Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Secret Agent Contest #46

GENRE: YA Thriller

A three-year-old kid missing for a decade. A fourteen-year-old brunette lost last month. The missing persons poster pinned to a board in the dollar store has been there forever, though the faces on the poster change every month. The teen’s face must have been recently added; I don’t remember seeing it the last time I came here. The girl has thick, wavy hair and large dark eyes. Just like Mimi.
My throat tightens. I have searched through hundreds of similar pictures and news articles over the past five years, hoping for information on my cousin. Something that’ll prove that she ran away. That she’s alive and safe somewhere.

That I’m not a murderer.

I force my gaze away from the poster and text my aunt: at the store.

Ever since my cousin disappeared, Auntie and I follow a routine. I make sure she’s always aware of my whereabouts. It’s become second nature, as familiar as breathing.

Her reply pops up an instant later as expected. Good. Be safe.

After gathering the stuff on my shopping list, I head down a narrow aisle.

A tall man in a frayed black leather jacket and faded jeans stands in my path, his back to me, leafing through a stack of magazines.

“Excuse me,” I say

He glances over his shoulder. The brim of his baseball cap shadows his thin face and part of a dirty, blond beard. His eyes lock on me, and he goes still.


  1. I found that this first page left me with a lot of unanswered questions, though in a good way. I'm definitely curious as to the murderer aspect. Is he trying to prove to HIMSELF that he didn't kill his cousin, or the others?

    Here's my general feedback:

    o The writing is pretty clean, but there's a 'that' you could probably drop (something that'll prove she ran away)
    o I would have liked to know the character's name to feel a little more attachment. Though it's first person the Aunt could have easily used his name in her text reply.
    o There are a number of paragraphs that are single sentences. The first works because its a big point. The others made things read a little choppy to me.

  2. I love the idea of a teen out looking for her missing cousin and am always a sucker for stories where teens know more, or are more savvy, than the adults around them - especially when it comes to dangerous stuff. There’a a lot of information here, though and it makes the set-up more murky than it needs to be. If it’s been five years, how much of what our protagonist is doing is reflex vs intentional? Would they still be scanning the missing posters with the same intensity or would it be a passing glance? Would auto-fill fill in the text to Auntie? In this short period of time we’re told about the missing cousin, the fact that our protagonist might be a murderer, that the kid in the missing poster looks like Mimi, that it’s been five years, and we get a mystery man. That’s a lot. In looking back at these opening moments, think about what information is absolutely relevant - is the missing poster Mimi and this is the thing that will break her case open? If not, why are we hearing about it? Is the fact that our protagonist considered a murder relevant right now? Is there another way to reveal this information? Perhaps with the guy staring at our protagonist - is he looking because he knows them? Or because he’s heard about Mimi or any rumors concerning our protagonist? We need some room here to learn more about the person leading us into this story.

  3. I came away from this excerpt wanting to read more. I like the idea that the protagonist is searching for something and the idea that he is worried that he may somehow be involved. I do think there are places where you could make things clearer. You might want to think about perhaps having him see one poster and react to that.Interesting story.

  4. I like this overall. I was definitely drawn in by the "That I'm not a murderer line." The first two lines were a little confusing for me because it wasn't grounded. But I think this could be fixed by just structuring it a little. Maybe something like:

    A three-year-old kid missing for a decade, a fourteen-year-old brunette lost last month--The missing persons poster pinned to a board in the dollar store has been there forever.

    Or another intriguing starting point might be your third sentence followed by the first two lines you have right now. That would paint the scene right away and let us know what we're looking at. Great job of showing how Mimi's disappearance has changed their family dynamic.

  5. I agree, though I'm going to go even further and say: while 'that' is almost always grammatically correct, it is almost never actually needed in fiction...and you use it FOUR times in three consecutive sentences. The first commenter suggested losing one, but leaving three isn't much of an improvement. I highly recommend doing a search in your manuscript for the word 'that' (and any other words you use often) to help you pare them down (1000+ plus of 'that' wouldn't be surprising, I've seen higher numbers in manuscripts I've beta read). With that said, I love that 'murderer' line, and think there's a great intro here.

  6. I love the beginning and the situation. So many of these posters and mysteries around. I hope the heroine helps solve. The guy in the aisle doesn't sound attractive, so I wonder how he's linked to the missing girl. Lots of potential here.