Wednesday, February 10, 2010

37 Secret Agent

GENRE: Historical Fiction

Emil was dreaming of his wife’s hair the morning the prison camp went silent.

A shout woke him. He rolled over and grabbed at the last wisps of his dream as it drifted away. The way she shook her hair loose at bedtime. The way it always smelled like sunshine, even in the dark of night. A minute longer in his dreams with Ileana’s hair and he could cope with another day in this piss-hole.

Then another shout, this time outside the hut.

Heart pounding, he leapt out of bed, kicking the tangle of blanket aside. He ran through the now-empty hut without stopping to pull on his shoes. He’d only been late for roll call once; the backs of his legs still carried the marks of that mistake.

And stopped.

The prisoners weren’t lining up. Instead they clustered in knots just outside of each hut, madly whispering.

Over the heads of the other prisoners, Emil saw nothing. No sleepy-eyed soldiers shuffling through the mud. No one bellowing for roll call. No guards at the gate. Nothing apart from the whispers of the prisoners. The Germans had vanished.

“It’s a trick,” a man muttered.

“You’re suspicious of everything.”

“Why should we trust them?” the first voice insisted. “A trick!”

“Non, c'est bon chance!” someone exclaimed, a shade too loud. The shocked silence exploded into frenzied babble.

“What does he mean?”

“An opportunity.”

“An opportunity? We’re prisoners.”

“But where’d they go?”

“They’ve gone back to their Kaiser.”

“S*** on their Kaiser!”


  1. I love the first sentence, but there is that issue of waking up to start a novel being cliche. This might work because it immediately jumps into the reason why he's been woken.

    This is well-written! I'd keep reading.

  2. I'm hooked with this - immediately curious to know how he'd landed in this camp, and you've really captured this tense atmosphere of confusion surrounding the disappearance of the Germans. Tells me immediately when it happened, too. (Well, technically it could've been one of two times, but you solved that with the 'Kaiser')

    Also it's a nice subtle introduction of his feelings for his wife, and that she's what keeps him sane during his captivity.

    Would definitely read on.

  3. I think the MC waking up here works well, it fits the circumstances. I agree with R.A> Burrell about how you've described Emil's feelings for his wife...a lovely little detail.

    I'd definitely want to read on. Great voice here.

  4. Being German myself I first thought Emil was a German but then he would probably not be married to an Ileana. For a second I thought he was in a prison camp from WWII and wanted to should out that they were much worse than this but you changed that with the Kaiser. I'm intrigued and would read more.

  5. Him dreaming of his wife's hair really pulled an emotional chord with me. I've heard too that it's cliche to have the first scene be one where a character is waking up, but I didn't think of that while I was reading this. I think it's lovely and I'd keep reading. I want to know if he'll be reunited with Ileana.

  6. This is a great opening and made me want to read on. Great dialogue. My only suggestions is that I would have liked a few more details to clue me into the setting and time period--such as a discriptive word to go with hut. I feel a bit dense because the characters' names didn't clue me into which war this was or the camp's location.

  7. Definitely hooked.

    The MC dreaming of his wife's hair in the context of him being in a prison really grabbed me.

    Add to that the mysterious disappearence of the prison guards and I want to know what happens next!

    The only part that threw me off was "And stopped" sitting all by itself, not connected to anything.

    Great voice, tight prose. I liked it! :)

  8. Hooked! (And the first "hooked" I've given with an exclamation point, I think:) ) Your writing flows well, and Emil is instantly sympathetic. You've managed to jump right into the conflict without any abruptness or vagueness. Nice job.

  9. Good Writing. Nice and tight. Flows well.

    The first line, while nice, has a POV issue. If Emil's asleep, he can't notice the camp going silent.

    The very next sentence - the one he wakes to - says it's not silent.

    I was pulled up by And stopped. too. For me it's an antecedent issue because the previous sentence is not talking about Emil.

    I liked that it's a prison and yet he's in a hut. Details like that place the timeframe and the setting very nicely.

  10. I was intrigued, but agree with Sarah Laurenson that the camp being silent but then not immediately threw me. I'd hate for that to be the first impression someone gets of your writing.

    Also, I would think that if he's in that situation, he's going to wake up immediately, not try to remember his dream on wakening, and his fear of missing roll call would only increase that tendency to come awake immediately.

    If there's another way to get the fond, sanity-retaining memories of his wife in there, I'd do so, because I think that was a nice touch, I just didn't think it would happen at that point.

    To fix part of the prob with "And stopped" you could simply move the sentence that starts "He'd only been late..." ahead of "He ran through the now-empty...". That brings the 'running' sentence to just before "And stopped." I personally don't have a problem with "And stopped." itself. I think it's like that for emphasis.

    In general though, I liked your style. Good luck.

  11. This is very well written and compelling and I would read on, but I think it would be good to avoid starting in a dream just because it's done so much and usually not all that well. I've seen so many agents comment that opening in a dream is a non-starter. I'd start as he opens the door and sees the prisoners clustered outside the huts instead of in lines, and think somewhere else in the story about the scent of his wife's hair -- which was a very nice scene, but could easily be placed elsewhere.

  12. I'd suggest cutting the first sentence because it's not your MC's POV. But it is a nice sentiment, so perhaps find another place for it, and make sure it's in his POV.

    And stopped - where it is, is saying his legs stopped carrying the marks.

    And when he goes outside, you say he 'saw' nothing but the 'whispers,' etc. He would have 'heard' them.

    The plot itself hooked me. Nice clues with the huts and the Kaiser. I'd suggest a good polish before submitting it.

  13. I really liked this one and the dreaming of his wife worked for me.

    I was intrigued by the setting and would read on, if only to answer those questions.

  14. I'm afraid I found the opening with a dream a little awkward, and then, "smelled like sunshine" didn't work for me because sunshine doesn't have a smell. I like the concept of a mysterious prison, but I'm not sure about the opening. The prison camp is silent while he's asleep (so how did he know it was silent) and then he's woken by a shout, which I found confusing.

  15. I want to thank everyone for the excellent feedback! Honestly, I didn't even notice I was starting with one of the Big No-Nos. A few reworked versions currently in progress!