Monday, July 25, 2011

GUTGAA Novel and Critique Contest: My First 200 Words

I've been participating in Deana Barnhart's Gearin' Up to Get An Agent blogfest through the month of July, and wow! Have I learned a lot! This is our last week, where we're posting the beginning 200 words of a novel for feedback (you can see what the other participants are writing by checking out the blogfest link). It's nerve-wracking, but exciting.

Here are the first 200 words from my 51,000-word MG novel, The Grand Chef's Apprentice:


At the edge of the trash heap, Maya stood ready to run, her eyes fixed on the huge metal doors on the other side. Scrounging was the worst part of her day. The stench of rot and chemicals blocked the food smells that escaped from the city walls, ruining her game of guessing what they were cooking inside. The stink made it hard for her to imagine what she’d cook, if she had the ingredients. But since she’d turned thirteen, scavenging trash was her job.

Brushing away a buzzing fly, Maya tightened her grip on her gathering bag. She wasn’t about to let a thief take advantage of her small size. The ground trembled as the doors clanged open. The trash machine rolled out, its giant black wheels grinding on the rusty track as it brought the huge metal bin outside the stone city walls. Around Maya, people edged closer, ready to pounce. Maya’s feet twitched. Not yet, she thought. Wait for it.

The side of the bin closest to the doors started to rise, tilting higher and higher. An acidic smell exploded into the air. The contents of the bin poured out. Everyone darted forward, hands grabbing for garbage.

23 comments:

  1. Love your title and first 200 words! I adore cooking shows, and any book involving food and culinary arts has my vote!

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  2. You might want to vary your sentence lengths (esp. the last paragraph keeps the same cadence). She also seems a bit passive here, but maybe that's just me.

    Other than that, you have great description and and I love the set-up. This would definitely interest me enough to read more!

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  3. This reads like a dystopian--is it? I like the set-up, with lots of people (are they all kids?) gathered around to fight over garbage. I very much want to keep reading to find out why, and which bits of garbage Maya will get--so you've made me care about garbage! Way to go!

    I was a bit disoriented at the beginning and had to re-read the first few sentences a few times to try to figure out where, exactly, Maya was and where the big doors were. Can you add in a hot sun beating down on her head or something, so I at least know she's outside? Some sort of effect the elements have on the garbage?

    This might be explained well enough later, but I also wondered how a 13-year-old who lives outside the city would be able to guess what the people inside the city were cooking--much less which ingredients she would need. Is it from the garbage? Is there a better way to connect her knowledge to her game? Also, why is she thinking about this right now? Maybe leave off describing her guessing game until she actually finds a carton of crusty spaghetti--and then have her connect it to a smell she'd smelled a few days prior? Just a thought.

    Good work!

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  4. I loved it. I really like the way you showed us there were others around her when she grasped her bag tighter and that she was small.

    I agree with Robin's suggestion about a word or two to place the time and location better, meaning whether she's inside a large room or outdoors.

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  5. I love the situation you have dropped us into. Any kid sifting through the trash has my sympathy vote. Well done.

    I wanted the same questions answered as Robin, but I would read on to see if they were answered.

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  6. Very interesting start. I'm intrigued by what she's doing and I'd want to read more. Pretty solid writing too.

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  7. I'm hooked! It did sound a bit passive--watch your use of 'that' b/c it often indicates telling and not showing.

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  8. I have to admit at first, I thought of Ratatouille and wondered if this was a girl or an anthropomorphized animal, LOL!. Be careful about telling (Scrounging was the worst part of her day) - this can be shown quite vividly once she's digging I'm sure. And is she imagining cooking at trash gathering time, or at quieter times, is that imagination what makes the job worthwhile? You've given a lot of space to the doors in these few words, and though I sense they are representative of more than just doors, I'd also like to get a sense of who is around her, other children, adults? How are they jostling for position.

    Interesting premise and I'd read more to find out where it's going.

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  9. I loved it! I didn't notice "being told" anything. Probably because everything was interesting. Your voice is lovely and I would definately want to read this.

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  10. I love how you put us right into the story and letting us get a see and feel (and smell) this moment in Maya's day.

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  11. The opening paragraph instantly hooked me and you held me the entire time. The voice is very reminiscent of The Hunger Games. Go for it!

    P.S. I've left a response to your comment on Bird's-eye View, http://andrea-mack.blogspot.com/2011/07/gutgaa-novel-and-critique-contest-my.html.

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  12. I really like this, but like some of the others, I was a little disorientated at first. Just a little more setting detail would probably go a long way.

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  13. YES YES YES. Loved it. I wouldn't change a thing. I was disoriented, as well, but then I fell in line and TOTALLY got it.

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  14. I really enjoyed this! The first paragraph was a little confusing but other than that, I wouldn't change anything.

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  15. "Brushing away a buzzing fly, Maya tightened her grip on her gathering bag." I swear I could practically smell the trash. And I get the general feeling that this 13 year old must be well acquainted with cooking-"The stench of rot and chemicals blocked the food smells that escaped from the city walls, ruining her game of guessing what they were cooking inside." Interesting, very, very interesting. I would keep reading!

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  16. Oooh, gritty and intense start! I feel sorry for her already. Awesome!

    Good luck with the contest!

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  17. Agreed on the time and place. The doors were confusing to me as I'm thinking garbage container with doors on top. Are these doors huge and vertical because when they open, the ground trembles?

    Great voice!

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  18. Wow! This is fantastic feedback! Thank you all so much for your comments. I'm going to work on that opening paragraph to make it a little less confusing.

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  19. I really enjoyed this. Great images. I shuddered at the garbage. I agree to lose the line about the scrounging being bad. We totally get it with your vivid writing!

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  20. I really like your opening! It definitely makes me wonder what's going on. What kind of society does she live in that has people clustered around ready to raid the garbage? It has a dystopian feel to it. Will she have an advantage for darting between people because she's small, or will being small make it harder for her to get her share? Is she gathering only for herself, or will she be taking her spoils back to share with family or friends? Good job!

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  21. Wow, what a great opening! I agree with the comments expressed above... Your voice is compelling, and I love your eye for detail. I definitely felt like I was right there with your main character, and I sure smelled the garbage!

    I agree, however, that I think you should mention the people around her before that last bit. I had this picture of her standing alone and dejected, and then all of a sudden, all these people seemed to come out of the woodworks. Perhaps everyone could be jostling as they wait?

    This is excellent!

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  22. This is a great opening that tells us a lot about the world you are creating and the setting. You have also given us a small picture of the MC. I would like to know more about her and how she survives. Who did she learn from. I also wonder about the smells how do they survive if there is poison around the food. If it is just waste then I can understand but it seems like there are toxins as well. Just curious and want to read more.

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  23. pretty nice.. left me in suspense

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