Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#39 January Secret Agent

TITLE: 1790 - On the Edge
GENRE: MG Historical

Brattleboro, Vermont

I stand on tiptoes to peer through the crowd. He doesn't look familiar, but that seems impossible in our small town. A man's first day here, and he starts off dead?

My neighbors shift in front of me, and I'm left staring at bits of hay stuck to someone's coat. The coat smells like cow dung and wood smoke.

No one says a word. Above us two crows call to each other, their hoarse shrieks piercing the air. It's never been like this. No trial. No explanation. Just the ringing of the meetinghouse bell and a man hanging by his neck from a tree.

I nudge my younger brother Nathaniel over. There's Silas. Just seeing his back makes my head all fuzzy. Maybe this time he'll notice me. My fingers reach to straighten my bonnet.

Abruptly, Silas' father, Mr. Crawford, puts on his hat and barks, "Good riddance." Taking their cue from him, people begin murmuring and leaving to start the day's work. I glimpse Silas walking away with another girl. My jaw tightens against the disappointment, but I shouldn't be surprised - she is far prettier than I.

Nathaniel heads straight for Jonah. Jonah is fourteen like me, but he doesn't seem to mind Nathaniel tagging along with him. He's even eaten quite a few suppers in our tiny cabin.

I join them, and Jonah nods to me. "Good morning, Hannah."

Nathaniel whispers, "Who was he?"


  1. Nicely written.

    I got stuck on the paragraph "I nudge my younger brother Nathaniel over. There's Silas. Just seeing his back makes my head all fuzzy. Maybe this time he'll notice me."

    Where is Silas? Who is he? Why does your brother Nathaniel need to see him too? And if Nathaniel doesn't - why did you bring him over at the beginning of the paragraph?

    I would read more. Great job.

  2. Beautiful. Excellent writing and a clear voice. This paints a wonderful picture for only 250 words.

  3. I fell into your story (You had me at Brattleboro- love that town). The hanging man is fascinating and kind of wrong. Well done. I paused at the sentence about Silas, even if a girl had a crush, it'd hard to switch the focus to him with a dead man there. Maybe his reaction to the dead man, makes you react to him. Just a thought.

  4. I love it! Definitely hooked. Feels like you've got a great grip on this story and how to tell it.

    You introduce 5 named characters in the first page, though, and I found it a bit hard to keep everyone sorted out. Aside from that, fantastic!

  5. The beginning confused me, but I quickly feel into the story. I think that it sounds more like YA rather than MG, but this is only the first 250 words, so maybe the tone of it changes. The amount of people confused me, with their different names. It sort of confused me how one minute she was wondering about the guy hanging from the tree and the next she was trying to look good for a boy. But the story sounds good and I would read more!

  6. I thought this was very well done. I did wonder, though, what her reaction to the man's hanging was. Is it so common, she's used to it. Does it repel her? How she reacts will show us a bit of who she is as a person.

    You might say she nudges her brother 'aside.' Then it's clear she's doing it to find Silas. As is, it seems she's urging her brother to come over to her.

    And there were a few places where you're eplaining to the reader. Silas' father, Mr Crawford. She'd call him one or the other. And the 'Jonah is fourteen' sentence. Get that info out in a more natural way. If it's not a diary format, she shouldn't be talking to anyone but the characters in the book.

    I'd read more.

  7. I would switch your first two sentences, and don't put a question mark after it. "A man's first day here, and he starts off dead." is a real strong opening line. Imagine the questions that will go through a reader's mind.

    Also, it's too abrupt to change from death to a crush. Maybe have them walking away, and even talking about the man, then she runs into him or something.

    Over all, good. I can easily hear the crows and the murmuring of the crowd.

  8. Pros: I like the writing, very evocative and I'd read on.

    Cons: I don't think the first sentence as stands is very exciting - start with the dead man, and the fact that he's hanging - because you don't say this till the end of the third para, I'd been picturing someone who'd collapsed and was lying on the ground. You've got a bit of character soup - do you really need to introduce so many people right away? I'd rather get more of a feel for Hannah. And I agree with those who feel the switch from dead man/ mystery to crush is jarring. I'd rather have more about the dead man and introduce the crush a bit later, that way there's also less character soup.

  9. I really enjoyed your writing. It reads well,and it sounds like you're setting up a compelling situation. I was confused by the first paragraph and had to read it twice to realize that the crowd is staring at a dead man. I would mention earlier that he had been hung because I had been picturing him laying on the ground, maybe dead from a fight.

    Switching directly to the crush on Silas didn't bother me as much as it did others, but I do agree that the narrator doesn't seem too upset by the hanging. I had to read the last few paragraphs twice in order to keep track of all the new characters and their relationships. Maybe slow down the whole opening so we can be more firmly routed in the scene as the story is beginning.

  10. What I'm left wondering is who killed the dead man? With the mention of there not being a trial or an explanation, I'm guessing it's some authority in the town, but I'd like that spelled out.

    Yes, the switch to Silas is abrupt, but the line "It's never been like this" shows that Hannah is no stranger to either death or hangings.

    I found it hard to get into the story but, strangely, once you moved past the hanging I was carried along by the narrative.

    I'm not sure what the focus of the novel is or what the conflict is. Is the dead man important? I assume so since you lead off with him, but then I wonder why the story goes off so quickly into Hannah's crushes. Granted, I can see from the last line that they will still be talking about the dead man, but I think a good reason for not introducing Silas in the way you do is so that attention isn't drawn away from the man the town just killed.

    I like the language here, and I would definitely read on.

  11. I'd read on. The situation is interesting, and I want to know what happened to the dead guy.

    I'd orient us a little more at the beginning. You have every opportunity to -- your MC is peering through the crowd, and mentioning a "he". Tell us more about what she peers at, or the man's position (in this case, hanging, which we don't find out until the end of the third paragraph). You don't need the mystery there, because the answer to the question is more exciting than the question itself.

    In general, though, very strong writing, and interesting situation, so this is a 'yes' from me -- even though I'm not normally drawn to historicals.

  12. I really liked the first half of this until the mention of her crush. That would be the last thing on my mind if I was staring at a dead body.

  13. Hey, Secret Agent here! Cool! Historical isn’t all the rage in today’s market, sadly, but I really like the voice here, and you start with a healthy dose of mystery. I don’t really have anything constructive to say!