Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: The Past is History

You can’t save other people.

That’s what I told myself. Jon and his friends crowded together on the far side of the bonfire. They shouted into the night, laughed at jokes I couldn’t hear. The party had peeled into two – girls around the fire, boys in a rowdy knot just beyond.

A beautiful night. A party just for me. It was my 17th birthday.

Although I guess if it had really been for me, Jon might’ve been by my side, kissing my neck, sighing onto my skin the way he sometimes did.

A glass beer bottle shattered against the squat stone wall that ran along Chess’s driveway, and the cloud of boys cheered. They seemed far away, only visible in orange fragments through bursts of flame.

Chess straightened next to me, lifted her neck high like she might yell something to them, but instead she shook her head and muttered, “A******s.”

Dennis Lawson floundered among the boys. He shoved his hands in his pockets and fidgeted, a blond wave of hair standing at attention at the back of his head, an unfortunate cowlick. He could’ve been reading their lips, that’s how hard he studied their expressions, his own smiles curling into place seconds too late. The delay reinforced the obvious: he didn’t belong. Dennis caught my eye and I looked away, pissed. I wanted to leave him to his own fate, thinking he deserved everything he got, but, of course, that was only partially true. I also hurt for him. And burned with shame.


  1. Great entry, it pulled me right in! I feel the angst. :) I don't have much critiquing to do, because this is tight and really, really good. Makes me want to read the book. When querying, I would suggest you add "Contemporary" to the YA when you list genre -- if it is cont. and not something else I can't see from this segment. Good luck!

  2. i liked this very much. the only question i have is why are boys and girls in different groups at that age? middle grade, i can see that. high school, not so much. otherwise, wonderful writing. very intriguing.

  3. I like the description of the setting, and I really like the zoom in on Dennis. I'm curious about what he means to the narrator, especially as I see the lat few sentences tying into the opening sentence.

    I think the only thing I'm trying to visualize is are the type of house they're near. When I think bonfire, I think woods or open field, though that might not always be the case.

    Good luck!

  4. I like the vivid details of this piece that really ground the reader in the setting. I love campfires, and the images all rang very true to me. I also like how you show Dennis' awkwardness rather than just stating it.

    I'm not sure where the story is going exactly, but I would certainly read at least a few more pages to find out.

  5. I like the bonfire setting and thought they were at a beach so maybe make it clearer at the beginning. I wondered why the high schoolers were separate too unless there's a good reason. I love the last line, makes me want to read more.

  6. I like this story. But it didn't really pull me in until the part about Dennis and the girl's shame...Maybe that should be the opening? Also, you often say "might've been" or "had really been." That's passive writing. I would be more direct. For example the sentence, "Although I guess if it head really been for me..." would sound better if it read "I suppose if this party really was for me, Jon would be by my side, kissing my neck, sighing into my skin the way he sometimes did."

    I also took out although I guess. That is also too passive. And changed onto to into.

    One more point, a "cloud of boys" is a bit strange. The mental image of such a thing doesn't really work. Perhaps try a different description of the group of boys.

    Otherwise nice job! Keep going!

  7. Oops! Had a typo. I meant Had not head!

  8. I could visualise this scene clearly - great job.

    I, too, had trouble with 'the cloud of boys' and I stumbled a little over Dennis 'floundered among the boys'. Other than that, I thought the whole piece flowed really well and I would definitely read on.

  9. Overall, I think you have a great hook. You've created a lot of questions/mystery in my mind from the beginning. What is her relationship with Jon? Why is she having such a lousy time at her own party? What's the deal with Dennis/why is she burning with shame? etc.

    The setting isn't entirely clear for me. I was picturing something more secluded and/or rural when you said bonfire. But then the squat stone wall along the driveway makes me think that it's a neighborhood or subdivision? And maybe even that the fire is in the front yard? That would seem odd for a bonfire if so.

    I like the image of the beer bottle shattering against the wall, but I don't think you need "glass"--it's redundant.

    I love the voice. And excellent opening line--it's so true and draws me right in.

  10. I like the voice here--how there are enough details for me to get a sense of place and character, but not overwhelming detail. My only concern is that, while the opening and closing allude to not saving someone, there isn't really anything in the mood of the scene to suggest that kind of darkness. Maybe a little more foreshadowing in some of the details?

  11. You've painted a nice picture here. I can clearly see the teenagers and the bonfire. You've also hinted at conflict with Dennis, and perhaps even with Jon. Maybe he's a teenage boy who doesn't want to be affectionate with his girlfriend while his mates are around, or maybe there's a deeper reason he's clowning around with them instead of sitting with his girlfriend on her birthday.

    It's interesting the different reaction commenters have had towards the setting. Some are thinking beach, while someone above said they were thinking rural until you mentioned the stone wall, which made them think subdivision. The squat stone wall actually makes me think it's a rural setting. I'm assuming you fill in some of the details of the setting in the next few hundred words though.

    The only thing I found a bit jarring was the word 'pissed'. It doesn't fit with the rest of the language and I think just saying she looked away and then her thoughts over the next few sentences would be more effective on their own than just straight-out telling us that she is pissed.

  12. I like that we learn a good amount about this character in a few lines – that she and her boyfriend aren’t together anymore, that she might be missing him, that she has a good friend. I got more interested once we got to the description of Dennis; the exact way in which he’s not part of the group feels very closely observed and I appreciated that. At the end of the paragraph, hurting for him and burning with shame felt a bit exaggerated, though it’s hard to say without knowing more of the story.