Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Agented Author #10

TITLE: A Line in the Sand
GENRE: suspense

The heavens faded from black to a dusky blue, arching like an inverted bowl over the inky waters below. Sprawled across a fragment of boat, Jake Chalmers raised his head and scanned the horizon. Darkness cloaked the expanse to the west, but in the east the circle of the earth etched a line of gold between ocean and sky. Pushing himself chest high, arms shaking, he studied the line for movement. Nothing. Nothing but the rising sun.

He rolled to his back and threw an arm over his eyes. Seawater dripped off his sleeve onto his mouth, stinging the cracks in his lips. He winced and pressed them together. A scum of brine coated the inside of his mouth, numbing his tongue and the back of his throat. Swallowing to generate saliva blazed a trail of salt down his esophagus to the pit of his stomach. His stomach heaved, but there was nothing to expel, not even bile.

A splotch of shadow crept from under his arm and inched toward the lapping water. Another morning. He counted to make sure. Three days. Three days now of going over and over the events until grief had swallowed and all but digested him. He fought off the images, shoved them back into the dark recesses of his mind. When he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, he dozed fitfully, jolting awake to scour the miles of shifting waves. Always it was the same. Nothing.

He made himself think of his family. Prayed to God. Reviewed his life. No hurry; he wasn't going anywhere.

Then the change came. Awareness crawled into his dreams and elbowed him awake. Rain? His body trembled at the thought. But when he looked up, the sun glared down from an empty sky. Beneath him, he realized--ocean, not sky. Motion, tugging him: a surge forward, then a stop. Surge forward. Stop. He shook his head, lifted himself off his stomach. What? At the next swell he glimpsed the horizon.


His heart slammed into high gear and he jerked to his knees. The water dipped, the land disappeared. The boat fragment slid forward. Stopped. Rose on the slow elevator of another swell. He held his breath.

An island slipped onto the horizon. Green, glistening like jade in the morning sun. High on one end, sloping to sea level at the other end.

He sucked in air and hurled it out in a cry that reverberated across the waves.

As if startled, the boat fragment jerked and threw him onto his stomach. He grabbed the vessel's edge. It rotated in a half circle and lurched forward on a new path. A path headed back to sea.

An ocean current--it must have caught the fragment where it hung upside down in the water. Jake studied the distance to the island. The current might veer back and sidle up to the island, or, just as likely, it might tow his broken sea vessel farther away.


  1. Very descriptive. It is very easy to see his despair and picture his condition. On the other hand, there wasn't any connection with the character himself. Well, maybe I connected some because I hope like heck he makes it to that island.

  2. I feel very strongly for the character and want to continue reading tos ee if he chooses to swim. However, I find the description a bit heavy, especially in the first paragraph.

    I would rather have something that connects me to your MC as a person, to his thoughts and fears, before the setting.

    Otherwise, excellent start.

  3. I agree, we need a better connection to the MC.

    Good descriptions, setting... but right now I don't care if a shark eats him.

    The Line... "He made himself think of his family. Prayed to God. Reviewed his life" Maybe rework this or add to it and gives us something specific he's thinking about. Build that connection here.

    Granted this is only 500 words, but if nothing significant happens to connect the reader in the next 200 words, you might lose the reader.

    You have a good start, but we need to feel for the MC.

  4. I like your voice. The main thing I noticed was that it started slow for me--the 3rd para. Also, I believe you need to go a bit deeper by showing his exhaustion and his emotions. He seemed detached.

    I'm wondering how he got there, so I would read a little more.

  5. Love the immediate action and the high stakes right away. The description was great, but I agree with the others and feel it should be toned down a bit to allow for more characterization.

  6. Injecting some emotion into the mc would pick up the momentum. Also, despite the mc's circumstances, I felt little tension, probably because we don't see his struggle to survive. I'm curious to see whether this will be a deserted island or maybe something creepy like in LOST. Good luck!

  7. Love the descriptions and the voice.

    Unlike others, I didn't have a problem with the heavy descriptions in the beginning. I loved them, and thought they were well-written and filled with perfect details. (Line of gold, the seawater dripping, scum of brine...)

    I do think the beginning could use more grounding, however. I found the descriptions so easy to get lost in, I floated right along with them and forgot what was going on.

    In spite of Jake thinking about his family, that's pretty glossed over. Especially considering the detail given to his current situation. I'm wondering if he wouldn't think of them more than not having anything to puke. Distracting himself, you know?

    So I'd suggest dropping a few strong details of his family in that paragraph. Make it seem like he actually is thinking of them!

    Otherwise, I really like this. I can't claim to know much about suspense, but I like the writing a lot.

  8. I agree with the other readers. Description is a little heavy, but the story eventually captured me. I am really hoping for Jake and would definitely keep reading!

  9. This is a strong idea to launch a story, and I like the tension at the end of the sample where he's so close to safety but then the delicate circumstances shift, putting the possibility of safety in question. It makes me feel like if he wants the island, he'll need to work for it, and that pulls me in as a reader--things should never be easy.

    Now, that said, I think probably half the description here needs to go because it drags the story under the weight of cumbersome imagery. Too, it doesn't quite match the exhaustion and semi-lucidness of the protag.

    Darkness cloaked the expanse to the west, but in the east the circle of the earth etched a line of gold between ocean and sky.

    Here's an example of what I mean. I had to read this slowly and try to picture it, then try to convince myself that this would come from the POV of a man who is barely clinging to life. It didn't mesh for me.

    I would strongly reconsider the opening because it starts with weather description. In an First Pages panel, if there was one thing that got on the agent's nerves, it was starting out with weather-related description. Too, by cutting this you can focus on building the emotional connection faster. It's the brine in the mouth, the cracked lips, the feel of his hand draping into the cold ocean...these are the sensory details that will build a connection to your protag. Pick a few strong details and cut the rest, focusing on pace and emotion. Give us an idea of what got him here (without dumping)--an explosion on a boat? Were lives lost? More importantly, what did he lose? You allude to his loss, but it isn't enough to make me feel his pain. If he's holding a colorful scrap of his daughter's dress who died when the boat blew up, now that makes me feel his pain.

    Now this is juat a simple suggestion: Show me a man about to give up hope. Show a man who is considering letting go, letting the waves take him. Then show the island and the possible salvation. Show how it begins to slip from his grasp just as it seems he will survive.

    Then make him work for it. :)

    Thanks for sharing your work!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  10. Well done! I really like the weather description in the beginning. It sets a murky tone, and if the story starts with the guy on the ocean, that's a vital element to include. I'd include a bit more about what's undoubtably his ravenous thirst or the aching loneliness of the terrifying situation he's in, rather than brooding on some sort of tragedy that led him there. Good writing.

  11. This is wonderful. Reminds me of Robinson Crusoe though. I am glad you didn't use this opening for a row of flashbacks.

  12. The start felt a bit slow to me, as if we should focus more on the sunrise than the fact that the MC may not get to the island after being adrift three days. A lot of people have already cited needing a reason to care about the character, and I can't really add to that. Good luck!

  13. For me, this story started when he saw the land. Why not start with the second sentence and have him wonder if he really saw land, and then pick up here: "His heart slammed into high gear and he jerked to his knees."

    I thought the description of the sea and weather was fine, but nothing I haven't read or seen many times, and not something I would keep reading. However, if this started with the character seeing desperately sought land, and realizing the current is taking him away--like he passed right by it in the night--is a great dramatic set-up, and would keep me reading, for sure.