Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #40

GENRE: YA mystery with romantic elements

Tara raced over the leaf strewn path dirt through the woods, aching sobs leading her down to the lake.

A gentle breeze blew ripples over the water, while the colors of the setting sun merged in a violent kaleidoscope. Orange to deep red. Blood red. Like the water around Beth’s mangled body on a fall afternoon ten years ago. Aunt June’s keening had mingled with hushed whispers and staccato commands, the whine of the ambulance in the background.

Today, Aunt June’s sobs rose and fell, undisturbed by the birds and small animals frequenting the woods. She kneeled on the rocks, her fingers threading through the water. As though caressing the tresses of her murdered daughter.

Tara’s chest tightened into a vise. Drawing her jacket tight against the November chill, she hunkered down next to her aunt and slipped her arm around her shaking shoulders, averting her gaze from the murky water. If she looked closely, she could still see long, blonde hair tangled in the dirt, the pale, freckled face smashed in.

It had been ten years, but they’d never found the murderer, the monster who’d beat to death a nine-year-old. And lately, her aunt had been slipping further and further from reality.

“Shhh, Aunt. Let’s go back home. It’s getting cold.”

Shadowed grey eyes turned to her and widened. “Beth? My Beth?”

Tara bit her trembling lip. “No, it’s Tara. Come, let’s get you back.”


  1. First, IMHO, a genre can't cart around modifiers. So this is either a mystery or a romance. I'm mildly interested to find out what the mystery is, but it seems a little overwrought to me.

    You have a typo in the first line, which seems careless given you've entered this in a contest. "...over the leaf strew path dirt..."

    There are grammar issues including sentence fragments that I think work against you. "Orange to deep red." And that's a lot of description for the color of the sun. Maybe lose the kaleidoscope and say "...the color was orange blending to deep red; blood red."

    A vise tightens things. Things don't tighten into a vise.

    Good luck.

  2. I thought your writing was very clear without many clunky spots. However, I thought the flashback in the second sentence felt very forced. The transition wasn't strong enough for me, and I saw a lot of authorial need for the flashback to happen, rather than a natural progression to that memory.

    In addition, I felt like this beginning was too emotional. I didn't feel connected to the story at all, because the reader hasn't experienced the tragedy. I only see its aftereffects here. Instead of focusing on the grief over Beth's murder, consider focusing on Tara's worry over her aunt's mental health. Because we see that problem unfolding in the narrative, it's much easier to connect to on an emotional level.

    Good luck!

  3. I enjoyed your word pairings like "violent kaleidoscope" and "staccato commands"!

    However, I was confused about who had actually died until I got to the paragraph about the nine-yr-old girl. So maybe you can clarify that in the previous paragraphs. Initially I thought Aunt June had died.

    I think you've got an intriguing premise, but personally I thought the murder was a lot to take on the very 1st paragraph. Perhaps start w/ Tara comforting her aunt, then gradually weave in the daughter's murder. I would leave words like "mangled" out until the reader has a vested interest in the protagonist and her aunt. Just a thought.:)

  4. I was confused when I read this. I thought Tara was crying, and didn't realize until the end that she was following the sounds of her aunt's crying. I agree with others that I'd get rid of the back story on the first page. Just show her looking for her aunt, hint about the past tragedy, let us wonder what happened. You might also want to give us a little more insight on Tara on this opening page, instead of so much focus on her aunt and the girl who died. Good luck!

  5. I also had to read the first bit twice to figure out who was crying. That's an easy fix though.

    I really feel the aunt's pain. Possibly too much; I have to say, with an opening like this, I'd struggle to keep reading, just because the details of the murder are very confronting (and I have a small child). But I know others wouldn't necessarily feel the way I do; it's a personal thing.

  6. You've chosen an emotive topic - the unresolved murder of a child and its post-traumatic effects - on both Tara (who saw the body... what a horrible thing to experience) and the child's mother.

    However, there are a few examples of over-writing here. 'aching sobs leading her down to the lake'; 'violent kaleidoscope'; 'undisturbed by the birds and small animals frequenting the woods'. You need to think about what you're trying to convey and pare it down to the essentials.

    I'll dissect one sample, to show what I mean. Why mention the birds and small animals at all, if they don't enter the scene? Better to describe what Tara actually saw(describe how the aunt looked - dishevelled? gaunt?) rather than what she did not see. And the birds/ animals actually live in the woods, they dont "frequent" them. And most woodland creatures are more scared of humans than we are of them, and would hide until the noisy human left anyway, so you're kind of stating the obvious.

    There is such a narrow window of opportunity to capture the reader's attention in the opening. Every word needs to count to push the story ahead.

  7. This has promise - an captivating, unsolved mystery that the MC is personally involved with plus an aunt that is possibly devolving into madness.

    I do agree with others that the writing needs tightening up. One issue to clear up who is sobbing in the first line is to frame it from your MC's perspective. Your MC needs to hear the sobs, not feel the aching. As you have it now, the MC is sobbing, yet by the end of the section she is comforting the sobbing aunt. This is what leads to the confusion.

    I also would like to see meore about the aunt losing it and the MC's reaction/response - very interesting premise.

    I really love the last two paragraphs where the aunt mistakes her for the dead girl and she leads her back.

    Overall a good draft with promise that needs some tightening up.

  8. 1st sentence – leaf hyphen strewn, and turn ‘path dirt’ around to say dirt path. It also reads as though Tara is the one sobbing. Make it clear the sobs are coming from someone/somewhere else.

    2nd parg – you use a lot of harsh descriptors – violent kaleidoscope, blood red, mangled body, staccato demands – but the first one is a ‘gentle breeze’ which is too soft and doesn’t fit the hardness. Perhaps change ‘gentle’ to a harsher word – blustery, blowing, frigid.

    The third parg seemed out of place, because I imagined it was Tara sobbing, so I was wondering why we were suddenly getting involved with Aunt Jane. Perhaps preface this parg with a short sentence or two that places Aunt Jane there, then tell us what she’s doing. That, and clarifying the first sentence, should make things clearer.

    Parg 5 – I believe beat should be beaten. Not sure. And it might be better to cut the parg altogether. You’ve just given us this image of the dead girl’s smashed in face, and when Aunt Jane calls Tara, Beth, we can guess the girl was her daughter and that she’s losing her grip on reality, so you don’t have to tell us that. The only thing left in that parg is that Beth was 9 and beaten to death, and if we don’t know that, we’re wondering what happened to her, which is a compelling reason to read on. Eliminating the parg will keep the suspense high. We can always learn that details of her death later.

    And as others have said, it's needs tightening. It’s interesting enough to keep me reading. Work on the writing.

  9. This is a very emotional opening, but I haven’t gotten to know the characters yet. Jumping right into this flashback about the murder gives me no context. Also, the transition to that flashback was awkward. You tell me all about how the aunt is feeling, but this shouldn’t be about the aunt. I need to get to know the MC. I didn’t know who was crying at first. Your descriptions are somewhat overwritten, and I’d really like to see you show, rather than tell. I'm not hooked.

  10. Just Another YA AuthorJanuary 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM

    This is very disorienting. I stopped reading about half-way through.