Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#45 January Secret Agent

TITLE: The Madman's Daughter
GENRE: YA historical thriller

I spent eight years trying to run from the past. I changed my name. Traded in the luxurious life of my childhood for a two-shilling salary at a dress shop and a shared room upstairs--though that was hardly my choice. Still, the past haunted me. Lucy, the one friend who stayed by me through the scandal, told me I'd sooner outrun a steam engine than my past. She said I had to face what happened. One night, quite on accident, she gave me that opportunity.

It was a late November evening. Mrs. Bell had kept me long beyond closing to search for a missing wooden button not worth its weight in sand. At last she found the damn thing in her own pocket and I was free to dash out into the cold night. I was late, and Lucy would be waiting.

The bitter wind slipped up my skirts and bit at the bare skin of my calves. I shivered, but it was not only the chill in the air that gave me goose flesh. I turned down a side street and made my way past the closed doorways. These tight alleys made me nervous, and I was relieved to reach the open expanse of Covent Garden. The wind whipped at my skirts as I waited for a carriage to pass and then hurried across the street to the big wooden bandstand, where a figure waited in the lee of the staircase.


  1. This is a nice lively piece. Lots of unanswered questions. What date? What is in the horrible past event thingy? How old is the protag? What's the urgency about meeting Lucy?

    Two winds whistling up skirts is one too many in a single paragraph, though.

  2. Intriguing, but I think you could pack a bit more in.

    And I'd avoid "telling" statements like One night, quite on accident, she gave me that opportunity. You might shorten the first paragraph to keep it moving, and just say something like Lucy, the one friend who stuck with me through the scandal, said I had to face what happened.

  3. Overall, I liked it. The title drew me in, and right off the bat, the tone sets a slightly dark mood.

    Perhaps consider losing the first paragaph. Why explain your story before it starts? Let the reader find things out as they go along. There will be more of a sense of mystery that way.

    And as is, you'll be telling the story after the fact, which puts distance between the story and the reader. Starting with the second parg. and telling the story as it happens pulls the reader in closer. Which is more exciting? Having your friend tell you about an adventure, watching her as she experiences it, or being a part of the adventure yourself? Telling it as it happens will put the reader there.

    And yes, there is one blowing skirt too many.

  4. The first paragraph was mysterious and really good. It made me want to read more, and I just realized why. It is written as if its supposed to be on the back cover of a book, or in the hook part of your query letter. Which is good, it's very well written, but it's not first paragraph of book material.

  5. I like this!
    I would definitely read on.
    The one thing that jumped out at me was the 'on' accident. 'By' accident, no?

    But yes, really enjoyed this. I can see it as an opening to a novel, I think it's a good hook. I'm assuming that the things mentioned there would be explained soon. I love the set up, and the atmosphere as the character sets off to find Lucy.

  6. I actually really like the "One night" sentence. Instantly, I LOVE Lucy, even though it seems like she's the catalyst for something really crazy.

    I wonder if "damn" is a historically resonant word? I seriously don't know.

    Love it. I want to turn the page.

  7. This is really well-written and compelling. I like the first paragraph, but it's a lot of telling rather than showing, and it feels like the information could be woven in as you go. (I am hesitant to wholeheartedly make this recommendation, though, without having more of the story to go on.)

    In the third paragraph, I'd add a sentence explaining what's giving her goosebumps other than the cold. And if the mysterious figure is Lucy, I would just go ahead and say that.

    But those are relatively small things. I would definitely keep reading.

  8. I love historicals and I'm guessing this one is Edwardian or Victorian era, with the allusion to steam engines and carriages. Unfortunately, the thing that immediately took me out of the setting is that any woman, respectable or otherwise, would be wearing stockings under her skirts to keep warm; her calves wouldn't be bare. That's a pretty obvious detail to miss, which does make me wonder how heavily researched the rest of the novel is as, with historicals, research is paramount.

  9. I thought you painted a great picture here. The page has good rhythm and pace. I agree with some of the others about the first paragraph being a keeper, but needing more showing.

    Also, as others have said, we get the wind is blowing her skirt. I'd go right from tight alleys making her nervous to the waiting figure. Don't be afraid to get after it.

    But good job setting up some tension that leaves me wondering what happened in the past. Probably something horrible at a Founder's Ball...

  10. I love the title, and I love the suspense you've created so quickly.

    I personally like the first paragraph (although I would cut the last sentence of it as suggested above), but I think, in general, it works well. It certainly made me want to keep reading!

  11. This reads too mechanically to me, the way it’s set up. You start off by telling us what you’re going to show us: One night, quite on accident, she gave me that opportunity. It’s intriguing, in a way, because we don’t know what she’s going to have to face, but at the same time it makes me think about how one of my professors always broke down the steps of writing a research paper: “tell your readers what you’re going to show them, show them, and then remind them what you’ve shown them.” It’s effective for research papers (main purpose being to convey information), but I don’t read research papers for entertainment ;) It’s not that it’s not well-written, I just wouldn’t open with it.

    So, I think you’d be better off cutting that first paragraph, and spreading some of that background out—leave a little mystery for your readers to unravel, and give us your MC’s background once we’ve had a chance to get to know who she is now, as opposed to everything she’s been through in the past. I can’t be there with her in the past, but I can follow her while she’s walking through the cold streets (in paragraph three).

    Speaking of which, I think your last paragraph is great, and that’s where I would start. That way we’re propelled immediately into an intimate situation with the character; we’re there, experiencing things with her as opposed to having to play catch-up regarding her past.

    Some nitpicks:

    I agreed with Leigh Ann initially, that “damn” struck me as maybe an out-of-place word for this genre—but I don’t read a lot of historical, so I may be wrong here. I think it might have been more that it just seemed to come out of nowhere; your character didn’t strike me as someone who would use that word so off-the-cuff like that, I guess.

    Also agree that there’s too much skirt/wind stuff going on in the third paragraph.

    Aaaaand the line the chill in the air that gave me goose flesh totally made me start picturing her as some human/goose hybrid. Probably not what you were going for :)

    Despite all my commentary, I really did enjoy reading this; I think your writing is strong and there’s a ton of potential for this to be really great. I would definitely keep turning the pages and see where things go.

  12. The dramatic, tell-y intro doesn't work for me, but that might be personal. When I read on, I was happy to see that the backstory didn't continue into the next paragraph, but the action itself didn't quite grab me. Not much is happening.

    In addition, I think the first person PoV might be a bit too distant. Things like "these tight alleys made me nervous, and I was relieved" are really tell-y. We're in first-person PoV, so you can dig deep into her head and SHOW us these feelings.

    So, sorry, I'm not hooked.

    All that said, though, I don't read a lot of historical. I'm probably not your target audience.

  13. Technically, if she traded in her life for another life, then it was her choice, though it might not have been her preference.

    I really like the title and I like what you have here. I understand what people are saying about the first paragraph, but I see it all as being particular to this specific narrator: the final line in the first paragraph is clearly a Voice, and we'll be listening to that voice for the next few hundred pages or so.

    Which is not to say that you couldn't cut the first paragraph or revise it or whatever, but that I think the voice is the most important part of what you have here, and that it will carry people through -- as long as they identify with it.

    Last on this subject: the first paragraph is the only thing that provides any moment to this scene. Otherwise we have the most boring opening in the world with the second paragraph. But with that opening, everything else is weighted with the tension of what we know is coming. Her past, fully caught up and wanting restitution.

    Nitpicks: Too much wind, as already stated. Also, I would be certain in all historical details. I wouldn't have caught the bare calves vs. stockings, but any detail missed like that can throw a reader off your novel entirely.

    I would definitely read on.

  14. I would read on, though I agree with nixing the first paragraph. You have such a great setting; the intro isn't needed right away.

    Consider starting with: "Mrs. Bell had kept me long beyond closing..."

    And then you could refer to November in the next paragraph: "The bitter November wind..."

    I do think you have an intriguing beginning here! And, as I said, I would read on :)

  15. Hey, Secret Agent here! The historical language is nice in this sample, and the voice is engaging. However, we have all telling, no showing. I frankly had some trouble focusing on what was going on because nothing really manifested in terms of action. It’s one thing for a writer to tell me something is creepy. It’s another thing for me to feel it shivering up my spine as I read.

  16. I like the voice of this, but I think your story probably starts somewhere after what you have here. This is all telling, and the parts of this that we need to know can most likely be slipped in within a scene.