Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #33

GENRE: YA Fantasy

White fabric slapped against rafters as an arid breeze gusted through the open window. Phoebe stiffened—the wedding dress arrived this morning with a messenger and its presence mocked her every move, a stark reminder of the realities she faced tomorrow. Her skin crawled at the thought of General Skahill’s hands on her body, and a strangled noise came from the back of her throat. The only place that dress deserved to be was buried deep in the nearest dung pile.

With shaking hands, it only took a few moments to pack her scant wardrobe of threadbare tunics and the one cloak she’d been allowed to keep of her mother’s. Her heart twisted as she slammed the chest’s lid shut and slid down the ladder from the loft. She needed to get away, even if just for a few moments. Toes digging into the worn dirt floor, she dashed outside and glanced toward the trees that towered beyond the village. The forest beckoned her—it always did.

At the outskirts of the village, she hesitated to ensure no soldiers were posted on the road before sprinting toward the twisted trees. Ducking into the dark shelter of the forest’s canopy, she careened down a well tread trail leading to the river. When she reached the riverbank, she barely slowed as she yanked off her tunic and dove in. Icy water enveloped her, a shock that sucked the air from her lungs, and Phoebe’s eyes drifted shut as her body sunk toward the silty riverbed.


  1. Ohhh I like this! But is the white fabric slapping against the rafters the wedding dress? If so, why is it up in the rafters? I imagined it to be like a tarp over her roof or something. If it IS the wedding dress, I would suggest using a word other than rafters, like closet door...

  2. This is really well-written and it conjures some beautiful imagery! I'm interested to know who this character is and why she must marry someone she doesn't want to (at least, this is what it seems like).

    I agree with the comment above, and if this is the wedding dress, I think the first line could even benefit from being upfront about it, e.g. : "The white fabric of the wedding dress slapped against..."

  3. I love that we're so quickly drawn into such a major point of conflict. It's all here, so quickly. Phoebe facing an unwanted marriage, wanting to escape, wanting to flee to a forest that has always beckoned her, and then she does, sinking into nothingness and solitude. It's all set up very neatly. At first I was wondering why she had to do this alone, why no one was with her, but then there was that bit about " one cloak she’d been allowed to keep of her mother’s" which makes me think the mother is out of the picture. A loving memory only, perhaps? These questions — along with will she marry him, will someone drag her back, will she go back on her own — want to make me read on...

    And just a note, I agree with the above comments about the wedding dress. It's a small detail but it would make the scene easier to picture.

  4. Beautiful description!!
    I’m wondering what it is that triggers Phoebe into running to the river for relief. The sound of the wedding dress in the breeze?
    Also, I could be totally wrong here, but I feel like opening on a woman reflecting on her upcoming wedding to a creepy general leans a little more adult than young adult. May give the wrong first impression. (Though I know young girls get married IRL… and in YA, as well)

  5. Beautiful description. I felt like I "got" your voice, because it was so easy to read through. You definitely write my favorite genre to read, so if I were an agent I'd request to read more :).

    I think you could improve the last paragraph in that the sentence structure seems too much of the same. Like clause-comma-clause, and this kind of made it lose the singing quality of the first two paragraphs that grabbed me so well.

    Your very last sentence was very powerful. I think you described that feeling of diving really well. I'd request to read more!

  6. I love the imagery in this. I really felt Phoebe's anxiety and sorrow regarding the problem she's facing - it sets such a mood, especially with this being a fantasy novel. I do think the pacing is a bit fast, however - she goes from looking at the dress to running into water in three meaty paragraphs. I know this is only 250 words so you want to set the scene, but I would consider lengthening the process of deciding to run into a scene itself. Maybe she reflects upon what the marriage means, what happened to her mother, the specifics of her circumstances, really - and all of those thoughts and feelings spur her to run by the scene's end. This seems like an important, powerful beginning, and you want to make sure that you're allowing the readers to come to empathize with Phoebe first. Then we'll all be on her side as she makes this decision. That said, I would keep reading - this seems super atmospheric, which I adore.

  7. I actually liked the fast pacing. We really get a sense of the story and conflict immediately. There are some beautiful descriptions and phrases. Really good sensory images.
    I do wonder if she has completely decided to run away, bc at first she seems resigned to the wedding, and she says she needs to get away 'for at least a few minutes' but she packs...? Already in a cliffhanger at the end of this small section and want to know what happens in the water!

    Edits: Suggest putting "of her mother's" right after 'cloak' and 'well tread trail" should be "well-trodden trail"

  8. I also was confused about the wedding dress in the rafters and her comment about escpaing for a few moments but she packs everything she owns? And why bother to pack if she's trying to drown herself which it nearly sounds like she's doing?

    I feel like I've seen "girl escapes through window due to unwanted marriage" so many times, could you start her story somewhere else maybe?

  9. The description on how she feels about the wedding dress is well done!! Maybe clarify that the dress is hanging up and she's not wearing it, yet. I can tell that it's a trigger for her to run away.

    There's also a good hint of a backstory, when she packs the one cloak she'd been allowed to keep of her mother's....who allowed this and why? what happened to her mother? Hmmm....

    Add a little more place to what type of building/structure she exited before coming outside. "Toes digging into the worn dirt floor, she dashed outside the _______ and glanced toward the trees that towered beyond the [village - since you say village in next paragraph, maybe change this to something else to describe structures?]." Or something like that!

    Oooo, why is the forest beckoning her as it always does? I'd love to know more. Also, add a clue as to how the forest beckons her... the scent, the shadows, the sounds....

    Love the start to this!

  10. I love the description here, and this is great set-up for the story. We know the issue the MC is facing within a few sentences, and I immediately want to know more about this marriage.

    I do think you could slow this down a bit. A lot happens in these 250 words as we go from the MC staring at her wedding dress to jumping in the river. I would like a bit more of her thoughts as she runs to the forest and a bit more about why she's decided to go to the forest/jump in the river. I also want to know a bit more about her circumstances. Is she in a shack or a larger house? Is she alone in this house or does she have to sneak away from someone? How old is she? All of these questions don't need to be answered in the first 250 words, though.

    Ultimately, I think you're off to a great start here, and there's immediate tension as we know this wedding is about to happen, and the MC does not want this.

  11. I think my biggest suggestion would be to consider simplifying just slightly. I think it reads a hair overwritten, threadbare tunics and careening down a trail… just a bit much. I’m sorry to say I didn’t find the depiction of the impending marriage entirely original. I wonder if it might be better to start at the final paragraph—it would convey danger (soldiers), a hint of magic (twisted trees), our character’s personality (impulsive, perhaps rebellious in yanking off her clothes to dive into water out in the open like this), and we’d wonder what she’s so eager to escape.

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