Entry 4: THE EDGE OF HAPPINESS
After her mother dies and her sister runs away with a drug addict [WA1], the only company sixteen-year -old Annabelle has is paper, a pen, and the deep recesses of her creative mind. But then she meets Peter. Ten years her senior, he’s her newfound muse.[LO1] Peter is handing out swing dance fliers at a park. She’s captivated by the way he carries himself, swinging around a charcoal lamppost, smile brighter than the sun. To Annabelle, it’s like he can fly. [WA2] Soon, he coerces her into a world full of kindness, swing dancing, and his strict Christianity. Awed by his apparently unbridled joy, Annabelle believes that if she could be like him, maybe she could be happy too.[LC1]
Writing stories [WA3] about Peter becomes her obsession. [LO2] She ignores the pain when her sister, Jane, comes home starving and filthy; when Jane falls for Jude, Peter’s depressed younger brother, and Jude becomes estranged from his own religion; and when Peter finds out about Jude’s struggles only to ignore them. Annabelle doesn’t notice. She can’t. She’s in another world. [WA4][LO3]
That is, until Jane and Jude convince Annabelle to run away with them. As they vandalize the house of Jane’s abusive ex-boyfriend, partake in a perspective-altering trip to the beach, and are forever changed by a deadly night on the train tracks, Annabelle begins to leave her obsession with Peter behind and realizes happiness isn’t some man who seems that way. [WA5][LO4]
Maybe happiness is something else.
THE EDGE OF HAPPINESS is a completed 56,000 word YA contemporary that will appeal to fans of Stephen Chbosky’s THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, Rachel Cohn’s YOU KNOW WHERE TO FIND ME, and Adam Silvera’s MORE HAPPY THAN NOT. Readers will identify with its shy, relatable narrator and the dark situations she faces.
[WA1]: Is the drug addict important information? Can’t you just say “runs away.”
[WA2]: These three sentences need to be cut down and condensed into one.
[WA3]: What kind of stories is she writing? About things he’s done? About things she thinks he could do? Completely fantastical things? Also, is she only writing stories about him? Or is she spending time with him too? It’s not clear to me, and they could take the story in vastly different directions.
[WA4]: If Annabelle isn’t noticing these plot points, then I’m not sure what the plot is.
[WA5]: Again, this is a very reactionary pitch. I don’t know what Annabelle is doing, just what others are doing around her.
[LC1]: I’m not hooked. The extraneous information about Peter and Annabelle’s feelings toward him could be presented in the novel. In a query, it’s time to present the conflict of the novel. I would stop here.
[LO1]: These details feel a bit overly specific and are alluded to in the next sentences.
[LO2]: Does she do this in service to a greater end? Does she hope to have them published, to get somewhere in particular with them?
[LO3]: Assuming she’s the protagonist and central viewpoint character, I have a question about a) how the dramatic action and conflicts will reach me, as a reader, and b) whether it’s the best choice to cast your main character into an inert/passive role of ignoring the world around her.
[LO4]: Without a sense of Annabelle being the driving force of the novel, whose desires promise to carry us somewhere compelling as readers, I would have to pass on this.
First 250 words:
The first time I met Happiness, I was at the park[LC1][LO1]. It was summer, and my day had been filled with the usual ritual: walking downtown, past the little antique shops and old brick buildings, searching for something to spark my imagination. Then, I’d walk to the small grass area dubbed “Hudsonville Grand Park” where I would write. I wrote a lot. Especially during the summer, when the tediousness of high school lectures and mediocre grades and wearing all black, lipstick included, to scare off any form of socialization faded into bright pink workout shorts [WA1] and time. [LO2] Time to write. Time to create.[LC2]
Today’s creation was Blake Metal from the record store down the street. His last name wasn’t really “Metal” but Schwartz. People from our high school just called him Metal because that’s what he listened to. The noise skyrocketed out of his headphones whenever he slept in the back of our chemistry class, shoulder length brown hair falling past his lip ring and onto a bare, pencil-less desk. He was the type of tall, misfit, lanky guy that got stoned every day and claimed to know every good song that was put on a record. “Music elitists,” my sister would call them.[LO3]
This morning while I walked by the record store, I saw him opening up the blinds. He had a black eye. Dark green and purple, swollen, it seemed too colorful to have been an accident. He had to have gotten it from a fight. [WA2][LO4]
[WA1]: This doesn’t work for me on a couple levels. (1) all black = loner is an old and overdone stereotype. And (2) this leave me with no sense of Annabelle’s actual identity
[WA2]: Overall, these first 250 words feel like info dump. We know what Annabelle does in the summer. We know Blake’s background. But we don’t have a sense of scene (other than “park”), and we don’t know who/what Happiness is.
[LC1]: Not interested in this sentence. Emotions personified feel cliché. For all I know, Happiness could be the name of a dog, or a hippie next door neighbor, or the nickname of a child.
[LC2]: I’d stop reading here. The voice sounds more nostalgic – an adult looking back on a time as a teenager, rather than the voice of a teenager. The YA audience can spot this instantly. Perhaps this is more suited for adult, where the nostalgic voice is accepted.
[LO1]: Promising opening.
[LO2]: I know what you mean to suggest here, but this feels a bit labored.
[LO3]: This feels like an awful lot of detail for someone who may not be an important figure in the story (based on the query). Also, this exposition keeps us at a distance from a specific setting and time. You’re describing his general attributes and behavior, not bringing us into a single moment of interaction between Metal and Annabelle.
[LO4]: It seems as though you’re making a promise with the opening line that you don’t fulfill in the paragraphs that follow. I’d suggest really honing this and getting us to her interaction with Peter much sooner. I’d also be much more interested in the piece if we found Annabelle engaged in some compelling activity right away. We could use a bit more pressure on her, and on the story, to urge us along in the narrative. I feel like I know much more about Metal than I do about Annabelle, and were the opposite the case, it might be easier for any potential reader (agent, editor, etc.) to be borne into the piece.