Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #30

TITLE: The Great Woods
GENRE: MG Fantasy

It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was out in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.

“Jen-ny!” Billy called, his voice echoing through the trees. Jenny laughed, but kept running, eyes on that flashing yellow light. Her grandparents were inside watching TV, her parents back home in Chicago. It was Maine in early July and the day had been humid and heavy. It felt so good to run in the cool night air, the ground soft under her feet.

The firefly flashed on her left. She lifted her jar and launched herself toward it, but missed. It flared just beyond a wide oak. She crept toward it. The firefly, though, had vanished.

With a sigh, Jenny tucked the jar into her skirt pocket. She was farther into the woods than she’d thought. She spun to get her bearings and her skirt tore on a low branch. As she bent to inspect it, Jenny heard a low voice, croaky but urgent, coming from the bush to her right. “Aha, you came! Knew you would. Come along, no time to waste.”

Jenny froze. Eyes wide, she looked up to see a person. Sort of. She was small, maybe to Jenny’s waist, though solid and strong. She had messy gray hair that fell in thick ropes past her shoulders and dark clothes that blended in with the branches and leaves.


  1. I love fantasy, and liked the picture you've created of the girl being lured away by a firefly. I would read on for sure. Good luck!

  2. I loved the tone of the opening line and the image of the fireflies. I did think you might want to trim back some of the information in the second paragraph to keep it from sounding like an info dump. (Perhaps insert the information about her parents in Chicago at another point in the story?)

    I suggest looking at word repetitions in close proximity in the narration. 'It' is used in three of the five sentences in 'The firefly flashed' paragraph and 'low' is used two sentences in a row in the 'With a sigh' paragraph. One other picky point, suggest adding 'looking' to make the line read 'though solid and strong-looking...'

    In so many stories, I find the initial 'lure' hard to believe, but I could 'see' Jenny chasing that firefly farther and farther into the woods.

  3. I love, love, love your first sentence. Perfect. Don't change it. Totally hooked.

    But I would love to see it followed up by more hookage, if you will. The story becomes very linear after this awesome first sentence.

    Try to get to the action sooner. Perhaps start with Jenny already chasing the firefly. Then she hears Billy (you can kill Billy called. Try just using Billy's voice echoed through the trees.)

    By starting with Jenny already in chase, it makes sense that she is deep in the woods so quickly into the story.

    Keep the action moving. Get her to the point where she encounters the strangeling quicker. Intersperse information and description of the being, rather than giving it to us all at the same time.

    I would definitely keep reading.

  4. Love the first line! You do a great job of dropping us into the action.

    The second half of the second paragraph pulls me out of the story. I'd be fine with learning about the grandparents, Chicago, Maine, July, and the daytime weather later, after the chase.

    I'd love to read the rest! Good luck!

  5. I was immediately pulled into the story and wanted to follow Jenny into the woods. Your descriptions are really nice.
    The only part that made me stop a moment was when the voice spoke to her. I don't think you need "No time to waste." You could easily stop after "Come along." The "No time to waste" immediately gave me the image of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and I know you're going for something more original than that ;)
    I hope this helps. Good luck!

  6. I think this is a good start overall. Good opening sentence, too, as it's true :) Couple knits:

    I take it Billy is Jenny's brother, but I'd make that clearer. I stopped for a second to think about it, so it jarred me a bit.

    It's worded that the voice comes from a bush, so when Jenny looks at the voice's owner, I thought it'd be in the bush looking out with just its eyes showing or something. Was just a little confusing. Also, why wouldn't she be solid? I take it Jenny doesn't know any supernatural creatures at this point.

    One last thing to maybe consider is I'm not getting a strong sense of character. I know it's only the first page, but I'd like to know at least a little about Jenny and/or her brother's personalities, but maybe that's just me. Good luck!

  7. I agree with everyone else, the first line is gold. But after that, I think you could tighten things up just a little. For example, the second paragraph does feel like an info-dump. We don't need to know where her parents are just yet - focus on her and the firefly for now.

    Also, I agree with Chris V that you could add a bit more of Jenny's character. For example, I really don't know how old this girl is. She seems quite young when she's chasing fireflies, but then in the second paragraph, saying "it felt so good to run in the cool night air, the ground soft under her feet" made her feel a bit older.

    Also, this sentence is a bit messy: "She was small, maybe to Jenny's waist, though solid and strong." The 'maybe to Jenny's waist' part actually doesn't make sense to me. I know what you mean - the top of her head came up to Jenny's waist. But saying 'small' doesn't imply height on its own. Also, I would say 'but' instead of 'though'.

    With a few edits, though, I think this will be a very strong opening.

  8. The first line is great, perfect.

    I too would like some sort of clarification about Jenny's age - she could be 7 or 14, I have no idea. I'd cut the line about the grandparents and parents - totally unimportant here.

    The line about "she lifted her jar and launched herself toward it" - the it to me seems confusing - I initially thought she launched herself towards the jar, which clearly isn't true, but maybe "launched herself towards the bug/blinking light/whatever"?

    Agree that sentences 2-4 in last paragraph need some tweaking - "she looked up to see what looked like a person, except that she was half Jenny's size" or whatever.

    Like it though, and I don't normally read MG. Imagery is good - I can see her chasing the firefly off into the woods w/o a care in the world.

  9. As everyone else has said, your first line is magical. Definitely keep it. However, I think you should focus on the chasing and trim the rest. Get the reader to the next hook and don't let them go.

    Also be careful of repetition, each time you use a word it loses a bit of its impact. I know it's not easy to avoid every use of "firefly," but try to minimize it so it doesn't sound so overused.

    Still, I think you're scene has a good premise and with a bit of an edit, you'll get it there.

  10. Your first line is wonderful. I think you can drop words like heard, felt,etc and use a closer pov to draw the reader in more.

    For example - "As she bent to inspect it, Jenny heard a low voice, croaky but urgent, coming from the bush to her right."

    Could be - "As she bent to inspect it, a low voice came from the bush to her right."

    I would read on.

  11. So many great insights, thank you all so much! I really appreciate the time you took to read and comment. Best of luck to all of you with your writing!

  12. I'm going to be the dissenting voice about the first line. It's cliché. If you read through all the entries, you'll find several that begin the same way. It all started with the whatever. If it started with the fireflies, why not begin with the fireflies? You practically do anyway. BUt instead of telling us, (the rest of the first parg.) show us.

    I agree about cutting all the family info in parg two. It's all stuff we can learn later. And I also pictured Alice and the White Rabbit at the 'No time to waste' line.

    In the last line she is looking 'up' to see a person who only comes to her waist. Granted, she has bent down to check her torn skirt, but wouldn't that place her at perhaps eye level? And if the fairies clothes blended in with the brush would Jenny spot her so easily?

    All small stuff easily fixed. You've given us a character in a situation with a reason to read on.

  13. I do like that first line. It's sweet and thoughtful and sets a tone (do be careful about repeating “fireflies” in the next line though- bit of an echo there).

    Jenny does feel a bit vague to me. The image of her laughing and frolicking through the woods feels a bit twee, and makes me worry the story I'm about to read is going to be too "nicey-nice," if you know what I mean. Giving Jenny some interiority might help ground her character a bit.

    Do we need to know her parents are back home in Chicago? This line pulls us out of the moment with Jenny and doesn't seem super relevant. We're interested in Jenny alone in the woods and the magic we’ve been told to expect. If we do need to know what city her parents are in, we can wait to find out.

  14. I like this--lost in the woods, odd mysterious woman, no time to waste! I'm in!

    You already mentioned fireflies. You could say: Jenny was out in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing THEM.

    Tighten: She crept toward it, but the firefly had vanished.

    Consider an intro phrase here: When she finally looked around, she was farther into the woods than she’d thought.

    "She spun" doesn't make sense unless you give a reason: Panicking, she spun... or Suddenly afraid, she spun... or A stab of fear made her shiver and she spun...

    If the oak is wide, it would be pretty tall and the ones around here don't usually have low branches. Is it a live oak? A skirt would have to be flimsy to tear on a branch, but yet its pocket is sturdy enough to hold the jar. Maybe she could snag the skirt on a bramble.

    Ditch "Jenny heard" and get right to the voice!

    The only character is Jenny (until the small woman), so after the first "Jenny" the rest could be "she"s.

    Maybe you could eliminate some of the "she"s in the last paragraph by truncating the description: Small, maybe to Jenny’s waist, though solid and strong. Messy gray hair falling in thick ropes past her shoulders. Dark clothes that blended in with the branches and leaves.