Wednesday, February 11, 2009

19 Secret Agent


Life can be hard to watch sometimes. On an ordinary Tuesday morning,
64 degrees and cloudy, Lucas Caldwell stands on the side of a bustling
highway. Most people rush past this here, this nowhere, as its only
relevance can be marked by how far it sits between the quiet suburbs
and downtown Baltimore. This anonymous landscape, sheltered by
forgotten trees and littered with trash, exists in many cities.
Streetlights, mile markers, and exit signs give a rhythm. An
oversized, steel billboard pushes the lottery—"It could be you!"

Lucas leans against the pock marked gray barrier, smeared with black
wavy lines of rubber and fender, and watches the cars loaded with
commuters race by. Upon close inspection his youth is evident, but
from a bit of a distance the pale face masked in uneven brown stubble
tricks the eye into adding additional years. Dark circles ring the
canyons beneath his blood-shot eyes. Tendrils of soft, unruly dark
hair sprout from his head, and just barely cover patches of white,
smooth skin peeking out along the temples. He shuffles his feet in
place, and slides the rubber soles of his blue sneakers along the
gravel. He's working up the courage to step out into oncoming traffic;
he's picking his perfect moment. The hum of car motors mixes with
voices from half-rolled down windows and it distracts him.

This is what it must feel like, Lucas thinks, to be standing in the
middle of a huge swarm of bees or locusts...


  1. I like how you describe the setting--I can visualize where Lucas stands. "Pock marked gray barrier, smeared with black wavy lines of rubber and fender"--I can picture it! And, I'm left wanting to know why Lucas is going to throw himself into the traffic. A definite hook.

  2. I'm not sure about the style (personal preference), but your set-up is hooky. Why is he going to step into traffic? Very gripping!

  3. This is interesting. Good set-up. I'd watch for switching viewpoint too abruptly - from the personal to the impersonal, in paragraph one.
    Also, beware of repeating yourself - things would move along much faster, and I think that would be a good thing, if in paragraph one, you eliminated a sentence or amalgamated two - the descriptions of "this here, this nowhere" and "this anonymous landscape" are very similar, in my opinion.

  4. I'd say lose the first line. It's the only one out of sync with the rest of the lyrical, yet matter-of-fact description of an ordinary day, on which a man has apparently quietly despaired of life.

    I like the title. The present tense fits the theme.

    This is what it must feel like, Lucas thinks, to be standing in the
    middle of a huge swarm of bees or locusts...

    -- Traffic makes me think of the same thing, even on days when I'm *not* suicidal.

    I like how Lucas' mood is captured by the nature of the description -- this here, this nowhere; cloudy; rush; anonymous; forgotten; littered with trash; exit signs; pock marked grey barrier; smeared with black and so on.

    "It could be you!" conveys supreme irony, given what he is contemplating.

  5. I loved this. Very well written. I felt like I was right there in the scene with him. I could clearly visualize how he looked and felt and what he saw.

    Good job.

    I'm definately hooked. I wan't to know why he's there and what he does next.

  6. Good hook. You could strengthen it a little, however. I found myself rereading, wondering if he was actually trying to kill himself, or if he was just trying to cross the freeway.

    Also, some of the description of the MC didn't strike me as genuine. Like hair "sprouting" from his head, for instance. You don't look at someone and think their hair is "sprouting" unless they are mostly bald with long hairs coming out here and there.

    And one more thing -- if this is a freeway, I don't think he would be able to pick up people's voices through half-opened windows. The cars are passing too quickly for that. They'd have to be SHOUTING out the window for their voices to be heard over the roar.

    Overall, you're a good writer and this is promising. Hope this helps a little.

  7. I don't think you can be both literary AND commerical. They are two different kinds of writing.

    I'd read on to see what happens next.

  8. The present tense lent this freshness - your descriptions made me believe I was standing there, looking at Lucas as he prepared to die. Lot's of story questions raise and I would definitely turn the page.

    Well done.

  9. I'm hooked. I really liked the writing and the richness of detail. The ending opened a huge question. Well done.

  10. As I was reading this, I was thinking, "The payoff had better be worth it."

    It was. :)

    The prose could be tightened but I love the world you've created, and the weave between third and omni pov is both smooth and fascinating.

    Mark me down as hooked.

  11. I am left wondering what is Lucas going to do. A lot of questions and that's a very good thing. Good luck.

  12. The weave of pov and the use of present tense left me feeling disjointed and distant from him. Maybe it's just me. I really don't feel anything from him. I SEE his drab existence very well, but I don't feel anything from HIM, if you follow my meaning. To do as he's contemplating, one's existence must be much worse than drab.

  13. I was happy to ease into this piece and enjoy your writing, and then you throw in that zinger at the end. Totally hooked!

    Great job!

  14. The writing is lovely and lyrical, and you've got a great set up. You can really paint a picture with your words! But the present tense plus such distance from the character doesn't do it for me. That's just a personal preference, though. Good luck!

  15. Afraid I’m not hooked, sorry. I’m not a fan of so much exposition right at the beginning of a novel, nor of beginnings where the MC is just staring off into space contemplating their life. Both are rather boring beginnings. Also, here, nothing is happening to introduce or move along an existing plot, nor is there any sense of POV-- Lucas cannot see his own eyes or features (without aid of a mirror), leaving us to flounder over who the true POV character is.

  16. I wouldn't change a thing in your first paragraph, but some of the description was a bit of an overload. Great first page. I'm hooked.

  17. I like this but I worry that the passive tone of the writing will keep me from getting involved. After all, the thought Lucas has about the swarm of bees almost destroyed the tension of the first paragraph. It's just so mundane. Still, I'm definitely and want to see why he's going to kill himself

  18. I like this but I wonder at the writer keeping us, the reader, so at a distance?

    One can do third person and make it more intimate and here I feel like an outside observer to this moment of stepping into traffic. I think it would be stronger If I felt an attachment of any sort to Lucas who is about to end his life.

    I'd probably read on just to see what would unfold but I'm not sure the narrative distance would make me connect to the novel.

  19. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and comment on my work. A special note of appreciation to the Secret Agent and the Authoress for their efforts.

    This scene is a prologue and the only instance in the novel where I use this POV and narrative distance. I wanted a narrowing in feel (going from omniscient 3rd to close third) very similar to a movie beginning that starts with a wide frame of a city and zoom down to street level to the main character, eventually to his shoulder. As this scene progresses the reader grows closer to Lucas and obtains more insight into his thoughts and feelings.

    My novel is written in alternating first person POV, representing the time before and after this moment on the highway. Half of the book is the diary Lucas leaves behind detailing the last three days of his life before the suicide. The other half of the novel is the account of the woman who strikes Lucas and inadvertently becomes the instrument of his death. I thought it was important to show the event that ties these two narratives together, thus the use of the prologue. I hope that makes sense.

    This Secret Agent contest experience has been very valuable to me. I plan to use all the comments to help improve my writing, and it has been tremendously helpful to critique the other entries. I learn so much that way. Thanks again!

  20. I like not only the prologue, but your explanation. I'm hooked and would love to read more.

  21. Not so crazy about the 1st line, and the second line and description made me think of the "Twilight Zone" - I could just hear it in Rod Serling's voice. I'd mess about with your paragraph order here, and make the contemplative stuff a bit shorter. I read your summary and it sounds like a great book.

  22. Nice scene setting and the stepping into traffic creates a tension - is he trying to cross the road or doing himself in? I'd read on.