On May 25th I posted a blog, Delusions of Perfection, about my writers’ group convincing me that my fourteenth chapter would be better as chapter one. And how I changed it and then submitted the first fifteen pages, including the new chapter one, for critiques from two agents at an SCBWI writers’ retreat. How I was enthusiastic about the change and looked forward to the responses. The agents did not attend, but gave their critiques in writing, handed out the day of the retreat.
In the interest of Show Don’t Tell, I’m sharing the critiques word for word.
They didn’t care for the first chapter:
- Beginning feels like a set up. Need something to propel the plot forward. Start the story with action. Feels like a lot of recapping at the moment.
- I might find a different starting point.
- I might cut Chapter One and start here. (This was on first page of former chapter one, now chapter two)
On the subject of empathy for Alex, the main character, a bully getting bullied:
- At the beginning I didn’t get to know Alex much besides he’s a former bully and it was a bit hard to really relate to him. He had negative thoughts about nearly everyone he encountered. Perhaps we could see other sides of him?
- Need to make reader sympathize and like Alex. Why should we root for him? Have to start with that otherwise hard to get invested in his redemption arc.
- Love the bully turned victim premise, but protagonist needs to be more compelling. Reader will need to empathize with him. Commercial premise, but character has to really win the reader over.
- I didn’t get a good sense of Alex. Too, I worry about Alex’s likeability a bit as he’s often calling people names and criticizing them. I know he was a former bully, but I might tone it down a bit as you want your readers to be able to connect and relate to him. Perhaps you could get more into other traits of his personality, hobbies, etc. and show a bit of his better side. Perhaps show vulnerability/hurt feelings over being bullied.
Finally, they both had thoughts about the need for subplots:
- It doesn’t seem there are many subplots outside of the bullying and I might make this just one part of the story, not the main focus.
- It seems the main storyline is primarily about bullying and it doesn’t seem there are any other major storylines.
The feedback wasn’t all bad. Both agents complimented my writing, the voice and the overall premise. It seems I’m good at those, not so much at pulling off the story. It’s the story, the characters and plotting that pull readers into wanting to take this trip with Alex. I know I can fix it.
I’m revising Alex’s character, starting in the first chapter. I am amping up the secondary characters’ subplots. I can already see how this will improve the book, thus improving my chances of attracting an agent. Querying begins again in September, after three beta readers have read the full manuscript. So, cross fingers.
And stayed tuned.