Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Broken Transmission
GENRE: Young Adult (realistic fiction)

You think you're bored reading textbook graffiti? Writing it is worse. Boredom should be like white noise, numbing and mindless, but my boredom had the opposite effect: I picked up a pencil and did something.

Welcome to Driver’s Education. After long weeks of sitting in a smelly, oddly orange portable, and learning how to put the “automatic” transmission from park into drive, reverse and back into park, I thought the day arrived. I thought I would drive.

Coach Pearson put the brakes on that one. He said he'd only get to last names starting with “A” through “G” today. My last name is Zepp. I parked it on the curb with the rest of the alphabet. Sitting on pavement for an hour and change hurts. It hurts your legs. It hurts your head.

Anyway, fear not, new owner of my former textbook! Thanks to my efforts, you now have something of questionable interest to read. I decided to rewrite this useless manual. All the manuals I’ve read are all instruction without substance. Half the text is usually wasted in questions. (“Want to know more? Keep reading!”)

Are you bored enough to keep reading? This chapter deals with coping mechanisms.


1. Smuggle in contraband.

I’d like to discuss fellow student Chris Wood. He’s not wearing a hooded sweatshirt because Florida is infamous for freezing mid-April climates. The repeated rocking of his head is due to music, not frantic conversation or the result of a severe medical condition.


  1. "I parked it on the curb with the rest of the alphabet."- I love lines like this.

    Normally, opening a book with a bored character doesn't seem like a good idea, but the voice in this piece made it work.

    Your first page is also an example of how writing can be very good and appreciated without connecting with every reader. I say that because I think it's very well written and wouldn't change a thing and can see how others would love it, but I would put it back down if I found it in a bookstore.

    I hope that doesn't sound too cold, but I think the perspective is important if you get raving reviews from agents who pass on it. It's important for all writers to remember that.

  2. "Welcome to Driver’s Education." Imo, this would be a great lead. It sets a tone, place, and conflict all in one sentence.

    Leading with "bored" is a turnoff. But after introducing Driver's Ed, para two could introduce bored in a proper context. Well of course you are. :)

    "Anyway, fear not, new owner of my former textbook!" This paragraph does not increase the tension, conflict, or provide insight into the character or back story. Imo, drop it.

    Get right to "smuggle in contraband," another great line!

  3. There are some great lines in this, and I already like the character. But in the end all I know is, this kid is bored at driver's ed. I'd try to work in a hint of conflict because you have such little time to grab the interest of the reader. Loved the parking it on the curb line!

  4. I agree with Mr. Wulf - cut the first paragraph and start with "Welcome to Driver's Education." You don't need to explain that the MC is bored and that he (I'm assuming) writes graffiti in his textbook when he's bored. You SHOW us he's bored and that he's defacing his text in the rest of the piece, which is more effective.

    Love this "I parked it on the curb with the rest of the alphabet." Shows voice but also plays with driver's ed lingo.

    Personal pet peeve - I have an aversion to use of the pronoun "you" in narrative b/c it sounds like the MC is making assumptions about me. Other readers might not care, but I'd rather the MC refer to himself - "I hurts my legs. It hurts my head."

    I also agree about the "Anyway, fear not, new owner..." line. It changes the tone for me. I'd just go into his actions, like: "I grab the useless driver's manual and attack it with my pen. HOW TO SURVIVE THE WAIT."

    I think it should be "I thought the day had arrived." Past perfect simple.

    I'd read on just to find out "how to survive the wait." I like teen journals if they have a strong voice.

  5. My first thought was - And how is all this fitting into the margins of a text book? So while it's written well, and there is some clever word play here, and you have created a nice voice, for me, there was no suspension of disbelief.

    There is also no problem or goal, no tension or conflict. My suggestion would be to smuggle some in.

  6. I think I get what's happening here, but I'm not sure it works; I felt a little lost. The opening line about textbook grafitti, while technically correct, doesn't resonate as a teen voice to me. If it said in more descriptive terms about scribbling in the margins, something that would use the character's voice rather than like a distant narrator, I think that will liven it up.

    Maybe let the character tell us how bored they are and why rather than expound on boredom like a narrator. I think the idea of commuicating through notes in a textbook is clever, and this is a great opportunity to show your character's voice.

  7. I couldn't connect with this piece. Personally, when a book start's talking directly me to me with the 'you', I rarely continue. Though with you having written this as 'textbook graffti' you might could pull it off.

    Also, I agree with the others. Instead of introducing us with his boredom, I'd rather be shown the writing (though Barbara had a really good point about it all fitting in the margins).

    I like the smuggling contraband part, but then it's just about the hooded sweatshirt part, which isn't a new idea.

    You've got some good lines like, the alpahbet line and an interesting idea, but it's not for me.

  8. Hee, I really like this, although I agree with the previous commenters about cutting that first paragraph. YOur voice is engaging and very easy to follow. I'd want to read more.

  9. Yes, I find it boring sometimes. Well, I find ways to eliminate the boredom though. I make imaginary friend. Yes, it may sound weird but it does help.

  10. I agree that starting off being bored should change and agree with cutting the first paragraph. I need something more to keep me reading - something going on in class maybe? Is the entire manuscript reading what someone wrote in an old textbook? If so, I'd have trouble staying hooked.

  11. I think what's making this opening so jarring for me is the fact that the narrator is both speaking in 2nd person and speaking about himself, with little transition between the shifts.

    I picture this having maximum impact if you start with "Welcome to Driver's Ed," and follow it up with something like, "If you're reading this, you've probably suffered long weeks of sitting in a smelly, oddly orange portable," etc., etc. The way I see it, this sort of 2nd person needs a really strong hand - it needs to deliberately speak to the reader 100% of the time, or it'll get muddled up in monologue. At least, it needs to start out that way, until we get comfortable enough with the narrative style to want Zepp to talk about himself.

    The fact that it's a how-to is hilarious - driver's ed is totally the sort of time-wasting hell where this would be appropriate - and honestly, I'd dive right into the actual how-to section. The thing about Coach denying Zepp actual driving, imo, can wait until you reach a point in the how-to where it's relevant. This opening has such attitude, it almost ruins the effect that he lapses into mild complaint halfway through the introduction.

    Just one opinion, of course. Best of luck!

  12. Some good stuff here, but it didn't get anywhere in this sample. I'd tighten, shorten. (Read it aloud if you haven't already.)

    But I'd want to see more ...

  13. I really, really like the voice here. It reminds me of Carlos in Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles...he's so bad, he's good. hehe! This guy (God, please let your MC be a guy, otherwise I will draw myself on textbook covers as the 'stupid one') has attitude that hooks me. Great job with the voice!

  14. I'd say lose the first paragraph and start with:
    Welcome to Driver’s Education.
    Why does sitting on the curb hurt his head? Show us. Is it because the sun's beating down on it, something else? It feels like a male narrator to me.

    It never freezes in April in Florida...
    I'm lost.

    I think you have a great idea and could really show this narrator and the crazy things that happen in Driver's Ed, but show us more of the narrator. Maybe he has a sidekick and they pull some really crazy things? Either way, what is the goal of this novel? Need to know more about that, preferably in the first sentence.

  15. Unfortunately, I'm sorry to say that I have NO clue what is going on. The first paragraph alone needs to either be completely rewritten or omitted. It makes no sense.

    Okay, there is something going on with driving school, that much is clear. But what's this about manuals? Is this whole manuscript supposed to be a manual written by the MC? I was very confused by this. There is conflicting ideas in the lines "Anyway, fear not, new owner of my former textbook! Thanks to my efforts, you now have something of questionable interest to read. I decided to rewrite this useless manual." Is it her former textbook, or a manual she is writing?

    I would definitely rethink this opening. It seems like you might be on to a fun YA concept, but this is confusing.