Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April Secret Agent #38

TITLE: The Cacao Conspiracy
GENRE: Suspense

Peta Blackman lugged a blue icebox across the jungle clearing. She placed it on the ground before a small boy and removed the lid.

The boy leant forward and peered inside. His eyes widened. Nestled on top of an array of drinks and ice was a single bar of chocolate. Peta grinned. At eight years old, little Wilfried was about to get his first taste of the sweet treat.

"Surely this kid has had chocolate before," an English voice said next to Peta. She looked up and saw Nathan, an actor and documentary narrator. "I mean, he lives on a cacao farm. This is where it comes from!"

"The beans may be grown here, but they're processed in developed countries," Peta said. "By the time they're turned into chocolate, they're too expensive for the growers to buy."

"Oh spare me the bleeding heart story," Nathan said, rolling his eyes.

Peta turned away and surveyed the clearing. Wilfried's father hovered nearby while a gaggle of older brothers lolled against trees. The documentary crew was bent over equipment, readying for the first take. Cacao trees surrounded them, with colourful pods ripe on the trunks. Banana and mango trees grew in a riotous tangle - apparently cacao trees flourished among other crops. As a location scout, it offended Peta's sense of what a plantation should look like, but she had been ordered to find a typical cacao farm in Ivory Coast and she had delivered.

A movement caught Peta's eye. Gunshots rang out.


  1. I'm hooked, and not just because I love chocolate. I think you did a fantastic job of describing the setting in a way that makes you feel like you're there. The documentary aspect of it is really interesting too. I'd keep reading. :)

  2. I'm not hooked. The last line is interesting, but the "before" in the first line throws me. It is archaic (so is leant not leaned, but that may just be me) and you mean "in front of." I'm not sure if it is spacial or temporal.

    I want more of Peta and less of the others. I also feel like, shouldn't Nathan know this already? I mean, if he is there to make a documentary wouldn't he already know that they don't eat it? It slows down the action to give us info. I'd think about getting to the gunshots more quickly and saving that info to give us later.

  3. All the way through reading this I was thinking no, I'm not hooked. It's not the writing, I just wasn't very interested in a cacao farm. Then I got to the last sentence and changed my mind. It's a suspense story, and you had action happening early enough to make me want to read on.

    I was a bit thrown by Nathan's snide comment. If he's interested enough to ask, then why be rude when she answers? Also, the line 'The documentary crew was bent over equipment' seemed a little clumsy compared to your other writing. I think it's the word 'was'. Could you perhaps find another way of phrasing this?

    That three word sentence at the end would be enough to make me want to read on to at least find out who's shooting and why, and whether anyone is going to die.

  4. The writing seemed a bit mechanical- maybe vary your sentence structure a little bit? For whatever reason, I'm not quite hooked. Although the documentary crew idea was interesting, I didn't really get a sense of Peta's character- when she mentioned the chocolate fact, it seemed more like she was reading it from a book than an actual person speaking.

  5. From the start, I was interested in your short, to the point sentences. As I read about the documentary, I thought maybe this was a device that you were using to convey the feel of someone who is cataloging her surroundings. I'm not really sure that's what you were trying to do, but it makes the read interesting that way.

    However, you might want to make a little more of Peta without listing her surroundings. For example, you might have her walk past some of the banana and mango trees in a riotous tangle (liked that!) gets the character active and also shows your setting rather than making it passive.

    Good start. I'd keep reading.

  6. Like the commenter above, I also liked the "riotous tangle" - that gave me a good picture, and I also felt like I learned a little something about cacao trees flourishing among other crops.

    I liked the interaction between Peta and Nathan. It gave me a feel for both of their personalities.

    And yes, that last line would keep me reading. I want to know who's shooting and why.

  7. The voice seems inconsistent - the writer announces that the child is about to get his first chocolate (presumably from Peta's POV) but then the actor surmises that it's the child's first chocolate - how does he know this?

    And much of the scene seems contrived just so Peta can deliver all this information about cacao.

    Not hooked, sorry.

  8. I remember this from before, and I think you've really improved on it a ton, it reads much better now. The only thing I didn't like was the very last two sentences which felt overly abrupt to me, like you were trying to fit in the action before the page ended. I'd maybe find a way to rewrite those so they sound more natural (they'll still be a shock even if they're slightly more detailed).

  9. I'm hooked, but only because I want to see what happens with the gunfire. Otherwise, I can't get into the story because I'm mostly watching what the MC does and listening to what she says. There's no way to connect because there isn't a sense of what she's feeling or what's going through her head other than she likes how the plantation looks. I can see what's going on around her, though, the description of the area is clear. I'm just curious if it's hot, is the sun shining, can she smell tilled earth or cocoa?

    One thing I learned at a conference, in reference making a connection with the MC, is that when someone grins or smiles or smirks, try and give a reason or reaction.

    *Reason if the MC grins: Is she happy to be there? To be the one to give the boy his first chocolate? Does she think it's cute?

    *Reaction if someone else grins: Does it make her uncomfortable? Does it make her angry? Does she see it as a sly expression or a genuine one?

    Moving on, a perfect spot to insert some emotion is when Nathan makes his remarks. Is she disgusted by them? Does she think Nathan is an idiot, or does she think he's just uneducated? And speaking of Nathan, when it reads "English voice" does it mean an English accent or a voice that speaks English?

  10. I thought this had problems, but they're all easily fixed. She puts the icebox down before a boy. She knows his name so why isn't he Willfried here?

    If he's never had a chocolate bar before, how does he know the chocolate bar is a chocolate bar? And how does he know it's for him? Pehaps have Peta give it to him or tell him to take it. Let him reply in some way. How does she feel in presenting this gift?

    How does Nathan know the kid never had chocolate before? What does Peta think of him and his comment?

    Peta turned away and surveyed the clearing. Wilfried's father hovered nearby . . .

    Cut the - surveyed the clearing
    Say Peta turned and saw Wilfried's father . . .
    Surveying the clearing or room or anything else is a beginner thing. If she's describing it, she has to be seeing it.

    In the 2nd last parg, Peta is doing nothing while you describe scenery. As someone else suggested, have her doing something and work the scenery in piecemeal.

    And as Tangynt said, work in her reactions and feelings. Those will make her seem more real, as opposed to a name on the page.

  11. I'm definitely interested in the gunfire, but I think that what comes before needs to be re-focused.

    I like Willfried's involvement in this, but I think there's a bit too much of Nathan and the Crew and too little ACTION.

    I'd love to see you cut the "Oh spare me the bleeding heart story" sentence (we already get the sense Nathan is not nice) and then use the last paragraph to focus less on the crew and the setting and more on developing Peeta's voice.

    I also feel like "a movement caught Peeta's eye. Gunshots rang out" could be better linked. It seems more sequential than it seems cause & effect, and I don't quite get the connection between what exactly Peeta saw and the gun shots.

  12. I like seeing Peta share the chocolate, it gives insight into her character, but I think the scene and her explanation could be tightened up a bit, just so we can get into some suspense earlier on in the page. An understanding of what she's actually doing there might help too. I don't know what it means to be a "location scout" really.

  13. Thanks for your useful feedback everyone. I appreciate that you took the time to crit, and I'm going to rewrite my first page based on it.

    I think part of the problem stems from the fact that I was trying to get the gunfire in the first 250 words. I had made my first page longer after the Baker's Dozen auction, based on the feedback I received there, so trying to decide what to cut to get it back to 250 was difficult. But I've come up with an idea of how to rewrite it to add a bit more action, then I suspect Victoria will be finding a query in her inbox :-)