Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #4

TITLE: The Lost Festival

Slipping around the corner, Sal glanced up Shandwick Place. If the road were clear, she could dart across, scamper all the way down to Queensferry Place, and cross over the road to the abandoned gardens. Then she could reach her front door before the bullies caught her.

A bus was approaching, its insides glowing with light. Sal held her breath, edging one foot off the curb – yes, it was slowing in front of the Co-op, preparing to stop.

Just as Sal stepped forward, a bicycle without any lights shot out of the January gloom. It darted around the bus, heading straight towards her.

Sal stumbled back. Her left heel pulled out of her shoe.

The cyclist shouted as he swerved past.

“Hey!” she yelled after him, hopping on her right foot. "You need lights!"

On the pavement, a toddler stuffed into a huge blue coat jerked to a stop and gaped at her. His mother looked sympathetically at Sal. "The cyclists are horrible, aren't they. I'm sure they're worse here than in America!"

Sal nodded politely, trying not to lose her balance, but as soon as the woman pulled the toddler along, she rolled her eyes. “ Everything's worse here than in America.” Including the fact that people in Edinburgh kept making comments like, “Oh, that's not a Scottish accent!” whenever she said more than two words. It wasn't as though she could suddenly change the way she spoke after living in Scotland for four months, even if she wanted to.


  1. I love the setting and the set up of an American living in Scotland. I also loved her interchange with the mother with the toddler. Your details there were very vivid. But I would've liked to know who the "bullies" are. Are these kids from school? I would've liked to know more about why she is running away. Also, is this MG contemporary? It'd be nice to know which genre. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I like the details here and the setting, but I get a little lost. A lot happens in a short period of time--we're introduced to the MC, she's running from bullies, but then a bus comes, and then a bike comes, and then she's talking to a stranger--for me, that's a lot to process this early in the story. I'd love to know some more details about the MC and who she is.

  3. Not sure if you meant "up at Shandwick Place" in your first sentence. Either way, I met recommend cutting the first paragraph or starting with that third sentence and reworking it.

    Overall, I'm a little confused by your first 250. I get the fact that Sal is being bullied and that she's out of place. And I think that sounds like the makings of a great story. But I agree with Nat that it may be helpful to give more of an overall picture of Sal first, or one primary action--just the bullies or just the bus or just the bicycle. Ease us in.

  4. I agree with most of the other comments here. You are great with your descriptions, but I think the focus of the first 250 needs a bit of tightening. Good start!

  5. I like the feeling of disorientation I had reading the passage. Stranger in a strange (Scot)land. It creates a tension that (I'm guessing) will be central to your story.

    Yes, I would definitely read on...

  6. I think you've started your story in the wrong place. You mention bullies, so I expect to find out more about them, but then you get lost in random details about the bus and the cyclist and the mother with her toddler which seem irrelevant. Cut out the unnecessary details, especially on a first page. We want to focus on the MC and find out about her at the beginning, to ground us.

    I also think you need a punchier first sentence. At the moment your first sentence reads like something from the middle of a chapter.

    Finally, I used to live in Edinburgh, and they are used to tourists, especially Americans, so unless this is historical, the line about 'people in Edinburgh kept making comments like, “Oh, that's not a Scottish accent!”' rang false to me.

  7. I agree this needs tightening and focus to bring out both the MC and her main conflict. Perhaps choose between the bike moment and the convo with the lady. As with Girl Friday, her accent would not be an issue in Edinburgh - and if there were any reference to it, it would be phrased oppositely because people never think they have the accent. So, they would say,,,,your accent is American or something like that.

  8. I thought I would chime in again to recommend a book to the author - it is also YA and is called A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond. It is about a girl who through circumstance is forced to live in Wales with her father and brother. There is an element of magical realism to it. Since you are treateing a similar theme, you may wish to have a look. It won the Newberry Award in the 1970's (not sure of the year.

  9. This isn’t a very exciting opening. You tell us that she’s running from bullies, but that seems to be just a casual aside. Is she scared, is she out of breath, is she crying? The focus seems to be on letting the reader know that Sal is new to Scotland, and feels out of place. I think that there are other ways that you could show us that. If Sal is running from bullies, I’d rather see the bullying scene. I don't feel the tension here - it's all just set-up. Unfortunately, I’m not hooked.