Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Secret Agent #29

GENRE: YA - Psychological thriller

Five years since my cousin died, and we were nowhere near closure. Instead, the pain had coalesced into a jagged icicle in my chest, a reminder every time my gaze slipped to the woods down the road. An open lot of abandoned land, wild with yellowing weeds and brush, separated it from my house. My twelve-year-old cousin had wandered beyond that lot one day. Hours later, they had found her body half-submerged in the stream.

I averted my eyes from the trees and propped my bike by the door, waiting for the sound of double locks and safety chains sliding, a sure sign my aunt had been lurking by the window and had spotted me. It was something I’d gotten used to, like biking home straight from school because she had me timed to the second. School and home formed two neat little cages that corralled my life. Three, if you counted the evening shifts at the deli. But I knew how much harder it was for her. How much it tore her apart to let me walk out the house every morning.

But the door remained shut, and the knob turned easily under my touch. My fingers tightened around the cold metal. She always kept that door locked.


My voice cut through the living room. The chipped rocking chair in the corner, the place she usually occupied, was empty. Her shawl lay crumpled on the floor by the window, next to a tangled roll of pink knitting yarn.


  1. I love this opening. It's filled with tension and suspense, provided by just enough back story to set you on the edge of your seat as the mc approaches and enters the house. The voice is compelling. The writing is crisp and clear. I would definitely want to read further.

  2. You paint a picture with your description and I feel the burden the MC carries with your words. Super tension quickly on. I really want to know what happens. My one nit is "coalesced". It jumped out at me. While I don't believe in writing "down" to teens, I'm not sure this is a word that a teen MC would actually think. Terrific cliff hanger in the 250 words. :-)

  3. Nice crescendo for the tension. There's just enough backstory to give the reader a starting point. I'd like to feel more of the MC's frustration, or at least I imagine she'd be somewhat frustrated at the confinement. Nice cliffhanger in this snippet. I'd read further.

  4. Good writing, and nice balance of present day and backstory. I will mention that the first line had me thinking the narrator was a cop, and the jagged icicle seems a little dramatic to be a full time feeling. Were you trying to say that it was felt every time the protag looked toward the lot? Other than that, Good job!

  5. The opening paragraph describing the landscape and what happened to the narrator's cousin is simple yet effectively ominous. And each paragraph that follows builds from there -- paragraph 1 explains why the aunt behaves the way she does in paragraph 2, which sets up the stakes for paragraph 3. I can feel the tension as the narrator moves into and through the house and am curious (peeking through my fingers!) to see what they will find. Nice job.

  6. This really grabbed me--after the first paragraph. I think that needs some rearranging. If you're going to open with the cousin's death, then let it fully take the lead. I'd take those last 3 sentences of the first paragraph and rearrange them for your opening--not necessarily keeping them in the order that they're in currently. Then the two sentences you currently lead with could come next. I like all of it, but as it's currently written, your first sentence could be the first sentence to many books and doesn't draw me to your story in particular. The end of the entry is excellent. What happened to the aunt?? You definitely have me hooked at that point.

  7. You have a lot of compelling tension in this opening, but I wonder about your decision to lead with the cousin's disappearance. The aunt not being home when she's obsessive about her habits is the much more pressing and interesting thing about these paragraphs. Rather than starting with the past--something that is already done, closure or no--start with the present. Your MC can panic and think of their cousin when the Aunt is missing so the reader is up to speed. Also, thinking of the loss of one family member when another is missing is more poignant than thinking of it while biking past some trees.

    You've got some strong writing here. I'd definitely continue reading.

    Thank you for the entry!

  8. I know it's really tempting to use poetic images. I'm not sure they fit here. The sentence with the jagged icicles sounds more like a romance novel than a thriller. Other than that, this is really strong. Great job of leading us into the mystery right away, with spare amounts of backstory.

  9. I agree with everyone else -- the writing is great and the tension is immediately palpable. I don't think you need your first paragraph at all, though. Instead of giving us the backstory right away, drop us into the scene and we'll learn the backstory about the missing cousin as we go. I think if we started with an aunt who always locked her door and we didn't know that her daughter had gone missing five years before we'd be even more compelled to keep reading. Nice work!