Monday, November 18, 2019

First 50 Critique - YA Contemporary #3

10 days to Thanksgiving
For all the details of how this works, click here.  We are NOT accepting entries this week.  But if you want to enter when we DO open the entry period, you must post a critique on at least TWO previous entries before you'll be able to submit.

Reminder: Be nice, but be honest. [Comments that are not polite/respectful will be deleted.] What would YOU like to know if this was YOUR first 50 words? Do you think it's a good opening line for the category/genre? Does it have a hook? Does it pull you into the story? Do you want to read more? Why or why not? Be specific, so your critique helps the person who wrote the entry.

Here's this week's entry.

First 50 Words - YA Contemporary #3

Lie or die. Lie or die. These words repeat in my head, a silent mantra as I block Edwin’s strikes and absorb the blows from his kicks. Every muscle in my body, every bone, every inch of skin screams with pain.

Lie or die.

Dear stepfather is always the master in our sparring sessions.


  1. This is a very active opening, but I don't quite understand the "lie or die" mantra because I'm not certain which meaning of "lie" your MC is referring to. Neither really makes sense to me in the context of fighting her stepfather. And the use of 'sparring sessions' confused me because I thought she was being beaten up, but now it feels like this is something they do regularly, for sport.

    While it's great to start with action, sometimes you need just a few lines before everything kicks off to set the scene, to introduce the characters so that by the time you get to the action, there is context for it.

  2. Whoa. That's...
    I admit it, I wouldn't be able to NOT read this book. Like, I'd probably sit down in the bookstore and read half of it, and then be nudged by a friendly employee who would like to go home, so I'll have to buy this now.

    Unlike Kate, I'm assuming the word lie means to be dishonest. A lie gets a beating, the truth results in death. I'm also assuming the stepfather is an abusive type.

  3. I'm with Kate on this one [sorry J]. I'm confused as to exactly what's happening, and I don't understand the "lie or die" phrase. If "lie" means to tell a fib, then wouldn't it be "lie and die"? Or does the stepfather like it when the MC lies? And telling the truth would trigger the "die" part? Kinda confusing. And if "lie" means if the MC "lies down on the floor" that would prevent the death?

    I do agree with J that the stepfather [interesting the MC calls him by his first name Edwin] seems like the abusive type. Does the MC have a choice to spar with him? Or is it required?

    Maybe I'm just old and clueless but I'm confused. Glad J would read it tho!

  4. This is an intriguing opening, but like Kate and Dena have said, I don't get the link between lie or die and the action. Particularly as no-one is speaking: how can they lie? Plus if the MC is sparring, would they have brain space for a reflective inner monologue?

    Anyway, if I wrote this and wanted to edit, here's what I'd do:

    Lie or die. Lie or die. My mantra. It repeats in my head as I block Edwin’s strikes. Every inch of my body screams with pain: muscles, bones, skin.

    Lie or die.

    Dear stepfather is always the master when we spar.

    Why like this?
    > "repeat in my head, a silent mantra" is saying the same thing twice. It slows down the action and doesn't add extra meaning.
    > Blows and strikes are the same kind of thing. Again, maybe you don't need the repeat. If you need to show Edwin kicking the MC can you add that next by describing the action?
    > Describing the different parts of the MC which hurt can be effective, but in an action scene you might want to keep it kind of choppy. Long sentences slow down the action.

    Hope those comments are helpful! I would definitely want to read on and find out why the MC's stepfather makes them spar, and what the lie or die thing means! :)

  5. Wow, this is great feedback! With only 50 words, I knew I had my work cut out for me to show the immediacy of the predicament my MC is in (conflict of the story) while showing her inner monologue so my reader will understand her personality and where her mind is, in this given moment.

    This so-called “self-defense” sparring lesson has been going on for seven years, three times a week. The first time the stepfather caused a bruise (always hidden under clothes), ten-year-old Hart threatened to tell her mom. So this rich, influential, psychotic, research doctor threatened to stop paying for Hart’s mom’s life-saving medical treatments, essentially leaving her with a death sentence (way more to this, but no need to go deeper here).

    Thus, Hart has to LIE or Mom will DIE.

    So in this scene, submissive Hart is taking the blows and kicks and she really can’t fight back since she doesn’t want to piss him off. Her mantra is a simple way to pass the time. But since she’s been doing this for so long, and has learned the art of defense, she is rather despondent in these first 50 words, in that she would love to kiss his a**. (In the next paragraph she tries, ending in dire results, which sets the plot in motion).

    I will take all of your suggestions in mind and rethink how I can make sure my reader is not confused enough to put the book down.

    NLui: Your revision advice rocks. I agree.

    J: You made me smile and I could see you on the floor reading my book.
    Kate and Dena: I think my words above will resolve your confusion, but your advice will make me think harder on how to show her dilemma.

    I do hope a potential reader will read the book blurb or an agent, the query, which would help with understanding of the beginning. But I get it. 50 words should cause the reader to want to know more, to read onward, but not confuse.

    I sure appreciate every bit of advice. I love this group exercise.


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