Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #45

TITLE:   Next To Me
GENRE:   YA Historical Fiction

Sixteen-year-old Simone Burrows made a list of all the things that scared her most. Heights, the dark, enclosed spaces, feet excluding her own, ghosts - though she'd never seen one and death. It was therefore ironic, she thought miserably, lying inside the boot of the car with both her hands and feet bound how this horrific situation had forced her to confront most of those fears, in one greedy swoop.

‘Save me’ she whispered hoarsely, her face stained from hours of crying. ‘I can’t die here—not like this! Please, I beg you, help me!’ Simone listened for outside noises but only the sound of her fast breathing greeted her. It was eerily quiet out there. Where was she? Her throat was inflamed from screaming and she had no will left to shout. The man who took her, was he gone? Had he left her there to rot? Would she ever see both her parents and brothers again?

Helpless and terrified, Simone shut her eyes and prayed. It helped her whenever she felt afraid. O Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day, be at my side to light and guard and rule and guideAmen. Over and over, Simone repeated the prayer until her lips cracked with dehydration and her throat, parched with thirst could no longer move.

Then by chance or by fluke, a miracle happened.


  1. Commas are your friend :) There are a few sentences that could benefit from them. "-though she'd never seen one, and death." "...with her hands and feet bound, how this horrific situation..."

    The sentence beginning with "It was therefore ironic" is long & awkward, consider shortening or splitting into two.

    "Then, by chance or by fluke..." Hmm. Aren't a chance & a fluke the same thing? Maybe by chance or by divine intervention (since she's religious?)

    I love Historical Fiction and am so curious what the historical context here is! Great opening that makes me want to read more to find out what's happening to her :)

  2. Not sure about stating the age and full name of the character in the first line. It seems like info dumping. I would consider starting with the second paragraph.

    Not sure that someone locked in a trunk would be making a mental list of the things that scare her. I would be thinking only of the current situation.

    "I beg you" makes it sound like she's speaking to a specific person. You could delete that part. Make this part move faster by simplifying some of the sentences. "Simone listened for outside noises . . ." could be - "Simone strained to hear any noise outside the trunk, but her frantic breaths filled her ears."

    I would cut the "eerily quiet" line. Start new paragraph with part about the man. Delete "both" from sentence about seeing parents.

    "Helpless and terrified" is implied by the other paragraphs. Not sure you need "it helped her . . ." Smoother to go straight into the prayer.

    This is a great image of her repeating the same phrase over and over until she can't anymore. "throat, parched with" could be "and her parched throat could no longer utter the words."

    Not sure about the last line. It kind of deflates all the drama you've built with a pop. Oh, now she's saved.

    I think if you focus on making the style of the writing and the content match the scary event that's happening here, it will pull the reader in more. The strongest part is her praying over and over. That conveyed so much to me about the character and the hopelessness that she's feeling without specifically stating that she's hopeless.

    Good luck!

  3. I agree with both the previous comments. Small grammatical errors in the first 250 words (missing commas, missing dashes) make me worry about the rest. If your eye doesn't catch these mistakes naturally, it might be helpful to find a critique partner who could look it over and point them out :)

    I agree with Liz Brown that the strongest part is your third paragraph, where your MC is praying!

  4. Since we're in your mc's POV, you can probably cut the "she thought miserably." Especially the adverb, which is a form of telling when the rest shows her misery. I do like her list and that she's experiencing most of it.
    I would like a little more sense of time - I didn't "feel" it.
    For the last line - it's a bit telling. Just move on to showing.
    But otherwise an intriguing setting.

  5. The first paragraph is way too tame for what's going on. It starts off introspective and then we find that she's been kidnapped, stuffed in a trunk, and possibly left to die. That's a pretty big flip from paragraph 1 to 2.

    We constantly hear about starting a story with action, but starting mid-crisis can be difficult because we don't know who the players are, we have no setting, no time period (I always think Victorian period when I read the word historical, but we're obviously not that far back). We also have no sense of who this character is. I wonder if it might be better to start a few minutes prior to the abduction so we can get a feeling for who the character is before this all happens.

    The thought of a miracle happening is a draw for readers to continue, but there's no real connection to the character here.

  6. Historical fiction implies another era. This feels quite contemporary. And the prayer makes me think this might be better labeled Christian fiction. In any event, the grammatical errors kept me from fully embracing the situation, as well as an overabundance of telling.

  7. Like most the commenters above, I think the excerpt needs a review with an eye to punctuation -- particularly the 2nd sentence. I also suggest cutting the use of adverbs when paired with speech or thought and letting the internal (or external) dialogue convey tone.

    The 3rd line felt too 'authorial' for me. Would Simone truly see her situation as ironic? Perhaps trim and start with 'Lying inside the boot...' I loved the phrase 'in one greedy swoop'.

    Picky point - I think you can drop the 'both' in 'Would she ever see (both) her parents...'

    The situation does intrigue me and I'd read on.

  8. The beginning sentence starts off too much like a query letter introduction of character. And without knowing too much of the character it feels more like a prologue. The overall feel and intensity though is interesting. If some of those areas described above can be corrected I think you do have an interesting premise.

  9. I love stories that open in the middle of a dramatic moment like this, a predicament full of tension that also forces us to ask "how on earth did she get herself into this situation?" Very intriguing.

    However, the opening line feels a bit like back-cover copy, rather than the start of a story. Avoid presenting your narrator's age this way; if possible, reveal her relative age by context clues.

    I'm not sure if I believe Simone's ability to appreciate the irony of her situation: "It was therefore ironic, she thought miserably...". The narrator or the reader might find her predicament ironic, but Simone, it seems to me, would be too terrified.

    Finally, over-using a protagonist's name in third-person narration distances us from your hero. Rather than saying "Simone did x, Simone felt y," instead use "she." It's more intimate and will help us identify with her.

  10. The first paragraph didn't cohesive with the second and third. It was a little too silly with the other two were deathly serious.

  11. I agree with LauRen. The first paragraph is a lot more lighthearted than the rest of the story, and as the Secret Agent said, it feels like the back copy of a book. For something as scary as being tied up in a dark place, I ended up expecting it to be lighthearted a la Hex Hall.

  12. Definitely a tense situation! I'm intrigued to read on to see what saved her.

    I think the first paragraph works, if you say she's making the list as a way of not panicking. I would use parentheses: "...feet (excluding her own), ghosts (though she'd never seen one), and death (which appeared imminent). The list at least kept her from panicking, as she lay inside the boot of the car, hands and feet bound, praying to avoid the last, and most feared, item." (Just an idea!)

    2nd paragraph: Start a new paragraph with "Simone listened for outside noises..." Delete: "It was eerily quiet out there. Where was she?" and "both". Could tighten: "Throat inflamed from screaming, she had no will left to shout."

    3rd paragraph: I agree, delete "It helped her whenever she felt afraid."
    Start a new paragraph with "Over and over". "parched with thirst" needs a comma after.

    I like the divine intervention suggestion for the last line, since chance and fluke are pretty much the same thing.

  13. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and also for the invaluable advice. I found this experience extremely enriching and now that I have made the necessary changes, my first page reads much tighter.
    A huge thank you to Secret Agent and of course to the fabulous Miss Snark for giving up so much of her time to help aspiring authors. Good luck to all of you.