Wednesday, November 4, 2009

49 Secret Agent

GENRE: Mystery

If I really were a psychic witch, as my grandmother insists, then wouldn't you think I could predict if the roof were about to cave in over my head like it was doing right now?

"Stacy, get out!" my cousin shouted through the thick smoke. She was in the basement of the Black Opal Bar gathering stock minutes before the fire barricaded her in the far room. I hoped the rear exit wasn't blocked. The front section, where I stood, was free of flames. For the moment.

I swiveled my head from side to side and clutched the amethyst necklace I wore for protection. "Where's Thor?" I yelled back.

"I don't know. Just go!"

"Thor, here boy," I called. Just then a wooden beam crashed to the floor, dividing the two sections of the bar. Black ash and sparks erupted from the floorboards.

I heard a faint whimper and circled to the face of the oak bar. My recently adopted Great Dane was at the opposite end, wedged between the foot rail and two kegs of beer.

"Thor, come," I screamed as loud as I could.

The kegs blocked his head like linebackers, but I could see his rear end wiggling, struggling to escape. A quick check to my right. The flames hadn't reached the front door yet and sirens wailed closer. There was no choice. My legs found power as I sprinted toward my dog.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the toppled stool. I tripped in cartoon fashion.


  1. Something about the tone keeps it from really feeling like an immediate threat. If I were really psychic, maybe? That she(he?) seems to have time to philosophize in the middle of the fire? I do agree with the whole saving the dog thing, but I can't picture how a foot rail and two kegs are going to stop a Great Dane from getting out of a fire unless he's tied to them. It didn't quite catch me.

  2. Not quite hooked. The tense shift at the beginning threw me. I also prefer to get to know characters a little better before the emergencies start, but that's just me.

  3. For a fire action scene, you have so much potential here. But I don't sense the urgency in her looking for the dog. Seems to me that she'd be more scrambling all over.

    Use all senses. Smell would seem pretty overpowering in this scene.

    Also, I am not sure of the tone you want to achieve. Are you trying to be funny (like the first and last paragraphs) or more serious?

    Somewhat hooked.

  4. That's a great first line.

    A fire is one heck of a tense situation, though, and tripping in cartoon fashion seems to dispel the tension.

    Also, with this kind of situation in this genre, there just didn't seem to be the plot hints that would leave me with questions driving me to read on to get them answered.

    I love Great Danes and and think the opening scene has a lot of promise, but unfortunately I'm not hooked.

  5. Loved it and was hooked. I don't know what the big deal is with tense switches (I saw this note on a couple others) since it was very readable and clear what was happening. Good voice, thought it moved just fine. Did she save the dog? Wait, don't tell me if she didn't. As a pet lover, you totally reeled me in. :D

  6. I liked the -you would have thought I knew better- feel, but I didn't feel the sense of urgency about the fire. Maybe it was her saying too many times that it wasn't near her yet? Other than her cousin telling her to get out, the focus seemed more on her clumsiness in getting to her dog, than the danger of getting them both out of there. I am curious about the fire and if they get out though.

  7. I'm concerned about the lack of urgency, as noted by others. She doesn't scream until further down. We're already in the middle of the action.

  8. The first and last lines seem too light-hearted for a tense scene. When people trip in cartoons, the audience usually laughs, but I don't think you want us laughing when she's trying to save her dog from a fire. Likewise the first line sounds a little flippant if she's truly in danger.

    The second line of the second paragraph shifts us out of the immediate action, which also serves to break the tension, at least in my opinion. I'd leave out the part about gathering stock and just note that she is barricaded in the far room.

    For the moment I'm not really hooked, but it would just take a bit of tweaking for me to read on.

  9. I thought your opening line was clever. I do, however, wonder where your narrator was when this fire started? Did she walk into the bar and find it burning? The way it's written makes it sound like she was just standing there since she knew her cousin had gone to the basement a few minutes earlier. But it's hard to imagine a fire of that magnitude occurred while the MC just hung around and watched. Also, she seems more concerned about the dog than her cousin, who may or may not be trapped in the back. All this could be fixed with a little tweaking, I think. I think you have the start of something good here.

  10. Ditto on the comments about the language being too wordy and taking away from the tension of the scene. Try shorter sentences and stick only to the pertinent details of the moment. Ex: the readers don't need to know that the MC just recently adopted the dog--that factoid doesn't really affect whether or not they'll get out of the fire.

  11. I'm sorry, I just can't get past the fact that she's standing or sitting in a burning building doing nothing but thinking about how if she was psychic she could have foretold that the roof was going to fall in on her. Why didn't she call the dog before the fire progressed to that point?

    If you can tell me why she's sitting there like a bump on a log before her cousin yells at her and shakes her from her reverie, I'd read on.

  12. I feel pulled between the slightly snarky opening line/cartoon-like tripping and the intense drama of being in a structure fire. I don't know what is going on. I am getting mixed signals on tone and voice.

  13. I was also confused between the tone changes. Also, I don't think she needs to be psychic to recognize there's a fire in the bar. She hear it, smell it, etc. I participate in a mock fire event and the smoke blocks you from seeing anything-way before the fire even gets to you so I'm not sure she would even see the dog. I think there's promise here, but I'm not hooked.

  14. I liked this, but the scene doesn't have the urgency it should. That could be because there are too many little details and/or it's too wordy.

    Case in point: the first sentence. As much as I love its tone, it gets bogged down in language. You might try something like, "If I really were a psychic witch, as my grandmother insists, I think I would have seen the roof caving in over my head."

    With a few more edits, I think this could really work. Good luck with it.

  15. The tone and set up left me feeling more confused than hooked. I had a hard time following what exactly was happening in the scene. I think there's potential here, but it still needs some work. Good luck!

  16. I agree with some of the other comments about tone vs. situation. You begin with what should be a very tense scene, with high stakes, but there are two things undercutting it. Since it's first person, we know the narrator survives, so there's no mystery there. And since you've gone with a lighthearted voice (which I like, by the way), it never feels very urgent. If the whole book is like that, I'm fine. If she treats danger in a breezy fashion, that's part of her character. I can't say I'm hooked yet, because I know next to nothing about her, and lots about the fire and layout of the bar where she was briefly trapped. Not knowing more about her makes me care less what happens to her.