Wednesday, February 10, 2010

31 Secret Agent

TITLE: A Change of Heart
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

Elizabeth sat staring out the rain spattered window of her English class, her thoughts a million miles away. She was vaguely aware of Mrs. Guthrie discussing the homework assignment, but as the rain poured down, her mind continued to stray. She knew she needed to snap out of it and not linger on the sound it made as it bounced off the window beside her. But it was too late. She was already immersed in her memory… the clamor of the pounding rain, the squealing tires on the wet pavement, the screams and…

Someone next to Elizabeth dropped a book on the floor causing her to flinch. Fortunately no one had paid any attention.

It was the spring of her senior year and everyone was buzzing about finals, graduation, receiving college acceptance letters, and of course the prom. Elizabeth couldn’t think about any of it without an instant pain in her heart. This isn’t what she imagined her last year of high school would be like. She’d had hopes, dreams and big plans. Now she just wanted it to end.

“LizBeth are ya’ ok?” The southern twang of her favorite teacher’s voice drew her thoughts back to the present.

“Sorry Mrs. Guthrie. I must’ve got sidetracked.”

“It’s alright LizBeth honey. I wanted to make sure ya’ got the homework for tonight.”

She glanced at the reading assignment written on the board and quickly copied it down as the bell rang.


  1. Not really hooked yet. Sorry. Maybe it's just because I've read a lot of "main character deals with a past trauma" YA lately, and there was nothing that jumped out here to make it feel fresh. I felt like the third paragraph was where something really needed to pop -- a specific detail, an achingly true emotion -- but we just get a lot of very general things about high school and some emotions that didn't hit me where they needed to.

    Is there a way to get your MC more active in this first part? I feel like sitting and remembering and regretting isn't the best way to introduce us to someone with whom we must sympathize. Maybe Elizabeth is trying to do something she used to enjoy before the accident, or talking to someone who used to be her friend. Something where we can feel her pain, but pick up on it through action.

    (Also, I've lived in the south my whole life, and none of my teachers ever called me "honey" past the third or fourth grade. The only way that might work for me is if Mrs. Guthrie turned out to be a close friend or family member.)

  2. Ooo. I want to know what happens. What is she thinking about?

    This is a good one.

  3. I was almost hooked until I got to the middle paragraph. It's pure backstory, and until the reader cares about the character, it has a tendency to pull the focus off the action. In this case, it pulled me out of the moment you were trying to create, gave me an info dump, then sent me back into what had, until then, been a smooth narrative.

    I'd recommend moving the "In the spring of her senior year" section to a later part, maybe after class ends. Also, while I can feel your character's angst, I need her to be doing something besides reminiscing. You've got a solid voice, but Harper K. was right in saying there needs to be some kind of action sooner. Maybe start with the dropping of the book, pulling her out of her memory. She looks up, apologizes, and wipes a tear form her eye. Now we have questions, and tension.

    It's a good start, but I need something to happen to want to keep reading.

  4. Yeah, this feels a little too much like navel gazing to open the book with. It reads as a little more melodramatic than intriguing.

    Plus, I think you have some tense issues. "This ISN'T what she imagined..."

    It all feels very "telling" to me. There must be some other way--without resorting to dreams or flashbacks--that you can intro the mc and her problems.

  5. Sorry, this is a no for me. Save the backstory and daydreaming for later when we are involved in the story and character. Try to find a more active scene to open with that shows me the MC and her problem.

  6. I agree with Walter's comment. I was intrigued by the first paragraph, but thought it would have been more powerful to keep us guessing about what happened in the past rather than go into backstory right away.

  7. I agree with the others. There was no hook here for me, just daydreaming. Blah.

    I did like your voice and your writing rocks.

  8. I'm also intrigued and hope we get to some action because the writing is good. Not sure why you don't start with the event she's pained by instead of after. Hooked, but would want something good coming to stay hooked.

  9. This was too distant for me to get hooked. We're in her POV, she's lost in thought, but we don't get to know what her thoughts are about. Plus there are some cliches that also took me out of it, like "a million miles away". Things like that don't add anything to the story and leave me feeling frustrated that I've read the whole piece and have no idea what it is that's bothering her. Only that her life is not how she imagined it - another cliche.

    I'm sure that whatever is troubling Elizabeth is probably pretty interesting but as it is now, I'm not really interested in reading further to find out what it is.

    Maybe if you start out by showing us what she's thinking about and how it makes her feel, and then give us a sense of how that ties into the conflict of the book, that would have me hooked.

  10. I don't read much YA, but I would be careful with trying to "write" a southern accent. I don't know if the teacher is a major character, but I found it distracting.

  11. This was too vague for me. The first paragraph announces she's immersed in memories, and instead of showing us the memories, we see all the things she's supposedly not noticing - until the end when we get a tiny glimpse.

    In the third paragraph she had hopes and dreams and big plans, but we never find out what they were.

    At the end of the 250 words, I don't know what the problem is.

    Why not simply state it? Why allude to a tragedy when you can just tell us what it was? If we know what it was, we can empathize sooner with the MC, which gives us a reason to keep reading. If we know what she hoped and dreamed for, again, it brings the reader closer to your MC. This is what your story is about. Why keep it hidden?

  12. A slow start but it's well-written. I might read a few more pages for the writing and for the hints I've been given so far.

  13. Not hooked -- there's nothing to draw me in. There are a few too many well-worn phrases -- thoughts a million miles away, rain pouring down, snap out of it, etc. Why would anyone care if she flinched at the sound of a book dropping?

  14. I'm afraid I found the opening heavy-handed. We're told three different times in the first paragraph that she's distracted:

    - "her thoughts a million miles away"
    - "her mind continued to stray"
    - "She was already immersed in her memory"

    This is one of those times when it's okay to just show her staring at the window, and the reader is going to know she's distracted.