Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Secret Agent #27

Title: The Blue Jay
Genre: MG Fantasy

The bus rolled across the pavement like a living thing, its bright yellow sides warning of danger. I stood on the sidewalk, watching the beastly vehicle inch closer, ready to swallow me whole. There was no avoiding my fate. I was doomed.

Images whirled through my mind, escaping through the cracks of my willpower as I tried to get a grip on them, predicting a disastrous chain of events. The bus crashing into a truck, rolling down a hill, landing on its back, underbelly exposed, until an explosion engulfs it in flames. The sensible part of my brain knew the chances of that happening were almost zero, but the part that insisted on imagining the worst wouldn’t see reason.

In the real world, a squeal of brakes signaled the bus’s arrival. The doors hissed open. The long line of kids in front of me began filing up the steps, laughing and joking as if our very lives weren’t hanging in the balance.

My heart rate accelerated from race car to jet plane.

Mom would say I was being dramatic.

Kyle would call me a wimp.

Anna would offer to let me borrow her stuffed lion to give me courage. Like I was a baby.

There were only two kids in front of me now. One.

I stopped just shy of the door, staring at the black rubber stripes lining the steps. My mind went through its usual routine of trying to find a way out.


  1. I love the first line - it immediately sucks me in. I find the second paragraph a bit confusing - is this what the MC imagines will happen after getting on the bus? Because the MC's imagination is so vivid, consider getting rid of "In the real world" in para 3, and just have the squealing brakes directly indicate reality. Also consider condensing the string of one-sentence paragraphs into just a couple (feels too choppy). I definitely sense the tension of the MC, though - nice job!

  2. The imagery is great. I love the bus as a living thing. I was a bit confused though. In the first paragraph it sounds like the bus is arriving, but then in the third paragraph, you say the squeal of brakes announces the arrival. I think it only needs a little clarification. Perhaps in the first paragraph your character is seeing the bus in the distance? Anyway, I could definitely feel the dread!

  3. That one line "from race car to jet plane" brought me right in to what the character is internally feeling. I was a bit jarred by the transition between what they are imagining and what is really happening. Perhaps slow it down a bit.

  4. So for the opening line, I wondered if you could be more specific? What living thing is yellow and long and maybe segmented, the way a school bus is? A wasp? A killer caterpillar? A yellow luber grasshopper? I don't know, but the simile is more powerful the more specific it gets. I love how you keep the tension high. I'd recommend keeping it there, as the reader goes on, and not use the phrase "usual routine," which lessens the tension somewhat, there at the end. Great read!

  5. The vivid nature of the second paragraph has me wanting that as the opening line, instead of the crawl of the bus toward the MC. While the imagery of the monster school bus is strong, I think the fate of the school bus by the MC's imagination is much stronger, and the tire screeches kicks us back to reality as written. Thanks for the read and good luck!

  6. The vivid nature of the second paragraph has me wanting that as the opening line, instead of the crawl of the bus toward the MC. While the imagery of the monster school bus is strong, I think the fate of the school bus by the MC's imagination is much stronger, and the tire screeches kicks us back to reality as written. Thanks for the read and good luck!

  7. First paragraph is a bit confusing. Schoolbus is coming. So what? Doomed to a rotten teacher? I almost stopped reading. The second paragraph, however, hooked me. Now, I understood why s/he was doomed. Maybe you could start with "There was no avoiding my fate. I was doomed." Then get right into the second paragraph, explaining why. Interesting set up.

  8. You’ve done a good job of getting us in the protagonist’s head and getting a sense of their anxiety. The paragraph of them imagining the worst case scenario is excellent. I agree that the transition to the next paragraph could be smoother.

  9. I will preface my comments by saying that sometimes I do get confused in the fantasy genre.
    In par one: At first I thought the MC was afraid that the bus would run him/her over?
    In Par two: my reader question was, why does the MC have such a fear of riding the bus? Is it a reasonable fear? I know people (students and teachers) who were in a horrific accident on the interstate in a yellow school bus on the way to a field trip site. One child died. Many were injured. After that, most of them...teachers and students...refused to ride a school bus. The memory was too fresh.
    par three: "in the real world" made me wonder if the MC is in the real world? Maybe you could cut this phrase?
    Love the line: "My heart rate accelerated ..."
    Last line: indicates that the MC usually looks for a way not to ride the bus. Is this all to stay home from school? Is this an irrational fear of buses? Is there a good reason for the MC's behavior? Why?
    So, with all these questions, I would be curious to read on.
    Maybe starting in a different place as Kathe suggested would help?

  10. Your first line in the second paragraph would read better if you cut the middle section of the sentence. Then this flows right into your next sentence, your imagined chain of events. Cute voice of your MC. Really shines

  11. Without more context, I’m not feeling as intrigued as I want to be about this MC’s strange fear of schoolbuses. Is this the first day at a new school/first time riding a bus? Or is this fear a daily occurrence?

    This opener also doesn’t convey anything about the MC *except* his or her anxiety—I’d like to see more clues to identity and personality.

    At times the writing reads a bit sophisticated for MG to me ("escaping through cracks of my willpower," etc).

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