Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #1

TITLE: Enemies and Allies
GENRE: Contemporary YA

My idea of a perfect Saturday morning: a 2-mile run with my best friend, a steaming hot shower, and breakfast from a box. While I waited for the ding from the toaster, I alternated pointing and flexing each foot. My muscles passed the test—no soreness. The training schedule I had been following obviously worked.

The front door clicked shut and my mom muttered to herself as she put her coat away in the front closet. Just as I was about to call out ‘hello,’ a deep voice rumbled, headed toward the kitchen.

I looked down at my tank top and heart-stamped boxers and decided a quick getaway was probably a good idea. A conversation with an unknown guy while half-naked was not on my agenda for the day. But Reema was also upstairs in the shower, expecting food when she got out.

I glanced at the waffles that were still defrosting in the toaster and decided I would have to sacrifice them in the name of decency. Better to be hungry than forced to make small talk in my skivvies. I did swipe the bananas that I had set on the counter.

“Morgan, you’re here,” Mom called to my back.

My foot was on the bottom step, so close to a clean escape. I took a deep breath and swiveled back toward the kitchen, sporting my best impression of a welcoming smile.

“Sometimes, I don’t see her in the morning. She’s always off jogging.”

I gritted my teeth, deciding not correct her this time.


  1. Nicely written! I did wonder about the household dynamics. Mom comes home in the morning with a strange guy and the MC doesn't bat an eye. Best friend stays to shower after their jog. (Or does she live there?)

    I just had nit-pick comments:

    As long as you're using flex, you might as well use extend, instead of point. // A voice can't be headed to kitchen. // Why would the waffles be defrosting? Wouldn't they be heating in the toaster? // Wouldn't the bananas be on the counter anyway? // I'd delete "back" in "back toward".

    Like I said, nit-picky. Otherwise, nice job!

  2. As a runner, I love the part about correcting her mom on the use of the word "jogging." (which is what I assume she chose not to correct her on)

    The male voice throws me in this. Who is it? Even if you don't want to say who it is, maybe you could mention the male voice in addition to the mom's voice. I'm thinking there's some kind of intruder!

    Nice voice, but doesn't necessarily make me want to read further. Also, have you tried present tense?

  3. I thought this opening provided a good introduction to this world. The 'breakfast from a box' line sets the tone well. The narrator's lack of surprise at hearing a man's voice when her mom enters the house was a nice way to let the reader know this isn't an unusual occurrence. I only have tiny suggestions. Perhaps change to 'heading' rather than 'headed toward the kitchen' and suggest trimming 'back' from 'and swiveled back toward the kitchen.'

  4. I like the voice, and the opening is interesting. I agree with the previous comment about 'pointing and flexing' - may as well just use 'extending and flexing'.

    I was a bit confused at the very end -- the mother says "Morgan, you're here", and the MC turns around to talk to her. But then when the mother says, "Sometimes, I don't see her in the morning" I was confused for a moment because I thought the mother was still talking to the MC. Maybe just add one line of clarification?

    And I didn't understand what was wrong with the mother saying 'jogging' -- but then, I'm not a runner, so I will have to look that up! :)

  5. I agree with everything above. You have a nice style of writing and I have no complaints there. My only suggestion would be to create something dynamic to the scene at the very beginning to hook a reader. What happens next? Is it interesting enough to be featured first?

  6. There wasn’t a lot to latch onto here. She's a runner, and it's not unnatural for her mom to bring home strange men. Other than that, I don’t get any sense of what this story is about. Maybe try to include something that gives us a clue, or perhaps start in another place.

    The first sentence could be phrased differently. You might say that’s what she actually did, rather than what she liked to do, to make it more active.

    You could cut – My muscles passed the test. ‘No soreness,' says the same thing.

    But Reema was still upstairs – etc. Why would that matter? She insinuates that that's a problem, but the waffles are in the toaster. They’ll pop up when they’re done. They won’t burn. She could go upstairs, put on some clothes, come back down and finish breakfast. It would take 2-3 minutes and doesn’t seem to be any kind of problem.

    In both pargs 3 and 4, she’s ‘deciding’ to do something. Don’t tell us she decided. Just have her do it.

  7. The writing here is really strong, smooth, and engaging. I like that the MC is a runner and seems to have her own thing going on. My only issue is kitchen/beginning-of-the-day openings are so cliché I'm afraid it does more a disservice to a good story. The voice is strong here, but is this the best place to begin the story? Is there a setting unique to your story that work in place of this to introduce your characters and the world? Obviously, I'm just one voice here so trust your gut.

  8. Thank you for all of the helpful comments! I'm pitching this and presenting first pages at a conference this weekend, so I will be taking all of these thoughtful notes into consideration to make it the best it can bet.

  9. I think you've set the scene well with the relationship with mother and their financial situation. A question I'd have you consider is, is the kitchen the best place to start your scene? Could you show her last leg of her run then coming home and running into mom with stranger?

    It's so hard to critique when we only get a small glimpse so good luck.

  10. I agree with the above posters (seems like a lazy thing to say, but they all made some great points). This is an intriguing opening, but I felt the first sentence (even the first paragraph) needed to be stronger. There is no conflict. The reader isn't really interested in the protagonist's perfect Saturday. It's only when a deep, unfamiliar voice shows up that it starts to get interesting.

    I do think you have a strong voice for your protagonist and the interaction between her and her mom is great. The tension is there and I'm interested, but overall there's no real spark that makes me think, "I must read on!"

    I hope that helps and I wish you the best of luck.

  11. Nicely done! I enjoyed this.
    I like the indecision over leaving her waffle or being seen in her pajamas. Ha!
    The writing was smooth and had a nice humor and flow. I thought the relationship between mom and daughter was well depicted and realistic, even in such few words.
    Maybe make more obvious if the sound of a male voice in the morning is usual, and if not why. I'm thinking you could amp that up to be the driving force in these first few paragraphs. Show us the plot or at least a glimpse.
    Excellent work!
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. I feel like the first paragraph needs something more to really hook the reader in. The description about her morning sets the scene, but there's no conflict or sense of where the story's heading. My interest definitely picks up when she hears the stranger's voice. I'm already wondering if this is a potential love interest.

    Best of luck at the conference!

  13. I really like the voice here. It's almost got a bounce to it- Morgan is energized from her run, and her narration is energized as well. The rhythm pulls me right in.

    When the deep voice rumbles, perhaps locate it with Mom. That rumbling could be coming from any direction (outdoors, upstairs, etc.). The passage might be a bit clearer if we understand immediately that Mom has brought a man into the house with her.

    Finally, 'graphs three and four seem to be doing the same thing- conveying Morgan's ambivalence at remaining in the kitchen with her breakfast. Maybe combine the two or eliminate one?

  14. Hello! First of all, nice meeting you this weekend! (Ha!)

    I love the humor here, as I mentioned. You definitely have a great YA voice.

    The first thing that bothered me was the waiting for the ding of a toaster after mentioning breakfast from a box. To me, breakfast from a box means cereal and you don't need a toaster for that. Maybe breakfast from the freezer instead?

    And yea, paragraphs 3 & 4 seem a little repetitive. I would delete the last two sentences from 3 and combine with four.

    Other than that, I love it!

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