Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Secret Agent Contest #43

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Twenty-One Pilots blares from my car stereo as I stare out at the parking lot next door. The music has a way of numbing my mind, taming the roiling emotions inside me. I can’t bring myself to get out of the car just yet.

    A skinny, unshaven man emerges from a beat-up pickup truck and flicks his cigarette to the ground. He starts toward the entrance of the One Dollar Store but then looks my way, the music escaping my partially rolled-down window likely catching his attention. His eyes lock with mine. I want to look away, but they’re the same bright green color as Bryan’s. The man smirks, as if he knows all about what happened last night. My jaw clenches tight, and I look away.

    When the song ends, I shut off the engine and push out a sigh. Time to face my new reality.


    “Hey Sara.”

    My manager’s voice pulls me from a daze as I walk through the door. He’s at my post—the front desk of Alejandro’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant—straightening a stack of menus. I force my mouth into a smile, but it feels all wrong.

    “Hi, Ramon.”

    I wonder if everyone can see the trauma written all over my face. Ramon doesn’t. Or at least, he doesn’t let on that he does. I’m nearly an hour late, but I’d called earlier to let him know I would be.


  1. I empathize with your main character in this opening scene. Clearly something has happened to her, but I feel like there's a lack of tension. It's unclear how the opening with the skinny man relates to what Sara did or didn't do the night before. Does this man come back into the story? I'm not sure if Sara is just being paranoid/feeling guilty or if there is more to this man than this initial meeting. Since you take time to describe him and his car, it leads to me to believe he will show up again. If not, maybe through some internal dialogue we can learn more. Like if Sara thinks something along the lines of, I feel like what happened last night is written all over my face, that somehow Ramon and even the mystery man in the parking lot can tell what I did." This tells us it's more likely Sara's interpretation of events. I'm not sure which is the right direction for your story, but getting more inside your MC's head would help the reader connect even more. Good luck!

  2. I wish I knew more about this protagonist in the beginning. I'm not sure from the description if this is a male or female main character. The only way I know this is from the title. You have some great detail with the unshaven man but I don't know how or why he might be important to the story. Might want to consider more hints here. If you are starting with the protagonist and the man you might want to stay with them a bit longer to establish the connection between these two.

  3. There's drama here, but my sense is that it's still too much in the background. We need to see more of it in the first 250 words.

    My gut says you need to speed this up. Cut and condense. That will make room for more info about the drama or some wildly interesting details about Sara. If the skinny man, Ramon, and the restaurant aren't integral to the story, show us something else in the beginning. Everything in these 250 words needs to be important to the overall story, I think.

  4. You do a good job of showing the character's anguish. Your first line doesn't draw me in as much as I think it could. Although I love Twenty One Pilots, calling them by name can date your book in the future and it doesn't feel *important* enough to start out the story. Consider starting with some variation of "I can't bring myself to get out of my car just yet." That's interesting and hints at conflict and draws the reader in. Then you can talk about how she's letting the music numb her mind and you can mention the band by name or not. The first scene is too short in my opinion. It felt jarring to see those little stars indicating a break when we just got started. Can you let us stay with the character and just show the transition of her going into the store? That might be a good time where you could let us know a little bit more about the character and her dilemma.

  5. I’m dying to know what happened to Sara! Having said that, I’d also suggest the less is more approach to telling the reader about her pain - the trauma is thick here. We are told that the music is calming her emotions, but I actually think that the guy smirking at her like “he knows all about what happened” packs a bigger emotional punch than being told about her roiling emotions. Same with wondering if her boss can see the trauma on her face, is there another subtler word that can be used? I’m not trying to downplay whatever happened, but right now out introduction to Sara is a bit one-note. The moments that stand out for me are her noticing the bright green eyes that remind her of Bryan and the fact that she’s late and hiding something, telling us that she’s been traumatized takes away from us seeing it in her.

  6. There's a great moment here, where the music numbs her...but name-dropping the band isn't needed (as previously mentioned, it dates the book so unless this is a period piece, that's unnecessary)...and, most importantly, I'm not sure you linger long enough on the emotional impact of that first scene, especially if that man is no part of the rest of the book, in which case he shouldn't be so important at the beginning of it.