing she had to look perfect." Although, that doesn't fully fix the problem because now there is clearly a dangling participle where the checklist knows it has to look perfect. Better to break this into two sentences, IMO. "Adjusting her wig, Laney ran through her checklist. She had to look perfect."

    "On this October evening[,] the details needed to be just right."

    "Turning the corner and crossing the threshold[,] she smiled ..."

    And then in paragraph 3, there is a use of a semi-colon that should be a colon: "And then there were their eyes: "

    Finally, consider giving us more about why she thinks this group is her people and why she needs to get out of the town. You've done a good job describing the crowd, but why they appeal to her so much is still a mystery to us as readers.

    I hope that helps some!

    Julie (#3)

  7. 35 words: minor point--whose clan is "his" clan? I think it's the gremlin.

    500 words: You have a great voice. I liked the line "These are my people." The dialogue was also strong.

    I thought your first sentence could be better. It's fine (though I think you need a comma after "checklist") but I wasn't grabbed until the second paragraph. Beginning with Laney walking through the crowd of strangely dressed people might be even more gripping. Also, the transition from her fixing her costume to her reaching the party was so fast, I think it might be better just to start at the party.

    Also, sometimes we could be more inside the main character's head. For example, "Again, Laney smiled because this felt like the right place for her." could be rephrased without words like "felt" which create a more distant 3rd person POV.

    Regardless, it was an interesting beginning! I would read on.

  8. Hey Maria!

    You’re in my Mid-may group I was excited to read your first 500! I enjoy your pitch. I think it works. The beginning is also painted pretty well to me. I think more details could be added to expand on the location to create a more visual for where she’s walking, but I loved the character descriptions. These are explaining lines. Which I literally just had to look up last night because I have some as well
    “Again, Laney smiled because this felt like the right place for her.”
    So it was hard for her to get a good look at him.

    I love the descriptions of the other characters that follow as well, such as the large man. I think a few slight additions could be about the MC, because I don’t really know who they are but maybe that’s coming next? All in all, I think you have a great first page with interesting action
    Andrea #2

  9. Hi Maria!

    This is such a clever story! Right away I can think of a few teens I know who would absolutely love it. And your comps are great!

    35 word pitch: This is good, although I'd like to see why Laney and the librarian are invested in helping the gremlin. Also, I don't think you need "find the clues"--it's implied by solve the mystery.

    500 words: You really piqued my curiosity here. And Laney is totally relatable; who doesn't remember that feeling when you finally find and recognize your people? I think this is a strong place to start, and the pacing is great; most of my comments involve tightening the prose and deepening the POV.

    The first line: " Adjusting her wig, Laney ran through her checklist knowing she had to look perfect." I don't think you need the "knowing she had to look perfect"--the checklist shows us there's a particular look she's after. And I'm another one who has a problem with the line "outfit: dirty." Is it soiled, disheveled, torn, etc.? Remember that the vocabulary you use in your descriptions can say a lot about the POV character, so what kinds of words would Laney use?

    "She headed down the dusty hallway towards the noise." What kind of noise? Loud chatter, actual growling, music?

    I really love all the descriptions of the monsters, though when you say "others were covered with scales or fur and didn’t look human", we don't need the part about them not looking human. Humans don't have scales or fur.

    "There was an unmistakable energy in the room." This is telling, and could be better grounded in Laney's POV if you describe how she feels: Her heart pounded with the music, skin prickled, hair stood up--however Laney herself experiences excitement.

    "Again, Laney smiled because this felt like the right place for her." I'd stop after "smiled", removing the filter word "felt". Show us this is the right place for her, rather than telling us.

    I got a little confused when she saw the man near the lockers but didn't get a good look at him. You said she didn't recognize his face. Did she even see it?

    I will echo the comments that Laney wouldn't know the weight and height of the tall man. She could maybe guess he was seven feet, maybe you could have him duck his head to pass through the doorway? Also, I'd like to see Laney's reaction to him. Does she believe his apron is human skin, like you say? Is she grossed out, admiring, assuming it's a disguise (she might think "that's a cool effect" if she assumes it's a costume).

    "getting more and more hyped up"--again, this is something I would demonstrate through their actions, rather than simply telling us.

    Thank you so much for sharing this excerpt. I think you have a fun and engaging story here, that really just needs some tweaks to the phrasing to make it really shine!

    Kimberly #4

  10. Hi Maria,

    I think you’ve already gotten some good feedback on this that will make your story stronger. I’m not sure what else to add!

    pitch - good pitch, but I agree with others that a personalized pitch would be stronger.

    500 words - Your story is a lot of fun. Lots of imagination and good voice.
    Here are some small suggestions to consider.

    —Reduce a few adjectives, simplify some sentences, for example: “Pausing in the doorway, she looked at all the faces, each one more hideous than the previous. Some disfigured and bloody; others covered with scales or fur. And then there were the eyes…”
    Just a thought, take out some words and make it more economical.

    —Take out the phrases that filter the scene through Laney’s perspective (several people pointed this out in mine, too!).
    “Again, Laney smiled because this felt like the right place for her” becomes: “Laney smiled. This was the right place for her.”
    same thing, slight change:
    “Five months ago she wouldn’t have imagined feeling connected to anything in this town, but things have a way of changing and in this case all it took was one ‘yes,’
    “Five months ago, she couldn’t have imagined connecting to this town, but things had way of changing. All it took was one yes.” I just took out “feeling” and some extra words that I don't think you need. Just a thought to consider!

    Agree with Deborah to maybe cut her own thought after the Alice quote.
    I like your description of the large man! Great job over all!

    Maria (McDaniel!) entry #1 - @MariaCMcDaniel

  11. Hi! So many fun visuals here, and an enjoyable concept. I like the pitch, but you might want to reword and include Laney's connection to the gremlin's clan. In your pitch you say "gremlin" but in the opening of the story you reference "monsters." Are all the monsters gremlins, or are the gremlins only one subset of the monsters? Between pitch and opening you might want to clarify. It's a different story if all the monsters disappear or if only a group of them go.

    I think your opening checklist is awesome in concept, but could be stronger. I find sentence structure starting with an -ing word tends to be a weaker voice. And you could amp up the checklist itself. "Wig--attached, makeup--thick, outfit--tattered," or something similar would ground the reader better for the weird setup to follow.

    I think in a story like this, there's no need to make a ruse to the reader of it possibly being a normal scenario. So go ahead with the details that make it clear who are the humans and who are the monsters. When a reader is looking at just this small sample, it's a bit fuzzy what's really going on, until the end I'm guessing this is a "House of Monsters" and Laney has somehow worked her way in. You could switch up some generic phrases like "unmistakable energy" to a more specific description that might help ground the reader better in the scene.

  12. Hello!

    Love the concept!! It's fun, and the MC's voice is really interesting and engaging. I agree with everyone above regarding losing some of the adjectives and weaving the descriptions in a bit more to tighten the whole thing.

    It's funny, because you mentioned gremlins in your pitch, I went into your first 500 thinking that all of the people in this school were actually monsters and she just felt like she fit in really well with them. It wasn't until later that I pieced together that they were in costume. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want it to be clear, you may be able to fix that with her checklist in the beginning. If SHE'S in costume, logically, so will the other students be.

    Other than that, my critiques were all covered early on, and I think your revised draft will be really really great once you incorporate all of that. Looking forward to reading!!


  13. Thank you very much for sharing such a beautiful article.