Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Becca's War
GENRE: MG Historical fiction

         Another train sped into Kensington Station, spewing black smoke and soot everywhere. Horses shrieked as the huge iron engine squealed to a stop. Papa said these trains could go as fast as thirty miles an hour. My head spun at the thought of going that fast. I brushed soot off my cloak and glanced around at the dozens of people hurrying to or from the train that had just stopped. They all seemed to be in as much of a hurry as the train. Where were they all going in such a hurry? For a moment, I was jealous that I wasn’t going someplace with them. Even if it meant going that fast on one of the trains nearby. Several people jostled me as they rushed past. I almost lost my balance, but felt a hand on my elbow to steady me.

           “Sorry, Miss.” I looked up at a tall young man, a few years older than me, who grinned and doffed his hat.

            I frowned at him, but stopped myself. I nodded and straightened my own hat, which he had knocked astray by his carelessness. At least he’d apologized, I thought as he joined the crowd rushing around the station. I pulled my cloak about me to ward off the cold winter wind that was picking up and turned back to see that Papa and Gramps were still in the same argument.

          "There is going to be a war."


  1. This opening signals the historical setting so well -- the references to horses, the speed of the trains, the POV character wearing a cloak. I'm guessing from the train speed that the war happened during the nineteenth century, and this really piqued my interest because I wondered which war and where (although Kensington I assume is in the UK?) and was excited that the setting promised to be *not* a wartime setting I was familiar with. That suggested a lot of interesting things to come with the historical setting.

    The POV character seems relative passive in this scene. She observes the scene around her; notes, "Papa said"; is jostled; overhears but doesn't talk to her father and grandfather. That didn't bother me, but it did signal what sort of character she might be (if she doesn't change through the story) and that the story might be "quiet" in places.

    I wonder if you could tighten the descriptions of the busyness at the station, as there is some word echo with "fast--fast," "hurry--hurry," and the POV character's ambivalence about trains felt it could be more pointed (i.e., maybe she might express her feelings more strongly?).

    I would love to read more, am really curious about what crisis the main character will be thrown into, and wonder what role trains will play!

  2. My first thought was that this is labelled as MG, but the man who bumps the MC is older than the MC and is calling her 'Miss,' which made me think she was a young woman, and he a young man. My thoughts went to them as being love interests as the story went on. Not usually MG material. I'd love to get a sense of how old she really is.

    I also wondered why she was at the station. She doesn"t seem to be going anywhere, and seems to dislike, or be afraid of, trains. She's having nothing to do with her family members. Perhaps give us a hint as to why she's there.

    The world building was nice, but a bit repetitive with everyone at the station hurrying about. Maybe add in a few other things. Clothes, smells, maybe the picture of the current monarch hanging on a wall, or a newspaper. Something that pins down the exact time a bit more.

    And perhaps try to get something active on the page. This first page is basically a girl stood in a train station. While there's nothing inherently wrong with it, it could be stronger if it had some kind of hook on the page.

    And perhaps reconsider the passive writing style. Instead of telling us what your MC does, just have her do it. Show the man bump her. Show her stumble and her hat fall askew. Show him help her regain her feet. Showing, vs. telling, almost always raises the level of the writing.

  3. I agree you should find synonyms for "fast" and "hurry." The words "I brushed soot" should start a new paragraph, since her focus has changed. Also, a sense of smell could be involved with the smoke. Otherwise, it's a good start.

  4. Very descriptive but I have to agree that it is a bit passive. Limit the use of the passive word "that" whenever you can.

  5. I definitely got a real sense of the setting here very quickly. I'm curious if the trains and/or train station is an important element of the story as a whole. I hope so, because you've laid them out well here - your first page promise to the reader. Your main character - Becca, I presume - is very observant, curious, and quite annoyed at the world happening around her, with her just an unwilling observer. That is the sense I have of her so far. Is that true for the beginning of her arc? If so, you've done a good job of setting it up. If not, what can you bring in here to help the reader see her character stronger right off the bat.

    I agree with several other comments to take a look at the passive verbs and happenings, and see what you can do to make Becca the driving force - either through action or reaction. Why did she frown, and then stop herself? Give a 'reason' hint to the facade, and the quick decision to put it on.

  6. The first four sentences brought me racing right into your story with all the excitement. The next sentence begins another paragraph. That paragraph slowed me down considerably. For an MG there's too much reflection. Most kids at that age have a lot of activities clamoring for their attention. After a few pages when they're hooked hopefully they can sit and reflect with the MC.

    If you dropped the young man and zeroed in on the war etc you'd still have a great first page. As it is, it sounds like the beginning of a YA/maybe romance.

    Keep writing! Good luck.

  7. I love historical fiction and would want to keep reading. Reader is drawn into the story in the first two sentences. Suggest new par. after the question, where were they all going in such a hurry?
    Perhaps indent again with "Several people". It seemed as if the first paragraph needed to become more paragraphs.
    Question: astray? should that be "askew"?
    Strong sense of setting and time period. Questions I have as a reader are: What is her name? age? why are they at Kensington Station? I'm presuming WWI? is that the right time period? Is her father taking her somewhere to be safe? Where is her mother? Wouldn't a young girl in that time period have a female accompanying her as well, even as a nanny/servant?
    Papa could be for Father if she were British...or another name for a grandfather? or she could be French? Clarify if you can.

  8. I love the bustling setting and the nice details that ground us in the past. I agree that we need to know at least a hint of her motivation in these opening lines. Does she want to be getting on that train away from here? Or is she longing to stay? There is a lot of tension leading up to the line "Why is everyone in such a hurry?" but that line breaks the tension since it seems like either she's really naive and doesn't understand why people are panicking or that she doesn't care. It would be helpful to have a clearer window into her, and I agree that making her more active versus passive will help. I think it's okay to have the man who bumps her be older than her, even in middle grade, as long as she stays true to her age. I am thinking Sophia's War where most of the people around her are older than she is. Nice start -- I would definitely keep reading.

  9. The first couple of sentences really pulled me in, but before I was out of the first paragraph I wanted to know why she was there. Does her dad work there? With all the hustle and bustle going on around her, I think you should ground her reason to be there, so we know if she's coming, going (not on a train), or there to stay for awhile.

    The part with the young man a couple of years older seems like foreshadowing that he may crop up later in the story, and that concerns me a little with it being MG, since filter buyers don't always appreciate love interests in MG. However, there are so many unknowns surrounding that concern that it doesn't hold much value to mention at this point. :)

    I would have like to have the cold winter air rushing past earlier on. In the first couple of paragraphs, my mind put her in a train station with lots of people moving closely together, especially since she almost got pushed over. My minds' eye didn't give room for cold air or outside weather influences.

    After my second reading of this, I think I see what's going on now, though with the mention of war and everyone getting on a train in a rush, and that their need to get away is almost contagious, making the girl almost wish she was getting on a train, too. If I'm right, that's a fantastic opening scene, but I think it can be pulled apart and cleaned up a bit to make that intent clearer to the readership level.

    I like historical MG, though, and once that was addressed, I'd want to see a synopsis of this one. I'm very curious what angle is going to be taken with this one.


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