Tuesday, March 13, 2012

FLG: #5 500-words

TITLE: The Center of Gravity (WIP)

I believed in the healing power of parking garages. Every time my Camaro and I came to this particular one, I liked to take a minute to let it all seep into me: the darkness, the subtle rocking of the floor, the scoffing retreats of a couple hundred cars. It was the perfect place to have a secret.

Today, though, I didn’t have the time to do anything more than suck in my breath a few times. With my lock kit and Conspiracy File #157 in hand, I left my car at the street level and descended two floors to what someone had inexplicably named the Yellow Level. I went straight to a familiar red Toyota Corolla (not actual red, but the muted, brown-corrupted red that parents see as being an attractive color for a car) without stopping to indulge in my usual game of peeking around pillars and corners for the presence of a secret informant. It was only a good game to play when I wasn’t burdened with any other guilt or worry and could clear my mind long enough to imagine that I was taller and older and about to solve the mystery of Watergate. For now, my mission was clear – I needed to break into this Toyota to look for a few documents that I hoped had not been lost to the ages. My chances weren’t so good, because I’d known for years how messy my mom kept her car. Hands shaking, I started in on the front door lock.

Click, click, click, and go.

The usual piles of notes and receipts and checklists were stuffed into various cup holders and pockets. An appointment card from her grief therapist’s office trembled on the dashboard – her next visit was a week from now. No reason she’d be there today. I had been to see the same guy a couple of times, and there was no way a sane person, grieving or not, could stand to see him more than twice a month.

Three lunch receipts. She ate a lot of tuna fish sandwiches.

Dad had often talked about the tedium involved in research. It was true. He had spent at least ten years of his life delving into the far corners of the universe of President John F. Kennedy assassination theories, with me at his side as his research assistant for the last five years of this endeavor. Between the annual trips to the convention near the assassination site in Dallas, there were long weeks of reading books on ballistics and Communism. If JFK’s lunch receipts had been preserved for public scrutiny, we would have gone through those, too.

The glove compartment produced one thing that could have meaning: an envelope with Dad’s handwriting on it. For the FACT, September 1, it read. I picked this up by the corners and slipped it into the file folder as gingerly as I could. Maybe no one else had touched in since last September.


  1. This is good. Lots of tension and voice. The descriptions and details are just right to get us into the scene without being intrusive.

    The one thing that stuck out to me was an appointment card trembling. Unless the car or something else was moving it, the card wouldn't tremble.

  2. I'm definitely hooked! I like the idea of a teen detective (especially wondering why she's investigating her mom) and this has great voice. I do think it could be stronger if you edit down your second paragraph. It's overwritten and I'm saying this because someone just told me the same thing about my WIP so this past week I've been very friendly with the "backspace" key.

    First sentence, "Today, though, I didn't have the time to do anything more than suck in a few breaths." Later on, "...descended two floors to the Yellow Level..." I think little edits like that will make your prose easier to follow. Good luck!

  3. I love the first line. It's random and hilarious. I admit, the next bit -- the seriousness of the narrator -- is a little strange, but I'm willing to see where it goes, because I like the voice. That said, when I finish the first paragraph, I'm hoping the whole thing isn't about a parking garage.

    I ended up liking this a lot. I think there's a good story starting to emerge here, and I'm curious why our narrator is going through his/her mom's car in the middle of a parking garage, rather than at home. And it sounds like the dad is dead, too? And the mom isn't dealing well? I like that extra layer of conflict between them.

    There's only one thing I'm concerned about with this: the age of the narrator. I know they're at least sixteen because they're driving, but the voice sounds a little younger?

    It might be because s/he was talking about their "usual game of peeking around pillars and corners for the presence of a secret informant," which sounds like a game a little kid would play. Now, I totally think a sixteen-year-old would be interested in secret information if they hear someone else walking through the parking garage, but the way this is worded, it sounds more like they're imagining there's secret information around every corner. It seems to me, a sixteen-year-old would be a lot more casual about it. Quiet steps, skulking, and hiding behind a pillar only if there actually was something interesting going on.

    Otherwise, it looks like you're off to a great start!

  4. I don't know what "scoffing retreats" are. I don't know what "brown-corrupted" means. I don't know why the narrator would, if he/she is really in a hurry, be telling me about this secret informant game (and I agree with Jodi that it is both distracting and makes the narrator seem quite young).

    "My chances weren’t so good, because I’d known for years how messy my mom kept her car." -- wouldn't this actually increase his/her chances of finding the documents? If mom kept her car clean, she wouldn't have stuff lying around in it.

    Basically... I'm interested, in theory, but frankly I'd rather know more about our narrator. Like... is it a boy or a girl?

  5. My reaction has to do with focus. I want to have a clearer picture of what is going on in the scene and what the stakes are. Part of that is the problem of only using a category (YA) without indicating what genre you are writing in. That means I don't know if it is mystery, thriller, fantasy, historical etc. That's an easy fix.

    I also would like to know after 500words whether the MC is male or female. I can't see anything in the narrative so far that even hints at a gender. Then there is the problem of time period. The JFK assassination is pretty timeless so that doesn't really help me as it could be set in any decade since the 1960's. The Watergate reference makes me think it might be in the early 1970's because you refer to a "mystery" of Watergate and there would only be a mystery if you are talking pre-impeachment hearings or pre-resignation of Nixon. There is no mystery of Watergate anymore - we even know who Deep Throat was. Since he also skulked around in a parking garage and was an informant I am wondering if that is your way of paying homage to that time etc. But, as I say, I do not know. If it is modern times then the WG reference is too dated because as I say there is no real mystery there.

    Why was Dad interested in conspiracies and why did he enlist the help of his son/daughter? What is the reason for "spying" on mom? I think there needs to be some more sharp focus to bring out these questions in these first 500 words.

    I also found the reference to peeking and playing to be very very young - far younger than YA.

    While still loving the first line, what follows does not really make it bloom. The relation between healing and keeping a secret is not apparent. This may be a case where you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater because while the line is great in isolation, it does not stand up when incorporated into the rest.

    I see this is a WIP and it looks like you have a lot of possibilities to make a very interesting and exciting read.

    Although I loved the first line

  6. Ammi-Joan PaquetteMarch 13, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    I love the way the personality comes across through the voice, and I like the way we start right away with action, piecing together bits of the character as we go along. Some of the action has me confused, though: why all the cloak-and-dagger just to look inside his parents' car? Why the shaking hands, tracking down clues, etc.?

    I also can't quite pin down the tone of the story; it's trying to be thrilling and edge-of-your-seat (I think), but references to peeking around corners and so on both feels younger and almost comical somehow. Is the story light or serious?

    Small typo in the last sentence, should be "No one had touched IT".

    By the end of this excerpt, I'm liking the writing but unclear as to what kind of story, character, or world I'm inhabiting. The boundaries don't feel established solidly enough.

  7. I loved this! From the opening line I read a few weeks ago, to the developing story. I like the offbeat lines that make me smile (tuna fish sandwiches, grief counselor more than twice a month).

    The best line (after the opening) was the reveal that the car she's breaking into is her own mothers.

    Ha!!! Love it!

    I could tell she loves/d her dad (his dad?) and was willing to join him in his oddball hobbies just to be with him. I learned all sorts of trivia about historic wars as a child joining my dad playing huge tactical war games with dice and cardboard troop markers. This felt humorous and real.

  8. I agree with a few of the other commentators--I like the overall tone of this piece, but there seemed to be a bit of babbling going on.

    For instance, I would love to learn what this narrator's dad does at some point, but not sure why I'm learning it now. It's taking away from the excitement that you're trying to build.

  9. I'm hooked-- this is a bit shaky (the character seems too young, and the word choice is off in places), but I'd keep reading.

    To fix the word choice stuff in the rest of the manuscript (the above commentators have pointed it out specifically in this section) I'd suggest reading the manuscript out loud to yourself and making not of what sounds weird, where you trip over the words etc.

  10. Overall, I'm hooked! I love the character's voice - I agree with the other commentators that we need to know early on if this is a boy or girl because it's not clear from this passage.

    Someone else mentioned that the references of JFK's assasination and Watergate seem to date this back to the 70s. If this is meant to be more current, maybe the conspiracy theories surrounding 9-11 might make the story seem more modern? Even though we know who did it, there are some people that believe the whole attack on the World Trade Center was rigged by the US government (not me, personally, I should add!). It's just a suggestion - I'm sure there are plenty of conspiracy theories that revolve around more recent events if you decide to choose other references. Perhaps, the kid's father was interested in the older, more classic conspiracies (such as JFK and Watergate) because that's when he grew up, while the M.C. prefers to focus on more current topics?

    But, overall, I think once the second paragraph is trimmed down a bit, this is a strong opening page. I would definitely keep reading!

  11. I love the first line, and would definitely keep reading. I have to say, I disagree with the others about the narrator seeming young for peering around corners. This seems like something a dramatic or nerdy teenager would do when no one is around to judge them, so I thought it was funny.

    I do agree with some of the others that the tone is a bit uneven. I didn't know whether to take the narrator seriously, or whether to prepare for a lighter story. We're given a hint that his mother has a grief counselor, but he quickly makes a joke so I wasn't sure how big of a role that detail has and why I need to know it right away. I also think if you give the year of the car and indicate whether it's new, we'd accept the setting right away without wondering about all of the other context clues.

  12. I liked this. Great voice, and I love how we're introduced to the MC through this little car search. It's unique. I wanted to know why at the end, and, more importantly, if this search was actually IMPORTANT. Is it for fun or is it actually serious?

  13. Forgive me for stealing -- but what Jennifer and Joan said. :) I'd keep reading, definitely, but there's something to be said about cleaning this up a bit and giving us a firmer sense of who and what.


  14. Holy- wow, that's a lot of agents peeking in on this! :O Congrats on the opportunity, whoever wrote this entry!

    I... well, I agree with the others. The truth is, I probably... wouldn't have read on (I know! I'm sorry) simply because this just isn't enough for me. I'm intrigued, but not intrigued enough. I don't know how you're trying to come across with this. I love the premise, but mysteries, for me at least, have to be gripping from the first paragraph on--and if it starts meandering down the info-dumping path, then I'm not the biggest fan.

    Cheers, though!

  15. I wouldn't read on. It's a lot of description, which is nicely handled, but it leaves me feeling ungrounded and with too many questions about the narrator. I'd also like to see more action--there's so much description here, and yet it's not filling me in on who is telling me the story.

  16. I love the use of smart language in YA novels. I also don't see the problem with using Watergate as a reference, even if this is a contemp. fiction piece. Watergate is not a conspiracy to those who don't believe in conspiracies. However, to conspiracy theorists, EVERYTHING is a conspiracy. I like this character. He/she seems quirky, a little nerdy, and I'm hooked by the voice. Isn't that all a first page should do, hook a reader with the voice?

  17. I love this! While I try not to be a conspiracy theorist, I love reading about conspiracy theorists! Like Kara said, to conspiracy theorists, EVERYTHING is a conspiracy!

    And, as a not conspiracy theorist, if I were following my (recently departed?) dad's footsteps, I too would peer around corners and hide behind posts. You never know where those evil commies hide (the Cold War never ended for conspiracy theorists, or for those of us brought up on "Get Smart"). I also liked the description of the car because one of my company cars was that same hideous color, and "brown-corrupted" is a more socially acceptable description than what we called it!

    But yes, a little wordy here and there, some awkward phrasing. Reading out loud to get word flow, as suggested, is an excellent idea.And I am curious by word 500 to know if we're sneaking along in the stealthy footsteps of a male or female protag.Adding the car year might give us a clue as to what decade we're in, more or less, but overall, I like the voice here, even down to the joke about the grief counselor. I would probably make the same joke, even if the counselor was good, just to cover my feelings, but most teens are not thrilled to talk about their feelings with some strange dude.

    Looking forward to more, and to learning more about dad. Good job!

  18. I liked this the most of the five, though I thought it needed a certain degree of clarification. First, it felt more middle grade than YA. Second, I was concerned that we were going to end up in a political conspiracy place that's been quite well-trod. But there's a nice quirky tone here that, if harnessed and tightened, could be compelling. Good luck.

  19. I really like the premise, the idea of this teen sleuth breaking into his/her mom's car. I don't want to rehash the same comments, I agree on a lot of what's said about editing down, making the character's gender known.

    I almost love this line: It was the perfect place to have a secret.

    Food for thought: maybe a stronger word choice than have. Hoard, Hold onto, etc. There's opportunity there!

    Also, I think you can say JFK assisination the first time around instead of President John F. Kennedy which feels clunky. JFK is pretty solidly used in history, I would think even teen readers would get it. I do like the idea about dropping in a 9/11 conspiracy, as someone suggested.