Wednesday, March 18, 2009

34 Secret Agent

TITLE: Spirit Squad
GENRE: YA Mystery/Paranormal

The bright yellow, half-sheet of paper stapled to the back of Gretchen's class schedule had one sentence typed precisely in the middle. It read:



"Gretchen Grimalkin" was scrawled above it in red Sharpie. Large and accusatory.

On the first day of tenth grade — before first period, even — Gretchen had gotten herself in trouble. Somehow… somehow, They had found out.

Except, that was ridiculous. Principal Curlew didn't know, and even if he did know, he wouldn't care. Only two people knew or cared what Gretchen had done to her best friend Natalie last year. Those two people were Gretchen and Natalie.

But, why else would Gretchen be called to the Main Office? She couldn't possibly be in trouble. She wasn't a trouble maker. She never did anything. She kept her head down. At Horace Walpole High School, you had to.

Gretchen flipped the yellow paper over. Blank. No help there.

Lifting her head, Gretchen looked around, hoping she'd see Natalie before Natalie saw her. But Natalie was small, and the main hall was crowded. That was an understatement. Pandemonium was more like it. Hundreds of voices, slamming lockers, thumping books, squeaking sneakers, teachers threading through the crush and straightening gossipy knots of students into lines that disintegrated as soon as the adults turned their backs. Three shell-shocked freshmen huddled next to the glass trophy case. Poor things. Gretchen knew exactly how they felt.


  1. Nice hook, and perfect description of student pandemonium in the hallway. I'd keep reading!

  2. This sounds really interesting. The only thing I asked when I read this was, why would she be getting in trouble now for something she did last year? I'm sure you explain that later, so I would definitely keep reading!

    Good Job!

  3. Overall, I think this works. There are a few places I think could be tightened, like "But Natalie was small, and the main hall was crowded. That was an understatement. Pandemonium was more like it" doesn't really sound like a 10th grader, and it also slows your pace.

    "Pandemonium" is a fun word, so I'd keep that, but maybe "But Natalie was small, and the main hall was beyond crowded. Pandemonium was more like it."

    And I think you could improve your pace and raise some story questions that I'm sure you answer later on by shortening: "Only two people knew or cared what Gretchen had done to her best friend Natalie last year. Those two people were Gretchen and Natalie." to "Only two people knew or cared what Gretchen had done: Gretchen and Natalie."

    Minor polishing, but I would definitely read on.

  4. I like H.L. Dyer's suggestions, and I'd just add that this paragraph worked really well for me: "'Gretchen Grimalkin' was scrawled above it in red Sharpie. Large and accusatory." Punchy -- plus a nugget of character information.

    I'd certainly read on.

  5. *paranormal = fantasy, doesn't it? ;]

    I'm teasing. I like this. Definitely hooked.

  6. I do like the voice, but it's not really working for me yet. Note from the principal, trouble between two friends, a crowded hallway during break. I didn't really see anything new or different. I didn't get the hint of mystery or paranormal. Other than "At Horace Walpole High School, you had to." That could be ominous, or not. Is getting this note from the principal really the thing that gets this whole story going?

  7. I really liked the red sharpie description and was definitely hooked into reading more--wondering what she had done to Natalie the previous year. I was a little confused as to exactly where this first scene was occurring. I thought at the beginning she was in a classroom where she had just received the note from the office. But then there was the long description of the hallway which I liked--but it threw me off a bit.

  8. Puzzlehouse, thank you!

    June, yep. I explain that in the next few pages. (It turns out that the note isn't about the previous year at all, although what happened the previous year is a big subplot.) Thanks!

    H.L. Dyer, thanks for your suggestions about tightening this up. I'm using them all, and I'll be e-mailing you the rest of my manuscript... ;)

    Jamie, thank you! I'm very fond of the ominous note.

    Megs, in the first post about this Secret Agent, somebody asked about paranormal. Authoress said that straight paranormal wasn't appropriate, but cross-genre stuff with paranormal elements was okay to submit. Glad you liked it. Thanks! :)

    Macaronipants, the note from the main office is actually what changes Gretchen's life completely. The paranormal element is introduced when Gretchen goes to find out about the note.

    Goldchevy, thank you for the suggestion about clarifying the setting. I hadn't realized it was unclear. :)

  9. Great tone. I would turn the page.

    The only thing that caught me was the last three lines...if I was worried about getting in huge trouble on the first day of school, I wouldn't be feeling bad for three shell-shocked freshmen. I'd only be thinking about myself.

    Good luck!

  10. Great set-up; there's nothing like an unexpected visit to the principal's office on the first day of school. Nice chaos in the hallway too, I think I'd be reading on.

  11. I liked up but found too many sentences starting with She... I found it distracting.

    Good Luck

  12. Though I like the world building paragraph at the end, there's not much happening here save the MC reading and thinking. The MC is being passive, just standing there, thinking about what's brought her to this moment. It's kinda a cliche opening, and one that personally turns me off a book.

    If nothing of importance happens between now and the end of Gretchen's school day, maybe just start with her sitting in the principal's office at the end of the day.

  13. I was hooked. I don't think a book needs to start with a big action scene to make it work. Just a MC in trouble and that is exactly what you did. You set up a problem and you introduced the setting in a fluent and easy to read way. I'd read on.

    Minor spelling mistake:
    "somehow, They had found out." (it should be they)

  14. There does seem to be a lot of telling but it's been addressed by other posters. I just wanted to add that I like the plot and I'd read on.

  15. Needs tightening and elimination of cliches. As soon as I read "Only two people knew..." I knew it was going to be "Those two people were Gretchen and Natalie."

    I saw potential in some of the descriptions--Sharpie, the large main hall, desire to know what happened. But you will need to have them imteract quickly and give the reader some greater idea as to what's to come. Make sure that the adults have depth, too.


  16. This is one of those times when I am hooked from the first fifteen words. I love the imagery... the red sharpie, the bright yellow paper. I love it all!

    This is a book I would read more of!

  17. Great concept and fantastic hook. My other comments have already been addressed above.

    But great work!

  18. I wonder what those girls did? Hafta read to find out.

    First thing I'd do is open with the paragraph about her never getting in trouble.... That's a real grabber. Then "how could the principal know?" paragraph. In these first words, I don't think one has time to explain much about the circumstances leading up to what's wrong.

    Otherwise, I think this could be a fun MG story.

  19. I'm hooked on the plot but I think the writing needs to be tightened (I won't repeat what's already been listed). The imagery is good - I could see the hallway as she walked through it. I'd read on in spite of the flaws.