Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#35 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA Ghost Story

Two words were written on the paper: Help me.

Tessa James clutched the thin sheet. The handwriting was hers. The words were definitely not. She didn't remember jotting down anything last night before she fell asleep on the old couch in the greenroom.

Tessa knew she was alone in the theatre. When she offered to lock up for the house manager after the gala, everyone else had left, too. Unless someone had lingered behind to play a prank, the note couldn't
have been written by anyone other than her. And she must've done it in her sleep.


Tessa glanced at her watch--it read four in the morning--and groaned with the effort. She'd slept for three hours, but she ached all over. Playing waitress at the event that evening was a lot less fun than she'd expected. Mike, the house manager, had it worse though. He was due back at the theatre in just a few hours. His short night had inspired her to close up for him. She'd only put her throbbing feet up
for a moment. . . .

Tap, tap, shuffle, tap.

Tessa stopped breathing.

Tap, tap, shuffle, tap.

Not possible, she thought, but the noise stuttered over her head again. It sounded as though someone was tap dancing. On the empty stage. At four in the morning. Ice slid over Tessa's back, freezing her to the bone.


  1. Great beginning! The only thing I would say is cut the front end of the first sentence and leave it as "Help me." We see that she's holding a paper with her writing right after, so I think it would be more affective.

    Anyhoos, good stuff!

  2. I like these types of stories so automatically I would keep reading.

    First commenter might be right, though the first sentence didn't stand out to me.

    Great job!

  3. I REALLY liked this. It drew me in, I want to know who wrote it and why.

    I do have a tiny nitpick. "it read" is unnecessary when she looks at her watch. just saying "four in the morning" keeps us deeper in the story

  4. I'm a sucker for these stories too. Good tension and conflict, I am confused a bit though...

    It's four in the morning at a creepy playhouse. Yikes! Don't her parents look for her? I would've been in such trouble. When she wakes up wouldn't that be on her mind too?

    Tiny point: Too many Tessa's starting the paragraphs.

    Love the last line.

  5. Oh boy, love the typo in my own critique. Haha!

  6. Wow, very cool opening! I'm hooked. The ghostly tap dancer doesn't do much for me (it's good, I'm just not big on paranormal) but I'm intrigued by the note she wrote and doesn't remember.

    Great job!

  7. Here's my problem with this: I've read it before. Not literally - but the wake up with alarming message mysteriously written thing has been done before. Not that you can't do it and make it work, but you can't open with it. And because the ghostly tap dancing happens right after the mysterious message, it doesn't come across as ghostly or scary - and we don't really know or care about Tessa yet.

    (And I don't think you want to list YA Ghost Story as a genre - maybe YA thriller or YA suspense, or just YA.)

  8. I have two problems with this. One, being that Tessa's name is mentioned way too much. You can say 'she' there's no one else in the room with her so us readers will know who your talking about, don't worry. Two, she sounds too old. She sounds like an adult, and YA has to have a teenager MC. The writing overall is good, just try to get that teen voice.

  9. Very good stuff. I like your use of onomatopoeic words to increase the suspense. I'm spooked!

  10. I thought everything up to Creepy worked very well

    The next parg is explanation and all the suspense you created earlier just withers away while you explain. Perhaps have her do something with the paper or put it aside and do something else. The thing is, she should do something. Not explain. (Perhaps try to forget it) And then comes the ghostly tap dancing.

    Except tap dancing is kind of humorous, rather than scary. But, if instead of writing out the sounds, you described them, you could describe them in a way that sounded eerie and keep the suspense going.

    And yeah. Way too many Tessa's. Say 'she.'

  11. I'm hooked by the writing on the paper. I agree you could make the first line punchier, either just having 'Help me' or perhaps inverting it, eg 'Help me. They were the only two words written on the page. And they were in her handwriting.'

    I think you should tighten up the stuff about her staying behind to lock up, get rid of Mike and get it down to a sentence or two. I'd rather have a line or two of description of the room for more atmosphere or more info about Tessa herself - how old she is, will anyone be missing her etc.

    I agree with Sarah that she sounds more like an adult than a teenager. I also think you could have a more evocative/ scary word than 'Creepy' - personally I'd be quite freaked out :)

    If this seems like a lot to nitpick, it's just that I think the premise is great and would definitely read on if it were just cleaned up a bit!

  12. Mary Kole is looking for books with either creepy ghosts or set in a theatre. With yours fulfilling both criteria, you may want to query her. But if you're on this site, you probably already know that.

  13. I agree that the opening sentence should be the more simple "Help me."

    But I want to disagree on the tap dancing being silly or hilarious. Tap dancing noises on an empty stage at four in the morning? You've got me. And my goosebumps.

  14. Quite suspenseful-really like the setting of the dark, empty theatre. Actually writing the sounds that Tessa hears (tap, tap, shuffle, tap)helps me envision who might be performing on stage. I'd slip in a sentence or two about mom or dad probably worrying since she didn't plan to fall asleep for all those hours.

    You've captivated me so far and I'd definitely keep reading.

  15. Oooo, creepy. I would want to read the premise for this, and I would hope there were lots of unexpected twists, but I would certainly read on.

  16. I like this - it sounds intriguing. I'm not too familiar with ghost stories, so I can't comment on whether it's been done before, but it sounds like an interesting premise. I don't agree with the commenters who said that Tessa's name is used too much. To me, her name is pretty evenly distributed throughout the passage. I also found the tap dancing sounds more funny than creepy. I think they might be creepier if they're described rather than shown.

    A few nitpicks:
    -Why did Tessa groan when she looked at her watch. Is she really that sore?
    -Shouldn't she be more panicky about being alone in the theater, especially without letting her parents know where she is?
    -I agree it doesn't quite seem YA. I think the problem is that we see Tessa having a job that could conceivably be held by an adult and we don't see any of the trappings (school, parents, etc.) of adolescence.

  17. I like this! It held my attention, definately. And it was tight. I know who the MC is, where she's at, why she's there, and why she's afraid..

    One thing to think about, though, is voice. She doesn't really strike me as a teen. Why is she up late at a gala? That's a very adult thing to do. Is she interning her senior year? Did she grow up in the theatre with her parents? I just need something that tells me she's a young adult, and not a thirty-year-old.

    Hope this helps! : )

  18. I agree with the mysterious age of the MC. She could easily be sixteen and really responsible, but without any indicators she appears to be an adult working at a theater. At the least, wouldn't her parents be worried about her sleeping alone in a theater?

    I like the opening, and the premise (seemingly from the title) that she might be a conduit for ghosts while she's sleeping.

    The only reason that I don't find the tap dancing ghost compelling is because I feel like there's already so much going on with the mysterious note. If the ghost is the focus -- and the ghost wrote the message -- maybe take out the note all together and have her wake to the tap dancing.

    The writing is strong and the premise is interesting. I would read more.

  19. While starting a story with the MC waking up is cliched, I was okay with this. Worrying about having written something that she knew she couldn't have is an emotion that drew me in.

    I feel as if the one-word paragraph: creepy, is unnecessary.

    For some reason I had to re-read the passage about what she'd done: played waitress, and about the house manager twice. I would almost have her read the note and hear the spooky noises immediately after. Then she can look at her watch and go investigate.

    Just a suggestion.

  20. Hey, Secret Agent here! Creepy! In a good way! I love theatre, so this really perked my interest. Careful that you don’t throw around theatre terms too casually, as not everyone will know what a house manager does, etc. Also, in the middle paragraph, you can go back to the past without going into past perfect…your overuse of “had” here sounds stilted. Just establish the flashback, then use regular past tense.