Wednesday, September 9, 2009

29 Secret Agent

GENRE: Upper Middle Grade Fantasy

That moron, Matt Bryant was going to be at the bus stop. I hated living here. All of my friends were back home in Phoenix. This place was too cold. I crushed the salt and gravel under my heel. I wanted to do the same to Matt, but I knew I wouldn't do anything except stand there like a wuss. I crested the hill and there he stood, glaring. He was waiting for me. His tiny brain occupied by thoughts of stupid phrases he'd throw at me. His target of choice.

A smile formed on Matt's face that made every muscle in my body tense.

"Hey there, Jon-a-thon!" he shouted.

I ignored him. I watched the little kids playing Mother May I.

My stomach soured the closer I got to the bus stop.

Mother may I?

He wasn't going to leave me alone today.

Mother may I?

My shoulders tightened.

"Whatcha doin' Jon-a-thon? Waiting for your mommy to pick you up and take you to school with the first graders?" Matt's laces were dark from the wet pavement. He never tied his shoes.

I cast a sideways glance. Anne Marie stood silently with her little sister.

If I were living with Mom I'd have friends. If I were living with Mom I wouldn't have to deal with this crap. If I were living with Mom I wouldn't have to try so hard to make small talk with my dad.


  1. The boy's anger about his current life circumstances rings true. In fact, it's so basically true that you need fewer of the pointers that you've placed here -- and the writing would be stronger for it.

    What I mean is that these sentences:

    "I crested the hill and there he stood, glaring. He was waiting for me. His tiny brain occupied by thoughts of stupid phrases he'd throw at me. His target of choice."

    ...would be even more effective if you cut the last two and just left this:

    "I crested the hill and there he stood, glaring. He was waiting for me."

    That conveys all the menace, all the anxiety -- everything you need. Without you having to say more. In fact, saying more dilutes it.

    So right now, I'm not sure where the story's headed but I wouldn't stop reading either. I think I'd wait and see what else happened in the next say, five pages and if those drew me in, you'd have me. Right now, not quite. But then, this isn't the sort of Wham! Bam! beginning that sells itself in 500 words.

    I think I'm saying it feels promising but I'd have to read more to know.

  2. Well written. We'll all run into this bully in our lives. You made him come alive.

    My constructive criticism:

    I would not use the word "moron" in my opening sentence. It really jumps out there. I hate being politically correct, but this is for kids, and one definition of a moron is a retarded person.

    Secondly, I know the main character is running into a bully, so it's a negative situation, but it seems too negative. Is there any ray of light you could sneak in there? Some positive quality about the main character you could show us to make us stick with his agony?

  3. We all have differing opinions. I really liked the "His tiny brain occupied by..." It gave me the image of a big, fat bully, maybe even with a head too small for his hulking body. Loved it.

    The writing is quite real. I could almost smell those waxy milk cartons from school and see the asphalt of the playground.

  4. I'm sorry... this needs a little more work with setting/setup.

  5. Hooked. You made me feel sorry for this kid. I love the last paragraph and last sentence. Very touching.

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  7. I liked this as we all have experienced this situation, admit it or not. The word "moron", although when angered we as kids think like that, I might leave it out. Use a good made up word kids use nowadays to draw in your crowd.
    It is hard to read to far in to the story as it is only the first 250, but I would definitely read more to see what angers Matt. But stick with writing first or third person, as you do switch. Otherwise, would read on.

  8. I was hooked. I liked the "tiny brain" phrasing, too.

  9. I think every kid has faced at least one of these problems (a bully, a recent move, or a divorce) at least one time in their lives. They can certainly relate.

    We don't get into the fantasy aspect at all, which I would have liked to have seen, but still, your MC's voice comes off as genuine. I feel for the kid and would read more. The deciding factor for me would depend on the fantasy world and how soon you got there.

  10. Love the voice here!

  11. I agree with being too negative in the first paragraph, because you want to establish sympathy for your main character right off the bat.

    But I really feel for the kid by the end of this passage. Nice work.

  12. Jon's voice is good and I liked the way you drew us in, wondering what Matt was going to do to him and how Jon would cope.

    There were a few things in the first paragraph that I thought could be tightened:

    You either need to drop the comma after moron or add one after Bryant. I'd recommend dropping the first comma because I think it would make the sentence flow better and allow the reader to get into the story more quickly.

    "All of my friends were back home in Phoenix" seems a tad info-heavy for the third sentence of the novel. I'd cut it. The sentence before and after convey to us that where Jon is living now isn't where he's from.

    I think the tiny brain sentence would work better as part of the previous sentence: He was waiting for me, his tiny brain occupied by thoughts of stupid phrases he'd throw at me." Oh, and while I'm nitpicking, Jon can't tell what Matt's thinking, so I'd put in something like "his mind probably occupied by..." (Unless he's a mindreader? This is fantasy after all. Ignore the last comment if Jon can indeed read minds!)

    The rest of the piece is really good.

  13. I think you're wasting valuable first page space to repeat Mother May I and tell us Matt never tied his shoes.

    Your voice is good. I would read a bit further, but would need some action other than the bully to keep me going beyond that.

  14. There's a lot of good stuff here, but it just doesn't grab me like I'd hope. I think there's too much. Trim it up a bit to make it flow better. Once you make a point you don't need to keep making the point. Move on and the story will move on too.

  15. I'm drawn in immediately with the tension around the bully. I love stories of dealing with bullies. But the last paragraph drains this tension. Obviously the bully isn't that big a deal if he has time to mope about not living with his mom. If the bully is a big deal, he'll be totally focused on how to deal with this threat. later there's plenty of time to mope.

  16. Not quite hooked, and not sure why. There's some good stuff in here. I like the "mother may I" repeat (I'm a minority on that, I suspect, but I like me some thematic repeats).

    That said, Jon comes off as sulky (yet rightfully so), which doesn't make me want to spend a few hundred pages with him.

  17. Well, I'm not quite hooked - yet.

    I think the problem I've having with this is the lack of focus. Jon is worried about the bully, he's not liking the recent move, and he has a conflict with his father. That seems like a bit of an overload in the first 250 words.

    But the writing is clean, IMO, and that's a definite plus.

    Good luck.

  18. Something missing here ... perhaps instead of the last, internal-thought paragraph, you need something to happen - or to have the tension ratchet up a bit.

  19. Not completely hooked, even though I really liked this. I think it was the last para that threw me off, drawing out from the immediacy of Jon's current problems to worrying about the larger picture... that's backstory that could be brought in later.

  20. The writing is disjointed, and rough. I would not keep reading.