Thanks very much to the intrepid WilliamJJones for offering his page for critique! Random.org has been very good to Mr. Jones lately as he was also randomly selected to be a participant in Be An Agent for a Day II. Now if he would just buy a lottery ticket for me we should be all set.
This is a solid page and it’s hard not to be struck by the essential question: is the voice in the protagonist’s head their own or someone else’s? Who is this mysterious other person? Where are the voices leading the protagonist? There’s some good mystery here that will keep the reader wanting to find out what happens next.
This page gets off on solid footing and I think it works reasonably well as is, but aside from the usual tightening-up edits, I have one sneaking worry about it: vagueness.
It’s so difficult to build mystery in an opening. There’s a very tricky balance between giving the reader what they need to know to understand the mystery vs. leaving some questions unanswered so it’s mysterious vs. holding out on the reader by leaving out too many details, and I feel like this page may tilt just a bit too much to the latter. The (very) rough rule of thumb about building mystery, especially with first person narratives, is that the reader should see/know roughly what the narrator see/knows. When a first person narrator isn’t letting the reader in on what they know they risk feeling like the author is holding out on them.
There are moments in this page that feel like the author is cheating a bit with a first person perspective (e.g. “The cameras had not detected this person.” – how does the protagonist know this?), and there were other times when it felt like the protagonist was unnecessarily withholding detail from the reader. The mechanics of this: “The classroom door opened easily despite being locked.” go unexplained (though perhaps will come later). This: “If this person was like me, I would get an answer” will have the reader saying “like what?” “what answer?” And this: “I thought I knew where the person was going” had me saying, “Well, why can’t I know where the protagonist is guessing this person is going?” One or two of these on their own would probably be fine and contribute to a sense of mystery. Add them up together and the reader might feel like the narrator is being overly coy.
The last point I’d make on vagueness is that while the narrator seems to be aware that they are listening to voices in their head, aside from casually wondering if they’re going crazy the character seemed oddly ambivalent about the voices, and I wasn’t sure I fully believed that – if you were aware of the voices in your head wouldn’t you be scared/awed/trying to get rid of them/something by them? And I was similarly confused by how nervous/apprehensive the protagonist is. While he/she quickly hides and breathes a sigh of relief when he/she isn’t caught, he/she then feels no urgency to leave. So is this character scared or not? Why would they nearly escape and then feel no urgency to leave?
Overall, while I think this page is already in a reasonably good place, I feel like it would be just a bit stronger if the reader were let a bit more inside the protagonist’s head and that just a bit more personality and emotion were infused into this opening.
Title: I’m a Nobody
Genre: YA Fantasy
I obeyed the voice in my head without question. The classroom door opened easily despite being locked I was confused by this – at first in a good way, but then as the mysteries accumulated I started feeling a bit held out on. I closed it silently and turned to the dark room. Moments later the sound of footsteps came from the hall. They were fast and sharp. They grew closer, until they were just outside the room, and then they began to fade. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I had almost been caught trespassing “knowing I had almost been caught trespassing” reads just a tad awkwardly to me. Maybe break this up into “I breathed a sigh of relief. I had almost been caught trespassing” or otherwise show that the character is trespassing” (i.e. If I had been seen it would have meant X consequence).
It was nearing midnight, and the school’s security system was working, but I felt no urgency to leave I found this confusing – if they’re scared of being caught why no urgency?. The cameras had not detected this person How does the protag know?. “Someone else can do it too?” I asked. Does the narrator ask this inside or outside of his/her head? If inside need to clarify, if outside, why would the narrator risk being caught by speaking?
I obeyed, throwing open the door are they no longer worried about getting caught? Wouldn’t “throwing open” the door make a bigger noise than slipping through it? and chasing the source of the footsteps through the dark halls.
I knew that hearing voices meant someone was crazy, and obeying the voices without question “without question” feels repetitive from the first line made them dangerous. But I wasn’t crazy or dangerous. The voices in my head were always right. I didn’t know what that made me this feels a bit devoid of emotion – how does the narrator feel about the voices? What do they want to do about it? .
If this person was like me, I would get an answer an answer about what? This feels a bit like a mystery upon a mystery. We don’t even know what the question is, let alone wondering about an answer – it’s tough to feel curious about it when we don’t even know what the protagonist is wondering about and how what they’re wondering about matters. It could literally be anything. Or does the protag mean an answer about whether they’re crazy? If so I wonder if that could be clearer.
I followed the source of the footsteps through the school, past the main office and into a hall full of dull green lockers. I thought I knew where the person was going, though I couldn’t be sure wonder if we should know where the narrator thinks they’re headed . After two more turns and a walking through this reads awkwardly – extra word? a short hall past a security camera, they were in front of a door if the protag can now see the person should they still be a “they”. It looked like every other door in the school, with an oversized steel doorknob and peeling red paint this is an odd bit of description – the protagonist finally sees the person they’ve been alternately hiding from/chasing, and the first thing they describe is the door?.