Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Unfortunates
GENRE: YA paranormal

            In middle school, my brain promoted its prefrontal cortex to head honcho. It now walks up and down its corridors shouting bouts of unnecessary questions and hasn’t once taken a break.

            Tonight, sitting in a mall parking lot with a boyfriend blowing snot into his polo, was no different.

            “Wait, Vanessa, can we just talk?” Eric said.

            My gaze remained plastered to the passenger’s side window of his car. My hand at the door handle.

            “What is there to talk about?” I said.

            His looked to the ceiling. “I don’t know, what happened maybe? Tell me what you’re thinking.”

            He didn’t want to know. Neither did any of the other mall goers walking to their cars tonight. I’m sure they could hear everything through his broken back window.

            “I’m numb,” I said.

He sighed and shook his head, but it was the truth. I didn’t think it would feel like this. Mom always said to do it with someone you loved. I’d loved Eric for three years.

            I focused on a boy in the parking lot looking into a car a row away. He twirled his hair in nervous ticks.

            “I did my best,” Eric said.

            “You didn’t even attempt the other bases,” I said.

            I squeezed my legs together to ebb the new discomfort. When he didn’t respond, I took my eyes off the boy in the parking lot and focused on Eric. He looked like someone had mauled him with the truth.

            "Don't worry about it," I said.


  1. The first sentence left me very confused -- the prefrontal cortex controls executive function in everyone. It doesn't make sense to say it has been promoted.

    Honestly, this whole intro gave me a sort of icky feeling. They just had sex and he's blowing snot into his polo? Why? Is he crying? Does he have a cold?

    Also, a few sentences don't quite make sense, like 'He twirled his hair in nervous ticks'.

    Maybe let us spend some time with the MC first before jumping right to this moment?

  2. Hi, thanks for your thoughts. My first line was meant to show Vanessa has a tumultuous relationship with guilt, which started in middle school when she became very self-aware. It might be clearer to tell that instead though. Thanks again for the feedback!

  3. I know you’ve already heard it, but I agree the opening brain-related lines are disorienting. Rather than reword them for clarity I wonder whether you need them at all, since they seem at odds with the rest of the scene. If you do make reference to the guilt you mentioned, I would work it into the story a little further in (even if it’s only a couple paragraphs or pages) rather than as the opening lines. The external action rather than internal thought I think draws the reader in better. One idea: opening with Eric blowing his nose etc., then going on to set the scene and show why he’s crying.

    Apart from the matter of the first lines—wow! What an intense situation to open with! I’m already getting the sense that there’s something unusual about Vanessa. She sounds so…distant. Over it. Or at least, not anywhere near as emotionally-invested in what’s just happened as the boy she’s loved for three years. I’m curious about her and the inner thoughts that will follow this scene! Why doesn’t Eric want to know what she’s really thinking? What does she mean when she says she’s numb? (Physically? Emotionally? Does it have to do with Vanessa’s somehow being different?) For me the questions are a huge draw in. Well done.

    Craftwise, the only point I’d raise is dialogue tags. While “said” is great on its own and can speak volumes, I find the present format very monotonous: “Dialogue,” I said. “Other dialogue,” Eric said. Etc. I think it would help flow if you mixed it up a little: either dropped some of the tags altogether, or switched them to the other side of the quotes like this: Eric said, “I did my best.” Experiment maybe and see what reads well to you.

    Apart from those inconsistent opening lines, I think you’ve got a really powerful opening here. And I LOVE the title! All best in your revisions and with the book :)

  4. Not to rehash the brain thing but if you want to keep it in you could say something about it becoming hyper or overactive instead of being promoted.I think it is a really unique way to start and caught my attention right away! If you keep the prefrontal cortex in maybe mention some of the questions in between the dialogue so we know why tonight is no different.

    If you want to go another way, maybe your MC is scared a lot then her amygdala could be promoted, or if she's focused on love/sex/things of that nature than her hypothalamus, though middle school might be a little young for that to start.

    I want to know who this MC is and what's unique about her. I love how you made her sound so aloof!

    Nice job!

  5. I agree with the first paragraph to be tweaked or forgotten.

    But the intensity of the situation you accomplished very well

    IT needs a bit more fine tuning.

    A typo "His looked to the ceiling."

    There are three "Looks, looked, Looking... Try to mix up your verbs more. Just small things to fix.

    Overall, I think many girls go through this situation, so It is a good subject to address...

  6. Hmmm. I have mixed feeling about this one. I think the first paragraph is a huge distraction.

    What if you started it with the line:

    "Wait, Vanessa. . . " and let it take off from there? It's actually quite compelling although a little disturbing, too. For example, it's obvious they just had sex, but the open windows of the car and the mall goers walking by makes them seem very exposed as they talk here. Were they that exposed while having sex in the parking lot, too? That seems a little strange and icky and something that maybe needs to be addressed . . .

  7. I think "head honcho" is funny. The scene introduces what the title suggests, a story about The Unfortunates. The thing that is not clear to me is any sense of a paranormal element.

    I'd read on to find out more about Vanessa.

  8. A scene between two first-timers after doing the deed could certainly be emotion and tension filled, but a few things kept me from being drawn in.

    The first paragraph says there are non-stop questions, but in the rest of the story, the MC doesn't say or question much at all, so sitting in the parking that night lot IS an exception. I'd consider deleting, putting the info from this paragraph somewhere later in the story. In any case, I'd delete "bouts of".

    2nd paragraph: "Tonight" (the subject) can't be sitting.

    3rd paragraph. He says "Wait" (right after blowing snot into his shirt??), but we haven't seen Vanessa do anything yet to make him say wait. There's no indication that he's been crying or has a cold.

    "plastered" made me pause, although "glued" wouldn't. I can't explain why, though.

    Typo: His looked to the ceiling.

    I'm assuming they had sex, but it's not clear where. Surely not in the mall parking lot. Was it so wild they broke out the back window?? What could the mall-goers hear--them having sex? Or them discussing it afterward? "Heard everything" would imply the sex. "Could hear everything" implies the discussion.

    What's with the boy looking nervously into another car?

    I did like these sentences: He looked like someone had mauled him with the truth. // I squeezed my legs together to ebb the new discomfort.

    Good luck!

  9. I agree with the above comments about the first line- it’s a bit confusing, especially not knowing what the prefrontal cortex signifies in this instance.

    I'm afraid the rest of the selection left me a bit confused as well. Firstly, is Eric crying? Is that why he's blowing his nose into his polo? It's difficult to imagine someone blowing their nose into their shirt, even if he is a hapless teenage guy.

    I wasn't exactly clear what, exactly, Vanessa is upset about. From her "bases" comment, I'd guess Eric was less than romantic, but that's not quite clear. Also, is Vanessa's "new discomfort" a physical soreness, or emotional? Given the context of the conversation, I couldn't tell whether she was sore from having just had sex. Have she and Eric just had sex in his car, in this parking lot surrounded by people? I think the order of events and what Vanessa is feeling about them need to be a bit more clearly unpacked here.

  10. This was a very confusing opening for me. I didn't get the first line and I'm not sure the average teen is going to know the function of the prefrontal cortex. Then you have her looking out the window, but she says Eric looked at the ceiling. She wouldn't know that if she's looking the other way. I'm assuming they had sex, but I'm not sure why he skipped the other bases if they've been in love for three years. I would think they would have explored most of the bases by now. Or has she loved him from a distance and this is their first time together? Also, did they do it in the parking lot of the mall?

    There are just too many questions here. It might be better to have the scene take place while they're getting dressed again. It would give a little more context to the scene perhaps. Right now it's difficult to ground myself in the scene and connect to the narrator. With some tweaks, I think the scene could be really strong. Best of luck.