Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Portrait of a Teenage Military Brat
GENRE: Edgy Y/A Contemporary

At 0600 my bedroom door almost flies off its hinges from Dad’s forceful blow.

“Get out of that bed. Now. If you are not downstairs in five minutes, consider it your coffin.”

For almost three years, since Mom died, this has been my wake up call. What a way to start the day, right?

With a grumble, I kick off the sheet and my journal lands on the floor with a loud thud.

A good thing Dad didn’t see this. He’d freak.

Writing is not a career option according to him. It’s all about life in the Corps.

I pick up the journal and flip to the last written page, skimming it to the end.

Terryn opens the utensil draw and lifts out a meat cleaver. She runs a delicate finger across the edge…

“There’s no use hiding,” she calls out with a fiendish grin, trailing to each corner of her mouth.

“Hmm. Not bad.” I close the dog-eared cover and place it under the mattress.

***t. Dad’s waiting.

I reach for my crumpled t-shirt and jeans hanging off the edge of the chair. Three minutes and forty-five seconds later, I jump and land at the base of the stairs. My best time yet.

I head to the kitchen, and for a split second consider going straight to school, hoping to avoid another lecture.

Too late.

Dad raises his coal-like eyes from the newspaper and nails me in place with his stare.


  1. You do a great job of setting up your MC and what his life has become since his mother's death. Just enough teenage angst, but not over the top.

    Want to have an idea at the very beginning why the dad is waking him up.

    Did you mean to misspell "draw" in his journal entry? This part makes me wonder if he uses his writing to express a lot of repressed feelings about his dad.

    You could add more details about the part "Dad's waiting." Like what punishment he's received before for being late downstairs.

    If he took over 3 minutes to get down the stairs, I want to know what else he had to do besides pull on his clothes. Was he searching for something in his messy room?

    "I head to the kitchen, and for a split second" - I would have him hesitate at the base of the stairs and contemplate leaving. Then, his dad could call his name, since he obviously heard him hit the floor when he jumped. Great chance to give the reader the MC's name.

    "Dad raises his coal-black eyes and nails me to the floor with his stare?"

    You have a lot of great details here about the character and his family life. It gives the reader a good image of the MC.

    You could join some of the sentences into longer paragraphs. Visually, it looks a little strange to have so many single lines. That breaks the thoughts apart for the reader and makes it seem a little disjointed, unless you're going for that.

    I took his reading of the lines from his journal to be him getting easily distracted. That's a great way to convey the type of guy he is in comparison to the no nonsense father.

    With some minor tweaking, I think that this is a strong start.

    Good luck!

  2. A subjective matter, but to me “Portrait of a Teenage Military Brat” sounds more like memoir than fiction. I think more compelling a title would be something concrete or specific that comes from the story itself, and might be recognized as militaristic (i.e., a time like 0600, or some kind of military machine or exercise, etc. that is representative of/significant to the story).

    You definitely draw me in with the journal, and that your protagonist keeps it a secret from his/her father. We’re already getting a sense of familial conflict. And I like that the excerpt from the journal develops this by giving us a sense of what this character was writing—horror, or fiction at any rate. It’s a great straightforward set-up for what I’m anticipating will be a significant conflict in the story: Dad’s military expectations vs. what the MC actually wants to do with his/her life. Plus, journal waiting to be found = ticking time bomb!

    “Utensil draw”: draw = drawer?

    Only two critical points from me. First: would someone really say “Hmm. Not bad.” about something they themselves wrote—and presumably recently? Second, something in the transition from that paragraph to “***t. Dad’s waiting,” feels off to me. Maybe it’s that if the book has already been closed and placed under the mattress, I already get that the MC is in a hurry so “***t. Dad’s waiting,” feels redundant.

    Agree with Liz—wonderful language and detail here. Your writing is clean and tight (how appropriate for the nature of this novel)!

    Solid beginning. All the best with the book!

  3. I liked the voice and getting a peek right away at the MCs aspirations. I am curious why he/she has to go to school so early? Or does the MC merely have to rise at this hour to please the father? If he/she headed straight to school rather than the kitchen, would the MC have had an hour or more to burn? I didn't need these questions answered immediately, but I did wonder.

    Nice job folding in the details of the MCs life. I do think if you group together some of the single-sentence paragraphs to make longer paragraphs, the read would flow a bit better.

  4. Somehow this gives me more of an MG vibe, but it definitely sets up a conflict. Some thoughts:

    All the single line paragraphs make it disjointed to read. Action and dialogue from the same person can go in the same paragraph. For example, the first two lines could go together. Lines 4-6 could go in one paragraph.

    You could eliminate an "almost" if you change the start of the third line to: Since Mom died three years ago...

    "A good thing Dad didn’t see IT" sounds better to my ear.

    I couldn't quite picture a grin, which is a full-out smile, "trailing to each corner of her mouth."

    I agree with: Dad raises his coal-like eyes and nails me in place with his stare.

    Good luck!

  5. I'm rooting for your mc instantly and the military time is a GREAT start. Just a few things. I recommend taking the "that" out of Dad's first sentence. And then I think you need some sort of transition from reading the journal to *&^t Dad's waiting for him. Does Dad yell up? Does he see the time on the clock? Doesn't have to be much, just something.

    Overall, really good pacing and I'm intrigued. I do have to agree that this sounds a little MG right from the start, but maybe that will fix itself as we see more. Good luck!

  6. My first thought is that, before you sub this to agents and editors, you change the title. Based on this first page, the story is much more than what the title implies. I don't think it will help you. You're labeling it as 'edgy.' Give it a title that reflects that.

    My second thought was what was with all the single sentence pargs? Presentation matters. Perhaps reformat with correct paragraphing in mind.

    I thought you did a good job of showing us who Dad was, but what I thought was missing was the MC's emotional reactions. How does he feel when dad barges into his room like that? How unloved does he feel when Dad threatens to put him in his coffin, or does he understand that that's just how dad is dealing with Mom's death? Does he resent Dad for not understanding about his writing, or is he silently longing for Dad to appreciate him for who he is? Emotional reactions will build characterization of both characters.

  7. This has been said before, but the one-line paragraphs have got to go! I also agree that it feels odd for the MC to say "Hmm. Not bad." aloud about his own work. At the very least, I think he would just think it, rather than saying it.

    I like the general idea, but I think it needs tightening up. I would also be wary about labeling your work as 'edgy' - let the readers decide that it's edgy, rather than telling us it is. A teenager whose mother has died and who's now living with his (or her?) overly militaristic father is interesting, but not that edgy in and of itself.

  8. You've definitely given me a great feel for the MC and the story's conflict. Very good.

    I agree that the title might need to be changed. It felt jarring next to the actual text.

    I would change the third line to: "Since Mom died three years ago, this has been my wake up call."

    If the journal lands on the floor with a "loud thud" how does the Dad not notice? Has he already left? You might want to clarify that Dad shouts his command and then leaves.

    The "***t. Dad's waiting." could be cut. It's apparent already that the MC is hurrying.

    I love Dad's character. He comes to life immediately from just the first time he speaks. Love the line "consider it your coffin." You can also really see how the MC is very different from Dad.

    The 'crumpled t-shirt' was surprising to me. It seemed obvious that would be something Dad wouldn't approve of. It's a definite indicator of the MC's rebellion.

    Great work! I would definitely keep reading.

  9. The first line is great--I love the use of 0600 hours which ties directly to the title. That first line can be even sharper if cut off after hinges. The next line can show how dad moves into the room before he speaks, then the reader can tie it was dad blowing off the hinges.

    "Consider it your coffin" is also great and a realistic Dad Threat.

    I don't think you need the "with a grumble" since you've set the tone already via the lines that come before it. I think the action of putting on the clothes might not be needed either, you can skip right to him landing at the bottom of the stairs.

    With first person present the I + verb thing can feel intrusive. Sometimes it's necessary, but for flow maybe try to rework some of those lines; for example, you might not need "I head for the kitchen," but instead just: "For a split second I consider going straight to school..." we assume that he's just out the door and not stopping anywhere on the first floor where Dad is.

    Lots of great tension here. The tone fits the title and genre.

  10. I think that pulling off a first page in which your MC wakes us is challenging... and you've pulled it off.

    Like the others, I love the military time in the first line. You've nailed Dad's character. I'm worried about your MC right off the bat.

    For almost three years, since Mom died, this has been my wake up call. What a way to start the day, right?

    I agree with the others that you can tighten up the "grumble" line by cutting "grumble"? As in:

    "I kick off the sheet. My journal lands on the floor with a loud thud."

  11. Great work setting up some major tensions. Not only is Dad a little terrifying, his worldview is at odds with the narrator's ambitions. We also know the narrator is stuck (presumably) alone with Dad, as Mom is gone. The narrator has a bit of an attitude, too. I sense a rebellious streak there, so I expect it won't be long before there's a showdown with Dad. All of this is really interesting and engaging.

    I don't think we need the word "forceful" in line 1- we know it's forceful by context. Also, avoid direct address to the reader, e.g. "What a way to start the day, right?" Addressing the reader pulls us out of the moment and reminds us we're reading, rather than allowing us to experience the story *as* the narrator.