Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Seven Riddles to Nowhere
GENRE: MG Mystery

Kameron Boyd wanted to faint. But fainting isn’t something a seventh grade boy does in front of his classmates. To keep from passing out, he gulped repeatedly. He knew Mrs. Harris was watching him.

He looked into her eyes, hoping his pathetic puppy dog look would work the same magic on her as it worked on his mom. However, the reflection on Mrs. Harris’s tortoise shell glasses made it impossible to tell.

Two seats over, Delta Parsons waved her hand wildly.

The teacher shifted her gaze. “Yes, Delta?”

“Mrs. Harris, don’t you think this assignment might be a little . . .” Delta lowered her voice, “well, you know, impossible for Kam?” She inclined her head slightly in his direction.

At his desk, Kam winced. Delta was only saying out loud what everyone must’ve been thinking. There was no way Kam could get up in front of the class and talk. He couldn’t talk in front of adults in school. For that matter, he couldn’t talk in front of adults outside of school either. He could talk to Mom and Gram at home. Home was different, but Kam hadn’t talked to an adult outside his home since kindergarten.

Mrs. Harris adjusted the orange scarf tied over her purple top. “The Illinois State Standards say we must evaluate every student on their public speaking skills.”

Delta’s eyes widened. “Don’t get me wrong, Mrs. Harris. I love the idea of giving an oral presentation on a famous person.”


  1. Overall I thought it was struggling to find the right voice. Initially, it is from Kameron's POV but that is quickly shifted to Delta and the teacher followed by what sounds more omniscient than personal. I think that needs to be worked out in order for the narrative to flow and draw the reader in. Also, I think it is problematic the way fainting is referenced in the opening - you either faint or you don't - it is involuntary so to say you wanted to, and then decided not to because it is just not done is logically flawed and hurts the scene. Also, the dialogue between Delta and the teacher sounds a bit stilted and unnatural. But, all of that is salvageable in a further draft so keep at it!

  2. I agree with the other commenter. While you do establish Kam's weakness and even give us some sympathy for him, there's also some backstory that clogs up the opening. I think it has a lot of potential, though. Good luck!

  3. This is an intriguing concept. Of course now I want to know why he doesn't talk! I would read on!

    I don't mind the bit of backstory that is here, but what is the conflict? I don't think it is his inability to give an oral presentation.

    I am a bit back-and-forth on this though... there are some stories that take a couple pages to get to the main conflict. I don't see how every story can have a hook in the first sentence/paragraph. But this is where a query helps out I guess.

    Now that someone pointed it out, maybe change faint to disappear and reword the rest.

  4. I can see why he wanted to faint in order to get out of the situation, and it did make me want to read on. I think you might want to change one of the "looks" in the first line of the second para. Just realized Kam isn't in front of the class, but in his seat. The opening made me think he was literally in front of the class. I definitely felt sympathy for him, and I like the character names.

  5. I think there is a cool voice ready to emerge but a few things threw me off a bit. The line where he said he wanted to faint but didn't because it's not something a 7 th grade boy does. I'm not an expert but I don't think you can will yourself not to faint. I think it just happens. Maybe having him actually faint would be better, it would add more character description and substance. I liked the description of the teacher and could definitely feel the mg vibe going on. I'd probably read further.

  6. I was thrown off in the beginning because he's trying so hard not too faint (which was discussed by other commenters) but then he gives his teacher the puppy dog eyes (which it sounds like he'd been giving the teacher those eyes the whole time). Those two things seem to contradict one another. I am curious what the assignment is and would probably read further to find out what it is.

  7. I agree with the other commenters re: fainting is involuntary.

    It's an easy fix, but Illinois has adopted the Common Core State Standards (which I'm sure still has public speaking standards for seventh grade). You may want to change so you're not outdated.

    At the same time, though, I'm not sure a teacher (at least not the good ones, and maybe that's the point here--Mrs. Harris isn't a good teacher) would cite state or Common Core standards to students as a reason for having to do something. It'd be the hackneyed though true "Public speaking is a skill that's necessary for you to develop to progress in your schooling and in the outside world," blah blah. Such a thing might be conflict for Kam, though; does he think he really can get by without ever having to talk to any adults outside his home? Why? And how does he plan to manage that?

    He is a sympathetic character, but this opening needs a bit of work.

  8. I would start this story with a line like:

    "Kameron Boyd hadn't said a word to an adult in seven years..."

    That would immediately draw me in and make me sympathize with him.

    I'm not sure if it's overdone in MG but I think it's a bit cliche to have the terrible, mean teacher. I don't know if you make her more human later on, but a sympathetic villan is always more real.

    I also found the voice to be a little adult at times. For example, would Kameron describe Mrs Harris's glasses as tortoise shell? I also found Delta's last line not very believable for a kid her age to say.

    I am very interested in these characters though. Stick with it and this will be a great story!

  9. As a teacher in Illinois, I thought I'd comment on something Amanda H said above. While Illinois has adopted the Common Core Standards, they are simply incorporated into the new Illinois Standards, so I don't see a problem with what the author wrote.

    I didn't see Mrs. Harris as a mean teacher as some of the others did. Tough, maybe--but not mean.

    The genre listed here is mystery, but this opening doesn't feel much like a mystery yet.

    I am intrigued by the idea of a kid who doesn't talk. I like Jessica's suggestion for the opening line.

  10. The first sentence made me curious about something: does he actually wish he could faint, or did the author mean that Kameron was about to faint? While I understand that a kid with this mysterious condition might want to avoid having to talk with adults, I doubt he'd actually want to bring this about by fainting. And in the 2nd sentence, I'd guess that it's probably more accurate to say "wants to do" instead of "does."

    Second paragraph: lose one of the 'looks' and same goes for one of the uses of 'work'.

    But I am curious about Kam's condition, about how it affects the mystery (or how the mystery affects it), and whether he ever gets over it.