Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Octavia
GENRE: YA Horror

It was early morning and I was out in my front yard, washing my feet in the dew. This was a practice that I had adopted sometime in childhood, and I had secretly never given it up. Mist lay heavy on the pastures surrounding the old farmhouse and clung to the patches of blue-green grass that grew thickly underfoot. It gave sustenance to the beetles and the spiders.

My name is Octavia, because I am the youngest of eight children. All of us were named for figures from Roman history, and my parents waited, patiently, until they had given birth to eight in order to bestow this name. I once asked whether they would have been disappointed if I were a boy, but they pointed out that Octavian is a no less illustrious and well-omened name than my own.

I was watching the first rays of sunlight playing on the webs above the porch swing when I heard the sound of gravel crunching on the drive. Guiltily startled, and somewhat ashamed that I might be caught indulging these childish pleasures, I slipped on my dew-drenched shoes and turned around.

My brother, Germanicus, was walking up the path that leads from the barn. His shirt was drenched in blood, torn open at the front, and he had something horned and bloody draped across his shoulders. I blinked my eyes several times to banish the gory vision, but had to accept that it was reality. I ran to get a better look.


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  2. Interesting opening. I would suggest lightening up on the description of the nature surrounding them - it gets in the way of the suspense. IMHO. (As a specific, I think the last 2 sentences of the first paragraph aren't necessary - you show us a fun detail about your character - her feet in the dew - so why not go ahead and introduce us?)

    Also I think you can drop the guiltily - it reads a bit awkward - and you show us guilt through the word ashamed later in the same sentence. Start with startled.

    I think your MC's running toward the bloody, gory thing is an interesting insight on her character. Most folks would run away.

    Good Luck - lots of agents seem to be looking for horror these days.

  3. This character's voice doesn't feel like a teen's voice to me. If her parents are classicists and academics, she could be mature for her age, but I will still need to see some indication of her youth, especially since she mentions her childhood as being past-tense.

    It could be that the voice is intentional, and it will turn out to be one of the strengths of the work, but right now, I'm not getting a YA sense from it, and that dissonance between expectations and the prose could turn some readers off from your otherwise strong writing.

    The excerpt ends on enough of a cliffhanger I would read at least a bit more to see what is really up with the voice and what is happening with her brother.

  4. I liked this. The voice drew me in and I found the descriptive language well balanced with the action - it painted a vivid picture of setting for me. I agree that "guiltly" read clunky and gets in the way here. Overall, I'm hooked and would read on to find out more about this character.

  5. I'd like to echo the above comments but also add one of my own. As I was reading along, I kept getting different images of Octavia and her surroundings. At first, I saw her in a contemporary, bucolic farmland. Then, with the discussion of her name, my imagination shifted to more of an antiquated, swords-and-sandals type imagery. When you mentioned the gravel drive, I was pulled back into contemporary mode again. When Germanicus shows up, I don't know how to read him: is he a farmer just after a livestock slaughter? is he a hero returned from slaying a mythical beast? is he a hunter coming home with his game?

    My confusion aside, I like the voice in this entry. I'm not sure where the horror elements are going to come in, but I'd read on a bit more. Good luck!

  6. Don't get a sense of YA or horror. Maybe have this at night?

    A lot of weak to-be and ing verbs and adverbs that you could strengthen with stronger verbs, e.g., washed, I adopted this practice, Our mother named us, I watched the first rays if sunlight play, My brother, Germanicus, stumbled up the path, Shirt drenched in blood and ripped off his arm, and so on.

    You might want to start here for more horror: I blinked my eyes several times to banish the gory vision, but had to accept that it was reality. I ran to get a better look.

    This has great promise; keep at it!

  7. I think this has great promise too--i would just move the last para up because that's the one that grabbed me most.

  8. I am so wishy washy about this one. At first, the voice seemed odd to me--too stiff and formal for contemporary. But after only 250 words, I was accustomed to it and going with it, and believing it.

    I also thought it was a slow opening with uneeded info (the whole parg. about their names)and much too bright and cheery for horror. But by the end I was thinking the naming did give us insight into her family, and the dark is always darker if preceded by light. And her brother arriving with the bloody animal on his back contrasts nicely with the cheery opening.

    So while I'd normally suggest starting darker and cutting your first few pargs., there's something here that's telling me to reserve judgement until I've read more.

    The thing I felt more certain about is setting. It was very uncertain to me, and I wanted to know when and where I was. Is this contemporary of historical? Are we on another world? I think you have to make the when and where clear, and knowing that might make the other issues clearer, too.

  9. While the descriptions are nice here, I think that there is too much exposition. You don't need the first two paragraphs. And had her brother never killed an animal before? Or whatever he was carrying? That seems unlikely to me.

  10. I wasn't really into it until the last paragraph. Then I was all, "Blood! Great!" Maybe start off with that and go lighter on the description on the first page.

  11. I found the second paragraph distracting, even though it was interesting. I think it has potential and I'm curious to see what her brother carried...

  12. i liked the detail about the feet-washing dew, and the farmland was well-described. also like the symbolic names of the kids. i would keep reading.