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*Author: Kim Johnson*
*Title: Her Only Escape*
*Genre: YA Suspense*
The last place a senior wants to be cooped up is the career counseling office. But I like the quiet. I like the college posters filled with smiling faces. The stacks of possibilities filed in the cabinets. Even the obsolete typewriter. But most of all, hearing the tick, tick, tick, of the clock. A sound to drift to if I can stay undetected in the far corner.
Hunched over, my long hair drapes my face on my desk and I let my glasses dangle at the tip of my fingers.
*My legs flutter above ground, whipping high in the sky. I land. Move my feet sharply like scissors to complete an arabesque, dangerously close to the edge of the stage. With my feet perfectly on pointe, I arch my back, keeping the length of my arms straight. I’m dancing like my life is on the line – reckless chances. Maybe it’s because I know he’s watching me from the back corner. I dance faster so he doesn’t disappear, but my body is tiring. I stumble glancing in the shadows. He is gone. *
The bell rings and I jolt my head up. It takes a second to place myself. I wipe the drool from my mouth, and throw my bag over my shoulder. Adrenaline charges up my body, raising my energy beyond containment. I refuse to let anything stop me from dancing again. I swallow the pain choking up to my neck thinking about Michael. About his warnings. About him being gone.
I practically skip to the doors adjacent to the indoor weight facility at Eugene Highland high school. We use it as our makeshift studio. The first time I found out it, I stalked the dance practice through the window for weeks before I brought the subject up at home.
“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Mom said after I mentioned wanting to take up dance again. I did a double take, to make sure I heard her right. She repeated once more. Hearing it a second time, it stung like she slapped my face. Dad left the room to refrain from yelling at the top of his lungs.
I wanted him to. Just once lose it, in front of me. But he didn’t.
Mom continued, “I only mean, you should try something new, Samantha.”
My mouth still hung open a bit. What she won’t say is, *do something else*. *Anything else.* As long as it doesn’t remind her of Michael.
Mom is all about forgetting.
Shoving it down.
Dad usually gives in to Mom, but this was one thing he wouldn’t let be taken away from me. I found him upstairs, unpacking my dance boxes.
“For when you’re ready,” he said, before kissing my forehead goodnight.
And dance began burning in my heart again. Calling me to the floor. Gripping me until I couldn’t breathe. Till the only thing left for me to do was dance.
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I think you’re doing a great job of making the reader wonder what happened to Michael and how that event has affected this family. There’s the possibility of some great conflict between the mom, dad, and the narrator.
A few minor things: sometimes you have commas where you don’t need them. “I wanted him to. Just once lose it, in front of me” is one example. There’s also an unneeded period in this sentence that I figured was probably a typo.
This sentence: “Hunched over, my long hair drapes…” She’s hunched over, but it’s written like her hair is hunched over.
And then here: “I swallow the pain choking up to my neck thinking about Michael. About his warnings. About him being gone. I practically skip to the doors adjacent to the indoor weight facility at Eugene Highland high school.”
I paused here because one moment she’s swallowing pain and the next she’s skipping to the studio, so I wasn’t sure about her emotional state at this point.
There’s also a moment where the narrator seems to be inside her father’s head: “Dad left the room to refrain from yelling at the top of his lungs.” I wondered if there might be an action (or some dialogue) from him at this moment that could illustrate his anger.
I see that this genre is YA suspense and you are certainly raising questions early on about Michael, so well done! Good luck with this.
I like the style of this first 500 words. You have her memories separated by asterisks as opposed to italics, and I very much like when an author experiments with form. From the line “Maybe you shouldn’t…” to the line “For when you’re ready…”, this reminded me of E. Lockhart’s style in We Were Liars, an excellent YA book that just came out and is selling like hotcakes right now. Judging from your overall style, you should read that book if you haven’t already. Reading books similar in style to your own could help you better define exactly what you want your style to be – and not be. But it can also show you what makes that style popular.
I agree with the things Quanie said. I also felt the father character was inconsistent, even in this short amount of time. I think that happens in the line that says, “Dad left the room to refrain from yelling at the top of his lungs.” If it was clear that he was about to yell at the mother, then the rest would make sense, but my immediate impression was that he was going to yell at the main character, which isn’t consistent with the end of this excerpt. I suggest making that more clear and perhaps, to address Quanie’s accurate concern, having more visual description to show that the father is leaving the room to refrain from yelling. That way it wouldn’t seem like we’re switching perspectives or in the third-person omniscient POV. For example, you could do something like, “Dad nearly hit the wall with his first but stopped it from connecting at the last minute. His lips formed a soundless curse, and he stormed from the room before he gave himself the chance to explode.” This shows us his anger, something the main character could also literally see.
My biggest critique is consistency in general since it does seem like the narrator is really upset one minute and bouncingly happy the next. Unless she has bipolar in the story, that will be confusing. Make sure the capture the mood of the main character and the ambiance of the scene constantly. If you’ve finished your book, you may want to go back and reread it, writing down the emotion(s) you were trying to portray in each section and making sure you really saturate your text with those emotions.
Awesome job! I will look for this when it comes out. The style you have is fantastic!
Quanie, Thank you for your critique! I recently changed my first chapter so I’ll go over everything you mentioned.
Christie, thanks for the example for her dad. Making some of those changes will make it stronger for sure. I like your suggestion to go through the book and notate emotions.
I haven’t read We Were Liars yet, but it’s waiting for me on my kindle.
Thank you both for taking the time to look at my sample.
Reblogged this on CHRISTIE STRATOS and commented:
Come critique the first 500 words of Kim Johnson’s book, Her Only Escape! She’d love to hear your opinion.
Excellent suspense as you leave breadcrumbs of hints leading us to the something that begins to be revealed. ADVERBS, especialLY in dream sequence can be cut. I search my manuscripts and my students for ‘ly’ and then ask the question: “Does it change the meaning to take it out? If it doesn’t, cut it.”
“I swallow the pain choking up to my neck thinking about Michael.” I couldn’t make this sentence make sense until the third time I read it.
I practically skip to the doors adjacent to the indoor weight facility at Eugene Highland high school. CAPS on High School since it’s named. We use it as our makeshift studio. The first time I found out it, I stalked the dance practice through the window for weeks before I brought the subject up at home. Awkward sentence. Missing words? I don’t understand what it means.
Hearing it a second time, it stung like she slapped my face. Dad left the room to refrain from yelling at the top of his lungs. How does she know this in first person? Maybe something like: “Dad looked like he’d been slapped to as a he reddened and left the room.”
And dance began burning in my heart again. Began is a word that delays and distances the writing from the reader.
Many of the fragments did not serve a purpose to be fragments. They felt awkward and curt. Save fragments for important action sequences.
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