Friday, 21 March 2014

Another Brave Lady

Pat Gillis, who ABNA pitch threaders may know as Conservative Collie has very kindly let me loose on her first 555 words. Here's what happened:

It was many seasons after the upheaval when Bo first saw the signs. They were on the stall doors, the entrance to the barn itself and on the fence posts from which the gates hung. Even before he could properly read, he was able to recognize the shapes that spelled out the beginning of the Concept.
“In every living thing…,” the signs began, and Bo’s mother taught him to remember every living thing meant exactly that.
“Even the sheep?” Bo asked.
“Yes,” his mother said gently.
“Even the oxen?”
“Yes, Bo, even the oxen.”
“And the sparrows?”
“That’s right, Bo.”
It is not natural for people to use names when only two people are talking (they know who they are talking to). They especially would not use the name twice. The reader can easily work out who is talking. I know it’s a mother talking to a child, but even so it’s very distracting.– lose the last Bo. Also, in the name soup department that’s 5 Bo’s in 100 words – 5% - ridiculously high. Overall 22 in 673, which is 3.3%. Still ridiculously high 
As soon as he was able to travel, his mother took him to the information session near the foot of the Bridge. The Coops there were larger than any Bo had ever seen. As the rooster crowed, it startled Bo to see everyone near The Coops stop to recite the first line of the Concept together. On the other side of the Bridge, Bo saw the iconic phrase was also carefully carved into the doorway of The System Building itself. His mother explained that the words were there to remind them all of the promise of the new understanding. Bo was in awe of the beautiful building and could scarcely contain his excitement when his mother explained that the magnificent structure belonged to all of them.
I deliberately didn’t re-read your pitch so this would be like the first time I’d opened your book. You use Coops like I’m supposed to know what they are. My British brain read them the first time as Co-ops (my favourite grocery store chain), then the rooster made me think of hen coops, but I’m still none the wiser. You get one more chance to explain, then it’s slush pile. I get that I’m in a foreign world, but I need a bit of hand-holding until I’m happy there and Bo isn’t doing his job. Despite the adjectives you use to describe it, I’m not seeing this edifice. I need detail to give me a visual – glass/brick/steel – colour, architectural style –just one detail that isn’t vanilla. You are telling me its awesome, but you are not showing me. 
Bo found the signs on the doors of his classroom too, and when he learned they would be expected to recite the text on the sign each morning, he was eager to show his teacher that he already knew the words by heart. Owen, the youngster who lived on the other side of the Bridge, noticed Miss Agrestic’s approval and his jealous resentment toward Bo was resolved by a shove. Bo pushed back and, inevitably, one of the shoves crossed the line and the two ended up grappling in a fierce but youthful battle. Miss Agrestic stomped her foot and sent the two of them to different corners. After a few giggles, the rest of the class continued their work while Bo and Owen glared at each other from across the room. Bo’s mother heard of his antics, and in the evening, as the sun was setting behind the barn, she called him to her to discuss his behavior. He was a little sullen as he approached, for he was still smarting from his public embarrassment.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened today?” she began.
“Owen started it and he pushed me first because he couldn’t recite the Concept and I could and besides he started it.”
“Yes, Bo, you mentioned that part already. Do you know why Owen couldn’t recite the Concept today?” “Because he’s stupid,” Bo retorted.
“Bo, you mustn’t say that again. He’s not stupid; he just doesn’t know. You have to understand that some don’t. Not only have they not been taught the way you have, it might even be possible their family has forgotten how important it is to know. Why don’t you help Owen and teach him what you’ve learned?”
Bo looked off across the field, ignoring her suggestion. “I don’t want to go back to school,” he said sullenly.
“Now, Bo,” his mother said gently. “There are many things you need to learn before you grow up, and when you learn those things, then you’ll understand. I think you should help Owen.” She heard Bo snort. “You could teach him what you know, because it is important for all of us to understand. The System requires it, and you could help.”
Ok, this needs fixing good before you p-off all your potential readers. Why does Bo’s mum feel it necessary to rpeat his name in 4 out of 5 sentences? Has she forgotten who he is or is she worried he might not remember it? Is this something your parents did to you or do you do it to your kids? Sorry sweetie, but it doesn’t feel normal to me. 
 Bo stamped his foot. “But they want us to stay in this little room and all face the same way and listen to Miss Agrestic and we aren’t allowed to play or talk except at recess and…and…”. He stamped his foot again, rendered speechless by the injustice of it all. His mother turned away, resuming her supper, and Bo watched her carefully. Finally, convinced his case had not impressed her, he settled down to grazing beside her.

Please feel free to add your comments. Was I too harsh?


  1. I feel like there is something interesting going on in this story, but I have absolutely no idea what it was. Then I read the last sentence, and all I can think is- is Bo a cow? The grazing got me, and I had to fight the reaction to go back and reread to see if it would make the story make more sense. Oops, my snark is showing.

    Like I said, looks like there is an interesting story going on in here, but I agree with all your comments. Also, the shift to Owen's POV completely threw me off. Maybe we need a prologue? If the world is going to be shown to us through a something-aged little boy, maybe have the older Bo tell us about the world in a prologue?

    And since he is a something aged little boy, his thoughts read rather old. Now I hope I'm not being too harsh.

  2. I have to admit that I'm a little lost. There are two very distinct impressions I get.

    First, that all of these characters are farm animals. If that is the case, it needs to be made clear as the continual guessing is distracting. If that is something you are trying to hide for a surprise reveal later, it needs to be hidden better. If that's not the case at all, you might want to re-think some things.

    There are certainly a lot of proper nouns in this excerpt (Bo is repeated A LOT) and some of the others are confusing. The Bridge, for example. Almost every sentence has a proper noun and it is snaggy.

    Although the "first day of school" stuff is cute, I'm a little lost as to the story line.

    Sorry if this sounds like a tough crit, but I've found the MANY tough crits of my work very helpful and want to give you the same.

  3. Hi
    Pat, (AKA Conservative Collie) here. First, nothing anyone here has said is 'too harsh' including Jackie's take or the comments that followed. This is my first attempt at a novel and clearly, I have a lot to learn. The book is actually a political, allegorical fiction and if nothing else, it has been fun to write. But the most amazing thing to me, is how many people are willing to take the time to help. The author of this blog is a prime example. Anyone who was participating in the ABNA pitch thread will note how tireless she seems to be about tweaking other's pitches. I can only imagine that others appreciated her help as much as I did.
    I am reading her book "ARCHER" right now and really enjoying it. Because I am a bit of a political junkie, I will confess that it is not the genre I usually read. Having said that though, it is a great tale and I find myself wanting to find time to get back to it to see how the characters are doing!
    Thanks to all of you and if any of you care to read the rest of my little book, (in case it makes a bit more sense eventually....LOL) feel free to email me and I'd be happy to send you a copy. Pat - at -
    Thanks again for the input. I really do appreciate it.
    Cheers from Canada

  4. Pat, we all have lots to learn. The one thing I know for sure is that whatever I write is always better after a couple of people have looked over it.
    I would take careful note of Jennelle and Andrea's pearls of wisdom - those two ladies really know what they are talking about.
    Thanks for your kind words.
    Keep on Trucking, Babe.