Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Into the Hourglass
GENRE: YA ~ Urban Fantasy

I was weird.

Weird adj. Suggestive of or concerned with the supernatural; unearthly; eerie; uncanny. 2. Of an odd and inexplicable character; unusual; strange; fantastic.

In my seventeen years of life, that was the only word I had been able to find that properly described me. I didn't aspire to be weird, it just happened.

Everything started when I was seven years old and my parents were killed in some sort of archaeological dig in Egypt. I was immediately tossed across the ocean and dropped on the doorstep of my dad's brother who I only knew from photographs that were shown to me on the plane trip to Chicago. At least I think I remember a plane trip.

When we arrived at Henry Bell's apartment the memories of my parents and my life up until that moment seemed to be crumbling in my head. By the time the people who brought me to Chicago left me alone with Uncle Henry, I could barely remember my parents' names.

I tried to ask Uncle Henry if something was wrong with me, but he told me it was because I was tired and sad. He promised we would talk about things when I felt better.

I'm still waiting for that talk.

Uncle Henry carried my suitcase down a hall, depositing it into a bedroom that didn't look like it belonged to a little girl. Everything, including the wall, was beige. Maybe this arrangement was only for tonight and I would be shipped off with someone else tomorrow.


  1. There's a lot of backstory here and nothing happens other than a suitcase being carried down a hall. I like everything up until the paragraph beginning "Everything started." That's when the backstory really takes over. The information in the paragraphs after that could be worked in later.

    The last paragraph confused me a bit. Earlier, it sounds like this is being told from the perspective of a 17-year old, but the last paragraph seems to be told from the perspective of the 7-year old. If you want to describe what happens when the MC is 7, you may want to start with that as a prologue rather than jump back and forth between the 17-year old version and his younger self because I think the jumping will be confusing.

    For me, one of the most interesting parts of this passage was the memory loss. I'd hope that comes into play more later in the story and I'd like to hear more about that in the opening. That part piqued my interest.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing!

  2. I really like the idea of this one--parents dying in a strange dig accident in Egypt, the weird memory loss, etc. I think you could focus the storytelling a bit more--the "I am weird" bit at the beginning tells more than shows and I think distracts from your story more than it helps. Also, be careful starting a book with "it all started when..." I see it a lot in these kinds of contests and another wording would feel fresher.

    I like the story idea, though, so I'd read on to find out what happens next.

  3. I think if this information is crucial to your story, you should work it in later. It's never a good idea to open with a huge chunk of backstory, no matter how important it is. If we're going to follow your character through the book, we need to be introduced to him/her now, in the present context of the book. How they got to that point can be revealed later.

  4. I really like the use of the dictionary definition. It's so different from what you usually see at the beginning. I do, however, question the tense a bit. Is he no longer weird? Is this all a re-telling from an older narrator? If so, then ignore my post. But if he is still weird, you might instead say something like, "I have always been weird" or something of the sort, so that he can still be weird. Just a thought.

  5. I liked the ideas here, and the title makes me think your MC will be going backward and forward through time. That makes me want to read more.

    Then I got to - it all started - and I groaned, because that usually means a block of backstory, and that's what you gave us. Get it in later. Show us what is happening now.

    I thought Mark made a good point about the tense shift in the beginning weird section. Yes. Definitely put it in present tense.

    By the time I got to the jumps between the present 17 year old and the past 7 year old, I was ready to quit. It's an interesting premise, but there's too much clutter getting in the way. Maybe this isn't the way to start.

  6. The time shift here is jolting, especially when you use the same verb tense for today, at 17, and years ago, at age 7. The "weird" thing is sort of a conceit that feels trite, and isn't the greatest place to start a story. There's some intriguing stuff here, but it's jumbled in the middle and rushed. If you start this with her at age 7, confused because she doesn't remember her parents' name, you can grab the reader.

  7. I found the dictionary definition dry, but figured the action would start soon. It didn't. All this backstory should be moved to later in the novel. The most important thing is putting the character in a concrete location, having her doing something interesting, and giving the reader a hint of something unusual--the plot or the stakes--something to make them sit up and pay attention.

  8. I liked the first paragraph. What I didn't like is that this is littered with "was". Find a way to edit them out. It will help make your story pop. :)

  9. I'd like to add a vote for making the backstory—which is clearly very important and also interesting—into a prologue.

    IMO defining a word that the reader already knows is a waste of precious space. (I skimmed it.)

    I agree that the tense needs work in the beginning. A suggestion:

    I'm weird.

    In my seventeen years of life, it's the only word I've been able to find that properly describes me. I didn't aspire to be weird, it just happened.

    I have no problem starting this way. I think a lot of teens can identify with this feeling.

    Some interesting ideas. I would probably turn the page to find out what's going on. Keep writing!

  10. The backstory needs to be weaved in further, not posted up front. I do like Lisa B.'s suggestions. I got a little confused reading it because she's seventeen, but we're brought immediately back to when she's 7.

    I like the idea of the dead parents, being weird and memory loss. I think I'd keep reading to find out why that particular element (the memory loss) was happening.

    Good luck!

  11. What I liked: Decent voice. I liked that the author tried taking some risks with the opening.

    What needed work: Far too much telling, and far too much jumping around in time from one place to another. First the author is 17, then we flash back to her at seven being tossed across the ocean (from where? Was she with her parents?), to her first time with Uncle Henry. I had a difficult time figuring out where the story was, who the character is, and what’s going on. Too much back story distracts the reader from entering this tale.

    Would I keep reading based on these sample pages? Not without finding a more compelling opening. So based on this, no.

  12. I liked this a lot. I was viewing this in Google Reader and clicked on the title to read more only to realize, "Shoot! That's it -- those were the first 250 words."

    You have the voice down spectacularly well, and to me, that's why the bit of backstory works. It comes out very naturally, not like an author forcing backstory, but like something this character would naturally share. She's also discussing something odd and creepy -- she forgot her parents. I'm intrigued by that.

    Anyway, all this to say that I would read more eagerly and ask that in your efforts to improve based on the feedback given, don't lose that terrific voice.