Wednesday, July 15, 2009

11 Secret Agent

TITLE: Papergirl: A Memoir
GENRE: Narrative Nonfiction

We just finished lunch at the mess hall and were singing camp songs on Schooney Lawn. Next stop: Trading Post.

I was in Mariners, a long way from Sunnyside and Meadows, the units I stayed when I was just a Brownie. Mariners bunked in houseboats on Lake Ely instead of cabins; those were reserved for the younger girls. Just like the six summers before, I was with my best friend Jasmine for two weeks at Camp Archbald. But the final week was winding down and since my mom was also on a trip, my dad would be picking me up in a few days.

“Come on girls! Let's go,” yelled our unit leader, Debbie. I liked her bucket hat.

“Mariners!” we yelled as we waltzed by the younger girls. I bet some of them still got homesick. Not me. I loved being on my own. I'd stay at camp all summer long if I could.

“Why does our turn at the trading post have to be right after lunch? I'm always so full,” I told Jasmine, planning to get candy anyway.

The wooden deck creaked as I stepped up to the window of the Trading Post. I ordered Nerds. Half grape. Half strawberry. I thanked the lady (because Girl Scouts are polite) and moved out of the way so Jasmine could take her turn; she bought Laffy Taffy. We found a grassy spot near the flagpole and sprawled out. The bucket hat was coming toward us.

Mail call.


  1. Nice sense of place but not sure what the conflict is. Right now everything is "just like six summers before" but I don't know what's different. Right now there is good writing but since nothing is really happening I'm not sure if I'd read on.

  2. No... I'm sorry. I feel like somebody's telling me about their day even though nothing exciting happened.

  3. I think you should begin at "Come on girls!Let's go."

    Most of the stuff you told me before that- you tell me again in the dialogue and its more interesting that way.

    Maybe after Mail Call, you could put in the bit about the mom and dad-a thought of whether you are, or are not, expecting a letter from them and why.

    I get a feeling an important letter is coming, and once I got there, I did want to read more, but that first para just wasn't grabbing me.

  4. I don't yet get this as for adults, but I like the images and would continue for a few pages.

  5. I need more of a sense of the narrator and what this all means to her. Why is this summer important to her? What are her longings, fears, feelings about being here? Give me some reason for caring about what happens to her.

  6. You certainly capture the time and place, but the problem is it is a very fluffy and sunny time and place - not one I really feel any emotional connection or tension from. It's really not a very interesting place to start this, no matter what happens next.

    I get the sense something big must be about to happen (I hope :} ), but I don't think I'd read on because it feels like a very fluffy child's story so far.

    I'd be tempted to start with something more mature - a set up to where the story begins, more than the actual beginning memory.

    good luck.

  7. This isn't the most interesting place to start your story. The important information in the first two paragraphs is revealed anyway over the next two, and we don't immediately need to know that she sleeps in a houseboat this year instead of a cabin.

    Even the third and fourth paragraphs could probably go, so you'd start with her asking why do they always have to have their turn at the trading post after lunch. That would give us a sense of place before we get into the meat of the story, which I'm assuming comes with the mail.

    I liked your writing though.

  8. I hate to say it bluntly, but I'm not hooked at all. Why? This is all ordinary. Reading about someone buying candy or going to camp isn't exciting. When I read, it's for excitement, tension, suspense. Keep in mind those things come in small packages. Someone losing an item that's extremely important to them -- even if it's ordinary -- can create tension and excitement. But this has none. This is a standard day at camp. It sounds like maybe there's something going on with the dad, since you went out of your way to mention it. But my suggestion is: start with where the drama is. What happened that made you want to write this memoir? That event may be the best place to start.

  9. This starts too slowly for me. The second paragraph is a lot of exposition, and nothing really happens in the entire opening. Start us off with something more grabby; give us an idea of some conflict.

  10. Not hooked. Needs conflict.

  11. I'm sorry, this opening did not grab me. I'm sure you have a good story that needs telling, but all of this could be worked in as backstory. I desperately need some sort of sense of action, conflict, angst -- something to care about. Who know,s it might be on the very next page. Find where that place is and start your book there.

  12. Not hooked. I see that this is a memoir, but right now I don't have a sense of where this is going or why we as readers should care. At this point the writing isn't strong enough to pull me through on its own merit.

    This would need a great platform and a really interesting story for me to continue.

  13. Not hooked. Nothing happened.

    My guess is you are starting too early. Begin at the point where her life changes, where something out of the ordinary happens.

    Right now, it's too - I went to the market. I bought a loaf of bread.

  14. Thank you, all. I've changed where I began the story several times and it is extremely obvious that this beginning does not work after the feedback. The previous feedback I've received from people who knew the story was different, but probably because they were hooked already and therefore knew what was coming. This was a FANTASTIC exercise to show just how important the first few paragraphs are. Sure a jacket flap and reviews down the road will attract readers- and they will know 'the hook' already so will be more forgiving of that initial paragraph. But at this critical stage to get published, I learned a huge lesson, as these 250 words failed to do the story justice.

    This is not the forum for this obviously, but I would love to get some unbiased feedback on where to start this (because, well, no one can tell what it's about! Ha!) If anyone is interested in seeing my "pitch" and could offer advice on where you see the action beginning based on that, comment back and perhaps we can speak offline.

    Thank you again! I really enjoyed being a part of this. Looking forward to rearranging.