Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Secret Agent #8


The school psychologist told me it’s common to hallucinate after losing a parent. She gave me medication to make the sightings go away.

I lied and told her they were gone.

I'm walking down the senior class hallway with my head down, heading straight for my locker. Happy talk of summer break, vacations out of town, and dating gossip float over my head. No one speaks to me. I’m the new girl in town with a freak background, doped up on drugs to keep sane.

My locker is at the end of the senior class hall. I keep my eyes on the floor as I squeeze through the crowd. Excited voices drift around me. I drop my backpack on the floor when I get to my locker. A black spider scurries across my foot. I jump and it crawls into a crack in the floor. My hand shakes as I turn the combination on my locker: 37-14-53. The lock clicks and I lift the handle to open the door.

The inside of my locker is moving. Black dots crawl up and down the door. The floor, the walls, they’re all moving. My eyes focus. Black spiders are everywhere. When they realize the door is open, they march out, crawling over my foot and up my jeans.

I scream. A blanket of black spiders covers my body. No one offers to help remove what can't be seen.

I try to brush them off as the world swims away.


  1. This definitely makes me want to read more. I like the introspection, and I can feel the self-loathing. Really effective! The only thing that tripped me up (but which may be necessary to the rest of the story), was the the line "I'm walking down the senior class hallway" as opposed to "I walk down the hall." It creates a sense of distance (which may be the point in this scene). In this sentence, I feel less like I am in her head and more like I am watching her (or like I am watching her watch herself). I am not sure if I am explaining this well. Also, is the locker combination important? If so, definitely keep it. But if not, it distracts me, because I feel like I need to make a note of it and keep track of it because I feel like, since you mentioned it, it should be important.

  2. Great first line. I'd read more. I agree with T.Z. I also felt like I was outside of her being told what was happening, not experiencing it as she did.

  3. This fits into my favorite genre: psychological contemporary. The writing is strong, but here are my questions. 1. "common" to hallucinate after losing a parent? Probably not. Hallucinations can be a product of PTSD but "common" is probably pushing it.

    There are some word choices that pull me out of this as well. "senior class hallway" and then "senior class hall" in the next paragraph. "Drugs to keep sane" seems like it needs another word or something.

    Also, I have no idea if your MC is male or female.

    I would probably read on a little to see it if it hooks me.

  4. Ooh, what an awesome premise! I really like your opening line--it grabbed me and made me want to read on. I agree with the comments above that there was a little bit a disconnect with the character. I actually think it happened in the transition--between the line "I lied and told her they were gone" and "I'm walking..." The shift between those two lines seemed a little jarring to me. I can't quite put my finger on why or a suggestion that might smooth it out. If I can think of anything, I'll come back and leave a second comment. Other than that though, I really loved your entry. And spiders? *Shivers* I'm terrified of those, so the description of them crawling out and all over the MC had my skin crawling! Great job and best of luck :-)

  5. The writing and the situation are good. It's interesting and I want to know more about the MC's issues and how they affect his/her life (though I read girl because of the scream).

    I also had a little trouble with the transition from the "I lied..." line to "I'm walking...." I'm not sure if it's a tense thing or the syntax... I suspect, for me, it might just be because I don't like these trick, "blurb-style" openings where a little teaser is given before the actual scene starts--I'd much rather just be started off with an engaging scene that works that hook in somewhere. But lots of successful books start this way.

    The one thing that did disappoint me is that, with her passing out at the end of such a short passage, this feels like a false start. We're planted in a scene with a dramatic event, but we're not really given much about this girl and the event itself is pretty rushed. I'd rather stay here a little while, learn about her, then cover her with spiders (and expand on that description--does she *feel* her hallucinations, is she aware of people staring at her?) and then pass out.

  6. This is first person present tense, but it feels like third person past. It moves so fast and there aren't any real 'teenage' observations. It feels almost factual.

    With a bit of work, I think it could have a real hook.

    Good luck.

  7. I felt a little removed from the character and didn't make an immediate connection. That being said, I would read on for a few more pages to see if it picked up.

  8. Great opening line.

    As soon as she opened the locker and saw that it was crawling with something, I was shuddering. But her reaction to them crawling on her ("trying to brush them off") seems awfully pale. I'd be jumping and screaming and flailing. Is she this calm because she knows it isn't real? But if she knows that, why bother to brush them off at all?

    I'd tweak the sentence "No one offers to help remove what can't be seen." "Offers to help" seems distant and calm for the reaction you'd expect if people could see hundreds of spiders pouring out of a locker and over another student. Maybe "No one rushes to help" or "No one screams or rushes to help because no one else sees what I do."

    But I'm curious about her problems and I would read more.

  9. I like the premise of this story, but inaccuracies in the first sentence bother me. I'm not certain that hallucinations after losing a parent are common. Also, technically a psychologist can't prescribe medication; only a psychiatrist can.

    I agree that use more senses than sight would make a more believable hallucination. And ... I would like to know the sex of the MC. I'm guessing it's a female.

    Passing out at the end of the short scene doesn't bother me a bit.

    In general, good job. You have a lot to work with. I would read on.

  10. I thought the MC felt distant, and I think it's because you tell us what she does, and don't give us much of what she thinks and feels.

    Also, parag. 3 -- every sentence is the same in rhythm and sentence structure, and I think that contributes a lot to it, too.

    Maybe change up your sentence lengths and get some emotion in there.

  11. The reason everyone finds fault with your character is due to the fourth paragraph. I'm pretty sure you didn't read it aloud. First of all, the sentence length is not varied enough and they're all action without a single thought process. It was ghastly to read--almost like a script for a robot.

    You need to overwrite one of the sentences and add some thought in there and that might fix the issue the others have with regard to the disconnect.

    Good luck!

  12. I liked the words, but I think they need tweaking to be more active. I felt removed from the character. It was more like watching her do everything, rather than living it as she did it. Even her own observations felt distant and stilted.

    Luckily, it's an easy thing to fix since all you need to do is reword the sentences just a little, and maybe throw in a few more in-her-head observations.

  13. I will certainly keep reading here. This is a character with a lot of problems. I want to know what happened to her parents, whether what she's seeing is just in her head or is somehow real. I'm guessing it's going to get too real if it isn't already.

  14. My first thought was "What's the genre?" Is this going to be YA paranormal? Horror? You've got a great start with a very darkly disturbed MC and opening scene, so paranormal, horror, thriller, psychological - any of those would be very fitting. I'm curious to know where its headed.

    Other than not knowing your genre, I had trouble with your first few lines. As someone else stated, the difference between psychologist and psychiatrist is very important, and I'm also not sure a school counselor would EVER prescribe meds. So maybe she referred MC to another doc. That could work. Make sure you do research on this so crazy people like me won't focus on that instead of the writing. Because, like I said, you've done a very good job of creating darkness and a disturbing opening.

    Also, as someone whose dad died suddenly when I was sixteen, I can say I did many things - drunken, stupid things - but I never hallucinated. Not that that means it doesn't happen, I'd just suggest not making that a "common" occurrence.

    I'd for sure read more though.

  15. I wanted to say up front that the images and emotions conveyed are very powerful so the writing is strong and effective. That being said, I needed to know the genre so I could evaluate it through that prism. If it was not anything like paranormal, fantasy, horror etc then it changes my reaction. If it is meant to be contemporary then there are some problems - the most glaring of which is the school psychologist. If you go to the querytracker blog today and read their blogpost there is a book written about how to incorporate psychology in writing in a realistic way. I think, seeing where this book is going, you could really benefit by something like that - just to make sure you hit the right notes. Just saying, hallucinating (in any context) is NOT a normal reaction and no professional would say that. How do others in the school know that she is on meds unless she wears a sign? That is something kept private. And, the bugs are a sign of a severe alcoholic in withdrawal so - once again - genre is ABSOLUTELY necessary to evaluate this piece to see if that is where you are going or if this is just a creepy setup to some weird mind games. I am sorry you left the genre out.

  16. The stilted action in present tense is jarring and keeps me removed from the character--"I lied," "I keep," "I jump," "I turn," "I lift," "I scream," etc. I'm not sure if this is because she's doped up or hallucinating, or both, a sign of voice/style or poor writing. I might continue reading to see where it leads, but I wouldn't give it many pages to sway me.

    To contradict myself, it is a captivating opening and it almost doesn't matter that I don't know what's going on because I know I'll figure it out eventually. Plus, spiders scare the you know what out of a lot of people, and they like being scared. From this opening alone, I'd call it horror, psycholocal something, or magical realism--but a query, genre at least, would clarify it.

    Then again, I might have no idea what I'm talking about, lol. The drugged, almost magical realism, sort of feel doesn't appeal to me. Again, these are just the vibes I got from it--if it's not what you're aiming for, a rewrite with above comment-suggestions will help.

  17. I'm a little late but I guess I will leave my thoughts. Like some have mentioned, I needed to know the genre. The present tense does not bother me as it gives an immediacy that I like. I get that we are dealing with a deeply disturbed MC and I wonder how that will play over a novel. Policical correctness being what it is, we are not supposed to say that mental illness is anything but a "challenge" but I am not sure I want to go along for the ride. I like the image of the spiders and it is related well. I will second what has already been said - hallucinating is not normal and something as common as losing a parent is not enough to warrant it. When I was in high school, it was not unusual for a child to lose a parent and no one every hallucinated because of it. So, I guess I need a lot more in the first 250 to understand why this particular MC has had such a strange break with reality.