Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Secret Agent #18

GENRE: Science Fiction

I dug past my daughters’ toys to the bottom of my purse and slapped the money on the counter.

“Nice pony,” the barista said, pointing.

“Uh, what?” my hand went to the side of my head. Sure enough, tucked behind my ear was the pink pony my girls had been fighting over on their way to daycare. I put it in my pocket. “Yeah, kids you know?”

The barista nodded and handed me my brownie and tea. Caffeine and chocolate could fix anything. Okay, they couldn’t fix anything, but it would distract me from the sleep lost to a two-year-old’s potty accident and my husband cancelling our dinner plans, again. If I didn’t know better…

With my brownie bag in hand, I stepped out into the desert morning. I could still beat my boss to the labs if traffic was light. The cracked sidewalk caught the edge of my Converse. A plum tree sprayed the parking lot in blossoms, and weeds tried to push apart the pavement. They’d be dead in days. The desert was like that.

A high pitched whistle filled the air. Then it dropped in pitch, like a bomb in a video game or mortar fire in a movie about World War I.

My head snapped up to find the source, but before my eyes made it to the sky, my car exploded. On pure instinct, I threw myself away from the fireball.


  1. The last few lines caught my attention. While I liked the contrast of what initially seemed a mundane life/day, I'm not sure if it wouldn't be better to start with: "The barista nodded and handed me my brownie and tea." You could keep some of the mundane, but get to the action/conflict quicker.

  2. Sometimes after reading the first page or two of a book, I'll live a little and stop reading so I can go to the register and buy the book. This is a book I'd do that for. I love what you've written here. Love it.

    The only thing I want to point out... maybe choose one or the other, the video game or WWI in the line, "Then it dropped in pitch, like a bomb in a video game or mortar fire in a movie about World War I."

    I'm just going to say this again...I love this.

  3. I love the opening, with the toy stuck in her hair--it really gives you the sense of the mental state she's in that she didn't notice that was there. And the end is awesome. I really want to know more.

    The line where you use the word pitch twice bothers me a bit. Maybe find another way to say, "dropped in pitch" so it doesn't feel repetitive.

    Great story!

  4. I second pretty much all of Blue's comments.

    I think you've got some really great descriptions of your world and your MC's life; she seems alive, but I feel like... well, this is a little difficult because my car has never exploded, but if my car DID explode, I probably wouldn't recognize it as such in the moment, you know? I might only recoginize the heat and fire. So it seems a little strange to me that your MC instantly pegs the explosion AS an explosion while also understanding it's her car that is doing all the exploding.

    Then again, I don't know much about your MC yet, so my comments could be totally off the mark.

    I do think this is a really great 250 words, and I would continue reading if I'd picked this up in a book store, but I agree with Blue: you can lose those first few lines and lose nothing.

  5. This one really grabbed me. You pack so much into 250 words: character, setting, and a bomb, and it's all shown, not told.

    I particularly liked the first three paragraphs. Not only do they show the character's mental state and her family situation, there is a touch of humor that makes me want to read on.

    You could possibly tighten the next two paragraphs just a bit. The sentence about potty accidents and husband cancelling dinner was a little convoluted. Maybe cut the potty accident, since we already know the MC has young children. In the following paragraph, I thought there were a few too many details: cracked sidewalk, Converse, plum tree, weeds, desert. None of it is bad, but it slowed the pace for me.

    I also agree with the commenter who said choose either a video game or WWI.

    Having said all that, this is very, very good as it is. I want to read more.

  6. I liked this a lot. Totally agree with the others who said your opening paragraphs really do show her state of mind well. Love the touch with the pony. I immediately felt for your MC, dealing with sleep deprivation, the chaos of young kids, and a husband who is...well, I already sympathize with her. The only thing I'd recommend is a bit of tightening. Use one sharp example and there's no need for two - such as the plum tree/weeds, and the bomb/mortar fire. Nice job! I'd certainly read on.

  7. I liked the daily life stuff then an explosion but agree that how would she know it's a bomb coming down? At first I thought it might be a nuclear blast happening so I'd clarify that part, otherwise good opening!

  8. Love this! I agree with earlier comments about her reaction to the bomb. It could be a little more visceral, but still, I would definitely read on.

  9. I'm going to try to touch on some different points than the above critiques.
    My first question is about the desert. I'm curious about whether this is a typical desert (does she live in Vegas?), or a special desert. By which I mean, are we on a desert planet, has there been some catastrophe that created a vast, destructive desert? I'd like to know, not more about the desert, I guess, but what is the character of the desert. And if it is some type of special desert that humans are eking out a life in, a desert so brutal that even weeds can't survive, then how has the plum tree progressed to a blooming stage? Is it specially nurtured somehow? Might be an interesting touch, since this is sci-fi. (By the way, I do LOVE the image of the tree spraying the lot with blossoms.) I think adding a touch of the desert's character might compound her little life difficulties with one great big one.
    Or maybe she does live in Vegas, and me prattling on about special deserts isn't going to help you at all! :)
    I like the almost casual mention that she works in a lab, and I'm curious about whether that will have something to do with the larger plot and the explosion. Also curious about whether the explosion was targeting her, or just random.
    I wasn't really bothered by her reaction to the explosion. I got the idea that she knew the whistle was some sort of bomb, although on rereading, I'm less sure of that. But even if she didn't know it was a bomb, if she's walking straight for her car, and it explodes, I think she'd know it was her car exploding. And her reaction I think, running on instinct, is pretty realistic.
    So, in short, I think you do a great job of setting us up for some monumental conflicts, and I'm really curious about where this is going. I would not just read more, I'd buy the book and read all of it.

  10. ou've established a sympathetic main character here, and I like where this is going plot-wise.

    But I think the scene is moving too fast, so I can't get my bearings. I'm not sure introducing the mother through this dialogue-heavy scene is entirely working. I wanted to know a little more about her -- what does she think and feel, who is she -- rather than seeing minutiae of her day. (At the beginnings of stories, "show don't tell" can sometimes be the wrong guideline, I think.) And I'm concerned the turn to the explosion is too fast. Either you need to start there -- and then give context -- or you need to take time to develop the character before throwing in the plot hook. Right now this feels a little jumbled.

    But I think lingering on the scene will make this a strong opening.