Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #17


Only two months into sixth grade, Elena Estela Eugenia De la Cruz Gonzalez could see her hopes for the best year ever going down the drain.

Or, more accurately, the toilet.

It was Sunday night. Elena and her best friend, Rosalie, were in the bathroom, changing the dirty water in Hecke and Jeckle - the class turtles' - bowl.

Heckle and Jeckle were the official turtles of Sister Leo's sixth grade class at St. Simon's School. Every Friday afternoon, Sister Leo held a class election (secret ballot) to see who could take the turtles home and babysit them for the weekend.

To Elena, it seemed that the winner was usually the person who had done the most to help around the classroom that week, like pass mission boxes to collect for needy kids in Africa, or help Sister Leo clean up after art projects. To Elena, it also seemed like the winner was never her, despite the contract that she and Rosalie had, to vote for Elena every week, no matter what.

You see, Elena wanted to bring those turtles home more than anything in the world. It wasn't because she was an admirer of turtles. It was only because she liked nothing more than winning.

And so, when Sister Leo announced, "Ellie Gonzalez, it's your turn to take good care of the turtls until Monday!" for once in her life, Elena was speechless.

Ellie was Elena's "school" name. Her whole Spanish name, Elena Estela Eugenia de la Cruz Gonzalez, was way too long, In Elena's opinion.


  1. Interesting introduction to the MC. I wasn't expecting her to want the turtles just to win. Makes me wonder if she's a girl who always feels like she gets the short end of the stick.

    Should it be "It was a Sunday night?" I can't tell if she's looking back on this event or it's playing out in present time.

    The toilet comment makes me think a turtle could end up in it. Great line!

    Maybe say "Every week" instead of "Every Friday?" It confused me since you just mentioned it being Sunday, and then I thought the girls were at school.

    Is it a class election or would "secret vote" be more accurate? Election makes me think class president.

    Not sure about using "you see." It breaks the barrier between the narrator and reader. Have to be careful if that's what you really want to do.

    When you state that "Ellie" is her school name, I automatically assumed that the nuns shortened her name, not that she didn't like her long name. Maybe make it apparent that she chose to go by Ellie? She could blame her mother or whoever for giving her the impossible name.

    Fix "turtls" in second to last paragraph.

    Want to know if she wants to win for herself or she wants to get attention from others for winning? Or attention from someone at home?

    In the part where Elena mentions the kids who win always do a lot to help, I'm not sure that you're implying Elena helps that much.

    I like where this is going, but maybe it can get to the toilet part (if a turtle ends up down one) a bit faster? Or let us know what happens.

  2. I love the story title! In the first two paragraphs, I become invested in Elena. She's a relatable MG character. Then the action pauses for explanation and backstory.

    Has Elena accidentally poured a class turtle or two into the toilet? If that's what happens, it's more important to get to the disaster than it is to tell how Elena took possession of the turtles.

    Good luck!

  3. I loved the roll-out of Elena's full name. I was surprised when we got to her motivation for wanting to win and thought this made for a fresh idea. I'm worried about the turtles and whether Elena will be able to save it/them.

    I suggest cutting the authorial 'You see' and starting with 'Elena wanted to...' I also didn't think there was a need to tell us 'Ellie was her school name...' since the use by her teacher makes that clear.

  4. Love Elena's name! What a mouthful. And I liked it in the first paragraph, but then you mentioned it again. So I think maybe you should mention it only in the last paragraph, when you explain her opinion about it. The explanation does seems sort of dropped in, though, unless you add something like: Apparently, even "Elena" was too long for Sister Leo.

    You might consider moving the 3rd paragraph to the end and just giving a hint of the trouble: And all because of a couple of turtles named Heckle and Jeckle.

    The rest is a delightful description of both the classroom and Elena.

    You have a couple of typos. HeckLe, in the 3rd paragraph. TurtlEs, in the next to last paragraph.

  5. Some good thoughts here, but most of this is written in passive voice. Lots of was' and weres.'

    If you recreate the scenes in active voice it will flow better and be a more exciting read.

    Here's an example...

    On Sunday night Elena and her best friend, Rosalie, changed the dirty water of the class turtles,'Heckle and Jeckle in the bathroom.

    And I would move this paragraph under the "Heckle and Jeckle were the official..." If you do this then you can trim the pervious paragraph by cutting "the class turtles."

    The name is terrific, but we know from the first sentence what it is. I would suggest cutting out the first Elena... and leaving for the end. It would be more dramatic and memorable.

    Good luck.

  6. I thought you could start this with sister Leo announcing Ellie got to take the turtles home. Everything before that is set up, which we could learn later. It would also get you into the story faster.

  7. I love the start with the long name -- it sets the tone immediately. I also liked the whole turtle thing, and the class dynamics around it.

    I found it a bit jarring when you reveal that Elena only wanted the turtles because she likes winning. Maybe that's a big clue to her character and the story to come, but it immediately made me feel less sympathetic to her. However, it surprised me too, so maybe it's a good way to avoid the dreaded cliché. :)

    I don't think you need to repeat her name at the end. In fact, I think you can drop the last paragraph completely. It's pretty obvious that she's Ellie at school.

  8. A nice opening, though perhaps a bit slow? I like the voice but I don't feel much tension, especially as the conflict addressed-- never being picked to turtle-sit—has already been resolved, apparently.

    I would maybe cut the opening two lines-- these feel more like a log-line, or back-cover copy. Best to start the story with a specific scene or detail, rather than a general statement.

    This line reads a bit awkward. Perhaps reword? "To Elena, it also seemed like the winner was never her, despite the contract that she and Rosalie had, to vote for Elena every week, no matter what." Maybe, “despite her and Rosalie’s contract to vote for Elena every week, no matter what.” (?)

    Avoid direct address to the reader with phrases like "You see..." Ironically, these sorts of rhetorical devices pull us out of the narration, reminding us we're reading a story rather than allowing us to experience events along with the characters.