Portrait of a Drowning Girl - YA Mystery

first time doing this so hopefully it’s okay!

Title: Portrait of a drowning girl
Audience: 16+
Genre: YA, dark fantasy, mystery/thriller
length: around 80k


Pearl lives in a small town on an isolated island. They only have one law, no swimming beyond the bay. This law is due to the dangerous rips and currents that circulate out there.

Pearl is sixteen years old and she loves to swim and read. She swims in the bay every morning and desperately wants to go further out.

The story begins with her and her best friend Ceruleun discovering a body in the water as they eat lunch on the pier.

This set of a serious of events as the scene is examined and the long process of ferrying out to mainland to try and contact emergency services. Pearl and Cerulean are told not to get involved and Pearl is banned from swimming in the bay.

Later, it is concluded that the woman simply drowned, however, a week later another body appears.

Pearl is disturbed by this as it brings to mind a book she read about ancient mythology and lore of their town. It mentioned strange creatures of the night who would come out and drown people at night.

Everyone thinks she has an overactive imagination and is playing childish games. In search of someone who will listen, she ventures to the edge of town where the hermit Huxley lives.

He speaks to her and tells her more ancient stories, fueling her fear. Still, no-one will listen, even Ceruleun thinks she is crazy.

One night, she breaks the newly enforced town curfew and sneaks out to spend a night in the bay. She witnesses several beast-like creatures coming out of the water.

The following night, despite her terror she forces Ceruleun to come out with her. To their horror, they discover the mayor of the town and his two sons hauling out a woman and offering her to the creatures.

Pearl, not trusting in the mayor or his laws anymore finally decides to swim out of the bay. In doing so, she finds skeletons and human remains everywhere.

Huxley warns them to not get involved after hearing the news and invites them to live with him in his hut, away from the town and their drama. Pearl cannot do that with a good conscience.

Her and Cerulean decide to sneak into the town hall to try and find evidence. They discover records and newspaper articles of a series of deaths every thirty years.

Unfortunately, the mayor catches them in the act. He tempts Pearl by telling her of a reef just a little further out with clear, sublime waters.

She accepts his offer, only out of fear of his anger. On the small boat trip out there, it is revealed that there is no bay and he simply took the two out there so he could sacrifice them and play it off as an accident.

In a heavy action scene, Pearl ends up accidentally drowning the mayor. She is disgusted by herself and feels terrible but Ceruleun comforts her.

The creatures appear, take the body and disappear. They are satisfied for now, but that in thirty years they’ll be back and they will have to kill them for good somehow.

-these ancient creatures come out of the sea every thirty years demanding blood.
-the heads of the town would deliver them sacrifices to keep them placated.
-If they would not do so, they were worried the creatures would devour them all
-a lot of panic in the town and constant rising fear of dread (I want the overall feel of the book to be that of watching a car crash in slow motion)
-there is more detail related to the mystery, ancient ruins, lore and mythology that they discover
-the ending is incomplete and leaves further questions

Lot of plot but no story here, unfortunately.

What are the character motivations? How do they engage actively with the story? Your main character likes to swim and wants to swim beyond the boundary for fun. Normally, in this kind of set up, such a character will be so passionate they ignore the warnings and swim out there, triggering the events. Or the restrictions causes them great friction and they push back against everyone else, lashing out.

In this case, she doesn’t, a dead body just randomly, coincidentally, shows up beside her while out at the water. This triggers her curiosity and it becomes clear there’s a mystery and then she breaks the rules to go out but it’s not clear if that’s because that’s her character arc or if she’s just doing it to do it because there’s an intriguing mystery around.

For example, I won’t just randomly cross into a park that says “Private Property.” If I did, it says something about me as a person: I’m reckless, I’m a rebel, I’m curious, I’m naive, anything.

If I decided to jump the fence because of a glowing orb I could see on the other side, that doesn’t tell you anything about me, other than that I’m a human and did one of two things: run or check out curiosity.

I need a reason to feel attached to this character, to understand her motivations, and want to read about her plotline.


first of thank-you!! & yeah that’s all very true, I will definitely need to develop her character more and give her stronger motivations and make her less passive.
I think she could swim out first and have it trigger something that will cause the rest of the events as you said…I’ll have to work on it further but this is very helpful!

1 Like