Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Secret Agent Contest #15

TITLE: Emma Undone

If the funeral were taking place in one of my Mom's novels, then it would be winter and it would be raining. The sky would be overcast, and there would be the distant rumble of thunder as the casket was lowered into the ground. The weather can't always match the occasion, though. Today the sky was a blinding blue, and in the manicured graveyard there was no escape from the Maryland sun.

My black dress grew damp, and my feet, enclosed in unaccustomed heels, were expanding by the second. I glanced at Mom, standing ramrod straight beside me, dressed in defiant yellow and movie star sunglasses. Despite makeup, her face was pale. Her bloodless lips were clamped together in the expression she had worn for the last two days, ever since she had walked into our newly rented apartment and announced, "Pack everything up, we're going home, your Grandfather died."

Beyond her stood my Uncle Greg. He was dressed in a sober black suit, his left arm around his daughter, Lilly. She was the only family member crying. Tears gently trickled down her face, in no way spoiling the loveliness of her features. If I had cried it would have been ugly, and my tears would have taken half my makeup with them, leaving me red eyed and puffy faced. I felt no urge to cry, though. A strange detachment had settled on me.


  1. I really like this. I love the voice, love the descriptions and want to keep reading. Great job.

  2. This starts a little slow for me. Not enough to not want to read more, but I think there could be a little more going on here. The other thing is that there are too many adjectives... blinding blue, manicured graveyard, unaccustomed heels, bloodless lips, etc. They slow down the reading.

  3. I like this and would keep reading. I think some of the wording was a little forced though. I wouldn't call it a graveyard: call it a cemetery. Graveyard is an outdated term and seems like you're trying to make it seem spooky, which it's not. I also didn't like "enclosed in unaccustomed heels" Usually, most of the foot is uncovered when wearing heels, not enclosed. I would think of a hiking boot as being enclosed. The other one was "the loveliness of her..." I think you could just say "in no way spoiling her beauty". Nice work though: I like the title.

  4. There was a lot of description here. Some of it worked, but for me it was too much. I'm trying to get a feel for the protagonist, but other than her attention to detail, I don't get anything really.

    I will say I loved the "defiant yellow and movie star sunglasses" part.

    I just wanted a little more meat and less seasoning, if you know what I mean.

  5. I think I read this in an earlier contest here. I'd start with the second paragraph and tone down the adjectives and weak was, had, and -ing verbs.

    Keep working on this!

  6. I think what's missing here are your MC's reactions to everything she's seeing. I thought the first parg. worked well to set the scene. Then she looks at Mom.


    To describe her.

    What is she thinking about her Mom? Why did she look at her in the first place? Those are things that are missing here. You can still describe her, but get us into your MC's head a bit.

    Same for the third parg. What does she think about her uncle and his daughter? Does she wonder why Lilly is the only one crying? Was she close to the dead uncle or is it a sham. What your MC thinks about these people helps build their characters, as well as hers. Her thoughts will tell us whether she's caring, sarcastic, bored, whatever.

  7. Nice opening to a novel.
    Clearly, this child of an extravagant novelist's (and we all know they're quite mad) old life has just dissolved and her mother is about to try to insert her into a new, more traditional, culture. One where the mother clearly has no intention of trying to fit in herself. She seems a touch domineering, and the fact that the protag is already having her confidence undermined by the lovely cousin would indicate that this girl is in for a hard time.
    I like opening with the novel comparison para. I love the defiant yellow and movie star glasses. I think so much is said without being said just through the observance of the scene.
    I wonder about the make up. Full make up at a funeral on a teenager? I think if you said eyeliner it might be enough. Or perhaps where she is from teenagers wear too much make up... and that will be another reason she is about to not fit in.
    Anyway, the set up is nice. Interested to see what comes next. Nice 250!

  8. Slows down a bit in the last paragraph, but I like it, and would definitely keep reading.

  9. I don't know whether this is just me, but I've now read four books where a character comments on how the weather isn't like how it should be in a book or a movie. So that felt a little cliched to me (I'm sure it's just because of what I've been reading lately, though).

    I got a good sense of character, though, and the writing flowed well so I'd definitely keep reading :)

  10. I actually like the detached description here. I could be wrong, but I think that's what you're going for to 'match' her feelings. However, the writing is bogged down with was, were, and had. I think using some 'action' verbs in place of these would help the flow. I’d keep reading because I like how the tone matches the MC’s mood. But to be honest if it continued to be peppered with these lack luster verbs, I wouldn’t get far.

  11. This was one of my favorites. I'd definitely keep reading.

  12. I wrote this long comment and it seems to have been eaten. Grr.

    Basically I like a lot about this. Even starting with the weather works, which it usually doesn't. I think you are hobbling yourself with passive voice and strange word choices.

    The dress growing damp feels passive; I'd rather have the damp dress do something (My damp black dress clung to my skin, for example.) Feet "enclosed" in shoes is awk. "Unaccustomed heels" makes it sound like the shoes are the ones with the problem. The bloodless lip sentence feels like a run-on.

    I also think you are squandering an opportunity here. You are in her head and able to make all these observations - I would love to feel like I am really getting her voice. It feels a bit... bloodless, at the moment.