Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 #YayYA Entry #1: The Yellow Girl

Name: Maria McDaniel  @MariaCMcDaniel

Genre: Thriller

Title: The Yellow Girl

35-word pitch:

Haunted by her parents’ murder, Danni longs for family. Her brother needs justice. When their paths intersect with a boy who sees the unseen—light and dark—Danni will discover some monsters are real.


First 500:


It was the sudden exodus of crows from her mother’s lime tree that first told Danni he was coming. Even before she heard the gritty crunch of tires on the wet driveway, or the sound of a car door closing, the crows had fled the tree’s slender branches and swarmed like bats into the darkened sky. 
“Momma, the crows are back,” she’d said, just before.
“Danni, please. Stop saying that.”
Danni pressed her nose against the windowpane and huffed a cloud of steam from flattened nostrils. “Well, they are.”
The girl was small for her age, which vexed her, with eyes too large for her face and a wild mane of hair that refused to be managed. Glancing toward her mother, she noted the tension in her posture as she bent over her keyboard, fingers tapping madly. For the hundredth time that day, Danni felt a curling in her stomach, like a length of wire winding into knots. 
A dark shape swooped across the garden, drawing her gaze back outdoors. All week long, dozens of blackbirds had gathered on the lawn like feathered loiterers in a prison yard. Danni had planted herself by the front window—counting crows and pretending she wasn’t—and she happened to know that ten of them were perched among the limes in her mother’s tree beside the porch. 
Squinting slightly, she drew a face on the steamed glass; just a lump-like circle, mismatched eyes and a crooked mouth. Bending, she looked through the eyeholes, peering out at the birds in the rain-drenched yard. Something cold crept over her shoulders, then, because all ten had grown quiet and still, and each pair of eyes stared back at her.
“Momma”—she kept her voice low—“are they regular crows?”
“Of course they’re regular,” her mother replied absently. “What else would they be?”
“It seems like they’re thinking stuff.”
“Now you’re being silly.”
Danni frowned at the face she’d drawn on the glass, then decided to add a long, protruding tongue. And also fangs. “Since they’ve come, everybody’s upset.”
“Nobody’s upset.”
I’m upset. Elliot’s upset.”
Her mother’s sigh could be heard from across the room. “Danielle, I’m sorry we have to move.”
There was a long pause, and then a whisper. “It’s because of that big, red ‘V’ on all your papers.” 
Elizabeth Ireland’s fingers stopped typing. “Who told you that?”
“Elliot.” Danni’s eyes returned to the crow-laden tree. “Something’s wrong, isn’t it? That’s why they’re here.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Her mother slammed her hand against the desk and stood to her feet. “It’s got nothing to do with the dumb crows!”
It might’ve been her sudden movement, or the sound of her palm, smacking hard against the desk, or the fact that she’d shouted (when she never shouted), but that had been the moment—the precise moment—when every bird in the yard took flight. When the air finally cleared of their screeching bodies, an unfamiliar car was in the driveway.

Genre: Thriller with Supernatural Elements


Ten years ago

It was the sudden exodus of crows from her mother’s tree that first told Danni he was coming. All week long, dozens of the black birds had gathered on the lawn like feathered loiterers in a prison yard. Danni had planted herself by the front window—counting crows and pretending she wasn’t—and she happened to know that ten of them had perched among the limes in her mother’s tree beside the porch.
“Momma, the crows are back.”
Elizabeth Ireland hunched closer to her laptop screen and refused to shudder. “Danni, please. Stop saying that.”
Danni pressed her nose against the windowpane and huffed a cloud of steam from flattened nostrils. “Well, they are.” For the hundredth time that day, there was a curling in her stomach, like a length of wire winding into knots.
She was small for her age, which vexed her, with eyes too large for her face and a wild mane of hair that refused to be managed. Squinting slightly, she drew a face on the steamed glass; just a lump-like circle, mismatched eyes and a crooked mouth. She bent and looked through the eyeholes, peering out at the birds in the rain-drenched yard. Something cold crept over her shoulders, then, because all ten crows had grown quiet and still, and each pair of eyes stared back at her.
“Momma”—she kept her voice low—“are they regular crows?”
“Of course they’re regular,” her mother replied, not shifting her gaze from the screen. “What else would they be?”
“It seems like they’re thinking stuff.”
“Now you’re being silly.”
Danni frowned at the face she’d drawn on the glass, deciding to add a long, protruding tongue. And fangs. “Since they’ve come, everybody’s upset.”
“Nobody’s upset.”
I’m upset. Elliot’s upset.” For once, Danni and her older brother had actually agreed on something. “It’s because of that big, red ‘V’ on all your papers, isn’t it?”
Elizabeth Ireland’s fingers stopped typing. “Who told you that?”
“Elliot.” Danni’s finger traced a deep “V” across the face in the glass, then another, and another, marring the image into a smeared, angry scribble. “Something’s wrong. That’s why they’re here.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Danielle!” Her mother slammed her hand against the desk and stood. “It’s got nothing to do with the dumb crows!” 
It might’ve been her sudden movement, or the sound of her palm smacking hard against the desk, or the fact that she’d shouted (when she never shouted), but that was the moment—the precise moment—when every bird in the yard took flight. Danni screamed, scrambling backward across the floor as the crows fled the lime tree’s slender branches and swarmed like bats into the darkened sky.  When the air finally cleared of their screeching bodies, an unfamiliar car was in the driveway.





13 comments:

  1. I loved all of the descriptions here! You really set the scene as dark and gritty. From this first 500 I'm interested to know who Elliot is? Is he living or does Danni see other beings? And what did the V on the papers mean? I loved the descriptions of your characters too like Danni being vexed by her stature, and her wild mane. So good! Something about the last sentence gets confusing in the timeline from the first few sentences. You've painted a wonderfully eerie scene and distinct character features! I would definitely read on! :)
    -Andrea #2

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  2. Hello, hello! Remember, this work is yours, so take my opinions with a grain of salt!


    For the pitch, I'm assuming that the word "they" in the third sentence refers to Danni and her brother. If that's so, I would change "her brother needs justice" to "her brother wants justice" as "needs" sounds like Danni needs to go get justice for her brother. Just a minor quibble but it makes a difference. Otherwise, nice and ominous!

    For your 500 words, this looks like it is a prologue. They aren't terribly in vogue, sadly, so I'd consider turning this into a flashback. I'd also chop down a little bit on the descriptions of Danni's appearance and show us more of her personality, which will bond the reader more to her as a character and make her parents' impending murder all more more feels-filled. Also, watch for filtering! I'm prone to it myself.

    Birder tidbit: crows and blackbirds are not the same :D

    Otherwise, your description is nice and straightforward while still being evocative. I would definitely turn the page and keep reading with bated breath!! :D

    Hope that helps! Thank you for entering #YayYA!

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  3. Hi Maria,

    Good job setting up a very ominous beginning! You may want to categorize this with paranormal or supernatural elements, as opposed to just being a thriller (your pitch seems to imply there is more).

    Question, is this YA or MG? Danni's actions and what she notices feels younger than YA to me. Perhaps it is a flashback? If so, a mention of the time period relative to the rest of the story would be helpful.

    Some other things I noticed which could make your beginning a bit tighter:

    -The use of italics goes overboard a bit for me, and I think you may be losing the effect you want by enhancing too many words.

    -Who is the he referenced in the first sentence? Is this a reference to a reaper or death? Is it her parents' murderer? Why would she know it's a he as opposed to a more general something or someone?

    -The paragraph which begins "the girl was small..." is a bit hard to follow given the use of pronouns and general descriptors as opposed to use of names we know by now, Danni or Mom. Likewise, you switch in the passage between references to the mom and then using her full name which is a bit confusing. Finally, there's a piece of dialog where someone talks about a big red V on papers, and it's not obvious who is speaking (I assume Elliot/the brother?)

    -Watch filter language: Danni felt a curling in her stomach, her mother's sigh could be heard, etc.

    I love the passage where she is drawing on the window, and also the last paragraph of the excerpt!

    I hope this helps some.

    Julie (#3)

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  4. The 35 words was snappy and intriguing. Great job. One thing I'm not sure you need is "light and dark." I'm not sure what it means and it interrupts the flow of the sentence.

    500 words: the beginning with the crows is absolutely fascinating. Drew me in right away. One suggestion: it felt strange to flash back to something Danni had said earlier. Instead of having a flashback so early in the book, why not just have this be something she says in the moment?

    The last paragraph is great and exciting. Strong way to end the section.

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  5. Pitch: I like the murder being mentioned right at the opening. It really grabbed my attention. “Their path” makes me wonder who is “their” referring to. Maybe a little clarification (although I get you’re limited for space). I like the phrase “some monsters are real”. It makes me want to read and find out if it is referring to people being two faced and terrible OR if there are actual monsters.


    500 Words:
    Great word choice throughout (exodus, gritty, slender, vexed, screeching). Your opening paragraph sets a very dark and moody atmosphere which makes me want to keep reading to see what creepy things might happen.

    “feathered loiterers in a prison yard” I love the visual and comparison you are going for here but my mouth trips over the word loiterers. I had to read it a few times to make it work. But now after reading through a few times, I really like the phrase so maybe just ignore this bit :) (Just something to ponder)

    “her mother replied absently.” I like this phrasing. You can tell the mother is not paying attention to Danni at the start but I like that you indicate she is still not paying attention despite how engrossed Danni is with these birds.

    “There was a long pause, and then a whisper. “It’s because of that big, red ‘V’ on all your papers.”
    Elizabeth Ireland’s fingers stopped typing. “Who told you that?””
    The use of the name Elizabeth Ireland threw me a little because it hadn’t been used so far. Is this the mother? I assume so after going back and re-reading.

    You say “since they’ve come” -is this in reference to the birds? I assume so, I think. I didn’t get that the first go round but it makes sense re-reading it. Just a bit of confusion at first. It actually made me think there were creepy visitors or people in the town which worked to keep me reading. So either way, it caused some sort of intrigue.

    “Her mother slammed her hand against the desk and stood to her feet.” Stood to her feet sounds awkward because it makes me think, well what else would you stand to? Maybe try “and stood up” Is that too simple?

    Overall: You have done a wonderful job of making me want to keep reading. I need to know more about what has brought all these birds and what is going on with the big red V you mentioned. I would definitely keep turning the pages based on this opening.

    Jackie (#5)

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  6. Danielle SimonelliJune 27, 2017 at 6:43 PM

    I have to make two replies because I exceed the word count, so here's my first reply...PART ONE.

    Hi there I’m jumping in!

    First off, Danielle is an excellent name :-)

    Your pitch:
    When you say Danni longs for family, I assumed she was all alone in the world. Then you mention the brother, which means she isn’t all alone in the world. She actually does have family. So that’s a little inconsistent. Maybe her longing can be more explicit. Does she long to repair her broken family? If so, maybe it’s “Haunted by her parents’ murder Danni longs to repair her broken family while her brother seeks justice.” I also think “seeks” sounds better than “needs” but I don’t have all the context. Second line is excellent and compelling!

    Your 500 words:
    Loving your opening line and entire opening paragraph. It sets the mood. There’s a little bit of filtering with “it was” and “she heard” but your choice whether or not to change that.

    This is a little awkward because you are opening in the past perfect tense and adding “just before” is repetitive: “Momma, the crows are back,” she’d said, just before. I would recommend to either keep it in past tense…which would be consistent with the rest of the narrative in this opening…or just say “she’d said” and omit “just before.”

    Add a space between “they are”: “Well, they are.”

    You have two “hers” in this sentence without establishing who both of the “hers” are. I know what you mean but grammatically you might need to do: “The girl was small for her age, which vexed Danni”. In the same sentence, you say “a wild mane of hair that refused to be managed” but that assumes that Danni knows the girl had tried to manage it and failed. How would Danni know this?

    Here’s some filtering I would recommend to edit. Instead of “Danni felt a curling in her stomach” you can make it more active to “Danni’s stomach curled.”

    You are trying for a metaphor here, “gathered on the lawn like feathered loiterers in a prison yard,” but its meaning escapes me. As a side note, would Danni know what a prison yard looks like?

    I’d recommend to delete the adverb “slightly,” because it doesn’t add to the scene in a significant way.

    Would you want to add “clear” before eyeholes? “Bending, she looked through the clear eyeholes.” For a moment, I was wondering what eyeholes, when I realized she had cleared away the steam with her fingertips and could better see through the glass.

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  7. Here's Part two of my feedback:

    You don’t need the word “out” here: “peering at the birds…”. Many times, we don’t need “out” or “up.” Those can usually be deleted and the meaning is preserved.

    Here, I would specify ten crows: “because all ten crows had grown quiet and still.” Something else to note…there is nothing prior to this in the narrative to suggest that the birds were anything other than quiet and still. They were just hanging out among the limes. Maybe you can say above that they are squawking and flapping, maybe flitting from branch to branch, to show their activity before noting that they are unmoving.

    Using the adverb “absently” takes away from the mother’s ambivalence. Instead of saying “her mother replied absently” you can say “Of course,” her mother replied, not shifting her gaze from the keyboard.” This is just an example of showing instead of relying on the adverb.

    “And” and “also” are redundant. Suggest to delete “also.” “And fangs.” And leave it at that.

    I didn’t know who said this bit, you may need a dialogue tag: “It’s because of that big, red V on all your papers.” I really thought it was the mother until I read the next sentence.

    We are in Danni’s POV and she’s talking to her mother, so why would she refer to her mother by her first and last name? It sounds like you are using the opportunity to give the reader some information, but it pulls me out of the scene because I had to think about who Elizabeth was…but of course that was made more difficult by the fact that the previous dialogue didn’t have a tag.

    “Stood to her feet” is redundant. You only need to say “stood.” What else would she stand to? Right?

    I think you can remove the comma after palm, here: “or the sound of her palm, smacking…”

    Early on in the narrative, we learn about a girl – the one who’s small for her age – but then we don’t hear about her again. What happened to her? Was Danni watching her outside her window? That is what I assumed, but then we went back to talking about the crows. Unless, and I just realized this, the girl is Danni? Is that the case? All along I thought it was somebody Danni was watching. You may want to consider changing “the girl” to Danni.

    I hope this helps – let me know if you have any questions!

    Regards,
    Danielle

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  8. Hi Maria!
    I like that you convey dread in your pitch, but I’d like to see higher stakes. What happens when she finds out monsters are real? Of course there’s only so much you can do in 35 words. The pitch is supposed to entice someone to want to read more, and for me, yours does that. 
    You are obviously very good at creep factor in your writing! And your first 500 words have good bones, but I think you could create more tension if you rearranged them a little. Maybe start with:
    A dark shape swooped across the garden, drawing her gaze back outdoors. All week long, dozens of blackbirds had gathered on the lawn like feathered loiterers in a prison yard. Danni had planted herself by the front window—counting crows and pretending she wasn’t—and she happened to know that ten of them were perched among the limes in her mother’s tree beside the porch.
    The first paragraph you have reads a little like a thesis statement or topic sentence and pulls some of the punch from the rest of your words. I would move her description to the second paragraph and then the dialogue. In that order, you’re setting the reader up well.
    Aside from your awesome writing, I’m wondering if you’re starting your story in the right place. This is completely a gut feeling, so take it for what it’s worth. I haven’t seen any more of your work and am going off the pitch, but her mom is already dead, right? Don’t get me wrong, I really like what you have! I’m just wondering if this bit shouldn’t be a flashback or something… Again, just a gut feeling.
    Thanks for sharing your words! I’m excited to see where this story goes.

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  9. Hi Maria!

    This is a very evocative beginning to your story! I'm very curious about this mysterious "he", and the meaning of the crows. I love the way you put your words together, and the distinctive voice you've given Danielle. It really brings the reader into your story!

    35 word pitch: I think it's quite good, though I wonder if maybe you could find stronger verbs than "longs for" family or "needs" justice."Seeks," maybe?

    500 words
    This are very atmospheric. I find myself wondering if it's a flashback, or a prologue, perhaps. Is Danielle older in the rest of that book? The voice here feels quite young.

    You start off with the departure of the crows, but then backtrack to their arrival. This is a little confusing, and results in the awkward use of the past perfect tense: "she'd said, just before." Then when you switch back to the simple tense, "Danni pressed her nose against the windowpane. . ." it's hard to tell when this is taking place. So I would cut the first paragraph and reorder the passage to start with the return of the crows, and go on to their departure.

    "The girl was small for her age, which vexed her, with eyes too large for her face and a wild mane of hair that refused to be managed." This is stepping out of Danni's POV. It sounds like someone else describing her--she wouldn't think of herself as "the girl." And it might be more vivid to have Danni batting at her unmanageable hair.

    The gathering of the blackbirds, like feathered loiterers in a prison yard--that image is great. I love a lot of the description in this passage. It really sets the mood.

    I'm really curious about the face Danni drew on the window. It's such a spooky touch. How does she feel about it?

    If you cut the first paragraph, to make the timing clearer, I suggestion putting "fled the tree's slender branches and swarmed like bats into the darkened sky" in the final paragraph of this passage. It's too good an image to lose.

    Thank you so much for sharing this excerpt. The writing here is gorgeous, the imagery suitably gloomy; you just need to clarify the chronology a bit to really make the story glow.

    Good luck!

    Kimberly #4

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  10. Hi! The writing was creepy and gripping. Definitely a compelling scene. I agree with what others have said about "little girl" "Elizabeth Ireland" and that the narrator voice sounds very young. It may be a flashback, a prologue or memory, but I think it still works. If you want to age up the voice a bit, you could present it as a memory, but I don't think it matters that much.

    I think the pitch could be a lot stronger. I know it's hard with word limitations, but it sounds disjointed, with the three sentences. I like the part about her parents' murder. Although if there is no literal haunting, you may want to reword. Her longing for family is unspecific. Is this a general loneliness or is she seeking out some other sort of family? And I'm uncertain where the brother falls into this. Seeking justice could mean he's falsely accused, but needing justice could mean he wants to find his parents' murderer. Either way it's a little unclear. "When their paths intersect--" Is this truly a random connection or is there a way to describe actively how they encounter the boy who sees the unseen? If you are going to elaborate on what this boy sees, make it more intriguing than "light and dark.' Does he have a specific connection with the "monsters" and the murder? or is it simply his talent for this type of thing that causes him to get involved?

    It's great that we have all the eagle-eyed readers here who notice things like blackbirds vs crows! I was caught up in the scene and didn't notice a lot of those things.

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  11. Reverse what I said re: seeking vs. needing justice. "needing justice" made it sound like he was falsely accused.

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  12. Hi, Maria (This sounds like I'm addressing myself lol). I'm not at all good at line editing and critiquing so I'm refraining myself from line critiquing and so I'm gonna do overall feedback.

    Pitch:
    "Haunted by her parents’ murder, Danni longs for family. Her brother needs justice."

    Let's mash them together.

    "Haunted by her parents' murder, Dani longs for a family, but her brother seeks justice. When their paths intersect with a boy who sees the unseen (I'm confused as to what you mean by the unseen, is it ghosts and spirits, which doesn't sound like thriller, rather horror,
    or just has a super sixth sense which makes it supernatural thriller) — light and dark — Danni will discover some monsters exist."

    500 words:
    I'm blown away by how amazingly you created an ominous atmosphere. Superb to the times infinity. The ravens add mind blowing sinister feeling. Can you add a cloudy sky/downpour/misty weather? Maybe add the smell of petrichor (smell of dry ground during the first rain after a dry season) or the greyness of the place. I'm amazed at your atmospheric skills. Great job.

    Dani sounds like a little girl around 8-11. Her talks and her mother scolding her definitely adds that vibe. Is she? I've never read an MG thriller so that's promising.

    Overall, you've got a great start, your setting is a character itself (which is super A++) and the story gives you all the tautness of forthcoming sinisterly incidents.


    Best of luck with PitchWars!

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  13. Hi Maria,

    Just had to say one word. Brilliant!

    Elizabeth

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