Authoress/Miss Snark held a #Blogpitch contest on Twitter last week. She selected 10 pitches and guess what, my pitch was chosen! Woot! Today, I’m posting my first 250 words of BEAT, my YA thriller that I want to query to agents. There are 9 other entrants to check out, so be sure to head over to her blog for critique instructions and to see the other first pages. Entrants can win a 15 page edit from the Authoress herself.
I hope you enjoy the opening lines of BEAT!
Pitch: Getting a new heart might not fix sixteen-year-old Adam’s broken one.
First 250 words:
Wind slashes across my body, burrows up my nose, and yanks at my hair. I hook my fingers around the wire fence wrapped around the observation deck and toggle my lip piercing—two black hoops side by side—with my tongue. Spires top the fencing, curving inward way above everybody’s heads to prevent people from jumping off. The city below seems like a miniature replica at this height.
New York City, America’s major metropolis. So different from my London.
I pick out several landmarks dotting the skyline and mentally slash another item/adventure/must do/whatever off my bucket list. Well, it’s more like my parents’ bucket list.
It’s hard to muster up joy and awe when all I’m doing is waiting for someone to die so they can give me their heart. Anything we do—whether it’s a weekend trip to the city or having front row tickets for a concert or celebrating another week of life with a hot fudge sundae—all it amounts to is killing time.
And all I want is more time.
But not like this. I want healthy time. So I can live my life.
I press a palm to my chest and sigh.
It’s bad enough I was born with a bum ticker. It’s worse knowing I’ll probably die before I graduate high school. It’s the worst knowing I’m not yet sick enough to be prioritized on the transplant list.
I have to be one beat away from a fatal arrhythmia and then it’s a gamble if I’ll survive long enough to find a match.
Here’s the LINK to Miss Snark’s post where you can read the other first pages. 😉
Wow wow wow! Thank you for featuring this MC. My cousin was 12 when he had his heart transplant. This story needs to be told. I’m completely clued in and wanting to read more. We’ve got layers of tension: how her parents are coping, the “ticking” time bomb of waiting to get moved up the list (which will inevitably take her closer to sickness before health). My main questions are these: First, she seems a little bitter about this forced bucket list. What would she rather be doing? Second, is she allowed to travel internationally in her condition?
Wow! I really love this, but Authoress says we have to give something more than that, so … ok, this is super-picky, but the two lines that go from “all it amounts to is killing time.” and then “And all I want is more time.” Those gave me the tiniest pause. Maybe drop the “And all” in the second one?
Also, maybe someone could say it sounds like backstory, but honestly, this first page draws me in and makes me want to read more, so I don’t care if it is. I immediately knew where the character was and felt like I was there with him, so great job. Good luck with this!
Wow. This really drew me in. I had a niece who had a lung transplant and you’ve really captured some of the feelings she was struggling with when she was waiting for her transplant. And I really love the “all it amounts to is killing time” line. It really captures what that wait is all about – the desperation, the confusion, the paradox of someone having to die so you can live.
I liked the tension a lot. You were able to weave a lot of information into the story without feeling like an info dump. I can imagine his parents wanting him to have all these “experiences” in the time he has left–and I can imagine him resenting it, because it is like ticking off the boxes that lead to death. My only tiny suggestion is to make the MC’s gender in somehow early on so that we can better identify with him. I know from your pitch that it is a male, but some of the other reviewers have referred to the MC as a “she” so I am assuming that they had some expectation of gender going in. You don’t want your readers to have to pause to correct that expectation later on when it becomes clear, so if you can add some little thing earlier on to better help readers identify, that might be helpful.
There’s a nice tone to this opening, a real feeling of melancholy. It gives a good picture of the main character’s state of mind.
That said, I feel like I want something more to happen on the first page. Not a full on action sequence, but not just the MC standing and thinking, either. There’s a lot of telling here, and although it’s well done, it isn’t as engaging as it could be.
One final nitpick–I’d like to know precisely where the MC is right now. Is this a well-known tourist location like the Empire State Building or the roof of his new apartment building or what? It would be good to know as soon as possible. Otherwise, I’m trying to figure it out instead of letting myself get carried away by the story.
Thanks for sharing. Good luck!
Nice! You’ve got a great voice and I like the tone of the MC’s voice. Can’t tell whether the MC is male/female without reading the logline though – maybe a hint early on? The paragraph starting with ‘it’s hard to…’ doesn’t quite have the same flow as the rest (a bit more tell-y maybe???) but it wouldn’t take much to polish that up.
Hope that help you out a bit – good luck with it! You’ve got a great premise 🙂
This is very interesting. I like the ‘thump thumps’ throughout, very rhythmic language wise but also a good reminded of how one’s body functions continuously whether or not we pay attention. And this drives home the urgency if one’s heart doesn’t function well and what this could mean. So Ia m intrigued.
Great premise and I love the writing. You did a fine job weaving in the backstory of his heart condition without it reading like an info dump. I do think the opening could use a bit more anchoring. As written, I initially thought the mc had climbed a fence and was hanging on for dear life. Perhaps just a touch more of the setting so remove any confusion? One picky point: I also thought it would be better to cut one the two uses of ‘around’ in the 2nd sentence of the first full paragraph.
This is a story I want to read.
You’ve got a grat beginning. You have a great voice. Although the “thump thump” is very effective in the beginning I’m going to assume you’re not going to keep it up for the length of the novel?
I have a seriously damaged heart – was one step away from a transplant list and now have a pacemaker/defibrillator – which really ticked me off at first – after all, isn’t that something 80 year olds get? BUT it has redeemed itself because now – most of the time – I can function like a normal person. These devices are getting more and more common so I wonder why this kid doesn’t have one to control his dangerous arrhythemia – which I’ve also got. It’s tough because you don’t want to get all medical wonky at the beginning of the story – on the other hand – you want the story to be recognized by someone who has a serious heart problem. And you may explain that in the next 250 words.
Really great beginning – much luck with it!
This is really quite compelling. I like the premise and the writing is very good. If I were going to find a single nit, I think it would be the need to find a bit more feeling for the life that has to end so that he can receive a new heart. That may come later, and if so, my apologies for criticizing.
I really like this opening. I had a friend on the transplant list who missed out on a liver transplant because he slid through the window of not sick enough to too sick too quickly.
In the opening you use the word ‘around’ twice in the same sentence. Try and switch one out to avoid the repeat. And without reading the logline, I wouldn’t know that your MC is a boy. See if you can get his name in those first 250 words, or some reference that will cement it into the reader’s head that this is a guy. The voice doesn’t give it away.
But I’d read this, for sure!
I know the main character is not from America, but referring to New York City as “America’s major metropolis” sounds jarring. “America’s largest city” might be better.
But overall,this opening has excellent detail, both in terms of the physical background and the character’s senses.
Oooh, gosh, I really liked this! It could use just a little tweaking to make it flow better, which the others have given great advice on, but really, this is something I’d probably read!
Posting from an old google + account that I never use, because word press won’t let me comment with just my name & email for some reason 😦
Hmm. I’m definitely interested in this. But at the same time, I feel like this 250 word excerpt stands up on it’s own, like a prologue? – It doesn’t feel like it’s going to connect in with the rest of chapter one. I’m curious about what’s going to happen, but it seems like the set up of the story, if we ignore the logline, is that the MC (gender currently unknown) is waiting & hoping for a heart transplant. Beyond finding it interesting to read about someone in that position, which is why I would read on, there’s nothing else enticing me just now – I don’t feel like I’ve been grabbed by interesting bits of the plot yet.
Something I do really like from this is the way you have the ‘thump-thump’s going through it, although the way that frames the words adds to my feeling that this is a prologue.
I hope this is helpful.
The pitch feels a bit vague (although it was obviously good enough to capture Authoress’s attention.) I’d just like a little more of a hint about the plot/heroine.
I don’t think of wind as being able to “burrow,” so while the rest of the sentence is very evocative, I would prefer a different word choice here. “toggle” also throws me off a little.
Interesting scene setting by choosing to mention people potentially throwing themselves off the building.
“bum ticker” does not sound like a teenager’s Voice. It feels like an old lady/man’s phrase. “the worst?” I feel like of all the shitty things that are obviously going on in her life, surely that can’t be the worst. The dying part would probably be the worst for me.
But I do really like the way you essentially set up a ticking time bomb (or, rather, ticking heart) for the heroine.
The first full paragraph after the thump-thump line draws me in because of the description. I absolutely love that he toggles his lip piercing. I also appreciate the dashes you use to assert his voice. I’d noticed the repetition of “around” but saw that others had mentioned it. “Seems” is a weak word. The only thing I can think to substitute is appears to be, but then to be is also kind of weak. Seems might actually be more along the lines of this MC’s voice. Also, you use “time” three times starting with “killing time.” I think the repetition emphasizes how important it is to him, but you might be able to cut one of them. I’m sucked in and would read this book from your first 250. Amazing job!
Funny about the gender, I also read this as female even though the pitch mentions this is a guy. I think this could best be remedied by adding someone else to the scene to interact with. Then you also don’t have the “pondering protagonist” opening where a character waxes poetic about their life to themselves. We all do it, so not saying this opening doesn’t work, but it could potentially be stronger with either another character or this character actively engaged in something. Then those “explaining” details weave in a little more naturally. The YA voice is definitely here.
I like the thump thump- thump thump. I think the first paragraph was over written in my opinion and didn’t say much. The page really spoke to me when I hit the sentence “It’s hard to muster up” From that point on I was hooked. I liked the immediate nature of the story and he could die at any moment.
I like the idea of a protagonist who needs a heart transplant. I haven’t seen that before, and I’d be interested to know what life is like for someone with a weak heart. I love the “thump-thump”s throughout, the reminder that Adam is always thinking and worrying about his heart.
I think you can get rid of: “And all I want is more time.
But not like this. I want healthy time. So I can live my life.”
It seems a little on-the-nose. I assume any teenager with a potentially fatal heart condition wants more time.
Also, the last two paragraphs–“It’s bad enough” through “find a match”–are well-written, and I do like them, but I wonder if they could go a little later in the first chapter. I was kind of in the moment with Adam on the skyscraper, and then he discusses his heart condition for a while. It feels like a little two much backstory all at once. The part about waiting for someone to die so he can have a heart is awesome, and I think that paragraph is enough info up front about his dire circumstances. After that, I’d like to get back into Adam’s immediate situation.
I do really like the voice and the concept, and I love that Adam points out he’s living from his parents’ bucket list, not his own. Just from that, I get a sense that they truly care about him, but that they probably hover and don’t let him do what he wants for fear that something bad will happen to him.
This really drew me in and was very well written. I love the built in ticking clock and definitely want to read more. One thing I got a little confused about was whether he’s in New York for the weekend or for good. Seems like if you’re on the transplant list, you wouldn’t be able to go that far away in case they got a heart. You also may want to be careful about the repetition of some words, like others have mentioned. I stumbled over the two arounds, for example. Good luck!
I like how this opens. You’ve managed to tell us a good chunk of all of Adams’s problems right here in 250 words. Kudos to you! I’m not sure where the broken heart comes in yet but I’m sure it’s too soon for that. For now, I think you have enough here for us to be fully invested in the m.c.
Good description of the Empire State Building, although referring to the city as a miniature replica sounds funny to me. The city is a miniature replica… of what? Itself? Maybe reword this part or come up with a different analogy. Something unique.
Adam also thinks New York City is different than London. How? What’s different about it? Maybe provide a little more detail.
I like how Adam has a bucket list, but it’s not HIS bucket list, it’s his parents’. That’s a nice touch. Usually people who are dying come up with their own bucket lists. He’s more interested in simply living a normal, every day life. Definitely another good item of conflict here.
In summary, I think you have an excellent story opening here once you flesh out just a few minor details.
Good luck with this! Would love to read more.
To borrow from Miss Snark (the lady herself, not her first victim), start with the subject, not the clause. So in your pitch, start with Adam, not with “Getting a new heart”.
I was a bit bored with the immediate weather description. Could you switch Adam hooking his fingers in the chain links with the wind? I also don’t care for physical descriptions in first pages, because it gives me nothing about the plot. It takes up space you can spend reeling me in with more important details. So unless Adam’s lip rings are really important to the plot, I would plop them in a page or two later.
That aside, oh my, I do love this premise. And the thump-thumps. At first I turned my nose up and thought it was gimmicky, but no, no no no, it is rhythmic and relevant and delightful.
I want more. Good job.
I, too, am drawn in beginning with “It’s hard to muster joy…”. What if you start with “It’s hard to muster joy and awe (insert for what here)” and work in the location (be specific, I really wanted to know where that observation tower was, what building) and physical character description as you go? This would present the stakes right away.
Consider: “All it amounts to is killing time, killing me.” and drop the all I want is more time.
I like the use of the thump-thumps, adds that ticking clock.
I get a good sense of the ‘rock and a hard place’ that Adam is in.
I really like the use of toggle with the lip rings. I could feel it. I do want an idea of gender.
I attributed ‘bum ticker’ to Adam’s British background.
Consider condensing: The worst is that I have to be one beat away from a fatal arrhythmia before I qualify for the transplant list. If I survive long enough for my match to die.
Since so many other worthy critiquers have preceded me, I’ll try to keep my comments short. I absolutely love this opening – I definitely want to know more about this MC – and unlike others here, I really don’t mind that not much happens in the first 250 words. The MC’s backstory and present state of mind are compelling – and for the record, I really hate the phrase “info dump.”
I adore so many of your descriptions – toggling the lip piercing, seeing NYC as a mini replica, the parents’ bucket list, etc. – and I immediately sympathize with the MC. As others have stated, however, I wish I knew if the MC were a boy or a girl – the voice could go either way.
Also, I’m not as big a fan of the “thump-thump” as others seem to be – it’s too on the nose, I guess, and it pulls me from the story for a moment.
That said, I’m utterly intrigued and moved – I want to read more of this story – and I wish you the best of luck with it. Oh, and congrats on being one of MSFV’s ten chosen!
I love this. Your character has a strong voice, and that’s so hard to do! I like starting with the sound effect. I immediately want to know what the thump is. I can see where she is from your description of the fencing and the view. Conflict is naturally built in because of her condition and her struggle between experiencing things and waiting for a heart. I don’t have any suggestions for improvement. I just want to read more… 🙂
Very intriguing beginning. Leaves me wondering what Adam wants for his life in opposition to what his parents want. Could there be a hint of that in the opening?
Also, the logline hints that his heart has been broken, so I would want to find out how very quickly.
Could take or leave the “thump-thump.” A little dramatic for my personal taste. Would rather his heart do a “thumpity thump” or delayed beat when he looks down from the height.
Agree it may be useful to know the actual setting in this scene since NYC is so well-known to most readers.
Not sure if some readers are getting a more female vibe from the main character due to the way his emotions are relayed. For example, the part where he presses his hand to his chest and sighs doesn’t sound like a typical male response. I would expect anger at his crappy situation.
Overall, I liked the set up here and it gives me a lot of insight into the character. I did wonder if he was there by himself? Is this a way to escape all of the pressure from the hopes of his parents and others in his life?
Amazing opening and premise! I’m ready to read more!
In the first paragraph, “burrowed up my nose” caused me to pause, especially with the next words, “and yanked at my hair”. I pictured nose hairs and had to laugh. Maybe consider deleting the “burrowed…” part. Example: Wind slashed across my body and yanked at my hair. In the second sentence, ‘…I hook my fingers around the wire fence wrapped around the observation…, maybe consider changing the first ‘around’ to ‘through’, this will illuminate using ‘around’ twice in the same sentence and give a better flow. In the last sentence of first paragraph, the sentence feels incomplete. Maybe pick a different word than ‘seems’ and think about working his mane in at this point. Example: The city below reminds me of the miniature Empire State Building scene my name sake, Uncle Adam, created. You can think of a way to do it that isn’t telling and that fits Adam’s frame of mind.
The sentences “New York City, America’s major metropolis. So different from my London”, are great for letting readers know Adam’s from London, but it feels incomplete to me. Maybe show why it’s different, or how Adam misses London and why (maybe allude to the reason for the broken heart?).
In paragraph 6, “…whether it’s a weekend trip to the city or having front row tickets for a concert or celebrating another week of life…”, maybe consider replacing the ‘or’ after ‘city’ with a comma and inserting a comma after ‘concert’.
Maybe consider combining and rewording the next two lines, “And all I want is more time” and “But not like this. I want healthy time. So I can live my life.” (Try not to start a sentence with “And” if possible. Example: ‘All I want is to grow old, and live my life the way I choose’, something along those lines.)
The paragraph “I press a palm to my chest and sigh.” Maybe explain why he touches his chest. Did his heart double beat or do something to remind him of his condition? Try to show what he was feeling and why. This might eliminate the confusing feminine quality of his motion.
The paragraph “I have to be one beat away from…” may fit better if it’s moved up to the previous paragraph. It’s directly related to that topic. Consider putting a comma after ‘arrhythmia’ for impact.
Again, this is an amazing premise and wonderful writing. With a littler more polishing, you’ve got it! Good luck to you! 🙂
First off, I really, really like this piece. Great voice, great premise, great character.
I love the imagery with the wind and the fact that your character’s thoughts flit ever-so-briefly on potential suicides is very telling. I’m not sure if “toggle” is the right word, as I’ve never seen it used in that sense and don’t think it technically means anything outside of computer parlance, but then again, it did paint a clear picture of what your character was doing.
I hate to say it, but after “for me”, it seems to get a little info-dump-y. I think that this information could be integrated more naturally as the novel progresses, instead of Adam informing the reader of exactly what is wrong with him and how crummy he feels about it. It would be better to SHOW us that it’s hard for him to muster up joy and awe (and show us why he’s even trying to pretend – are his parents watching and he forces a grin, for their sake? Keep in the moment) and show us how much having a bum heart sucks and interferes with his life, rather than having him blatantly tell us.
But I love your voice and the character you’ve managed to create in just these 250 words. I’d definitely read on.
Let me start by saying your log line was one of my favorites and I was really hoping you would get picked.
Love your first line, but got lost in the second. I had to re-read it. I would shorten it to keep the flow. Then I got to this line “It’s hard to muster up joy and awe when all I’m doing is waiting for someone to die so they can give me their heart.” I read that and thought, that needs to be the first line. Then I thought no the second line. In any case, I think you should get to it sooner. It’s what pulled me in.