Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Secret Agent Contest #44

TITLE: Skullhaven
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Lilly was five years old when her mother kissed her goodbye and told her she would be right back.

"Right back," she said.

But her mother didn't come right back.

She didn't come back the next day. Or the next. And, even though Lilly kept asking where her mother was, no one could tell her, because no one knew what had become of her.

And Lilly wondered what she had done wrong.

Shortly after that, Lilly was sent to Skullhaven orphanage. Not to visit. To live there, with Sister Rosemary and Sister Carmen. It was scary and unfamiliar. The other children played and laughed, but Lilly mostly sat by herself, wondering. And crying. As time passed, the other
children moved away to start new lives with their new families. Eventually there were no children left in the orphanage. Except Lilly.

She had been at Skullhaven for five years now. When she had first arrived, she spent her time looking out the big living room window. Waiting. She would part the delicate lace curtains and watch the cars drive past on the highway. Hoping. And wishing one of them would turn into the
gravel drive and her mother would be inside it. But she never was. Never.


  1. It's an interesting hook that the mom disappeared, but we need a little more show, not tell.

    There's a lot here - don't rush it. Set the scene with the mother and Lilly's last impressions. How did adults treat her when her mother was gone? When did they figure it out? How did Lilly find out?

    Backtrack, and create some tension. I like the idea.

    Also - take out the crying. We should feel sadness, instead of reading "crying" or "tears".

  2. I agree with Theresa. Interesting hook, but a lot of telling after that.

    And I confess, the cars on the highway threw me. The name Skullhaven sounded middle ages to me. Maybe set the stage a little more.

    Like Theresa said, take some time and really let us feel Lilly's sorrow at the disappearance of her mother. Let us sorrow with her because we loved the mother, too.

    The ideas are all there. And the name "Skullhaven" leaves a lot of room for my imagination.

  3. Great hook, but it gets repetitive with the 3 "Right backs" all in a row. That sounds like the inciting incident and as the other comments have said, we need to see this, experience this - SHOW us! Where was Lilly when her mother left? Any sensory details stand out that are recalled later on the book? A particular perfume or shade of blue? Something like that? Let us experience that loss with her and we'll want to read more.

    Good luck!

  4. I, too, love the hook of the first few lines. The cars and Skullhaven thing threw me also.

    I wonder though if Lilly is going to be an active enough character to carry my interest since she seems to have just spent five years pining away for her mother instead of doing anything. I'm hoping that now she's older she'll go out and look for her or something. For that alone, I'd keep reading.


  5. I love the sinister feeling I get for a name like Skullhaven for an orphanage. Just the place I would want to go to live as a child.

    I like the repetitive use you've used for several of the lines. It gives me a sense of her stuck in that grief for her missing parent.

    I certainly want to find out what happens to little Lilly.

  6. Thanks for sharing your work in such a public forum. That takes guts.

    My comments are just a quick impression, as if I were browsing in a bookstore.

    This has the whiff of a prologue about it. I would prefer you start with a scene, showing us the sort of girl Lily is ,and the kind of place Skullhaven is. (The name certainly sounds spooky.) Using the five senses and intersting details are the sort of things that draw a reader into the story. Start with Lily having a lesson, or an argument, or hiding from bullies... just something to put her into action.

  7. Yup, I agree with the previous posters. I want to see Lily in a scene, not just hear about her mother leaving. the girl left in an orphanage of course makes me think of A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR, which starts with the girl locked in the outhouse. So right away we feel sorry for her, plus it's unexpected. You need something like that here--a scene where Lily is doing something that shows us what sort of character she's going to be.

  8. I love the title and the story has a great hook.

    Maybe add a little more inner thought from Lily and tell us what she sat and thought about. It would give us a glimpse of her personality that way. Maybe tell us why she's scared.

    I would definitely read on though. It hooked me.

  9. Yes, I agree with previous posters, show don't tell. Although, the repition I did like, and remember, 3 is a magic number if you use it just right with repititions, so good job there. I know you only had 250 words to give us, so maybe all this show-don't-tell stuff starts with word 251. Overall, it made me curious, and I would read more, so I guess that means I'm hooked!

  10. Since I don't read the comments by others before I post, I may be repeating some of what they say. Or not. Please realize this is only one opinion. And if it's helpful, I'm glad. If not, well, then no matter.

    I like this. It has a nice voice to it. I'm assuming that after these few words, you'll zoom into Lily's world so we can know her better and root for her.

    I know some will say this is just backstory and to get on with the action. But I repeat myself, I like this.

    I'd read more.

  11. As with the previous posts, I agree. There is too much telling. Show us Lilly, show her going to the orphanage, etc. Maybe try writing the scene in 1st person to flesh Lilly out better.

  12. You gave us five years of Lily's life, and all she did was wait for her mother.

    Perhaps, instead of telling us this over and over, you might show scenes where other kids are playing and she's alone by a window, watching and waiting. Show us when the second to last child leaves and she's left at Skullhaven all alone. Get it some of her thoughts and emotions. What is she thinking and feeling? Is she mad at Mom for leaving her? Does she imagine something awful happened to Mom? What happened on that day they last saw each other?

    Make your opening all about Lily.

  13. Great title. Wonderful name for an orphanage - nice and foreboding. Great intro, although you repeated "right back" a little much. There's too much exposition and telling, as opposed to action and showing.

    ... kissed her goodbye and told her she would be right back.

    "Right back," she said.

    You've got the showing in the dialog, but you've also got the telling in the "and told her".

    There's some details missing - like what happened to her father if she had one. Who sent her to the orphanage? Why was she the only child left there? And so on.

    Still, it's a good hook, but I really have no idea where you are taking it. Ah well, 250 words. :-)

  14. Nice gothicy start. It MIGHT be too like a lot of other things I have read... or it might just be an homage to them.

    Either way, I would definitely keep reading.

  15. The name Skullhaven would keep me reading. I agree that there are a lot of tales that begin like this, but I like a lot of those books!

    Not that I expect to know this in the first 250 words, but I was just curious--where is the book set?