Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November Secret Agent #5

TITLE: CONFESSIONS
GENRE: Literary YA

Dear Diary,

Sometimes I feel like I don't belong anywhere.

When I told my mom that, she said, “You belong here with me and your brother.”

I told her, “If that's true, how come you and Dave are as blond and light-skinned as angels, and I have thick black hair and dark skin?”

She didn't answer that one. She just told me to start a diary and write down my ideas and feelings. Like that's going to change anything. I think she did that because she's tired of hearing the same old questions from me. Maybe she thinks if I write things down, I won't have any more questions.

Okay, I'll write down my ideas and feelings.

MY MOM DOESN'T UNDERSTAND ME AT ALL.

All right, all right, I'm going to give this diary thing a try. I guess I'd try anything to feel like I belong. I went to the drugstore and bought this peach-colored notebook. Peach is my favorite color, although I like pink and lavender pretty much too. I don't have a dad and I've sort of gotten used to that. Sort of.

Okay, I admit it. I haven't gotten used to it at all.

13 comments:

Ammy Belle said...

Hm ... I think you have something here - there is obviously a budding story in all this, and I admit I am curious. And I must applaud you - this is a teenage girl, it really is, and you should be proud with the fact that you can speak with her voice.

Thanks!

Erin said...

I love how you opened with Dear Diary, then followed up with her conflict. My only comment is that there was no transition from her favorite color to her admitting she doesn't have a dad. Not sure if it was your intention (since teens tend to think randomly), but it caused me to pause. Other than that, well done!

S. Mozer said...

The beginning of this piece takes me right into your characters head. I know she doesn't fit in and feels misunderstood and different. I liked how you opened with her mom telling her to write a diary and her first real thought is "My Mom Doesn't Understand Me At All."

After that point though I can't tell if she is still writing in her diary and I find it a little confusing. The voice seemed different than the top. I would end the entry with the capitalized line for impact.

Barbara said...

I thought this was well-written and that you captured the teen voice. But I also felt like this didn't go where it needed to, which is basically 'why' she feels this way. I wanted to know 'why' she feels she doesn't belong. Is not looking like her Mom and brother enough? The obvious explanation is that, well, she looks like her dad, but there is obviously more to it than what she looks like, and that is never alluded to or hinted at. I think if you added that, if you went just a bit deeper, this would be a bit more compelling.

Leah Petersen said...

There was tons to love about this. I love her internal dialogue and the voice there.

That said, I felt like using the physical descriptions right there like that was just a trick to introduce physical descriptions and felt forced. I wouldn't have needed that info at this point anyway. And the sentence "Peach is my favorite color..." read awkwardly to me.

Besides those two points, I really loved this. I loved the caps "MY MOM..."

Great start.

Sharla said...

You capture the teen voice really well. She feels young, I'm assuming maybe 14 or so? I really like opening with Dear Diary. Very cool. Good hints at issues like not fitting in, and not looking like her family. My first thought is adopted?

The last paras after the CAP line I'm not sure is the diary entry? I think it is, but not sure. Again, love the voice, sounds totally like a teen girl's random thought process. I have a 16 yr old, so this rang very true!

Good job!

K. Cooper said...

I like that this is labeled as YA and the voice is at least young. I also like that the conflict, at least one of the conflicts, is presented well here. I'm sorry to say there are a few things that didn't gel for me, though. The first is that the voice seemed TOO young to me for YA. For one, her conflict revolves around how she looks different from her mother and brother. While yes, I'll be the first to say teens feel insecure about their looks, I highly doubt that's a strong enough conflict to drive a 14+ year-old's feelings of isolation from her mom and brother. It may be enough for a 10 year old or younger, but not for a teen old enough to qualify as YA. Her insecurities are more likely to be about how boys/peers view her looks, how her peers judge her relationship with her family, or how she isn't understood as a person/her mother doesn't listen. The rift in the family is more likely to be emotional than genetics-based. Second, the dialogue here about angels...that's the sort of stuff a younger kid would say. To me, a teen would more likely yell "Then how come you are light skinned with blond hair, and I have this [negative adjective] black [negative word for hair] and dark skin?" Skip the angels. It sounds too innocent for a YA conflict. Not to say that all YA must be dark, but as you grow up you slowly shed some of that innocence, and angel comparisons--especially when it comes to brothers--are the first things to go. The third is that while yes, teens are preoccupied, I can't see a YA writing about her favorite color in the middle of her conflict with her mom. Her writing is more likely to turn into a rant about her mom and/or lack of a father than to go into favorite colors. Younger children, Middle Grade children, are more likely to make that kind of tangent.

Secret Agent said...

Immediate thought—I would have picked this up in a bookstore because of the title (good one!).

Your text:

Dear Diary,

Sometimes I feel like I don't belong anywhere.

When I told my mom that, she said, “You belong here with me and your brother.”

Good. I’m intrigued—I remember diary entries of my own written in a similar vein. :-)

I told her, “If that's true, how come you and Dave are as blond and light-skinned as angels, and I have thick black hair and dark skin?”
“I told her” --> “I asked her”.

I also struggle with this question—I can’t imagine a teen asking this because the question has an obvious answer (“race”), one that the teen would have had contact with at school, etc., before.

She didn't answer that one. She just told me to start a diary and write down my ideas and feelings. Like that's going to change anything. I think she did that because she's tired of hearing the same old questions from me. Maybe she thinks if I write things down, I won't have any more questions.
You can clean this up. “I think she’s tired of hearing” picks up the pace. I’m also not sure if I like this character since she gives up so easily—it’s passive on her part to turn to the diary, but that may just be in her character, so I wouldn’t “judge” her on that note immediately. Overall, this is good.

Okay, I'll write down my ideas and feelings.
Good voice!

MY MOM DOESN'T UNDERSTAND ME AT ALL.
This is good! Totally teen-esque.

All right, all right, I'm going to give this diary thing a try. I guess I'd try anything to feel like I belong.
Cut that second sentence—I can’t imagine a teen thinking that explicitly, and this is also the first time you’re making the connection between not belonging and journaling; before it was asking questions and journaling.

I went to the drugstore and bought this peach-colored notebook. Peach is my favorite color, although I like pink and lavender pretty much too. I don't have a dad and I've sort of gotten used to that. Sort of.

Okay, I admit it. I haven't gotten used to it at all.

Ah, this is tough because I’m not sure where this diary entry ends, but based on this excerpt, I want to say end the diary entry after “I’m going to give this diary thing a try” and then skip to a scene in which there’s tension, perhaps related to the past. I think it will be more effective if you integrate this background information—about your MC’s dad—later. The goal in this entry should be to hook your reader (which I think it does) and then move on, pushing the story and plot forward.

Also, that first paragraph (drugstore, peach-colored notebook, etc.) is very young. In YAs, I look for sophisticated teen voices, and this falls a bit one-dimensional for me.

I’d keep on reading, yes, because I want to know more about the character. If I were reading this as a query in my inbox, one thing that would prompt me to pass is a too long and/or wordy diary entry—remember that scenes should start as late as possible and end as soon as possible, moving from one tense scene to another.

I do think that this could be much stronger, particularly in finding that place where the voice is 100% natural to teens (this didn’t do it completely for me).

calla4 said...

I thought you captured the teen's voice very well, but I'm not entirely hooked. The reason is that I found the scene telling and showing would've worked better here in my opinion. Maybe you could've started with showing the scene happen rather than telling it later in the diary. The part 'All right, all right' read a little forced and much older to me because I'm not sure a teen would say that.

Jonathan 3d said...

I like this, but I don't buy the premise that she doesn't know why she looks different from her mother and brother. Even young children in mixed-race adopted families ask about that. How could her mother not explain? And how young must she be to not know if she's adopted, had a different father, or what?

You could make this more compelling by showing her problem is that she's adopted and that's why she doesn't belong anywhere. In fact, why not delete the "Sometimes I feel like" and just go with "I don't belong anywhere?" That would make this less muddy and make a stronger MC, IMO.

I like the non sequitur of the color because that's how kids think, in my experience. You could transition it by saying "I wonder what my dad's favorite color is," or something to that effect.

Sarah P said...

You've got a good hint at conflict here, but I wanted you to push it just a little harder.

For starters, as someone who was adopted by parents of a different race, I had that pretty much figured out by kindergarten. Unless she lives in a very small town with a very isolated population, she's bound to see other people who look like her and start asking questions then, not at YA-age.

I'm also not sure about her writing dialogue in her diary. It might be more effecting to say "Mom said I belonged here with her and my brother. Yeah, right." Or something to that effect. Which brings me to another concern: She doesn't "sound" like a teenager to me until you hit the MY MOM sentence. She seems very young and very innocent. I wanted to see more attitude.

Good start, though.

Susan S said...

This is definitely a teen girl's voice, and that's not easy to write properly. I'm torn, because while I actually like the voice, and the diary interaction, I was left with a sense that "I've seen this before" and that I'd only be interested in reading on if I had some sense of real stakes. I know this is literary, but it would help if the girl had some issue beyond just the fact that she doesn't have a dad and doesn't fit in - yes, those are real problems, but it would help if I knew why this came to a head right now.

That said, there's definitely a place for a book about a girl finding herself without all the cliched backdrops of crime, sex, drugs and the paranormal, so I'd probably read on and see whether I continued to like her - because I do like your protagonist and I do care about her, despite the lack of stakes. (And that's kudos to you for making her that way.)

Phoenix said...

You set up an interesting question not just for your MC but for the reader, too.

It seems your voice is getting mixed reactions. I'm in the camp that finds it a bit young. And there does seem to be a very innocent quality to the MC. Which could be sweet except I'm afraid I wasn't buying that a teen would be questioning her coloring or that a mother would refuse to answer the question her teenaged daughter's apparently brought up over and over. As a reader, I'd like to know the answer. I'm just not sure this is the best way to bring up the MC's dilemma.

I also had a bit of trouble believing that, given her voice, she'd write punctuated dialogue in her diary. That's subtle, but one of those things that has to be watched as carefully as POV switches.