Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #23

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Plants I get; they have guidelines. Sun or shade. Wet soil or dry. Prune them often or leave them alone. People are harder.

“Hey, Becca, who picked out that skirt? Your grandma?” Kara Phinn snorts and saunters past.

From the edge of the Phinns’s yard I watch throngs of people sing, eat and laugh. Kara and I are in the same calculus class, but we don’t exactly hang with the same crowd.

The Phinn’s annual Fourth of July cookout features live music, a catered B-B-Q dinner, and the opportunity to mingle with the Who’s Who in Sugarland, which is why my parents wanted to come. But I’m not exactly a mingler, so I squat down to deadhead some begonias, checking my watch for how much longer I’ll have to endure the crowd.

I would’ve designed this garden differently, but of course no one asked for my opinion. It’s nice, but the designer used a lot of annuals. I prefer perennials. They have staying power.

“Can’t keep your hands out of the dirt, can you?”

I fall, catching myself on my hands and knees. “Hi,” I mutter. I stand, brushing the dirt off my knees and pushing a lock of hair out of my face, most likely smudging my forehead with dirt.

“I’m Greg Sveitch. I’ve just been talking with your mother.”

I don’t recognize him, but I take a step back. “Oh, okay.” My mom’s talking to Mrs. Phinn and not looking our way.


  1. I like that right away, we know something unique about Becca - her love of plants. I like MCs who have hobbies :) You also set up in the scene well, and I can easily picture the BBQ. The only thing I'm left wanting for, though I can sense it's close in coming - there's not a lot of tension in these first 250 words. A stranger comes over to talk to her (an adult? A kid her age?) but that's to be expected at a BBQ. So maybe if there's a way to move the 'something's wrong' moment into this first page, that would be my only suggestion.

  2. I really like the plants, too, it really says a lot about Kara's character. I also like how she's using her love of plants to hide from the the world. The thing that stood out to me is that I didn't think the interchange with the boy sounded right. Why would he introduce himself like that and be so forthright about what he was doing? And why would she just say, "okay," when he said he was talking to her mother? I think if there was more mystery in his lines and more curiosity in hers, you'd leave the reader with more of a question at the end of this.

  3. Good job with your setting.

    But I agree w/ previous commentors - include more info when the dialogue begins with the boy. After he talks to her, perhaps include a line about what he looks like. Esp. since a few lines later, you say she doesn't recognize He's just an empty space right now. Use that opportunity to bring us into the story.

  4. Just Another YA AuthorJanuary 16, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    Lovely character viewpoint. I'd definitely keep reading.

  5. Ooh, I like this. The setting is unique (hooray for a YA start outside of school!) and her work with plants shows so much about her from the start. This is nitpicky, but I would watching some of those -ing verbs, there's a whole lot of them in the paragraph starting with "I fall." It's a style preference, but it can be viewed as weak writing, and your writing sample certainly isn't.

    the only other issue here is I have no inkling of how this is a fantasy. But, I trust that a fantasy element is worked in.

  6. I also think the plant element is a nice touch and think it will be plants that lead to the fantasy.

    I also think the ending dialogue with the boy doesn't work. Until that point, I was interested in the MC. But her reaction and response to the boy made her seem dull and uninteresting. Perhaps work on that exchange.

  7. I was a bit confused. I like the grandmother line since it sets up a conflict but then that conflict is abandoned. She may like plants -as do I - but I think it highly unlikely that she would root around in another family's garden. This seems rude and completely inappropriate as behavior. The intro of the boy (if he is a boy and not a man) seems lacking. Why would she be so startled that she pitches forth into the dirt? And his saying "can't keep your hands out of the dirt?" seems odd for someone who does not know her and presumably her love of plants. It also seems "why?" would be a more natural response to a stranger saying he has been talking to her mother rather than "okay". There are just too many incosistencies for me to be drawn in. I like the plant hobby etc but it needs to be presented in an interesting way -i.e. somethin unique about that activity to open a story.

  8. I want to know sooner what she thinks of Greg. Is he her age? Is he cute? Is her her mom's age? What's her initial judgement of him before he even opens his mouth?

    Your first paragraph is compelling, but I'd like it tied in sooner to what is happening to her now. Maybe she glances at someone at the party, and then says people are harder.

    Like the others, I'd like to have a more focused idea of what the conflict is and why the story is starting here--why this scene is important sooner. It's hard to squeeze it in one page one, but I think you can find ways to more strongly allude to it.

    I like your writing style. You're definitely talented enough to finesse a stronger beginning. Good luck!

  9. Very nice voice, and I like the gardening aspect, and how you show us this aspect of the MC’s character. However, the interaction with Greg at the end doesn’t flow well, and doesn’t create the tension that it should. We also have absolutely no context for who Greg is. He says that he was talking to her mom – is he a contemporary of her mom’s, or is he a boy her age? Is he somebody that she’s aware of, so that’s why she reacted the way that she did? I’m hooked by your voice, and the potential of the story.

  10. Love the opening lines! But I agree that Greg's confusing at the end. I feel like the way he talks to her is more like that of an adult, but she reacts to him as if he's younger. I would definitely keep reading.