Wednesday, January 15, 2014

January Secret Agent #10

GENRE: YA urban fantasy

He raced under the black sky and the silver beacons that adorned it, his heart beating in time with his feet as he bolted through the narrow streets and alleyways. Sweat dampened the clothes that clung to his skin. His increasing body heat repelled the bone-chilling winds that whipped around him. His breaths were getting shorter. He was sure he’d collapse. How much longer could he run?

Each dreadful tread of his pursuer rang through his ears and brought a pang of fear. The moan of the vile creature, the way it reverberated through the night, sent a chill down his spine. It wouldn’t be long now, until the monster caught him.

That girl, he reminded himself as he cut a sharp corner, fear tearing through his gut. Who is she? I have to find her; I refuse to become a Lament!

He stopped, staring wide-eyed at his fatal mistake. The high-rising wall of the dead-end stood, unmovable, in his path. Never had such a collection of bricks terrified him so. He heard the flat feet of his nearby pursuer step into a puddle as it slowed in its chase, realizing now that its prey was just within reach.

Its moan rang out once more and color drained from his face. His hazel eyes swelled with tears. He looked to the ground where, near his feet, the shadow of the creature grew larger as it neared. Its unbearable stench gagged him and brought a sting to his eyes.


  1. Great vivid writing. But starting the story with it made my eyes glaze over in apathy. I need to understand a character and empathize with him/her before the danger scene. In movies when it happens, you have the added benefit of seeing that the person is attractive (as well as other small details about their dress and they way they hold themselves) in books all we get is the chase. And danger without a victim that we care about is yawn-making. Sort of like if a tree falls in the woods, does anyone care? Only the forest service, and even then only on principle. Now for that squirrel that has grown to love that acorn-laden beauty....

  2. I agree with Ryan's comment. I need a little more grounding in the world. I don't know yet why there are silver beacons or if creatures are the norm, or what a Lament is. Yes, I'm curious, but I don't have an emotional connection yet to the character. I only know that he's running and freaked.

    I'd like to have more of the character in here, instead of just description of the events as they unfold. I'm a little outside the action.

    Even though you're writing in 3rd person, we still need to be able to hear the character in the writing.

    Help me be invested in caring whether the creature gets him or not! :o)

  3. Going to pretty much agree with the comments above me.

    You've opened with an interesting situation, which is great. However, what usually entices me to read on is not only an interesting situation, but an interesting character in that interesting situation. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling the character here.

    I don't mean to say that your character isn't interesting. I don't know him well enough to make that judgment, and that's the problem. In an opening, I want to get a brief sense of who he is, why he might be unique and someone I want to follow for 90,000 odd words, and I don't. I don't even know his name (which wouldn't be a problem if I had any sense of him, but right now, it's contributing to his anonymity for me). All I gather is that he's running for his life from a monster, and that doesn't say much about him as a person, because a lot of people would run for their lives when facing a monster.

    The one set of thoughts he has don't exactly feel natural either to me--possibly because I really didn't understand them or why he was thinking them at this particular moment. I have no point of reference for the girl, nor what a Lament is, nor how those things connect with each other or the current situation (I sort of assume he'll become a Lament if he doesn't escape the monster, but that's still a bit fuzzy).

    In the final paragraph, it might also be nice to give more specific details to help me get a better picture of this unknown creature. For example: what is the shape of the shadow? What exactly does the stench smell like (a lot of things smell terrible)?

  4. The writing is solid, but opening in the middle of a chase scene is always tough. Right now, we don’t have enough context to feel grounded in the world or to follow the line of thought in the third paragraph. I think for this opening to be really successful, it needs to strike a good balance of action and insights from the main character.

  5. I liked the opening parg. because you're showing us what happening. After that, you fall into telling mode and it loses a lot of it's immediacy. SO, showing the rest of it could help.

    In Parg four, you might put the dead end wall first, then have him stop, which creates more tension. As is, we wonder why he stopped and then go "Oh, a wall." If the wall comes first, we're immediately thinking - "Oh, no. A wall!"

    Slipping in why he was being chased could also help because then the reader has a reason to empathize with him. And you might show the monster. A shadow isn't very scary.

  6. I agree with everyone who's said that starting in the middle of a chase isn't working for you. Though there are exceptions to everything, I'm afraid this is an example of why it's usually not a good idea.

    You might want to look at Authoress's comments about the common issues she and Jodi saw in the Baker's Dozen entries where she talks about the 'car crash' opening. The reader has to have made a connection with the character before the action starts, or they won't have reason to care about them.

    The second major issue is that words like 'dreadful' and 'vile' are clichés that don't show us what he's experiencing; you have to let us hear and see what it is about the sound of the footsteps and the form of the figure that's pursuing him that is so terrifying.

    Also, describing the color draining from his face and the tears in his hazel eyes is out of place; not only does it seem that it would be too dark to really see those things, but, more importantly, whose POV is this? It's jarring because you're in fairly close third and all of a sudden you're describing what he can't see himself.

    Don't get me wrong --I love descriptive details, and in most of my novels most of my characters are described at some point, but you have to be careful; there's a time and a place for that kind of description, and this is not it.

    On the plus side, the last line about the monster's stench is an excellent example of the right way to use the senses to let us in on what the character is experiencing, and it's quite effective.