Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Secret Agent Contest #11

GENRE: YA Contemporary

A Native American legend says this forty mile stretch of river, from the far edge of Lake Ontario northeast to Quebec, has a current flowing through it that can heal a broken heart. I don’t know if it’s true, but I want to believe it. I’m willing to try anything to stop my world from falling apart. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since Mom, Dad and I last made this boat ride, when I was just eleven. Back then, I happily went along with Dad’s old story that a dunk in the Silver Head River could wash away life’s messiness. But I’m sixteen now, practically a grown up. I should be too old to trust matters of the heart to fairy tales or folklore. Here’s the thing, though: It’s not my heart I’m trying to heal.

I didn’t wake up today intending to steal Gramps’ boat. From the tiny upstairs bedroom of my grandparents’ cottage, I was perfectly content to spend the afternoon drawing while Gran and Gramps went to some boring river development meeting in town. I only walked down to the dock for fresh air and to stretch my limbs. Gramps’ faded gray runabout was pointed away from the cottage. It was a straight shot off the dock, like the boat had been waiting to lead me somewhere.
The runabout charges forward, bobbing up and down. It takes me a good few seconds to get a feel for the jump on the throttle. I nearly choke on a wind gust.


  1. I think your story begins with the second paragraph. The first paragraph is mostly backstory--it's interesting but would be more effective later. Start with the action. That's what will hook your reader. I think you have an interestng story here.

    1. That is one of my big questions in the opening. I like setting the tone, but fear I won't hook readers with the first para. Thanks for your feedback.

  2. I'm confused by the tenses, half past, half present. On second reading, it becomes clear, but the sudden shift to present on "The runabout charges..." made me come unstuck in time for a moment. I have to disagree with Susan Paxton - I like the first graf. Any more than that would be too much, but one graf sets the tone without becoming an intrusive prolog.

    The title reminds me of The Things They Carried, and I'm not sure that's a good thing, especially since "wish to keep" is a weak construction in comparison.

    1. Thanks for the comments. I can see where the tenses are confusing. Would something like this help?
      I didn’t wake up this morning intending to steal Gramps’ boat. It just happens. The bow of the faded gray runabout is already facing open water, a straight shot off my grandparents’ dock. It seems like a sign. This boat is ready to lead me, Tessa Malleck, somewhere.
      The runabout charges forward, bobbing over chop on the river. It takes me a good few seconds to get a feel for the jump on the throttle. I nearly choke on a wind gust.

  3. I really like the voice, but I actually think this would benefit from less words and not more. I'd think about ending the first paragraph after "I want to believe it." -- but maybe drop the "it" as well. The rest can come later, as someone said. Get us into the story before the backstory.

    Same with the 2nd paragraph. Drop the 2nd sentence entirely. There are a few tense issues that I think you know about now, but I think removing that 2nd sentence cleans some of those too.

    Also, the last sentence felt like it got cut off. It didn't fit the smooth voice you had up until that point.

    Sorry if that sounded too negative, but I think the voice is great. Just removing a bit will bring it out even more.

    Good luck!

  4. I appreciate the feedback. Thank you!

  5. I really like the atmosphere you’ve set up here. While I do like the first para, I think I agree that starting with the 2nd might be stronger. I’m a sucker for fairy-tale infused stories, so want to read more.

  6. I really enjoyed the voice here, but the first paragraph raised a lot of questions for me and I wondered if there was information contained there that could be disseminated elsewhere in the manuscript. There’s a lot of backstory and a lot of telling about the characters in that first section and I found myself making assumptions about them before I even got to know them: sad, no parents, confused… I think I would have preferred to get to know them more organically and then learn about the rest of this information. We can learn about the fairytale and parents as we go along for the boat ride, for example.