Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #7

TITLE: Perfect Equation
GENRE: YA contemporary

I write two things at the top my To Do List 1. Win the track scholarship (possible) and 2. Find a boyfriend I can trust (verging on impossible).

Mom died last year after a brutal bout with chemo and Dad married some bimbo who makes my life hell. I smell my stepmother's perfume wafting in from the hall—sophisticated, like a pretty, little rich girl. Only my dad's not rich. Oh, God, just the thought of her makes depression ooze through me, sucking me down into its murky depths.

I need a really good run to get out of the depths. Running is my medicine. It's a lot cheaper than taking antidepressants and no side effects. I can't run right now, though. I have to get ready for school.

While I yank a comb through my thin brown locks, I picture myself I stop combing and remember that running isn't all great. I have to compete well to have any hope of going to college. If I don't win that track scholarship, I'll be stuck in this small, boring, northern Wisconsin town, being bored AND depressed as hell for the rest of my life.

I'm pumping myself up right now, taking deep breaths and picturing me next year, living in the state capitol. I'm trudging up Bascom Hill, taking courses like The Meaning of Life and Spinoza, then huddling over steamy coffee in the student union, discussing my class notes with a trustworthy hot guy.


  1. You tell us something about the MC, and you give us her goals. Good job with that. It tells the readers what we're in for and who to root for. But you have some repitition. We already know she wants to win the track scholarship, and we already know she likes to run. Find a way to condense the prose and eliminate the repititive phrases, and you'll have a good start to your novel.

  2. Just Another YA AuthorJanuary 16, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    She's not doing much here but think to herself while she gets ready for school, which would be fine if it wasn't so disconnected. It feels like we're going somewhere with her To Do List, but then it quickly goes somewhere else.

    It also doesn't feel authentic the way she describes her own depression. (just my opinion on this, take it with a grain of salt) "depressed as hell", "depression ooze[s] through me," etc., feels more like an external view of herself rather than an internal one. What is she actually feeling? When someone is depressed, they don't often state it as such, even in their head. They say (or think), "I'm so tired all the time", or "I don't want to do anything", or, "I'd rather be alone today." That's how you can show her depression in a way that the reader can feel it with her.

    You also don't need to state the reason for her depression right away. I think that's why paragraph two feels disconnected to me. It's an explanation that isn't necessary yet.

  3. I'm a little torn here. Much of this feels like information being blurted out, and the thoughts seem disconnected.

    The line about mom dying from chemo doesn't seem like a logical next statement from writing a list about making the track team and snagging a boyfriend. All those elements together sound like ingredients for a great story.

    Perhaps a change of setting would help, placing your character at track meet, or already out on a run, showing her in action would help. I tend to have trouble engaging with openings where a character is sitting at home getting ready to go somewhere and explaining backstory. "running is my medicine" and the observations that follow are what hooked me. That might even work for an opening line, and then you show her running. The family stuff you can bleed in throughout. Here, it comes off a bit jarring.

  4. I like the concept here. I agree with the previous post. I thought maybe if the character were just finishing a run, she could have some of these thoughts running through her mind or she could be outside her house seeing her step-mother with her dad through the window. Something like that. Then we would see her love of running and it would connect with how running lets her get away from her depressing life.

    Just a thought...but I'm a runner so I was definitely drawn to your concept!

  5. I agree with a previous poster that it's very disjointed. There are so many thoughts written at such a fast pace that I can't keep up.

    The death of the mom kinda got me, though. I would think that she'd have a harder time even thinking about it. Maybe add some threatening tears or something as she thinks about her mom instead of telling us that she's depressed. When I'm sad, I don't tell myself I'm depressed. I'm just sad. Others think I'm depressed.

    And it seems early for the dad to already be remarried if the mom died a year ago. Maybe he's kinda a jerk, only time will tell.

  6. I like parts of this. The aspiration to leave a small, boring town is , of course, universal so it is instantly recognizable to any reader. No matter where anyone comes from, they always want to leave because the grass is always greener. Only time will tell them that this is a fantasy and the grass is the same whether it is in Paris, France or Paris, Texas. :) That being said, I think we need some focus - is her main goal to leave and make a life for herself somewhere else? Is it to get over a mother's early death? - both of those aspirations could come together and she could come to a revelation. I find the reference to depression interesting because - if your mother died early and you are sad - then you are not depressed in a way that would require medication - i.e. you have a reason to be depressed so therefore it is not a medical condition. Everyone loses someone and her father's way of dealing with it was to remarry. Hers is to run. Clinical depression does not enter into it - THAT happens when everyone says your life is fine and you SHOULD be happy - but you are not. So, I think this story is so full of possibilities that it deserves to be read further. The desire to leave a town, (universal), the sadness over a loss (common); the belief that something you do will lead to that release (also universal). In other words, it is so easily recognizbale by any reader because everyone has been there that this would have a wide audience. Good luck.

  7. I have to agree with the earlier comments. You do a good job giving us a clear picture of the MC, but the information is choppy. It also seems like you're trying to familiarize us with the MC all at once, using her thoughts. I'd suggest adding some action to the scene and weaving this in between. Best of luck

  8. I don't get a sense of what this story will be about. A girl loves to run track, wants to have a boyfriend, and is seemingly unhappy with her stepmom. I think you need more than this for a first page because nothing here is compelling. I want a reason to care about what happens to this girl, but so far there's nothing inspires my sympathy. This is only my subjective opinion and others may see it differently. Good luck!

  9. Nothing happens here. The MC thinks. The problem is that instead of her doing something, instead of starting the story, you're explaining things for the reader by having your MC talk to them.

    Forget the reader exists (because really, the reader doesn't exist for her) and let the MC do something. Get on with the story. The backstory can come out later.

  10. I found this rather clunky and info-dumpy, sorry. This line especially: 'Mom died last year after a brutal bout with chemo and Dad married some bimbo who makes my life hell.' felt cliched, as did the line about being stuck in a small town.

    There may be a fascinating story here, but you need to take your time with it. Everything doesn't need to be laid out from the beginning. Consider starting with something like this, instead, and weaving in the details about why she is depressed piece by piece a bit later:

    'Running is my medicine. A really good run always pulls me out of the depths. Plus it's cheaper than antidepressants.

    I pump myself up, taking deep breaths and picturing myself next year, living in the state capital: trudging up Bascom Hill, taking courses like The Meaning of Life, huddling over steamy coffee in the student union discussing Spinoza with some hot guy.

    But I can't run now. I have to get ready for school.'

  11. You’ve got excellent comments here, particularly from HappyDolphin, Karen Duvall, Barbara and Girl Friday. I echo everything that they say. This is an info dump, it’s anticipatory, rather than action-oriented, and it’s not pulling me in. You’re trying to hard to tell me who the MC is; show me instead through actions and reactions, the senses, and dialogue. A whole new opening is warranted; I am not hooked by this one.