Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Rachel On Fire
GENRE: YA Contemporary

One week of make-my-brain-hurt studying for things I barely cared about and then I’d be free for the summer. I grabbed my iPod and started cleaning my room to the blasting beat of Katy Perry’s California Girls. Procrastination is key during the week of exams. I’d do anything to not face the harsh reality of studying – even clean. I was in mid dance-and-clean mode when my bedroom door swung open.

“Rachel!” My mother’s face was flushed. “Rachel!”

I pulled an ear bud out of my ear. “Yeah?”

“I’ve been calling you. Can you come downstairs for a family meeting?” I looked at the digital clock on my bedside table. 9:32 am. “Now?”

“We’re in the dining room.” She closed the door. A family meeting at 9:30am on a Saturday morning? I wondered what we could possibly have to meet about this early, but the thought was fleeting. I figured my parents just wanted to lay down some ‘once the summer starts’ laws. I threw my iPod on my bed and headed down stairs. Even a family meeting was better than studying, right?

When I got to the dining room, my dad was sitting at the head of the table, his hands folded casually in front of him. My brother Alex dozed in the chair beside my dad.

“Want something to drink, Rachel?” My mom asked from the adjoining kitchen. The scent of freshly brewed coffee swam up my nose.

“Nah, Alex may need some though,” I said. My dad touched Alex’s shoulder.


  1. Like it! Small polish suggestions: I'd throw the word "more" into your lede (One more week...) And drop the rhetorical (even a family meeting was better than studying, right?)--we don't need any more motivation for her going downstairs than her mom yelled at her to, and she wasn't studying yet, she was cleaning.

  2. Thanks, Robyn! Great suggestions! Glad you read this...I'M SO NERVOUS!!!!

  3. Don't be nervous, we're all here to get better! :)

    So, this whole opening felt very breezy. The only indicator of potential conflict is that you establish it is unusual for this family to have meetings so early on a Saturday. If her parents are about to deliver bad news, you may want to throw some more signals in there. For example, maybe her Dad doesn't have his hands folded casually. Maybe he's tapping them nervously.

    Without setting up the potential conflict of the story, this is just a teenage girl looking forward to the end of the school year--pretty normal stuff. Give me a reason why this girl, this family, is different--and why I should keep reading.

    Thanks for sharing, and good luck!

  4. Sometimes I lament the limitations of 250 words! I want to know what the family meeting was about!

    Just my likely-very-out-of-touch opinion, but the only critique I'd have is to drop either the song name or just replace the whole phrase with "an upbeat song" or similar. So soon after the opening it feels like a name-drop to me, personally.

    But that's all I really have to say. Great job!

  5. Jill, thank you for your important comments. Indeed, I thought about everything you've mentioned before I posted these 250 words...and I'd already dumped my original first two chapters to get to this point. In literally two more sentences the conflict pops out. Also, I'm not too worried about 'just a teenage girl' - this is exactly how I want the reader to feel. This is a throwback to Judy Bloom, my story of Rachel and her 'first love'. The reason you should keep reading is because Rachel's life seems breezy and light - but it is about to LIT ON FIRE.
    RE: her dad - his hands are folded casually because he didn't call the meeting...again, the next two sentences would communicate this. Even the parents are thrown off guard...
    Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  6. L.T.,
    Ugh! I spent hours (literally) deciding what to do about the song - do I give it an actual artist? a song name?! in the end, i thought the name drop would reel in some readers..and also set the time period of the story as 'now'...but i get that this 'dates' me...and that i may turn off readers who don't like Katy Perry or pop music. I'll likely change it back to something like 'an upbeat song''s not an important detail, the music...
    I'm glad you want to know what happens at the meeting!
    Thank you!

  7. Just dropping my 2 cents in about the song. (I've struggled with this too.) My fear is that if you use something current, it's going to become dated fast. It also might turn off those who DON'T like whatever artist you mention. Maybe just end the sentence with "basting beat" (?) Or, if you are going to mention something specific, my suggestion would be to name something retro/classic, like the Beatles. That way it doesn't get dated so fast.
    Now, aside from that tangent, I like this! I think you created quite a bit of tension. It's pretty clear that something heavy is coming down in this family meeting--and I want to know what it is!

  8. sgf - thanks for your comment. you know, I originally Madonna playing on Rachel's iPod...but that's because I love her...but I'm not sure she 'feels' the same as the Beatles, you know? sigh. I think my safest bet is to stick with not naming a specific singer or song...
    Glad you want to know what happens next!

  9. It seems the problem is just about to come up at this family meeting. Perhaps start there. This whole opening is just set up to get there and could be eliminated.

  10. I agree with the comments already made...great start, little polishing needed.

    I, too, think adding the word "more" in the lede is needed. I like the build up and character development going on and don't think you need to jump right into the problem. I need to know/care about the MC at least a little bit before jumping into the problem.

    The only other suggestion I have is that the mom asks her if she CAN come downstairs...what if Rachel said no? As a mom, I might word it as a request if it wasn't a big deal, but to show more urgency and avoid the possibility that Rachel could refuse, you could have the mom make it a command, something like: "I've been calling you. Family meeting. We're in the dining room." I looked at the digital clock on my bedside table. 9:32 am. "Now," she said and walked away. Also, if the mom wants her to follow, she wouldn't close the door. Or, at least, I wouldn't. :)

    Sounds really interesting and I'd read the next page to find out what the meeting is about.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. Oh, and about the music...I wouldn't name any song or musicians quite yet. It really could turn off some readers. It wouldn't be such a bad thing to mention the music she listens to later on (especially if it's part of her character development - like she's a huge fan of Elvis or something).

  12. Barbara, thank you for reading and for commenting. Trust me, I thought about eliminating everything up to the actual 'meeting'. In fact,I already eliminated two chapters worth of stuff (and it was painful) to bring it to what it is in this contest. Alas, I feel like there needs to be something that sets the 'voice' of our heroine. That she is procrastinating...that she is hoping for exams to be done fast and summer to arrive...her interaction with her parents...I think these all need to be here to give the reader a small glimpse into her personality...
    Even before I submitted, I scrolled through to where the family meeting starts to see if I could start somewhere there...but it didn't feel right.
    Thank you!

  13. Samantha Jean, Wow! Thank you for such thorough comments! *Blush*
    I agree with you and the other gal about adding 'more' in the easy fix.
    I agree (see my response to Barbara) that there needs to be a bit about our MC before the conflict bombshell is dropped at the meeting.
    I really hadn't even thought about how the mom asked her to come downstairs...that she gives her the choice. But now that you mention it...the reason she does 'request' it is because she, in fact, did not call the meeting (as the next few sentences will tell) her urgency is for Rachel to get downstairs but only to find out what the meeting is about herself. And Rachel isn't the type of gal who would say 'no'....that's why she didn't say no.
    The reason she closes the door is because I just assumed that teenagers always want their doors kids are only 4 and 6...they don't close the door on me yet! But i thought closing the door would be a bit a sign of 'respect' from the mom...however slight...and even though rachel would just open it a few seconds later...Maybe I'm stereotyping. I'll definitely keep this in mind as I move forward.
    But all very cool points. Thank you so much!
    So much happens in the next few pages...perhaps someone will get a chance to read them?!!
    Thank you!

  14. Samantha Jean,
    RE: music. I'll likely change this first reference to music and keep it unnamed...later in the story there is a reference to an artist and lyrics because they help with development.
    Thanks again!

  15. I like this, and I agree you should show a normal Rachel with just a hint that something's about to change. Everything I have read on the opening pages say not to throw the readers into immediate conflict and the best place to start is that pause before the MC's world changes. I think you did well with that.

  16. Lanette,
    Thanks for reading! And for your positive comments. I appreciate it!

  17. My general reaction to hearing about a family meeting is usually dread. I don't know of many families that call meetings because everything is hunky-dory, so to see her blase reaction strikes me as off. Though perhaps she's just really naïve.

    The thing that really tripped me up, though, was the opening sentence. The phrasing and hyphen use comes across rather awkward. Definitely not good for the first sentence of the manuscript.