Most Evil Critique Master: Sarah
Working Title: Otherland
I was 12 when Malley took me home from the hospital. I had been in a coma for three months and woke up with amnesia. She told the hospital she was my aunt. According to her, I had fallen from the top of a jungle gym and hit my head. I had no memories to dispute this, so I assumed it to be true.
Malley told me we had been homeless, and that I hadn’t gone to school for the past few years. I was told we now lived above a shop that she owned. She said I could go to public school if I wanted, but that it was up to me.
I had no idea what I wanted. I was a twelve year old with amnesia, going home with a stranger. Yet, I had felt a strange stirring in me, the desire to learn everything that could be learned. On the bus ride home from the hospital I said yes, yes I wanted to go to school. That changed when Malley and I got home to her shop.
It was a small corner bookshop, next to a quiet looking diner on Allan Place. The sign above the door read “Otherland” in curly gold script, and then beneath that, in smaller gold letters “Books for all ages and interests”. Malley fumbled around in her tattered brown tote bag for the key and unlocked the door.
Inside were rows upon rows of shelves, with books squeezed into every available space.
Strong Points –
There’s an interesting premise starting up here and lots of questions that are asked. Some word choices are interesting, like how the main character never really confirms that Malley is her aunt, and it’s interesting how the main character is pretty much just a passive figure so far. I wonder how that will change throughout the story.
Some Tips –
As much as I like the questions that are asked, this is a good example of openings that should be cut out entirely. Here are the reasons:
- This is all telling, not showing, not until we get to the bookshop. In essence, it’s exposition, or basically a summary of events that have already happened (and these seem like pretty important events). It’s filler instead of story, which certainly has its place, but definitely not in the opening.
- I know you told me it’s a prologue (which you shouldn’t have!) but it also, unfortunately, reads like a prologue. Or, in other words, it reads like it’s only going to be a setup for the actual story, instead of starting where the story truly begins. It’s sort of like describing a character all at once before they even enter the scene.
- I don’t know anything about the main character. Well, I know something of what happened to her, according to Malley, but I don’t know a thing about who the main character actually is. As I mentioned, she’s a completely passive force in this opening. Things happen to her, and she does little other than tell us about these things.
Make sure you’ve done all your reading on what to think about with including a prologue (here’s a link, here’s another link, and my favorite link on prologues by an actual literary agent). I want you to weigh heavily on whether or not this prologue helps or hinders your story. If the prologue's only goal is to introduce this bookstore, this is something that can be introduced as the story unfolds. Instead of telling us the bookstore is magical (or whatever the case may be), show us that through the story as the plot develops. We don't need a prologue to tell us the bookstore is important if the story shows us how important the bookstore is. A prologue like that doesn't carry its weight, and might even be redundant, or take away from the story instead of add to. Be very objective about this.
So, essentially, whether or not you decide to keep the prologue, my advice is to cut this opening entirely and get right to the story. Start as close to the inciting incident as you can (anything before that is simply setup or exposition, but having some in the beginning is perfectly okay). Or, these first few paragraphs should be unpacked, as in, instead of the main character telling us about how she woke up with amnesia, show her waking up with amnesia. Do be aware, however, that the "waking up with amnesia" trope does straddle the cliche, so make sure you put a fresh take on it to keep from falling into clicheville.
Would I Keep Reading?
No, but I’d like to see you resubmit! I think I’d be able to help you better then!
Good luck! ♥