Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Pirate Island
GENRE: MG contemporary adventure

My best friend, Andy, and I were picking—okay stealing—blueberries dangerously close to Old Man McGoo’s house when the distinct slam of a screen door told me we were about to get caught.

“Get outta my blueberry patch, you lousy kids!” McGoo yelled in a raspy voice.

I sealed the plastic bag I had been filling and tossed it into my new backpack. Andy—the genius who had come up with the idea of stealing blueberries from one of the meanest men in town—was already halfway across the field. I hightailed it after him, scaled the chain-link fence with ease, jumped on my bike, and pedaled down the dirt road.

I glanced back to see Old Man McGoo shaking his cane at us. He hadn’t made it very far off his back porch and was too far away for me to hear if he was still shouting. I guessed he probably was.

McGoo wasn’t his real name, of course. It was McGee, but Andy had dubbed him Old Man McGoo because of the nasty spittle that always stretched between his lips when he opened his mouth. It wasn’t a very nice nickname, but he wasn’t a very nice guy and it wasn’t worth arguing with Andy about it.

Andy skidded his bike to a stop when we reached the main road. Even though there was no way Old Man McGoo was going to chase after us that didn’t keep my heart from pounding any less.


  1. Loved this sentence (I'd tighten to this, but that's purely my subjective taste): "It wasn’t a very nice nickname, but he wasn’t a very nice guy." Very cute!

    Last line, I think you mean, "that didn't keep my heart from pounding." OR, "but that didn't make my heart pound any less." If it didn't keep it from pounding less, it WOULD be pounding less...

  2. Thumbs up! I really like your pacing and flow. I would certainly keep reading.

    The only question I was left with was 'Why was his backpack new?' Maybe it is important to the story, maybe not. Just thought I'd let you know that it stood out to me for some reason. If you need it to stand out, great. If not - you could remove the word 'new'.

    Nice job, and good luck!

  3. Cute. I'm rolling along on this ride. Nice opening scene.

  4. Love it! Partial to any story about a pirate island, I must say.

    The only thing that stuck out at me was him taking the time to close the plastic bag. I appreciate his carefulness but if I were really scared enough to run away with my heart pounding, I might fumble and drop the bag trying to put it in my backpack, not be able to close it. This would also give you the time you need for his friend to get ahead and maybe give us some emotional connection with your MC-- inevitably, he'll lose some berries and be sad about that.

    Just a suggestion. Remember, when asked to critique, people will find things to nit-pick. Take mine with a grain of salt :)

    Good job!

  5. I immediately saw "nasty spittle that always stretched between his lips when he opened his mouth." But I thought it was odd to go from an old man to a "guy." I guess I think of guy as being younger... and probably would have kept it to man.

  6. Nice opening scene. I love the McGoo nickname - so something a kid would do.

    One nit - I would change "had been filling" to "filled" to tighten the language. Otherwise I think you are off to a great start!

  7. Great voice! I love the nickname for the old man, and I like that the MC recognizes it's not a nice thing to call someone. Sounds like Andy isn't someone you argue with.

    I would definitely keep reading to see what happens with these boys. Nicely done.

  8. Yep. Great voice. Good nit-picks provided by cohorts. Details like the "new" backpack and being OCD with closing the plastic bag can be very important details IF they relate to the plot or character development. One of the hardest things is to dissect every word, sentence, and paragraph and make sure it relates directly to plot or character development. You've nabbed your MG audience with voice and word choice.

  9. I think this is my favorite entry. :) I'm not too familiar with MG lit, but this reads so well and just sparkles with life. Plus, with a title like Pirate Island... thumbs up. Best of luck with this MS!

  10. Hmmm, I like this opening a lot and would read more!

    A few nitpicks. Others have mentioned the first sentence in the third paragraph... my problem is the word "tossed" which is a very casual word for an intense situation. Maybe "shoved" or "stuffed" would work better.

    Not sure if you are keeping this a secret, but we seem to know more about Andy than the narrator. Mainly that Andy is a boy b/c you have his name written five times. We know that Andy is the instigator and the leader of the two b/c "it wasn't worth arguing with Andy about it." Could you add a line of dialog between the two kids to establish the narrator's name and sex, and possibly a trait specific to him/her?

    And to shift focus over to the MC maybe the last paragraph could start out "I skidded to a halt beside Andy when he stopped on the main road."

  11. I like this, it's lively and fun and I would read on. I agree with others that the line 'I sealed the plastic bag I had been filling and tossed it into my new backpack.' seemed out of place to me, if he's in such a hurry to get away, and also that we could perhaps find out a little about the MC and not just Andy and Mr McGoo. Good luck!

  12. Pargs. 1 and 5 have your MC explaining things to the reader, which is fine if the adventure is over and now your MC is relaying it to us. But if you’re telling the story in the moment, the MC shouldn’t be explaining things to the reader. The reader doesn’t exist in his world.

    I also wanted a bit more from the MC. What are his/her thoughts about stealing the blueberries. Is he scared? Does he think he shouldn’t be doing it? Does the theft not matter him? What’s his take on the situation? Including that will help with characterization.

    I also wondered if stealing those blueberries was going to matter in the grand scheme of things, or if it’s just an opening scene to introduce your characters.

  13. At one point McGoo is shouting in a raspy voice and a raspy voice is usually strained and quiet. Then later he couldn't hear him shouting but thought he probably was. Why and is it necessary?

    Then with the spittle - had they been close enough ever to McGee to see he had spittle all the time? If so, wouldn't they know he walked with a cane and then know they had plenty of time to make a getaway?

    I liked the tone and the characters but wanted more showing. He panicked? What does someone do when they panic. Show that - he drops his bag, or looks back and trips - you get the idea.

    Great potential here!

    Good luck and may the force be with you!

  14. Sounds like a lot of fun! I'd suggest a little more immediacy at the start by showing his/her reaction to the screen door, rather than stating they would get caught. McGoo's (love that!) first shout "shows" very nicely they've been caught doing something wrong, and some kind of flinch would add to that, rather than "telling" they were caught.
    But I'd read on.

  15. Is this intentionally written to echo Peter Rabbit's theft of Mr. McGregor's vegetables? Because the names and action in the stories are almost too similar to be coincidence. If so, is there a reason for this that becomes apparent later in the story?

    It seems an odd choice either way, and brings the tone of the story to a younger age level simply by the association. So unless there's a reason for it, I would suggest reconsidering how to handle this opening scene.