I think this submission has a couple of problems, starting off with genre identity, and going on to some more specific issues. I would have cut if off earlier than the 1000 words allowed, but it pulls a neat trick in chapter 2. See what you think!
Language: British English
Synopsis: A teenage boy finds out that his family have being travelling through time altering the fate of humanity
1 The American August 1934
Tom DeWitt , born rich and connected, walked through the summer streets of Washington D.C . Life was good to Tom. The wide ordered boulevards gave him a sense of contentment and well- being. His family back in New York owned many businesses from sawmills up in the Appalachians to newspapers in New Orleans, a fishing fleet in the Hamptons ( where they also owned one of the largest holiday homes on the beach) and most importantly property in New York, Chicago and L.A. Toms two older brothers were working for their father now, involved in all aspects of the family business. There was room for Tom to join them, and it was half expected of him to do so, but his ambitions led him elsewhere. He was born into the elite of this country and with that came many advantages.
Tom was tall and lean but not conventionally handsome. There was a crooked nose, ears that were slightly too large and eyes of an indecipherable muddy colour but nevertheless there was an attractiveness to him which was due more to his personality than his looks. He was hugely popular wherever he went. He was liked and admired by both boys and girls, men and women all through school (Yale), college(Harvard)and now at the military academy ( West Point) where he was the top in his class and probably one of the brightest graduates to have ever passed through its doors. He was clever, very clever. And he was clever enough that from an early age he had kept his ambition and cunning hidden from all. His ambition stretched far beyond that of his family businesses though he was using its connections to get him to where he wanted to go. And he was going to get there sure enough, to the very top.
Except today was the day that he was going to die.
He walked to the train station, bought a ticket to New York, (he was going home for his brothers’ wedding) and stepped out onto the platform. He was 5 minutes early and his train hadn’t yet arrived. He felt excited about the prospect of going back home to see his family and friends. This wedding was going to be the biggest event in the Hamptons this summer. It would be packed with millionaires, bankers, politicians, sports stars and actors and actresses. It would be full of the most important people on the east coast of America and the newspapers were to be there reporting on the ceremony. This kind of event filled Tom with a sort of joy that he would be amongst the best in society. These were his kind of people and he would use this opportunity to impress as many of them as he possibly could.
The air was warm and stifling here in the station and the platform began to fill up. He stepped forward to the edge as he heard the train approaching. It was really heating up on the platform now. He wiped some beads of sweat from his brow. He should have taken the earlier train which would have been less crowded. He began to feel a little dizzy. It was too hot there now and too crowded. People began to push against his back. There was shouting and laughing of other young men heading home for the weekend from behind him. He could see the train now approaching from his right. It was blowing its horn as it slowed into the station. The press of people eased as they leaned instinctively back from the passing train, but Tom leaned forward off the platform towards the tracks in front of the train. His mind was blank and could not focus. He fell down and forwards and as he was about to go off the platform a hand grabbed him from behind.
Hey man watch yourself. You ok.
The train flashed passed and came to a stop. Tom turned to his saviour. A tall strong dark-haired man with thick arms and huge working-mans’ hands.
Thanks. I don’t know What happened me. I don’t feel right. All dizzy.
Ok ok said his saviour. Let’s get you on the train. He pushed Tom up onto the train and into a seat by the window. Tom in his confusion forgot about his first-class ticket and sat where he was put.
His saviour sat opposite
Thanks for that, for saving my life.
Anytime. No problem. I’m Jim by the way and he stretched out his hand
I’m Tom and he took his hand. But now he was weaker still, feeling the energy seep out of him, as if his blood were draining out of him. He leaned back in his seat, noticed from behind the neat bob of blonde hair on the lady sitting in front of him, and slept all the way to New York.
His new friend Jim shook him awake
Hey Tom, we’re here, in New York. You ok?
Oh what, ahm yeah. Good yeah I’m good thanks.
That was some sleep buddy. You were knocked out solid. You’re coming down with something I’d say.
I hope not. I’ve got my brothers’ wedding this weekend.
He left the train followed by Jim and a tall slender lady with the neat bob of blonde hair, a stern face and a dark pair of sunglasses. Tom thanked Jim again, gave him his card and told him to contact him in a week, when he could thank him properly.
Ok said Jim take care.
You too. Jim took off in the opposite direction.
Tom felt a little better out here in the open air of New York. Traffic whizzed by as he stood kerbside waiting to cross the intersection of 44nd and Lexington avenue. On his left a bus was coming, moving along nicely. He shook his head as if to rid himself of the last of the fog that had clouded his brain. As the bus approached Tom, the tall slender blonde lady standing behind him pushed him gently into its path.
Slan, she said as Tom was hit head on by the bus, its brakes squealing, and she walked off calmly across the road, around the corner and hailed a taxi to the airport.
This is a work in progress, which the author admits, rather than a fininshed draft, and isn’t really ready for this kind of critique at the moment. Why? Well, there’s just quite a bit of research you need to do on submitting to agents before this opening will be ready. For a start, there’s a little confusion about the genre. Agents like a book to fit into a genre. It makes it much easier to sell to a publisher, because a publisher will find it much easier to market to the public. Here you’ve said the genre is “romance”, but then added a sub genre of “young teen”. There’s no such genre as “young teen”, but there is a YA genre which stands for Young Adult (generally held to be 13 to 14 and up) – think The Hunger Games, or Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy. So is it a YA romance? The key determinant there is that it is YA, not that it’s a romance. YA books usually concern protagonists of the that age group, and their subject matter often includes issues such as rite-of-passage, romance, sexual exploration, search for identity, confllict with or rebellion against authority. Does this book fit any of those patterns? If it does, it might be YA, but then the question any agent would ask is why does the book start with an adult getting pushed under a bus? There are quite a few submissions to The Opening Lines that have fallen foul of the problem of not starting the story in the right place. Before you do anything else, you need to establish your main character, and give the reader a reason to read the rest of the book. Here, you expound at great length on Tom Witt (of which more in a moment) for several pages. Unfortunately, any reader investment in the character of Tom is entirely wasted because Tom has an argument with a bus which only the bus can win, within a paragraph of the start of chapter 2. That means an entire chapter has passed and we haven’t even met the character the story is about. I gather, from the synopsis, that this is probably one of the main character’s relatives offing someone for the greater good of humanity, but you would do much better starting the story off with the main character, in his present time, with whatever challenge he faces right now presenting itself front and centre, so that we know what the book is about.
I’ll draw a film parallel, which hopefully might be familiar to you. The Bourne Identity is a film about a top secret assassin programme, starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. Hopefully you’ve seen it. What you have done is start the film with Matt Damon assassinating someone. That’s great. Lots of blood and guts and drama. But does it give us any clue as to what the rest of the film is going to be about? No, it doesn’t. What is the film actually about? It’s about Jason Bourne’s search for his identity, about who he is. Is he really a cold-blooded assassin, or rather, since he most definitely is that, is that all he is? Concealed among all the fights and chases and narrow escapes is a search for identity – a search for self. It is not a catalogue of assassin hits. That would be extremely dull after the first two or three. So where does the film start? It starts with Bourne being plucked from the sea by some fishermen, and the opening scenes all set up the premise of the story – “Who am I?” and “How did I get here?” What is your main character’s problem, the thing that they are going to resolve by the end of the book? Is it a question of identity, of knowing who their family is, or some kind of appreciation of a destiny hitherto kept a secret ( a common trope in YA stories). Establish this first, then start doing the flashbacks into the past where his manic rellies go sorting out would-be fascists. The problem with all these time-travelling books (one that Stephen King bravely tried to answer – and I think was at least partially successful – with his book 11/22/63), is why don’t all these time travelling do-gooders miss the one big goose-stepping fascist that would have done the whole world a favour? I’d like to see your answer as to how you’ve rationalised that out of the possibilities. But perhaps this family isn’t on the side of good at all? (There’s a story!)
So, first off rationalise your genre. Then make sure you’re starting the book in the right place. Then there’s some serious editing to do on the text itself. I mentioned the long passages about Tom Witt earlier. You draw a thumbnail sketch of his life, his career, his status in society, his family, his education, his superlative cunning. It’s all exposition – and exposition is a Very Bad Thing. Well, not always, but the problem here is that you are giving the reader huge indigestible chunks of facts about a character whom they don’t know. There’s no plot development or character interest here – just a feeling that we’re being told stuff that we might need to memorise, like a school history textbook. It doesn’t immerse us, or involve us. It’s an appeal to the almost mechanical process of memory rather than the emotional process of empathy. To add insult to injury, even if the reader did make an effort to get on board with Tom, you kill him off in the first few paragraphs of the next chapter, so the reader will be left thinking, “What on earth did I try and memorise all that for?”
In addition to all this, there are some significant (but easily remedied) problems with sentence structure and punctuation that need sorting out. It needs a thorough edit, and I think you’d benefit from some developmental editing (which is a fundamental look at the book in terms of plot structure, character development, writing craft issues and so on) if you can cope with the expense (developmental editing is not cheap), but if and only if you’re particularly serious about writing. If this is a one-off, then you’re unlikely to recoup the investment in that kind of editing from the sales of one book. An alternative would be to get hold of some good books on writing and editing (a link to mine is below, which I think I can genuinely say you’d find invaluable), and work through what they teach you before talking to a professional.
But a good effort, and thanks for posting.
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