Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Sunchild
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“Yarrow, tell me about the sun.”

“Eh?” He looked up from his lap, the unwound strings of his fiddle sprawling like insect antennae into the air. “What for?”

“I want to hear about the way things used to be,” I said. “Before the Darkness.”

He returned to stringing the instrument, his grey brows furrowed. Across the cabin, beside the hearth, my best friend Linden paused in his mending to wave me on.

Once upon a time, there was something called the sun,” I prompted.

Yarrow raised one eyebrow. “You start at Gildenbrook in the morning. I think it’s probably time you went home to bed.”

Gildenbrook. My insides deflated. Black lace gowns and high-heeled boots for the rest of my life. A prison sentence.

“Why do I have to go?”

“Because you’re twelve, and that’s what happens when you turn twelve.”

“Linden’s fourteen and he doesn’t have to. I could be a gardener like him.”

Yarrow snorted. “I don’t expect your mother and father would be very pleased with a gardener for a daughter. They want you to become a proper young lady.” He pressed his lips together, as if trying to hide how much he doubted the likelihood of this possibility.

“Doesn’t it matter what I want?”

Once again he looked up from his fiddle, but something in his lined face now seemed a little sad. “No,” he said.

I tried again. “Tell me about the way things used to be, Yarrow.”


  1. I'd really like to see more of your MC's internalization during this conversation. I'm intrigued that she wants to know about the sun--does it not exist anymore?--but at this point, I'd really like to know more about how she feels in this moment. Why is she asking to hear the story? How does she feel about being groomed to be a proper lady? We get a little bit, when she thinks of Gildenbrook as a prison sentence, but I'd like more.

    I'd also like more setting details. When I read fantasy, I really want to feel grounded in the world from the first page, and I'm not quite grounded enough yet. Adding in setting details and more internalization from your MC will help break up the dialogue and give us a better sense of where we are and why.

  2. Hey there! Hopefully this helps!

    First off, I love the conversation and the things it implies. But while it's a very good conversation, with very good dialogue, I'm not really sure it's the most engaging opening.

    After some thought, I agree with NatalieWrites on this--we need more context. When dialogue bounces between two characters, the narration moves quickly. It puts the focus on the words and nothing else. That's great for a lot of situations, because it keeps your attention on the words instead of what people are doing. But if you start a story like that, it feels a bit like you're jumping into details before we know what's going on.

    That says, I think this might not be a huge fix. Your first line is killer. Keep it! But I would break away from the dialogue early on and insert some sort of scene setting. Establish where they are, at least. put in as much detail as you'd like about Yarrow and whoever she's talking to.

    This also feels a little young. A twelve-year-old protagonist could border on MG, not YA (not that a protagonist's age is the end-all-be-all) but this dialogue reinforces how young she is. "Tell me a story"-style questions make anyone sound young, and "I don't want to grow up and leave my family" themes are also common in younger literature. It's entirely possible that this a story with very YA themes, but it *may* be worth making sure that your first page doesn't inadvertently make it sound MG.

  3. I like the opening line and how it happens to be the last line on this sample, too. My issue is, I feel like I've read about a girl being taught to be a "proper lady" when she wants nothing to do with it is a common plotline. That's not to say it can never be done, only that it's got to work harder to stand out from the crowd.

    I agree that the narrator sounds young for YA, maybe both because of the actual age and the fact that she's doing something a bit childish by asking for a story. (If an older character did that, it might be more for the sake of reminiscing, trying to hold onto a bit of childhood she knows is gone.)

    I hope this is useful. Best of luck to you!

  4. What struck me most is that there is apparently no sun, but there are gardeners. Fascinating! I'd love to see how that works. I also liked the details of the Gildenbrook, and it made me wonder what that is.

    I'd agree with some of the others that the MC seems quite young, so I think you need to check if it should really be MG or if you need to age up the MC's voice in this page. I wondered if it could be a prologue and then there's a jump in age, but even then, I think you need to make it less childish.

    Like Katrina said, I also feel like it's a bit heavy on the girl being denied a future she wants. Even if that's the story, maybe you could lighten up in the first page and let it come through more slowly.

    I think increasing inner thoughts and adding more of those good worldbuilding details I mentioned would strengthen your first page. Good luck!

  5. I liked your voice and the image of the violin strings. I also liked the broaching (and hopefully exploring further) of the idea that boys had choices with their futures where girls do not.

    The heroine does come off rather young here, except with this rather insightful comment - He pressed his lips together, as if trying to hide how much he doubted the likelihood of this possibility. - which seems a bit beyond her years in comparison to her begging for a story.

    Good luck!

  6. Between “child” in the title, sitting with a family telling a story, whining about going to school, and being 12, this is coming off as MG not YA. You might actually have an MG story here, especially if the tone and age stay young. If it *is* in fact YA, then your first 250 is not getting that across to me. I can tell you wanted to establish a sense of place with the opening, but it’s not quite as gripping as it could be. Perhaps there is a more exciting spot to start your story a few pages on.