Wednesday, July 15, 2009

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: To One Thing Constant
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

Lynn was the first to discover the house. I was standing with Doris and Claire in the girls’ line waiting for the bell to ring when I saw Lynn running toward us. Even from across the playground, I could see she had something to tell us, and it was something big.

Breathlessly, she cut in line. “There’s a mansion over there.” She said pointing across the street.

“Nah uh!” I said.

“I swear! It’s huge.”

Lynn’s description of the house made me question whether or not she was making it up. She had a tendency to make up elaborate stories. Not lies really, she just made the truth sound a bit more exciting than it actually was. But a house with a yard so big it couldn’t be seen from the street? No way! All that I had ever known were post-World War II bungalows, ranch style tract homes, and apartment buildings.

“For reals?” I said. “Who lives there?”

“No one. It’s abandoned.”

“How do you know?” Doris asked.

“Because it’s empty. My brother and I walked around the veranda looking in all the windows after school yesterday.”

“I want to see it!” Claire said.

“Shhh!” Lynn gathered us in closer. “I don’t want anyone else to know about it.”

“I want to see it, too!” I whispered.

It was settled. She would take the three of us to see it right after school.
Petite and wiry, Lynn was the most popular girl at school. She was also my best friend -- had been since sixth grade.


  1. I like the concept of this undiscovered house and what the girls will find there. The only thing is I wonder if it's believable that a group of curious girls wouldn't have noticed this mansion before. I don't know about you, but especially those of us who walked to school knew every inch of the path, especially some woodsy undiscovered area right across from the school! Wouldn't someone have discovered it before--someone's older sibling--especially if it's been there and they've been at the school that long? Just a thought. This could be easily cleared up. That being said, I'd probably read further.

  2. Is it a new mansion? Or is it maybe a school that they've never attended before? These were the things plaguing my mind as I read. I would like to know more about that.

    I think the story is interesting though... and I imagine them having yaya type meetings in the big fancy abandoned house!

  3. Agree with the question of how they'd never found the house before, but I like the premise. However, the specific naming of "post-World War II bungalows, ranch style tract homes, and apartment buildings" seemed at odds with a girl who would say "For reals", unless she has a deep interest in modern architecture.

    Also, the transition from planning a visit to physical description of Lynn seemed a little abrupt.

  4. I definetly want to see what the girls will do at the house and why it is significant. I think, though that the voice of the writer isn't consistant with the dialogue. Maybe she could be older and retelling the story?

  5. One thing that sort of distracted me was the name of the girls... only because the names seemed old-fashioned. That's personal-note though, not important.

    Other than that... I'm not entirely hooked here. I couldn't tell how old the girls were - they seemed somewhat young. The other thing is possibly it might work cutting this scene and get right to the point of them breaking into the house or whatever.

  6. I am curious as to where the adventures around the house may go, but the voice in the piece seemed a little disconnected to me. Is this YA or middle grade? I know the line's not really clearly defined there, but that may be something to consider. Also, I agree with Nora about the listing out of "post-World War II" homes, it was a bit distracting and felt too adult to fit into the MC's thoughts.

    Then again, I thought one of the girls using the word "veranda" instead of "porch" was a little off too, but that is just mho ;P

    Not completely hooked, but good luck.

  7. It would read more clearly if you cut "Lynn was the first to discover the house." Try it ...

    5th graf: "made the truth sound a bit more exciting than it actually was" - can't you just say "embellish"? Lot less wordy.

    Also, Lynn says "mansion" and "huge," so how does the narrator know it's "a house with a yard so big it couldn’t be seen from the street"?

    And, our sixth-grade narrator uses some really real-estate terms "post-World War II bungalows, ranch style tract homes." bungalows and tract homes, maybe. But post-WWII? Doesn't read right to me.

  8. I am lost on the dialogue and narrating of the MC. She speaks clearly, and then turns to, "For Reals?" That is confusing.
    I agree with most about where the house came from and why have they not seen it before. Maybe it is explained later but you might have lost a few readers by that point.
    I also wasn't sure why at this point was it important to mention Lynn was the most popular girl in school. If she wasn't would the MC still follow her?

  9. Not hooked, probably because there are too many contradictions here. You list the genre as young adult, but these kids sound like fifth or sixth graders. Also, as Bryan mentioned, the narration and dialogue don't match. While narrating, the main character sounds eighteen or nineteen (at the youngest); while speaking, she sounds closer to eight or nine.

  10. Not bad. I'd keep going for a bit.
    One thing that did irk me was the use of "for reals." Is it age appropriate for the characters? They seemed a little young for me. Also, that kind of slang can pass before the book is published or soon after. You might want to consider something less now.

  11. Deja vu here ... I think I remember this one from the May SA contest?

    Something about this isn't working for me. I'm a little confused as to whether this is a "prologue" type of situation, or is the narrator reflecting back on what happened (e.g., Lynn was the first to discover the house) for the entire novel? I'm not saying the writing should be in present tense, but I get the feeling that I'm sitting on the couch with the narrator, and she's saying, "So this one time, there was this house, and here's what happened."

    I prefer to be in the story with the narrator, while the action is happening, but maybe that's just me.

    Another part that didn't work for me was the change at the end of the entry. "It was settled. She would take the three of us to see it right after school. Petite and wire, Lynn ..."

    I had a difficult time moving from "right after school" into "Petite and wiry." A transition here would be helpful.

  12. While fairly smooth and polished, I agree that the voices here sound 5th or 6th grade at oldest, and it doesn't feel like a flashback from a teen perspective, so I'm confused as to what the genre is.

    I'll also second the comment that it feels unbelievable that they wouldn't have discovered the mansion earlier. So if there is a logical explanation, maybe work that in.

    But mostly, a conversation about a house doesn't really pull me in, whatever the details. So, I wonder if there is somewhere more compelling the story can start.

    good luck.

  13. It's all right, but doesn't hook me.

    Sorry ;(

  14. I couldn't get a handle on the ages of the girls. They sounded very young and then too old. What kid is going to say "post-WWII bungalows." The "for reals" seemed out of place. And why do we care that Lynn is the most popular girl in school. How is that important to the story or the narrator? And I agree, if they've lived there a long time, wouldn't everyone know about the abandoned house?

    In general, I didn't find this opening compelling. Too much telling, but the abandoned house idea has lots of great potential. Instead of talking about this great find, why not start with them having some adventure at the house?

  15. Sorry, it didn't hook me. Get to the point a lot quicker please. You wasted a lot of time with dialogue that didn't really advance the story. I know teens talk like that, but it's not a good way to start a book. Give us a more dynamic dialogue then you're talking (so to speak).

    And the final paragraph came off as an info dump and threw me out of the story. At this point I don't care if Lynn is petite and wiry and is the most popular girl at school. I want to sympathsize with your mc, and I don't yet. Maybe that happens after the 250 words, though.

    Good luck!

  16. Oh, let me clarify what I meant by teens talking like that. I agree with the other's that they sound younger than YA. I meant the short exchange back and forth where they don't really say anything. That sounds like teen talk. And yes, your voice and dialogue don't match. Chances are good if that's a problem in your first 250 words, then it's going to be a problem throughout the book.

  17. Not hooked--I don't believe that there could be a mansion right across the street that the girls don't know about. Big yard or not, it seems like something that would be common knowledge.

    The characters seem a little young for YA--I suspect this might be better classified as MG.

  18. Not hooked. The characters seem too young for YA, and you have them on a playground.

    It would be hard to believe there was a house there they had never seen before, and you've placed a mansion there.

    Are these kids in HS or 7-8 grade?
    Is this set in modern times or is it set in the not too distant past?

    It seems this needs a lot more reworking.

    Try to make the dialogue more consistent with teens, and perhaps clarify the who, where, what of it all. A mystery mansion could be a very interesting read.