Wednesday, May 13, 2009

8 Secret Agent

TITLE: Kwizera Means Hope
GENRE: YA Fiction

“There’s no more money for school fees,” my mother said, standing in our backyard kitchen of packed dirt and a circle of stones for the fire. Arms crossed over her thin chest, she swayed my baby brother gently as he slept on her back.

I continued to mix the manioc flour with water and said nothing. The sound of the wooden spoon beating the manioc into paste normally soothed me, but not this time. I had been dreading those words ever since my older brother went away.

“Since your father passed and Innocent left, I’m the only one with a job,” she continued, voice as calm as ever.

Hearing her mention my father reminded me of her quiet pain after he died, the shocked faces of my little sisters, and my eyes stung by tears for days on end. I remembered his racking cough and the agony in his eyes. A sharp pain stabbed into my chest. When my brother left a few months ago we were numb, from four years of war and everything that had happened after, including the genocide, the run from our homes to the camps for internally displaced people, the fear of reprisals, and my father’s death.

“Someone has to join me at the plantation,” Mama said, breaking into my melancholy. “Then we’ll have more money for food and school.”

I swallowed hard. I knew what was coming next.


  1. "Harvest is when I need you the most. Only one season more. This year we'll make enough on the harvest that I'll be able to hire some more hands and then, you can go to the academy next year. You must understand, I need you here, Luke."

    Spoken by Uncle Owen to Luke Skywalker...just be mindful of the similarity of your scene to this one...dangerously close to a scifi/fantasy "cliche" (I like tropes cause they aren't cliches!).

    I'm not really hooked...I'm interested, but I don't know if I'd keep reading. Like I said, the same tone as the above conversation isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just something that didn't grab me.

  2. I had difficulty with the images in the first paragraph. They just didn't gel in my mind.

    The comparison to Star Wars doesn't matter to me since this doesn't read like it is sci-fi or fantasy, but if it is one of those genres, John is right, be careful.

    I do feel for the MC a bit, but I'm not sure that is enough. Not knowing really where this is going, I can't say one way or another if I'd keep reading. With just this, probably not, but if I had a synopsis that sounded fabulous, I might keep going.

  3. I like your setting.

    "my mother said, standing in our backyard kitchen of packed dirt and a circle of stones for the fire." I think you could cut this off at "dirt." The circle of stones isn't necessary to convey the sense of this shack or hut.

    I was with you until you went into info dump on the father's death. I think it could be woven throughout the story to keep it moving forward.

    I would keep reading.

  4. I like the opening and the voice.

    It bothered me when the mother said, "since your father passed away and Innocent left..." I was very aware this was being said for the reader's benefit and that broke me out of the scene. The mother would not have to say this to her daughter because she knows this. And the paragraph of back story dealing with this quote also didn't grip me. Maybe you could move it to later in the chapter?

  5. I loved this. First, I think it's fantastic that you're tackling issues like genocide, but keeping them in a very real teen voice. It's a brilliant concept.

    Overall, I think you can work on eliminating the tell here. The mother's statement of "Since your father..." doesn't seem like something she would say to a daughter who knows that info.

    Also, while the mention of genocide in the fourth paragraph sparked my interest, that sentence felt like a mini info dump.

    Good luck! I'd definitely keep reading.

  6. You had me at manioc flour. I love detail that has a purpose.

    The rest of it didn't feel as strong, but I'd probably read on a little longer to get a better feel.

  7. It was sad and I didn't want to read on. Especially when I know the MC isn't going to go to school. I know in 250 words there isn't much room for anything but I do hope there is some hope that follows.

    I'm sure this is a great tale, does it have to begin in such sadness?

    Or maybe it's just me. REmember take every comment with a heavy dose of "they don't know what they're talking about." After all, I'm an unpublished writer.

  8. (Without reading other comments...)

    First let me say, intriguing title. I'm already interested...

    And then the writing wasn't quite there. It felt too repetitious (the first two sentences of paragraph two, for instance), and certain word choices left me wanting (like describing that the narrator's mother "swayed" her baby brother).

    I like the narrator so far, and I'm vaguely interested in what's going to happen to this girl(?) when she goes to work at the plantation. But I'm afraid that has more to do with the genre than the intro here.

    Good luck!

  9. I agree with Amanda about the mother's dialog being for the reader and breaking up the next paragraph and sprinkling it in instead of presenting it all at once.

    I did feel sorry for the MC and that would draw me forward. Minor tinkering needed, but overall, intriguing setting and premise to me.

  10. This actually seems... boring. I also wouldn't suggest the use of first person.

    Not hooked.

  11. I can quote old-skool Star Wars backwards and forwards and I didn't detect any similarity between them.

    Heck, even if this IS sci-fi/fan, I don't think there's enough similarity here to matter (and truth be told, this is more of a common "theme" in these genres than "cliche," anyway).


    The voice is excellent. Your words flow well and there's nothing jarring about the cadence of your composition. It's hard to say if this is too much up-front exposition. It does a good job of grounding the reader in the "struggling villager" mindset, so I'm hesitant to say that less is more.

    I'd like to have seen more dialog between the mother and daughter rather than just the one way/internalized conversation...

    ...But then, that's what the next page is for.

  12. I am unfortunately not hooked on this one either.

    I think it's an interesting idea and a setting in Africa, considering it's a hot news topic nowadays. But I didn't feel that the writing held up to the premise, and I also felt that you were throwing way too much backstory at me at once.

    In order for readers to feel grounded, I think you need to develop the character (and what is her name??) and setting first, and then spring the news. But don't do this by exposition. Show us her actually getting the manioc, cutting it up, making it into something with the water. Show us her inner thoughts as she does, not just the conversation with her mother, which comes across as "plot coupon #1!!!!". Let us know this character first.

    A good place to start would be with the father's death.

  13. I liked the setting and the writing. I do think there's problems with this piece, as outlined by critters above. I'm not sure if I'm hooked or not. If I knew more about where the story was going to go I might be.

  14. Not hooked. You've got an exotic location here (for most people.) Perhaps spend more time on the scenery so we can really see this place. Let us see your MC. There is no swense that this is a war-torn African nation. It's much too generic.

    And then there's all the info-dumping.