Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Secret Agent #16

GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

Lily Cooper and her twin brother Jaden raced through the hallways of Dearborn Elementary. The wind blew Lily’s wavy, black hair into a frazzled mess—that is, even more of a frazzled mess than usual. She dropped Jaden off at his class and continued the sprint to her own classroom. She burst into room eight and the door slammed behind her, trapping her backpack. The kids giggled, and Lily sheepishly grinned.

Mrs. Applegate tilted her head in Lily’s direction, raised her eyebrows, and then made a show of turning around to look at the clock. “Are you ordering lunch today, Lily?” Mrs. Applegate asked.

“No, I brought my lunch,” Lily said.

“Put your stuff away and come join us on the carpet,” Mrs. Applegate said as she turned back toward the rest of the class. “Now, where were we? Ah, yes, the talent show. Are there any questions?”

A few students asked the basic questions:

“Do you have to be in the show?”

“Can you perform with a friend?”

“Can I bring my nun chucks?”

Mrs. Applegate sighed before she answered. “While I don’t doubt using nun chucks requires a great deal of talent, I don’t think weapons are allowed.”

She had worked hard all year to teach the kids that there isn’t such thing as a “dumb” question, and she didn’t want to appear hypocritical now.

“Can we do a dance routine?” asked a girl with beautiful hazel eyes and flowing brown hair.

“Yes, Jasmine, you can dance,” Mrs. Applegate answered.


  1. This is a nice scene, well-written. I like all the dialogue, but maybe a few lines of where it's going or why this particular conversation is important might help grab a reader.
    The nun chucks part is funny. :)

  2. I also like the nun chuck line :). The only thing that drew me out was the line about Mrs. Applegate working to teach the kids about dumb questions. Until then, I expected it to be in Lily's viewpoint, and it jumped into omniscient.

    There also are a lot of physical descriptions in this first 250. Not sure you need all of those, but overall I'd keep reading as I already get a sense of Lily being an interesting character. Good luck!

  3. "Can I bring my nun chucks?" Ha! Love it.

    I think this has a great MG voice, and I was easily able to picture the scene.

    Good luck!

  4. I have been accused of this in my own ms, but there is less MG voice here and more of the author's voice coming through... especially here:

    "She had worked hard all year to teach the kids that there isn’t such thing as a “dumb” question, and she didn’t want to appear hypocritical now."

    If this is 3rd person from Lily's pov then Lily wouldn't "know" Mrs. Applegate's feelings, and I also think the word hypocritical is too old/hard for the intended auidence. And I am thinking the audience is younger MG because they are gathering on the carpet. Also, the mc wouldn't know that the questions being asked were "basic." Maybe reword to something like "A few kids blurted out questions without raising hands."

    We also don't get a sense of anything the mc is feeling, or a hint at what the story will be about. And this is nit-picky, but there is no "wind" inside.

    All that said, I LOVE that she got her backpack caught in the door and the dialog about the talent show is very MG.

  5. I, too, enjoyed the nun chucks reference and the backpack crisis. I also agree that the viewpoint needs to stay in the MC's head. Are twins overdone these days? It seems like I've read somewhere editors are seeing a lot of twins, and you may want to vary their ages. Best wishes with this, it looks fun!

  6. I enjoyed the energy in the first paragraph--MC races, sprints, bursts. I like her. She's got personality. But then things slow down. We're introduced to the idea of a variety show, but where does Lily fit in to that? And what is the purpose of her twin brother, other than to drop him off (is she playing the bigger sister here?) at his class. The action slows down a bit too much to keep the interest going...

  7. I agree with what the others said about the POV. It should stay in Lily's POV. Kids don't want to know what's going on in the teacher's head. You can show the teacher is frustrated by having her glance at her watch or straighten a pile of already tidy papers.

    I've seen kids use nun-chucks in a talent show. It was ...interesting. Great line.

    Lily seems like a likable character but I can't tell where this is headed. Nothing really happened.

  8. Lily does seem like an interesting character so please stay in her POV and use her voice - I wanted to know more about her :)

    I also got caught up with the wind line in para 1. I think you mean the wind from running down the hallway but it took me a minute to back up and make sure the setting hadn't changed.

    I couldn't picture the trapped backpack for some reason. Did she just stand in the doorway until the door closed or does this school have dangerous slamming doors?

    Why does the teacher ask her about her lunch?

    I like the conversation about the talent show - have Lily be a part of this conversation.

    I think nunchucks is commonly spelled as one word but it is an English version of a Japanese word so I don;t know if it has an approved spelling. That said, I like the nunchucks. Maybe have Lily bring this up or flash back to last year when the nunchucks were a disaster at the talent show? That would be a very MG thing to include.

    Good luck with this!

  9. A lot of spot-on constructive criticism above.

    I felt like there wasn't a lot to go on from this opener, other than to assume that the talent show will be a focal point. And that could be enough, with the right mix of humor and drama, for a lower MG novel.