Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #45

TITLE: The One Called Coward
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

The strap that fastens over my shiny silver boot feels loose. I tighten it, making sure that no skin is visible.

Three years ago, when I was studying the enemy with Geros, he peeled off his jacket and pointed to the oozing black scar that started at his wrist and ran up to his shoulder. “This was the penalty for carelessness,” he said. “It happened twenty years ago, and it still pains me.”

A gasp ran around the class. He glared at each of the twenty-four of us. Only Merith met his flat, black eyes. Geros is a hero. He’s old, fierce, afraid of no one, and we were children, eleven years old.
He pointed to me. “You, boy. Will you cover every piece of flesh before you go outside?”

“Yes, sir.”

Geros mocks us when we make mistakes and makes us work until we can scarcely move. But he’s been out beyond the wall many times. He knows what it’s like, and he wants us to be prepared. We understand that and we forgive him. All except Merith, who hates him and never shows him any sign of weakness. I’ve seen Geros watching her sometimes, but I can’t tell what he’s thinking.

I’m ready to go. I bend down and pat Navid, my dog. He licks my hand as I pull his long, silky ears and kiss the top of his head. I wouldn’t like anyone to see me doing that.


  1. This is good, evocative fantasy writing. I really enjoyed the way you sketched the personalities and fixed the setting. The part about the dog at the end was particularly moving, as it gives a hint of the conflict between (I'm guessing here) the MC's role as a warrior and his softer side. Very nicely done!

  2. Let's get this out of the way: I think writing in the present tense is weird. Starting in the present tense in the first paragraph, then jumping to a flashback immediately after is distracting.

    You could probably cut the first paragraph entirely or move it to later and just lead with Geros peeling off his jacket. It's a stronger line and it gives a sense of what we're getting into a little earlier. Once that is out of the way, the cut to present tense might be a little easier to follow.

    I'd also change Geros is a hero in the third paragraph to Geros was a hero to avoid confusion with tense shifts.

    I don't know if you had to cut out the rest of the paragraph, but the line I wouldn’t like anyone to see me doing that. just strikes me as abrupt. You give no indication that he's hiding the affection, but he still doesn't want anyone to notice?

    I'd keep reading based on finding out what exactly is beyond the wall, but it would have to pick up soon to beat out my discomfort with the present tense.

  3. I'm definitely curious about what's going on, about where he's going. I like how the flesh / covering up thing unites the page together.

    Maybe a more specific reference to one time when Geros went out? or to one time that he mocked his students? I think that would decrease the "telling" in that paragraph.

    I want to know more about Merith.

    Good job. I'd read on.

  4. I enjoyed this very much. My only confusion was the mention of three years ago, but the story is reading as present tense. Was this classroom visit from Geros three years prior or is it present time? There is no transition sentence to really clear that up for me.

    Other than that, I got a clear sense of the MC and also liked the last part about the dog. I would keep reading, good work!

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  6. I loved this! I like that there's a darkness here and a bit of mystery, I'm very interested in knowing what is out there and what will happen with your characters. Nicely done :)

  7. I feel like you've done some good world building here, but (as others have said) the immediate switch in tense struck me as odd and confusing.

    I wonder if you could shorten the whole thing to:

    The strap that fastens over my shiny silver boot feels loose. I tighten it, making sure that no skin is visible. My instructor Geros showed me three years ago what happens when you leave skin exposed--an oozing black scar
    that starts at his wrist and runs up to his shoulder.

  8. I liked this, but was also jarred by the almost-immediate change in tenses. You've essentially tried to squeeze two scenes into one. I would recommend deciding which is the most important scene to start with - the memories of Geros, or the present day. If you decide Geros is important, start with an expanded classroom scene then switch to present day. If the present is more important, show us a cut-down version of the memory like A.J. suggested.

  9. I can only add my voice to the chorus--present tense to past tense flashback back to present tense observation about Geros (who we'd just met in the past tense), it's all a flurry, and it stopped me from surrendering to the scene. It's such an indirect way of revealing that our protagonist is about to go out beyond the wall, you can't quite get worked up about it as a reader...

  10. A no-nonsense gal and a guy who loves dogs. I’m hooked.