Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Axel McDaniel and the End of the World
GENRE: YA dystopian

Cassie says I'm a bad seed. That my head is full of bad ideas and worse dreams. Of course, she usually says that when we're about to get in trouble together, and it's almost always her fault. But somehow, it's always me that gets the punishment, probably because she's the chief's beloved daughter and I'm just a good-for-nothing orphan, an unwanted mouth to feed when food is hard enough to come by. I once heard her dad say that I'd be worth more to the tribe rotting in the compost vats.


She has a lot to say about my shortcomings, but apparently my brain is my Main Problem, whatever that's supposed to mean. I think her main problem is that she's a know-it-all would-be holovid star. She scowls at me from the bow of the canoe, silly straw hat askew atop a bright red pony tail and golden spy glass tucked tightly under her arm. So dramatic. Like that old trinket is our only hope of finding land. Like we'd be lost at sea without it. We're only five miles off the coast, and our destination is pretty hard to miss, if you're not blind. I want to laugh out loud. We're on an important mission, but that doesn't mean we have to be so self-important.

"You're listing starboard," she says. "Try to row more evenly."

"Maybe you could try rowing yourself instead?" I say.

She waves her hand at me like I'm just a pesky mosquito and goes back to eyeing the sea


  1. Hooked but...(yeah, always a 'but')

    The long paragraph at the end of the submission needs broken up or shuffled and spread out. It lost me and broke my attention. Until then, I was glued to the monitor.

    The story slowed and the action stopped. The information is needed but don't put it all in one place, IMHO.

  2. I really liked this. The voice is good, I love the bits of setting you've slipped in and I'm definitely eager to read more.

    The only bit I didn't like is really nitpicky, and that's the "...only five miles off the coast." Five miles is a lot!

  3. I am hooked. There is a really strong voice here and I love the first sentence. I also like Cassie picking on this main character and his/her reaction to it (I'm not yet sure of the gender of your protag, though based on the title I would guess, boy.) The only thing i would re-consider is giving away their social class difference by just telling the reader rather than showing it or allowing it to be revealed. It didn't feel authentic. There's something awkward that doesn't fit about the line "We're on an important mission, but that doesn't mean we have to be so self-important". If the mission is so important, I'd imagine that will become evident very soon.

  4. There is an awkward transition between the main character narrating and the actual action. If you want to do this, you need to start a new paragraph so we know she's no longer thinking about what Cassie normally does, and instead telling us what Cassie is actually doing.

    And I agree - five miles from a coast is not a distance that would make anything easy to see. And rowing it would take a LONG time.

  5. I'm going to agree with the other posters. I was sucked in immediately. I love your mc and her voice and would definitely read on, but the transition to action I did find a bit jolting.

    In fact, I might just lose the second big paragraph and move straight from the first paragraph to the dialog and then work in the visuals throughout the dialog.

  6. I felt your mc's angst and wanting to fit in.
    Little points:
    use 'that' sparingly (it's somewhat abstract). Whenever I encounter a that in my writing, it tells me to rework the sentence or split it up, also the second 'that' should be 'who,' but then your mc might think in 'thats' typical teenager perthaps.
    You might try, "we're on an important, not self-important mission" (save words).
    Consider dropping "so dramatic" it led me to the author....or find a way to use dramatic to modify her action directly. i.e. "The drama queen scowls . . .
    I know 250 words is hard, but after this you'll be a bit liberated to expand and contract, i.e. "if you're not blind." could use a little explanation, seemed out-of-the-blue.
    Main Problem can be main problem italisized (check style book).
    I like your voice and story, good hooks.

  7. I really like the first couple of sentences. But from there, it seems to become too much back-story and too "telling". I would try to intersperse more action into the beginning so we see what the character is doing right now. It seems like she is up to something and I would like to see that more than I want to know how she is viewed among the villagers right now.

  8. Not sure I know where we are. Since it's dystopian, I need more worldbuilding. That said, I like the voice.

  9. I don't think a teenager would use a word like "self-important" when thinking about herself.

    And I don't know what a holovid star is...but besides tightening the long paragraph, I like it.

  10. Hooked. I especially love the last sentence.

    But I'd like something to indicate for sure if the narrator is male or female (I'm guessing male).

  11. Very nicely done. I've read 7 or 8 and my favorite so far.

    I have a 13 yr old, they do use phrases like 'self-important'.

    I'm guessing the destination is a huge landmark, visable from afar...thus the 5 miles. Plus, the fact that the Cassie character refuses to help row plays into it. Perhaps the word 'only' needs to go. Good luck!

  12. Sooooo much description. First thing. Not necessary and already boring.

    "You're listing starboard," <--- start your story there.

  13. I think this has a lot of good stuff but, for me, this seems like a lot of talking. I think this needs to have something happen in it to be really good.

  14. The voice was good and I like the picture you've set up of the snobby girl perched in the front of the boat. That said, I don't get as strong a sense of the narrator's character. We get a lot of description of Cassie, but not much on the narrator, aside from the fact that s/he is an orphan. I'd read on for a little while longer.

  15. I like the concept and voice so far, but you've got way too much tell and not enough show. I think that's really what the others have been trying to say. Don't tell us that she's a know it all and he's the hated orphan. Let us see it through their actions.

    That being said, I really want to know where they're going and what's on the island. I also want to know what sort of world this is. Sounds like a post-apocalyptic pirate tale, which is an AWESOME premise. Revise, revise, revise (advice for us all!) and work on the tell/show issue. If you can do that, you'll have a great story here. Good luck!

  16. You're listing to starboard is where I'd start. Nothing before that is happening now. It's all you explaining things to the reader. It's not story.

    Let the story happen and let all that info come out through action and dialogue. Allow your character to stop rambling and start acting. Those last three lines - 38 - words - say a whole lot more about your chaacters than everything that comes before them. You have a story here. Don't be afraid to let it happem.

  17. I'm with Anonymous 11:47 and Barbara about where to start your story. The voice is good but there's a lot of telling, and I wasn't really hooked because I was too busy wondering why the MC was even hanging around with Cassie, given how awful she seemed. Barbara is right, the last three lines show us a lot about the characters without telling it to us. I've done the same thing in my first pages, told lots of info up front that was then shown later on anyway.

  18. The voice is fabulous. I think the second paragraph is a little lengthy. We already know the difference between the MC and Cassie and how the MC feels about her personality. I'd start the second lengthy paragraph with "she scowls at me.." bc this is were the real story begins (being in the canoe, on the mission, etc)

    I'd also drop "Ouch." Seems forced. I felt "ouch" while reading the previous sentence, and I think most readers will too. You need to spell it out.

    I'm hooked. Love the voice, intrigued by the tension between the characters, want to know what "mission" they are on... Well done.

  19. So I'm going to jump in and say I agree with those who've said there's too much backstory up front here. Not that we know exactly what's going on yet from only one page, but still, that whole 1st paragraph seems like it could be worked in later. Although I like the 1st 2 or even 3 sentences-setting them up as friends with an interesting dynamic.

    I agree you need to then jump into the story. What are they doing? Seems like they're on an important mission. let's get to it!

    As is, I wouldn't necessarily request more because I think the backstory the other long descriptive paragraph might be red flags to me about the writing, but then again if I'd read a synopsis and thought the story was fascinating, maybe I'd overlook more and keep going to see if the writing smoothed out a bit. From just 1 page it seems like an interesting story but I think you're missing out on an opportunity to hook the reader right away.

  20. This opening was an interesting 'problem'. I too love the voice, enough that the telling didn't jump out at me the way it might with a weaker voice.
    So, in some ways, you have too strong a voice-- full of its own story, which let loose on the page. For a first draft, you're made in the shade, you can't ask for better material than a voice that demands to be heard. I'd trade other technical perfections for that any day, because resolving craft issues is simpler than giving birth to a special voice. It's important not to rein in a strong voice at that stage, so be sure you separate the zestful creative work from your revisions, and never put the voice in a straight jacket. If you smother it then... *sniff*

    Your long paragraph tellings are full of good lines too, so you need to be brutal and super selective and be sure you only give information once. eg. first lines of long paragraphs one and two say the same thing; we don't need to know more about the dynamic between them now.

    Just rein in that voice during revision, and it might not be easy because it's so full of life, you know? If you do, you'll find those long paragraphs effortlessly shorter.

    One other revision point: if you lost 'a good for nothing orphan and kept 'an unwanted mouth to feed'... you've kept the mystery as to why he's an unwanted mouth to feed and added another hook.

    I'd be happy to see the action begin between those long paragraphs, after revision to prune them first...
    then the reader eye will see the dialog immediately and relax. Because everyone is hungry for dialog. I would not move your opening lines, the voice hooked me right there.

    By moving the action/dialog earlier, the current last line... 'eyeing the sea' gives you a natural opening, to pick up the second paragraph with Cassie's description and the golden sky glass... etc.

    Good luck with your story. These comments are redundant now, too, sorry. But the voice (Axel?) is still singing...