Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Secret Agent #37

GENRE: Romantic Comedy

Parking his Prius in the municipal lot, Raphael Chariote dallied, safe and free for the moment. Not only did the sky threaten a deluge when he stepped out; he was about to switch places with his jailed brother. Swapping used to be fun from grade school right into college, because it usually involved girls or stupid exams, not possible murder.

He stuck a printed to-do list on the dashboard for Troy:

1. Don't play with my art supplies.

2. Keep the studio neat and as you found it.

3. Go to AA meeting tonight.

4. Be me, but don't touch Stella.

He peeled off the note, rolled it into a ball, and spotted a trash can. His womanizing, slob brother had always done what he liked anyway. Raphael considered dropping to his knees to pray, except he'd get dirty and spoil a perfect record with the creator who was busy creating anyway.

Screw it.

Locking his car, he stretched, breathed in blossom scented spring air, and, as always, fell in love with nuance. Heavy black-streaked clouds raced by the sun, blue jays and robins gossiped, and two squirrels chased each other around the trunk of one of the thick oaks surrounding the one-story red-brick jail.

Walking, he straightened a fake mustache again, tightened his Phillies cap over thick curly black hair. The more the police noticed how different the infamous identical twins seemed the better. An illusion equaled confusion.

At the entrance: This swap is our last, brother.

Lightning struck.


  1. I'm definitely intrigued. However, I think there are several grammatical issues that need attention.

    Here's one:

    "Not only did the sky threaten a deluge when he stepped out; he was about to switch places with his jailed brother"

    You need a complete sentence on either side of a semi-colon.

    The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a great resource:

    "breathed in blossom scented spring air"

    I think it should be "blossom-scented."

    "Walking, he straightened a fake mustache again, tightened his Phillies cap over thick curly black hair."

    I think you need to add "and" before "tightened."

    "At the entrance: This swap is our last, brother. "

    I don't think this works at all. Maybe something like, "He stood before the entrance. This swap is our last, brother.

    I'd recommend joining a critique group if you haven't already. It's FAR easier to spot other people's mistakes than your own.

    All that being said, it's a great hook. It kept me intrigued.

  2. The premise of a twin switching places with a sibling in jail is awesome. Very intriguing.

    I didn't understand the sentence about 'a perfect record with the creator'.

    The paragraph of description seemed gratuitous to me.

    Still, I'd probably keep reading to find out why he's willing to go to jail for his brother.

  3. I liked the premise a lot. It's very interesting. However, this needs some work. The prius reference, the the red-brick building, the fake mustache... these are, I'm sorry, pretty clichéd elements. Combine that with the other mentions above, and I'd say you need to rework this a lot. Consider if it's indicative of the rest of the novel. With my first novel (and my second), my writing improved a lot as I worked my way through it. If this is true for you, then you may consider throwing out your first chapter and rewriting it. It's an old writing technique, and one I did myself. My book was much better for it.

  4. I'm intrigued, but I'm also really curious as to why somebody would do jail time for a sibling; I'm really close with my sister but I would never take her place in the clink. I'd want to find out soon or I'm afraid I'll just end up seeing Raphael as, um, not so smart.

  5. Quite intrigued...kind overwhelmed with all the gerunds though. (Parking, Swapping, locking, walking.)

  6. While the premise of two brothers swapping is intriguing, I'm left with a bad impression after this opening. And that impression is that your main character is not so smart. For one, he's sending his womanizing, arrested brother to interact with his girlfriend, yet expects nothing to happen (or seems pretty unaffected by the thought that his bro might touch Stella). Two: he has no guarantee his brother will come swap him back out. Three: I have no idea what his motivation for the switch is, and no matter what situations I toss into my head, I can't think of a motivation that would make this believable. For example, I don't know if this is correct, but maybe the twin brother wants to get out of jail so he can confront the real criminal and prove he's innocent. My immediate thought is: why can't the narrator, who's not in jail, pretend to be his brother outside of jail and confront the true criminal himself, rather than go to jail? Every possible motivation has this result. Why can't your narrator pretend to be his twin on the outside of jail and do what needs to be done that way? And the fourth reason this seems a little bit unrealistic is that if they are identical, your character doesn't need a cliche fake mustache. Actually, by wearing that, he'll have put a difference between him and his brother that makes the two stand out as unique, and confusion is better created if the two of them look as identical as you say they are. If the police can't tell them apart in their natural state, they are automatically confused. So, the disguise is 100% unnecessary, and if he was really experienced with swapping, your narrator would know that. I suggest you really try to put yourself in your main character's shoes. What does he want out of this? Why is he doing it? Make that stand out on that first page so the reader can buy into the premise of the story. Then, I think you'll have something.

  7. Very intriguing beginning. I'd like to have the "jailed brother" smoothed out, but I think you've got a good voice going here, and a really interesting premise. I'd certainly keep reading.

  8. I'm also having a hard time getting on board with Rafael, who appears to be whistling past the graveyard, fully conscious of the fact his brother was a jerk: a "womanizing slob", and yet he gets talked into this "fake mustache" swap (apparently not for the first time). Really, he has to tell his own brother to keep his hands off Stella, but he's willing to sacrifice his freedom for him?

  9. Thanks all.
    K. Cooper...Raphael is a drunk, kicked out by his fiancee, and needing a place to detox (jail). I hope that's believable... His healthy brother will go off to try to prove his innocence.

  10. Well, I'll take the road less traveled and say I love these kind of stories. So I barely noticed the mistakes. The moustache didn't seem cheesy to me. I'd totally read on. With high enough stakes, the brother wanting to detox in jail is believable for me.

  11. I quite like this, say semi-hooked. I very much liked the way you introduced R's alkohol problem with the AA meeting. Great show-don't-tell moment. I would expect a little more of his motivation in the next few paragraphs when he confronts his brother, so it will be more believable that he is going to jail to replace a murder suspect.

    BTW, I don't think jail is a good place to detox. By all I read it seems to be the place where it rather gets worse. If he wants to detox, a hospital or sanatorium would be the place to go.

  12. Interesting premise and has the potential to be mythic; brother vs brother is found in legends etc..

  13. It's an intriguing premise. This opening presents a very different picture of Raphael. He comes off as the good brother, while the other sounds like the bad. I hope it's not too long before we learn that Raphael has his own issues he needs to work on. Otherwise he comes across as a bit of a chump, as others have mentioned. And I'll admit I was thrown by the AA reference. I interpreted that as the brother being an alcoholic and needing to go to AA meetings once he's out of jail, for HIS sake, not just to keep of appearances.

    I'd read on a little further.

  14. I enjoy the premise, a twist on the classic. Feel this is a voice with some zest and self-deprecating humor also, ie. his perfect record...
    His lack of full disclosure-- why he's willing to make the switch is part of the hook for me. I am hooked, but you have some craft/editing work to do before it's ready to go. If my job were to sign writers, I'd be on the fence for those issues. First impressions and all...

    1. Like the list, it's a good device for imparting important info with brevity, so you can use it more. It indicates one of his problems(AA), but if it reads to most as unlikely/unbelievable he'd hand his girl over to his bro', it's already built in for you to further clarify.

    2. Opening sentence: definitely, look at starting with: Swapping used to be fun from grade school... etc. That's a dynamite first line, much stronger than weather and the parking lot.

    3. concur fully with the comment about gerunds... you've overused them and it's annoying, which takes us out of the world. craft rule: vary sentence structure, and especially vary at paragraph beginnings where it's most noticeable.

    4. logic question in your setting description: this one troubled me more than handing over the gal: it's about to thunderstorm. the little birdies go silent just before... so now I'm feeling skeptical. If it needs more explanation to clarify, ie. the clouds become threatening and the air goes still after the bird description, better to lose it entirely because it's not carrying its weight in the all-important beginning.

    5. a little more work needed on your line-by-line pass.

  15. I have a feeling this story is going to be a lot of fun. 'Twin' stories can be a bit cliched but the scenario of a prison switch between brothers is not something I've seen before. There's potential for interesting comparisons and conflict. I would read on.

  16. I like this and would read on. For even more believability, I would state his reasons for wanting to detox in jail is because of the free medical and psychiatric care he'll get in there.

    The joke is you go to jail to get free services, rent, meals, cable, gym, and educational degrees. And sadly, the joke is true. So I could see why someone would go to the trouble to "break in".

    I also had trouble with three paragraphs beginning with a gerund.

  17. You've definitely got an interesting premise here. I agree with the prior comments about the grammar- once the writing is smoothed out this will be awesome!

  18. I'm torn. This REALLY needs to be revised at least one more time. It's just too clunky. I want to like it, but I'll have to pass.

  19. I really like this. I would love to read more.

  20. It will be interesting to see how the switch takes place with the 'jailed brother' being in for murder. Usually those visitations are a bit more secure.

    Can't wait to find out why the self-depricating brother is also self-sacrificing.

  21. Hi all

    I agree with most comments - too much about the weather.

    As a twin I like the premise but as you have said the twin is a slob and does what he wants my immediate reaction was this person is stupid to swap with his brother because it sounds like he won't come back - and that would annoy me if that is in fact what happens because I'd go - well, what did you expect from someone like him! I just couldn't read a book about someone so silly.

    Now if you made it that they were the best of friends and were always there for each other then it might be believable.

  22. I like the premise, but agree about the motivation issue. Before reading your comment, I couldn't imagine any logical reason for changing places. After reading your comment, I wondered why he didn't just go to detox. So on that level, I'm not satisfied.

    Given the right motivation though, the premise would be interesting enough to pull me in.

  23. I was hooked by the concept, and I didn't mind not knowing why he was switching places with his brother. It's one of the reasons I'd read on, to find out why.

    I would edit some of your first page though. For example, the line about switching places with his jailed brother is a major hook, but I feel like it's buried in a sentence about rain. Same with the line about it being the last time. I'm too busy wondering if he's saying these words or thinking them or what, that the true impact of the sentence is lost on me.

    It's a promising start and I'd read on.

  24. I like this premise, but I think the first part of this needs some reworking for clarity. Your first paragraph needs to ground us, not confuse us. I just don't follow the train of thought. One sentence needs to lead logically into the next one. When you said "safe and free for the moment", I expected to read something about why he's safe and free now - not why he won't be later. The deluge doesn't seem completely relevant, either.

    "Swapping used to be fun" seems like it needs a bit more of a lead-in to make us realize he's not looking forward to it now. If you squint, you can read into it, but so early on - it just didn't work for me, I'm afraid.

    Your sentence structure needs some work - others have pointed out why the semicolon is inappropriate there, but the next sentence also doesn't sit right with me. The bit at the end, "not possible murder", isn't really in line with the rest of the sentence. Maybe connect it using a dash? I'd also rephrase "because it usually involved girls or stupid exams" like "back when it involved girls or stupid exams" - but that might be a very personal thing.

    Similarly, him peeling off the note right after sticking it on made me do a double-take. I'd move the motivation in front of the action, or give us some hint that he's reconsidering.

    Nitpicky, but since he's still in his car, maybe clarify "spotted a trash can OUTSIDE"? And you have two consecutive sentences ending with 'anyway', which doesn't flow well.

    The detail of the nature outside seems a little over-the-top, and I agree that the fake mustache and cap seem pretty cliché.

    I don't entirely get what you're trying to do with the second-to-last paragraph: is the second half supposed to be in italics, and did the formatting just get lost? Is he thinking this?

    In general, I also think your sentences are too long. There are only very few without multiple commas. Consider shaking things up a bit?

    You have some cool details in here, and I do think you know how to write, but this just needs a little more polishing. Pretend you're coming to this without a clue what the book is about, and revise with an eye for clarity.

  25. So in theory this seems like it could be an interesting premise--swapping twins, etc.-- and something I might really like, but I don't think you clearly set it up in this first page.

    I found it extremely confusing and not in a oh good she didn't give me all the information in the first paragraph kind of way. I felt like I had to work too hard to figure out what was going on. And I'm just not sure that I'd take the time to read on and figure it out.

    Don't play with my art supplies? Coming right after the whole girls or stupid exams comment it made me feel like this was YA.

    I just didn't really get sucked in. And like I said, it seems like this could be an interesting story, but this page didn't do it for me.

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  27. Thanks for all your great comments.

    When I chopped down to 250 words one of the casualties was Raphael's (artist's) studio.

    Back to the salt mines (with plenty of seasoning).

    I think most had a problem with italics disappearing. I'm happy and learned a great deal both from the crits and crittering.