Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Secret Agent #3

TITLE: The Disappeared
GENRE: Dystopian

I clawed at the earth until my fingers hit cold flesh. Then I dug faster. But my haste was too late, even I knew that—or I would have known if there was any reason left in me. I was past the point of reason, just as my father was past the point of saving.

My mother’s warm voice filled my ears.

“Stop,” she whispered, and she dragged me from the shallow grave and pressed me toward a waiting pair of arms.

“Take her to Mrs. Rogers,” she whispered from a million miles away, “Don’t leave her alone.”

Then the strong arms led me away into the blurry haze that I am still trying to wake up from.


"Maybe you could just pick one photograph, honey,” my mother urges me, as she looks at the jumble of snapshots spread across the floor.I want topress the issue. After all, what’s a few extra pictures tucked away in a book? But I hold my tongue. She has been through enough.

I stare at the photos before settling on one that contains all of us. My mother and father are smiling for the camera, my head is thrown back in laughter, and my cat Cyan is frozen in mid-leap from my lap. We all look much younger in the picture. But then, no one can afford cameras since The Unrest started several years ago.

I tuck the picture between the pages of the well-worn book I got for my last birthday, and stuff it all into my cramped backpack.


  1. Bah - my first comment didn't take! Let me try again...

    I love this. It's haunting and engaging and I want to know more.

    One thing, though... that break between when she was dragged away from the scene with her dead father and then her sorting through photos, is this a break between two chapters or a prologue/chapter break? I know the rules stated you couldn't indicate such breaks, so I'll assume that's what's going on here.

    But, honestly, this really grabbed me. The image of the girl trying to unbury her father with her bare hands? I'd snatch this book up in a heartbeat.

  2. LOVE the opening paragraph. Great hook. I'm a little curious about the break as mentioned above because it's a tad jarring. Other than that, great job!

  3. This really impressed me! The first line grabbed my attention, and the strength of the writing kept me hooked till I got to the end. Something unimportant and kinda nitpicky that I saw was the repetition of "she whispered" from the mom in the first half. I don't know why, but the second time stuck out to me a little. Love the transition line from past to present about her trying to wake up from the blurry haze--that was beautifully executed. Another nitpick: "Maybe you could just pick one photograph, [H]oney," my mother-- the "H" in "honey" should be capitalized because you're using the nickname in place of the MC's name.

    Overall, I just loved this. I loved the way you opened, the transition, and the description of her choosing one photograph, and how that showed the change from past to present. Really fantastic, and the voice in this was engaging. I'd read on! Great job and best of luck!

  4. Oh, I just refreshed the page, looked back, and saw that helpful little pound sign breaking up the scenes! So much better! :)

  5. I was hooked too. But I didn't think she was burying her father, I thought she was trying to dig him up. And she felt cold flesh, why isn't he buried in a casket? I would read on to find out what is happening.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. I liked this. The writing is pretty tight and the mood is forlorn--a good start to a dystopian. I'm eager to know what The Unrest is and where she and her mother are going. I was confused about the scene switch, but then the # showed up. ...Now I'm gut-reacting about prologues. *shrugs*

    I don't know if this matters, but I found the mother a little odd here. If they can't take any more pictures and the dad is dead, why wouldn't they be taking even just a couple more photos with them... ha, I guess I can relate to the MC here. Does the mother have a good reason for needing to travel light to even that extent?

    Personally, my vote is to not capitalize generic terms of endearment (unless her name is Honey or that's what her mother always calls her). But this is an argument I've seen go back and forth a lot, so I won't pretend to be an expert.

  7. I was hooked as well, this is really gripping. It's not often that you read a couple of paragraphs then wait in anticipation for the release of a book, but that is exactly what just happened with me.

  8. This is an emotionally gripping first scene. I, too, was confused over the transition between past and present, so I don't have a good sense of what's going on. I suggest lengthening the first scene to hint more at what's happening. Though the writing is strong, I found the narrative structure weak and I would not continue reading.

    I have to emphatically disagree with Ashley about capitalizing the endearment "honey." Terms of endearment are not capitalized. If her nickname was indeed Honey, as in everyone called her Honey and it wasn't just an address of affectionate, then it would be capped.

  9. Very good. It definitely pulled me in. The only thing I didn't like was, "my haste was too late..." It just seemed too formal in comparison with the rest of the voice. I would change it to: "But it was too late..."

    Just my two cents. Really liked the premise and would keep reading. : )

  10. I would definitely keep reading! The first few sentences made me sit up and feel the character's distress.

  11. Stopping by again to retract my suggestion to capitalize the "H" in "honey." I went and looked it up after I suggested it (and after reading following comments), and the others were right that vocatives/terms of endearment are not generally capitalized. It's been a while since I've studied capitalization rules in depth, and I apologize for any confusion I may have caused.

  12. I like this a lot. Great voice. I would definitely keep reading.

  13. I'd definitely keep reading. It's an intense way to start the book. Very jarring.

    My only suggestion is a personal pet peeve: I think your opening scene should be a bit longer (but that's just me).

    Good luck.

  14. Pretty good right off the bat.

    I did think the repetition of photograph/snapshot/picture was a bit much, but still think this has uber potential.

  15. I really liked the line,'"I was past the point of reason, just as my father was past the point of saving." Nice turn of phrase. I'm also curious to know what the Unrest is and where they have to go. Nicely done.

  16. Very gripping- the first paragraph pulled me in. The shift in tense from the first part (prologue?) to the second jarred me, like others have said. I'm confused on the inability to pick more than one photo, but I'm sure it will come out. There are some verb tense issues within the paragraphs themselves that can be easily cleaned up with a good editor. Overall, I love this and would keep reading.

  17. Hooked! This is really polished - smooth writing, good voice, lots of questions that beg you to read on and discover more. One thing that was a little confusing: I'm not exactly sure what her father's situation is: is this an offical funeral where she's in denial and trying to dig him up? Or was there an accident/murder and she's just come upon the body with her mother as he's being buried in a shallow grave? Or something else? Since this is labeled as Dystopian I'm assuming they're in a difficult political/social situation, but just adding 1 or 2 sentences to help place the setting and circumstances will pull the reader in even further.

  18. Interesting opening. I also got the sense she was digging her father up, rather than burying him. But she's digging until her fingers meet cold flesh, then she digs some more. Technically. she'd be digging into her father's flesh, so you may want to rephrase that line a bit.

    And I also thought the mother was a bit weird or strange, but it made me think that maybe she's more than what she seems, so the strangeness worked for me.

    I did think the opening was too short, because the next part comes so quickly, it takes a bit of reorienting. Maybe add a bit more to the opening. Not necessarily expanding on the situation, but adding more details to the setting to create an eerie atmosphere and slow that scene down just a bit.

  19. I love, love, love your first line. I think your prologue is the perfect length. It's unnerving and makes me want to read more.

    I admit I was a little confused as well by why the mother wouldn't let her take more than one photo. Especially if no one can afford cameras anymore and these are probably the only photos they have.

    I would definitely read on.

  20. I really, really appreciate all the feedback. Some of the issues mentioned were things I never thought of as being a problem, so it is really good to see where things need to be tightened up or explained further. I am grateful for everyone who took the time to read and offer suggestions! This kind of feedback really is invaluable.

  21. I agree with the 'why can't she take more than one photo' comment.

    Other than that, wow. I hope you get chosen by our mysterious and no doubt wildly attractive Secret Agent, just because I would like to read more of what you've written here.

  22. I would read further. Overall, I felt I was in competent hands. "I was past the point of reason, just as my father was past the point of saving" was an excellent sentence. Not showy, just an elegant and concise bit of wording. It is encouraging to see something like this in the first paragraph.

    At the end of the page, I know the father is dead (possibly killed in action or murdered); there is some sort of societal upheaval; and the MC is heading somewhere and she has to travel light.

    I am curious about where she is going and what role she is going to play in The Unrest. I am not too curious about The Unrest itself yet - so far it is just a vague notion that all is not well, but not enough to really pin anything specific on. I am a little confused about the bit about cameras not being affordable. What happened to the cameras everyone owned when the unrest began? And why so many printed photographs? I do have a couple printed out, but most of my photos reside solely on my computer. So I am curious to find out more about the actual setting.

    As for overall structure, I don't think the prologue is carrying its weight. On the positive side: it shows skillful writing; it establishes the father is dead; it sets an ominous tone: shallow graves are never good news; etc. The negative: other than the initial action, the MC comes across ragdoll-ish - perfectly understandable given the scene, but maybe not the best first image.

    The prologue also leaves me a bit unhappy about the POV character still being in a blurry haze. The good news is that the first chapter quickly follows with her POV being quite sharp; but it is a contradiction. I also was struck by the lack of visuals in the prologue. How does she know the cold flesh is her fathers? It sets off warning bells you probably didn't mean to trigger: is her mother lying? WIll the father show up very alive later on? etc.

  23. Wow! i felt that first paragraph SO MUCH! I would love to read this.

    My ONLY crit would be that like the other commenters, I found that break to be jarring. I have a similar opening in my MS, and I tried (keyword TRIED) to have her reminiscing/backstory-telling flow into the actual story a bit. So, she's kind of reminiscing *while* she is looking at who she is reminiscing about. Does that make sense?

    So, without knowing your story (why haven't you sent it to me yet!?) and just going off the first 250, what if your MC is reminiscing about that moment AS she is looking through old photos of "before?" Do you know what I mean?

  24. Great opening! Dystopian isn't my thing, but it hooked me, though the part after the break kind of slowed me down again. I would read on, though, to see what happened to her dad, etc.

  25. I think the opening could work harder for you. For once, I'm not completely turned off at the prospect of a prologue. But I don't feel the urgency of the situation--hers maybe, but "warm voice" and whispers and calm people are at odds with her emotions. In a way that distances me even though we do get a sense of her despair.

    In the opening after the prologue, her mother is keeping me from truly connecting with the scene. She's too distant and we don't know why. And how does the mc really feel about her--a reluctant patience or simmering hatred?

    I do like that you've opened with the character agonizing over which photos to take with her--it's a sentimental frivolity readers can connect with.

  26. Somehow I missed the fact that she was trying to dig up her Dad. First read-through I spent the whole time wondering, then settled on the cat when the picture was described. May want to clarify that a little.

    The way the Unrest is introduced feels awkward. Going from age to cameras is counter-intuitive.

    Otherwise, very well done.

    Feelings: I thought she was leaving her mother behind, and Cyan is dead.