Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #45

GENRE: YA Science Fiction - Dystopian

From across the crowded mess hall, Neriya, my bunkmate, leaves a huddle of campers. She marches over. I avert my eyes to the untouched plate of slop on the table in front of me. She’s the only person I’ve spoken to since dawn- me saying good morning and her laughing in reply.

Neriya places both hands on either side of my tray and lowers her face to mine. With a sharp smile, she stares into my eyes and asks, "Wanna fight?"

It doesn’t look like I have a choice.

I study the plateful of grey mush, not daring to return her gaze. Replying to this question is almost as difficult as understanding how I arrived at this camp in the first place. Neriya’s strong arms brace the table not allowing me a way out of answering her question or trying to understand my own.

“Aran, there’s only one answer,” she hisses. Neriya pushes my face into the plate of food. “Eat. You’ll need your stamina.” With that, she saunters back to the tittering crowd.

The table fills, shielding me from their scorn. I use my t-shirt to wipe my face. Four words crack into my mind. I. Don’t. Belong. Here. I woke from a poetic dream of apple blossom nectar on the trees in my backyard, my mother’s soft humming in the background, and my father’s fresh pastries, into this violent nightmare of angry campers, some with bruises and scabs peppering their faces, and all with vicious attitudes to match.


  1. This was great until the last paragraph. Is a "poetic dream" different from an ordinary dream? Did she literally wake up from a dream to find herself in the fight camp? Maybe you're trying to get too much into the first 250 words, but the last sentence is confusing to me.
    But the title is perfect and the conflict is established. Now I'm waiting to see how MC responds to Neriya. Nice job.

  2. Title and concept are both intriguing. The first lines pull me in but then I'm kicked out when I wonder how she can see Neriya's sharp smile if she's looking at her plate. That's just a small quibble, though. Can you add more physical reaction to being shoved fast first into the slop? The last paragraph confused me as I tried to figure out where, when, real, unreal. But a good job overall.

  3. At the risk of cheerleading... this held my attention really well basically all the way. Yay! There's plenty here to hook me so I want to find out more -- MC/narrator in uncomfortable situation that's only growing worse; MC plucked from a place of comfort and doesn't know how to get back; MC clearly an outsider, MC in physical danger...

    The description of the conflict via body language/nonverbal cues is great, and you establish the depth of the brutality here nicely with the incidental descriptions -- e.g., with words like slop, brace the table, hisses, scorn, scabs peppering their faces... (Not sure about tittering, though.)

    Couple of points: The transition from para 4 to para 5 was a tad confusing b/c you have "they," the mean crowd, then "it," the table opening the new para, and then "they" the crowd again. Could just be me, of course.

    More confusing was the "poetic dream of apple blossom nectar..." If the MC was having a dream, does she live in this horrible place and was dreaming of a home she used to live in? Or was she actually plucked from home very recently through some sort of portal or by other means and that whole experience was dreamlike? Continuing with the "nightmare" reference confused me more b/c I was still trying to figure out whether "dream" was figurative or literal.

    Hope this helps!

  4. This premise seems fun and exciting--fight club for YA! At Camp!
    Some nit picky things: plate of slop & plateful of grey mush. I feel like you can get a little more creative with at least one of these.
    Also I would eliminate "poetic dream" that line doesn't seem to fit in with what you have and your pacing, which I like.
    I also like "bruises and scabs peppering their faces."
    Good Luck!

  5. I was with this excerpt until the "The table fills," paragraph.

    It showed a great use of present tense and flowed nicely.

    The introduction of the poetic dream pulled me from the story because I wasn't sure if she was waking from a dream or if it was meant to be a reflection. My guess is that it's meant to be a reflective comparison of what her world used to be and what her world is now. Perhaps a bit of rewording can clarify things. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this.

  6. I'm really intrigued by this, but the last paragraph felt like it was cut off after "I. Don't. Belong. Here." I don't understand that jump and wonder if there was formatting that was missed. Everything before that was strong, though, and I'm instantly interested in what's going to happen next.

    When Neriya hisses and tells Aran that there's only one answer, it felt like the hissing was her way of trying to break it to Aran as nicely as possible in a fight camp. If she's not trying to be "nice," I'd consider changing the wording on hissing.

    Otherwise, I really liked this and would absolutely read more.

  7. I really like the idea promised by the title and genre but I felt disconnected from the relationship between the main character and Neriya. I wasn't sure of Aran's emotions regarding her bunkmate. The first time, I read her dialogue as almost friendly and teasing until the face smushing. Perhaps it's because Neriya does a lot of smiling. I definitely needed more emotion from Aran.

  8. I like how you open up the story. It is intriguing and makes you instantly feel a connection with the character. But like other commenters I was pulled out of the story at the part where the "table filled" - maybe you should just be more specific about what is happening. Also, she seems to have very little reaction to her face being pushed into the slop on her plate. You should show this immediately, this will add another layer of empathy for her with your readers. This was really good. With a few edits it will shine! I wish you every success with this.

  9. At first, I read this as them being friends, even after the face in the food move. I thought this was something they had planned for some reason. When I reached 'scorn,' I re-read this, and I suddenly saw it the way you meant it to be seen. (Made much more sense.)

    Like the others, the last parg confused me, too. I wondered what the table filled with. I assumed other people eating, but then I wondered why they'd sit with her if they didn't like her, especially after what had just happened.

    I also didn't believe "I don't belong here' were the words coming to mind. Wouldn't she get angry? Maybe have a nasty thought or two for Neriya? She doesn't react at all to what just happened.

    You might cut the last sentence which is overly long and unclear, and say whatever you are saying in more direct and simple terms. That's how the rest of this is written, and to change style at that point doesn't work for the tone of the piece.

  10. My comment reflects those above - I'd expect to see more reaction to Aran's face being shoved in her food and the last paragraph needs to be clearer.

    Having said that, this is something I would read on to see where it was going, so great job with the overall opening premise.

  11. Great hook with the title and concept of a fight camp. The relationship between Neriya and Aran is slightly confusing; it seems they’re on ok terms (Neriya laughs in the morning, then smiles, albeit sharply, when she comes to Aran’s table) but Neriya then confronts her and is clearly hostile.

    The last paragraph doesn’t feel quite in sync with the rest of the text, and gives us a lot of information very early on. I would love to see a little more of the fight scene play out and watch the tension build before we circle back to Aran’s backstory. A little more insight into her character would also be great here – we know she doesn’t belong, but how she feel after Neriya bullies her?

  12. I like the beginning and the tension. Someone made a good point of more of the narrator reacting physically to the confrontation and "table fills" did take me out because I wondered what that meant exactly. I think tightening the last paragraph could help show the divide as she tries to come to terms with the bullying.

  13. I'm slightly confused. Is Aran a boy or a girl?

    Other than that I can't say much because I'm so not a dystopian reader. Sorry.