Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Hunted Humans
GENRE: Middle Grade SF/ Fantasy

A marble sizzled with blue sparks under Wyatt Parker's desk. Then the color vanished. The strange object wasn't there before lunch. He ducked beneath the gum-covered desk and hoped no one would notice him or search for what he found in the post-recess chaos. The moment his fingers touched the smooth glass, the marble buzzed and glowing clouds swirled inside.

Wyatt sat up, keeping his eyes on the hazy glow and turned the orb in his palm. An elbow jabbed his back. When he turned, his friend Miles grinned and wandered to the seat behind him. "Good game."

He clutched the marble between his fingers and hid it from view. "Oh, uh, yeah. Did you get past level ten last night on that game?" It was the first idea he came up with to distract Miles. Videogames always worked.

"No way, dude. I was eaten by zombies."

"Me either. A three-eyed werewolf got my avatar." Wyatt sat and shoved the small object into his pocket.

The bell chimed. A second later, his sixth grade teacher Mrs. Volker trudged into the classroom. She uncapped a marker and tossed it in the trash can. "Disgusting. Unacceptable." Mrs. Volker promptly dug out a brand new marker from the drawer. Even though she appeared reasonably young, she acted old and cranky. And no matter what the temperature was in Walla Walla, Washington, she wore a pair of kooky gloves. She scanned the rows for academic victims, her tiny eyes squinting behind enormous glasses.


  1. I am intrigued by the strange marble and would likely read on for a few pages to see if it is anything, but overall I felt like there was a lot of ordinary and not enough about the marble.

    A few things: I can't quite understand how he thinks he is hiding under a desk. Surely someone saw him go for the marble. Also, he says he is distracting his friend by talking about a video game, but the friend starts off with a comment about the game already.

    I do like the cranky old/young teacher. She sounds like she won't put up with much nonsense, which hopefully causes some tension when this blue marble starts doing whatever it does.

  2. I agree with @therealwinmom - I would read on for a few pages to discover what's going on with the marble and why he's hiding it. It seemed that the video game discussion distracted me as a reader as well.

  3. I'm intrigued by the marble, which hints at the magical, and I'm also curious to know more about the cranky teacher who wears gloves no matter the weather. Great set-up, I'd definitely would want to read more. My only suggestion is that starting off with the marble in the first sentence felt a bit jarring -- I would have like to have been grounded a little in the scene before having it appear.

  4. Great hook to catch attention - I'm intrigued by the marble.

    A few typos can make a bad impression. I'd recommend being careful to fix those in the future, prior to submissions.

    Also, unless the video game becomes significant later in the story, it might be too much of a distraction for the reader. If the video game is significant to the story, this exchange could be polished up a bit to make it a great hint for what is to come.

    Great description of the teacher.

  5. There's something up with Mrs. Volker, right? The marble seemed to be activated by touch, hence her gloves? Hmmm... :)

    The marble is definitely an interesting element and good choice to focus on it first.

    I noticed the typos, too - I see that's already been mentioned.

    The dialogue seemed authentic and I really liked the line about scanning for academic victims. I'd read on. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I agree with therealtwinmom that the game bit doesn't work since the friend brings it up first. The immediate thing that jumps out at me is the word repetition. Desk, game, object. If the gloves are relevant to the plot, then I can see keeping them. Otherwise, the idea of a teacher wearing gloves all the time seems like author-added kookiness. Those things would be gross with chalk and everything else in five minutes. The magic marble is a cool idea, I just feel the writing can be tighter. Good luck!

  7. Yep. Wondering about the marble, knowing (thinking) it is a major player in the story. Also wondering whether it sizzles and buzzes at the same time, and why the difference? The dialogue is spot on (i.e., works). Also wondering why Wyatt kept the marble a secret instead of saying, "Hey! Look what I just found!" Makes me think Miles is someone to avoid, and yet Wyatt engages him in conversation. Hmmm. Where is this marble going to take him/them?

  8. I was also intrigued. More by the gloves and the cranky teacher than the marble, though. It did read a bit clunky. I felt the information didn't come in the right order. That first paragraph is so important to orient the reader. Start with the chaos of the room having just gotten in from recess. Start big and go smaller. Not sure if you should ever start small and go bigger unless the reader is already oriented in what is going on.

    I agree with other comments as well about the videogame convo. But overall, I'd read on for a while. Good work!

  9. I think that you need to slow this down a bit. I love how natural it all feels - the description, the dialogue - but the marble seems to be very important, and very surprising, and it feels rushed. Wyatt barely even seems to find it interesting. I'd start a tiny bit earlier, and have him spend more time looking at the marble alone. Have him hesitate to touch it, wonder where it had come from. You move past a very interesting, and crucial part of your story far too quickly. Really this whole entry should be Wyatt first seeing the marble, and his descriptions and interaction with it.

  10. The beginning didn't work for me. The marble part was lost on me and didn't keep my interest. I noticed a few comma that should be sorted out before a submission.
    Unfortunately, I was bored with this one and wouldn't keep on reading.

  11. The marble snaked its way to him. No one else seemed to notice, but he sure did. If he didn't know better, he'd say that marble was weaving a path straight for him. Mrs. ...with the gloves was still babbling on, half turned away from him. The marble cut a path between so and so's feet - the desk in front of him. You get where I'm going with this. If the marble's important to the story, let's get to know it a bit more. What if he noticed the marble slide and stop at his feet and he stopped it going any further by placing his foot over it. Maybe he feels a spark of something as he does this but instead of crawling his way under the desk, he knocks over his pencil case and bends down to pick it up then snatches up the marble. And while he's down there, and its lying in the palm of his hand, it glows a shock of blue, a spark flys off it and sends a shiver up his get where I'm going. If he doesn't want anyone else to notice what he saw, he'll want to make it seem a little less obvious when he gets it making us understand how he sure doesn't want anyone else getting their hands on it. Hope that makes sense. I've got flu and I'm kinda seeing double right now! I know a lot of grumpy teachers and I love a grumpy a story! Maybe she could ask him what he has in his hand? Sorry I'm just going off a bit with the story. But I like it, you just need to move the focus to where it needs to be and then wham! Nailed!

  12. The most interesting part, that strange marble, got hidden under everything else. Where's the kid's surprise at the marble? He seemed more analytical in his study of the marble.
    I'd suggest going through and deleting every unnecessary word. Tighten wherever you can and do not over explain.
    He clutched the marble between his fingers and hid it from view. - He hid the marble between his fingers.
    Even though she appeared reasonably young, she acted old and cranky.- I'd suggest showing this, instead of telling. And would a middle grader say reasonably?
    I really liked the dialogue.Realistic.

  13. There are some interesting elements here but overall it didn't work for me. I felt like it started too abruptly. I'd prefer to see you start with Wyatt noticing the marble. The last sentence of the first paragraph is good, but the next sentence needs a comma after 'glow'.

    I also think the dialogue between Wyatt and Miles should be tightened. I get that you want to show Wyatt hiding the marble from his friend, but I think this can be accomplished in a shorter space, which has less risk of boring the reader. Also, when Miles said 'game', I assumed he meant some kind of physical game they had played at recess. But then when Wyatt starts talking about videogames, I wasn't sure whether he was changing the topic, or whether he was picking up on what Miles said. I don't think you need to tell us he's trying to distract Miles, you've shown us that effectively by Wyatt hiding the marble and talking about something unrelated. Also, 'avatar' didn't sound like something a kid would naturally say in conversation.

    Lastly, I wasn't sure why Mrs Volker threw the marker away. What was wrong with it? Maybe have her be cranky about something else. The last two sentences were good, I liked the glove description.

  14. Hmmm...a magic marble and a teacher who wears gloves and acts old when she's young. Certainly an interesting premise. However, the one thing I'd advise is to slow down. This comes off almost like an author intrusion, with you waving a flag at the reader that says look at ALL these interesting things. As a result, I'm not sure how to take this. It reads too fast, so I'm left unsure if the marble is an ordinary part of this fantasy world (I'll explain in a moment), or if the marble is the hook. The good news is there's a very easy fix.

    First, I recommend deleting either the friend or the teacher. There are 3 characters mentioned in the first 250 words. This means we don't spend much time with any of them, when we need to spend time with two of them. The marble's presence will create tension between the kid and the other character, whether he doesn't want his friend to see his cool new object or he doesn't want the teacher to snipe it. I will say the teacher is the better choice to keep, because unless that video game is crucial to the plot, it's nothing more than a distraction from the juicy bits here.

    The big thing lacking here, though, is emotion. In SF/Fantasy, the reader relies heavily on the character's emotional reaction to judge the world. A strange marble shows up and the MC is just analytical and blase about it? Well, marbles must be an ordinary (not exciting) part of this world. The MC acts more excited, surprised, nervous, etc...well, that shows how strange the object is. It boosts the hook. It clues the reader in to how they should feel. Do you want your reader to be excited about the marble? Scared and apprehensive? You must show that through the character's emotions. Get visceral things in there. Does his hand feel all static-electric the closer he gets to touching the marble? Is his heart racing? Nostrils flaring because he smells something weird/magical? Is he looking over his shoulder? Are the hairs on his arms standing on end? That's what you need in there. (Also, his emotional reaction--fear vs. excitement, curiosity vs. suspicion--tells a lot about his character, so you'd achieve a lot by getting in the emotion.)

  15. Great description - I visualized the glowing marble in my head right away. I was instantly intrigued, as well. It has a sort of "Men-In-Black" feel to it ... But your dialogue seems a little flat - you need to add in some body language so we know how Wyatt is feeling - something we can connect to. I get a better sense of the teacher's personality (voice) than I do Wyatt's. Good Luck.

  16. I completely agree with Mark. I can understand you want to move the story along quickly, but finding the marble is interesting, don't be afraid to slow down on it. Why doesn't he want his friend to see this marble? Most kids I know want to share cool stuff as soon as possible. The secrecy makes Wyatt's conversation feel a bit bland to me, because I'm not sure what's at risk (or what he thinks is at risk, I should say) if the marble is discovered.

  17. I was confused at the beginning and thought at first he was looking at the marble under a flip top desk, since it would be dark. And the comment about "good game"--I thought it might've been a marble game he was referring to and then I wondered, how would his friend know how did last night on the video game? But then he said he got eaten by the 3-eyed wolf--so why good game? I like the weird teacher coming in and wearing gloves--although what makes them kooky? The pattern? The fit? Perhaps they are rubber, to go with the rains in Walla Walla? I like your title "Hunted Humans" which made me think that the marble would be a scary portent--"sizzled with blue sparks" makes me think that it's hot with electricity and "buzzed" feels like it is moving, buzzing with vibration, which would be weird and trippy because it's something kinetic that he would feel. I'm not sure if the CC is scared of harboring a magic marble--or if he wants its powers for himself.

  18. I thought you should have spent more time on the marble. That's the mysterious thing and seems to be the object that will be the catalyst for what's to come.

    Perhaps allow Wyatt to give it more attention before Miles shows up. He finds this really cool marble that glows and sizles and has absolutely no reaction to it. What is he thinking and feeling? Does he think it's cool or weird? Is he curious about it or scared?

    If it's not interesting enough for him to think about, your reader isn't going to care about it either.

  19. I'm very curious about the marble. You do a good job of making it clear that the marble is important and something to be kept secret, but I guess I wished you moved on a little faster. Maybe it's because that's all I got to read, but things seemed to slow down when Wyatt was distracting Miles.

    But I'm definitely interested in finding out what's going on with the marble.

  20. What I liked: Some of the word choices, an obviously eccentric character in Mrs. Volker, an appropriate voice for middle grade.

    What needed work: Felt like too much was going on to keep track of; didn’t know enough about what was normal in this world to appreciate whether the marble was abnormal; didn’t particularly care about the situation based on the sample provided.

    Would I keep reading? Probably not.

  21. (author) Thank you everyone for the comments! I definitely have lots to go on to revise the opening scene. Many of the questions asked would be answered by the query/jacket flap and on subsequent pages. There is no specific world it's sent in as the scene takes place on modern Earth. Again, Thank you :)