Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #29

GENRE: YA Speculative Fiction

They took everything: furniture, animals, tools, food, each other. Hollowed out buildings gaped at me from all sides. I plodded along, flat-footed and hunched over, with only echoes of emptiness ringing around me. I thought, briefly, that I was dreaming. Or it was a joke my father was playing on me, with the help of everyone we knew and everything that existed. When I didn’t wake up and the silence was stifling, I screamed.

I’m not sure how long that lasted.

The only thing I found in my village was a beaten down rag doll. She had no hair, no eyes, and no clothes — the yarn, buttons, and cloth were useful. Lying in an outdoor fire pit where even ashes were glaringly absent, reaching her stuffed arms up for an embrace that only I could give her, I decided sixteen wasn't too old for dolls after all.

We sat together until night fell.

It must be a mistake, she told me. They wouldn’t leave us behind on purpose. And I tried so hard to ignore the tremor in her words.

With a shard of leftover ceremony I named her Nell, holding her up towards the dark sky and introducing her to the winking stars.

“Where should we go?” I asked after, cradling her in my arms like a newborn.

Her featureless face stared up me.

Away from the silence, she said. If that’s even possible anymore


  1. I really like this. I'm very intrigued and have only one crit. Cut out the phrase about the yarn and cloth being useful. It confused/jarred me because it came before the long intro that came before "she" while yarn and cloth are "they." Once I reread it without that phrase, the sentiment was so much more powerful. I loved how you used her and somehow i don't think she's going to be torn up for pieces. :) (Hope not anyway!)

  2. An interesting opening, which would keep me reading a while longer. Lots of atmosphere here, although that’s all there is. It’s more mood than substance. I don’t know where I am timewise – past, present, future - or if I’m in a real place or a fantasy world, but it’s strong, so I’d stay with it a while longer.

    When I read ‘hollowed buildings,’ I assumed I was in a city, but then you call it a village, so maybe refer to the buildings as homes or houses, huts – whatever they actually are. In parg 5, you might cut the ‘and.’ Parg 6 – you might show the ceremony. Actually, the whole opening is telling and, if you showed it instead, it could be very powerful.

  3. OMG want! I'm sorry to do the fan girl thing (I know, I'm supposed to help you with criticism, but all I can think is MORE). I have chills reading this, and I want more. I really wish I knew more about what was going on in this, like a log line, or cover copy, but what little I get here has me ready to follow your protag into a dark survival story (I sure hope that's where this is going).

    This is really good. Great job.

  4. I love the idea of her befriending a doll, very Wilson in the movie 'Cast Away'. The only thing that feels out of place to me is in the first paragraph, when she thinks that this may all be a joke her father is playing on her. Unless he is a very cruel man, I'm not sure why her mind would go there when she finds her village (and herself) abandoned.

    I would definitely keep reading to find out why her village took off in such a hurry, and left her behind.

  5. Excellent. Verb tenses are correct! We know you're flashing back in the first paragraph. World-building is sound. Tension is omnipresent. Nice set up.

  6. Oops - after thought: Bring us into the present by using current verbs - "Now, I hold her up to . . ." This will kick ass.

  7. The very first sentence is strong and in general I'm curious where everyone is... But a couple of things stuck out to me:

    The first is pacing. The screaming seems to come quite out of nowhere to me. The second is language. I feel like some parts of it are reading a bit stiff or overwritten, such as "echoes of emptiness ringing around me" or even "where even ashes were glaringly absent." I feel like it would be more gripping if you said them a bit more straightforwardly.

    Fwiw, I think you could fix the confusion people are feeling about the father/joke line by just having her say she wonders if the village is playing a joke on her instead of first singling out the Dad. I also think you would streamline it quite a lot by cutting the whole sentence that begins, "I plodded along..."

  8. I share a lot of robyn's opinions. The abundance of flowery description in the opening paragraph made the scene a little more abstract than it should be. This is a stark, hard reality, and I think language that reflects that would benefit the piece. Love it overall, though. I would read more.

  9. I really like this, spooky and very atmospheric, and I really want to know what has happened. However I was a bit thrown by 'They took everything' which sounds like she'll be reporting what happened, then suddenly she's in the middle of it walking down the street, I think 'They had taken everything' would read better. Also I think you could actually string out the description of her finding everyone gone longer, tell it in a bit more detail to bring it alive more, and maybe tell us where the MC has been that she missed it, which in turn would tell us something about her. Just an idea as I think this a great scene so I'd like to see more of it. Good luck!

  10. The pace here is rather jarring, as the sentences don't transition well from one to the next.

    "They took everything..." is followed by "Hollowed out buildings..." We're not told who "they" are, so when the next sentence discusses buildings, it's a bit confusing at first.

    It happens in several other places as well. Another example: "...the yarn, buttons, and cloth were useful. Lying in an outdoor fire pit..." Nothing is said of how they are useful, so when it jumps to lying in a fire pit, the ideas don't connect.

    That sentence also serves as an example of a dangling modifier. It starts out describing someone lying in a fire pit, then later "I decided." It's all terribly confusing.

    I suggest cleaning up the prose and making sure that each idea and sentence is clear as to the subject, action, and meaning.