Monday, September 10, 2012

Pitch Polish #31


IDEAL HIGH
Contemporary YA
75,000 words
 
QUERY:
 
Taryn Young’s plans for an amazing senior year are over before they begin. Grieving the deaths of several of her classmates, she has no intention of taking her late boyfriend's place as student body president. Well, until she finds out who is running in his place. If Chelsea becomes president it means nothing changes. Ideal High remains less than ideal, and Taryn doesn’t want to let that happen. She owes that much to Blake’s memory.
 
As president, she butts heads with a principal who doesn’t want his school labeled, an "invisible" student who doesn’t want to be rescued, and a student body suspicious of her motives. Throw in a hot cowboy-type, who is totally not her type, and Chelsea with all her angst over the tragic fire, and it’s not long before Taryn is wondering why she dragged herself from the safety of her warm bed where at least she could grieve in private.

 
FIRST 150 WORDS:
 
Taryn forced a glance at the fraying pull-down screen behind her and was instantly sorry she had. Whose idea was it to broadcast the super-sized faces of the dead to the farthest shadowy corners of the school’s auditorium? Everybody knew they were gone. Why emphasize the obvious even for the sake of a memorial? And why no rain on this joyless day? Never a goodTexas thunderstorm when you needed one.
Instead sunlight poured through the ribbon of windows high along the back wall and fell across the podium where Taryn stood, making the page in front of her too bright for her to read the first name on the list. She hesitated, knowing it didn’t matter because she knew the list by heart.
When she finally focused through the glare to speak into the microphone, the name echoed across the vast room.
“Ashley Benton.”
All eyes riveted on the screen as the name and the face went straight to the heart of each student, parent, faculty member, and community leader standing at attention.

14 comments:

Jodie Andrefski said...

Query -I liked your hook. It set the tone and place for me in my mind, and had me immediately wondering "why?" I'm not sure how I feel about "Ideal High"...it seemed kind of hokey to me, but that may be just me.

In the second paragraph, I'm a little confused with the word choice in the first sentence. You say "As president, she butts heads with a principal..." but then go on to use a comma and say "an invisible student", and "a student body...". The way that sounds to me is that she is butting heads with each. I'm not sure how you would butt heads with an invisible student that doesn't want to be rescued. Or why.

I'm also kind of questioning the word choice in "Chelsea and her angst over the tragic fire." This confuses me because to me it would seem very natural for anyone to be grieving/upset over something like that, and also since angst is more of an unspecified worry (and then you say what it is over). Nit-picky I know...just tossing it out there.

First 250-
Again, maybe just me, but I had a very difficult time assimilating the subject of multiple student deaths with the voice being used right away(kind of sarcastic/humorous). I got that you were letting the MC's personality come through, but I think as a reader, mentioning photos of dead kids and cracking jokes about never a good thunderstorm when you need one immediately in the first paragraph back to back...that just threw me big time. It didn't make me feel like she was grieving (like you say in the query), it made me get a totally different picture of what she is like (which I do realize that I might get to see a different side of her if I read more). But you want the reader to like her enough to read more, not just think she's someone that makes fun of school tragedies in light of all of them happening recently. (But that said...very relevant topic...and very brave of you to address!)

I DO think you have a fantastic voice and that the idea of having to take a position in the school that she doesn't really want to take but feels compelled is a really good one. I like that you throw in some current issues, and make topics relevant for teens, while adding some humor so it isn't morbid, since obviously that isn't the type of book you are going for. (I was just saying maybe not the first paragraph w back to back sentences.)

I think your MC seems gutsy, but believable.

Overall, I think it's a really good job!

JenfromtheBlock said...

My only suggestion is to move up the cause of the deaths, i.e,"Grieving the deaths of several of her classmates in a tragic fire..." Because I assumed it was a school shooting, which kind of made it feel like it's been done before. Many of the elements of your story are fresh..like her dilemma of whether to take over her late boyfriend's spot on student council and her obvious misgivings about the requisite memorials and whether they are meaningful tributes or not, and I would hate for your query to give the impression it's just another one of the violence-in-our-schools stories. I found your first 150 words to be a touching and believable take on what a student would be feeling under such circumstances.

Jenna and Ashley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenna and Ashley said...

Now I realize my entire comment was deleted. Starting over:(
So frustrating!
Okay, cap locks are not for yelling purposes, only to make certain things stand out so you can read them easier in the comments:

-"Grieve" or one of its forms is in second sentence, and last sent.
-Why is Chelsea running the school a bad thing? Give us more on her personality if she's important enough to mention in the query: "If dumb socialite Chelsea becomes president (INSERT COMMA), nothing will change."
-Like the contrast of Taryn butting heads with the principal. Good conflict.
-In the hot cowboy sentence, "type" said twice. How about: Throw in a hot cowboy, who is so not her type,..."
-Mentioning angst and teens together is probably not a good idea. Too cliche.
-We know the fire's tragic. It killed lots of people.
The last sentence is way too long. What about: "It's not long before Taryn wonders why she's dragged herself from the safety of her warm bed where at least her mascara could run in private."
Give that sentence some personality. What could she do in her room that she wouldn't want anyone to see?

First 150:
-Too many adjectives/descriptors in first two sentences. "fraying pull-down" "super-sized faces" "farthest shadowy corners." Combine that with 2nd paragraphs "ribbon of windows" and you're starting to overwrite. Don't throw in a ton of poetic phrases. The reader might get bogged down. If they're on a huge screen, we know they're super-sized. "Taryn looked over her shoulder at the jumbo sized screen behind her." Is it important that the edges are fraying?
-When I first read this, I couldn't figure out why she was looking behind her if they were the dead's faces. Make it clear immediately that she's on stage. We don't know she stands before a podium until the second par. That's too late for your reader to understand why she's looking behind.
-"Never a good (SPACE) Texas thunderstorm when you needed one." Do you think in fragments? Add "There was."
-Too many questions asked in the first par.
-Keep ribbon of windows!
-Try "Instead (INSERT COMMA), light poured through the ribbon of windows along the back wall. She squinted, trying to make out the sheet on the podium. The sun was too bright. Of course things would go wrong today. It didn't matter, though. She knew the list by heart." GIVES IT MORE PERSONALITY, EASIER FLOWING DESCRIPTION. SHOW, DON'T TELL.
-If you take my suggestion, take out "When she finally focused through the glare" otherwise the light concept will be too emphasized.
-"All eyes riveted TO the screen."
-Is this told from 3rd person omniscient, or all-knowing? If it's just in Taryn's viewpoint, she wouldn't know what's in the hearts of the audience. Someone could be texting and not care at all.
-Last sentence should be broken into two.
-Work on having Taryn's voice shine through this manuscript. Great idea, as I said in my previous comment.
-Jenna

Tamara said...

Both your query and first 150 words have a strong voice. I like your hook, it pulls me into the story. Taryn sounds like my kind of reluctant hero. If I were being picky - I would try the line without repeating the word 'type' so- hot cowboy,...not her type. Great job. Good luck :)

Jenna and Ashley said...

Forgot to say that I like the idea of conflict over school politics. Good plot material to work with.
I'm Pitch #28, if you have time to check out mine:)

Meagan said...

I really like the premise for this one. I think it's one of the first ones from the Pitch Polish that I've connected with. Grief is a powerful tool, and I love the idea of this girl throwing herself into something that would put her where one of the people she lost previously was.

Taryn Young’s ... until she finds out who is running in his place. --> There's a way to combine these and maybe it tighter, while still informing us of what's going on.

As a suggestion: Grieving the loss of several classmates, seventeen-year-old (guessin) Taryn Young has no intention of taking her late boyfriend's place as student body president. But if Chelsea becomes president, nothing changes.

Or: Seventeen-year-old Taryn Young doesn't want to replace her late boyfriend as student body president, but if she won't, Chelsea ____ will.

Ideal High remains ... memory. --> Here's where my confusion steps in. What is not ideal about her school? What does she want to change? You've given us the stakes right off the bat, but I think to make it more clear, explaining what she wants to change would help.

As president... motives. --> I like this as written.

Throw in a hot cowboy-type, who is totally not her type --> If reading this, I would be instantly wary of the inclusion of a love interest after having it mentioned that Taryn just lost her boyfriend. It's fine that he's there, but I might not consider introducing him as such, if that makes sense.

and Chelsea with all her angst over the tragic fire --> We know the fire is tragic. But this is the second time Chelsea is mentioned, and I still don't get what she's about. Are they friends? Enemies? Taryn's a cold politician and Chelsea's an art student bent on making everyone paint their feelings? Give a little hint as to their personal connection, maybe. Not a lot of backstory, but even just what Chelsea would have done to the school?

and it’s not long before Taryn is wondering why she dragged herself from the safety of her warm bed where at least she could grieve in private. --> This is a longish sentence that you could work on. Maybe work in an inciting event to trigger the wonder?

"When X, Taryn wishes she could return to the safety of her warm bed, where she could grieve her loss in private."

Again, I really like the premise of this. I don't know if you're looking for a beta or critique partner, but I'd *love* to be an extra set of eyes if you wanted one. My pitch thingy is on my blog if you were curious about how I write/edit/read!

Donald Capone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald Capone said...

Query:
You need to mention the fire earlier, because I also assumed it was a shooting. Also, why is it bad if Chelsea becomes President, and what do you mean by “nothing changes”? That’s implying that something is wrong, and that Taryn needs to fix it, but you’re not telling us what it is. I agree with Jodie’s comment about butting heads. Change it up slightly: butts heads with the principal, alienates the student body, irritates an invisible student...Something like that. Also, though I like the setting and that it was a fire and not a shooting, I’m not clear on what the conflict truly is. What is at stake?

Excerpt:
Start with Taryn at the podium. And she wouldn’t look back over her shoulder at the screen until she says the first name and the image is flashed. This could be as simple as moving the first paragraph to after she says the name (I also cut “on the list”):


Sunlight poured through the ribbon of windows high along the back wall and fell across the podium where Taryn stood, making the page in front of her too bright for her to read the first name. She hesitated, knowing it didn’t matter because she knew the list by heart.

When she finally focused through the glare to speak into the microphone, the name echoed across the vast room.

“Ashley Benton.”

Taryn forced a glance at the fraying pull-down screen behind her and was instantly sorry she had. Whose idea was it to broadcast the super-sized faces of the dead to the farthest shadowy corners of the school’s auditorium? Everybody knew they were gone. Why emphasize the obvious even for the sake of a memorial? And why no rain on this joyless day? Never a good Texas thunderstorm when you needed one.

All eyes riveted on the screen as the name and the face went straight to the heart of each student, parent, faculty member, and community leader standing at attention.

Stephsco said...

Query:
I definitely want to know why several of her classmates died, and I think you should name the incident right away instead of saving it for the end (tragic fire). If I read a first line that said a tragic fire wiped out her closest friends and boyfriend, I would be HOOKED. This is the place to be a little sensational, to show that drama and be specific. You could make that one stellar sentence, then in a new sentence say she had no intention of running until she discovers who is running his place--then say why (grief? hates school?).

I agree with one of the other commenters that Ideal High seems a little off; it sounds like a nickname rather than the actual name of a real high school. Maybe too literal since it's clearly not an ideal place. Just a thought, you know your story best.

I think your second paragraph should outline the conflict a little more clearly. What I'm getting is that the president job is overwhelming, but what is her actual obstacle to overcome other than dealing with that amidst grief? Is Chelsea planning something big that dishonors Taryn's friends who were killed? What is the choice Taryn needs to make to overcome her grief and move on? I would make sure those questions get answered in your query. Set up the stakes so we want to keep reading!

First 150:
I like the line "Never a good Texas thunderstorm when you needed one." I almost think that could work as a zinger first line, but that's your preference. It works the way you have it, too.

For paragraph two, you can lose "Instead," and just go into the description of the room. I would also get rid of a few extraneous adjectives overall ("shadowy" corners, "vast" room--it's an auditorium, we know it's large). Rather than say the sunlight was too bright, maybe show her squint to read the name. While saying "she hesitated" is technically OK, to establish more of a close point of view, you could omit that and just say: It didn't matter. She knew the list by heart.

I would skip the next line about finally focusing. I would just go with the name, then that reaction of everyone looking at the face. You create some powerful imagery--it's a great place for your story to begin, so props on that. Let the story shine through! Best of luck to you :)

Jessica said...

Good start to your story. The query is good too. Maybe mention its a fire in the beginning. And mention from the beginning her boyfriend was killed. As it is it jars the reader. I had to reread the first part twice.

Nichole Giles said...

Awesome. Very nice. I really love this premise.

I love the opening paragraph on the query. I would mention the fire in the beginning so we know how people died (because that's frustrating if not) and then clarify a few things in the second paragraph. What about her school needs to be changed? And why would it be so bad if Chelsea took over?

And for another perspective on the 150 words, I like the conflicting voice going on. I think it shows us that she is who she is, even when she's grieving. Since it's a short segment, I am going to say that I do hope we find out why she's reading the list soon after this, because otherwise, it feels like she's already president.

Good luck in the contest! Crossing my fingers for you.

Valerie Ipson said...

THANKS EVERYONE on awesome comments and suggestions!!! Good luck to you, too!

Christy said...

I love your premise because I think the emotional impact will hook teens. And your voice comes out strongly. Here are a few suggestions:

In the first paragraph you focus on how she can't let Chelsea become president, but then you tell us that she is president. You don't need to mention the earlier conflict of her wanting to be president. You could still get the same affect by saying that she competes with Chelsea because she didn't want her to be president. When you mention Chelsea with the trafic fire, I had to stop for a minute. Perhaps mention the fire earlier when you introduce the deaths.

You are missing a few critical parts of the query--what is her goal? I can tell she wants to do something to change the school, but what is her specific plan or journey? Then what is the main conflict? Is it the principal or Chelsea, or the student body? Lastly, what will happen if she fails to accomplish her goals? Will something else tragic happen that could have been prevented? Or will she loose all of her friends?

Other things I like: I love the name Taryn. And I am interested in the tension with the hot cowboy type. (I would suggest changing it to hot cowboy, who is totally not her type and eliminate the extra word).

Good luck!

Christy (fellow Author's Incognito) #74