Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Secret Agent #7

TITLE: After The Closing - The Voice
GENRE: Young Adult Fantasy

Layla looked around the room, trying not to give in to Headmistress Nesting’s stare. She felt an unusual lack of nervousness. Perhaps her mind was comforting her ahead of almost certain expulsion, which wouldn’t be so bad; she could leave even earlier than she had hoped.

The last two days had resulted in Layla being labelled as crazy by the other pupils. Which was likely to happen, Layla supposed, when you were repeatedly caught talking to – or even screaming at – yourself. Oh, and then there was that photo.

A clock behind Mrs Nesting’s head struck four, and four rounds of chiming followed.

As if snapped out of a trance, Nesting stood up and walked over to the front of her desk, sitting on it with her front to Layla.

‘Miss Roberts,’ said Nesting, her crinkled brow set among a broad shiny face. ‘Now I have seen the image you possessed in Mr Stepp’s class and I have to say it is extremely inappropriate in nature.’

She looked at Layla, as though hoping for a response, and continued.

‘I have to say that I don’t believe it was your material, so let’s just let that be shall we?’

Relieved and a little insulted that she was automatically considered incapable of doing anything risky, Layla went to stand. At this Nesting’s finger motioned her to be seated.

‘But while you are here, I think we should have a bit of a talk,’ said Nesting, her tone now more casual. ‘I’ve noticed you over the years Layla’.


  1. I am hooked. You got me. What was on that photo? Why is she talking/yelling at herself? I also like the snarky attitude that Layla is exhibiting (i.e. lack of nervousness and insult over not being capable of risk). O and I love that the Headmistress' name is Nesting. Great job. Best written wishes!

  2. I'm sorry but this needs some work.
    There is way too much telling here, too much describing, and some awkward word choices.

    o You tell us how she feels and then explain why. Consider instead showing her fidgeting classmates or her own calm hands as she stacks books waiting for her expulsion.

    o Then you tell us she's been labeled as crazy and why. This might be better a little later, either as dialogue with someone else, or as internal dialogue when she is/isn't expelled. In other words, leave us wondering why she's facing expulsion. A touch of mystery to draw us in.

    o Next the clock struck four, and then explain it there were four chimes. I think you mean this to add tension, but it just kind of hangs out there as too much unnecessary detail.

    o Then Mrs. Nesting gets up, walks in front of the desk, sits down, with her front forward. Way too much detail for a simple act. (And how could she sit and not face forward?)

    o Her brow set among things. If it sits among things, what would those things be? Perhaps you mean upon?

    o I don't know what 'image' means. If it's a picture, say so. When I read this, I thought of a hologram. Whatever it is, clarify it. This could be a very interesting detail to draw reader into story and to indicate the Fantasy genre.

    o Nesting looks at Layla as if waiting for a response. But she goes on immediately. I think you have to say something about when a response failed to come, or when Layla remained silent, then Nesting continues.

    o 'Layla went to stand.' Went means Layla is already moving. She can begin to stand, or start to stand.

    o What is happening with the rest of the class? Is Layla alone with Nesting? It sounds like it when Nesting takes on a casual tone at the front of the room. If there are others in the rooms, say so. Let them giggle, or whisper to each other. That ratchets up the tension.

    This could be so much better with some tough editing.

  3. There's some nice tension here, and you give hints of intriguing things going on. However, Margot's right in the points she makes. There's some confusion and some overwriting. (The line about her brow being set among her broad shiny face stood out to me. I think you meant above rather than among.) In the first sentence, you refer to the room without naming it. A perfect place to say "classroom" or "headmistress's office" or wherever they are. If they're in the office, that would explain why no one else is reacting or making a sound. If they are in a classroom, you need to set that scene, too.

    But I'm interested in what Layla's problem is, why she might be expelled, and why she thinks that wouldn't be a bad thing.

  4. I thought the issues here were mostly technical. In the first sentence, you might say office rather than room, so we don’t imagine a classroom, and not giving in to Nesting’s stare, made me think Layla should be staring back at her, not wanting to be the first to look away, yet that is exactly what she is doing, looking away, so that didn’t make sense to me.

    This could be tightened a lot. There are a lot of things that could be cut and several sentences that could be rephrased.

    I do wonder if you might start somewhere else, perhaps at a moment when she is talking or screaming at herself, because this opening is entirely passive with her sitting there doing nothing through the whole thing.

    The last sentence did draw me in though. I can’t imagine anything good coming after it.

  5. We would like to know what is in the photo, but perhaps this isn’t revealed to build suspense. Was she possessed in Mr. Stepp’s class (like by the devil?) or was the image found there? The office is set up nicely, but some clarification of why we are there might help.

  6. I think Margot has some good points; the idea of stating a thought and then showing it wastes the effort of the showing you've written. You can remove the thesis-like "telling" statement and just use the showing. This is something I'm always fixing in drafts, so it just takes effort and practice to weed it out or not write it like that.

    Also a good point about not repeating; the chime rang four times and it's 4 pm for example, and the excessive movement descriptions. Those can be pared down to show what's necessary, which is more the character's facial or physical responses to each other or to dialogue. The traveling doesn't give us much.

    I am a sucker for a good first line. I think you have a lot of potential here to build a compelling hook. Looking around doesn't quite do that. What would your character rather be doing? What is her talent, or her dream, or something she is passionate about? You can show so much about the character with that first line, have her wishing she was somewhere else. Maybe it's something to do with the photo, you don't have to reveal what, but it could be mentioned right away.

    It may also benefit to start the story somewhere more engaging as suggested, so that a more dynamic first line will work. :)

  7. I think you can add a bit more to root your reader in the moment.

    For instance, are they in a room? Or is it an office? I'm guessing the latter since there's a desk and this Nester lady is a headmistress. By saying office instead of room, I go in seeing it as such. Room leaves me open to more.

    And is the office neat, dusty, what does the furniture look like? Is it old? Modern? Wood desk? Glass desk? Lots of this would go toward helping us know WHEN this takes place as well. I imagine something older, since they actually have physical photographs.

    You repeat a few phrases close together, but repetition is a personal pet peeve of mine and if it bothers no one else ignore me, heh.