Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April Secret Agent #2

GENRE: YA Alternate Historical

A man on horseback blocked their path of retreat.

Beatrix was used to keeping her head down in Sheepshank, so she felt Miss Black tense beside her before looking up and spotting him where the cobblestones turned to packed earth. He hardly seemed a threat, but Miss Black considered everyone a threat. Even ruddy-cheeked men who couldn’t keep their periwigs on straight.

“Hallo there, Miss Black,” he called, approaching at a trot. Oily black curls bounced beneath his wide-brimmed planter’s hat; his orange feather plume sagged upon his shoulder. He wore a long formal coat, ill-suited to the heavy heat of a Caribbean summer, but befitting the event of the day.

The very event Beatrix and Miss Black were attempting to avoid.

Seeing the unease in her guardian’s eyes, Beatrix felt a wave of guilt for talking Miss Black into bringing her to town. She should be home with her sisters, who had both woken with stomach pains after staging a late-night jackfruit eating competition. By morning, they were competing for who could moan the loudest. But Beatrix’s pleas to escape her sisters’ dramatics would have fallen on deaf ears, had Miss Black known Sheepshank would be swarming with pirate hunters, bootnecks, and other Heavy Pockets.

“Good day, Mr. Reed,” Miss Black greeted with a false smile. She didn’t need to tell Beatrix how to behave. They’d gone over this scenario countless times. Demure, and don’t say a word.

Mr. Reed doffed his hat but didn’t bother to dismount. “Headed to the trial, are you?”


  1. The first line doesn't grab me; I think it might work better to lead with the second paragraph and work the first into how the horseman is blocking their path.

    Like this line: Even ruddy-cheeked men who couldn’t keep their periwigs on straight.

    I would watch for adjectives in the third paragraph, maybe streamline to one or two to not bogg down the reader.

    I'm curious why they are retreating, why the trip into town. I would keep reading to see where this goes, just be mindful that the conflict should arise soon to keep interest.

    I say this all from a place of humility having struggled with my own first pages. Best wishes with your editing!

  2. Well, I'm not sure the reader is grounded enough in what's happening. There are too many unknowns, and what little we do know is too vague to be engaging. But you're on the right track.

    You're setting up your world and the situation at the same time, and that's good. However, Beatrix needs to be a better observer and interpret what she observes in a way that helps us understand what's happening. They're retreating from something unknown, so that's not interesting. The man appears mysterious and Miss Black is uncomfortable, so Beatrix needs to interpret this reaction for the reader.

    Also, I strongly suggest not digressing from the action by describing a previous event (how the sisters got their tummy aches).

    The world building is good, the choreography needs work, and more information is needed to understand what's going on.

  3. As someone who's struggled with world building and introducing the conflict at the same time, I appreciate what you're trying to do here.

    I really like all the details, but I agree with the other commenters that maybe we're not grounded enough.

    Maybe start something like this:
    Beatrix felt Miss Black tense beside her, and looked up, spotting him where the cobblestones turned to packed earth. A man on horseback blocked their path of retreat. He hardly seemed a threat, but Miss Black considered everyone a threat.

    Even ruddy-cheeked men who couldn’t keep their periwigs on straight. (great line, btw)

    And then get strait to the trial. That's where things really get interesting, and you really don't talk about it for a long time.

    Hope this helps.

  4. I love a good pirate story, and I think the writing is strong, but for some reason this read as MG to me. Maybe it's because she's deferring to a guardian? I'm intrigued enough to read more though!

  5. I don't care for the first line because we don't know who their refers to. And you repeat "threat" twice in one sentence a few lines later. You go into a little too much details with the past and there isn't enough focus on what's going on right now.

  6. I agree with a lot of the above.

    I can't put my finger quite on why I'm lost, here, but I don't feel like I really understand what's going on.

    What I'm seeing is a girl and governess (?) retreating from something, and they're stopped by a completely innocuous fellow. The only reason they're in town is because she didn't want to listen to her sisters moan. Then the fellow asks if they're going to a trial.

    I think I'm a little let down that the tension is set up as this man in the road, except there's seemingly nothing wrong with him--Miss Black is just paranoid. And I'm not sure why they're surprised to find out there's a trial going on. Wouldn't that have been big news? Is there usually very little communication between their household and town? Or was the trial very sudden? There's a mention of various unsavories (bootnecks and the like), but none of them pose any kind of danger in this opening.

  7. I think maybe too much is happening here and too fast. A lot of different characters are introduced and we're in the middle of something I don't quite understand.

    I think if you slow down a little, let us get to know the MC better, it will ground us much more.

  8. I also agree that your initial conflict gets lost the moment you backtrack to past events that seem to have no direct impact.

    For some reason I thought they too must have been on horseback, but the more I look over it I guess they aren't. I'm assuming Miss Black is someone of important but she is on foot?

    I think the trial is where this is heading but you only mention it really at the end of your 250 words.

  9. I'm usually the confused it seems, but I wasn't with this one. I'm just curious what's going to happen next. Plus there be pirates! I haven't read a good pirate story in ages.

    I would definitely read more.

    Good luck!

  10. With some revision based on previous comments, I think you'll have a stronger beginning. There was enough here to intrigue me though, so yes, I would read on.

    Good luck. :)

  11. I like this! Yes, the writer has created a vagueness but I like it. I'm willing to go along for the ride. I love the way the writer has adeptly slipped in the info - "formal coat, ill-suited to the heavy heat of a Caribbean summer".

    Am intrigued by the question of whose trial and why Beatrix is curious to attend. Want to read more.

  12. I agree with Mary Vettel and like the vagueness. I would read on!

  13. Like others, I'm confused a bit-it's directional in nature. I'm thinking their retreat is from the town (Sheepshank) yet Reed asks if they are headed to the trial--and I think a trial-would be in town?... But even with not being sure which way is which I'm intrigued by the characters and setting and would definitely read on.

  14. I thought you might consider starting this a bit later, just before they get swept into witnessing the trial, or seeing the defendant, or whatever it is that will happen next.

    That may actually be what you've done, but this opening is a bit slow with the flashback to the sick sisters, and how important is Mr. Reed? If he's just there to introduce info about the trial, you might skip past that to just before the big moment.

  15. Oooo, pirates, the heavy heat of a Caribbean summer, and a stranger blocking their path! Intriguing.

    And then I begin to get glimpses of so many other things that I began to feel a bit lost. I love how Karen Duvall phrased it and I wanted this several different times: "Beatrix needs to interpret this reaction for the reader." If you could focus on that, I think what is truly necessary in this first scene will come to light or perhaps you'll find as others have suggested that you can start elsewhere.

    But I too loved the periwig reference.

  16. Interesting, but could use some focus ... Too many disparate things going on. Would read on a few pages, though.

  17. I liked this better on second reading than on the first. That tells me that once the reader is more situated then the setting and situation start to come through. I think the way to achieve this from the outset would be to ratchet up the tension a bit. For example, when a man on horseback blocks your path of retreat that is naturally tense - or should be. But you undercut that by saying immediately that he didn't seem a threat. I think if there were some subtle menace - even as yet unknown - then it would be more effective. I agree that the reference to the previous night and the sister's is unnecessary at this point. But, I liked it enough to read on and think with tightening and - as said above - focus - this could be something unique and entertaining. I think the first comment made by Stephsco about adjectives in the third paragraph was bang on. Too many multiples in short order.