Friday, November 30, 2012

(31) YA Suspense: Unknown Elements

TITLE: Unknown Elements
GENRE: YA Suspense

After a tragic "accident", Mila Crowley unexpectedly finds herself caught up in her late mother's secret past, decoding cryptic messages left behind and falling in love with a boy who, she has yet to learn, is connected to everything.

There was a steady humming, but otherwise, everything was still. And completely dark.

I closed my eyes again, trying once more. Same as before--a wall of black.

Moving my head, I felt the fabric shift around my hair. A tightness pulled on my wrists and ankles, as I tried to reposition my contorted body. They’d secured me well. Whichever one of them it was.

Working through the fuzzy memories that flashed through my mind, I could see the mistakes I’d made, the choices that led me here--bound like an animal, in the trunk of a car.

To think, a week ago, I had been sitting in class, just like everyone else. And now... My odds weren't good. Nonexistent might be more accurate.

I held my breath as the car began to slow. Veering off the smooth pavement, gravel crunched under the tires before we pulled to a stop.

The trunk release clicked open. Its hinges creaked. Gulping the stale air silently, I readied myself for anything.

Rough hands grabbed me, harshly maneuvering my body out of the tight space. Biting down on the inside of my cheek, I fought the urge to yell and scream.

Flinging me over his shoulder, the man had yet to say a word. Only the bitter winter breeze, swirling around us, made any sound.

But, I knew what he wanted. It was what they all wanted.

It had gotten her killed. And now I was next.


  1. Wow! I really like this. Loved the first line, and though I was a little confused at first (who'd secured her well? My first thought, though I'm not sure why, was that she was secured in a hospital bed), you made it clear very quickly that she's actually in the trunk of a car (never a good thing). The last line left me breathless. I have to know what happens next!!!

  2. Log line is terrific, I'm hooked with the words "decoding" and "cryptic". Only suggestion is to say "...she will learn" instead of "...she has yet to learn". I was a little confused w/ "the" fabric shift around Mila's hair since the reader didn't know before then that her head was covered. I love your verb choice of "swirling" to describe the bitter winter breeze. I definitely want to keep reading.

  3. Such a good, tense opening. The last line is especially intriguing. I wonder if it might help to give the "her" in the last line a name? Since the rest of the excerpt uses just pronouns, it might help that important line to stand out more. :) I'd turn the page to find out whether the MC gets out of this situation, and what it is "they" want.

    Best of luck!

  4. Very intriquing opening. I'd definitely read more!

    My only critique is that I think you have some verb tense issues. Working, flinging, gulping, helping are all present tense in an otherwise past tense opening.

    But great job--wish I knew what happened next!

  5. I really liked this and would definitely keep reading if I could.

    My only 'advice' would be that I'd like more internal or physical reactions from the narrator when the car starts veering off the side of the road. Tension would already be amped up from being taken hostage, but veering off the road is a signal that some sort of end is coming soon and it would charge you up even more. You do have some like 'held my breath, gulping air, ect' but I'd like to see just a *bit* more in there.

    Also, I can't agree with Carmen on the verb tense issues. I think they are acceptable in the way they are written/used.

    I do agree with Gailecn on maybe saying who 'her' is. It might be less confusing for the reader.

    Good luck with this!!

  6. Oh, also, I really liked how you described her being bound and locked in a trunk! Forgot to say that in my last comment!

  7. You have a great, high-tension opening here. I agree with Christina that you could do a bit more to show us Mila's fear, especially as the trunk is opened. Instead of saying she readied herself for anything, maybe you could specify exactly what she did or thought in that moment.

    I wish I could continue reading this! Well done!

  8. I think your logline promises a really thrilling, intriguing read. It’s certainly a pitch that hooks. I wouldn’t mind just a tad more specificity to make this logline distinctly tied to your book rather than a million other secret/high suspense concepts out there, but as written it serves its purpose of making the reader want to engage with your manuscript, and that’s the main thing.

    I like opening in a car trunk in the midst of a high stress moment. It’s a smart way to immediately engage the reader. Another critique mentioned a dissonance in tense, and I have to say that on reading the sample a few times, I can’t help but feel that the tension would be higher if this was in first person present. (I know, those dreaded words that editors fight over!) Tense is usually not something that I immediately notice, unless it feels off, so the fact that it did jump out in this passage is a major red flag for me. Part of this comes from the fact that she contextualizes time thus -- “To think, a week ago, I had been sitting in class, just like everyone else” – yet we’re still in the past. I think you have to make your choice and stick with it.

    There’s also a choppiness to the writing that I find a bit off putting, given the fact that I’m already disoriented and trying to find my bearings as I read. This comes from how you’ve punctuated and broken up your text. Short clauses, short sentence, short paragraphs. I don’t have a problem with this technique, per say, but I think you can smooth this opening with a bit of variety. I’d look to see if there are some places where you can combine sentences, lengthen the thoughts. Then use your staccato sentences for particular emphasis.

    I agree that defining who “her” is in your last paragraph would give more punch to it, especially in contrast to the pronouns that pepper this excerpt.

    As useful as dropping the reader into the action is to start things off, I hope that what comes very soon after is some content to fill in the holes, and at least give us a sense of who your main character is and how she’s gotten here. Otherwise, I think your reader may feel a bit too at sea, and you risk losing her.

  9. The pacing is great here, I like the tension and how the author worked in context to what's happening.

    A few things can be tightened; since we are in first person narrative, some of the character movement is unnecessary and slows the pace. This:
    "Moving my head, I felt the fabric shift around my hair" can become "Fabric shifted around my hair" and maybe give a clue what that fabric is, or connect it with the next sentence. You also lose the first half of "Working through the fuzzy memories" and go with "I knew the mistakes I'd made..." Look for redundancies since you want to get the most pertinent details out in the opening page. I would keep reading to see where this leads. Good luck!

  10. I dig it. A lot.

    I'm a fan of short sentences, and most suspense writers use them to keep pacing quick. I'd like more detail about the fabric, maybe point out that she can't see because of it.

    I'd read more!

  11. I'll start the bidding at 25 pages

  12. Lauren MacLeod (Strothman Agency)December 4, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    50 pages.

  13. Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy LiteraryDecember 4, 2012 at 11:40 AM


  14. Lauren MacLeod (Strothman Agency)December 4, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    95 pages.

  15. Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy LiteraryDecember 4, 2012 at 12:29 PM


  16. Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy LiteraryDecember 4, 2012 at 12:29 PM



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