Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #48

TITLE: On the Bly
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I turned in my seat to the window of the school bus and did a quick calculation, using my finger like a pencil on the glass. The window was fogged from the morning mist of a hot Illinois September day. Twelve math assignments, zeros on nine of them. That’s 25%. Even with an almost perfect test score last week, I was doomed - F city. I shuddered and put my head between my knees. How could seventh grade be so hard?

But I had an excuse. My homework was sitting on the chair in my room, done. I’d remembered to do it right after Dad tucked me in last night. I turned the light on, scribbled down the answers, and left it on the chair for the morning. Its just… when I remembered again, I was sitting on the bus putting on my cherry lip-gloss. Which reminded me of the cherry stain I got on my favorite pink pants Monday morning from sitting on a cherry my little brother, Mike, had dropped on the kitchen stool.

Mom said I needed to keep my eyes opened. My eyes were opened. They were on my geography book. I had a test that day and hadn’t read the chapter yet. I’d had to change pants and almost missed the bus. The chapter never got finished. I’d left the book on the floor of my room by the pink pants. and ran downstairs so I’d have time to eat before school.


  1. You need something more to make this story stand out from all the other stories about bright girls who mess up. I think your MC has potential, but we need to know early on what her name is and a hint as to why she's messing up. Also, I wouldn't think one bad score would put all the other good scores at risk. Good luck.

  2. I'm not really clear on what happened here. She left her math homework at home? Then shouldn't it be "nine of them missing," not zeros on nine of them? I got confused about why she couldn't just turn them in, or why she would have nine at home at once, or what happened. Also, wouldn't it then be "75%" or "only 25% complete?" And then we hear about geography later. Is that a typical 7th grade subject? I thought the problem was with math.

    The way the narrative follows her thoughts seems real, but I'm more confused than hooked. Maybe you can clear it up. Also, would Dad be tucking in a 7th grader?

    Agree that it would also help to know what makes the story stand out!

  3. I'm not sure you've actually started at the beginning of your story. Is this the "oh crap" moment for your character when things really start to change? Or does that happen on pg. 3 or pg. 10 or maybe last week before this point on the bus.

    The problem for me with this beginning is I'm not grounded in a conflict that gets the story going and it makes it difficult for me to engage with the MC and her life.

    Could you start with some action or interaction between characters that hints at the main conflict or some problem the MC is having? Maybe the teacher calling her to the front of the room for a chat? Maybe her brother saying "uh oh, you're going to get it." Maybe a best friend or enemy sympathizing in a very unsympathetic way?

    One of the ways I have learned to start my stories better is to scroll through the first 10-20 pgs of my manuscript and each time I come to a significant action or dialogue between characters, I ask myself "What would happen if my story started here?"

    Hope this helps.

  4. I think you might have an interesting story here but not with this beginning. It feels very common. Maybe you could begin somewhere else... like maybe the Monday morning when she sat on the cherry! I like the image of her writing on the bus window. Nicely done. I also would like to know her name early on. Until the line about the lip gloss, I actually thought I was reading about a boy! Good luck and keep at it! :)

  5. I like the distracted voice of your MC. I think this scene helps us get to know the way she thinks. But there's no real hook. A missing math assignment isn't a strong enough conflict to grab the attention of the reader. I think this is particularly true considering how quickly her mind moves away from math.

    Look for a spot with some real conflict or action to start your story, and let this scene come later to help us get to know your character better.

  6. I thought it was a boy until we got to the lip gloss. Is there a way to get her name in at the beginning?

    She seems scattered, which may be what you were going for, but I got confused.

    There is some real potential here though.

  7. I agree with the other comments. The protagonist doesn't seem to stand out like she should. Also, I understand leaving a math assignment one day but NEVER learning from this mistake? Even twelve times later? That's a bit ridiculous. This shows me more that your MC is having a hard time changing. When I was in middle school, I sometimes had the same problem because I was disorganized but I would never have left my math assignments at home twelve times. I'm surprised her parents wouldn't do anything to correct this. Slip it in her binder before she leaves for school or something.
    It might make more sense if she left a huge project at home and that's how she might fail.
    The problem with this opening isn't the writing. It paints your character into a bit of a negative light. Maybe open with her teacher lecturing her about how she's doing in math. Something with more action and less telling. Hope this helped you.

  8. It is always challenging to begin in a school setting and to make it feel fresh. I'd think about changing the POV to third person and concentrate of dialogue that immediately asks the reader to pay attention to the protagonist. Good luck!

  9. I like the first part about figuring out percentages on the bus window. I can really picture that and it shows the character is smart. But after that the narrative seems to go all over the place. Is our character ADHD? If so, you still might want to rein it in a little so we don't feel so unfocused.

  10. I think you have a great idea for a beginning. Although the second and third paragraphs seem to ramble a bit, they do tell me about your main character.

    Nitpick: If the mist outside is causing the windows to fog, wouldn't she have to write on them from the outside?

    Good luck.

  11. Thank you all, very much. I appreciate the helpful comments.