Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#44 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Parallel
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

Feng Huang stood on the bronze shoulder of The Angel of the Waters statue and peered down at Bethesda Fountain. The ornate lamps circling Bethesda Terrace thrust a soft, yellow glow against the dark sky, illuminating the water like a mirror. The face looking back at her wore a frustrated expression. Her brow was creased, and the edges of her mouth drooped.

Tsk, Tsk.

A faint rustling noise off in the distance suddenly shifted Feng Huang's attention away from her reflection. The sound came from the direction of some massive oak trees on the outskirts of the terrace, but it was impossible to see what made the sound. Thanks to the night sky, the trees were now just a black silhouette against the city's dim street lamps. She rested her hand on the sword attached to her hip and crouched down, hidden by the angel's wings. Central Park wasn't a safe place to be out in the open, especially at night.

"Inhuman" was just a fancy umbrella term for the word monster, and the city was crawling with them: demons... the undead. You name it; Manhattan had it. Central park was the only thing dividing each group of Inhumans and was fair game for turf wars and murder.

Feng Huang, and her mentor's warriors, was a sort of police amongst the Inhumans. They kept the normal humans blissfully unaware that they were living in a world filled with creatures that would make their horror movies look like they were rated PG.


  1. Too many adjectives too close together in the first paragraph for my taste: bronze, ornate, soft, yellow, dark, frustrated ...

    For that matter, lots of verbs there too: stood, peered, circling, thrust, illuminating, looking, creased, drooped.

    Not that you have to count adjectives and verbs, but their effect here is to clutter up your lead paragraph and make the image less sharp than you want it to be. Here, I think less would be more.

    It's also unclear how Central Park divides the groups of humans and is "fair game" for war and murder. And your last paragraph is too much explanation: it's an info dump. This sounds like an intriguing story, but these things need to be woven into the story, not explained to the reader like a narrator suddenly stepped on stage to say who Feng Huang is and what she and her mentor's warriors (whoever her mentor is) do.

  2. Overall, I thought you weren't really saying what you want to say.

    Illuminating the water like a mirror - this says the lights lit the water the way a mirror does, but mirrors don't light anything. I'm assuming what you really mean is that the water was mirror-like, in that it cast a reflection.

    The sky didn't make the trees dark, the darkness, or lack of light did. Was the sword really 'attached' to her hip or was it in a scabbard buckled around her waist? Or you could just say 'at' her hip.

    Central Park was the only thing dividing each group of inhumans - from what? I can infer you mean each other, but maybe you mean it divided them into groups? Maybe something else?

    The point here is not to be nitpicky, but that you should perhaps look at the words you're using and how you're using them. It seems you have an interesting story to tell, but if you're not saying what you mean, it'll be difficult to understand and hard to get through. Using the right words matters. They make your writing stronger.

  3. Starting a book off with the MC looking at their reflection, even if it wasn't a mirror or done in the first sentence, can be very cliche, and it doesn't seem very necessary in your story. The MC can easily be distracted my something more unique, so that's an easy fix. The over description of everything weighted down the writing, and the way you told what the MC is, felt sort of like data dump. I, as a reader, don't want to be told right off the bat what she is. I want to piece little things together, but get it early on. It's hard to do, but necessary to keep the readers attention and interest. Also, is Feng Huang the MC first and last name, or its full name? It just feels to long to be said over. I would prefer to hear Feng Huang, and then after that just Feng. But, the story line itself seems good though, so if you just fix those few things, this would be the type of book I would read.

  4. I think you probably have a good, exciting book here, but I don't think this is the place to start. You're trying to squeeze in too much: explanation of a whole paranormal world, character description, setting, etc. Focus on one thing and let the rest unfurl naturally.

    Too many proper nouns in the first couple lines: Angel of Water statue, Bethesda fountain, Bethesda Terrace, Feng Huang. Do you really need to name the statue? The fountain?

    Also, this is a popular genre, and I'm not yet getting how this is different than the zillion others out there. I'm sure it is unique, but you need to show us how.

  5. I agree with the comments about starting with the character looking at her reflection - it's cliched wherever you put it, not just at the start.
    I also thought it was a bit strange saying the lamps "thrust a soft" - thrust is quite a hard, fast word, a bit of a contrast to the soft glow that you're trying to describe.
    I'm a bit confused about what she's tsking. Is it her reflection? Why?
    "and the city was crawling with them: demons... the undead." I feel like this needs another word in the middle, it felt like it was going to be the start of a list of monsters, of the other things that were included by the word inhuman. "Demons, [some other monster], the undead" was what I was expecting.

    I would read on a bit, though - I want to see what is happening here.

  6. I'm not sure why, but it took me a couple of read-throughs to get that Feng Huang was looking at her reflection in the water and not at the face of the statue she's standing on (at least, I assume the statue has a face). Not a big deal, but something to consider.

    The image you conjure in the second full paragraph is very intriguing, the girl with the sword in the middle of Central Park. But then we get an infodump which, while also very interesting--demons and undead in Central Park, this is cool--feels a little too expository. What if Feng Huang were tired or annoyed about waiting for a demon to appear? Anything to put the voice back with her, to give your reader a better idea early on of what kind of chick she is (other than awesome, because hello, sword). I'm very interested in this premise, I just think it needs some tightening up.

  7. Love the idea, though I think that the last two paragraphs sound more like a querying pitch than writing I would want to read. I don't like telling sentences - I want to be shown, not told.

    I didn't find your first paragraph overwritten. I'm intrigued by the story!

  8. For me, the first couple of paragraphs didn't add anything to the story. Off the top of my head, I'd say start where Feng notices the being's presence, like this:

    Feng couldn't see it, but she knew it was there. She could smell it...

    Then if you can artfully combine the last two paragraphs so that the explanation of what Feng is melds with the telling, it might flow better.

    I'd definitely read on!

  9. I liked the name Feng Huang: phoenix, it sounds like and I wanted to know who this character is. (Although I am not sure how many of your readers are Mandarin speakers and the relevance of my comment.) But I had to read the first paragraph several times.

    A character seeing herself in a reflection is cliched but sometimes it could work. Here though, I wonder what I'm supposed to get from this. She looks worried or frustrated, and then she tsk-tsks it and I'm not sure as to what I am to take from this reaction.

    The rustling sound signals that perhaps we have action but there is more description of the place and information.

    Like the other people who have commented, I find this sentence confusing. "Central park was the only thing dividing each group of Inhumans and was fair game for turf wars and murder. "

    I also agree that the story has potential. It's just that this may not be the right opening for it.

  10. I agree with the other commenters. Starting with the reflection is cliche and doesn't really tell us anything about Feng Huang. Could you show her frustration in a different way? Also, it wasn't clear if Feng Huang is tsking or if she's hearding a Tsk sound. I also felt confused by the setting of the first paragraph. As someone who's not familiar with Central Park, I couldn't visualize the statue or monument. Yet the names were used as if I should know them. It bumped me out because I spent time trying to figure out where we were.

    Like others, I think you could show the info in the last two paragraphs rather than telling. I was intrigued by the sword and wanted to see more of that rather than learning everything up front.

    That said, I think this could be a fun story, and I think it's a great idea to use Central Park almost like a character.

  11. I agree with the others that this could work if it was trimmed. There's a very cool feel to this, with her standing on the statue looking out over the park for monsters. I think it would work better if some description was cut and something added in its place to up the tension.

    And it's too early for the last two paragraphs. Cut that info and leave the air of mystery for a little longer.

    I like the atmosphere and would read on to find out more about the character.

  12. First, I have to say that I would read on.

    That said, I agree with many of the comments above. A lot of the language is imprecise (the mirror, the sword on the hip) and much else needs clarification.

    How many kinds of monsters are there? How does Central Park keep them separated? Why do the normal humans need to be kept unaware? Is Feng Huang inhuman?

    I like the wealth of proper nouns in the first paragraph. They give a real sense of place.

    Also, horror movies are pretty expansive and, many of them, very graphic. If you make a claim that the creatures in this novel are going to be that horrifying, then I'm going to hold you to it. If they aren't, then I'd cut the hyperbole.

    As I said at the beginning, I would read on because I'm interested to see how your version of this story is unique. If it turned out not to be, I would stop reading after a few more pages.

  13. Love the MC's name, but ultimately I was not hooked, though I'd probably read on just because I love fantasy novels. I think the biggest issue I had was that it sounded like it could be the opening to any urban fantasy novel. The setting (NY) has been done many times & secret paranormal life underneath the surface has also been done - what makes your story unique? What will make it stand out amidst the hundreds of other YA urban fantasy novels out there? If you can highlight that in the opening, I think it will go a long way to make a decent start a really great one.

  14. Hey, Secret Agent here! I think there are some voice difficulties in this sample, even if it is nicely atmospheric. Not sure “thrust” is the right verb in the first paragraph. Usually when someone says “You name it,” they’ve named more than two things beforehand. There’s also a lot of leaning on description, which is fine, but I’d rather see an undead do something dangerous than hear about how dangerous the undead are. Maybe open with an attack?