Saturday, March 5, 2011

13 First Five Pages Workshop - March, Entry #1

YA Historical Fantasy by Vickie Tremper

Chapter One

My feet hit the pavement and I cried out. Then I lost my balance. Crumpling in a heap I tried to remember what had happened to me and where I was. Lights shone in my eyes from streetlamps and rushing cars. Sounds bombarded me from every direction: car horns, music, people talking, laughing, singing.

I looked down and saw a long, dark skirt, pointed black ankle boots, and a long-sleeved, high-necked blouse that scratched my skin and made me sweat in the heat. Why was I in these totally unsummery clothes? Where were my shorts and flip flops?

My head pounded. I put my hand up to my temple and groaned.

"Est-ce que tout va bien, mademoiselle? Avez-vous besoin d'aide?" a man asked, kneeling at my side.

Why did he speak to me in French? Was everything okay, as he asked? Did I need help?

My gaze darted around and I recognized the Place de l'Opéra in Paris.

Okay, so now I knew where I was.

My hand reached for the neck of my blouse and felt a chain. I pulled it out and stared at the attached medallion. Memories washed over me, making me shiver in fear, despite the heat.

What year was this?

* * *

“He asked you out?” Abby, my best friend, squeaked after dance class.

My left cheek twisted into a smirk.

“Why did you wait until now to tell me?”she asked.

We left the building where we took our dance classes and entered the Port-Royal metro station. Only a few people waited on our side of the platform, but the opposite platform was crowded.

“Because I’m so nervous I can barely talk,” I said in a rush.

Abby laughed and the excited trill bounced off the tiled walls behind and above us.

“You're so lucky to have a hot boy in your host family. So where are you going?” she asked.

“I think he’s taking me to a party at a friend’s house,” I responded, pulling at the medallion on a chain around my neck. Which reminded me of my mother. Would she approve of Vincent? I shook my head to clear it. Did I care?

“He said it’s to celebrate the start of the holiday weekend, before all his friends head out of the city.”

“Ooh, that’s so cool,” Abby gushed. “You have to call me first thing in the morning to tell me all about your date. Especially if he kisses you.”

“Abby!” I swatted her arm.

“What? I bet he’s an awesome kisser.” She got lost in a reverie so I turned away.

The train pulled in and we boarded. We chatted about lots of nothing until we reached the huge, sprawling Chatelet-Les Halles station. Once there, however, we needed all our energy to push through the thick crowd of waiting travelers.

I held my bag tight against my body and ducked my head, trying to ignore the body odor swirling around me and the sheer crush of bodies. I peeked over my shoulder at Abby and noticed her nose scrunched a bit.

We arrived at our next platform without talking, but not in silence. Wind rushed down the platforms, stealing our breath and trying to steal our bags. I wished the wind would steal away the smell.

Our train arrived and we squeezed on. There was nowhere to sit, barely anywhere to stand. I held onto the pole, swaying and dancing with the movement of the train, struggling to stay upright, my dance bag crushed under my arm.

Working hard not to inhale through my nose, I didn’t notice the pressure on my jeans at first. Until the pressure on my jeans became a scrabbling toward my zipper.

I knocked the hand away, but it came back. I pushed my arm down to protect my zipper. Looking around at the bored, sweaty faces, I saw nothing suspicious. No one seemed the least bit interested in me.

“What’s wrong?” Abby asked.

I shook my head, fast. I didn’t want to talk about it. Not here. I needed to concentrate on keeping that hand away from my crotch.

Sweat beaded on my temples and under my arms. I gripped the pole like a life boat, still crushing my bag against my side. The other arm stayed in front of my zipper.

I looked above everyone’s head, checked out the metro map and counted the number of stops until my own. A woman standing at the next set of doors caught my attention with her gaze that never wavered from my face.

She had spiky black hair barely noticeable above the crowd. She was too far away to have tried to get into my pants, and too far away for me to tell whether her eyes harbored hostility or a question.

Her intense eyes veered downward and I wanted to touch my necklace, for protection, for comfort, but I didn’t dare move either of my arms.

I again checked the faces around and above me. Nothing. Not a flicker. Not a glance. Not a smirk.

My eyes cut back to the spiky-haired woman. Her gaze drilled into me and I couldn’t stand it. I glanced at Abby, oblivious Abby. A pang of jealousy hit my gut then quickly frittered away. It wasn’t her fault a pervert found me enticing.

We finally reached my stop and I forced my way through the throng of people blocking the exit.

Abby got out, too, even though this wasn’t her stop. “Sophie?”

I ignored her until we were on the street. I kept moving, not caring if she was behind me, yet grateful at the same time.

“These holiday weekend crowds are crazy, huh?” she asked.

I stood on the street and rubbed my lower lip with frantic fingers. Anger started as a knot in my stomach and built up and out, pushing into my throat, pulsing in my head and chest.

“Sophie, please tell me what’s wrong,” Abby said. “What happened? Are you okay?”

I finally found my words. “A man, or someone, tried to undo my zipper on the train.”

She gasped. “Oh my gosh! Sophie, are you okay? Geez, I didn’t know, I didn’t see anything.”

“I know, it’s okay, it’s not your fault.” I even meant it.


I shrugged and wrapped my arms around myself. “I couldn’t tell. The only person looking at me was some woman standing too far away.”

I felt her blue eyes on me again and shivered.

“Geez, Sophie, I’m so sorry,” Abby said, her face a mask of confusion and sympathy. “Let’s get you home.”

I nodded.

We walked against the pedestrians heading in the opposite direction. Any time a man looked at me, or pushed against me, I flinched. Abby put an arm around me to protect me or comfort me, I guess, but I couldn’t stand anyone’s touch. I shrugged her off.

“I’m sorry, Abs, I’m just too mad.”


A spasm rocked my shoulders and neck. “I mean, this isn’t what I came to Paris for. I swear, if any man so much as talks to me right now I might bite his head off.”

Her eyebrows rose but she kept quiet and kept her distance.

The walk to the Picard apartment helped focus my anger.

“Well,” Abby said, looking lost, “Have a good time tonight with Vincent.”

“Oh, I won’t be going out with Vincent tonight,” I answered, words clipped and precise.

She tilted her head.

“Because if he tries to kiss me, I’ll probably slap him,” I explained. “Then where will I live?”


  1. Hi Vickie,

    Very intriguing premise. The story came to life with the contemporary piece. The initial portion was interesting, but the switch was disorienting, and I'm not sure what you would lose by removing what is essentially a prologue. The medallion, I assume, may be connected to the time travel, but you mention it twice later so we know it's important. Is it (a la Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty or the Librarian) something inherited from her mother that conveys power and responsibility?

    I love the hand situation. Two minor points on the contemporary scene though:

    1) Make it clearer that they intend to transfer trains. We should know that they're not trying to exit the Metro, but rather rushing to make another train.

    2) Spend a little more on the set up of the train itself. Not everyone will know what pole you are talking about. .

    You do a great job incorporating setting into your action. (And after Anna and the French Kiss, this setting may be popular now.) Your prose is very efficient overall. The mention of the host family to set up the foreign exchange situation or dance training (I assume) is good. I do wonder if adding a bit more detail up front would make the story more accessible for a broader range of readers.

    I felt you had more room to incorporate a better sense of the character. Adding some attitude to your description of the setting might be a good start. How does she feel about what she sees? How does it compare with where she's from? Is she happy to be in Paris? We don't even know if she and Abby are friends from the States. It's fine to help draw the reader into the story with unanswered questions, and you do that beautifully. I'm not sure that some of these shouldn't be answered up front though. .

    And now for the main problem.

    While the hand situation is intriguing, Sophie's response is not believable. It doesn't seem like the same character is reacting to the situation vs the aftermath. The first Sophie barely takes evasive action. She doesn't pull back or turn away, she doesn't say stop it, she doesn't slap at the hand. In fact, you don't have her even notice if the hand is male, female, adult or child. You mention that the hand doesn't go away, but once she blocks the zipper, you don't mention it again. Therefore, the incident doesn't seem significant enough to merit the kind of anger that she exhibits later. Part of this requires greater clarity in writing the actual scene. Also be sure you know your character and that she is reacting in character. I'm questioning her and that's not a good thing at this point in the story.

    Apart from that, here's what I picked up so far and find intriguing:

    1) There's some ambivalence on Sophie's part toward her mother. Is her mother dead? Or is it something else? How does this connect to why she's in Paris?

    2) I like the romance potential, and that already we get the vague sense that Sophie has reservations about Vincent beyond just that he's the son of the host family. Using the mother's opinion to hint at that is lovely. I like that you've overtly set up the complication that she has to live with him--and thus the consequences of whatever happens--as an obstactle.

    3) I'm intrigued by the hands. Are these supernatural or physical? How does this connect with the time travel? Even if they aren't supernatural, make the incident clearer. I'm hooked.

    5) I'm intrigued by the woman. Supernatural hint there too? I'm interested to see if she appears later.

    Lot's going on to keep the reader engaged, so don't feel you need to rush us through. Take the time to give us a little more voice and personality, a little more opinion and prejudice and life. Trust yourself. This is a great start.


  2. Wow, Martina, you did such a great job breaking all that down.

    I can't add much, but my two cents . . . I found that initial piece disorienting, too. Also, I was surprised by the reaction after she got off the train. I wondered if she hadn't been raped before or something.

    Definitely loved the woman and the hints on the medallion. I loved the setting, and I found the two girls engaging. Great start!

  3. I'm just going to put out here that I didn't find the jump jarring or disorienting.

    Having a fling with the son of her host family is an an awesome romantic tease.

    I didn't care for "medallion necklace" as a visual description. Without details I default to the medallion Elizabeth Swann wore from Pirates of the Caribbean. Also, I'm presuming it's an heirloom piece since it made her think of her mother. Perhaps you might mention why her mother passed it on to her at a young age or if it's just one of many necklaces she wears to match her outfits.

    Dance studio--ballet or modern?

    I really liked how you have a nice balance of sensory details. Touch might need a little more. (The rumble of the train enterting the station. The grimy handle bars.)

    Lastly, I do not think her immediate reaction to having her zipper pulled down is forceful enough, and her aftermath response--too much.

  4. Well, I'm intrigued about the time traveling though I did get confused with the sudden switch of place at the beginning. I love that they're in Paris and she has a host family with a hot son. Her going out with him could get tricky, which I'm interested in finding out about. The hand reaching for her zipper and her reaction was odd to me. It was just her zipper, not flesh on flesh contact, so why would she not want to go out with Vincent? The lady watching her makes me wonder if she's a time traveler and what's going to happen next.

    This is a good beginning, remove the confusion at the beginning and make Sophie's reaction to being felt up more believable and I think you'll nail this and hook your reader. Great job! :D

  5. Hello! West coast time here. *rubs hands together* Let's get down to business!

    What do I know from these first pages?
    1. This is a time travel piece set in France.
    2. The main character, Sophie, is intriguing, but I'm not connecting with her ENOUGH. I really want to get further in her head. I think you set up some great stuff with the love interest, the ballet, and so on, but I want to get more of a sense of why she's special vs. any other teenager put in her situation. I really like Martina's suggestion of adding her reaction to these great sensory details you put in. That's a start. I also had trouble with the incident on the train. I don't mind it happening, it's intriguing, but she does kind of overreact afterwards, and under-react when it happens. This being so personal, should tell us more clearly about her. Was there a rape before? If so tease it here. A flash of a memory perhaps. If not, then have her shaken, but not necessarily as vehement/angry at everyone else afterwards. I do really want to know what that was about!!
    3. The beginning actually threw me off. I know you are trying to start in an exciting place to hook the reader. But the fact that I consciously thought this, and was confused, means that it wasn't the right place to start. I think getting to the strange woman and hands on the train in the first five pages is far more compelling, and would concentrate on polishing that.

    The biggest thing I would like to see you do is concentrate on really getting into that first person POV. I want you to be HER when you write this. Example? She looks down and sees her outfit including the high scratchy neck? Do that right now. Can you see your neck? But you can feel it and then wonder what you're wearing.

    I think you have a really interesting story here, and I'm glad you shared it with us!!

  6. Thanks for all the comments! I really appreciate the feedback.

    The reader will find out more about the medallion, including its description, and why her mother gave it to her in the next two chapters. Is it necessary for me to put it in the first 5 pages? I was trying to keep the backstory out.

    I don't think there was anything else that needed answering, so please let me know what else you need to know.

    Martina, do we revise and then resend? Or do we just continue to collect feedback here?

    Thanks, again, to everyone!

  7. Vicki - I just want to respond to the medallion question. It is obviously important, and I would think it merits a bit more attention in the first five. Even just a detail or two about its weight, material, design, or the like. You don't need the whole backstory on it yet, but I do want to know more than it's a medallion. Does that clarify?

  8. Ack, sorry! I forgot to talk about that. Great catch, Lisa. I think it depends what you do with the rest of the piece. I wouldn't want it to derail the momentum or steal the show at this point. I'm perfectly willing to give it more time. You have two references to it in the second section, so it is clearly important. The question is what do you want us to think (so far) that it's importance is? Why does Sophie think it's important? I agree with Lisa that a detail or two about it's physical description is critical so we all start off with the right mental picture. Size is probably the most critical followed by material and design. You can do a lot with texture and temperature too. Is it warm against her fingers, warmer than normal? Colder than normal? How does it connect her with her mother.

    Looking forward to seeing your revisions! Like I said, loosen up a little and trust your own instincts. You've got good ones.


  9. I really liked the opening scene and wished it was longer. Loved the hint of mystery surrounding it!

    I did find the transition a little jarring though. Maybe it could be smoothed out with time reference like a week earlier. Or something, I don't know. Since she's so disoriented that might not work. You know your story much better than I do! :)

    Love the conflict with Vincent being both interested in her and by being in the host family. Anything that adds conflict is good in my eyes.

    I did think I would react a lot stronger on the train. I would slap the hand away and then move to another seat, or if one wasn't available, I would stand. I would not stay in the same place, no way.

    All in all, I really liked it!

  10. Wow, look at all these very thorough remarks! Nice. All I will add is my immediate question/response, which is: in college I had to read Sophie's Choice by William Styron, as part of a Holocaust Literature class. The MC is named Sophie too, of course--and she actually gets anonymously and digitally raped on an extremely crowded train. So when I read this excerpt, it didn't exactly bring up fond memories, since I never liked that scene in the novel. I can't remember if that scene was in the movie (Meryl Streep/Kevin Kline) or not. Maybe disgust and an "ew" reaction is what the scene is aiming for, however.

    At any rate, this may be too close to Sophie's Choice, especially considering the MC here is also named Sophie.

  11. Bad me! I didn't mention the positives. Apologies. I thought the dialogue flowed well, w/o overusing dialogue tags. The beginning scene is intriguing (bringing up nice, multiple questions!), and in the train section items of mystery and interest are introduced that will make the reader want to continue on. :)

  12. I'm late to comment so a lot of what I thought has already been said. I'm a sucker for time travel, so I'd be intrigued from the get go and you'd have to work hard to lose me!

    I like the opening passage, but agree that it jars a bit when put next to the rest of the extract. It's a shame, because I think that 'What year was this?' line is a great hook. Maybe - and feel free to ignore me, because obviously I don't know what your overall plan for the story is, so I may be talking rubbish! - you could continue where the prologue left off, and tell the story of modern day France in flashback? Because (and again, this may just be me) I'm much more interested in what's happening to 'back in the past' Sophie than 'modern' Sophie.

    It all depends on how important the love story is, what happens to Sophie in the past, how she gets to the past in the first place and of course your own personal preference on how to tell the story. As I said, feel free to ignore me - just thought I'd offer it as a suggestion! :)

    On a more nitpicky level, a couple of times you use the same word multiple times in a paragraph:

    I held my bag tight against my body and ducked my head, trying to ignore the body odor swirling around me and the sheer crush of bodies. I peeked over my shoulder at Abby and noticed her nose scrunched a bit.

    We arrived at our next platform without talking, but not in silence. Wind rushed down the platforms, stealing our breath and trying to steal our bags. I wished the wind would steal away the smell.

    Body, body, bodies, stealing, steal, steal.

    I like stealing our breath and trying to steal our bags - that feels deliberate - but with three repeats it threw me out of the narrative.

    I'm really looking forwards to seeing your revision! Yay for time travel :D

  13. Hi Liberty, thanks for the critique!

    I hope everyone likes the revision - it's going through my critique group tonight!


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