Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #48

GENRE: Upper MG sci-fi

The screaming was so loud it crowded out all thought. It took a few moments before the boy realized the sound, more a moan than a scream, came from his own parched mouth.

He dragged in a whoop of air and sat up, his eyes bugging out of their sockets. A hot yellow sky stretched overhead, but the rest of the world swam around him in a blur. He grasped for simple information: where he was, how he’d gotten here. Why he could barely see.


A feeling of dread wormed its way into his confusion. Something was wrong. He couldn’t remember what.

Pain crashed down as he lurched to his feet. He staggered a few steps, stars exploding across his vision, before dropping to his hands and knees, and drew in a deep breath. He had to get back up. He had to stop…something.

In the background, a high-pitched noise rose and fell. His vision cleared enough to make out the grey shape of a nearby building, and something vast and green behind it.

A hand landed on his shoulder. Someone crouched beside him, shouting things he could not unscramble. He shook his head. There was something important he needed to say—what was it? His mouth worked silently, trying to find the words.

His ears began to ring, his vision darkened. Something of vital importance danced at the back of his brain, just out of reach…

“Guide the star!” he blurted out, just before the blackness closed in.


  1. Very nice, evocative writing. Loved the detail-the vast yellow sky gives a strong feel of place, and the vast green shape provides a good hint of ominousness. I'd definitely read on!

  2. I really like the feel you evoke with your entry. I like your descriptions but think you need to pare them down. Too much bugged, lurched, screamed, etc.


    It took a few moments before the boy realized the sound, more a moan than a scream, came from his own parched mouth.


    Then the boy realized the moan came from his own mouth.


    He dragged in a whoop of air and sat up, his eyes bugging out of their sockets. A hot yellow sky stretched overhead, but the rest of the world swam around him in a blur. He grasped for simple information: where he was, how he’d gotten here. Why he could barely see.


    He sat up. A hot yellow sky stretched overhead but the rest of his world was a blur. Where was he, how did he get there, and why could he barely see?

    You get the idea. I think it's really hard to get the rhythm and advice is always telling you to describe and use interesting verbs. I think there's a delicate balance I too struggle with.

    You've got a good idea and voice but don't drown it out with too much information!

    Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  3. Thank you for making this site very interesting! Keep going! You're doing very well!

  4. Oh yeah, I like this and would keep reading. My only feedback is the same as Mary's: pare down the describers. It would be so much more powerful without them--you're not over the top by any stretch, but it does take a bit of patience to wade through them and get to the good stuff. The hand landed on the shoulder just in the nick of time for me. Which is probably a teens too late.

  5. Okay, I agree with Badria and Mary. I'm interested in this world, but the describers are forcing me to rethink every detail. The writing would be much better with the tone down examples Mary gave (very good examples, Mary).

    Thanks so much for sharing. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do this this.

  6. I think this was really well-written. I'm curious about what's going on and "Guide the star!" is enough of a hook to make me turn the page.

    Nice job!

  7. I like the "Guide the star" line. I enjoy science-fiction, so I'm wondering what that could mean.

    You might want to look at a few word choices you made. I'm not sure a moan could really be loud or mistaken for a scream. Also, when I think of lurching, it's not a move I associate with getting up. It has more to do with rolling or tipping to the side.

  8. Great voice and nice way to build up tension. I'd definitely want to read more, especially after the dialogue line 'guide the stars.'

  9. Awesome intensity! This lures the reader in and makes us want more :)

  10. I agree that the opening is overwhelmed with modifiers.

    I think there's an interesting story here, but I also think you take too long to get to it - I'd have stopped reading by the fourth paragraph, because nothing new is happening. Breaking down what you have:

    Paragraph 1: screaming.
    Paragraph 2/3: Trying to figure out where he is
    4: dread
    5: pain
    6.: unidentified high pitched noise

    These are 6 paragraphs in which you essentially tell me "my MC is confused, disoriented, lost and in pain." I think you could do the same in half the words. You hook the reader fast with the first paragraph - you can then move to the action more quickly. Without a faster move, I think you will find readers getting frustrated with the continuing unexplained drama - the initial tension can only be maintained for so long before the reader needs variation in the pacing.

  11. This is very good; I think your voice comes through very well. You do a nice job writing your narrator's pain and confusion. It feels very real.

    The only real issue I had was with the first paragraph. I get that the narrator is very disoriented/confused, but I feel like it's too improbable (for me) that he would be screaming without realizing that he was the one doing it. I guess it would be fine elsewhere, but I don't know if you want to start off your story with something that might potentially throw the reader off like that. Additionally, I got the idea that he had just regained consciousness (because otherwise, he's just screaming at something for no reason, since the reader hasn't been informed of the stimulus that made him scream), but I can't really imagine someone being unconscious/asleep and screaming at the same time. If he's not, then maybe you could give us a reason that he's screaming. As it is, he either woke up to find himself screaming (which seems improbable), or just randomly started screaming. A little clarity here would be nice.

    Little nitpicky stuff: For the sentence, "He grasped for simple information: where he was, how he’d gotten here. Why he could barely see", I think it might read better if you combined your second sentence in with the first one--unless, of course, there's something significant about why he can't see (more significant than where he was and how he'd gotten there) that you want to emphasize.

    Other than that, though, awesome job and good luck!


  12. Sorry, I have to agree with Susan's comments. There is nothing here that connects me to the boy.

    It makes the last line "Guide the Star" meaningless to me because I don't care about the character yet.

    It's like the stories that start with a fight scene, but you don't care who wins because you don't know the main character.

  13. I was very impressed by this opening. It hints at both the setting and the main character, and at his dilemma in dealing with what is yet unknown.

    I like how he blurts out something just before the blackness sets in. This really draws me and makes me want to keep on reading.

    I think the only phrase I would consider rewording would be "rest of the world". We see a hot yellow sky above, making us believe this could be somewhere unworldly, so I don't know if "rest of the world" is appropriate in the same sentence.

  14. I think this is a wonderful opening. I did not find that the description was too much information. In fact, it allowed me to situate myself in the middle of the predicament the boy finds himself in. To me, this reads already like an opening that has been revised and polished many times. I wouldn't change anything and I would absolutely continue to read on. I am hoping that we have not reached a point of absolute ADHD as readers that we have to have the whole story in the first 250 words. I am beginning to get the feeling that people would have criticized Melville because the whale didn't appear by the end of page one.

  15. I liked this entry and its excitement and tension. The only thing it lacked for me was a connection to the narrator. I would keep reading because I don't mind waiting a little bit, but it would be nice to know why I care about what he has to say. Even just a line or two that says something about his personality.

    Otherwise, nice job.

  16. Really great introduction to the tension of the moment, but I got stuck on some of your language choices. Consider simplifying and removing some of the cliched wording.

  17. Right off the bat, I just couldn't for a second believe that someone's senses would be calibrated so strangely that they'd be able to hear screaming without knowing that it was their own's a detail reaching too far, and it turned this opening into a "more is less" situation, seems to me. You could cut down on half of the fireworks going on in these paragraphs and it'd still be a berserk enough atmosphere to earn his confusion, etc...