Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Secret Agent #6

GENRE: MG Paranormal

Momma spooned grits and eggs on a plate and sat it before me, but I was only in the mood for cereal so that’s what I got. She took the plate back. “You must really be upset with me if you are passing on my grits and eggs.”

I wasn’t upset with Momma, but since I never mentioned Lucy, I didn’t want to make her mad. So I sat quietly listening to the snapping, crackling, and popping of my cereal. “Daddy, Can I ask you a question?”

It’s ‘May I’ ask you a question?” Claudia corrected me as usual with a big don’t-you-feel-dumb look on her face. “ Say it!”

May I asked you a question?” I gave here the evil eye while shaking my head.

“Yeah, shoot! What’s up little man?”

“What would you do if someone called you a nigger?”

The kitchen quieted. No one moved until Momma’s fork hit her plate breaking the silence. She took a deep breath, cracked her knuckles, and reached across the table taking my hands in hers. “ What’s this about CJ?”

“Ooh-ooh! It’s about to get good and crunk!” The Twins, Cameron and Carlton, my fourteen-year-old brothers, moved directly across from me. “Okay, CJ, did they call you nigger with an ‘e r’ on the end, or niggah with an ‘a h’ on the end?”

“Shut up, stupid!” Claudia, my twelve-year-old sister, hit Cameron upside his head before spooning grits on her plate. “Only an idiot would think there’s a difference.”

“Well, there is!”

"I rest my case."


  1. This needs some clean-up and clarity.

    o The first line is confusing. Consider showing the action instead of telling it. For example,

    "Momma I pushed it away. 'I'd rather have cereal.' She took the plate back." And then momma's comment about him being mad. Then let momma give him a bowl.

    That sets up some tension right away.

    o The first sentence in the second paragraph is also confusing. It's okay up to "Lucy", but the last clause doesn't finish the "since" in the Lucy clause. Perhaps he can't tell her the truth. Or only in a roundabout way.

    o When Claudia interrupts, you need to say who Claudia is to him. His sister?

    o Let him simply give Claudia the evil eye without the shake of the head. Adding the shake of the head weakens the tension.

    o Twins in not a proper name and should not be capitalized. And how did they move across from him. Were they not already sitting at the table eating breakfast. If they weren't, you could add some tension when they stopped what they are doing and move closer to ask their questions.

    o I don't understand who is making the last two statements. With so many people in the scene, and the dialogue moving from person to person, you need some clarity here.

  2. I really enjoyed the narrator's voice here, and the dialogue between the siblings (the end of the extract made me chuckle). I think there are a few points that could be cleared up, though.

    The mention of Lucy in para 2 comes out of the blue. We don't know who she is or how she relates to the narrator. That would be fine if a bit more explanation was woven into the rest of the extract, but as it is, Lucy is never mentioned again.

    It's not immediately obvious that "Daddy, can I ask you a question?" comes from the narrator, because you've just described him as sitting quietly, listening.

    Claudia is brought in without explanation the first time she speaks, then described as 'my twelve-year-old sister' the second time. I'd be inclined to give the grounding as to who she is the first time - though maybe you don't need to give the siblings' ages so precisely (I'm more interested in whether they're older or younger than the narrator).

    These are just small points, though, and I'd be interested in reading more.

  3. At first, I thought she was referring to her mom as Claudia. I'd like to know earlier who Claudia is.

    There's a lot of bickering without the parents saying anything. I get the impression Momma isn't the type to put up with much bickering.

    This has a lot of potential.

  4. The dialogue was the strongest part for me with lots of personality to it. I agree the piece needs some tightening. The whole first paragraph with the passing of the eggs back and forth could be said in an quicker way. "Momma spooned grit and eggs on a plate, but I pushed them away. 'You must really be upset with me if you are passing on my grits and eggs.'" One last note, the genre say it's paranormal, but there's no hint of that in the first 250 words and it didn't feel like it was headed in a paranormal direction.

  5. I agree with most of the previous posters. I think the first sentence needs to be reworked a bit, and so far this doesn't seem like it fits in the paranormal category. And it does seem odd that the kids are bickering like that and the parents aren't saying anything.

    Also, I'm confused about why half of the dialogue is in italics.

    I am intrigued by who Lucy is though, and if this were polished up a bit, I would probably read more.

    Good luck.

  6. I like the tone and the voice of this. It has real appeal for me. But I was also confused. As others pointed out, with so many characters speaking in one scene, it's tough to keep everyone straight. On top of that, all the dialogue was italicized, and I didn't know why. At first, I thought an invisible person was speaking only to the MC, an imaginary friend or a ghost. But since it was all the dialogue, that didn't work. Was it just a formatting hiccup or does it mean something I don't understand?

  7. I didn’t get a lot of this until after I had finished reading it. I thought the MC was a girl until Dad says ‘little man.’ The italics threw me off because they’re usually used for thoughts, and since this is labeled paranormal, I thought the MC might be speaking telepathically to Dad, but is seems you put all the dialogue in italics for some reason. I didn’t get who Claudia was until she berated her twin brothers. She’s introduced immediately after the MC speaks to dad, and replies when he should, which is what confused me. And I don’t get who Lucy is, although I’m thinking she’s perhaps the paranormal element – a ghost maybe.
    I wonder if using the N word is relevant to the story, or just conversation.

    Still, I’d read more, because I’m really curious as to where you’re taking this.

  8. A lot of parents will not allow their children to read a story where the N word is so casually used. Especially when it's on the very first page!

    You need to be very careful with the content in a MG novel. If you simply MUST use the N word, ensure it is ABSOLUTELY necessary.

    On to the writing: you have too many voices in 250 words. Not counting the MC, that's FIVE people talking. That's insane. You also need to mention who is saying what when you have so many people in a scene. In the last two bits of dialogue, I have no clue who is speaking.

    Good Luck.

  9. This was character soup for me - and I was completely confused with who was who by the end of the 250 words. I would strongly suggest not introducing so many people on the first page.

    I didn't find some of the dialogue or reactions particularly realistic. For example, who is Claudia and why would the main character obediently rephrase the question when Claudia is obviously putting them down. I'm guessing that Claudia is a sibling, in which case it's even more unbelievable.

    The first paragraph didn't work for me. What was the significance of swapping the grits and eggs for cereal? Why didn't they just push the grits and eggs around their plate, which would show there was something on their mind, rather than have Momma "tell" us they were upset.

    Might be just me, but this section - I wasn’t upset with Momma, but since I never mentioned Lucy, I didn’t want to make her mad - made no sense to me at all.

  10. We like that you have a strong voice here. We don’t see the paranormal element yet, so we hope that comes into play soon. You’ve done a good job of setting up Momma, and we can really picture her actions and that silent moment we’ve all been on the receiving end of when she drops the fork—nice tension here.