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3/29/21 - RedBlue - Constance Wood Stove ch1

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Hello, everyone! This is the first time I’ve shown my work to people for feedback (other than family members who don’t count), so I really have no idea how good or bad this is.

So, to introduce what I’m submitting here: it’s the opening of a novel aimed at middle grade to YA (fantasy, with spooky vibes). I know that’s aimed younger than anyone in this group probably is, but hey, any feedback is valuable.

The novel doesn’t have chapters. It’s divided into three parts, but no chapters. I will be dividing it into chunks for the purposes of submitting it, but keep in mind that the ‘chapters’ are not presented as being chapters.

No content warnings for this first bit. Later parts of the story will have some violence, but it will be fairly PG levels.

Specific questions I have for you are: 1) What do you make of the MC? 2) And the setting? 3) Does it make you want to read on? If not, what do you think the issue is? If so, what specifically is drawing you in?



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Welcome to RE, and well done with your first public critique!



It's going to be somewhat hard to critique as we usually do without chapter structures. I think you'll get a lot of harping about arcs and such, since we don't get clear endings. Some more specific thoughts and suggestions are below. With that said, the writing is fantastic and the prose flows very smoothly. I have no technical quibbles with this piece and found it a joy to read.


To your questions:

1) I don't have much of a feel for her because I really only saw her do things, or react, in two scenes. The rest was just authorial voice

2) Setting seems fun and creepy! I like the world building a lot

3) Read on--maybe 50/50. I'd give it another few pages to see if the inciting incident occurs, or if we get some global plot. If not, I would likely put the book down. The lack of chapters gives way to lack of an arc, and I want to see my chapter arcs and character movement to feel invested in a book


As I go

- some wordiness in that first sentence. I think if you removed 'the town of' it would be a really punch first line. We can figure out it is a town on our own

- pg 5: there is a very organic and smooth structure through here, and I was along nicely for the ride until the top of page five. I expected the inciting incident from them playing in the forbidden land. It did not come. Which means my investment going forward is diminished and it will be hard to read as carefully because I will be skimming for the incident I felt I was promised early on. I'm still invested for sure, but reader reactions like these can help with edits later on

- pg 6: wobbly writing. Ah. Our incident perhaps? I'm invested again

- pg 8: I'm losing interest again. Another scene change and I have no feel for where the story is going. The issue you are going to have without chapters is that you likely will not have narrative arcs. Narrative arcs are, for the most part, expected in literature these days, especially YA and MG which have some fairly tight structures. Especially middle grade, where short chapters matter for young readers. I'm going to suggest that you consider breaking the story into chapters, so you can arc each one. It should help keep reader investment higher

- pg 8: 'wood stove' is not a proper noun and should not be capitalized

- pg 8: I laughed at when she wondered if she was named after the stove

- pg 11: a few too many characters at this point, I think, and I don't have as strong a grip on C as I'd like. She's great when she is talking and interacting, but the authorial voice is too much, for me, at this stage, without an apparent narrative arc. Also, C does not yet seem to be driving the story, or have any investment in it. What are her goals? What are the story's goals? What is the global arc of this book? Eleven pages in I should be able to answer at least one of these questions, if not all of them (you tend to get these answers very early in MG and YA books)





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Overall: I quite enjoyed this. The prose is smooth, even though I'm not a huge fan of books with a present tense, I have to admit they do a good job of putting the reader in the scene unfolding. Some things didn't make sense logically, but we can ignore that because it's a middle-grade story and it's fun. There's good humour, the characters are well put together, and there's enough mystery to keep me invested. What I had issues with were the lack of an inciting incident. The last scene is almost an inciting incident, but it's just not enough for me to keep reading to the end. What I mean is that you'd have to work hard in the next couple chapters to keep my invested. As it stands, this chapter is mysterious and interesting enough to keep me engaged, but just barely. The characters aren't super deep, but they don't need to be for this story I think. It's a middle-grade story with children as characters. The adults are distant enough to not need deep characterization and the children have enough little quirks to make the unique. All in all, I think you did a splendid job congratulations on your first submission to RE!

As for you questions:

1. I didn't make much of them tbh. They seem to fit the role of a vaguely naive child who knows well enough when something's wrong. I get a small taste of their personality when they're thinking about other characters but for the most part I get more of a detached description than any strong character narrative. Which is fine for me. I'm invested in them insofar as they're a child in the middle of what appears to be a very strange and spooky place.

2. The setting is pretty neat. It's mysterious and bizarre which is always good. Personally, I don't want detailed descriptions of the setting, so I'm happy that we get just a general vibe and the basic details to know where we are.

3. Yeah, I'd keep reading. Though if you decide to keep this story chapterless, then I might not. If you at least had sub-parts to your main 3 acts, then I would be happy, but if a story just keeps going and it's up to me when to stop, then I'll probably put the book down one day and never pick it up again. It's a matter of personal taste, but I find that in a reading session, I want to have a sense of completion (like the end of a chapter) and then continue later with the retention of what just happened encapsulated in a chapter format.

But I digress. What made me interested? Mostly the strange dynamic with the adults and the children. How strange would these people be, having lived in this town seemingly all their life, never leaving it, never having anyone new come. I don't suppose we'll ever get a detailed report of the history of the town being that the story is middle-grade and all, but it's probably the most interesting aspect to me. I know there's a mystery there and how it unfolds is enough for now. If the story continued to unfold slowly, then I might be inclined to stop reading, but if things really pick up and become tense (even for a moment) in the next couple chapters (scenes?), then yeah, I'll be hooked.


As I Read:

pg 1 - I really like this opening. I think it's a great hook. Though I agree with Kais that if you re-worded it slightly it could be even more effective.
"the leaves long dropped and rotted away," I think this is slightly clunky, but no big deal.
"In most small towns, people would drive somewhere else to find work..." I think this part is unnecessary. The fact that no one comes in or out already doesn't make any sense, I don't think you need to even hang a lantern on this idea. You could just say something like, no one comes and no one goes. Probably something better than that, but you get what I'm saying.

pg 4 - So far there's nothing wrong with the story, maybe some sentences could be re-worded, but very solid. My issue is that I'm not getting enough of a foreboding sense. I would want to see like an old man yell at them or something a little more spooky than the branch breaking to get the story rolling. There is some tension and suspense, but it's not enough to hook me completely.

pg 5 - I really like the opening paragraph.

pg 6 - this is interesting. I'm invested in this concept of C losing her thread of thought with this mysterious hero that she doesn't seem to remember much of at all.
"C might not be good at school, but in normal, mundane ways." This is a bit confusing for me. I get what you're saying, but it lacks clarity considering how seemingly important the rest of the paragraph is.

pg 7 - Okay, C's last name is awesome, you get a lot of bonus points for that.

pg 8 - This has happened a few times, and it might just be my personal preference, but some of the descriptions go on a bit too long for my liking: the fire for instance. Or the book being handed out to her earlier. I feel like we're getting further from the actual plot when this happens. It does a fine job of setting the scene and the dreary sort of tone and there's nothing inherently wrong with it... it's just that an inciting incident is neglected.
I have to admit that there is a lot of good humour in this story. Like C wasn't sure whether she was named after the town or the stove, brilliant.

pg 9 - Okay, I have to alter my critique about page 8. I think it's good that you bring our attention so directly to these items that will probably have a grave purpose later on in the story. But I persist in believing that there needs to be an inciting incident sooner.

I have to say you do a great job of presenting the POV of a child in contrast to the mysterious behaviour of adults.

I don't know if you're doing this on purpose, but there's often a very humorous line at the end of most pages.

pg 10 - There's one line where we're in the voice of C and she mentions her mother by name which I find odd. But I don't know that much about the rules, so don't mind me.

pg 11 - 12 - things are definitely picking up here. Something is definitely not right and I'm definitely curious to find out what. Though I've never read the book or watched the movie, this story reminds me of Coraline. At least what little I've heard of it and the trailer's I've seen.





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Welcome to Reading Excuses and congrats on your first submission! Putting your writing out there for critique is always hard.

As usual, I'll agree with @kais on most things. You can already see me starting to gripe about a lack of a solid arc below. ;-) 

I think for YA and MG, you definitely need a solid start/stop to sections, whether that's chapters or just an ellipsis, to bring each little arc to a close.

The writing is good, and creepy, but I'm put off a little by the inactiveness of the MC. She mostly just observes things and wonders why they're strange, when I assume she's lived here her whole life. I was also expecting a little more with playing in the cursed zone, but then nothing happened.


1) She seems sort of dense, making note of obvious things and things that seem out of place, but she doesn't provide any conclusions, or take any action on things.

2) Definitely creepy. I think this has the most potential for the story.

3) Right now, not really. I might get to the end of the this section and see if anything exciting happens in the next few pages. If not, I'd probably put it down. Right now, there's a lot of "this is a creepy description," but then no followup. If we got a little progression on the cursed zone or G.M.'s antics, or the wood stove weirdness, then that would help. Having all three set up at once leaves me thinking there's too much going on right at the start.

A good start, though!


Notes while reading:

pg 1: Catchy first line and paragraph. (Edit: I agree with the others that the first line can be trimmed by removing "the boundary of" or "the town of")

pg 1: "told the four children"
--as in, there are ONLY four children in the town?

pg 3: "School won’t start without them, because they are the only four who attend"
--okay, I was wondering about this. In this case, I'd imagine whoever is teaching them would come out to find them.

pg 4: The tension is starting to diminish here a bit. At this point, I want to find out a little more about what's going on.

pg 6: Sort of confused as to what's going on with the story. I don't have a clear picture of where it's going yet.

pg 7: "It is difficult for C. to tell..."
--I think it's fairly obvious from the context what G.M. is doing, so I'm wondering what this says about C's grasp of the obvious...

pg 8: lots of description here, but nothing that's really furthering the story.

pg 12: ok, this horror? I'm not quite sure what just happened. There's a vaguely threatening Wood Stove, and a seemingly oblivious protagonist where things are changing all around her and...I'm not sure where this is going yet.


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Congrats on your first sub!! :) stoked to read your stuff!

Pg 1

So far, i'm hooked with the curse and creepy tone. Things could be trimmed and reworded like the others said, but the spookiness has my interest.

Pg 4

I feel similar to how others felt. I thought something might happen by this page, maybe something spooky would happen that would freak the kids out or something that only C sees or gets the sense that something is out of place but then… nothing happens and they’re in class on the next page.

Pg 6

“Seems to have disappeared” is she cursed :o

“The back row snickers” this makes it sound like there are more people in the class, aside from the four you’ve mentioned

Pg 7

“About historical people doing past things” lol yeah, people in the past doing past things

Pg 9

“He is a sphere” im sorry– what?

Also, interesting that C’s parents are referred to by their names and not “C’s mom” or “c’s dad” every now and then

Pg 10

C seems very oblivious to how rude G-M is

Pg 11

“Mottled with long pink shiny grooves” what?? What is going on lol 



This reminds me a bit of uzumaki by junji ito, in the way that we, the reader, are observing people obsesses over something (the stove) and it is affecting the whole town. However, im not sure how everything is connected in this story. It does feel like a lot is going on. And the stuff near the end caught me a little off guard, but i am interested to see where this goes and why everyone is acting so strange.

1. She isnt very active yet but that doesnt bother me too much, though i would hope she changes further into the story. She does seem quite naive/oblivious to the things going on around her, especially with the way G-M treats her.

2. Love the setting! I'm all for spooky things, so this is great!

3. I would read on to see what is going on with this town but i can see how the lack of a clear inciting incident makes it hard to know where this story is going and hard to stay engaged with.


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Hello and welcome! 

I like the MC. Not rabidly, but I do like her. Particularly her zero drama tolerance. I want to see how her suborness plays out when she's up against something.

The setting is creepy. I like the slow development of strangeness. It reminds me of "The Girl With All the Gifts" (book, not movie) in the sense of the adults all being in on it. If you'll forgive another comparisen, the tone of the setting reminds me a little of "The Lottery" the modern gothic short story in the sense of a mostly ordinary town where something is very dark and you don't know what  it is yet. 

My interest waned a little by the time C was starting the fire, but picked up again when her father is described. 

I probably would keep reading, but I would be waiting to see what the main conflict is. 

A couple things that stood out to me:

C is described as being smaller than her friends, but then GM is described as the smallest. 

If no one comes or goes, and it's small enough that there are only four children of school age in the whole town, that's not a very deep gene pool. If the curse has been going on for generations, that creates some issues. 

As the others said, your writing is very smooth and easy to follow, thanks for sharing!


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I really like the creepiness and strangeness of the setting. The mysterious Wood Stove. The homework mystery.  There are a lot of fun details that spark curiosity.  The writing is easy to read and flows really well, but is a little wordy in a few spots where the descriptions go on a little longer than they need to.  They do a great job of evoking the setting, but some could use some trimming so that it doesn’t move past that to pull the reader out of the story.   (I assume that the balance on this probably changes from reader to reader, and especially by age, but I don’t know what would be more or less engaging for a MG or YA reader)

Like the others said, I’d be concerned about the lack of chapter breaks (or some other sub-part breaks) causing trouble with mental pacing for a reader.  Part of me feels like the setting lends itself to a slightly more meandering/less structured format, but as a reader, my natural instinct is to read toward a chapter break or scene break and stop there.  And I’d probably be a little frustrated without some sort of checkpoints along the way, even if they’re not standard chapters.  Maybe it just means more clearly delineated scene breaks, and clearer arcs within the scene? I think readers need something clearer to help mark start/stop points, but I don’t know what that might necessarily be.

Similarly, I’d echo the others’ comments about needing a clearer inciting incident. There’s a general sense of smaller mysteries that are intriguing, but we don’t get a good sense of where the story is going yet since C- doesn’t seem notably startled by the strange things we do see (except the homework).  So it’s hard to tell what is “perfectly normal life” in a town where things don’t exist quite like we expect them to, especially when C- seems to take it all in stride. Which I also like a lot. I think it really shows just how weird and mysterious the town is when our MC is just like “Oh. My essay literally changed itself to a point where it’s no longer understandable as what I wrote? Weird, but okay.” “Oh. One of the other kids chopped all their hair off out of the blue when she seemed to be pretty proud of it? Huh. And they came over to throw it into the CWS?  Seems legit.”   

The only problem with her being so unflappable about the strangeness is that the reader doesn’t know what’s actually strange (even for the town) and what is actually going to flip the switch to start the story. Why does the story start here and now?  What makes this the best entry point for the reader?

1.      I really like the MC. She seems practical and straightforward, which I always enjoy seeing.  And I like the contrast of her practicality with the strangeness of the world.  Though like I mentioned above, it makes it a little harder to tell what’s actually weird and what is just I-live-in-Con level of weird.

2.      I really like the setting, and am looking forward to finding out more about the mysteries of the town.

3.      I would probably read on for a little longer, but I think I would get a little frustrated by the lack of chapter/scene breaks and more concerned the longer we went without a clear inciting incident.


Pg 1:

“Nobody has ever told…it weren’t forbidden.”   Something about the usage of “forbidden” in this paragraph is throwing me a bit. Not enough that I don’t get what it’s saying or anything, but enough to make me pause and read it again. I think it might just be that the structure of the first two sentences runs parallel enough to assume what isn’t there, but the third sentence doesn’t quite flow with them.

First is “children …are forbidden from… the wastes”

Second, “they are forbidden…” I’d read this as “[children] are forbidden [from the wastes]” initially, but the change in structure on the third sentence makes it seem like “[the wastes] are forbidden” is also a possibility. 

Third, “if it weren’t forbidden.”  Where “entering the wastes” is what is forbidden.

I’ve now looked at these lines far too long and “forbidden” no longer means anything. Oops.

Pg 2:

“I don’t feel cursed at all!”  Me, who has read any fairytale ever: Has concerns.

“why they all woke up early…” what makes today special if this isn’t something they do often?  [a question that is even more relevant after reading through this section without seeing an obvious inciting incident]

Pg 5:

Are the kids all the same age?  If they’re all doing the same assignments, it seems like it would imply that they are at least close in age. But that seems odd if they’re the only kids in the town.  Of course, when it comes to strange, cursed towns, this should probably be the least of my questions, but it doesn’t seem quite to fall under the strangeness-due-to-curses category that many other things would.   

“…who appears in a remote town one day…” A remote town like C- perhaps?

Pg 6:

I really like the description of the essay change.  Especially the “The ink goes all wobbly…” sentence

Pg 7:

“…historical people doing past things.” Hah. Nice. I like this line too.

Pg 8:

Though it becomes more evident that this is a special Wood Stove, it definitely seems odd to see it capitalized the first time.  I wonder if there’s a way to show the contrast so that it doesn’t seem like a typo.  Or to have C internalize something about it being special here.  You do this at the top of page 9, but it’s not clear until then.

“Almost anything can be fuel…”  That’s not ominous at all.   

Pg 9:

The part of me that is looking for an inciting incident really latched onto the television being off.   Like them getting up early this day of all days, it’s suggesting that something is special about today. Whether the odd behavior is triggered by an event or an event is triggering the odd behavior, but for YA or MG, I’d expect an obvious incident by now.

Pg 10:

Similarly expecting something to go funny after the hero essay gets thrown into the Wood Stove.  And again with the hair at the end.

Thanks for submitting! Looking forward to reading more! 


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Thanks for the feedback!

I have made some edits to cut down on the extraneous descriptions, to move some character introductions to a later point so they don’t bog down the opening, and to signpost plot stuff better. 

C now explicitly makes a connection between the curse and the strange goings-on - hopefully this will make her seem a bit more engaged in this section.

The points a lot of you make about chapter breaks are good to know. I’m going to put more obvious breaks between sections and see how that works.

Some specific issues pointed out (why the Wood Stove gets capital letters, why the population is so tiny) will be addressed later. They tie into some mid-to-late-game plot stuff. 

Thanks again, this was legit really helpful in pinpointing issues with the plot I felt I had but couldn’t put my finger on.


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I'm definitely late (lab work takes forever, turns out), but I still wanted to leave comments. Congrats on your first submission! If you're anything like me it was probably super nerve-wracking so congrats for going forward with it. :)

As I go:

pg 1: Immediately struck by distant narrator voice for YA since I normally see YA as usually being close narrators with snappy/witty comments (if not 1st person outright). But hey, that could be how you differentiate yourself. I'll just say that a distant 3rd voice talking about a kid makes me think this will be literary more than YA. Though I also don't read that widely in YA so that could just be me. 

pg 2: What about E makes his demeanor surprising?

pg 3: Careful with dialogue tags. Whenever it's something other than "said" or "asked" I personally find that it distracts me from what's actually being said, which is almost always more important. 

pg 4: Right now it's hard for me to keep track of all the characters' personalities, especially if this is going to be YA which I normally like to have less of a learning curve. Do all of these kids really matter right now? If so, I need it to be clearer why. 

pg 5: Here I'm more engaged because I only need to focus on C and Ms. F, so I'm able to slip into the rhythm more smoothly. I will say that the lack of scene breaks kinda makes it feel like I never get a breather, though (I bet it's shocking that I like scene breaks after the chapter of mine you read ;)).  

pg 6: I'm wondering at this point what the time period is. The atmosphere and tone makes me think old-timey, plus how essays are written on paper (I shiver at the thought of going back to that). 

-nitpick but wouldn't she know the people in the "back row" pretty well if there are like five of them total? I think she'd be able to pick out who it was. 

pg 7: Does the teacher have it out for C specifically? I can't really see why since the other are presented as being more troublemakers than she is. 

pg 8: The fact that C thinks she might be named after a wood stove raises some serious questions about her parents. I want to know more but I'm not sure if that's intentional. 

pg 10: How literally am I supposed to take the description of her dad? Because it really threw me for a loop. 

-Is that a scene break in the middle-bottom of the page where there's an empty line? Normally there'd be some indicator besides an empty line I think

pg 12: Huh so is C the person connected to the curse/stove? 


On 3/29/2021 at 2:50 AM, RedBlue said:

Specific questions I have for you are: 1) What do you make of the MC? 2) And the setting? 3) Does it make you want to read on? If not, what do you think the issue is? If so, what specifically is drawing you in?

1. I like her, but I don't think she carries the story for me. She's who I expect a protagonist of a story like this to be. Perceptive, kind of a loner, constantly ignored. She as a person wasn't my main focus but I'm not sure she needs to be. 

2. Took me a while to get a feeling for when it was. I was expecting further back in the past, so the TV threw me for a loop. Besides that, I want the oddities to be a bit clearer from the start. Right now it feels like we get the promise of a curse, but a lot of focus on that was about not leaving. That's what I was focused on, so when the changed essay/haircut came up it didn't really feel like a follow-on to that. 

3. Hmm I probably wouldn't read on, honestly. I think part of that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with my own taste. Books with an old-timey feel aren't really my thing. But that part of it seems crucial for setting the tone/atmosphere, which I think are the story's main strengths, so I can't say I recommend changing that either. 

What I will comment on is what other people mentioned with the lack of an arc and lack of chapters. For me, the two are definitely factors in not being fully hooked, and are compounded with each other. The lack of an arc means I'm never really sure what the point of each scene is, and I'm also never sure where each scene really starts and ends so I expect the momentum to carry from one situation to another and it often doesn't. What I'm really looking for from the first 10-20 pages is for the story to tell me how it wants me to read it. And right now, I'm not sure. Is it about curses, C not fitting in with other kids, her struggling with school, or the weird changes going on? I do believe there's a connecting thread here but I want it to be clearer. 

Thanks for the submission! :) I know you already edited but hopefully this was still helpful. 


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Congratulations on your first submission!

You'll notice that I normally critique on I'm almost always late to the party. However, if you ever revise midweek, let me know so I can read the most recent copy.

Thoughts as I go:  

Pg 2 - I like your narrative style. It's unusual, but easy to read. I don't get to read much loose third person limited present tense. It's almost third person omniscient, but not quite.

Pg 3, "would feel bad for making the teachers wait," Teachers plural? I'm surprised. With four kids, I could easily teach them at the same time, even if they were different grades. If I can do thirty 1st-3rd graders, I could do four kids. Although, granted, I did go to college for teaching, and I sincerely doubt a town of four children has a college.

Not to sound crass, but I'm surprised there are only four kids. I mean, in a place that tiny, even cursed, I'm surprised that there aren't more children from people boning out of boredom. Not much to do in that small of town. But maybe people are more careful  because, you know, they don't want to spit out children in a cursed down. (I don't think your target market would probably wonder that)

Pg 5, "Everybody knows that one person can’t be fully qualified to teach all of those subjects" *cough* how old are these kids? I have a multiple subject credential and I can teach English, math, science, social studies, art (including visual, performing, and music (I wouldn't trust me on the music one, though), and physical education for kindergarten through eight grade. That's up to fourteen years old. 

Again, granted, I went to college, but I have plenty of friends who can prove you can teach multiple children without having a college degree in education. My friend has eleven children and has homeschooled all of them through high school (well, at least the ones who have been old enough to get into high school. Her eldest just graduated nursing school and her youngest is, like, four). 

Pg 5, " She is a strict, fastidiously dressed woman" If nobody comes in or out, do they make their own clothes? 

Pg 5, "like a ruler," A teacher's hair is perfectly straight like a ruler - I like this. Great wordplay.

Pg 6, "Something is wrong." She's cursed!

Pg 6, "The back row snickers." You mean, her other three friends? Is it G-M?

Pg 7, " the newer copies were bought" Bought where? Unless they have a printing press, they won't be getting anything new, City of Ember style.

Pg 8, " the garage that is reached after passing by all those other things. " Ooof, had to read this sentence twice. You lost me in the middle.

Pg 8, "the Wood Stove." Based off of the title, I think the capitalization is purposeful. Ergo, this stove is Important.

Pg 10, " Gold-Nugget" I'm very curious about the surnames here.

Pg 11, "Is she going for more of a punk-rebel look, maybe, to show that she is growing up?" How old are the children? I feel like it bounces between 10-12, which would solidly put it in middle grade. 


1) What do you make of the MC?

The narration style makes me feel distant from her. I feel like I'm not in her POV but slightly over her shoulder. She feels like the "everyman" protagonist, which is fine. I suspect that story is going to be less about C and more about everything that happens.

2) And the setting?

I'm having a hard time grasping the time period this is set in. For some reason, I'm picturing 1960's. Flat screen tv's with wood stoves are possible (my friend has both in his living room) but they don't seem to belong together. I'm stuck on the worldbuilding aspect of how large is the town before the cursed land begins, because I keep thinking about supplies. 

3) Does it make you want to read on? If not, what do you think the issue is? If so, what specifically is drawing you in?

I'm curious. It's creepy. There's something wrong going on here. Gives me the same heebie-jeebies as Welcome to Nightvale. 


On 3/31/2021 at 11:00 AM, RedBlue said:

The points a lot of you make about chapter breaks are good to know. I’m going to put more obvious breaks between sections and see how that works.

I'm glad you're trying breaks. I'm going to give my teacher perspective on breaks/chapters.

IMO, this is solidly middle grade. Your protagonist simply isn't old enough to appeal to 14+. Essentially, your target market is the age of your protagonist minus two years. So, if C is 12, then your prime target market is 10-12. This is a general rule of thumb, not a hard-and-fast rule. 

Middle grade kids need obvious breaks, which is why chapters work so well. They need a clear point that says "you can rest here." It's a clear signpost that says "something new is going to happen here" so that their brains can be ready to make the switch. It's all about those arcs, which have been mentioned by others (if you need an arc checklist, I have @kais's that I can pass you a copy of).

Chapters are really handy as a teacher, because you can tell the kids "Okay, today we are going to read chapters 4-6." You can't really go off page numbers, because different editions will have different margins. Trying to read Tuck Everlasting and mentioning a quote on a specific page turns into a nightmare when you have four different editions in one classroom. Something to keep in mind, from a marketing standpoint. I'm not sure of your longtime goals here.

If you've never read any of the Discworld novels, I highly recommend you pick one up. Pratchett doesn't use chapters, only breaks, but it is never confusing and his books flow wonderfully. Might be interesting for you to study.


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Thanks for the feedback - this is all good to know and I will take it into account in future revisions. 


Snakenaps - I’m sure you are a much more capable teacher than the characters in this book :) The town’s education system definitely has issues and is more about keeping up appearances than actually teaching the kids.


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7 hours ago, RedBlue said:

Snakenaps - I’m sure you are a much more capable teacher than the characters in this book :) The town’s education system definitely has issues and is more about keeping up appearances than actually teaching the kids.

Ah, yes, the "teachers" that are actually glorified babysitters...I know that type. I feel like that is what my district is trying to turn us into, since they have been putting money and politics over the kids and their education. 

Also, I don't know if you know this (I assume everyone knows nothing, it is simpler that way), if you put an @ in front of a username, it will tag us black and send us a notification. It doesn't always work, but usually does. Otherwise I might have missed this, since you hadn't quoted me (another way notifications are sent).



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5 minutes ago, Snakenaps said:

Also, I don't know if you know this (I assume everyone knows nothing, it is simpler that way), if you put an @ in front of a username, it will tag us black and send us a notification. It doesn't always work, but usually does. Otherwise I might have missed this, since you hadn't quoted me (another way notifications are sent).

Thanks for the tip - I forget stuff sometimes!


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1 hour ago, RedBlue said:

Thanks for the tip - I forget stuff sometimes!

Considering my own memory shortages - I've been there. I get it. 

Only now you owe me one. So next time forget something, you have to remind me ;)


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On 3/29/2021 at 2:50 AM, RedBlue said:

So, to introduce what I’m submitting here: it’s the opening of a novel aimed at middle grade to YA (fantasy, with spooky vibes). I know that’s aimed younger than anyone in this group probably is, but hey, any feedback is valuable.


This 100% sounds like middle grade to me, not YA. And if you're on the fence about whether or not you want it to be mg, keep it mg, especially if you are going to eventually try to get an agent. YA fantasy is a very tricky market to break into right now, and there is a much bigger demand for mg, especially if it's spooky. 

Yes, I'm not the target audience form middle grade, but lately, it is what I read the most of. For a while during the pandemic middle grade was the only thing I could focus on reading. Spooky MG is my favorite, so I am very excited to see a fellow mg writer in RE now! Up until now, I've been the only one writing middle grade. Last year, I put whole mg book through this group and am querying it to agents now. 

Alright, onto my critique. 

On 3/29/2021 at 2:50 AM, RedBlue said:

1) What do you make of the MC?

The voice is distant, but that is okay to an extend because of the nature of the story. However, it would be good to move it a little closer, at least when you are focused on the character and not the description and back story. Sometimes I like the distant voice for this type of story, but feedback I got from agents the first time I queried my mg book was that the voice was too distant, and mine was less distant than this. 

I like your mc and found her very relatable. I think she is a great middle protagonist! 

On 3/29/2021 at 2:50 AM, RedBlue said:

And the setting?

I like the idea of town surrounded by the dead land, however, I was very confused about when it was set. Some things hinted at contemporary, but the school seemed kind of old and the only heat people had were woodstoves. 

One of my favorite details wee the potholes on the street. I live in an area where the streets are eternally riddled with potholes. 

On 3/29/2021 at 2:50 AM, RedBlue said:

3) Does it make you want to read on? If not, what do you think the issue is? If so, what specifically is drawing you in?

I would read on, though with a little bit of hesitation because there were a couple places where I felt like narrative got too slow. There was a little too much exposition in school before getting the paper back, and then I was getting bored with all the stuff about Wood Stove and the family dinner. Do we really need all that?

As I read:

"C like exploration the best when it's some old abandoned..." Love this! And I agree with C

"...down and stop fidgeting..." So relatable!

"The homework that Mrs. F is now..." Losing interest now. School stuff is kind of boring me. 

" to find something to write about..." So I swear at one point you said only 4 of them went to school, but this is sounding like something for a bigger class? I felt the same way when the books were getting passed out. I felt like I was in a school with more than 4  kids. 

When C got the paper back and saw something was wrong, you recaptured my attention. I'm guessing this is the curse coming into play! :-)

"...roads are made of potholes" sounds like my town

I started to get a little bored with all the details about making the fire. 

"since indoor plumbing...." so when is this set? I really can't figure out the when.

I was confused the first time I saw Wood Stove in caps. I think you took too long to get to why, and in general, have way to much back story about this stove all at once. I was getting bored with it. 

I was also a little surprised this was their only heat source, though if this is set in the past, I would be less surprised.

I loved how the house got too hot.  Sometimes in the fall when I'm using my wood stove more than my regular heat, the house ends up almost 80F. 

"He is a sphere..." I was confused by this description and unsure how literally to take it.

I was more or less skimming after this. I got bored and the narrative wasn't holding my attention. I'd probably keeping reading for a little though because I like the mc and want to know more about the curse. 


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So I concur with the others that have said that this feels much more like MG than YA.

In terms of your questions:

1. What do you make of the MC?

The distant third person narrator makes it difficult get a sense for C. I feel like I was told more about her than was actually revealed through her. One of the main things I got from C was that she was very naive and trusting. She also didn't seem be very concerned about much.

2. What do you make of the setting?

The setting is definitely spooky, though I wanted more concrete setting details and some description of the town.

3. Does it make you want to read on?

I would read on because my curiosity has been piqued, but I'm worried that there's not a lot of conflict, hook, or action going on in the first chapter, other than being told that there is a curse, and C falling out of a tree. I was really hoping for some kind of initial scare.

As I go

Pg 1,

"The land is dotted with skeleton trees," great thematic setting detail and language

I feel like some sentences are redundant, and it would strengthen the previous sentence if you cut them, ie-

"Although it is the only way in or out of town, nobody dares to venture onto." That says everything. You don't need, "Not even to find out where it would take them."

Also I think you could cut the latter part of, "They all know that they are forbidden." It's strong enough when combined with the previous sentence. "Without needing to be told," seems like a redundancy that is tacked on.

Pg 2,

"I don't feel cursed at all!" I found this very amusing, also, famous last words.

When you say that T has no free time, I wanted you to explain that or follow it up with something. 

"That's why her favorite kind of places to explore are old, abandoned buildings. Preferably the kind that's full of antiques or old tools or musty books." This is good characterization.

"...but when C decides to do something, she will not be budged," good characterization as well, but try to show more than tell these kinds of things.

pg 3,

when T says, "That thing's been dead for ages," it causes me to wonder if you are telling the reader that the curse has been around for ages, or if that's just the kind of exaggeration that children often use in their dialogue with each other.

I think it's important to give the reader an idea of how tall the tree is, if C is climbing it. This will help create tension and give a better mental image of the scene.

pg 4,

It's confusing to me that C would be willing to try and get cursed just to prove it, when it seems like there is already plenty of visible proof. Who is she proving it to? Is C really that reckless?

"It's about making something fun happen in a tiny town where nothing ever changes." I don't understand what would be fun about getting cursed.

"She almost makes it." I feel like you really need to ratchet up the tension up to this moment. There's not much action going on in these first 4 pages, other than C falling out of the tree. I would try and create some more drama surrounding that, maybe have T warning her and telling her to climb down.

pg 5,

Once again, in regards to falling out of the tree, I wanted to see more fear and emotion from C, instead of her calm contemplation of the view as she is falling. Unless she's not really falling from a serious height, but I can't tell how high she climbed, only that it must be somewhat high if she was trying to be able to see farther.

I thought it was strange that neither T or E said anything when C fell on them. It seemed like a missed opportunity for characterization for them.

"There's a thought won't let Constance go: that she hasn't proven, one way or the other, whether the curse is real." This phrasing was a bit confusing.

pg 6,

When C says, "The ink goes all wobbly and twists itself into tumbles of nonsense words," I wasn't sure if this was how it actually was, or if it was a result of something with C's perspective or vision.

pg 7,

"I think my essay has changed from when I wrote it down," so from this it looks like she can still read it? Is the information changed into nonsense, or does it actually say something different? If she can't remember what she wrote, how does she know it's changed?

pg 8, 

"...historical people doing old-timey things." This is funny, good characterization through voice.

"C likes to give GM the benefit of the doubt, because surely nobody would be that rude on purpose." This is good characterization of GM, but it also makes C look to be quite naive and gullible.

"The town is the sort where the roads are made of potholes," great setting description.

I find it odd that C doesn't use the word Mom or Dad, or know much about them.

pg 9,

"sceptic tank," should be spelled "septic".

"C fetches firewood from one of them," is this wood being chopped from the dead trees in the cursed zone where no one is supposed to go? If not, where is it coming from?

The capitalization of "Wood Stove" is a bit distracting, I don't think that it's necessary to convey its importance. 

"...the wood stove changes things, and that she shouldn't worry about it or ask strange questions," hmm, this is interesting.

"...if somebody burns it hard enough," the language here is strange, how do you burn something harder?

pg 10, 

"He is a massive, living cue ball." Can't tell if this is exaggeration or not. Is he actually spherical?

"They eat at a low table before the wood stove, C, S, C, and four empty chairs." Are they sitting in chairs? If so, why do they have 7 chairs? If not, whey aren't they sitting in the chairs? I'm confused either way.

"The westerns themselves feel fuzzy now, in the same way as C's essay." Hmm, so something is going on with C's memory I think now.


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