Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Catherine's Quest
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The box arrived on a Monday. It was addressed to me but I didn't recognize the return address. The thick brown paper which covered it was held together with the type of tape that yellows with age.

When I looked to Mom for help she just said, "Open it and see." So I did.

Inside the paper was a box made of smooth, dark brown leather. The color had faded at the edges where a white sheen resided. The large brass hinges and small brass clasp were tarnished with age.

Mom reached for the letter on top asking, "May I?"

I nodded, eager to see what was in the box. Fearing that the clasp would be locked I was thrilled when I pressed it and the mysterious box snapped open. I impatiently rummaged through one thing after another but my excitement faded as I realized someone had sent me a collection of odd, ancient stuff.

"Mom, what is all this?"

In answer, she just handed me the letter. But the sadness in her face made me wonder even more what this was about. The letter only said:

When we sold our house we cleaned out the attic and found this box in a dark corner. I'm sorry we didn't see it sooner.

"Mom, this doesn't explain anything!"

Not getting an answer I looked and saw her sitting on the sofa staring into space.

"Mom!" I said louder.

"I heard you. You don't need to shout. What is in the box?"


  1. There is a lot of explaining when you can just show. For example, the line where you write, "Not getting an answer I looked and saw her sitting on the sofa starting into space." could just be said as, "Mom sat on th sofa, staring into space. No answer."

    Or something.

    This is intriguing, just tighten up the writing.

  2. You have a great premise with a mysterious old box, but you really could lure us in more in these first words with a bit of revision.

    The dialogue in particular really doesn't lead the reader anywhere. You could use these spots to show characterization or advance your plot. For example, instead of asking, "Mom, what is all this?" your MC could say, "Just a bunch of stupid junk," or, "Cool. I could use this stuff for my art sculptures," or, "Hmpf. Just like Aunt Judy to send her trash to us." Or whatever is appropriate to the book.

    Keep working on it!

  3. I think you have a good start here, but this scene needs some revision and tightening up. It doesn't hook me right of way, but I see a glimmer of something here.

  4. There are several grammatical errors in this submission.

    First line should read, “The box arrived on a Monday addressed to me but I didn't recognize the return address.”

    The remainder of the first paragraph is heavy with adjectives and “which” vs “that” problems.
    Say what you want to convey in fewer words. Don’t drown your story in adjectives. Sentences like, “The large brass hinges and small brass clasp were tarnished with age” are clunky.

    Until I got to the end, I didn’t feel the hook was enough to keep me reading. But if you clean up the weighty adjectives, I think I would read more.

    Mildly hooked.

  5. A mysterious box is a great way to start a story and your have an interesting premise and realistic dialogue.

    But I agree with some of the other comments about tightening the story. Look for the things that don't need to be there. Do you need Mom to tell her to open it or would it be more active if she just opened it?

    You also don't need things like 'in answer', because the reader can tell this is her response.

    I'm wondering if you could put the letter part as the second paragraph.

    There are some great elements to this story and by tightening it up, you could create even more reader interest and suspense.

  6. Intriguing idea, and I do love the content of the letter. I think it has the right pitch, and raises lots of questions in the reader's mind about who these people are, and why are they sorry they didn't see it sooner, and why is it going to this person.

    That said, I think the writing needs tightening. I don't know whether my main character is male or female. I like to know that right off the bat.

    Some of the sentences start in a way that I find awkward, as a reader. It might just be me. But this is the kind of things that gets me "Fearing that the clasp would be locked I was..." and "Not getting an answer I..." Having an "ing" word right at the beginning of a sentence always bothers me. Again, it might just be a personal preference, but it may be something you would want to look at and think about.

  7. I was intrigued with the idea of a mystery box arriving but got unhooked. I'd like more suspense building up on what's inside the box. There is more telling than showing but I think you have a solid idea that makes for an interesting book.

    I think if you keep tightening it up, you'll get something great.

    Good Luck.

  8. I also liked the premise of the mysterious box, but your writing needs some work before the story will hook me enough to keep reading.

    I was confused by the mother's reaction. At first I thought she knew who the package was from and what it contained - and was trying to avoid spoiling the MC's surprise, but her reaction after reading the letter makes me think she didn't know.

    I think you have a good idea here, you just need to tighten the writing (weed out those adjectives!) and make your dialogue serve a greater purpose.

  9. I think we're all in agreement that this is an incredibly interesting premise--a mysterious ancient-looking box filled with curious items? Awesome!
    That said, the writing is not as graceful as it could be. In the first three paragraphs, we've got "yellows with age" and "tarnished with age"--too much word repetition. Also--what was the odd ancient stuff in the box? Dying to know! Those are the types of little details that can bump up the "fun" factor in a story.

  10. One more thought here: I was disappointed in the note. I'm okay with it being vague, but I wanted it to be a little more intriguing--maybe some hint of who it was from--did the writing look like the chicken scratch of an old man? The careful, looping cursive of a woman? A note scrawled in haste? Give us a little more there.

  11. The stuff inside the box intrigues me. But why did Mom ask what's in the box since she seems to know something (she looked sad) after reading the letter?