Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: MG Adventure

Dreading summer vacation isn't normal.

And Jack, like most normal twelve-year-olds, dreamed of summer arriving - especially this summer. But now that it was here, he just wanted it over. And, that wasn't normal either. The afternoon humidity hung thick and heavy, turning the pleasantries of the fresh summer day into stagnant, dead air. Jack's mood mimicked the changing afternoon sky; grey, sullen, and waiting for something unpleasant to arrive.

Nope. Definitely not normal.

Scuffing up pebbles on his way home from school, the conversation with his classmates after last period bubbled in his brain. He'd finally told them about his dilemma. At least the part he could tell them - Calvin, the Fresh Air Kid.

"Wow! That sucks! Sharing your room with a complete stranger . . . all summer?" Tyler said. "Sticking a kid like that in the country for the summer is like throwing a river trout into Archer's Pond!"

"What kind of kid?" Jack wondered.

"You know," Matt said, elbowing Jack's arm,"inner-city kids. Isn't that what Counselor Peters calls them? They're usually pretty messed up, aren't they?"

"It's all over TV - Gangs. Drive-bys. Junk like that," Tyler said. "Isn't there some reality show about people living in the city-New Jersey or LA or something? My sister watches all those stupid shows."

"Well," Jack said, "when I met him in February, he seemed okay . . . kinda quiet - more interested in my Wii than anything else."

"Just watch your back, that's all,"Tyler had warned.


  1. I would definitely read on and you set up an interesting dilemma right away. I thought that the repitition of 'not normal' in the beginning was unecessary. Also, he's dreading summmer vacation and sharing a room with a stranger but then he says 'I met him in February, he seemed okay' That doesn't sound like someone who is dreading anything. A bit of a disconnect there. Overall, I think the concept is great! :) Good luck!

  2. You throw us right into Jack's problem. What's he going to do about sharing his room all summer with a gang kid from the big city. Great start - and yes, I'd read more.

  3. I'm agreeing with Squash, why would Jack dread summer vacation if he already met the kid? That's a lot of misery and angst over having another guy to play Wii with. Other than that, you're doing a great job of showing how kids will think when they don't have any frame of reference, resorting to stereotypes from TV.

    I'm not sure what else Jack couldn't tell his friends about Calvin coming. I'm curious, but it's more confusing than a plot hook to me.

    Your dialogue flows pretty well, just watch out for overwrought sentences like The afternoon humidity hung thick and heavy, turning the pleasantries of the fresh summer day into stagnant, dead air.

  4. I think your premise is really interesting, and I'd probably keep reading. The first sentence is a good hook.

    I think that paragraph up at the top has sentences that sound too adult. ("mimicked" etc.)

    Cool idea.

  5. First of all, I remember reading a different opening for this same story somewhere else, and I think that this version is a huge improvement! I think that the dialogue here is your strongest point--it's intriguing and believable.

    My crits:
    -I'd cut the editorializing about what's normal and what isn't in the first three paragraphs and just jump right into the scene. I think this should start with the sentence about "The afternoon..." and go from there (cutting the "Nope...normal" line as well). I really like the sentence about Jack's mood--it tells us everything we need to know about how he's feeling without the need for the extra commentary about normalcy.

    -If Jack is flashing back to a previous conversation, you may want to use "had said" for Tyler's dialogue tag. Also, some other tidbit to ground us in that scene might be nice--"as he leaned over from his desk" or something like that, just to give the reader some setting.

    -I'd change Jack's dialogue tag from "wondered" to "asked." Wondering, to me, is an internal verb, so I'm not sure if he's thinking it to himself or saying it out loud.

    Best of luck with this! With this new beginning, I'd certainly keep reading the story.

  6. This very good. Admittedly, MG is not my genre. I would keep reading.
    It may help to delete the 2nd and 4th sentences for readability

  7. Some of the descriptions had me confused, like the Fresh Air Kid. Is this street slang or because he came from somewhere with considerably less pollution or...? And for "And, that wasn't normal, either.", you could take out the "and" and it would still work. Still curious to know more, though!

  8. For clarification purposes, The Fresh Air Program/Fund is a very real outreach program that places inner city children to host families in the country during summer months. I grew up with it (basis for the story) and assumed everyone knew what it was...
    Thanks for all the great comments! I appreciate each and every one.

  9. I like the idea of setting up conflict between country kids and a city kid, but it seems like you've introduced a lot of characters for the first 250 words: Calvin, Jack, Matt, Tyler.

    Perhaps there's a way to introduce them more slowly or clearly? For example, I didn't realize at first that Calvin was the "complete stranger." What if you wrote: "At least he could tell them the part about having Calvin, the city kid, come stay with him."

  10. I like the premise but I think you need to ground this in one time period. You start by talking about dreading summer vacation, which made me think holidays were still in the future. Then you say that summer is here, and almost immediately we're whisked back to a memory of the last day of school.

    Pick which scene you want to start the story with, either the last day of school or the humid summer day, then write that scene without interruptions. If you start with the summer day, then find some other way of revealing the information that is contained in this flashback.

    The dialogue seems realistic, except the line 'Isn't there some reality show about people living in the city.' I'd prefer something like, 'Think about all those reality shows about people living in the city - they're all freaks/junkies/etc.'

  11. I agree with the others about the unnecessary editorializing about what's normal and what's not...much more fun and much more of an impact to simply state the feeling that Jack's feeling and let us as readers recognize how abnormal it is (who dreads summer vacation!?) Someone else made a comment about the contrast between the heaviness and moodiness of Jack's dread in the opening paragraph (a grey, sullen sky waiting for unpleasantness) and the not-THAT-bad-ness of Jack's attitude and actual dilemma, rooming with a seemingly okay, nice kid for the summer. You don't necessarily have to make the dilemma worse, but even though kids do get hyperbolic sometimes, I think his reaction in the opening paragraph is a bit interesting premise, just a bit muddled!