Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Secret Agent #16

GENRE: MG Science Fiction

           Prok Zandin sat alone at his usual table, tinkering with a small engine. The ocean pressing against the massive window beside him sent a chill into the Year Two Common Room, reminding him of home. Fellow students crowded the room, working on various projects, studying, and chatting with friends.

            A shadow blocked the light and Prok’s heart sank.

            Mavrick Denly, surrounded by his usual group of friends and admirers, placed his hands on the table, leaning forward to crowd Prok’s workspace.

            “What a waste. Playing around with mechanics when you could be flying or fighting. You know, the stuff Sea Warriors actually do.”

             The air thickened as nearby students stopped what they were doing and waited for the fight they probably expected to come. Prok didn’t blame them. After all, he had taken a swing at Mavrick on their first day of Year Two four weeks ago. He locked eyes with Mavrick’s blue ones, the exact shade of navy as his Bureaucrat synthe-suit.

            “I hear Sea Warriors try to rely on diplomacy as much as fighting,” he said coolly.

            A flush rose to Mavrick’s cheeks, making Prok smile although the satisfaction would be short-lived. It wouldn’t take long for Mavrick to come up with another insult — he was top of their class, tied with Prok.

             Mavrick's next attack came quickly, accompanied with more venom.

            “The scholarship program is the only reason you even got into Archan. You’re nobody special. You’re just someone’s charity case.”


  1. You've captured the atmosphere of a potential MG fight really well, and set up the adversaries' relationship. I love how the air "thickened."

    I suggest an emotional reaction from Prok just before this, as soon as Mavrick throws out the verbal challenge. Does he tense up, trying to sound casual? Is he afraid of Mavrick, or scornful--or a little of both? He's used to this, obviously, since he's waiting for the next attack. I'd love to know what Prok is feeling right now.
    Grrr the charity case line...Mavrick is gonna get his, I hope!

  2. The little touches here show a rich world with lots of potential for built-in conflict, and a rival who is clearly a jerk and an MC who seems sympathetic!

    Even though this is largely dialogue, which definitely makes the story feel more active, the information the dialogue conveys feels expository because, if these two have known each other for two years, they wouldn't spell out things like: "The scholarship program is the only reason you even got into Archan. You’re nobody special. You’re just someone’s charity case."

    You might want to play with the proximity of the POV so that the third-person narrator sits more closely in Prok's head and is more distant (as now) for the other characters. Right now I don't feel particularly connected to Prok, despite all the external narrative signals (mean Mavrick, bullying remarks, history of fighting) because I don't have a strong sense of how he feels *right now.* I felt closest to Prok here -- "A shadow blocked the light and Prok’s heart sank" -- because the narration puts us firmly in his head (and emotions).

    I'd love to know why their rivalry is so intense and how this is going to complicate things for Prok (and make them worse and worse...). And I'd love to see a smidge of something good about Mavrick so he's a villain we hate to like as well as love to hate. You may well have all this lined up, of course! Good luck with your writing and revisions!

  3. This didn't have a MG vibe to me. The voices sounded more YA, and I don't believe they'd have 12 year olds fighting and flying. However, if you showed me some world-building, this could easily be made believable.

    I also thought you could give us a bit more about Prok before the bullies arrive. Why is he in this school as opposed to a regular one? What are his dreams and ambitions? What does he hope to achieve? Give us a problem bigger than overcoming a bully. The bully can be the catalyst that makes things worse.

    The solution, I think, is to give more thought and time to giving us a sense of this world and Prok, before the bullies arrive. Right now, it just seems to happen to fast. I just don't know enough about the characters, time, or place, to care. Giving them all a bit more depth could add so much more to this. Just something to consider.

  4. I agree with Barbara (above) regarding the reader needing a reason to care about Prok. You say he's thinking of home but then the next sentence is factual about other students in the room. I'm interested in the story, though, and it's a good beginning. Just make the reader feel more attached to Prok, if possible.

  5. I love the names you have chosen and the conflict between the two characters, Prok and Mavrick. The dialogue is on track and strong, but it feels YA to me, not MG. Also, the situation of being away from home at a boarding school, year two, seems more like college or high school than elementary school. Vocab also seems older: diplomacy, venom, charity case. Perhaps you could rethink the genre? But the story is off to a great start and I would want to keep reading.

  6. An ocean pressing against the window and Sea Warriors. I'm in! LOL

    I like how you place the two on an competitively even playing field, academically, and gave the bullied one a sense of self-worth and confidence of his own. Real life is rarely cookie cutter examples, and a sense of self-worth doesn't make people immune to bullying, so I think that added a layer of depth to their dynamics that will be interesting to watch play out. I do wonder, though, if these two were in Year One together, though, because if they were, I'm not sure Mavrick would be mentioning the scholarship issue, since this is something that would probably already be out in the open between them. However, if he just met him four weeks ago, this might be the first time that Mavrick is pulling the issue out of his bullying arsenal.

    I would like to read more of this one.

    Things I liked:
    • nice sense of action
    • conflict and world-building intrigue set up quickly
    • reminds me a bit of competitive rivalries in Enders Game

    • not sure middle grade age would be used for flying or fighting (as Mavrick suggests is better), but I think they're all still just training not actually doing at this point (but I'm not sure about that)