Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Her Only Escape
GENRE: YA Suspense

I walk past the career counseling entrance with my head down. Technically you need an appointment, but early spring makes this a dead zone. The last place a senior wants to be cooped up. But I like the quiet. I like the college posters filled with happy faces. The stacks of possibilities filed in the cabinets. Even the obsolete typewriter. But most of all, I like hearing the tick, tick, tick, for each second on the clock.

I’m almost undetected in the far corner, hunched over a desk, waiting for dance practice. I grab a granola bar, ignoring the “no food” sign, and wrap my feet around the legs of the chair. My hair cloaks over my face, and I let my glasses dangle on the tip of my fingers. The sound of the repetitive ticking lulls me to sleep. And then I drift. Like a string pulling my lids lightly. Softly.

My legs flutter above ground, whipping high in the sky. I land. Move my feet sharp like scissors to complete an arabesque, dangerously close to the edge of the stage. With my feet perfectly on pointe, I arch my back, keeping the length of my arms straight. I’m dancing like my life is on the line—taking reckless risks. Maybe it’s because I know he’s watching me from the back corner. I dance faster so he doesn’t disappear, but my body is tiring. Everything fades. He is gone.


  1. I love the description of the dance dream--great imagery!

    "My hair cloaks over my face." I don't think cloaks is the right word. Drapes?

    Also, does she fall asleep sitting up? I had a hard time picturing how she was seated at the desk. Is she resting her head on it?

    You say she is "almost" undetected but don't come back to it (maybe you do after the 250 words!) Is someone watching her, like in her dream?

    Overall, great description...I'm curious why she needs dance as an "escape."

  2. I enjoyed the excerpt but thought a couple moments could use a look. Suggest cutting 'over' in 'My hair cloaks (over) my face.' Also, I was a little unclear about her being 'almost undetected'. If she's noticed someone watching her, perhaps let the reader know?

    The dream dance worked beautifully and left me wondering who she dreams is watching her.

  3. I liked the first and second paragraphs up to "...lulls me to sleep." Very nice description of the room, her mood.

    But if she's already asleep, "And then I drift" doesn't make sense. "Like a string pulling my lids lightly" didn't work for me, either.

    In the dream scene, flutter doesn't seem to go with whipping. Are her legs "whipping high in the sky"? Makes me think of flags in a stiff wind.

    Consider: "I land on a stage" so we know where she is when she does the arabesque.

    Did you mean "Move my feet sharpLY, like scissors, to complete an arabesque...?

    "reckless risks" seems redundant.

    "I dance faster so he doesn’t disappear" stopped me. Is he a ghost brought forth by twirling?

    "He is gone" could use more drama. "I look for him in the shadows, but he is gone.

    I do like the intensity of her need to dance.

  4. Overall I like the voice and tone of this excerpt. I do have a few suggestions...

    First it sounds almost childlike that she likes the poster full of "happy faces". Smiling works better in my opinion.

    I also agree with MM.. if you're lulled to sleep, you can;t drift afterward.

    You also have two adverbs together. These should be used with caution. Find a strong verb choice.

    I also agree flutter and whipping don't blend well together in the same sentence.

    Nice description and atmospheric setting...

  5. I'm not sure that this story is starting in the right place. So far we have a girl waiting for dance class to start, falling asleep and having a dream about dancing. There's nothing really wrong with it, but it isn't that engaging - especially since it's a YA suspense.

    There are also a few awkward phrases that people have already pointed out - e.g., if you're asleep, you can't drift off afterward, and then 'my hair cloaks over my face'. "Cloaks over" doesn't make sense.

    I would try starting this piece in a different place.

  6. This is written well and you've created a nice tone to the piece, but nothing happens. A girl drifts into sleep and dreams.

    She's a dancer, and dancing seems to be important to her. Perhaps start with her at practice, or in performance, or maybe right after one or the other. Maybe she could see the mysterious 'he' in real time.

    If you go with what you have - she walks past the counseling center - and yet, she somehow ends up inside it and falls asleep. How does that happen?

    I also wondered why she'd go there to wait for dance practice. Why not just go to the studio where she could start practice early?

  7. I like the details you've included in this opening and definitely wanted to get to know the main character you've introduced -- I'm intrigued by the things she notices and likes.

    A few things tripped me up though, so I suggest making some edits. For example, I think the first sentence should read "I walk THROUGH the career counseling entrance..." rather than PAST. When I first read through this excerpt, I was surprised to find the main character suddenly in the office and wondered how she got there since I'd pictured her walking past it and still being outside.

    After the first paragraph, I was hooked and wanted to know more, but the tension died in the second paragraph when the MC basically settles down for a nap. Is there another place to start this opening? Starting with a nap kind of made me want to take one, too, and that's not a good place to have your reader -- especially not right off the bat.

    Best of luck with this story -- your writing is lovely :)

  8. I really liked the tone you created. It felt hushed, but also on edge. Perfect for a suspense novel.

    I was intrigued that she walked by 'with my head down', but you don't explain why. Why would she bother to avoid people's eye contact if the place is 'a dead zone'?

    Love the line 'the stacks of possibilities'.

    I think it would benefit the pacing to combine the first two paragraphs and cut some things. Maybe start with her already sitting at the desk since her walking doesn't really take her (or the story) anywhere.

    I think you could keep the rhythm of the last lines of the second paragraph if you just cut 'to sleep.': "The sound of the repetitive ticking lulls me. And then I drift. etc.."

    Because of the dancing dream, I think you could cut 'waiting for dance practice' above. The phrase felt forced to me.

    Loved the dance dream, and was very intrigued by the man watching. One picky thing: "reckless risks" seems redundant.

    Great work! Good luck!

  9. Lots of potential! I'm wondering if you can combine a few things from your first lines into a more dynamic first line:

    >The last place a senior wants to be cooped up is the career counseling center first thing on a weekday morning.

    You can infuse your own voice in there. I personally love first lines that are a little playful and show voice.

    I didn't quite get the transition to waiting for dance class--why is she waiting at the career office? Or maybe I missed something since she walked past the office--where is she waiting then?

    The second paragraph doesn't offer much to propel the story forward, though the third is interesting. Would it work to start the story with the character actually dancing rather than thinking about dancing? I love books with a glimpse of something an insider would only know--like the dance profession. To me, starting with that is a strong hook.

  10. I second the comment above about starting in the right place. If this MC is all about dance, why begin here, with her waiting for dance practice in a room that has almost nothing to do with her ambition? Maybe the career counseling offices will become important later, but if not, I wonder if you're not spending too much time setting them up here.

    Why does she walk past the counseling entrance with her head down? It's a small detail, but because it's the first line of the story, it seems so important. Is she ashamed? Is she hiding from someone? It colors the rest of the passage perhaps more than it should.