Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September Secret Agent #2

GENRE: YA dystopian

The principal's office was bad, but the principal's office waiting room was much worse. Seth shifted in his toothpaste-colored seat and tried to concentrate on his homework (Problem number eight. Find the limit as x approaches e of the natural log of x, b-Reader droned inside his head), but his own thoughts were so loud he could barely hear the words.

What could Ms. Mahoney possibly want with him?

The secretary looked up then, almost like she'd read his mind. "Sorry for the wait." She flashed him a phantom grin. "But I think you'll find it worth your while."

Problem number eight. Find the limit as x approaches--

Seth pushed the words aside, out of thought. "What do you mean?"

She cupped one hand around the corner of her mouth. "Don't tell her I said anything, but ... congratulations."

Problem number--


"Not so loud!" The secretary leaned over her laptop, bleached blond curls bouncing stiffly, like she was going to say more. But then something on the screen caught her attention, and she didn't.

Problem number eight. Find the limit as--

Seth closed the calc book with a thought and exited b-Reader with another, but that only made way for a new flood of sounds and pictures, which burrowed into his brain with almost no thought at all. In the quiet of the waiting room, Stream Surfer's smooth-talking voices were impossible to ignore.


  1. "The principal's office was bad, but the principal's office waiting room was much worse."

    I think the first sentence is too wordy here. The repeat of "principal's office" drags it down. See what happens when you cut it out:

    "The principal's office was bad - the waiting room was worse."

    "Toothpaste-colored seat" is a unique description, but doesn't quite work because of the varying colors of toothpaste: white, green, red, blue...

    I like the exchange with the secretary.

    "Seth closed the calc book with a thought and exited b-Reader with another, but that only made way for a new flood of sounds and pictures, which burrowed into his brain with almost no thought at all."

    You're bogged down with repeated words again. Seth is "thinking" a lot. The fact that you're in his point-of-view means we already know what he's thinking. All the time. So perhaps avoiding all mention of thought would make this smoother.

    Overall, I like this. I think the excerpts involving his homework work really well when he's talking to the secretary. It shows how distracted he is, rather you as the writer telling us that his thoughts are scattered. So I think you can lose the "thought"-related sentences.

  2. There's a lot going on here. It's important to introduce the reader to the fact that this isn't 'here and now', but I feel like I've got too much to keep track of in such a short period of time.

    The focus seems like it should be Seth and what he's doing waiting for the principal, and the intermingling of information about the b-Reader detracts from that. If you could wait just a little more to introduce that, or tone down its presence, that would help.

  3. First I was struck by the fact that this is a little too wordy. Tighten the sentences. Don't say something in 20 words if it makes more of an impact if you say it in 5.

    Also, I found the interspersed math instructions confusing. And it seems to actually contradict what we're told: "his own thoughts were so loud he could barely hear the words." Most of what I remembered after the first read through was the math instructions because they're repeated.

    Be careful of using unique descriptions. "Tooth paste colored" and "Stream Surfer's smooth-talking" - these actually pull me out of the narrative because they're so jarring and also hard to place.

    Related, be careful with using descriptors for things that aren't important. Is there any reason I need to know the secretary has bleached blond curls bouncing stiffly? It's a good detail, but she's an unnamed character. I'd rather know something about Seth.

    While waiting in the principal's office is an interesting set up, I don't know what's going on. I don't know enough about Seth, and as soon as the secretary says "congratulations" the tension of him possibly being in trouble is gone. Also because this was distracting, I probably wouldn't keep reading.

  4. There's some interesting elements here but it's all over the place. I like the idea of kids having computers in their heads but I need a clearer idea of what kind of world this is. The secretary is unnecessary. She breaks the tension.

  5. For me what's missing here is the Dystopian set-up/world building. Not all Dystopians have to be set in futuristic arenas or post-apocalyptic wilderness, but what separates this reality from our own? How does this society function differently-- even if it's just small details, world-building can (should) begin immediately.
    I think there's a hint of it in the listening to the b-Reader, but at least from the set-up, that could be like a podcast or something).
    I'm just not grounded enough in the setting to understand what is going on. However the voice is good and I see potential in this as an opening.
    Good luck!

  6. i found this intriguing.

    I got the feeling that things aren't going to go as Seth expected. I would like to have known why the principal's waiting room was even worse.

    I found the last paragraph a bit confusing and I would have liked to know who/what Stream Surfer was.

    Good luck with this.

  7. I think you do a good job showing that this kid has a computer in his head right away - and that you've done a good job showing that rather than telling it.

    Sure, the math problem is distracting to the flow of this first page, but I imagine that's because we're supposed to get a feel for what it's like to have a computer in your head, no? I think that's a cool thing to do and I can imagine it being used in interesting ways in other parts of the book.

    I guess the secret agent's point about the descriptions has merit (details about Seth probably would be better than details about the secretary), but I like the descriptions you've used on this page.

    This is good place to start a story and an interesting idea. I like the voice here,too. I think repeating "principal's office" in the first paragraph was more of a voice thing than anything else, and I liked it, though you could change it if you want.

  8. I like this and would read more. There is some repetition though and excess words that could be cut out, but I liked the voice.

  9. I liked this, though I might be biased because I lurve me some YA Dystopian. However, the first instance of the math problem--nestled within that first paragraph--totally threw me. I have no idea what a b-Reader is, and I didn't understand, at first, that it was speaking to him in his head.

    I think maybe you should cut the amount of times the problem appears, because I do like the bits of world-building it throws in.

    I was confused by Stream Surfer, but also intrigued because I think it's like a podcast or something.

    So yeah, I like this and I would keep reading, but I think the way you write your world-building makes it a little off-putting to folks who aren't as obsessed with Dystopians as I am. :)

  10. You throw us right into this world, and I like that. No data dumps or excessive exposition. You don't spoon feed us an explanation about the b-Reader, you leave it for us to figure out as we read further. And a sharp reader will figure it out quickly. That said, I agree with the previous comments - the constant repetition of the problem does distract from the narrative.

    Do we even need to know the problem? Stephen Hawking was told, when he wrote A Brief History of Time, that every equation in the book would cut sales in half. While that book was enormously successful for him, I would worry the presence of that equation in the second sentence of your book could alienate potential readers.

    Would the calc book still be called a 'book' if it's all in his head? Maybe 'file' or 'app'? I ask because the question popped into my head when I read it, pulling me out of the story.

    Using "principal's office" twice in the opening sentence detracts from the sentence and therefore diminishes the sentence's impact as a hook. Why is the waiting room worse? Is it the toothpaste-colored seats? What color is that? Is the waiting area imposing because Seth's been there before, when in trouble? I get the impression he's surprised the Ms. Mahoney wants to see him, which suggests he doesn't get into trouble, which begs the question why would the office and waiting area be bad for him?

    Is there something you can tell us about the room in the first sentence that will pull the reader in? That detail could be your hook.

    I'm not bothered by learning that he's not in trouble, as by that time I'm involved enough to be curious about the purpose of the summons, good or bad.

    Is Stream Surfer a pop culture reference, or something that's native to your book? If the first, I didn't get it. If the second, hopefully we learn a bit more shortly after these 250 words end. Otherwise the reader will be distracted.

  11. I found the math part distracting. Once was fine, but repeated it grated. As did some of the description. Toothpaste can be any number of colours so calling something toothpaste-coloured doesn't really describe it at all.

    The technology references also jarred me. I don't know what a b-reader is, or who Stream Surfer is, and it bugged me. I'm interested enough to find out what he's being congratulated for though, so would probably read on a little, but unless it went somewhere good, not much further.