Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Into the Shining Sun
GENRE: YA Speculative Fiction

Twelve days. Twelve days until I was scheduled to die.

It should have bothered me more, but it still didn’t seem real. Every saviant dies on their eighteenth birthday, their Salvation Day. I had known for as long as I could remember. And now, here it was.

Sometimes I got a little panicky. Sometimes I would get angry. I tried not to feel that way, though. It was hard enough on my family.

My bookshelf was mostly empty now.

It used to be overflowing, with extra books stacked sideways above the rows to make them all fit. I’d gotten rid of most of them over the last few weeks, taking them in a few at a time to donate to the library at St. Gwyneth’s. Now there were only a few left on each shelf.

I grabbed the first two Harry Potter books off the shelf and tucked them into the hollow of my guitar case, nestled below the neck of my guitar. It was an old Gibson Hummingbird we couldn’t place a year to. It had been my dad’s, and my grandpa’s before that. Past that we weren’t so sure. It was beautiful, with the picture of the hummingbird on the tortoise shell, and it played warm, bright tones. I’d been playing ever since my hands could reach all the frets.


  1. This is a great first sentence. It really hooked me, but then we moved into a bit more telling that started to lose me. The switch from talking about his death to an empty bookshelf was jarring. Your first page is so important. I think this would shine so much more if you saved the description for later and focused on what is happening in this exact moment.

  2. I would italicize "saviant" so readers know it is not just a misspelled "savant." I'm assuming it's a created word, unique to the world of your story.

    I agree with the above poster's comment about the abrupt change of topic from death to books. A transition might be necessary here, or you could cut out everything until stuffing the books into the case. Give the back story on the books and case later.

    "It was beautiful with the picture of A hummingbird INLAID/ENGRAVED/BURNT INTO the tortoise shell" A few minor tweaks will strengthen the description of the guitar, which seems like it's going to play an important role, given the family history.

  3. Agree that it's a great first sentence but that the jump to the bookshelf is awkward. It's a shame to start strong and then just leave the reader wondering what they missed. And then onto the guitar. I get that you're trying to normalize this person's death b/c they knew it was coming, but it still needs a little something.

    Also agree with the saviant vs savant idea of italicizing, or explain somehow (without too much backstory, of course).

    I had to read the "we couldn't place a year to" bit about the guitar out loud b/c it didn't make sense in my head.

    But I like it! Definite potential for greatness.

  4. I really like this sample. The first line is great and draws me right in. I do agree with the others above, I like the descriptions. But I'd like to see more showing than telling in the rest of the sample.

  5. Great opening page, compelling and tight. I partially disagree with the other comments because I think the slowly-emptying bookshelf speaks pretty eloquently to what's going on with your MC.

    Maybe you could make the connection crystal clear by adding a sentence after " My bookshelf was mostly empty now."

    Something about how this reflects his/her shrinking life or inner thoughts.

    And like someone else said, italicizing saviant wouldn't hurt.

  6. I struggled a little with the verb tense in the first paragraph. Twelve days as a reference felt more present tense than past.

    My other concern is that, as other have mentioned saviant needs italicizing. I know that maintaining formatting in contests is tough. But a related problem I have is suspending disbelief got a world where saviants die st 18, but where Harry Potter still exists. Does this make sense? I'm struggling with my introduction to this world that is my world, but isn't. I wish I had a better way to explain this.

  7. I like the premise a lot, but I'm confused why Harry Potter would bet the last few books and how they would fit in a guitar case, especially the neck area. The last books the MC retains should revealing, but why would he keep the first two Harry Potter books? Everyone has those. Why not some more obscure and revealing books?
    Good start overall.

  8. I saw your query for this on another site, so I know a lot more about the plot. Both the query and this intro suggest there is strong religious dogma used to justify this saviant system, OR that it's used to brainwash the saviant into going along with this (which I hope is the case because that's a lot more interesting). But in either case, what I'm wondering is, why doesn't Shawn have conflicting thoughts about not having fully bought in to the dogma? If, after he gets angry, he flipflops, chastises himself and thinks about some of the dogma, it might give us a little more worldbuilding without being intrusive.

  9. This is almost all telling. I do want to know what a saviant is, and I like the description of the guitar, but otherwise it just didn’t hook me. I know I’m supposed to be shocked or something about the first line, but it feels contrived.

  10. Great opening line. But what's a saviant and why does every saviant die on his 18th birthday? Some clarification is needed, but perhaps that's explained a bit later in this chapter.

    I don't mind the telling. All stories are a combination of showing and telling (as with interior thoughts).

    I don't see the connection between your narrator's discussion about dying and the emptying of the bookshelf in the second half. You might consider taking the line, "My bookshelf was mostly empty now," a bit further for a smoother transition from the first half of this to the second.

  11. I'm deeply intrigued by the premise. I like how upfront you put it. It hooks me right away.
    The rest feels like telling. You can tell me a little -- the empty bookshelf was intriguing. Why is it empty? Answer that question and then move on. We need some action here. Nothing has really happened by the end of the page, which keeps it from being compelling. This feels a little like a pity party or emotional philosophizing. Instead give us some meat -- plot, characters, or action -- right upfront here. I have a feeling the good stuff is lurking a few pages later in the MS.
    You have great potential here. My interest is piqued; keep me intrigued (with that kind of premise you've got lots to work with!) and you're golden.
    Keep it up: I would really like to buy this someday!

  12. As for the bookshelf part, I assume what's going on is that the MC is slowly giving away his stuff before he dies, since he won't need it anymore. This is common red flag behavior of people before they commit suicide, or, in this case, of someone who knows he's going to die at a set time. If that's what's going on, you could easily clarify it for the reader.

  13. I was drawn to promise of a great story with that first line. I feel the description of the bookshelf and the guitar case is a strong way of opening the world of the main character. I was curious as to why Harry Potter were the books she couldn't do without. You called this speculative fiction and it seems you are placing this in a future dystopian world. I hate to admit I don't know what speculative means, but if it encompasses dystopian, you nailed it.

  14. The opening two lines, for me, seem to be trying too hard. A hard, hard hook. Where this took off for me was the bit about the guitar. How the guitar is introduced and how that tells us so much about the main character (assumed); the historical significance the guitar has in the MC's family, and the implied appreciation for the instrument. I don't know that it really matters in the first 250 or so words, but I was not sure if the MC was a male or female.

  15. The only problem I have with this opening is that it has been done before. I did not see the originality of the novel here. However, I loved the description of the musical intrument and, in my opinion, I would have started with this and the sense of dread over who the MC will pass it on to and how he feels about losing his books and his guitare. Add something intriguing like an escape plan or a reaction to his situation (not a passive: I accept my fate, but a passionate I will fight against destiny) and the MC's arc. Try to get the MC's name somewhere or at least tell the reader if it is a boy or a girl. If it's a boy, you could hint at the fact that musical intruments or heirloooms are only passed down to boys.

  16. The bookshelf worked for me. What would happen if you showed him/her playing the guitar and fitting his/her fingers into the familiar places? I was also mentally calculating the size of the books and the space in the guitar case. A big guitar? Or small paperbacks? There's something about this that is very nice. Maybe I just like characters who like music and books and donate to the library. :)

  17. This was almost all "tell". Where it started to work was the last paragraph. I suggest you start there and leave off the rest. If the rest of your novel is as well-written as the last paragraph, you don't need everything that you now have before it.

  18. This is extremely compelling. Yes, I have questions, but the level of writing makes me confident that they'll be answered if I keep reading, which I would love to do!