Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Absolutely True Story of an Obsessive-Compulsive Wannabe Lawyer
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Nineteen hundred and ninety-nine. Two thousand.

Going to be late for school again. That's because I had to count every bristle on my toothbrush. I had to know.

After putting the cover back on the toothpaste, I glance at my face in the mirror, wondering if people can tell I was born with OCD and a sticky brain.

That makes me sound weird, like I have glue in my brain. The fact is, I do—too much glue, and that makes my mind lock onto unsettling thoughts and images and want to count a lot.

On my way down the stairs from the bathroom, I count each step on the way to the kitchen like I've done forever.

That's not one hundred percent true. It's not even ninety-nine point ninety-nine percent true. I didn't start counting everything in sight until I turned four. My parents told me I was so cute then. They even said I was some kind of genius.

They don't think counting everything is so cute now, and they don't think I'm a genius anymore. One glance at my father, who looks up from the sports page of the newspaper and stares at me, confirms it.

"I know you're trying hard in school, Jane, but you've got to try harder to get into Columbia. You're our only hope for carrying on the family tradition and having a lawyer in the family who graduated from there."


  1. Interesting start. Here are a couple things I noticed while reading:

    1) This seems to start with a lot of explaining. The first seven paragraphs are all about Jane explaining to us (the reader) that she's OCD, and that's she's counted things since she was four and what her family thinks about it, then the first line of dialogue explains her parents expectations of her. I know it's only the first 250 words, but nothing has really happened yet beside Jane staring at her toothbrush and walking down the stairs. Could this information perhaps be conveyed with a little more going on? I don't think we even necessarily need to know all of this (or have it explained to us, at least) in the first 250 words, IMO.

    2) I'm not sure I buy being late for school because she had to count the toothbrush bristles. I understand OCD compulsions, but why did she have to count the bristles that morning? Surely she's had that toothbrush for a while--couldn't she have counted when she wasn't on a timer? Or is this something she does every morning, as a kind of ritual? That seems more realistic to me, although if that was the case, she would probably know she had to get up extra early to accommodate for the extra counting time--in fact, she would probably know exactly how many minutes it took to count those bristles and thus exactly how many minutes she needed to get ready in the morning.

    3) This may be just me, but it seemed to me that the line about Jane wondering whether other people could tell she was OCD was mostly the author's attempt to make sure the reader knew she was OCD, just in case we didn't get it from the counting bristles thing. I don't think you necessary have to tell us she's OCD right away--we can guess as much from all the counting.

    4) The dialogue. I understand wanting to explain to the reader the expectations Jane's family has on her and the pressure she's under to fulfill those expectations, but I feel like having her father tell us so directly might not be the best way to go about it. Most parents don't look at their children and start talking about family tradition. A quip about Columbia is still realistic, but I think there could be a better way to explain the tradition bit.

    I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck!

  2. I like this. Every word is infused with the MC's OCD. I'm not sure if this is a topic that's been tackled in YA before, but I'm sure it hasn't been overdone. I don't mind the exposition in this piece because even her thoughts are obsessive, and the exposition conveys that beautifully.

    If having OCD wasn't enough of an issue to overcome, you also add in the father's high expectations as an added layer of tension.

    The only part I think should be taken out is her looking in the mirror wondering if others could tell she had OCD just by looking at her. Other than that, you have a great start.

  3. I agree with bits of the previous comments.

    You could do without looking at the mirror and wondering if people can tell.

    And the little bit her father says, it sounds fake to me... you could make it seem more natural and real... ask yourself, would someone really talk like that?

  4. I think Ava made all the points I would have.

    I liked the voice in this, but I'm not sure the direct explaining to the reader is working. I don't feel engaged in the story. Maybe if all this information was presented in a way more cohesive to the actual scene and not the MC talking at us...

    I don't think Dad's dialog sounds natural, either. I feel like I'm coming in on the middle of a conversation.

  5. I love the concept of a YA protag having OCD. I just wouldn't hit the reader over the head with it. Her behaviors will alert us. You don't have to confirm it.

    Losing count, having to start over, frustrated that she doesn't have time -- that's more subtle than telling us about the steps and how long she's been doing it.

    I, too, think the dad's dialogue is info-dumping.

    With all that said, I'm intrigued by this concept and would love to read more. I just advise a lighter touch.

  6. Nice job taking on a character with a mental illness a lot of people don't understand. There were a few thing that stuck out to me, though.

    First, the title is so similar to "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." I wonder if you might want to get away from that association, unless that particular book is somehow part of the story.

    I also was a little confused by the MC's obsession. Usually the compulsions of people with OCD don't have anything to do with their obsessions, but in her case they're related (she counts because she had to know how many bristles.) I'm wondering if there wouldn't be more of an obsession going on there.

    Finally, I agree with the other comments about the dad's dialogue. Seems forced.

    Keep working on this, you've got an interesting story.

  7. This is a really interesting idea, and the first two lines really hooked me. Great way to reel us into Jane's way of thinking. I have some critiques as well:

    -You switch from past tense to present tense within the first couple of paragraphs. Hopefully this was a one-time oversight, but if not, I'd suggest combing through your MS with that issue in mind.

    -You're mixing your metaphors a bit when you say your brain has "glue" in it, but then "locks" onto unsettling thoughts. Glue doesn't lock, and it makes the metaphor inconsistent. I know you already used "stick," but if you wanna keep the glue metaphor rolling, I'd suggest another word.

    -I agree with the above comments about the dad's dialogue. I can't imagine anyone ever really saying that--seems like it's more for the reader's benefit.

    Good luck with this, though, because it seems really interesting!

  8. I see some great comments here that mostly already cover what I would say. It may be more compelling to show the MC in a situation where the OCD really matters rather than getting ready for school (which is a bit cliche for YA). Also, it will help if the father's dialogue is natural and a result of something--did the report card just arrive? What trigger's that kind of statement so it doesn't feel like a narrator telling us the story set up?

    Good luck with your writing!

  9. I agree with Durango's comments. I would certainly read on if I picked this up. I also found the title intriguing, just a little tweaking is needed with it.

  10. As Stephsco mentions, it is really common to see a YA story begin with the MC getting ready for school. Also, I would have to agree with the other comments about the dad's dialogue.

    That being said, I did think the voice was engaging, and I would be interested in reading more.