Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #41

TITLE:  The Fourth Generation
GENRE:  YA Dystopian

I raced up the stairwell pretty fast for someone infected with the god-awful plague all his life.  My empty backpack bounced airily on my shoulders, my feet landing just in front of the steps’ worn, chipped edges.  Sunlight poured through the windows at the top of each landing, enough to light my way to the decaying apartment building’s eighth floor.

The rest of the Valuable Objects had better still be there. Worth a ton of prestige points, they could be just enough to finally push my faction into the top spot of The Tournament of Prestige this year.  But if somebody else found them while I was gone…

At last I made it to the eighth floor.  My chest heaved as I sucked in breath.

Scat.  The second door on the right—wide open!  Not good.  My heart rate doubled as I crept to the door so quietly a bug a millimeter from my feet wouldn’t have felt the vibration.

I peeked inside the room.  My gut clenched, even though I’d seen it coming.

A boy about my size—taller than average with good-size muscles—stood in front of the old wooden cabinets on the left side of the room.  He had blotchy, dark gray skin, so was about sixteen years old like me.

The inlaid glass cabinet doors let you see inside.  Empty.  Sure enough, the boy started to turn away from them.  I jerked my head back into the hallway, then peered back in. 


  1. The first sentence is great -- really strong voice. I quite like this up until the fourth paragraph, but after that I was a bit confused. First, by the use of "scat" - to me, scat can mean animal droppings, or it can mean 'go away' - like something you might say to a cat. Does it mean something else here?

    The sentence about creeping to the door felt a bit overwritten. Also, the second sentence of the second paragraph (Worth a ton of prestige points, they could be.. etc) felt a bit out of place. I'm not sure the character would actually think that. It feels like the author trying to explain things to us. We don't need to know why he wants the Valuable Objects just yet -- it's enough to know that he's after them. :)

    I think I would read on, if only because the first paragraph is strong and the mention of the plague is intriguing.

  2. I'm intrigued by the world and the virus -- which turns a person's skin gray and blotchy by age sixteen.
    I thought some of the narration could be trimmed. In the opening paragraph, since we know his backpack is empty, suggest cutting 'airily' from the description of it bouncing. Since we already know the narrator is heading to the eighth floor, perhaps revise his arrival to something like: At last. I made it (to the eighth floor). The description of him creeping to the door felt labored; I think trimming down the 'so quietly a bug...vibration' portion would keep the focus on what his action and increase the tension. The 'let you see inside' line pulled me out of the story. Perhaps keep that moment anchored with the narrator by doing something like: Even from the doorway, I could see through the inlaid glass of the cabinet doors?

    I'm curious about the contest and what these Valuable Objects are and would keep reading.

  3. The idea of a contest is interesting and hints at stakes. The paragraph that really threw me was the one, "A boy about my size..." I don't think an MC would say "taller than average with good-size muscles". Also, if the MC is sixteen and so is the kid he sees who looks sick with the plague, why doesn't the MC look sickly? From the description he gives of himself he sounds like typical attractive "taller than average with good-size muscles."
    I'm curious to know if he'll confront the other boy right then and try to get the objects.

  4. I'd say I'm intrigued, but not hooked. Close, very close. I wonder why the boy has grey skin making him about 16 just based off that.
    I'm wondering what kind of game the Prestige is, and what it costs to lose.
    I think I agree with above about the voice being great, but the language just enough off. After all, the market is saturated with Dystopian, so you want yours to shine.

    I'll defend "scat". While it surprised me at first, I quickly shifted to "swear word" as they all mean crap, don't they?
    I felt like that gave me an idea of the different language I'll be seeing.

    I would likely read the back cover of this book before continuing on. I think with a bit of tightening up, you'll have exactly what you want.

  5. I like the mix of voice and world-building in this first page - which with dystopian is very difficult to do in so few words, but I would like to know more about this main character and what the stakes are for him.

    Just a nitpicky note - unless the mc is going to talk to the reader throughout, I'd watch the use of the word "you." Easy fix. :) Other than that, definitely intrigued enough to read on. Good luck!

  6. Interesting situation! Some overwriting: "My gut clenched, even though I'd seen it coming." And the "bug a millimeter from my feet" - does this go somewhere? Otherwise I wouldn't use it. Placing the other character's age by the description of the boy skin is brilliant. Really Good. I'd read more!

  7. I liked it too and feel like this story starts at just the right point which is a tense moment that could reveal a lot to the reader about the world we're in and who the narrator is.

    I felt there was a bit of info dumping in the first line with the god-awful plague and a bit more telling though there was a good amount of showing as well.

    I'd like to be eased in more, perhaps with mainly the physical heaving and how much running is actually affecting him/her as they climb the stairs so I know something urgent is on the way and then when we see the gray-skinned boy learning more about the contest naturally and not via exposition.

    Those are my suggestions but again super strong start and right at the action point. Fantastic!

  8. The narration feels a bit young, to me. The narrative asides like "Scat," "-wide open!" and "Not good" lend the narration an eagerness and a youthfulness that age down the narrator, to my mind. (I can't help it: whenever I see exclamation points in narration I think of Robin going "Shucks!" or "Zowie, Batman!")

    I do feel like a lot of information is conveyed in these opening lines which does feel a bit forced. "someone infected with the god-awful plague all his life" feels very authorial. It's fine to hold back a bit here, e.g. "someone in my condition" or "someone with the bug" or some such. You can let us know there's a world-killing plague on the next page.

    Ultimately, there are just too many dystopians on the market for me to feel confident taking one on. I might continue reading if I picked this one off the shelf, but I'm not sure I could place this one with a publisher if I signed it today.

  9. This excerpt is polished and it's clear that you have a firm grasp on language, flow, and a natural narrative/YA voice -- good job! The first 250 words definitely piqued my interest and I wanted to know more about the tournament and how it plays into the dystopian setting/world. I would have kept reading :) The only nitpick I had was the sentence, "The inlaid glass doors let you see inside." -- is there a way you can reword to remove the "you"? Being addressed directly pulled me out of the narrative flow.

    Like the secret agent said, Dystopians are a hard sell right now, so I think it's important you make it clear right from the beginning what sets yours apart from the rest -- what makes this particular manuscript unique and fresh -- I think that's going to be the most important thing for you to establish, especially because a post-plague dystopian world is something that's been done before. Maybe you could start with a different scene which automatically sets up your world/situation/characters as something different than what's already out there?

    Best of luck with your story!

  10. Nicely written and good action scene to set up the novel. I was drawn in right away. But I agree with what others said.

    "infected with the god-awful plague all his life" Could just say: "born with the plague." Although with THE plague, most die quickly, so unless you mean that plague, maybe you could think of another name for this disease.

    Delete "airily". I'd rather see an adjective in front of windows, like dusty or smeared.

    "Scat" stopped me for a nano-second, but I realized it was a curse, though it made it sound MG since it wasn't an actual curse.

    Also MG sounding: "The second door on the right—wide open! Not good." Just tell us: The second door on the right was wide open.

    A little clunky: a bug a millimeter from my feet. Maybe: A nearby bug. Or delete the simile.

    You used the word "size" twice in the same sentence.

    The inlaid glass sentence slows the pace. Maybe: "I could see through the glass doors that the cabinet was empty." Or just have the doors open.

    Delete "sure enough" and "from them". Could combine: When the boy started to turn away, I jerked my head back into the hallway, then peered back in.

    I really liked this, though!