Wednesday, February 10, 2010

36 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Fifth World
GENRE: Suspense/Thriller

Balaam wasn’t expecting his world to fall apart that day. Of course, an apocalypse can put a dent in the best of plans.

Late the previous evening, he'd begun the journey from Sayil. He had arrived at the temple complex shortly after dawn, his fatigue evaporating as he passed under the sacred arch for the first time in many weeks. He felt at home here, deep in the wilderness. The great city of Sayil seethed with humanity, and a villager such as Balaam could never feel comfortable there. Especially not yesterday, with the massive gathering at the Palace and the dread of what he might find here when he returned.

The smell of carrion reached his nostrils. He wiped his face, as if to dispel the odor, and his hands came away covered with grime and sweat. As he moved up the weathered stone steps, the stench became overpowering. His heart started beating faster and he wondered if they were dead already. As he gazed into the central courtyard from the top step, he stopped wondering.

The bodies adorned the grassy space as if arranged with a purpose. Some were seated, some lay on their backs in a sleep-like pose. But this was no siesta. Even from where he stood, he could tell they were dead. The signs of the great sickness were on them, dried skin and shriveled flesh.

In the five seconds it took him to realize the extent of the carnage, Balaam dropped to his knees.


  1. I'm interested. As a pure reader, I'd go a little further. As a writer, if I might suggest/comment that the passage feels a little to much tell versus show so I don't feel as connected to what he's feeling as I'd like to be. I think you could realy amp up the scary stuff by showing us more of what he's seeing - but not too much. :D But, I'd keep reading as a pure reader.

  2. I agree with Cassie. There's a lot of telling the reader, which is fine in short doses, but too much makes it slow down. I caught myself skimming the two middle paragraphs instead of reading, which made me miss out on something important, then I had to go back and read closely, which made me want to skim again.

    The opening line is good, but sounds more like a tagline than an opening. I'd probably start the story with the line "The bodies adorned the grassy space..." That would have hooked me. Instead, I'm a little confused, and a little disinclined to continue. All it really needs is some tightening. Good luck.

  3. I think the opening sentence is fine. It's the second paragraph that yanks me out of the story. I'm interested in the dead bodies (good description, btw). As a reader, I don't care where you came from or when. Pepper that stuff in later. This sounds like I didn't like it - I did. A lot.

  4. I like the first sentence a lot but second the idea to jump into the action. If it is important to know where he came from there is enough room later.

  5. I'm curious what is happening, so I'd read a bit more. But I did get distracted by the references to yesterday and last night--can you keep it up close and in the moment?

  6. I don't think the first two sentences work well together. I see what you're trying to do, but I still get hung up on them. It's like this: the second sentence is a bit glib, the idea that an apocalypse can put a dent in someone's plans. But the first sentence doesn't talk about Balaam's plans - instead it talks about what he's NOT expecting.

    To me, it's like a misstruck guitar note, and I hear it through the rest of the submission.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Hah! Love the opening. That made me want to keep going straight off.

    The rest mostly read smoothly, with just a couple of nit-picks from me:

    Firstly, "he wondered if they were dead already." With such a stench of carrion (presumably not normal for that place) I might be dreading what I'd see but I doubt if I'd be wondering much.

    Secondly, five seconds sounds an awfully long time for someone to "drop" to their knees.

    All told, though, I liked this and would love to read on.

  8. I really liked the first two sentences, but they felt too flippant for what came afterwards. I was expecting an irreverent Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy type apocalypse, not one in which the main character felt it so much.

    I agree that the backstory should be left out. I would prefer if the story started with him arriving at the temple so we see it as it happens, experience the lifting of fatigue then the dread as he smells the carrion.

  9. The descriptions were quite good and I didn't even mind the bits of telling. The one thing in the telling that bothered me is that you said he could never feel comfortable in the city and yet you show someone who moves through the city fairly confidently. Still, the writing is strong and I'd read on.

  10. I also think the indifferent tone of the second sentence clashed with what seemed to be an emotional moment for the MC.

    I think starting with arriving at the temple and the mention of the sickness would be a better hook, with less talk of Sayil (as he isn't in Sayil and Sayil doesn't seem to affect what's going on now.)

    As is, I probably wouldn't read on.

  11. The second paragraph really threw me. The words 'temple complex' put me in the mind of a heavily populated building that was an integral part in the daily lives of the city-dwellers. Then I found out it was in the wilderness. Huh?

    I agree about removing references to Sayil in this portion

    I am intrigued enough that I'd keep reading for a bit - I want to know what he's going to do, why he came out here to the temple (was he sent, does he have a personal reason for investigating, etc), and how this changes his plans.

  12. Hooked right away -- love apocalypses. I think the writing could be tweaked a bit but nothing major.

  13. I liked it, although the first two paragraphs didn't do much for me. Perhaps start with him entering the city and getting right to the third paragraph. This would leave you room to get into the cause of the tradgedy, or introduce another character - whatever you have coming up next.

  14. So many novels by aspiring writers begin along the liens of "So and so wasn't expecting their world to change, but then it did." It kind of goes without saying that no one really expects the apocalypse. I'd consider beginning this differently.