Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

SVS 4: Tarnished – YA Thriller January 23, 2014

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 6:00 am
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Genre: YA Thriller


Word count: 57,000



My Main Character is most uncomfortable with: 



The winter. She looks forward to the spring, longer days full of brilliant sunlight, and summer vacation!






For seventeen-year old Tara, her cousin’s death is a distant memory. Until the day she comes home from school to find Beth’s name scrawled across the bedroom wall and her aunt wandering the woods searching for her cousin.


With her delusional aunt insisting Beth is alive, Tara digs for clues related to the decade-old cold case and stumbles upon a missing diary. In its pages, her cousin detailed a murder plot. And Tara realizes the dead body in the stream was supposed to be hers, not Beth’s.


Then a girl bearing an uncanny resemblance to Beth moves in next door and, one by one, people begin to die. After a near fatal attack on her life, Tara realizes her cousin hasn’t given up. Ten years later, she still wants Tara dead.


To survive, Tara tries to piece together the past. But that could mean unearthing secrets about herself and her family, secrets left buried for a reason. Like her mother’s insanity and the darkness she fears she inherited. And the real reason behind Beth’s death.


Survival could come at the cost of Tara’s sanity, and ultimately, her humanity.



First 250 words:



A decade ago today, my cousin walked into the woods and never returned. And, ever since then, I prayed my aunt would finally let her go.


I averted my gaze from the woods and opened my gate, dreading the grief I’d see on my aunt’s face and the shadows in her faded blue eyes.


Ten years since my cousin’s death, and we were nowhere near closure.


I paused on the front porch and waited for the sound of the double locks and the safety chain being opened, as always a sure sign my aunt had been lurking by the window and had spotted me. I’d gotten used to it. Like biking home straight from school because I knew she had me timed to the second.


But the door remained shut. I reached for the knob. It turned under my touch and the door swung open. I frowned. She wouldn’t leave it open.


“Aunt June?”


My voice cut through the silence in the living room, my gaze darting to the chipped rocking chair in the corner, her favorite spot in the house. Her shawl lay crumpled on the floor by the window, next to a tangled roll of pink knitting yarn.



22 Responses to “SVS 4: Tarnished – YA Thriller”

  1. Kalinda Says:

    Team Snow #6 here to wish you good luck in the upcoming mentor round! I’d love to connect on Twitter, so I can keep up with you after the contest! @kranky_crow

  2. Jeannine Johnson Maia Says:

    #teamsun member here. I love cold cases, so you had me from the word go. This looks like a high-tension, suspense-filled mystery that I’d like to read. But I have the same question as some of the others — is Beth really dead? You’d probably want to make this clear in the query, so the reader will understand better why her status (dead or alive) puts Tara into such a quandary. Nice job on this!

  3. Hi! Mentor Rachel here to chime in.

    Ummm…yeah, this is amazing stuff. I have absolutely nothing to add. Your query and first 250 look ready for agent eyes, if you ask me. Good job and good luck!

  4. I love thrillers! This one sounds like something I’d read. A dead cousin who’s not really dead? A deranged aunt? A murder plot? I’m in! Agree with others about tightening up the query. Good luck with it!

  5. michelle4laughs Says:

    This seems very familiar to me. Hmm. Have I read it somewhere before? 😉 Good luck!

  6. Katharyn Blair Says:

    Hello! Katharyn from Team Sun, here! Right away, I think your premise is really intriguing. For me, the query became a bit muddy after the sentence about “Ten years later, she still wants Tara dead”. I wanted that to be the last line. Family secrets, dark pasts – those are staples (and for good reason!) of the thriller genre, but stringing them together like that can make them seem generic. Your story is unique, don’t get lost in cliches!

    I want the first 250 to start when Aunt June opens the door. I love the descriptions after that, and I think all you need to tell us could be woven throughout those moments.

    Well done and good luck! 🙂

  7. Susie Says:

    Query–First off your story sounds interesting. In the second paragraph, the hyphen before the words “old cold case” threw me off a bit. It separated the sentence.
    250–I think the first three sentences could be weaved into the MS after we meet the aunt. Also, the time period since Beth’s death is repeated with the use of “decade” and “ten years”. After reading the query, I really wanted to see what Tara’s reaction was to Beth’s name on the bedroom wall. Other than that I thought your descriptions were great. Good luck in the agent round.

  8. Layne Says:

    I can’t think of much to say. Maybe show a bit more in the query that her death really is a distant memory.

  9. Nancy Parish Says:


    This is well written, but it did raise some questions:

    In the query you mention that her cousin’s death is a distant memory but in the opening paragraph you state that it’s been ten years and” we were nowhere near closure” that would suggest that they haven’t moved on so maybe not a distant memory. So you may want to reword the query a bit. Also, how old was Beth when she died? If she was the same age as Tara’s, that would make her seven when she was killed. Also you may want to make it clear that it was Beth’s journal that was found.

    First 250:

    You say “I averted my gaze from the woods,” so the reader knows something’s up, what about taking it further and showing her emotional reaction, she could have an almost Pavlovian response to the place that’s obviously haunted her family. ” I averted my gaze from the woods, sucked in a breath and opened my gate.. or .I averted my gaze from the woods, but my thoughts flashed back there and my heart pounded in my chest.

    Also, there’s some repetition with the use of gaze in that section, so you may want to change one of those.

    This is very creepy. I would definitely read on! Good luck.

  10. RobL Says:

    While I really like what you’re doing here, I have to admit my first thought was that Beth must have been 7 when she was plotting to kill Tara! Is she supposed to be a bit older, or was she really a horribly creepy psycho-child? I like your query, but something strikes me as slightly off about the first para. I think you might have one too many ‘cousins’ in it. I’m sure there’s a way to slightly re-phrase to avoid the repetition.

    In fact, thinking on that a little more, I think you could lead with:

    For seventeen-year old Tara, her cousin’s death is a distant memory. Until the day she comes home from school to find Beth’s name scrawled across the bedroom wall and her aunt wandering the woods insisting her daughter is still alive.

    Then, something like…

    Desperate to understand what’s going on, Tara digs for clues…

    Other than that, great! You could perhaps tighten up the last couple of paras, but I certainly think you set us up for a creepy and intense ride!

    First 250: I would combine paras 1 and 3. Other than that, I think you’ve got a great voice going on, plenty of foreboding, creepy atmosphere. I like it!

    Good luck in the agent round!

  11. I don’t have a whole lot to fuss about with your query and 250. You did a great job hooking me, I want to know what’s going to happen next! Good luck!

  12. Katie Bailey Says:

    Very nice! You do a great job getting the creepy factor down, ad the query covers a lot of ground without giving away details that would subtract from that atmosphere. The only question I have is if you’d want to change mention of “her mother” to “her aunt” or specify her COUSIN’S mother. I know what you mean, but it’s can be easy to double back a few lines at that, pausing the flow.

    I think you did a fantastic job with the first 250! It pulls you in right from the start. The one MAYBE suggestion I’d give would be to go a step further than a frown as a reaction. Is it worry, concern, or confusion? A single frown can say a lot of things.

    Great job! Here’s wishing you the best!

  13. Jennie Bates Bozic Says:

    I really like the query! Totally hooked me. It sounds like an awesome story.

    The first 250 is nicely done. I definitely want to read more!

  14. Query:
    I love this query! Great hook, intriguing discoveries and high stakes. You could stand to weave in a few more specific details to make it stand out more, however. Also, I’d suggest changing the last line. I’d end the sentence on sanity and cut the humanity bit. Otherwise, I’m totally hooked.

    You do a great job introducing the backstory, and I love the we get to the tension immediately when Aunt June doesn’t appear like she should. And nice job with your prose – the sentence structure is tight and tense, which is perfect for a thriller. I’m intrigued and I’d definitely turn the page!

    Good luck!

  15. S.M.Johnston Says:


    The query is too long and you need to tighten up. I couldn’t get a clear grip on the story to give you feedback as it is a bit muddled for me. I’m left wondering if the MC is going to be an unreliable narrator (which would be so cool!).

    I wondered about the age of the cousin, especially when there’s a detailed murder plan. Seven-year-old can’t really formulate detailed diabolical plans.

    But I do like the premise and there may be an opportunity to comp it: The Good Son meets Fight Club (that’s my guess, but I may be way off base).


    In the query I was left wondering about the age of the cousin when she died and I’m no closer to it here.

    But apart from that the writing is really polished. It drew me in and I found myself wanting more.

  16. Holy crap this is creepy…in a good way.

    Query: Nice hook – yikes. It’s really well laid out, stakes are well defined, and it’s succinct. Not a whole lot I’d suggest improving on – more of Tara’s voice would definitely spice it up.

    250: Yep, you’ve got me, I want to keep reading. You give us a lot about Tara and her aunt which is great. A little more emotion would be welcomed, I mean, something is definitely wrong and I’d suspect she’s freaking out a bit, at least on the inside. You also might consider playing around with the opening sentences. Starting with the line, “Ten years since my cousin’s death, and we were nowhere near closure” would pull us in and you could delete your current first line since you’re basically restating the same thing and you tell us how her aunt feels in the second sentence. Well done.

    Good luck in the agent round!

  17. Lanette Kauten Says:

    Oh, I love a good thriller and yours gave me chills.

    Query: This has a great voice and a great atmosphere. It’s very clean and concise. I see that some of the mentors were a little confused about Beth wanting to kill Tara. I didn’t have a problem with it; in fact, that’s where I got the chills. This is both the beauty and frustration of multiple points of view, but ultimately it’s up to you as to whether you should make it clearer, and it’s probably better to err on the side of clarity.

    250: The chilling atmospheric voice in your query shines in the first page. You give a hint of back story without dumping it on us, and I think you struck the perfect balance. You’ve done a great job, and I would love to read more.

  18. Great thriller premise! The query is really good, but I do agree that the whole “unearthing secrets about the past” sounds a little familiar. Without giving away the secrets, can you give us something here that shows the uniqueness of your manuscript?

    First 250: We already know about the cousin being dead for a decade from the query, so the first line here is a little repetitive, especially when you say, “Ten years since my cousin’s death…” a couple lines later. I agree that you could totally start here. OR, you can just start in the action, with the mc looking for the aunt without explaining anything to the reader yet. Let the action unfold. This may give you word count to show on the first page what Tara finds, which is Beth’s name on the bedroom wall.

    Good voice in the 250 and query. Sounds like an intense read!

  19. First – I like your premise. I like this whole idea of her cousin dying but wanting Tara dead. Here’s my issue: I had to read your query a couple of times to understand it. So, Beth actually wanted to kill Tara? I think I need this spelled out better in the query.

    And this sentence: A decade ago today, my cousin walked into the woods and never returned. And, ever since then, I prayed my aunt would finally let her go.

    I think you can weave that in elsewhere. Get right to the action – show me what’s going on and you can tell us that when we get to the aunt. Does that make sense?

    But I love your first 250 other than that. You can write! Good luck!

  20. amyereichert Says:

    Query: I think the first three paragraphs are solid and well written. The last two paragraph get a little muddled and repetitive. Keep it simple: To survive, Tara needs to unearth secrets about her mother’s insanity and the real reason behind Beth’s death, and her fear that she’s next. (I’m sure you can do better).

    Another thought – there are a lot of books that deal with uncovering past secrets to save the present. Make it clear how your story is different. Make it stand out. What makes it special? (just read the other comments by Liz and Katie – we think a like).

    250: Good tension. My only comment – I was a little confused during the 4th and 5th paragraphs. I had to read it twice to understand that normally she heard the locks unlocking, but not this time. I think a brief mention in the 5th paragraph about the lack of noise would fix that. Otherwise, solid.

  21. Katie French Says:

    Nice query. Lots of tension and intrigue. I was a little confused though. Is Beth dead or not? I guess we don’t need to know; it’s part of the mystery, but then you say something about “the real reason behind Beth’s death.” Are you giving anything away here? I would maybe remove or reword. I also am not fond of the very last line of the query. I think it is stronger without it.

    The opening is scary. Good tension. I would definitely read on. Nice work.

  22. Liz Fichera Says:

    I felt the creepiness and foreboding of this one right away. That said, I think the query needs to stand out a little bit more. In other words, what’s going on in this story that makes it different from other thrillers? What is its special hook?

    Regarding the excerpt, I think it would be better to lead with this: “Ten years since my cousin’s death, and we were nowhere near closure.” Or, better, lead the chapter with the protagonist going into the bedroom to find the dead cousin’s name on the wall. Weave in the details about the aunt as you go. Creep out the reader from the get-go. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your work and good luck!

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