Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Everybody I Love Dies
GENRE: YA Thriller

The darkness is back and I’m freaking out. Kayla’s only five and couldn’t possibly cast a shadow that big. It stretches behind her like a long, flowing gown and creeps up the wall until it touches the ceiling. I know what it means.

Death is close.

I hate that she doesn’t see the darkness swirling about her, inching closer, tightening its grip. No one’s ever seen it but me. Mom thinks I’m making it up just to torment my little sister. Dad agrees with Mom because it’s his go-to move and anything more would require effort on his part. But I wouldn’t make it up. I adore Kayla in spite of all the attention she sucks away from me. In fact, I love her so much I almost convinced myself that it’s not real, that it’s all in my head. But I know that’s not true.
It can’t be.

“I’m gonna play outside.”

It’s not a question. Nothing Kayla ever says is a question. I envy her baseless confidence, her sweet arrogance. She can say whatever she wants and get away with it. She could probably get away with murder.

I know I couldn’t.

Kayla turns away from me, the flared ends of her bright yellow sundress gliding through the air as she spins. It’s her favorite dress. I should tell her to change into play clothes so she doesn’t get it dirty, but she won’t listen to me.

Now, we’ll have to find something else to bury her in.


  1. Wow. This comes on strong and pulls me right in. The title is amazing and this opening makes me want to keep reading. I love the narrator's voice, and I love the details we get in this short excerpt. I love the contrast between her bright yellow sundress and the darkness behind her. And that last line is amazing. I want to keep reading. Good work!

  2. You have a really interesting set-up here, and some small tweaks might help you leverage that power better. My thoughts--take everything with a grain of salt. ;)

    First, your second sentence feels like it should be your first. "The darkness" is vague, and "freaking out" nonspecific, but the eeriness of "Kayla's only five and couldn't possibly cast a shadow that big" is TOTALLY STINKING HORRIFYING and wow, what a teaser to open on! I skimmed your first sentence. I stopped dead on your second.

    Overall, watch the balance between building an unnerving, unforgettable atmosphere and being too on-the-nose/playing your hand too early. I see that in the first sentence, but I also see it in "Death is close" and the "Now we'll have to find something else to bury her in" line. That balance is so tricky, and it's going to be a bit different for every reader, but for me, I want that feeling of threat spun out a bit more before I get the reveal of what the shadow means. Not long--I see it coming at the end of whatever short scene or chapter this is--but when you spell out that this is death so early, I'm distracted by all the questions that raises, which keeps me from being immersed in the atmosphere you are working to build. It pulls me out of the story rather than pulling me in, if that makes sense?

    Tease your reader in. When you've got us solidly on the line... then you gut-punch us. ;)

    You have some great material here--excited for you and looking forward to what you do with it. :)

  3. This drew me in, but don't risk losing my attention with, "Mom thinks I’m making it up just to torment my little sister. Dad agrees with Mom because it’s his go-to move and anything more would require effort on his part." It's good, but there's super drama here and that distracts.

  4. I agree with Ann K that your second line should be your first line. That drew me in immediately while I just skimmed the first. I was a little confused on the timeline here. Is the MC just now seeing the big shadow her sister has (or is following her)? Because if so, the second paragraph mentions how she almost convinced herself it wasn't real suggesting this has been going on for awhile (past tense). But then everything else makes me feel like we are seeing it for the first time with the MC in the present tense. I could be way off here, but that did hang me up for a second. Otherwise, I love the set up and tension this builds. That last sentence is fabulous.

  5. I agree with Crystal about the timeline...this reads like something that has been going on for a long time? But if so, that removes the urgency from it as well. Is there an immediate threat of death or not?

    Anyway, it's very good visually and very creepy. I think the image of the little girl in the yellow dress with a gigantic shadow of death creeping up the wall behind going to stay with me for a long time!!!!! Well done.

  6. A couple of things:
    -your character shouldn't ever tell us her feelings (ie, I'm freaking out). You need to show this by her thoughts and actions.
    -you are telling us she's freaking out but she's not acting like she is. She wouldn't have these long thoughts about Mom/Dad/Kayla is she were truly freaking out. Freaking out would mean obsessing about the one thing she's worried about in a exaggerated manner. We would see nothing in her thoughts and actions but that.
    -I love the last 2 paragraphs, especially the very last line. That is an amazing hook!

    Good luck.

  7. There is something here that feels like we are slightly removed from the scene which is taking away from the momentum. I want to see her sister as a character—rather than just being told about her and Kayla’s relationship with her. Then that last line could provide an even greater punch to the gut. But nice voice and very promising start! I'm certainly intrigued.

  8. I like this, but I think it could be stronger. It feels quite "tell-y" and I'd rather get deeper into your MC's head. Show us how she feels about the little sister. Show us the freaking out and how it manifests. Short, panicked sentences. No time to muse about Mom and Dad's attention. Focus intensely on Kayla and the threat she perceives.

    But killer last line. I'd read on just because of that.