Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Witch's Last Word
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

Nineteen more agonizing steps up the hill and it would finally be over. Her chest felt as if massive stones were pressing down upon her, squeezing every last breath of life from her frail body. But that was not the chosen fate for her today. Her large, blue eyes peered out from her delicate face, pale and gaunt after so much time in isolation. Her long blond hair, now hacked short, lay loose under a thin cap. She gazed up at the tall oak tree stretched before her on Gallows Hill, its branches spread wide open, inviting and comforting against the backdrop of the raging crowd. The tree stood before her, strong and resolute.

She could barely hear the tormented townspeople around her, stirring themselves into a frothing brew of fear and hate. They screamed and taunted her, “Be done with her!” “God save her soul!” “Rid us of this witch!” She frantically searched the crowd, her eyes darting from face to face. Where was he? She inhaled quickly, but her breath skipped, choking on the missing air. She could not fail. He had to be there. He had to be the man that she believed in.

The letter, moist with her sweat, molded against her bosom. Taking another step forward, she grasped hold of a deep breath, renewed her strength, and focused on the task at hand. She had one thing to accomplish before she arrived at the tree. Deliver the letter in the hopes of preserving her name, her blood, her legacy.


  1. While the description is good, I feel detached from the MC. There is obviously a lot of action going on, but the descriptions are more focused on the setting and what the MC looks like. I want to feel her panic and I don't.

    I'd also like to know who is in this scene. Right now all I know is that it's a female and possibly she's a witch? It's genre is MG, so at first I thought it was a young girl. But the last paragraph makes me wonder if this is someone older and we don't know the MC yet.

    250 without any sort of set up is a bit tough. You do a great job setting the scene. I can picture what's happening easily. I just think you could draw us in more by showing us how the girl in the scene is feeling.

    Nice job and good luck :)

  2. I loved some of the lines: 'massive stones on her chest,' frothing brew of fear and hate,'choking on the missing air,' letter, moist with her sweat.' There's also a successful rapid build of tension in these three graphs. However, I found the diction and concept more YA than MG. Also, since it's all narration, it's 100% telling.

  3. nice, vivid imagery! and the townspeople were very audible to me. i love the idea of this subject being directed towards the MG audience.

    with that said, the 1st para seems to describe a young girl and the last para seems to describe an older teen w/ the mentioning of bosom. i'd suggest replacing that word w/ chest.

    i'd also remove - "of life" - from the following sentence, "squeezing every last breath of life from her frail body."

    makes it stronger. a few other lines could be tightened up as well, but i would certainly read further.

    good luck w/ this!

  4. Like what Moonflower said, I like the idea of this subject for MG.

    But I think the way you approach the subject/scene, especially in the first paragraph, is a little heavy. Maybe the overuse of adjectives are what made it hard to be engaged by that first paragraph? I also think describing the MC in such detail right away in the novel might take away from the immediacy.

    Later, things really pick up. It was so easy to be sucked into the story and the conflict.

  5. The last line of your 250 hooked me! And I want to know what's in that letter! I also want to know who "HE" is, that you describe in your second paragraph. Nice job!

    You've shortened your sentences in the 2nd para to create intensity, which I think is great! What about also breaking up the para? "Where was he?" could be a paragraph all on its own. And then you could possibly rearrange those last three sentences. Ex: "She'd believed in him. He had to be there." ("She could not fail" I don't think is entirely necessary because you've done a great job setting up that she's in trouble, so the reader knows she'll be sent to the gallows if she doesn't do something soon!)

    Again, nice job! I think this sounds very exciting and I would love to read it! I also agree with those above me that describing her appearance so early makes it sound like 3rd person. (Although, I do like that her hair has been hacked short! It tells me there's history with this character!)

  6. This is a gripping scene, but nothing about it reads middle grade to me. The word choice and sentence structure seem more appropriate to adult fiction. I would think a young woman would need to be in her late teens, at least, to be accused as a witch. Her worries about whether a man will let her down also make her seem older than middle grade years.

    This looks like a good story. I'm just not sure from the first 250 that it's suited to the intended audience.

  7. I don't think this reads middle grade. You can a do a beautifully written, third person in MG (I've been impressed by the beauiful first pages in the MG book section) but you still need to appeal to young readers. I can't imagine a 11 year old reading this, at least not the average. Adding some young 'voice" would help. Get into your characters head and show us their thoughts.

    You might benifit from moving this up a little and showing the character in their normal world. That way we get personality and will be more grounded in the world before the action starts. Doesn't have to be long, just a quick look then have the action here start. Good luck!

  8. I'm intrigued by the letter. That being said, if this is your MC, I agree that it doesn't feel MG.

    I like the images in the first paragraph, but I would save them for later. Your interest comes from the man she's looking for, and the letter.

  9. I wonder about your intended audience. This doesn't read like MG, and even if it's a prologue, it does seem a bit much for your audience.

    Parg 1- How does she know it's 19 more steps? Does she normally count how many steps it takes to climb the hill?

    The last sentence in parg 1 repeats part of a previous sentence - the tree being stretched out before her.

    Parg 2 - She can barely hear the tormented people, yet they're screaming at her and taunting her, and she tells us what they said, so she must hear them.

    I think this could work as an adult offering, but it seems off the mark for MG - not because of content, but because of the writing style.

  10. This reads more YA to me. The entire thing seems too focused and mature for a kid.

    I'm also wondering how she knows it's nineteen steps. That implies she's been to the hill often enough to count them.

    I'm guessing she hands the letter to a kid and that's where the MG comes in. If so, start from the kid's perspective.

  11. I would love to know more about what the MC is thinking. While the description is really, really good and I definitely get a sense of foreboding, there still should be some inner thoughts to draw us to the MC and feel sympathy for her right away.

    Good luck!

  12. I'm assuming the person climbing the hill is the witch who's referred to in the title. That isn't clear.

    These paragraphs are written very, very well but still I don't connect with your character because she isn't even named.

    The voice of this is not MG at all. Especially if the witch is killed. maybe reconsider your target audience. As a YA historical this would be perfect.

  13. I can tell right away that the stakes are high for your main character, which is good. The language here and some of the terms didn’t quite read as MG for me – I got a strong YA vibe. I also felt distant from your narrator, and would recommend trying out a first person POV, or giving us more of a window into her thoughts in this POV. Consider shifting everything so that your MC is the one in charge of the action. Rather than her “large blue eyes peering from her face,” you might have her look around and tell us how she feels now that she is out of isolation.