On Monday I’ll embark on my first Secret Agent Mission, no spy gadgets or Kevlar vests required. If you haven’t checked out Miss Snark’s First Victim, click over now to experience one of the best online critique resources for aspiring authors.
The Secret Agent notice for this month has already gone out, calling all authors who write adult (science fiction / fantasy / romance / cozy mystery) or young adult (all genres). During the designated hours on Monday, hundreds of aspiring authors with a COMPLETED manuscript will submit the first 250 words of their work in hopes of winning a query / sample pages / partial manuscript / full manuscript read by the Secret Agent. Honestly, we’d take any personal attention from an agent, wouldn’t we? But in addition to that golden prize, the fifty contestants selected by the automated bot will have their submission posted on the blog for public critique.
Two hundred words sounded like a lot until I actually pasted that selection into a new document to prepare my submission. Here is what I initially had:
I set out with a simple goal: convince Tony to finally see me as a girl. Not another buddy he chest bumped on the basketball court, but a perfume scented, cleavage showing girly-girl. Instead my eyes were the ones pried open.
Rifling through my parent’s vanity was like exploring a Halloween graveyard. Hair pieces, toupees, full wigs, and dye in every imaginable shade of black, brown, and grey. No idea where Dad had accumulated that junk. Didn’t really care, either. I wanted to look older, but not senior citizen old. No woman’s beauty products could be excavated from this disaster, because my mother should be crowned Queen Frumpy. Why had I even bothered looking? I slammed the cabinet shut and jogged downstairs, through the kitchen, and straight out the back door.
Mom’s voice chased me across the yard. “School bus will be here in an hour, sweetie. Don’t want to miss it on the first day.”
Don’t remind me. Operation Hottie had already derailed, and I was stuck riding the loser bus. Aunt Gwen, off to Paris with her latest boyfriend, couldn’t drop me off in her convertible as promised. Mom hadn’t driven since my fifth birthday when she plowed into the only stop light in town. And no way would I allow Dad to chauffeur me on a tractor.
Red hair streamed behind me as I sprinted towards the woods. My sanctuary. I slipped among the ancient oak trees, my running shoes following the well-worn path through the underbrush.
Hmm, not good. It’s no secret I’m a rambler. And my first drafts are often plagued by internal monologue I later hack to bits. But I hadn’t even noticed the first 250 words of my manuscript were a monologue with very little plot or action. Yikes.
My first reaction was anger. What kind of contest is this? How unfair to give me so few words? What kind of person would develop his opinion of my work in only a few paragraphs? The unfortunate answer: all readers. How many times have you flipped open a book, read only the first page, then set it back down on the shelf? This contest mirrors the harsh reality your precious manuscript would experience on any bookshelf. Time to toughen its spine.
How did I fix my submission? By cutting like I’ve never cut before. I pasted the entire first scene of my manuscript into a fresh document and vowed to cut it down to size. 750 words was sliced to 250 to get here:
Why had I bothered searching Queen Frumpy’s bathroom? Toupees, wigs, and grey hair dye. Really? Who wanted to look senior-citizen old? I slammed the cabinet and flew down the stairs.
Mom’s voice chased me outside. “School bus will be here in half hour.”
Operation Hottie had already been sucker punched by Aunt Gwen’s sudden trip to Paris. Too bad her convertible hadn’t stayed behind.
I made my escape, sprinting towards my sanctuary and slipping among the ancient oaks. The sunlight dimmed to a soft glow. A canopy of leaves concealed me from prying eyes.
The duffel bag dangled from a branch near the stream as promised. I dunked my head and teased the heck out of my red locks with styling gel and a battery operated hairdryer. The clothes could’ve been used for torture interrogations. A tank top two sizes too small. Wedgie-inducing skinny jeans tucked into heeled boots. I even applied makeup, following Aunt Gwen’s careful diagram. The efforts were exhausting, but I needed Tony to see me as a girl. Not another buddy he chest bumped on the basketball court, but a perfume scented, cleavage showing girly-girl.
When I entered the kitchen, a mug crashed to the floor. Coffee splashed my mother’s housecoat. “Alex, have you been mugged?”
Dad grimaced. “Muggers don’t carry lip gloss in the forest. This debacle has Gwenie written all over it.”
I scooped up my backpack and grabbed a muffin. “So what if it does?”
Dad folded his arms, muscles bulging. “Rosenbergs don’t leave the house dressed like that.”
My new submission is definitely leaner, and it dives right into the action. Unessential backstory was cut. Essential backstory was divided up and spaced out later in the manuscript. Am I mourning the loss of many of those words? Of course. But you tell me, which book would you be more likely to pick up off the shelf?