Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March Secret Agent #12

TITLE: The Third Gift
GENRE: Middle grade fantasy

Hunched over her magical telescope, with her black cloak flapping in the wind, the Witch could have been mistaken for a pteranodon, or a pterosaur - some great winged predator the world had not seen in a very, very long time.

One more look was all she needed. One more look at the new home that was filled with flowers instead of sand. Singing birds and beautiful animals instead of rocks. Now she had it in her lens. In a couple of more days she'd have it in her hands. She'd been searching for so long that she'd lost count of time; years flew past like dandelion seeds caught in a whirlwind. Perfection was hard to find..

“There are so many ways to lie,” she told a stone squirrel sitting next to her. “But no one can outsmart a witch.” It's black onyx eyes glittered back. She rapped its head with her knuckles. “You think I don't know you're hiding in there? How does it feel to be in a prison? Your own body turned to stone? It's what you deserve for trying to fool me. All of you. ”

“How grand you all looked when I first saw you through this telescope. You all looked perfect. But after I came. After I saw you up close...I could always... find... something... wrong.

“You promised fur softer than a cloud,” she pointed to a fox. “But you shed all over my clothes. Clouds don't shed. They cry if you pinch them hard enough but they don't shed.”


  1. I liked this a lot. Your voice is clear and I got a really good sense of the main character's personality. I would have liked to know a few more details about her though. How old is she? 10? 13? That little detail would do a lot in explaining her. I also wasn't fond of the ellipses. I think you could have done without them unless it's a quirk in her mannerism.

    1. Thanks for your comment Charlie! The witch isn't a child, she's very old.She's the antagonist. The ellipses were there to indicate pauses, they can go!

  2. I like the witch's voice (especially the last line). I like her interactions with the stone squirrel.

    I think pteranodon doesn't evoke an image and adds nothing to pterosaur and extinct predator.

    An emotional hook would help.

    1. Thanks for reading the sample Martin! I'm glad you liked her interaction with the squirrel and the last line. I had fun writing them.

      I want the witch to be scary - that would be the emotional hook. I'll think about what I can do to make that stronger. Thanks again

  3. I love the idea of a witch's power lies within her magical telescope! I too wanted to know more about the witch and her telescope and also, her surroundings.The pteranodon made me think she looked like a dinosaur and this I found confusing. Is she a shapeshifter? The line "Now she had it in her lens," needs clarity. Is the object trapped inside the telescope? Or is she still gazing at it through the telescope? I liked her interaction with the stone squirrel as well. If the fox is of stone, you may want add that in. Nice concept! All the Best!

    1. Thanks for commenting C.E. There is of course, more about the witch and the telescope.

      It's interesting that three of you found the pterosaur reference confusing and/or simply not working. I wanted, very briefly, to capture a sense of age and something scary about the witch. She is predatory. My thinking was that kids love dinosaurs, they'd be able to connect with this metaphor. But it sounds like it isn't working. She is not a shapeshifter - her cloak is flapping in the wind and suggests huge flapping wings.

      I will clarify - she is looking through the telescope. And yes, the fox is stone, will add that.

      Thanks again!

  4. I love love love this concept! I think it shows such originality and creativity! I would definitely read on! Your prose in the first page are great! I would agree with the above comments regarding the dinosaur references. It doesn't really add anything and I think your first 250 are strong enough that you could cut it and still have the same effect! Job well done!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to read the writing sample and commenting Karen! I'm glad you like the story. I've had great fun writing it.

    The pterosaur reference didn't work for you either! As I said above, was trying for a metaphor that indicated age and was scary.

  6. I had a bit of a hard time with this one because I went in expecting a very middle grade voice and found myself disoriented. The feel of this is a bit older--YA, probably. I do like the moment of realizing that this witch is bad and turned the animals to stone and I am intrigued, but, linguistically, it is a little on the dense side for middle grade.

  7. Well. This is very interesting. I periodically run the text through a series of readability tests. On the Flesch-Kincaid scale this writing sample is 93.9 (0 - 100, 100 being easiest to read) so I had an assessment of "very easy to read." Gunning Fog - 5.3, "easy to read." Flesch-Kincaid grade level 2 -3 grade. The SMOG index
    4.1 Automated readability 1.6 - 6 to 8 year olds. Linsear Write Formula, 3.7 - 4th grade. While these scores bounced around a bit - they all look like middle-grade to
    me. As a comparison, "Because of Winn-Dixie" scored a 79.2 with a 6.3 grade
    level. There is no test that replaces a human reader but they do give you a sense of which ball park you're playing in.

    As for subject matter, no one in "The Third Gift" carries a crossbow, is in a beauty pageant or has cancer. Two young sisters, age 11 and 3, use riddles to outsmart a witch, rescue their parents and save their home. This is middle grade territory, not YA.

    There are many undefinable qualities in the arts - things one senses that can be difficult to label - I imagine that's where you are. Between having been an art student and now involved with writing I am used to critiques and accept them for what they are - an opportunity to learn and improve. But I confess your critique has left me feeling "disoriented."