Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#38 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Curse of Elizabeth Brewster
GENRE: YA Thriller

Eli rubbed her finger along the sliver of rough skin, no longer visible on the base of her palm. Her wound was almost gone. The once burned flesh a distant memory. In its place sleek new skin, smooth in its rebirth.

Ms. Manning was lecturing in Sophomore World History. As she droned on, Eli bit at her lip. Oh my god, she thought, they all look alike in their same uptight uniforms and perfect hair. She looked down at herself. "Even me," she said softly, knowing that she blended in perfectly with her pleated grey skirt and white button down top. The only thing that made her stand out in Pemberton Academy was her short boy haircut that she'd done herself after finding out she had to leave Kingston for Pemberton Academy. Even when she was cutting her long brown hair she knew she was only hurting herself. But, it did make a statement to her stepmother, a strong one. Mary Chilton Brewster hated "unladylike" short hair, just like she hated the name Eli, her childhood nickname for Elizabeth. Every time her father called her Eli, pronounced long "E" and long "I", Mary Chilton would shudder and say, "She's not a boy, why do you call her that ridiculous boy name?" Her father would just say, "Let's have a boy then." But they never did. Ms. Mannings' voice boomed across the room. "Joan of Arc said, 'I am not afraid.... I was born to do this.'


  1. I think this is really interesting.

    The long paragraph should be broken up. That way the majority of your interesting facts about Eli will have a full impact on the reader.

    Otherwise, I would be interested to see what comes next.

  2. I like Eli's name--I also like who you give info about the school uniforms in a natural way. I don't know that you NEED the uniforms this early, but at the same time you did it well.
    The only thing I didn't like was the explantion of how to say 'Eli'. I think just the stepmother's comment would be enough.
    I like it, though and would keep reading :)

  3. Way, way too much telling and not enough showing.

  4. I'm with Sara, don't tell us show us

  5. I like Eli's name, and I like the foreshadowing at the end.

  6. I love the detail that she cut her hair when she found out she had to go to this school. That says a lot. But with that sentence I would reword it so it doesn't repeat the school's name twice.

    But I would go through and cut or streamline the details that don't absolutely need to be in the beginning so you can get to some action in this first page.

  7. I see a contradiction in the first paragraph: you say she's rubbing her hand against the rough skin, yet later you say the skin is smooth.

    The short hair is a nice detail.

  8. I think this still needs a bit more work, and I wasn't interested at all until you mentioned Joan of Arc, and for that reason alone, I'd read more, just to see if she ties into this in some way.

    She's rubbing her finger along her invisible rough skin that has healed smoothly. Look at the logic here.

    Then she has a sudden revelation that everyone looks the same. Even her! It sounds as though it comes as a surprise. How long has she been at this school?

    The hair cutting was good. It shows us the type of person she is and says something about her family dynamics.

    All the stuff about her name is there for the reader, (like the uniforms) You don't need it. Not now, anyway. And when you do add it, it should come in a more natural way.

    Perhaps consider starting the story just before the moment when things go wrong. If it's a thriller, we need at least a hint of the thrill in the opening.

  9. Is the skin rough or smooth? It can't be both. Break up the long paragraph, especially where there's dialogue. And yes, far too much telling and not showing, I'm afraid.

  10. I thought your firt paragraph was a little out of place, though I'm sure you get back to that injury later.
    The second paragraph ought to have been at least three shorter paragraphs--maybe more.

  11. Too much back story. She's in class, but nothing much is happening yet. I feel like the beginning could start here and be more grabbing:

    Ms. Mannings' voice boomed across the room. "Joan of Arc said, 'I am not afraid.... I was born to do this.'

    We can learn about the step mother and the family relationship later - hopefully through interaction and dialogue with those characters, and not being told by the narrator.

    If you are writing a thriller you need to make the promise to the reader right away that what they are going to read will be...well, thrilling.

    I think it has potential though. Good luck!

  12. I love how I already have a feel for the character and I just met her 250 words ago.

    I don't think you need to explain how to pronounce her name. Most people will get it.

    Also, I wish I knew where this story was going. The genre was thriller but it didn't seem like it was heading in that direction.

  13. I didn't mind the slower opening, and I liked the writing. Even though there was a lot of telling, I found it interesting. However, the opening didn't read like the beginning of the thriller. Also, while I found Eli's thoughts about the uniforms interesting, it makes it seem like this is Eli's first day of school. Is it? I think we might need to know that sooner. The first paragraph seemed a little out of place to me.

  14. First, I would read on. I agree with a lot of the criticisms leveled against this excerpt in the comments above, but for some reason I'm still taken with Eli's story.

    That said, I'm going to list some things that I think could be changed.

    The first paragraph doesn't seem necessary.

    The second paragraph should be three or four smaller paragraphs.

    I find it strange that she's talking to herself, in class, rather than just thinking to herself as she did a couple of sentences previously.

    "Just like she hated the name Eli, her childhood nickname for Elizabeth" implies that Eli is her mother's nickname for Elizabeth, not that it was Elizabeth's childhood nickname. We have to wait for the next sentence to find out that her father created the nickname.

    I suggest having Ms. Manning actually be lecturing about something in the opening rather than simply telling the reader that she was lecturing. In fact, your last two sentences might work really well as an opening to the novel (especially if Joan of Arc is metaphorically related to the plot).

    But, as I said at the beginning, I would keep reading this regardless of all the things I noted. I guess the story just speaks to me.

  15. I agree with previous comments. I would add, though, that as a follower of football, the juxtaposition of characters named Eli and Manning kept drawing me out of the story. Since there seems to be a real reason for the name Eli, you might want to reconsider Ms. Manning's name. (Would a teacher at a "ladylike" academy really go by Ms.? In my experience, prim and proper types frown on that title.)

  16. Hey, Secret Agent here! Good introduction to Eli’s world here. I’m intrigued by the character, as you do the typical “I don’t fit in” problem character with your own unique spin. Not sure we need that much detail about the family right up front, but I’d definitely keep reading. The scar is a nice foreshadowing tool…I think danger is lurking somewhere.