Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #22

TITLE: The Sleepers
GENRE: MG Fantasy

My heart pounded so hard I could hear its murmured beat inside my head. A dark tunnel stretched before and behind me, dirt and rock held from collapsing by thick wooden beams. A musty chill covered my arms with goose bumps and filled my heart with dread. Suddenly I was moving so fast that the flickering drops of light in the tunnel became streaks in my peripheral vision. I knew I was not normally this fast; I looked down and it seemed as though my feet weren’t even touching the rocky ground. I turned my head back to see what I was escaping from and was shocked to see my own family. My father, his arms stretched out to me, reaching for me. My younger sister and brother, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. I wanted to go to them, but was unable to change my course of direction. Hot tears streaked sideways on my face and I was going faster, faster. A bright light at the end of the tunnel was growing bigger and bigger until I saw that the tunnel opened into sunlight. I unwillingly flew towards it and as I reached the end of the tunnel, my body was expelled into the light.

I look at my text-reader on the floor as I gasp for breath. That’s weird, I think. It was just in my hand a second ago. How did it get on the floor? Even more puzzling is how I was in the strange tunnel one moment and back here the next.


  1. My first thought when I see a big block of text is to break it up. It's daunting to the reader to encounter that, especially on the first page. It doesn't give the reader any breathing room to absorb the words. Make this several paragraphs.

    The heart pounding thing may be overdone. And you mention heart again in the third sentence.

    "Change my course of direction" is a little clunky, especially for MG.

    I like that I didn't know this was a dream sequence until halfway in. However, opening a story with a dream sequence could be overdone as well.

    "was shocked to see my own family" is telling. Is there a way to show that she's shocked, by her trying to get back to them?

    Pick "weeping" or "sobbing."

    Maybe " A bright light at the end of the tunnel grew bigger and bigger until I was expelled into the blinding sunlight?"

    Don't need "I think" in last paragraph. Maybe don't need "How did it get on the floor" since that's implied.

    The last line doesn't fit my understanding of this scene. To me it was a dream; he or she fell asleep. But that line implies it's something else.

    Is there a way to imply whether this is a boy or girl? Could the father or siblings call to him/her?

    You did a great job of showing the MC in this upsetting situation. I had a definite sense of the lack of control the MC felt.

    Just needs some smoothing to make this work even better.

    Good luck!

  2. Hey there! Some thoughts:

    I think some telling is making this page not as gripping as it could be. In particular the phrase, "I turned my head back to see what I was escaping from." Would be stronger to be right in the MC's head, since you're in first-person POV. Something like, "Wait a minute - why was I so scared? What was a running from? I yanked my head around." You get the idea.

    Seems like a small thing, but it does make a difference: "Hot tears streaked sideways on my face" makes it look like we're looking at the MC, but this is first person POV, so we want to be inside looking out. Just add "I felt hot tears streak sideways on my face." It helps tighten your POV a little.

    I agree "unable to change my course of direction" sounds authorial rather than in the voice of a middle-school-age character.

    The last paragraph totally confuses me. We need more grounding here. Does the MC realize it's a dream? Is that what that even was? We need a little more info because it's jarring as is.

    Otherwise, interesting start and good luck!

  3. Intrigued by this one and wish we had more than 250 words to see where it's heading! I'll agree with the first poster about maybe finding a way to break up that first paragraph (giving one of the family members a brief piece of dialogue that might introduce your MC's name or something like that, "___, wait!", etc.). And I like this sentence so much that I kind of wish it was the first one, for impact: I turned my head back to see what I was escaping from and was shocked to see my own family.

  4. The block passage as opener has already been commented on—I will just add that I would generally look for places to simplify the language and reduce repetitive notions or phrases. For example, “my heart” is used twice within the first three sentences (and one should be wary of heart-related clichés anyhow). Reducing the number of words and striking out redundancies I think will help pare down the length of this scene as the opener.

    “Hot tears streaked sideways on my face”—brilliant image.

    Liz commented on the last line. I would echo that reader expectation about the opening being a dream, which might be incorrect—but if it is a dream, why would this person be puzzled upon waking?

    Also, this may be a stupid question, but what is a text-reader? (Like a Kindle?) Will this be clarified in subsequent sentences?

    Intriguing overall!

  5. I agree with the previous commenters -- that is one big block of text right at the beginning. I started skimming right away, which is not good!

    I was just a bit confused -- is this a dream sequence? A hallucination? A flashback? The MC seems confused when she comes out of it, which left me confused, too.

    There is some good writing in there, but I'm not hooked.

  6. Your first three sentences pulled me in. I was really intrigued. But then the constant long sentences slowed me down, when you really want to describe the fast pace of the action (like this sentence slows down the reader).
    I also like Jessica Lawson's idea for a first line as well. That would definitely grab a reader!
    I hope this helps. Good luck!

  7. Although the first line grabbed me, the big block of text doesn't convey the same urgency as shorter sentences and paragraphs. I also didn't think "pounded" and "murmured seemed to go together. Maybe change "murmured" to "insistent"?

    If it's dark, how could the MC see the tunnel, or the thick wooden beams? Indicating a light source would solve that problem and explain the flickering lights mentioned later on. Would tighten: dirt and rock held back by thick wooden beams.

    A chill causes goose bumps, but can't cover skin with them.

    I wanted to know right away why the MC moved (use a stronger verb) suddenly. Startled? Saw something? Heard something?

    Lines such as: "I wanted to go to them, but was unable to change my course of direction" could be much more dramatic. Every fiber in my body yearned to run to them, but something forced me to keep moving.

    Drop the "ing" and use stronger verbs instead of: was moving, was going, was growing.

    "Thrust" might be a better word than "expelled."

    2nd paragraph: The change to present tense is jarring. // "How did it get on the floor?" is unnecessary. // Your last line would be more effective if you defined "here."

  8. This selection confused me, I have to say. I understand the narrator is transported from one state to another, but it's unclear whether that shift is totally unexpected. The narrator thinks "That's weird," which seems oddly calm for someone awaking from an apparent nightmare. The shift from past tense to present is also a bit jarring.

    A few small language quibbles:

    I'm not sure "pounding" really fits with "murmuring" (one's loud, one's soft).

    "Held from collapsing" reads a bit awkward. Perhaps just "held back" or "supported" ?

    I'm not sure you need "filled my heart with dread." We know the narrator's heart is pounding, and with the goose bumps to boot, we can assume he or she is experiencing some serious distress.