Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Secret Agent #1

GENRE: Middle Grade - Magical Realism

On a sunny spring afternoon, down a quaint suburban street, Charlie and Bobbie Hart, two ordinary girls, returned home from school expecting the usual plate of dry carrot sticks with hummus to keep them company while they did their homework. But little did they know their lives were about to get sticky. And stinky.

Starving, Bobbie crashed through the mudroom door, kicked off her sneakers, and plopped her backpack on an empty chair. Just a step behind her sister, Charlie entered the house, slipped off her ballet flats, and brought her lunch bag and homework into the kitchen.

Usually not a thing alike, except that they were twins, Charlie and Bobbie squealed with surprised delight as they each reached for a perfectly frosted cupcake on the kitchen table. Just then, their mom, Anna, and Dad, Jolly burst through the door looking excited.

“We have big news,” Jolly announced reaching for a cupcake. After he took a bite, he wore a bit of chocolate frosting on his salt and pepper beard.

“We bought a bakery,” Anna squeaked gleefully.

“That’s cool,” Bobbie said as she thought of all the treats she’d get to eat. Charlie carefully studied her parents as they looked at each other, beaming.

“There’s more,” Jolly said. Then they nodded at each other as if confirming some unspoken agreement.

“And it is? Charlie asked with growing uncertainty.

“It’s in Maine,” they said together. The old wooden clock on the kitchen wall counted ten seconds in the silence that followed.


  1. Though I love the title, I think it might lead people to believe this will be more of a fantasy and less a realistic fiction. The opening sentence also leads me to believe something extraordinary is going to happen...something NOT so realistic. If this isn't going to have fantasy elements, you may want to reconsider the title and first paragraph.

    In the first sentence, you have a lot of description, much of it unnecessary. Rather than telling me it's a quaint street, describe it to me. My idea of quaint might not be what you envisioned. Is it lined with trees? Are all the houses the same? And since your inciting event is the big move to Maine, it might be good to include in this description where they are currently. As for the "two ordinary girls", rather than telling me they are ordinary, let me find that out. Unless they really aren't ordinary and this really is going to be a fantasy and something absolutely blow-my-mind fantastic is going to change them from ordinary to extraordinary. By mentioning how ordinary they are, it again sparked in my mind that something fantastical was about to happen to them.

    In the second paragraph, you reiterate that Charlie and Bobbie are sisters. And again in the third paragraph. I think telling the reader once is sufficient and will help cut down on your word count.

    I think Bobbie’s and Charlie’s dialog is a bit awkward. And from the description of the snack they expected to find, I thought the parents would’ve been health-food nuts rather than confectioners.

    One thing not mentioned in this excerpt is the age of Bobbie and Charlie.

    Thank you for sharing and best of luck!

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  3. For me, this extract really started in the second paragraph, which I loved for the way it encapsulates the twins' very different personalities in two well-drawn sentences. (For that very reason, I don't think you need 'Usually not a thing alike' in the next para; you've already shown us that.)

    IMO, the first paragraph just felt a bit awkward. I don't know how much 'a quaint suburban street' would mean to MG readers. And 'sticky. And stinky' doesn't quite fit with the extract that follows - it suggests something icky, not cupcakes. A bakery may be sticky, but I wouldn't call it stinky ;-)

    Also, I agree with the comment that 'dry carrot sticks with hummus' doesn't seem consistent with parents who would buy a bakery.

    The other thing I wondered is whether calling the parents by their names throws us out of the twins' POV somewhat, since presumably they think of their parents as Mom and Dad.

    Still, these are minor points, and I like where the story is going.

  4. I thought you had the elements you need on this first page. You've given us characters, place, (although they're not there yet) and a problem - the move.

    For me, (and this may be purely subjective) the issue was in the telling. The tone comes off as though the reader is a small child sitting in the lap of a parent/narrator who is telling them a story. While the story itself seems MG, the tone seems like something you'd get in a picture book.

    I didn't have a problem with the implied fantasy. It says magical realism, so that will obviously come into play. And I do think you should use Mom and Dad rather than Anna and Jolly, unless these kids live in a family where they call their parents by their first names.

  5. "But little did they know their lives were about to get sticky. And stinky." is telling us what's going to happen. Instead of doing that, just let it happen. We don't need spoilers.

  6. First paragraph seems a bit long. Is there a way to tighten it? I'd also try to tighten up the descriptions of the twins and what they're doing. I'm not sure you need to give the names of the parents yet. I'd avoid the adverb gleefully. Squeaked is enough for me to picture how she is talking. I am interested in finding out what happens next.

  7. I think the first three paragraphs could be condensed into one. The problem has not started yet, and the reader does not yet have reason to care about Charlie and Bobbie. Also, there is a lot of unnecessary information, such as "Charlie entered the house." Not much happened outside the house, so why not start it within? Also, avoid dialogue tags other than "said," such as "announced" and "squeaked": they draw attention away from the conversation. For the same reason, avoid adverbs that describe how a person said something (such as "[squeaked] gleefully"). I'm also confused as to why Charlie's response to Jolly's "There's more" was "And it is?" It seems rather an odd thing to say after "there's more."
    My favorite part of this entry is the very last lines, when the parents tell the kids that the bakery is in Maine and you highlight the ticking of the clock. I'm assuming that this means that they are going to be moving to Maine, but I'm just curious-where were they to start with? Was it very far from Maine? Depending on how far it is, and assuming that this does, in fact, mean they are moving, you may want to consider that it may not be feasible for a family to pack up because they bought a bakery in another state, or even to assume that they bought this bakery in the first place. Just a thought :)
    Good start so far, and good luck improving your story!

  8. From what I've seen so far, I'm guessing there will be cupcakes with magic powers, which seems like a fun idea.

    I had a couple of concerns with the writing. You don't specify the girls ages (I like their names, by the way), but the writing feels almost more like a chapter book than middle grade. (I'm not sure where the line is exactly, but for what it's worth...) I think that's the result of some direct, telling statements like, "But little did they know their lives were about to get sticky," "Usually not a thing alike, except that they were twins," and "Bobbie said as she thought of all the treats she’d get to eat." Showing these things instead of telling them would slow things down a little and make it more nuanced and mature. (Unless you're aiming for a younger feel, in which case it's right on.)

  9. I agree with all the previous posters on this.

    There is a lot of telling going on here (you tell us that they are ordinary, you tell us that they are nothing alike, you tell us that they are starving) when you could show us those things. The first sentence is way too long, and it seems odd to describe a snack as "keeping them company." And I'm not sure what you are referring to when you say "stinky" since that word doesn't describe anything that happens in these first 250 words.

    Also, it's not clear how many cupcakes are on the table. You say the girls "each reach for a perfectly frosted cupcake." Are they reaching for the same cupcake or is there a whole box of cupcakes on the table?

    It seems kind of forced to write the parents' names in the way you do instead of just using Mom and Dad.

    I'm thinking that you may be starting this story in the wrong place as well. Is this really the beginning or is the beginning when they actually arrive in Maine and take over the bakery?

    What I do like here however is the title and the premise. I think this could be a really fun story, with a bit more work.

    Good luck!

  10. We like the humor that their lives are about to get “stinky” and “sticky” but maybe we could see this happen rather than being told it’s about to happen.
    Mentioning that the bakery is in Maine is great, because we can tell this means they’re going to have to move, which will be an adjustment all its own.
    We like how the description of the shoes the twins wear shows how different they are without spelling it out.