Wednesday, March 18, 2009

31 Secret Agent

GENRE: Middle Grade Adventure

Once again Tyler Lucas locked his eyes on his intended target. Normally he’d be satisfied with three direct hits, but today he felt like pushing himself. He’d waited a good ten minutes for his prey to assume he was safe and lower his defenses. Now was the time to attack.

Tyler steeled himself against the gentle rocking of the school bus which rolled down the smooth surface of the suburban street. In one fluid motion, he brought his weapon to his face, taking careful aim before he fired. Unfortunately, as soon as he did, the bus driver cursed and stomped on the brakes, making the bus swish from side to side, like it was caught in a raging current.

Swaying with the bus, Tyler kept his eyes glued on the spitwad. But he didn’t get the chance to see it hit its mark because a moment later, the bus screeched to a stop and Tyler, who had neglected to brace himself like the other students, flew forward, crashing into the seatback in front of him. His body slithered to the floor, face pressed so tightly against the rough seat cover, it felt like someone was sanding his cheek.

Squashed between the two seats, Tyler rotated his eyes towards the ceiling. A wispy, grayish smoke seeped through the open windows and drizzled down on him. He gagged as the sharp smell of burning rubber singed his throat. Locating one of his hands, crushed against his chest like a broken wing, he cupped it around his mouth, trying to get a fresh breath of air.

Suddenly the bus driver’s voice staggered down the aisle. “I think I hit her. No . . . I’m sure of it. She . . . there’s no way . . . no way she could have survived.”


  1. I would read on, but I'm a little torn...

    I loved the spitwad reveal, and at the same time, I feel like it might require too much mental adjustment from the reader. Because up until then, the reader is probably picturing a grown man, rather than a student.

    The first paragraph conjures an adult image. The school bus is mentioned in the second paragraph, which led me to believe Tyler was either the driver or he was hiding on the school bus or something.

    Then the 3rd paragraph takes major adjustment to realize Tyler is just a kid blowing spitballs.

    I think you might need some hint of his age earlier, but I'm not sure how that would play out.

    I would read on, though.

  2. I knew it was a boy, but thought he had a real kind of gun, like a bebe gun. I had to reread it to catch the word, spitwad.

    I felt a disconnect with the character in this opening. I need to know why I should care about him. Just a little bit of introspection on your character's part would help. Is he just being a trouble maker or is it revenge?

    I also couldn't tell if this was supposed to be humorous or not because the title made me thing funny.

    The second to last paragraph makes me feel that the accident was way worse than I originally thought. Ithought the driver just slammed on his brakes.

    The title is hooky and I would pick it up to see what it was about but without a sense of who the character is, I don't know if I'd read on.

  3. I knew this was a kid, too. (But, I always assume the narrator is a kid in a kid's book, until I'm told otherwise.)

    You might refer to the prey as "it," rather than "he," because the pronouns are slightly confusing. With the reveal about the spitball (which I loved), it's obvious Tyler is stalking somebody on the bus.

    Tyler isn't sympathetic yet, but this is a funny opening (the last paragraph aside), and I like that Tyler gets some instant karma for shooting a spitball.

    I would read on, at least to find out about the accident.

    Word verification: "Pting!" Hee!

  4. I also thought Tyler was a full grown male, then you said something about a bus (I was like huh?), then the spitball.

    I thought that is great. I liked it.

    I would keep reading.

  5. You know what he'd feel after the accident? Major league facial pain, as I'm sure he slammed nose first into the seat in front of him... which hurts a LOT.

    And how do you rotate your eyes? :P

    The other thing is the description of his hand made me thing he used the other hand to grab the wounded hand and pull it up to cover the mouth. Which makes me wonder why he didn't just use the first hand and leave the likely broken one alone?

    How do voices stagger.... and who was she talking to? And honestly, I think she sounds too calm. I would be hysterical if I hit a person.

  6. This beginning had two conflicting moods that made it difficult for me to really get into the story.

    The first paragraph is more serious--kinda reminds me of a spy thriller--then you switch to sillier tone with the spitwad and face smashed in the back of the seat. Then you switch back again to that more serious mood with the smoke and burning rubber, and the thought that someone may have just died.

    But I did love all the imagery. Just make sure you pick a mood and stick with it.

  7. I think the second paragraph is much stronger than the first. Perhaps you could take a couple necessary details from the first one and work them in there.

    One thing stood out - can a voice stagger down an aisle?

    I liked it well enough to continue reading.

  8. I too was confused between your first couple of paragraphs, although I think a reader picking up a middle grade novel would know they were reading about a child, so you could probably get away with it. I didn't like "brought his weapon to his face". Maybe just "he raised his weapon, took aim and fired." Also not sure about a voice staggering down the isle. One last nit pick - I'm not sure a twelve year old boy would fit between the seat of a bus. It's pretty cramped.

    I'd read on for a bit to see if the bigger story interested me. I have a feeling the bus driver didn't hit a person and I'd like to know if I was right.

  9. I would keep reading. I want to know who was hit (and I'm hoping it's not a person because before that the scene is light and fun). I assumed it was a young boy hunting rhinos-- the school bus/spit wad was funny to me. That's how a kid thinks. Shooting a spitwad on the bus becomes a hunting expedition. My only complaint is 'his body slithered' because if he lurched forward due to sudden slamming of the brakes, his movements would be jerky, not smooth.

  10. I had to re-read the start to discover it was a child - so you did a great job with how deep he was in his fantasy. I do wonder, though, if kids would like to know that this is a kid from the kick-off.

    I think the pain of slamming into the seat would be more immediate. This little section seems to me like you're writing it as it might be filmed, rather than how it would feel to Tyler.

    I'm guessing the smoke and the rubber smell comes from the sudden breaking, but, again I had to re-read, because I was thinking that hitting a person would not damage the bus - which was my first thought with the smoke etc.

    This is definitely a good start, maybe just a bit of tightening to make it brilliant?

  11. Suggestion: try shortening some of your sentences to mirror the tension and pacing of the section. A lot of your sentences felt overworked to me, and too complicated for an MG novel.

  12. A lot of conflicting detail here for me to read on any further. When the bus driver stomped on the brakes, that should be it. But he stomps on them twice, the first time the bus swishes and then the second time it stops abruptly. It almost begs a little detail about the road conditions in order for the two reactions to make sense.

    Also, was the bus driver distracted when he hit the person? Why does he stagger down the aisle rather then go out the front door to investigate? Good Luck.

  13. Great hook up front with the pseudo war games of a school bus. And then you extend the hook with an accident that may have been caused by the MC distracting the bus driver with a spitball?!?

    Not sure if that's the case or not since you don't give us the context of who the prey is.

    I agree with what others have said about the major adjustment in mental picture being problematic. Part of me loved it and part of me was irritated by it, and I'm not sure that's what you're going for.

    There is a way to keep the "war games" tone in the front but still give the reader immediate clues that this is a kid playing spitball so we're eased into the transition.

    I also loved the rich, descriptive language you used, but there's a downside to that as well, because some of your verbs don't fit. I'm not a super literal reader, but:

    the bus driver’s voice staggered down the aisle

    even made me ask, "How exactly does a voice stagger?"

    Ditto on grayish smoke "drizzling" down from a window. First, smoke usually goes up, which is why they tell you to drop to the floor when there's a fire in your house. Second, water drizzles, not smoke... and since water is the nemesis of fire/smoke it jars the image in my brain.

    Here are the other images that didn't work for me:

    he brought his weapon to his face...should be lips.

    making the bus swish from side to side...should be swerve.

    His body slithered to the floor...sounds more like a cartoon than real life. In reality you hit against the seat back and then free fall to the floor.

    Squashed between the two seats ...He's not squashed between the seats, he squashed between the edge of his bench and the seat back in front of him.

    But the only reason I catch these now is because I have a super literal beta reader/crit partner who has taught me to look for that kind of thing, because I totally do it too.

  14. Okay, I'd read on to see who or what got hit and what it has to do with anything. But I have to confess, the first time I read this, it didn't register that the bus slowed first, then stopped. I thought maybe you'd accidentally included two versions of the same opening spitwad action. My bad.

    I do have a question about the MC telling us about the view outside the bus. How does that make it clear he's shooting at people on the bus? It's probably me...

    I do think you "get" boys and it's a great fiction market right now, so good luck!

  15. This is way overwritten. Everything is modified! Needs to be eased back to allow the action to take place, and try to avoid cliches (raging current, burning rubber, broken wing...). I liked the first line and the last line. The rest could be half as long.


  16. I liked the first two chapters and since it was MG, I thought Tyler was a kid right from the start, but the school bus was a surprise. I'd completely rewrite/condense the next two paragraphs. The last paragraph worked again (except for the "staggered"). I'd keep reading for a few pages at least.