Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Camper Kids
GENRE: MG Contemporary Fiction

Nathan had been sticking stickers on his bedroom door since he was old enough to stand on his own two feet. At the very bottom, he’d stuck on letters, numbers, colors, and shapes from the last page in an activity book. A little higher up were trains, trucks, planes, and construction vehicles. Next were the dinosaurs. Above those were superheroes and Star Wars characters that glowed in the dark. Then came sea creatures, specifically several species of sharks. At the top, and as tall as he was now, was his current obsession: famous monuments like Mount Rushmore, the White House, the Gateway Arch, and the Statue of Liberty.

He had never seen any of them in person, but he was fascinated by them and had checked out several library books on the subject. Nathan did not always like to do things (that required having to put on socks and shoes, and leave the comfort of his bedroom), but he did like to read about them.
Every time he got a vaccine at the doctor’s office or an A plus on a spelling test, he put the sticker he’d been given as a reward on his door, right at eye level. Except for the ones he didn’t like. One Halloween, he’d found a spider sticker in his treat bag that was actually furry. He was afraid of spiders (one of his many dark secrets) and he was especially afraid of this one with its little hairs.


  1. I like your first line! But after that, it reads a little like a list. Maybe you could show a little more. Something like: Nathan clutched his latest sticker of the Statue of Liberty. He peeled the backing and placed it exactly one inch from his Mount Rushmore sticker, completing his collection of momuments—his latest obsession. Stepping back to survey his work, he noticed...etc. etc. That might be a little less telling. I struggle at times with show don't tell too!! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I thought the main concern here was the fact that nothing happened. Everything on the page happened 'before' and nothing is happening 'now."

    Perhaps start the story with what is happeneng now. Where is Nathan now? How old is he? What is he doing? What is the problem? Maybe's he's doing something with stickers now. Put him somewhere, in some situation now, rather than giving us the history of his stickered door. What is going on now?

  3. I, too, would like to know more about what is happening to Nathan or what he is doing in this first scene. The description of the stickers is interesting but I don't have a sense of where things are going at this point. Some of this information may fit better later in the story, once readers see more about what is going on in Nathan's life and what his struggles are.

  4. I agree with Barbara and Liz. If you have him place a particular sticker first, then you can go into the history of stickers on his door. Check for verbs in past tense and echoes (sticking, stickers, stuck...) Nathan had decorated his bedroom door with stickers... Wondering how old Nathan is? Why is he obsessed with stickers and new places but reluctant to actually go out and explore? He has been out to the doctor, to school, and to Trick or Treat? why not explore? Maybe you could provide these answers earlier to ground the reader in the problem? also wondering how Nathan's story ties to the title: Camper Kids? Is he home-schooled and travels around in a camper?

  5. The opening paragraph seems unnecessary to me. I like to feel grounded in setting early, but describing the protagonist's history of "sticking stickers on his bedroom door" since he was little doesn't make me confident it would hook a middle grade reader. The room is overly described and relates back to a younger version of the protagonist, and readers generally like to "read up" so this would likely make them feel like the book would be about a younger kid or that they'd be "reading down," so to speak.

    The character being described is interesting, but for the beginning of a manuscript, I feel we're being told too much about him, rather than becoming connected with him. With middle grade, you want that connection as instantaneous as possible, and this opening 250 words is too far removed and filtered for that to happen, I believe.

    Something to try if the rest of manuscript has that same distant feeling is to switch it to first person POV and as you go, focus on the character's senses. If he isn't utilizing any (like in the first paragraph, since he would be reflecting over a general history), then you can be relatively sure that the readers' internal senses aren't being hit upon, either.

    However, this may be more of a case of the beginning of the book isn't the beginning of the story, and maybe you just need to reassess where the manuscript should start. This beginning may have been you just feeling the character out and getting a sense of him, so it's more of a free-writing snippet than the actual beginning. Maybe not, but without having more to read, that would be my first assumption I'd look for.