Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #22

TITLE: What Is Not

I swung my sledgehammer into the face of the cliff but instead of breaking through, I dislodged rocks that tumbled toward me. I yelled and jumped left. My dog ran past me, barking. The boulders missed us by inches but I twisted my ankle in a stupid rattlesnake hole.

After I licked the dust off my lips and spit it out, I took a drink from my canteen. Then I poured some into my cupped hand. Oscar slobbered most of it onto the ground and Grandpa’s voice reminded me to conserve my water.

I don’t believe in ghosts any more than you do. When it comes to the deceased, I’m not like the kid who became rich and famous for saying “I see dead people” in that movie where he cries all the time. But I do hear dead people. Like my Grandpa. He quoted a poem whenever I complained about how dumb everything was and now I can’t get his voice out of my mind.

As a rule, man’s a fool

When it’s hot, he wants it cool

When it’s cool, he wants it hot

Always wanting what is not.

I wrote a tune and played it for my girlfriend on my guitar, singing the poem as lyrics, but a week later she broke up with me. Clearly a case of wanting what was I was not—a cool boyfriend.

I stood on my sore ankle, savoring the agony. Pain is weakness leaving your body, I reminded myself. Even when surrounded by pure desolation.


  1. "Clearly a case of wanting what was I was not—a cool boyfriend."

    This made me laugh. I like the dry voice of the MC.

    I was a little confused since you only put YA as the Genre. Perhaps clarify what specific YA genre you're going for.

  2. I like the voice and the relationship with Grandpa.

    Your excerpt raises a lot of questions, especially since you haven't specified genre. The paragraph about ghosts makes me think this is paranormal, but could be just contemporary. Why is he alone in a desolate place trying to trying to break through a cliff?

    I would probably keeping reading to find out, but a ghost story is much different from a modern day treasure hunt, and you could be setting up either at this point.

  3. Not hooked. After the opening paragraph, the rest is back story. I'd rather know why he was swinging a sledgehammer into a cliff.

    This feels very disjointed. First we have the problem of the falling boulders. Next, stepping into a rattlesnake hole. Then conserving water. Then hearing dead people. Then a girlfriend breakup. Way too much.

    I'm guessing the story problem might be here, but I'm not sure what it is. Consider sticking with one occurrence and let the rest fall into the story when it's needed.

  4. The visuals are great! It could be tightened up a smidge, but you're nearly there. Great start!

  5. I agree with MollyB. This branches off from one topic to another. We started with breaking down a wall, and I'm curious to know where this is, why he's chipping away at it, what does he hope to find, is he doing this willingly or being made to do it?

    THe other info is interesting, too, but it draws the story away from the original idea. Maybe they could be saved and placed elsewhere? As is, I'm not sure what the angle is that you're going to pursue.

  6. This reads like a younger character than I would expect in a YA, so when I got to the part about him playing the tune for his girlfriend on his guitar, it threw me a bit. Also, I found the opening couple of paragraphs a little too...telly, maybe. It was a little too much of a 'first, this happened, then, this happened' and I think that's part of what made me feel like this was younger than YA. I think if you start with your third paragraph, you'd be better off, to be honest, then work back to whatever he's doing on the cliff.

  7. I loved the voice! This is an example of telling that works, IMO. It's clever, and there is subtext there that I think some people are missing. I'm not. I get it. I would totally read on. Plus, it's something different!

  8. I love the voice. It's spot on. One thing you might want to do is to smooth the transition from paragraph two to three. It's not unusual to "hear" someone you were familiar with (parents, grandparents) in your mind after their death. So if you point out that he doesn't believe in ghosts, you must make it clearer that he actually HEARS the voice not just imagines it as most people would. Other than that, this is great.

  9. It’s helpful to include more detail about the genre of your project here, as this could go many different directions. I’m not sure why a teenage boy would be breaking cliffs with a sledgehammer – consider including a little more detail about this. Is it some kind of job for him? I might also recommend cutting the reference to The Sixth Sense, as it could read as dated (and few teens today would know that movie well.) You’re introducing many plot points here, and I’m not sure quite sure where to focus.

    My hunch is that the MC’s grandpa will play an important role, so you might want to spend even more time on their relationship in the opening paragraphs.