For your reading enjoyment, we have “A Game of Days,” another first page critique entry from an anonymous author. My comments on the flip side. Enjoy.
|Purchased image from Shutterstock by Jordan Dane|
I kicked a piece of loose gravel down the street.
Buzz punched my arm and frowned. “Get over it. It was a history quiz, for crying out loud. A quiz!”
Spencer nudged me in the ribs, a sly hint of a grin on his face. “Yeah, Jackson. B minus is a decent grade from Camilla the Hun. There are kids in Africa who would be thrilled to have that grade.”
I stopped walking. “The point is, she told us the quiz was tomorrow. I had a paper due today in biology, so I didn’t study. It’s like she lied to us.”
Spencer stared at me. “No, she didn’t.”
“She didn’t say the test was tomorrow.”
I frowned. “Did.”
Spencer crossed his arms. “Didn’t.”
“Yes, she did. You write it in your notebook when she said it.” I spun Spencer around, and dug through his backpack.
“Hold still.” I fished out a dog-eared blue notebook with the word HISTORY surrounded by Spencer’s cartoon vikings and knights battling on the cover and opened it to the last page. Spencer’s eyes crossed as I shoved it under his nose. “Read it.”
He took a step back to focus his eyes. “But—”
He shrugged. “History test Monday. Study or take the consequences. Mwha-ha-ha—”
“No way.” I flipped it over. Spencer’s cartoon lettering stretched across the top of Friday’s history notes.
“This is wrong. She wrote it on the board.”
Buzz snapped her gum hard. “Did you write it down?”
“Then you got it wrong, Einstein.” She riffled through her own backpack and came up with a small calendar. “History test Monday. Read ’em and weap.”
“Didn’t,” I growled, kicking another rock.
“Look, Jackson. Maybe you should forget about history anyway and be a doctor like your dad. History’s just old news.”
I stared at Spencer while he shifted back and forth. “After what we’ve been through, you can say that?.”
“It’s just not meant to be changed, Jackson. You know what I mean.” He glanced nervously at Buzz. She didn’t meet my eyes.
The time piece hung smooth and warm against my skin under my T-shirt. Never to be used, never to be lost. It was almost like they didn’t trust me, and the feeling hovered in the air, unspoken.
“I’m not going to use it. I wouldn’t do that.”
WHAT I LIKED - This reads like a Young Adult book since the characters here are high school aged kids. I liked the natural banter between them and the line about “kids in Africa” brought a smile. The description of Spencer’s notebook with its cartoon drawings and lettering was vivid. I also loved the snap of Buzz’s gum. I know how hard it is to juggle three teen voices in one scene and the author made this look effortless. Kudos.
There is an intriguing plot about a time piece that Jackson has in his possession that can alter time. Time travel? We don’t know, but the premise of kids being in control of time can be intriguing. Their limited understanding of the risks and ramifications of abusing the time piece could make for a compelling read.
The intriguing premise reminded me of a YA book I read and enjoyed – Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman. A boy by the name of Jacob has a power transferred to him by his mysterious foster father when the man says, “You are indestructible” at the moment they are in a horrific car crash. Jacob survives. His foster father saved him by dying and transferring his power to be indestructible. Jacob slowly reveals his secret of invulnerability to his two closest friends and experiments with his ability to transfer that same power to them. Ophelia, a gutsy and daring new girl in town (who Jacob has a crush on), suggests they can use his gift for good—that they all can share it. You can imagine how the story ends. Loads of conflict and the experimentation of kids who aren’t thinking about the risk of changing the course of people’s lives…and their own. This book was a YALSA pick for Reluctant Readers.
Bottom line is that I see potential in this story for a touch of kid humor as well as a lesson learned with plenty of conflict. Below are my suggestions for areas to improve.
1.) CHOICE OF STARTING POINT - The biggest issue I have with this opener is that the banter of a quiz detracts from the mystery we see only slightly at the end. I would think there could be a more intriguing start to this, to incorporate the time piece into the story faster. How does Jackson get his hands on this time piece? The story hints at a time it was used before. That could make a better place to start. If kids had a time piece where they could go back and change things, I can imagine tons of fun (seemingly harmless) ways for them to test their abilities in the beginning, until the power of this gift goes to their heads and everything turns dark.
2.) WRITING STYLE - The writing style is very sparse. Normally that is not a bad thing, but this is almost too sparse for me to get a sense of where they live and a more vivid setting. Small town Americana or urban ghetto, the setting can really help define this story. But overall, I really like this author’s voice for YA. The story needs more layers in voice to make it more commercial in my opinion.
3.) OPENING LINE - The opening line isn’t memorable. I can see Jackson kicking gravel down the street to demonstrate frustration over the quiz, but the opening sense of any book should be more memorable to draw the reader into the story.
4.) TYPOS – In the dialogue line “You write it in your notebook when she said it” should be past tense. The word WRITE should be WROTE. The word “weep” is misspelled as “weap.” In addition, there is an extra period after a question mark at the end of the line, “After what we’ve been through, you can say that?” Reading your work aloud can help catch some of these typos, along with following your spell check cues. Spell check would catch the punctuation errors also.
5.) ADVERBS/PASSIVE VOICE – Kudos to the author for having so few of these, but I wanted to point out a warning about LY words, like “nervously.” The way the sentence is written, with one guy staring at Buzz who won’t meet his eyes, conveys their nervousness, without the embellishment. An example of passive voice is the last line, “I’m not going to use it.” This sounds like a kid, so I am a bit forgiving when it comes to the use of passive in dialogue since people talk this way naturally, but the sentence would read stronger like this, “I won’t use it.” The stronger line makes Jackson sound stronger as a character.
6.) EMBEDDED DIALOGUE LINES – I’ve seen authors do this lately, but as a reader, I prefer to have dialogue on their own lines and not embedded within a paragraph. The eye naturally looks for dialogue lines and white space on the page. Heavy, long paragraphs and embedded dialogue lines don’t give the eye relief and make it harder to follow. I’d like to hear people’s opinion of this, but I like seeing my dialogue lines in the open.
7.) GESTURES/TAG LINES - The author does a pretty good job of not tagging the dialogue lines with names and pronouns, but in place of tags of who says what, there are plenty of gestures that attribute the line to certain speakers. There are repeated gestures - two “frowned” and two “stared.” By the end of the book, words like “shrugged,” “crossed arms” and “growled” could add up. My suggestion would be to find a balance of gestures to tag lines, or make the dialogue more distinctive between the main characters.
Thanks to the author who submitted their work. The start to any story is hardest for me. I revise this part a lot. There have been times when I started a book in one spot before I realized I needed a Prologue of an earlier event that fueled the plot and became my new punchy beginning – or I write more than one start to see which one I like best. Beta readers can help give feedback on whether a beginning works. Good luck with this project, author!
What do you think of “A Game of Days,” TKZers?