Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Seven Rivers
GENRE: Adult Mainstream with supernatural elements

March 22, 1993

I’ll admit it. I totally forgot I had this journal. When Ms. Gleason passed them out last September I didn’t think much of the assignment. Write about your life, she said. It’s good to keep a journal because it’s so easy to forget. Thirty years from now you’ll be glad you did. Write down anything noteworthy or interesting. Those were her exact words. Noteworthy or interesting. Clearly, Ms. Gleason was new to this town because if she had grown up here she’d wouldn’t have said something so stupid. Because there is nothing remotely noteworthy or interesting here. Seven Rivers, Wisconsin, population 5,280 (same number of people as feet in a mile!) is probably the most uninteresting place on the planet.

Nothing ever happens here.

            Until it did.

            So I suppose I should write it down. So I don’t forget. Though I don’t think anything could make me forget what happened. Probably not even if I had a lobotomy or electric shock therapy.

            So I don’t know all the details, but after a few months of talking with everyone, some pieces have fallen into place, though if anyone reads this they’ll think I’m a complete liar. Or shit house rat crazy. That’s something Harry would say. Who’s Harry, you ask? Well, up until a few months ago I just thought he was my weirdo neighbor. He pretty much kept to himself, like most people around here. But then I got to know him.


  1. "I'm writing in a journal." Then, "you ask." Those are two contradictory approaches. This doesn't feel like a journal because the writing doesn't appear to be in the moment, but considered past-tense narration ("after a few months," "then I got to know him," etc.).

    I don't think your story has started yet. As William Goldman advised, "Enter each scene as late as possible." The writing is fine beyond that POV shift, but what do we need to know in these 250 words? We could learn that she's writing in a journal later on, and you then backfill at some opportune moment the "why" of keeping a journal. I don't know where this is going, of course, but might I suggest starting a bit further in, when the story problem first appears? That way, you don't have to _tell_ us what you can show us.

    First person is tricky because you have to be "in the moment" at all times - not just about what the character cannot know, but about what the character is thinking. But that also can propel the story, because once you clean up the "I'm summarizing" backstory bits and allow the character to blunder ahead, the stakes should become clear quickly, especially given the narrator's cynicism - because it seems likely things are going to happen to him/her that the MC will refuse to believe, creating a cool first-person situation where the readers actually know more than the narrator, rather than less.

  2. I'm really confused about the timeline here. Is it 1993 now but she's only just using the journal she got in September? Also, she sounds like a teenager who got an assignment for school so I'm confused why this is Adult.

    Good luck!

  3. I am not a fan of these big, infodump introductions. I think it would be far better to just start the story without all the preamble. Also I find the timeline somewhat confusing. Is this being written in 1993, or did she find a journal from she reminiscing or this currently happening...I`m just not sure!

  4. This doesn't read like someone writing in a journal, so it takes me out of the story. Instead of starting this way with all the foreshadowing, start with when you find something out about the neighbor. It sounds like that's when the story may start! Unless the journal is a big part of the story, I might consider throwing it out? I like the bit about the town population being 5,280. I wonder what happens with the neighbor! Good luck!

  5. At a sentence level, the writing is enjoyable here. But as a start, this feels like it might be the wrong place. A journal is a way to tell what happened rather than show the reader, or let it unfold on the page—something that creates a much more compelling read. There’s definitely room to have journal entries scattered throughout, but I’d make certain that a majority of the story is told outside of this plot device.