Friday Crits: A YA Horror

Hi everybody and welcome to our first (of hopefully of many) Friday Crits*!  Today we’re taking a look at the first 250 words of  a YA Horror set in…wait for it…Egypt! 

Here’s a two-line synopsis that will help us understand the set-up:  Seventeen-year-old Élan Duchamps gets her kicks by outing fake mediums on YouTube. She hates frauds who lie and take advantage of the gullible public—and that includes her estranged mother, a reality-show psychic.

Remember, the goal is to help not to harm! Please leave your suggestions and thoughts in comments. Thanks! 

And here we go (my notes are in blue): 




In the center of town, The the clock tower above City Hall chimed midnight—the witching hour. Twelve metallic gongs vibrated across the township. Leaves rustled and fell from aged sycamores, houses creaked and settled on their foundations, ducks buried their beaks deeper in their feathers, and housecats curled closer to the fire.

It was time for all the good little citizens of Kirby Landing to be in their beds.

So, naturally, Élan Duchamps was far away from hers, running silently beside her team of stalkers camera crew across a shadowy lawn.

A holly bush caught her black sweat pants, its barbs pulling threads loose. She threw a glare at the plant as if her antipathy could make it apologize. Its dark leaves shook in the breeze, and its berries shone red, like droplets of blood.

Frowning, Élan skulked past another prickly bush and into the flowerbed to peer through the window of a run-down Victorian home. Her pulse sped up, and her tongue slipped out, wetting dry lips. The man inside would call the ghosts soon, and she didn’t want to miss a thing.

Beside her, Tyler braced the legs of the tripod amongst dead flower stalks and aimed the camcorder toward the window.


“Make sure the lens cap is off and the auto-focus is on,” Élan whispered, surprised to see her words become small puffs of white in the cold air. Every year, the chill of the first frost came as a shock, as if the punishing heat of summer wiped away all memory of the past winter.


Tyler shook his too-long bangs out of his eyes.  “You don’t have to tell me that every time.”

She ignored him, busy taping a tiny microphone to a pane of glass. “Hello?  Check?  Are you picking this up Kari?”

The monitor in her ear Her earpiece crackled to life. “Yeah, it’s good,” Kari said from the equipment van halfway down the block,  They would have parked nearer, but all the spaces had been taken by guests at the séance.
 ####
Good start, huh! I think our writer did an excellent job setting the scene.  She drops us in the middle of the action and doesn’t bog down the pace with background info. 

Besides a couple of word-choice suggestions, I only have one major note:  Three characters (four if you count the man who will “call the ghosts”) are introduced in the first 300 words.  And since I’ve had the privilege of reading the rest of the chapter, I know that one more character is introduced in the next three paragraphs. 

Readers have a hard time remembering names if they aren’t given a character description/defining feature (like Tyler’s bangs).  But, taking the time to properly intro a character slows down the plot.  I think this story would be better served if the MC and just one member of her camera crew were working on the set-up and the other members were waiting in the van, still unnamed, for a little while.

Thanks so much for being my first Friday Crit, Laura C.!  Good luck with your story!
*If you’re interested in participating in Friday Crits — query letters or the first 250 of your ms — you can send your submission to me in the body of an email at becky underscore vallett at hotmail dot com.

7 Comments

  • Carrie Butler

    That was a great opening, and I found myself nodding at the feedback. The only thing I’d add is the first paragraph pulled me out for a second. The imagery was wonderful, but four (trees, houses, ducks, and housecats) was one too many for me. That’s just my two cents. Otherwise, I think it’s a great start, and I’d read on. 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

  • Laura C.

    Thanks Jess, Carrie, Lindsay, and of course–Becky!! Your comments are spot on, and I really appreciate you taking the time to help me.
    (Carrie–I’m a believer in threes. Almost all my descriptions, fragments, etc. come in threes. I just wanted a slightly languid tone for the beginning, but: Yay! Rule of threes!)

  • Melodie Wright

    Great idea, Becky!
    I agree w/ Carrie on that first graph. Also I’d move the sentence: “the man inside would call the ghosts soon” to place right after the mention of Elan running across the lawn. It’s a hooky sentence and needs to move up for maximum effect. In fact, this could even be your lede sentence, dropping the description and putting Elan and her crew’s dash across the yard right after. My two cents!

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