Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#2 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Veiled Iron
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Layla knew she was in luck the moment the woman with the whip started snoring. The sound began as a whistle and deepened by minutes, until Layla felt reasonably certain the night warden wouldn't catch her sneaking out. A heartbeat later, she slipped to a crouch beside her bed.

Ama Devlet shifted on her divan.

Layla froze. Across the rows of sleeping girls, she watched the ama draw her whip-switch closer to her bulk, her snore as calm as the canal running through Rising Sun Academy.

Quickly, Layla mounded her bedding into a decoy. She had to get outside. Physical exercise was essential for an athlete's sleep. Without it, she could lie awake all night, her thoughts circling on when her father might find her a husband. A marriage would secure her future but it would also end her freedom forever.

She rose from her hiding place. A kaftan hung from a nail above her bed. She lifted it down and slipped her arms through the sleeves, whisper silent.

But few things were so quiet in the girl's dormitory that night. As Layla eased across the floorboard joints, a new sound joined the snoring: the rhythmic clopping of iron-shod hooves on the lane outside.


Holding her breath, Layla slipped past the night warden. The door closed behind her on noiseless hinges. She exhaled. Who could be riding up to her school at this hour?

The abrupt jingle of tack told her the horses had stopped somewhere in the grass of the boys' courtyard.


  1. "A heartbeat later, she slipped to a crouch beside her bed."

    I love that line. It creates an immediate visual and communicates a lot about her as a character.

    I like your first line, too, but it made me think that she didn't know the name of the woman, so I got confused when you refer to the same woman by name. I think having the whip included in the first line definitely is a great way to start... Maybe something like:
    Layla knew she was in luck the moment Ama Devlet started snoring, even though the whip was still gripped firmly in her hand.

    Also, I was confused by this sentence at first:
    "Physical exercise was essential for an athlete's sleep."
    Maybe just add a couple more words to show that she is the athlete in question.

    In general, though, you do a great job of smoothly incorporating details to create Layla's world. And I love your style of writing!

  2. Your writing is lovely. I'm not entirely sure why she's sneaking out--to exercise? I had to reread to make sure it wasn't that she was trying to escape the Academy altogether to avoid an impending arranged marriage. Other than that, I thought it read smoothly and I, too, am curious about who the rider is!

  3. Agree with the above, although I was a little confused as to why she STOPPED snoring was a good thing because couldn't that mean she'd woken up? Maybe clarify that

  4. I agree that the reason she's sneaking out is a bit confusing. To me, it feels like she's taking a big risk to just go run around the yard. But on that same point, the tension in the scene is very well done. The only thing I found a little awkward was how you introduced the fact that she's an athlete (I do want to know more about what that means) and destined for an arranged marriage. Unless us knowing that her being an "athlete" is essential right now, it would be less distracting to just say that she couldn't sleep and needed to blow off some steam. And then keep the explanation of why. Otherwise, I thought this read very well, and I enjoyed it!

  5. I can do nothing more than agree with everyone else, here. There's just a little too much going on. Ama Devlet seems to be the woman with the whip, who may also be "the ama" and "the night warden". Also Ama seems to be a title, rather than a name.

    I would thin the prose, maybe remove the reference to the arranged marriage at this early stage.

    "Holding her breath, L slipped outside, closing the door behind her on noiseless hinges." removes the night warden (who hardly needs another mention - assuming it's the same person).

    Having said all that, point me at the rest of it, please!

  6. I liked your premise and found it interesting. From what I can tell, you called the same person(the night guard) three different names within the first couple of paragraphs. It got really confusing and I had to re-read it a few times. Also, it strikes me as odd verging on silly that she is sneaking out at night (and apparently risking a lashing) to exercise. If that is what is happening you need to give her a realistic reason and make it clear immediately what that is.

    Otherwise, the world is very interesting. I'm curious about the riders.

  7. First thought while reading:

    Who is Ama Devlet?

    In the next paragraph you clarify that she is the woman with the whip, but there's no reason for that initial confusion. Why not replace "the woman with the whip" with "ama Devlet" -- her whip comes into play later.

    The phrase "deepened by minutes" seems inexact to me. Clarify?

    Overall, I'd like a little more description of the moment in the moment rather than background.

    On a similar note: If the focus here is on the strange and unexpected riders, why not let that be what draws Layla out of her bed? Her being an athlete and wanting to train seems inconsequential -- at this point -- compared to the riders.

    Really, I'm simply agreeing with the others in terms of narrowing the focus. Whether you cut the marriage or the training or the riders, it all boils down to making this opening about a single event rather than a combination of several.

    I'd keep reading, but only to see what those riders bring to the table.

  8. Like others have mentioned, I was really interested in that rider (plus the introduction of a boys dorm) and I would definitely keep reading. You handled all the action--getting Layla out of the bed and out the door--really well, with simple but exciting sentences.

    That being said, I think the only stumbling block comes in the paragraph beginning, "Quickly, Layla mounded her bedding..." It seems like the information here is probably the most important to the story--the exercise, the arranged marriage--but it could be brought into the scene more smoothly.

    Nice work!

  9. This is intriguing, but it has some problems. The writer inserts him/herself too often. In the first two paragraphs, we have the woman with the whip, the night warden and Ama Devlet - all of whom I suppose are the same person. There's no reason to refer to her three different ways in this space of time - it seems like it's there just to instruct the reader, and it's distracting.

    Comparing a snore to a canal running through Rising Sun Academy comes across as an info dump - and it's not particularly good comparison.

    Look at the 5th paragraph. Instead of
    A kaftan hung from a nail above her bed. She lifted it down and slipped her arms through the sleeves, whisper silent.
    She lifted down the kaftan that hung on a nail above her bed and slipped her arms through the sleeves, whisper silent.
    or just
    She slipped on the kaftan that hung on a nail above her bed, whisper silent.

    The first way is the writer instructing the reader - in either of the other two choices, the writer isn't apparent. And that's what's needed.

    Think of a movie - you don't want to see or hear the director. Writers need to weave in the things the readers need to know, not just state them.

  10. I agree with everybody else. Just one additional comment. She says she's concerned about the arranged marriage because she'll lose her freedom, but she doesn't seem very 'free' in this scene--she has to sneak out, risking a whipping, if she wants to exercise.

  11. know, you have an interesting scenario here. A lot of my problems had to do with setting. At first, I thought she was in a jail. Then I find out she's in boarding school and that changed my whole perspective. A bit hard keeping up with that.

    Also, I don't really think the night warden's name is so important. I think the first sentence would run much more intriguing if you said, "Layla knew she was in luck the moment the night warden started snoring." The woman with the whip? Is it supposed to be intimidating? I think the whip can be used in another section, such as when she sneaks out the door and spies the whip and shudders or something..

    Also, I'm big on characterization. I don't get a sense of Layla's character at all except that she's an athelete.

    I'm also big on writing style. There wasn't particularly anything in this writing style that made an impression on me. "Layla froze." "Holding her breath...", "Quickly, Layla mounded..." I don't know, it all just seems as if I've heard it before, but I do like the "A heartbeat later" line and I like your title.

    Overall, I would keep reading, but mind you for the SOLE purpose of the boy's courtyard thing. I'm a sucker for romance. xP

    Good luck!

  12. I agree with everything that has been said before. Also I think we need a few more clues to the kind of world you have and a little more description. We don't need lavish details, but enough that I can create a mental image. I'd introduce the woman with the whip's job first. For me, I think opening by telling us what the character knew saps the action from the sentence. Maybe consider something like: Layla was in luck the moment the warden started snoring.

  13. I thought Ama Devlet was the name of another girl at first. I didn't connect her with the warden, probably because in most cases, characters are named first before being referred to by descriptive terms. Given you don't want confusion on your first page, I'd name the warden first, making it clear she has a whip, and refer to her as the night warden the second time she is mentioned.

    I also felt there was a lot of telling in this piece. You tell us she's an athlete and why she's sneaking out, you tell us about her father and the arranged marriage and what that will mean for her future.

    When you strip away all the telling, you have an effective excerpt that builds suspense well. I think all we need to know on this page is that Layla is sneaking out. The warden with the whip shows us that Layla shouldn't be leaving, and gives a hint that her world is different to the one inhabited by most of us. The sound of the horses at the end is good because it raises the tension. Why are they there? And will the noise wake up the warden?

    Rewrite this to make the warden's name clearer and get rid of the telling and this will be great.

  14. I had to keep readjusting my idea of where I was. At first, I thought she was trying to escape a prison. Then I thought, nope, she's in some type of dorm at a school for athletes. Then she was worried about losing her freedom, and I started thinking 'What freedom?' A woman with a whip is guarding them and she has to sneak out.' Then, it seems, her father knows she's there, so maybe it's a place where parents send there daughters to prepare them for marriage? And at the end, I learn it's some kind of school.

    You have some interesting stuff going on, but it's really too scattered for me. As others have said, focus on one event. Forget about filling in the reader. The things they need to know will come out when they need to. Just tell the stoy--what is happening at that moment.

  15. I love the tone. And your imaging is great.
    "A heartbeat later, she slipped to a crouch beside her bed." is my favorite, but the whole scene painted a picture of what was going on.

    However, I'll admit that at first, I thought she was trying to escape a jail/dungeon('woman with the whip' made it seems like it was her guard whom she didn't know, due to not being in there long). So it threw me off a bit when I realized that wasn't the case.
    Also, you called the sleeping lady 4 different things. Woman with the whip, night warden, Ama Devlet, and the ama. It was a bit confusing.

    I'd probably read at least the next few pages, but this didn't grab me. Sorry.
    Good luck!

  16. Hey, Secret Agent here! There’s some strong writing going on in this sample, and it definitely sets the scene. The marriage part threw me—it seemed out of left field, but you worked a lot of other details in very well. I like how much action there is here, even if I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with all these antagonizing forces—warden, dad, riders—right off the bat. That could be simplified.

  17. I like your first line a lot...but I thought she was being held hostage. Overall, I thought this passage was very confusing with too much information and too many diverse things going on. I think the idea of an academy where the kids are guarded at night by someone with a whip is interesting, but that premise was lost in all the other confusing details.