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Of all the people who wanted to join the trip, Paola was the the last I expected would come. It surprised me. We barely knew each other at school, and I was pretty sure she wasn't interested in me. I didn't pride myself on being a ladies' man. But if all my rejections had taught me anything, it was this: if a girl never looks at you, it probably means "not a chance."

I turned to check on her. She was ambling among the rocks, her back to me, almost a dot in the distance. Despite that, I could still make out her figure: her sharp shoulder blades, her bony arms, her childlike yet feminine hips. Frail but charming features. What I liked the most, though, was her long blonde hair. It contrasted beautifully with her bronze skin. Like Spring and Fall, fire and wood. Light and darkness.

With a sigh, I resumed my way down the beach...

Another concern I have is that it takes a while after the setting is explicitly stated (the beach). Maybe trip and rocks are enough for the meanwhile?

6 Answers 6

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Overall, the opening seems fine. I've seen worse. I don't see a problem with the setting being mentioned a couple of paragraphs below. The only thing I can't figure out is the genre. Every genre is suited different types of opening. If it's a short story (I see on your profile that's what you like to write), then it's a pretty good opening. For an YA novel, I would consider rewriting it, maybe starting directly with something happening on that beach and then incorporate various details.

I have a problem with this line:

But if all my rejections had taught me anything, it was this: if a girl never looks at you, it probably means "not a chance."

This makes me think: "Okay, so this is a story of boy pining after girl and that's it." I'm not sure if I would read that. The story on itself might be good, but if you're showing me the conclusion right in the beginning, why bother reading? Then again, if the story takes a totally different turn (boy ends with girl), it's different. But something interesting must happen soon.

On the next paragraph, you say that the girl is "almost a dot in the distance". You can't distinguish features if people are so far away. You can say that he remembers her features, or that he sees her almost like she was near him.

Last paragraph, I'm not sure why the guy is sighing. Does he think the girl is too beautiful for him? Is he tired? Is he cranky for some reason? We are in his head, so we should have a better view on his emotions.

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  • Thanks for the feedback. I'm not sure what genre I write. The only thing I know is that I live in constant horror that someone will classify my work as YA (OK, it isn't that bad. The Fault in Our Stars was pretty good). Aug 12, 2014 at 12:45
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    Then why are you writing about teenagers?
    – lea
    Aug 13, 2014 at 7:21
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    @AlexandroChen Usually when your main character is a teenager, inevitably you end up with YA. That doesn't mean you can't mix it with other genres, like mystery, fantasy, paranormal, history, steampunk, etc. YA has some bad fame, but there are lots of great books that are YA. Aug 13, 2014 at 9:09
  • @lea Not everything about teenagers is for teenagers.
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 25, 2019 at 9:57
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The voice in your first paragraph reminds me of Holden Caulfield. More a monologue than a narrative; a thought process noted in great detail, slowing the pace. To me this is promising. It could be YA or something else - The Catcher in the Rye is only YA on the surface.

In the next paragraph the plain-speaking teenager seems a different person, I don't believe him waxing poetic: "Like Spring and Fall, fire and wood. Light and darkness." If he's a poet that's fine - but set him up as a poet.

I agree with Cristina: if the girl is "almost a dot in the distance", I don't believe him, saying he can make out her figure. This matters because I do a double-take: did I miss something?

I don't like the sigh - it's vague and melodramatic, feels like something added for effect. I want every sentence to be essential.

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It's a little slow to develop. I prefer a short simple paragraph with some phrase that's either intriguing or "sticky" that I can't get out my head, like the hook to a pop song.

Here's an edit that lacks the hook but gets to the point quicker:

Of all the people on the trip, Paola was the the last I expected. We barely knew each other at school, and I was pretty sure she wasn't interested in me. I turned to check on her. She was ambling among the rocks, her back to me. Her long blonde hair contrasted with her bronze skin. Like Spring and Fall, fire and wood. Light and darkness. With a sigh, I resumed my way down the beach...

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The first few sentences left me puzzled:

Of all the people who wanted to join the trip, Paola was the the last I expected would come. It surprised me. We barely knew each other at school, and I was pretty sure she wasn't interested in me.

So the only reason why someone would join a trip with several people joining is that the person in question was interested in the narrator? While that certainly is a valid reason to go to a trip with him, it certainly is not the first reason which would come to my mind, especially if it is a trip with several people joining.

So is there a specific reason (told later in the story) that the narrator would make that assumption? If not, at least to me as a reader it would be unsatisfying.

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  • I think it says something about the narrator's self-centred worldview more than anything else. Which is a fine implication to make early.
    – Weckar E.
    Jul 25, 2019 at 9:59
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Sorry, this opening does not grip me.

The minute an author begins a laundry list of a potential love interest's physical attributes, I think "amateur sexual wish fulfillment". It breaks my immersion.

I do not describe any physical characteristics of my characters that are not required for the plot. If I need Anton to be particularly tall for the plot to succeed, I will have a scene in which Anton's height makes a difference; Anton can get a basketball out of a tree by reaching up and knocking it loose, when nobody else can.

If Betty needs to be particularly beautiful for the plot to succeed, I tend to describe people's reactions to Betty, strangers and others, as a particularly beautiful girl.

If I need a character to be blonde to stand out for some reason amongst non-blonde characters, fine. I'll mention they are the only blonde in their school or whatever. I have used identical eye color to hint at a hidden familial relationship.

You are engaging in "Telling", instead of "Showing". You are giving readers a list of attributes they are supposed to memorize, and they won't memorize them, that is not how this works. Readers remember scenes that carry emotional weight.

To be specific:

Of all the people who wanted to join the trip, Paola was the the last I expected would come.

Duplicated "the".

It surprised me. We barely knew each other at school, and I was pretty sure she wasn't interested in me.

Non sequitur. It doesn't track. Why should her romantic interest in you have any weight in her interest in the trip? Can't she be interested in the objective of the trip? You haven't said you were leading the trip, but even if you were, unless the trip is all about you in some sense, why would she need to be "interested" in you to join the outing?

I didn't pride myself on being a ladies' man.

It isn't clear to me if you are, or are not, a ladies' man.

But if all my rejections had taught me anything, it was this: if a girl never looks at you, it probably means "not a chance."

Rather than giving some flip romantic advice, it might be better to just say you tried and failed with Paola, her rejection hurt, and she'd barely glanced at you since. That's an emotional detail readers would remember.

I would write something like this, off the top of my head.

When I joined this trip, I was surprised to see Paola in the group; I had no idea she had any interest in spotted seals.

Paola was the first girl in school to reject my interest in her. She had barely looked at me since. It still hurt the worst. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see her, to finally be doing something with her other than sitting in class.

The "spotted seals" throwaway helps your setting and justifies your beach reference later. You don't have to be specific about a setting: A trip to someplace frequented by spotted seals is clear. We'll be near the sea, right?

I read the second paragraph as:

"I turned to check on her. She was ambling among the rocks, her back to me, almost a dot in the distance.

Despite that, I could still make out her figure..." [OK, that is red flag implausible. Followed by blah blah {physical attribute inventory} blah blah {poetic sexual fantasy}].

I'm not trying to be mean, I'm pointing out where you lost me. My take:

I turned to check on her. She was ambling among the rocks, alone, her back to me, almost a dot in the distance. Yet even at this distance, I couldn't take my eyes off her. I was mesmerized, wondering what she was looking at. What we would talk about, if I were walking beside her. Wondering if she ever thought of me at all.

Josh, beside me, said, "What's up?"

I tore my gaze away. "Nuthin. Day dreaming."

Josh followed my former gaze. "Oh. I don't think she's with anyone."

I averted my eyes. "Yeah, well. Especially not me."

I resumed our trudge down the beach.

Obviously I expect you to use your own voice, I'm just providing an example. You need to put more emotional hints into your writing. Reader memories are anchored by character emotions.

I'm just guessing at what you are trying to convey, but listing physical attributes of a romantic interest is not a way to convey romantic interest.

Romance is a longing, a desire to be near somebody, wanting to be a part of their life, and not just in their bed.

When authors list physical attributes, they tend to be thinking of their personal preferences. You need to move off of that to something much more common with readers, the emotions we have when we are attracted to somebody, and perhaps even emotions that are not shared by others.

The specifics of what about Paola triggers your hero's unrequited passion for her does not matter. The feeling of unrequited passion for another is something we can all share, male and female, homosexual and heterosexual, regardless of race or language.

That seems to be what you are aiming for. You need to convey what your hero is feeling, not so much what they are seeing and hoping readers will just "get" what he is feeling.

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I think openings, like passive verbs, depend very much on the genre. IMO It wouldn't be a good opening for a thriller/suspense, but (apart from the dot on the distance). It would be OK for a romance or possibly a drama.

A lot also depends on the year of the setting. Things back in the 50s and 60s were VERY different to what they are today. I should know, I grew up then and girl's attitudes weren't like today, nor were boys.

Without knowing a genre or where you plan to go with this, it's a difficult question for me to help very much with.

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