Wednesday, September 9, 2009

48 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Accidental Alien
GENRE: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Madison Wells dreamed it was hiding under the car again. When she pressed her face against the driver’s side window, she could see its thick shadow on the ground.

Her heart raced. She struggled to shout, to form words, to get a single sound out. It’s a dream, she realized, and beat her dream-fists against the window glass. It’s a dream. Wake up. The shadow was still there. Wake up, wake up. Suddenly she did, clutching the hotel bedspread, her heart still beating a staccato in her chest. Feeling for the lamp, she found the switch.

Plush red armchairs. Soothing artwork on the walls. An antique writing desk with an ordinary phone, an LA Times, and a room service menu. Her briefcase sat on the floor where she’d left it hours ago. No bogeymen hiding under the bed or anywhere else.

“Enough of this,” she said. She got up, crossed the carpet in her bare feet, and parted the drapes. As she stared down at the hard glitter of the Los Angeles streets, the details of the nightmare faded away. Twice this week, and every week for a month. It was making her crazy.

Maybe I need sleeping pills, she thought the next day on the flight home to D.C. While the plane flew into the twilight, she tucked a strand of short blond hair behind her ear and stared at her reflection in the window. Froggy. Bulging green eyes, a wide mouth, strong cheekbones: a face on track to make partner in a few years.


  1. Starting with a dream is difficult to pull off and it feel short here, as well. Not hooked.

  2. That is "fell short". If you feel short that is your deal, not mine.

  3. There seem to be a few entries that start with dreams today!
    Also beware the MC looking at their reflection description. It's always so tempting to want your reader to see what the MC looks like right away.
    I have no sense of what the story is about from these words.
    Your descriptions are good, I think you just need to find where the story really starts.

  4. I agree with Keith. Starting with a dream is a Don't, so I've read again and again. Because it was a dream, I didn't think anything really happened. Love your title.

  5. Loved the short, to the point, description of the women with the froggy eyes. i'm hanging on.

  6. I'm not extremely hooked. A little hooked, curious about the shadow. But then it went to the next day? I got a bit lost. I liked the details. Short sentences, stuff like that, though.

  7. I love the description of the woman (plus how do we know this is the MC? Same for all the openings). The title says an alien is going to show up (maybe under the car?). Hooked.

  8. Not hooked. Dream is a turn off. Also how can a face be on track to be made partner

  9. Doesn't really sound believable to me. Sorry.

  10. I'm not hooked. It seemed a bit generic to me.

  11. Like others, not crazy about the dream beginning, and don't like the device of MC looking at her reflection - but the description of what she sees made it worth it!

    Starting with what I fear will be a standard self-pitying "I'm not pretty" description, and then slyly turning it around as a positive that extends beyond her appearance. I love this. It makes me think you've got real control over the voice. Use that!

  12. I'm not turned off by the dream sequence. It's really short and interesting to me. However, it does feel as if these first few paragraphs jump around a bit too much.

  13. I'm turned off by the dream thing too, but the writing here is confident and enjoyable to read.

  14. I love this - to heck with the "don't start with a dream" thing. This is very well executed, and I love the dream-fists.

    It's the description of herself in the window that throws me. Froggy? And why do bulging eyes, wide mouth, and strong cheekbones reflect the face of a person on track to make partner?

    But I'd still keep reading. Hooked, despite the odd frogginess.

  15. Hi,
    I think the short dream sequence in sci-fi is very okay because there will be an obvious link to realty of both worlds: dream and waking time.

    I like this, so I'm hooked.

    little pickies: "suddenly" is typically panned by agents. I remember one agent saying "if I see one on the first page I move on! I think you can drop suddenly and it works or say "in a heart beat she did"

    instead of face, perhaps face and brains...but I get her self depricating humor and really like it. We just don't get enough frog faced heroines...

  16. I loved the dream fists too :) I also don't mind pieces starting with a dream. My only problems were with the way it all felt kind of choppy, from one thing to another without much pulling it together. I am curious though.

  17. Despite strong, solid sentences, have to agree with majority. Starting with a dream is begging for rejection. Plus it’s just a shadow. How can the reader emphasize with her fear?
    The jump from hotel to plane was too abrupt.
    “Froggy. Bulging green eyes, a wide mouth, strong cheekbones: a face on track to make partner in a few years.” Why would a froggy face be the sort to make partner? Also mirror observations are every bit as clichĂ© as beginning with a dream.

  18. I'm actually going to flipflop here - even with the whole rahr I feel about starting novels with dreams and characters waking up in a sweat.....

    I'm hooked by this.

    Despite the dratted 'I dreamed a dream and woke up' cliche.


    I don't think this is YA though, and I wish she didn't look in the mirror.

  19. It's not YA -- the heading says sci-fi/fantasy.

  20. I really liked this and have two comments. The line about the "glitter" of LA was one of the better I've seen describing LA. But the transition to the last paragraph, which was literally the next day, wasn't a good one.

  21. I thought this was a teenager until you mentioned becoming a partner in a few years...well, her face at least. And I'm a little surprised an adult would have a panic attack over a shadow...especially since she realized she was in a dream state.

    Not hooked yet...although your title may draw me in for a few more pages.

  22. Hi.

    Haven't read the other comments, but I wanted to say the first paragraph was engaging and the prose is smooth and flowing. But after that first paragraph, it felt a little melodramatic, probably because I don't know what she's afraid of and haven't been with her long enough to fear what she fears just because a character I care about is afraid of whatever it is, if you know what I mean. ;-)

    Hope that helps.


  23. Not hooked. Not becasue she has the dream, but because she dismisses it. There's not even a hint of - what if it's not a dream, or what if there's something to this? If she's thinking it's nothing to worry about, why should we worry?

    And then the sudden shift to her job threw me. I wasn't sucked into any of these moments.

    Maybe show us the effect the dreams have on her.

  24. @Jane - Yep. I was trying to figure out how to back up on a couple of comments I made before getting something to eat... =)

    I was under the impression this contest was supposed to be all YA earlier. Then I went back and saw the submission guidelines. Oops. Sorry...

  25. Not hooked by the first 250. Using the word staccato as a noun irritated my musical side (I'm pretty sure it's an adjective - could her heart be beating a staccato rhythm instead?), and the transition between the last two paragraphs was too rough for me.

    Still, I'd probably keep reading to find out who and/or what the accidental alien is. Great title.

  26. Krista, staccato is an adjective, an adverb, and a noun. Thanks for all your comments.

    Thanks to everyone else, too. I care about what the Secret Agent thinks, but I care about reader reaction far more than that.

    So many people said that they don't like stories that begin with a dream that I have to listen.

    I've also learned that readers expect the main character to show up right away, and to be sympathetic.

    This is a short chapter with a minor character who just shows up to be eaten. She's important to the plot.

    I'll have to rework the beginning and might start the novel with the second chapter.

    Thanks again for all the honest feedback.

  27. I'm chiming in late, but...

    Ditto the 'starting with a dream' comments.

    I like this concept: a froggy appearance with bulging green eyes being the kind of face to make partner. That stands out.

    I'd start out on the plane and/or where she's going to.

  28. I'd keep reading just because of the title. Nothing wrong with starting with a minor character - many books, especialy thrillers start this way.

  29. I loved the title. I didn't love the dream sequence, but I think you've got that message by now. I agree with Robyn's comment about starting with a minor character.

    The scene in the hotel room was too short. It's less than 250 words before we've changed scenes. An easy way to fix this is to meld the scenes. If you have to start with a dream, have her waking up on the plane, or start in the location where she gets eaten.

  30. What is up with all the books starting with a character waking up from a dream? This isn't as gripping a start as some authors seem to think it is. I would not keep reading.

  31. The secret agent has a lot of grammar errors in the critiques. I guess he or she or whatever was in a hurry to slam people.

  32. I'm the author, and I don't feel slammed. I'm a big girl, and am ready to hear what people think, good and bad. I will use the critisms to improve my writing.

    This blog is informal, like email. We don't want to pick people apart over their grammar.

    The Secret Agent can say whatever he or she wants. All the agents have been very generous to take part in these contests.

  33. Sam - thumbs-up for your attitude. :) Good luck on moving ch2 to the start - having deleted a (really nice, I thought!) prologue from my own WiP, I know how much it can hurt but also how much it can improve the writing.