Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April Secret Agent #1

TITLE: Break Free
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I lost the package.

It should’ve been the final job for my patron. The last delivery, and then I’d be done with him forever. But I lost the package and here I found myself, back at the Baron’s, ready to beg forgiveness. To ask for a final chance to pay off my debt – a final chance to be free.

I stood in front of the wrought-iron gates and scratched the stubble on my jaw. The Baron’s white manor shone in the sun. It almost looked pretty. It always looked rich.

My stomach twisted and dropped into my groin. What was that feeling called? Dread? Yeah… definitely dread.

The setting sun turned the dust from the road red. Jal stepped beside me and stared at me out of the corner of his eye, brushing a lock of brown hair off his forehead. “Why’d we stop?”

I sighed. “No reason. Just thought maybe you needed a rest.”

His face flushed and his eyes widened. “Shut up, Kiel! You’re just saying that to make me mad.”

“Prove it, Kid.” I shrugged. “Now come on. I want to get through this as fast as possible.”

“You’re the one who stopped in the first place,” the kid mumbled. I ignored him. When Jal sulked, he looked even younger than his thirteen years. I’d have to keep him from doing it in front of the Baron or he’d attract the Baron’s attention.

The front gate to the estate remained open for people to come and go.


  1. The opening paragraphs create interesting conflict, but then you immediately draw back and focus on other things. I was more interested in the Baron's reaction to him losing the package, but based on the rest of the page it seems we're not going to get there for a while. For that reason, I'd prefer that you started with them right outside the Baron's office, instead of outside his front gate.

    I also think 'groin' is a loaded word. Call me immature, but your YA readers will be too, and I think they'd probably giggle (or at least be thrown off) at using a word with such sexual connotations.

    Jal makes a good point -- you have the viewpoint character hesitate outside, and then say he wants things over with quickly. I felt like saying the same thing. I think this could be moved along faster, without the hesitation.

    If things were tightened and progressed more quickly, I'd be interested. As it is, though, I think you're holding back.

  2. I'm guessing the author is a woman because, as a dude, whenever I get nervous, I can't remember my stomach ever falling into my groin. That sounds more like a hernia than a reaction to your MC's boss.

  3. I was really drawn into this - especially the line at the end about wanting to keep Jal from looking young in order not to attract the baron's attention. I guess I see what the others are saying, but I was still really drawn in by the situation of someone wanting to get their freedom.

  4. Hey there,
    Love this! The first part got me interested, made me want to know what's up with this Baron person and why Kiel is indebted to him in the first place. Definitely had a nice voice, and I liked that he hesitated then was like let's get this over with. I think it just needs some cleaning to make the flow even smoother.

    In the first paragraph, I'd consider mentioning the Baron in the 2nd sentence. "It should've been my final job for the Baron." That way I'm in it from the start, and you've introduced your villian (or who I'm assuming will be the bad guy) by putting the spotlight on his and Keil's relationship right away. Then I'd change "back at the Baron's" to "back at the Baron's front door" so it's less repetitive.

    Love, love that second para. Wouldn't change a thing--especially that awesome last sentence.

    In the third, I'd change it to "My stomach twisted and dropped." Again, just makes it flow, keeps the pace moving. Further down, I think you could add another sentence to make the transition from hesitation to let's-get-this-over-with clearer. Maybe instead of shrugging, that sentence could be something like "Suddenly eager to get this meeting over with, I nudged Jal's shoulder. 'Now come on. I want to get through this fast.'"

    Also, to avoid repeating "the Baron" in the second to last para, maybe say, "I'd have to keep him from doing it in front of the Baron or he'd attract the man's attention." I'd even add a little foreshadowing here; you set it up perfectly for it. A standalone sentence, something like, "And everyone knew that was never a good thing" or "And in the Baron's case, that was never a good thing."

    Awesome, would definitely read more! I want to see what happens when the Baron finds out what Keil did. Scared for him already--which I think is the point ;) Great job!

    Ninja Girl

  5. I'm not hooked yet, but almost. It starts off strong, but I think the focus of the conflict needs to be more clear. What is his debt - or more of a clue to what it is? What happens if the Baron doesn't forgive him? I know you can't tell the whole plot right away, but keeping that momentum going with little snippets of why your character is stressed will keep the story from lagging.

    I think you can say "my stomach twisted" and leave it at that - good enough visual.

    Best of luck to you :)

  6. Not quite hooked from this beginning.

    First sentences are a big thing for me. I like them to grab me or make me laugh or evoke some type of reaction. “I lost the package” just didn’t do this for me. Maybe if you said why this is a big deal like “I lost the package. My life was still not my own.” That, or something like it, would show the weight of that sentence better.

    I also agree with some of the other comments about the uses of the word groin. It’s a sexual reference that you are using, but in a non-sexual way. Perhaps his stomach can just drop away without it ending up in his groin.

    There are some things I really liked about this opening too. There is just the right amount of details and imagery given. Sentences like “in front of the wrought-iron gates and scratched the stubble on my jaw” and “The setting sun turned the dust from the road red” added great details and created a world for me.

    Tighten up the very beginning and I think I could become hooked.

  7. I have to respectfully disagree about the word groin. If anything, it might be too tame, but of course that all depends on character. Young readers are smart, and they don't want to be pandered to, or have things cleaned up for them. They're perfectly fine with, and curious about, cursing, sex, drugs, and pretty much any other hard core topic (referring to YA young readers, not MG young readers, obvs).

    Personally, the characters I write tend to be crass, so they might say balls, junk, nuts, or something like that, but again, it's all dependent on character.

    On the other hand, it probably wouldn't hurt much to cut it. I mean it does tell us a lot about Kiel right off the bat, which is good, but it doesn't look so key that it would change things irrevocably, one way or the other.

  8. I was really drawn into the beginning, and then lost it a bit when the dialogue started.
    For me, the following doesn't fit or add much to the intrigue you created in the beginning. They didn't just stop along the side of the road, but are standing at a wrought iron gate, so I would think Jal's question would be about that specifically.

    “Why’d we stop?”

    I sighed. “No reason. Just thought maybe you needed a rest.”

    His face flushed and his eyes widened. “Shut up, Kiel! You’re just saying that to make me mad.”

    “Prove it, Kid.”

    Anyway, I love the beginning and would like to see that momentum continued. Good luck!

  9. The opening paragraph is great and sets up some real tension, but that gets lost with all the hesitating and dialogue that follows. Try and keep the same urgency until they actually reach the Baron.

  10. I agree that things slow way down with the dialog and hesitation. It's nice banter and shows relationship, but it doesn't show much in way of why I want to read on, except for the part about not wanting the baron to notice Jal (that part's interesting). If you could find a way to keep that bit while paring down the rest....

    Groin is a body part. I don't think you need to avoid it. That said, the visual din't really work for me because it's a combo of an overly used cliche (stomach dropping to show apprehension) with a strange destination that I'm not accustomed to seeing, so it jarred.

    Is this starting in the right place? Does he have a confrontation with the baron soon? I might prefer to see him just start there if nothing crucial happens between there and the gate.

  11. I'm hooked. I think there are some good points in the comments above, but overall I love the voice here and that would make me continue for sure :)

  12. I agree with some of the above comments. Your first sentence standing alone doesn't invoke much. I do like your use of imagery and have to also agree with others you break the tension about him losing the package.

    & just a quick thing. You have them standing in front of the gates, but your first 250 words ends saying the gates are open. So they are standing inside facing the open gates?

  13. I agree with a lot that has already been said.

    I'd like to get a sense of how old Kiel is, since I initially thought he and Jal were the same age, but then Kiel calls him "kid" and treats him like he's much younger. Which threw me a little bit.

    Good luck!

  14. Your character's voice confused me at first. I thought the mc was a girl until I read the 'scratched the stubble on my jaw'. I agree that there is a disconnect between the lost package and what they were doing outside the gate (are they working?) Not sure I'd read on.

    Good luck. :)

  15. I agree w/many of the others that a little more of the stakes needs to be explained up front re: Baron/freedom.And what was in the lost package? Will the Baron go berserk? Some nice descriptions but a bit of what they're wearing would help set the time/place.

    Would move last line up to where they stood @ gates & scratched stubble.

    Would want to read more - hoping Kiel gets his freedom.

  16. I am okay with things not being explained completely yet - out makes me want to find out more. I also already care about the MC, mostly because of his concern for the young boy. I would continue reading!

  17. I think the set up is good. I am curious and want to know more. I share the anticipation/dread of meeting the Baron and wonder why he has a hold over the MC. I think the stopping in front of the gate would be natural when you are compelled to go forward and face the music but are delaying it as long as possible. My problems - one is simple - I find the names confusing and they take me out. But perhaps that would fix itself with repetition. Second - the dialogue does not sound natural to me - I think because we don't yet know the characters well enough to share their interaction. Maybe cut much of it until we know them better. But, I think the elements are all there for an interesting read and I would go on.

  18. I think you've accomplished a lot in 250 words. I get a sense of your MC, his relationship with Jal-that Kiel is older and more world weary and world wise, and protective of Jal.
    I liked your second paragraph, especially the last two lines, the rhythm of them and how much they tell us about how Kiel views his world and his place in it. I think it might be more powerful if you told me right at first mention of the gates that they are open. That would show me just how much Kiel is dreading having to go inside and admit he lost the package, and we wouldn't have to get into the "groin" issue (as others said, that description just didn't work)And for me, I like that you're taking a bit of time to get me settled with your characters before they face the Baron. I'm hooked and I would definitely read on.

  19. I thought you had a strong opening. A situation is immediately set up, but I agree that once the dialogue starts, it loses something. We don't know why Jal may need a rest and his sudden anger doesn't indicate anything.

    Maybe stick more to the idea you start with - Kiel's failure to deliver the package. Maybe hint at what's in it, or why it was important, or what may happen to him now, and introduce the secondary problem of Jal a bit later.

  20. I really wanted to know what would happen to him for not delivering the package. Great set-up.

    And then I'm not sure what's going on with the two characters that they are pausing at the gate. It seems like Kiel is sorta dinking around when you've just informed us that he's about to face his worst fear. This reverses the energy you started with.

    There's some real danger here for Jal and Kiel and I wanted the focus on that!

    The use of groin felt like it could be wrong, but then again this may be the kind of character Kiel is.