Thursday, July 17, 2008

#113 SECRET AGENT Are You Hooked?

Title: The White Path
Genre: MG/YA Fantasy

It was night. The sky was colorless. Thick fog rolled in from the sea and hung; there was no wind to blow it away.

Aryn couldn't sleep. She heard a rumble and the ceiling creaked. She felt herself want to fear, but instead closed her eyes and shut out the world.

"Aryn." The whisper was right in her ear. "Get up, please. Now." Her mother's voice was strained, full of emotion.

"What is it?" Aryn sat up, wide awake again.

"Please, let's not talk. Get dressed quickly. I'll help you."

Mother bent to Aryn's old trunk and pulled out her grey dress and brown slip. Aryn slipped from her bed, her throat aching with tension. She braided her dark hair with numb fingers.

Mother had a candle, and in the light Aryn dressed. She tied her cloak and turned to face Mother.

"What is—" There was a crash, and something exploded in the street, filling the room with hot, orange light.

"Get out!" Mother cried. Aryn followed her out the door and into the hall. The house was bright with flames.

"Calendra! Aryn!" her father shouted. She half fell, half ran down the stairs. Someone grabbed her by the back of the dress. "Out the door!"

The door was locked.


  1. I liked the premise here (mysterious explosion and the locked door), but I felt like it took a few lines before you grabbed my interest. The first sentence in particular is awfully generic, and I'm always hearing that you want to grab people right at the first line. What about opening with the explosion? Because really, that's where the story starts, and the whole getting up and getting dressed thing doesn't really grab the reader in terms of action.

    And as a nitpick, if they're inside the house, why couldn't they unlock the door? Maybe it's a door with a key, and the key is missing? If so, you've got to tell us that.

    Oh, and I liked the names. Great way to clue us in that even though you've got a contemporary setting, we're reading a fantasy.

  2. Pretty standard fantasy scene. Nothing to make me keep going or care.

    This phrase was weird: She felt herself want to fear.

    I'd cut "there was no wind to blow it away." It's stronger just having the fog hang. That's a nice image.

    What this needs is some detail about Aryn that makes the reader instantly like her, root for her, want her to escape. Maybe a hint of what they're trying to escape from?

  3. This reads like a good draft - but it needs revision. There's too much bulk in the sentences; pare it down, create the scene in a couple of swift strokes.

  4. I like this:

    "Mother bent to Aryn's old trunk and pulled out her grey dress and brown slip. Aryn slipped from her bed, her throat aching with tension. She braided her dark hair with numb fingers."

    I like the action, I like how she braided her hair with "numb" fingers. And notice there isn't a single "was" in the paragraph. You're showing us what's happening, keeping us in the moment.

    In your first few sentences of the excerpt, you do use "was" a few times. I suggest cutting those and going with something like, "Thick fog folled in from the sea, hiding the night sky." That's just a suggestion! Bring us right into the setting and show us what's going on instead of telling us.

    And I like the crash! I wonder what's happening! And what produced the light and who locked the door...

    Good stuff.

  5. Maybe.

    I want to say yes, but I think you ought to start closer from Aryn's pov and right with her mom waking her, instead of her going to sleep and waking again.

    And maybe explain why she was afraid - of the storm? Or something going on outside?

    But once you got going with her getting dressed, the explosion - great stuff<:

  6. I liked the premise overall but agree with the other posters that the first three lines could go - the description of the weather isn't really necessary. I find that it's helpful for me at times to have things like that in there to help me to set the mood, and then I can cut them. I'd suggest beginning with the third paragraph. That feels like a solid hook to me.

  7. Yes. I really liked this. There are a few lines, though, that I think you should clean up: She felt herself want to fear (don't get this), her throat aching with tension (i'm not sure my throat has ever ached with tension before, makes it difficult to visualize and feel. I loved the part about the door being locked, it's the perfect ending for the first page.

    Emily H

  8. I like the scene that it sets up, but there are some nuances in the writing that scream "rough draft."

    I'd get rid of the first paragraph altogether because it really doesn't do anything for the story.

    There's too much use of passive voice; so many more colorful verbs that "was" exist. For instance, "Her mother's voice was strained, full of emotion," could just as easily be "Her mother's voice strained with emotion."

    "There was a crash, and something exploded in the street ..." I think there might be a better way to word this that offers more urgency to the scene.

    And why, if there is such an urgency, is her hair being braided?

    I'm curious about the story. You've got a good base with which to work.

  9. I would read on. Though I think the very start is not that "hooky". I think it could probably start at the third paragraph and it would have more effect.

  10. I'm sorry this didn't hook me. "It was night." stopped me right away. I think you need a better first sentence than that. In fact that whole first graf is pretty generic and doesn't do anything to draw me into the story. And incidentally, how does Aryn know the sky is colorless or about the fog if she's lying in bed?

    I think, and this is totally my opinion, that it would be better if Aryn was jolted awake by the crash and explosion in the house. That's where something happens that you could craft a good first sentence, first paragraph to hook a reader--and an agent.


  11. Mother's first words have a feeling of urgency but then pausing to get dressed and do her hair really slowed things down. I'd suggest starting closer to the crash. Sorry, this one is a no for me.

  12. It's passive. I feel if you get rid of most of your "to be" verbs, it would grab me better. But overalll, good draft.

  13. I liked it, but I probably wouldn't keep reading because the phrasing in places is quite awkward.

    It reads like a rough draft. I think if you keep working on it and tighten up the writing, you may have a winner here.

  14. I can see what you tried to do but I think you tried to hard to set up the atmosphere.

  15. A good start. I'd like to see this written in first person. The last sentence seemed too forced and obvious. I also want to know how someone locks you in your own home.

  16. The ending is a great hook. I'd actually start with her mother waking her. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something - maybe the formality - of actually calling her "Mother" that bothers me. Still, that could be personal.I'd have to agree that she should or should not feel fear and try not to make it be "feel fear", which is passive. Describe the fear. Your last sentence is great!

  17. Sorry. No, you haven't grabbed me. I know you're trying to set the scene, but it takes a little too long for things to happen. Maybe you could start with the action...the fire.

  18. I'd probably continue this, but I'd like to see some changes. You almost lost me at the first sentence. "It was night." Uh-huh. Happens once every 24 hours. ;-)

    The premise is good. Immediate danger always gets attention. Will they get out of that burning house? **gasp!**

    May I make a couple of suggestions? (It will do you no good to tell me "no," BTW.) First, watch telling readers that your characters feel certain emotions ("She felt herself wanting to fear...."). Instead, try just letting them feel whatever they feel ("She wanted to fear...." or "Fear began to creep up on her...." or something like that).

    Second, I think there are some extra words that could be culled to tighten things up a bit. (I recognize these things because I am a pro at inserting extra words in my own writing with alarming frequency.) "Again" at the end of the fourth paragraph stands out as one example, at least in my mind.

    Once this got moving, it rushed right along. Nice! :-)

  19. I think Miss Snark was the first one to say "Don't start with the weather."

    Once you get past that, it's not a bad start, but it feels rough.

    Pass, but I think it has potential.


  20. Sort of. There's enough of a mystery for me to want to find out what's going on, but most of that comes from the last line. The very end creates tension and conflict, true, but I feel like the beginning doesn't really build up to that. And the first paragraph -- with the weather -- doesn't really feel necessary.

    So I'd probably turn the page, but it could have a stronger hook, particularly the first paragraph.

  21. It has a generic feel to me. Standard fantasy. I would not read on.

  22. Maybe.

    The last sentence is a good hook. I agree the first 2 paras can be deleted without loss IMO.

    Not really my thing, but maybe others will be interested in reading on.

    Good Luck.

  23. I'd say tentative yes, mostly because it's cliche and ineffective to start a novel with a character waking up. I agree that I think starting with the fire would realy propel this scene forward.

  24. No.
    A very inactive voice. Count how many times you use "was" in the opening sentences.

    And you open with a pet peeve of mine, scenery.

    Put the reader in the action from the beginning. Start crossing off sentences until you hit something with action, then consider starting there. I caught myself skimming from the beginning.
    Sorry. Not my cuppa tea.

  25. Afraid not. Starting with a description of the weather -- in passive voice no less -- puts me off right from the start. And when did Aryn's mother get in the room? Wouldn't Aryn have heard her open the door? Once second Aryn is closing her eyes and the next her mother is whispering in her ear.

    Because of the passive voice, the tension never connects with me. Sure something weird is happening outside, but I'm not feeling at all excited about it. Other than Aryn feeling a little scared, I have no idea what to think of her as a character, where to pinpoint her age, or what kinds of emotions are running through her.

    Strengthen her and put the reader in the moment, otherwise the opening feels stale and usual. Right now I'm not hooked.

  26. Not hooked.

    The mother seemed very calm for such a strange atmosphere. The explosions, locked door, and weird fog were intriguing but the characters didn't engage me.

  27. Sorry, not hooked.

    1. A bit confusing/too much happening

    2. Can't imagine someone who is asked to hurry stopping to braid their hair

    3. I'm starting to realize I don't like opening paras with description. If you nixed that and opened with the next line (or even the next), it might be better.

    4. Writing needs some polish. "She felt herself want to fear" Reads funny to me.

    Best o' luck,


  28. Yeah, but those characters have got some cool names. And the locked door jolted me. So, maybe it needs to be punched up, but the author seems to be getting up to speed as he/she goes along.

  29. No, sorry--the opening weather description didn't grab me and I didn't quite care about anyone to be engaged by the opener.

    I like explosions and the last line is good, but it took too long for me to work an interest in it. (Before the last line.)

    Good luck,


  30. Not really, sorry. Feels passive and a bit drafty - and I can't imagine a colourless sky.

    There's the potential for something exciting here - there is an explosion, after all :D - but it needs a bit of work.

  31. Carve back the preamble and get to the appearance of her mother and you'll be a lot closer to hooking us. Instead of saying "The door was locked" show her trying the knob. I was confused about who was grabbing who and I think I'd be less so if you made it clear that this is the confusion from Aryn's POV too. I'd at least be willing to go along with it, anyhow.

  32. No, mainly due to the opening paragraph. It's too reminiscent of 'it was a dark and stormy night'. Also, the first two lines are rather flat and lacking in voice or tension.

  33. I suggest trying some more active sentences/verbs and less telling. The writing feels a bit stiff. There should be lots of tension, but I can't feel it when Aryn's feels feel so distant.