Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Suspense

Emma was hiking at the bottom of the canyon when she heard the gunshots exploding into the sandstone. She darted for shelter as her team scattered. Emma dropped behind a cluster of boulders and scanned the high walls, squinting toward the disappearing sun, but she couldn’t find the shooter. She glanced down the dry riverbed as Libby and David ducked into a crevice in the wall. Alan stood frozen in the middle of the gorge.

Noah must have found us, she thought. “Alan, move!”

She heard another shot and Alan screamed as he fell to the ground.

“Help me with him!” Emma called to David.

In an instant David was by her side and they dragged Alan behind the high rocks, a low cloud of dust rising around them. Alan was still screaming, clutching his thigh with both hands.

“Stop screaming—it’s just a tranquilizer dart,” Emma shouted to him. “It doesn’t hurt that much!” She’d learned this the hard way—just a bee sting, then you wake up with a killer headache.

Tears streaked the dust that covered Alan’s face. He lifted his hands away from his leg and his palms were soaked with blood.

“What happened?” Libby scurried to his side. “You shouldn’t be bleeding from a dart—did you fall?”

“No! I’ve been shot!” he shouted. “It wasn’t a dart!”

Panic washed over Emma’s body, numbing her legs. Of course it wasn’t a dart, she thought. Tranquilizer guns are silent. This was supposed to be a standard training drill—none of the guns that the students carried should have bullets.


  1. I love how this jumps right into the action. I'm really curious about who Noah is. And what are these young kids doing with tranquilizer guns - or real ones for that matter.

    I would read on...

  2. I have to agree with anon. This jumped right into the story and raised questions.
    Why were they having a training drill?
    Who is Noah?
    How did a bullet end up in a gun during a training drill?

    I would read on to find out.

  3. Okay, I loved the mystery behind why these people are getting shot at--further more they're expecting to be shot by darts. Definitely a great 1st page. I want to read more!

  4. Definitely had me hooked. I want to read more.

  5. I'm a little unsure about the writing, but the action/pace is great. A lot of questions are raised. I'd read on!

  6. I love all things action/adventure/spy etc... so I may be a bit impartial here. It's great to be right in the action, but I felt a little bit too thrown into a shoot out. Maybe add a line or two in the beginning to ground the reader in where they are. Also I feel like there are too many characters who don't stand out. Alan, Emma, Libby, David - what truly distinguishes one from another? Appearance, dialogue, etc...

    But I am interested in finding out more.

  7. I agree that this jumps right to the action, but I feel like it does so in a less-than-entirely-well-done way. It's ALL action, plus a lot of names that might be confusing for a reader.

    That being said, it is compelling. I too want to know more about this school -- but with the caveat that I've seen a lot of "spy school" queries, and if this is another, it would need to truly stand out.

  8. The action was good, and I like the questions raised at the end, but with so many character names at the beginning, it was a little hard to really get into the scene.

    Maybe focus on one or two for the first couple paragraphs and then after we get that bit of information that grounds us in the story (that they're students - when and where in time this is, etc), widen the scene to show us the other people who are there.

  9. I remember this form a previous round. And I see some great improvements!

  10. An exciting opening! I want to read more and find out who is shooting at them.

    It's good that you jump right into the action, but a bit confusing with all the characters/names thrown at us without any reference for who these people are. Maybe just a bit more description or set-up at the beginning would help. I had to go back and check the genre to determine if the characters were kids or adults.

  11. Immediately engaging action--well done. I found myself assuming that the gunshots had been with live ammunition, so the twist of the MC thinking it's a tranquilizer dart--but it wasn't-- worked nicely. Nice POV work, great voice. I would read on.

  12. There is plenty to engage my interest here -- who is Noah? Why is he shooting at students? And why does Emma know what it's like to get hit with a tranquilizer dart? I also liked the twist that EmilyR mentioned -- you expect that they are being shot at with bullets, but then clearly the characters don't. Why?

    I like the style and voice, and I'd definitely read on.

  13. The action pulls you in, but I find all the names to be confusing a bit.

    I would probably want to read on.

    Good luck!

  14. Lots of action, which I like, but too many characters imo. You might want to try gunshots before hiking as a hook - and drop the names and just refer to friends or colleagues. Names can come later.

  15. Great hook and I loved the mystery at the end. I felt the action was a bit too fast. I think it would be more effective if you first gave readers some understanding of who the characters were. I had to read the first paragraph a few times to keep them straight.

  16. I think the first page ends stronger than it finishes. And that end would make me turn the page, but a beginning that engaged me more with Emma, before the action, would IMO be more effective.

    But I did like the action and it was well-written. The spy-school feel is intriguing to me, but I always wonder if it will be realistic or campy. And if realistic, how much danger will the MC face. For me, if it goes realistic, it has to allow the MC to face realistic danger, so that is what I as a reader would look for.

    But nice start.

  17. I like that it jumps into the action, but I felt a little unsettled because of a few logic points after I found out it was a training drill. Because in the beginning, I thought Emma was just on a regular hike, but if it was a training drill would she just be hiking or would Emma, Libby, David and Alan be doing recon or something. The way it's set up, it seems like they're kids on a regular hike and are ambushed, especially since Alan just freezes. If it's training, I'm assuming these kids have been selected, and if so, then Alan would know it was a drill, so why would he freeze up? Otherwise, I like the questions it raises and love double agent stuff!

  18. I'm hooked, too. Plenty of action. If you had inserted some brief identifying description it would be easier to keep track of the kids, but then that would have put you over 250 words.

    Really good.

  19. Hmmm... I think I saw this before. I still think that there are a lot of names here. I don't know anyone yet, and probably would be a lot more tense about people taking shots at them if I cared about the characters a little.

    Also - don't want to repeat her name so much. ;]

  20. I think I've seen this before too. It has improved since then so well done! I guess my only problem with it is one others have mentioned - the gunshots start immediately, so there's no time to find out anything about the characters that would make us care for them.

  21. I had a few moments where I had to catch up. For example, in the first sentence she is hiking. I pictured her as hiking alone. Then there is the team. Why not, Emma was in the canyon hiking with her team...

    The first sentence is in 'telling' (Emma was hiking) and then in the next sentence, it jumps into showing (she darted). Why not lead with showing? Just a thought.

    I'm curious. And there is the element of danger and action going on.

    Not sure if I am hooked as I had to read it twice to make sure I had everything. Definitely potential though!


  22. i really do like this, and would definitely keep reading, but you may want to take out a few of the names... there are so many characters here in such a short sample, that I didn't even try to keep them all straight....the only ones I'm really concerned about here are Emma, Alan and Noah.


  23. Hmm…I remember reading this section before, and I’m going to make the same comment now as I did then—I think this would be stronger if you gave us a closer POV from Emma. There’s gunshots and one of her friends gets tranqed, but there’s no internal reaction at all from your MC. In a YA, one of the best ways to connect your reader to your characters is to create an emotional bond between them, which is hard to do without a close POV.

  24. Nice improvement from last time. It is much clearer now. This might just be a personal preference, but I think you could break up a few of your sentences in the first paragraph to add more impact. "...toward the disappearing sun. She couldn't find the shooter."

    Good work!

  25. I think the writing is nice and it's very exciting. Good job building tension.


  26. This is improved from before. The action is good, it reads well. I'm curious enough to read a few pages. Why is someone actually shooting at them? I might or might not be hooked when I know that.

  27. The action was great, but my connection to the MC was watered down because of the high number of characters introduced so quickly and the inability to visualize the character of Emma clearly. (I say this as a reader who lusts to know her characters, but realizes that this is only the first 250 words) I do think that if you minimized the intro of some of the other characters, you would have room to give Emma more and time to develop them clearly as they are introduced.

    "Help me with him!" seemed forced to me. If Emma was surrounded by like minded people I think a simple HELP ME would be an organic response and get the job done.

    Would enjoy reading more of this.

  28. who? what? where?

    Such a lot of action and so many people from the outset

    I was struggling to make sense of what was going on.

    I agree with other critters' comments

    An additonal comment: this phrase seemed very clunky to me.

    'Tears streaked the dust that covered Alan’s face.'

    off the top of my head, perhaps

    Alan's dusty face, now streaked with tears...

    would work better.

  29. I like the surprise, about bullets vs. tranquilizer darts, but I thought there was too much information coming too quickly.

    But there's a great saying from Alfred Hitchcock: "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

    It applies here, too. Could you start with the team, their setting, what they're doing there, and why they're on high alert?

    I think it would read much less abruptly then.

  30. There's way too much going on here to make for a solid intro. It feels like it's all over the place, which makes it hard to focus on any one thing. It would be helpful to have a stronger sense of the MC and how she's handling the situation. That would have more interesting than focusing on the disjointed situation itself.