Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April Secret Agent #47

GENRE: YA Fantasy

With difficulty I'd remember the last day of my former life; no hint or clue warned me it was about to change. One small thing set off a chain reaction causing my ordinary life to wobble. A bolt of lightning streaked towards me, forcing me forward, in a brilliance of pain.


Middle of the room, sitting up pin straight, in a wooden desk I attempted to pay attention to the mathematics lesson, a daunting task.

"Kyra, would you accompany me to the corridor?" said Miss Sharrow.

I jumped at the sound of my name. "Why was I being asked to the corridor?" I'd done nothing to deserve a reprimand. With dread, I stood, smoothing my plain high-necked blue long-sleeved dress. My worn shoes echoed across the stone floors, drawing eyes that bored into my back. Self-conscious, I tried to walk quieter. Without glancing back, I followed her in silence.

"I need you to deliver a message to Professor Wicksome's office," said Miss Sharrow.

My eyes widen at the request. "But isn't that in the forbidden sections, Miss?"

"Yes, it is, but it can't be helped," she said, staring down at me sternly. I scarcely reached Miss Sharrow's shoulder, even though I was almost seventeen. Everyone always told me I'd hit a growth spurt, but at barely five feet, I never did.

Miss Sharrow thrust a parchment map and a heavy letter with the ornate letters "N" and "H" stamped in a red wax seal. "I'll be waiting, expecting your return."


  1. You don't need the adverb "sternly". Anytime you use an adverb, stop and ask yourself if there is a more active way to say it. Adverbs are generally passive, and telling.

    Glaring, is a better word choice than "starring sternly".

    I'm not hooked. The opening paragraph was meant to be the more interesting hook, but I found it to be awkward and confusing. In most situations, simple tends to be best. This feels superfluous, like you're trying to make it sound more sophisticated than it needs to be. The opening paragraph can be summed up to say, "My life changed in an instant."

    I don't like flowery or wordy writing, so keep that in mind. I'm just one writer, and someone else might disagree. :) Good luck!

  2. I'd scrap the first paragraph and start with "Middle of the room,..." This way, you're starting right where the action does. I'm also not a huge fan of flowery writing, and think if you took out a few adjectives/adverbs, it would be stronger (though I like the description of Kyra's clothes as it gives a sense of atmosphere). I like the idea of the 'forbidden sections' and think the premise is interesting. I also love your MC's name, but that could be because it's my daughter's name too. :)

  3. I agree with the above two posters that I would cut the first paragraph.

    You put quotes around the line "Why was I being asked to the corridor?" indicating it was spoken outloud but it seemed like the MC was thinking it not saying it so I was a little confused.

    You heavily describe some aspects such as "plain high-necked blue long-sleeved dress". One suggestion is to pick only 1 or 2 critical adjectives. It makes her dress seem extremely important and, for me, slowed me down when reading (read the sentence out loud).

    Another suggestion would be looking for words to trim to help the flow of the opening. For example, Miss Sharrow's line: "Yes, it is, but it can't be helped." is wordy, something like "It can't be helped." moves things along.

    Of course, I'm just one person so feel free to ignore me :) Good luck and thank you for sharing.


  4. I agree with Kristi. Scrap the first paragraph, or be more direct with it. I like shorter first sentences anyway. Also, I think you could take out some modifiers to make the sentences stronger and keep the flow moving forward. (I also don't like to get bogged down with flowery writing...personal preference.) I know you want some of those descriptors in there, BUT trust your audience! We should be able to tell from the dialogue what the "tone" is.

    Other than that, I do find your beginning interesting, so best of luck!

  5. I would cut the first paragraph. Don't give me backstory in the first lines. Or alternatively, if what follows is a flashback, it is happening too soon. So, in that sense I agree with the above posters.

    Also, the description--and I know getting description in in first person is tough, because we don't usually think of ourselves that way--doesn't work.

    It is intriguing. The "why" quote is odd though. In 1st person she can just ask it. I definitely second the "choose strong verbs rather than verb + adverb combo" advice, too.

  6. I think this might have an intriguing story hidden behind some syntax issues.

    With difficulty I'd remember...
    With dread, I stood...
    Without glancing back, I followed...

    I think you may be trying to avoid starting too many sentences with 'I' by using this construction, but I'm afraid it stood out to me as a little awkward.

    I am interested, though, in the world you've started to show us here, and for some reason the dress she's wearing intrigues me. Good luck :)

  7. I agree with Casper. I think it's okay to start with more I's, particularly when writing first person. It gets your point across cleaner. I also get why you are trying to avoid it and varying your sentence structure. It's hard, isn't it? I know. I right there with you. ; )

  8. I like the story a lot. I want to know where it's going and what happens next. I do agree with other commenters about adjectives/adverbs and syntax though.

    I wanted to add that I don't think you need to tell us she's self-conscious. I feel that just showing her trying to walk more quietly when she's noticed people looking at her already says she's self-conscious.

  9. I agree with cutting the first paragraph. It doesn't add anything. Most books are about the MC's life changing in unexpected ways, though the lightning is a unique touch.

    Apart from that, this is like the last entry I critted - technical issues are preventing me from being hooked. eg. In the first sentence of the second paragraph, she should be sitting at a desk, not in a desk. I agree with Casper that you're overusing that particular type of sentence construction, and I do understand why, but it's standing out which isn't good. And yes, this is hard :-)

    A few more things: You switch to present tense in the third-last paragraph. You don't need speech quotes around Kyra's thoughts. It makes it seem like she's saying it out loud. You're in first person so thoughts can be part of the narration.

  10. Need more to happen, or to get to know the MC better. And need something to convince me this isn't going to be another Harry Potter wanna-be.

  11. I got lost somewhere between the first and second paragraph. I vote get rid of the first, I don't know what it's for exactly, or put it somewhere else, or do something else with it. It's lost? I was. Other than the quotes around thoughts that was mentioned and adjectives etc, I liked it. Tighten it up a bit, but I think you have something there.

  12. Not hooked yet, but with some editing I could be.

    I agree with previous posters about the first paragraph and sentence construction. There seems to be some debate about the dress description. I'm afraid I'm in the 'no' camp. It seems far too much for a first person PoV.

    A few things I noticed. As always, take what you want and discard the rest :)

    'At a desk' not 'in a desk'.
    "Why was I being asked to the corridor?" is just a different way of saying what the teacher already said. Perhaps she could think 'why me?' or something similar.
    'tried to walk quieter.' More quietly maybe?
    'I scarcely reached Miss Sharrow's shoulder, even though I was almost seventeen. Everyone always told me I'd hit a growth spurt, but at barely five feet, I never did.' I like how you've got her age and height in here but the last bit seems to be a little off. It's not her height that stops her from hitting a growth spurt, more likely her age. How about something like:
    'I scarcely reached Miss Sharrow's shoulder, not surprising at barely five feet. Everyone told me I'd hit a growth spurt, but by almost seventeen I never had.'

    As I say this is just personal opinion but I hope some of it was useful. I'd be interested in reading a revised page.

  13. I think you just need to tighten up the writing screws here a bit more, to make every word count. Some of the above comments bring up some very good points. Use the comments that work for you.

    I really like the overall concept/feel of the second sentence, but think it can be rephrased a little stronger. It would make a great opener if done right, a hook. I'd drop your first line altogether, because it is a tell. You can show us how life changed for Kyra as the events unfold in the story.

  14. The beginning left my confused. Instead of pulling me into the story, I feel like it was pushing me out. I don't get a feel of our MC until the teacher calls her name. After that I read with more interest, only to feel like I was being pushed out again.

    You have to grab onto the importance of this scene and not let go. The important part is her being sent to the office, so everything else is just building that up. If we get a strongly feel of your MC, we'll be in the story with her, walking across those stone floors with her.

  15. Very nice, I especially enjoyed the smooth, polished flow of the storytelling.

  16. Everyone's given you lots of good tips and there's not much to add. I'd suggest cutting the first parg because it tells us what is going to happen, and then in the following pargs, you show it. You don't need both, and showing is almost always better.

    I thought the overall idea worked. You've set us in a different world and you give us the hook of the forbidden section. The problem lies in the writing. Use the suggestions already mentioned and you can make it work.

  17. Just some grammar (too many commas) and sentence structure juggling and this is a nice opening. I like that its set in the past and I like how Kyra views herself. I felt that long walk down the aisle with her :) I like how she already has a reason to be nervous, it makes me want to read on. Yay!

  18. I like the first line a lot, and I think the opening paragraph is the strongest. I was curious about the letters "N" and "H" stamped in the wax.

    I don't get a sense of time or place. Where and When are we? I also felt like there is too much showing. For example, when she's talking about her shoes being loud and says "Self-conscious, I tried to walk quieter," you don't need to tell us she's self-conscious. We already know because she's trying to go unnoticed.

  19. Hmmm... this has great potential, but is lacking any real hook because the writing isn't quite strong enough. Try starting with "A bolt of lightening..." and build from there. That gives you some intensity right away. You are also telling more than showing, which can be easily fixed by visualizing the scene in your head as you write. And Stephen King once wrote about adverbs ... he despises them :) Good luck!