Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #50

TITLE: My Sister's Dating a Serial Killer
GENRE: YA Thriller

A campfire smell fills the air and I bounce along on my mountain bike down Bonner Woods Road after school, trying to figure a way out of the mess I'm in. I have no excuse for flunking my Physics quiz, except I couldn't study because I was busy spying. The damage to my skirt happened when I climbed Mrs. Jorgensen's locked gate to see if she was poisoning her husband's tea.

Mom won't buy any of this. She's told me a zillion times to stop being an amateur detective.

Behind me, somewhere close, a loud car engine revs to life, making me totally forget my skirt and quiz.

When a red convertible roars out of the woods and bears down on me, panic floods through me like ice water.

In my head, I hear Mom's voice calling to me. "Bad things come in threes, Cammi. Watch out."

She's right. I stand on my pedals to pump more speed from my bike. My third bad thing can't be me under that car.

I white knuckle the handlebars, fighting to stay on. The bike jumps into the air when I hit a bad patch of broken-up pavement.

When we smack back down onto the road again, I pedal faster until my thighs burn under my gym-class shorts.

The rumble of the car engine surges closer.

My bike skids off the road and I plummet down a steep ditch into the thick woods.


  1. I really like the idea of opening with the narrator on her mountain bike, but I think this opening still needs a bit of finessing. A few things that stuck out at me: The campfire isn't crucial so you don't need it in your lede. I suggest bringing the bad-things-come-in-threes later (ideally, when the mother is present and can say it herself) as it slowed down the action for me. The red convertible chasing her down is a biiig deal, so don't rush it. Let us see the car pulling onto the road and her thinking it's nothing out of the ordinary, but then getting increasingly panicked as it becomes clear it's coming after her. (Also: fix "when WE smack down onto the road." There's no one else on the back of her bike.) Good luck!

  2. Agree with robyn, but also felt that her trying to get away from the car was too slow-- give us more of an action-response here then a blow-by-blow. Show us what the car is doing, and her reaction to that, both physically through action and emotion.

    I was unclear here if the car was actively chasing her down, or just didn't see her.

    For your opening paragraph, "The damage to my skirt" line sort of seemed to come out of nowhere. I agree that I'd save that for later or re-work it.

    Other than that, I'm definitely interested. I'd love a spunky YA investigator!

    Remember, when asked to critique, people will find things to nit-pick. Take mine with a grain of salt.

    Good job!

  3. I agree with all the points Robyn and L.T. Host brought up. The campfire smell was a distraction and didn't help to set the scene at all for me. And the sentence "we smack back down"...I knew what you meant but it isn't working as currently written. At first, I thought the rider actually fell off and smacked against the road, but then she was pedaling again, so... And I was confused about what she was wearing b/c you mention her skirt being ruined but then she's wearing gym shorts. That needs clarity.

    I think if you flesh out the action so it is more intense and less blow-by-blow, you will have a very catchy first page.

    This next thing is totally just something I thought when I read about her mom telling her to stop being an amateur detective. As a mom, I wouldn't say it like that to my kids. I'd say something like, "Stop being such a little Nancy Drew." Obviously, not everyone has read/heard of Nancy Drew, but it is what I imagined the mom saying.

    Thanks for sharing & best of luck!

  4. Fun voice here. I do agree this opening needs a little more finesse as robyn commented above. After Cammi hits the rough pavement and smacks back down, it says "we smack back down on the road again." I thought for a second there was someone riding with her. There's almost too many specific details here so they kind of get lost. I find a few very specific memorable details work much better than a whole bunch in a short period.

  5. I agree this needs a bit more. I think the problem is that you're telling us what happened, so we don't feel her fear or any other emotion she's having.

    If you show it, we'll see that car getting closer and closer, maybe feel the heat of its engine, hear her bike clunk down, etc. Showing the scene will make a huge difference.

  6. The title pulls me in right away, but I was a little confused by the statement "bad things come in threes." Maybe, you could start with that phrase and then show us the 2 things that have already happened. Sort of like "I hear Mom's voice in my head, as I bounce along on my mntn bike down BWR after school. 'Bad things come in threes, Cammi.' I have no excuse for ..."

    The skirt and quiz seem mild in comparison to someone trying to run her down with a car. This certainly ups the tension.

    I agree with others that you could lose the initial "campfire smell," unless it comes into play soon.

    This sounds promising. I'm curious what happens to Cammi at the bottom of that ditch.

  7. Agree with all sage advice already presented. I think you've identified the inciting incident/plot catalyst and are wise to start with it, so pat yourself on the back for that! (That's assuming the red car breathing down your MC's neck is going to reappear later.) I would leave out Mom too - wait until your MC arrives at home and make that a dialogue. It feels like you're trying to launch us into the action while also inserting back-story. Hope this helps.

  8. You've had some good advice already and I agree with a lot of what's been said. I like the overall idea of the scene, but think it needs some polishing.

    I think it would be better if you tell us what the damage is to the skirt, precisely, like 'my skirt is dripping with mud' or whatever. And I want to know why she's so scared of this car - who does she think it is? Finally, just thought I'd mention that this reads more MG than YA to me. Good luck!

  9. Ok, well, I love a good voice, a mystery and good writing. I think you have all three here. Sorry to be so un-critical but I wish I could curl up with it right now!

  10. When I got to the sentence about bad things come in threes I thought this should be the first sentence. After making that assessment and reading through the comments, I saw another person suggested that and then to write the two bad things that already happened.

    The writing needs to be streamlined. It's a big choppy as is.

    I like the plot.

    I noticed a torn skirt was mentioned several times and then a line about her thighs burning in her gym shorts. Is she in a skirt or gym shorts and is either important?

    Good luck and thanks for sharing. I think there"s great potential her.

  11. You have some really fantastic advice already, and the one thing I can add is that I'm not really sure of the voice. It's good, but it reads a little more MG than YA (a tough distinction that I don't really have down myself, so if the Secret Agent has a better idea of this, go with that answer). The reason I bring up the MG thing is that this sounds like the sorts of themes we see in MG compared to YA. If it was titled I'm Dating a Serial Killer, then yeah, all YA all the time.

    Anyhow, I only bring it up because you might want to look at how you're pitching it. If you don't have a lot of luck with YA, you can think about MG if it actually fits (though the transition isn't necessarily easy).

  12. This feels a little more MG than YA, and - to me - more intriguing as MG.
    The opening para is a little choppy - each sentence seems very unrelated, so it doesn't really pull the reader in yet. It's also a little detached in places - the damage to my skirt - I'd rather know how it's ripped or stained.
    Also, a little nit, but "When we smack" had me trying to figure out who the other person was.
    I think you've done a great job starting with an inciting incident, but I do want to feel more of what she's feeling. Some of that is phrasing, so is knowing just a little more of who she is first. I think I'd like to see her ripping her skirt, don't muddle that up with the physics quiz yet.
    But I'd read on to see where it goes.

  13. Love the title - very catchy.

    I like the voice in this and already want to know the main character.

    A few nit-picky things:
    - she keeps mentioning the skirt which I assumed she was wearing until she mentioned her gym shorts.

    - "in my head, I hear Mom's voice." Cut out the extra stuff. detracts from the flow.

    - "white-knuckle" not "white knuckle"

    - "...hit a bad patch of pavement."

    - "...gym shorts." instead of "gym-class shorts."

    I like this - good luck :)

  14. Are the paragraphs this short and choppy on purpose, or is it a formatting issue? Because I would say most of these should be combined with at least one other so that it reads like paragraphs and doesn't look so much like a list.

    Also, I have to say that the opening paragraph made me think the main character was MG, not YA. This isn't so much Veronica Mars as it is Nancy Drew. Especially the Nancy Drew movie reboot from a few years ago.