Saturday, March 19, 2011

7 First Five Pages Workshop - March, Entry #1

Young Adult Historical Fantasy - Vickie Tremper

My feet hit the pavement and I cry out. Tripping over myself, I squint at the lights shining from streetlamps and rushing cars. Too bright.
Sounds bombard me from every direction: car horns blare, music blasts, people talk, laugh, sing. My head pounds. I touch my temple and groan.
"Est-ce que tout va bien, mademoiselle? Avez-vous besoin d'aide?" a man asks, kneeling at my side.
Why is he speaking French? Is everything okay, as he asked? My whole body hurts. I can’t seem to remember anything except French.
I look down at myself and frown at the long, dark skirt, pointed black ankle boots, and a long-sleeved cream blouse scratching my neck. What the hell happened to my shorts and flip flops?
Where am I?
My head whips back and forth, checking out my surroundings. I recognize the Place de l'Opéra in Paris.
Okay, deep breaths. I’m in Paris. My mother’s birth place.
I push myself to standing and a pendant thuds against my chest. I grab the gold medallion hanging around my neck. I just barely make out the pattern of a woman with flowing hair and flowing clothes in the lamplight from above the plaza. Memories wash over me.
No! I nearly lose my balance. I shiver in fear, despite the heat.
What year is this?
Another look around confirms I’m at least close to my own time period. Cars and motorcycles. People wearing shorts and tee shirts, sun dresses, sneakers and sandals. That sparks another memory, of putting these old fashioned clothes on over my lightweight, modern gear. I smile and pull my sandals from my sleeves. I tear off the skirt, kick off the boots, and unbutton the horrid blouse to reveal a pink tank top. I ball it all up to carry under my arm, and run toward the rue de Mogador.
My ankle throbs and I remember spraining it last week.
I turn and see the man who tried to help me earlier with a gendarme in a blue uniform.
“Oh no,” I whisper. My stomach clenches. It can’t be the same policeman. He wasn’t at the Opera when I left, he couldn’t be here with me.
I try to breathe normally, calm down, and think things through. If it is him, then he doesn’t belong here and can’t hurt me. If it isn’t him then I have nothing to worry about.
Should I run or talk my way out of it?
Old Sophie would clam up and run away.
But the new Me isn’t afraid to stick up for myself anymore.
I held my bag tight against my side and ducked my head, trying to ignore the body odor swirling around me and the sheer crush of strangers. I peeked at my best friend Abby who scrunched her nose a bit.
Wind rushed down the metro platform, stealing our breath and trying to steal our dance bags. While wishing the wind would steal away the smell, I hummed the adagio from the second act of Giselle, my favorite ballet. I could almost hear the mournful cello echoing off the arched tile walls.
Our train arrived with a great rumbling and whooshing, and we squeezed on. There was nowhere to sit, barely anywhere to stand. Silently cursing the Friday-before-Bastille-Day crowds, I held onto the pole, swaying and dancing with the movement of the train, struggling to stay upright. I ignored the elbow pushing at my neck and the briefcase banging against my knee and the feeling of being sandwiched between the people in front of and behind me.
“Sophie, you are so lucky to have a hot boy in your host family,” Abby said from the other side of the pole. Her green eyes glinted under her thick bangs. “I’d consider giving up dance for the chance at a French cutie under the same roof.”
I snorted. “You would not. You live to pirouette.”
“Nah, pirouettes are fun, but I live for grand jetés. It’s like flying.” She closed her eyes and nearly fell against the tall, skinny, suited man between us.
I nodded in agreement. Leaping across a dance floor was freeing, and as near to flying as humans get without wings and an engine.
“So where is he taking you?” she asked.
“I think to a party at a friend’s house.” I stared at her chunky silver rings and gripped the pole like a life boat. I imagined letting go of the pole, losing my balance, and ending up on the floor under all these feet, some wearing stiletto heels or steel-toed boots, and getting trampled to death. And then Mom would say, "I told you not to go to Paris for the summer."
Working hard not to inhale through my nose, I didn’t notice the pressure on my shorts at first. It could have been a shopping bag or an accident. Until fingers tickled around my zipper.
The pole and all the people blocked my view. I swatted a hand off my shorts and tried to step away, but my back pushed against a wall of bodies and I stepped on someone's foot. In response, I got an elbow jab to my ribs. I dropped my arm down to protect my zipper. The hand pushed back.
What the hell was going on? Was this really happening?
I twisted around, but there was no space for me, so I kept up the battle against a hand I couldn't even see. Looking around at the bored, glistening faces, I saw nothing suspicious. No one seemed the least bit interested in me.
I felt so powerless.
“What’s wrong?” Abby asked.
I shook my head, fast, and bit my lip. I didn’t want the person responsible to hear me. No words formed in my brain anyway.
A woman standing at the next set of doors caught my attention. She had spiky black hair almost lost in the crowd. Her intense blue eyes veered downward and I wanted to touch my necklace, the gold medallion my mother gave me before I left New York, 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. The spiky-haired woman stared at me as if she could read my mind. The cello from Giselle sang in my mind again and I pictured the choreography that went along to the music, letting it distract me from the tension in my arms, the hand that had finally left me alone, and the freaky woman at the other end of the train.
We 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. I had to get away from all that ick.
“These holiday weekend crowds are crazy, huh?” she asked.
I stood on the street and rubbed my lower lip with frantic fingers.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
I finally found my words. “Someone tried to undo my zipper on the train. He--he was touching me.” I shuddered again at the memory, and at my inability to move away or even to react.
She gasped. “Whoa, that’s friggin’ weird.”
I nodded.
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.
“Shit, Sophie, I’m sorry,” Abby said. “That’s happened to me a few times. It sucks.”
My mouth dropped open. “You’ve never said anything.”
She bit her pinkie nail. “What’s to tell? Men are pigs.”
I couldn't believe my best friend had never told me something so important. Something I found completely degrading. No one had ever touched me there before. I hadn’t had much experience yet with boys. And I had done nothing back. I stood there and took it. What was wrong with me?
We walked against the pedestrians heading in the opposite direction. Any time a man accidentally brushed against me, I flinched. Abby rolled her eyes.
I had taken enough for one day. “What’s your problem, Abs? I’m upset.”
She sighed. “Okay, I guess I was pretty mad the first time, too. But you get used to it.”
I shook my head. I wasn’t just going to get used to it. I felt violated. Dirty.
“Well,” Abby said, looking up at the iron gates in front of the Picard apartment. “Have a good time tonight with Vincent. Don’t forget to call me. I still want all the juicy details.”
I stopped with one hand on the vertical bars of the gate. “I’m not going out with Vincent tonight.”
She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows.
“I can't stand the thought of anyone touching me right now and if he tries to kiss me, I’ll probably slap him,” I explained. “Then where will I live?”


  1. Sorry about the formatting, everyone. It must have been lost in transmission.

  2. Okay I feel the voice coming through! So I want to work on something a bit more specific today. You can cut back on some of the description now. You say some things more than once in different ways, and what I want is for the coolest description choice to shine through, the one best showcasing your voice. The rest can then go and you can trust the reader to get it. Let me give a couple of examples, okay?
    You say: "I held my bag tight against my side and ducked my head, trying to ignore the body odor swirling around me and the sheer crush of strangers. I peeked at my best friend Abby who scrunched her nose a bit.
    Wind rushed down the metro platform, stealing our breath and trying to steal our dance bags. While wishing the wind would steal away the smell, I hummed the adagio from the second act of Giselle, my favorite ballet. I could almost hear the mournful cello echoing off the arched tile walls."

    You can cut the initial mention of the BO and leave her wish that the wind would steal away the smell, which I think is a great line. You can even give it its own sentence:
    Wind rushed down the metro platform, stealing our breath and trying to steal our dance bags. I wished it would steal the smell.

    Another example:
    You say: " I ignored the elbow pushing at my neck and the briefcase banging against my knee and the feeling of being sandwiched between the people in front of and behind me."
    You do a great job showing us what it's like on that train with the elbow and the knee. So you don't really need the "feeling of being sandwiched between the people in front of and behind me."

    See? I think it will make the work more streamlined, which in turn will improve the flow and the pacing of the scene. I would go through all of it looking for things like this.

    Great revisions!

  3. I thought you did a great job with this! I enjoyed the tiny extra little bits (such as remembering that she had put the old clothes on over her regular things). That really helped.

    I think Lisa is right about being able to cut words/repetitions, but really great job! I'm definitely getting the voice, too.

    I wish I had more to add, but I really enjoyed it.

  4. Totally loving this, Vickie! I'm so happy you showed us more of the friends together. I do agree with the others suggestions about tightening it up. I also thought of Lisa's suggestion about cutting back on the descriptions. I'll add that at the end you probably shouldn't give too much reasoning for her not going out with Vincent. They both know she's be violated, so it doesn't need to be stated here. Maybe something like this:

    She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows. "Why?"

    “I'm not in the mood now,” I said. “Besides, if it goes totally wrong, where will I live?”

    Something like that or better. All and all, great voice and wonderful revision!

  5. This is much improved and I can definitely see the voice coming through much more clearly. I've got just a few more tweaks.

    1) Your opening paragraph is still visually unclear. How does she appear, is she falling from the sky, suddenly appearing? How does she trip over herself? What is she tripping on? Her long skirt? Does she fall to her knees? On her face? As a dancer how does she feel about falling? Is this uncharacteristically clumsy? Put this is context using her voice and show us the visual to create a strong opening image.

    2)As she arrives, the list of things that she hears and sees should be interspersed or put in context. If her head is pounding, the light might be bright, she might startle at the blare of horns, feel the wind as cars rush by. Make her interact with the sensations, but don't include them all at once. Perhaps from the ground she can hear the smack of flip-flops and spiked heels clatter past her on the pavemenet, but only one set stops.

    3)She will realize with one glance that she is in the present, so bringing in the long skirt as something she trips over might make us immediately wonder why she is dressed like that.

    4) Once the man speaks, have her start to get up, have her wonder why he's speaking French, then have her see some details that help her recognize where she is. But do not have her think that she recognizes only French that pulls us out of the story.

    5) Once she recognizes where she is, wouldn't she wonder why she recognizes it? Then her hand can fly automatically to the gold medallion her mother gave her (but don't describe it in such detail--and let us wonder why her mother gave it to her and why it is significant) and then she can encounter the stiff, white blouse etc.

    6) That can then trigger the memory, and she can reach under the blouse to check for her tank top. Suggest you have her sandals in her pockets, not her sleeves because that's an awkward visual and she would have noticed that right away.

    7) Have the man exclaim again when she starts undressing--he should still be there. You haven't accounted for him walking away, and there hasn't been time for him to find a gendarme and come back.

    8) The gendarme can come in while she is trying to answer the man and completing her clothing change. Cut out the speculation about him. If she didn't see him when she first looked around, he is just arriving, and he could have been around the corner when she left too. Let us simply wonder why she knows a policeman and why he is after her. Then let her turn and hurry away (or run) toward the street.

    Flashback Sequence

    The first few paragraphs are overdone in this sequence. Tone down the description, and ease off on the music sequence. As it reads now, it and the dance dialogue feel like infodump. Maybe combine the music with a hint at her goals: the music from Giselle still echoing in my head from where we'd practiced XXX over and over until my feet bled in their toe-shoes. Someething that small is really all you need.

    The fear of getting trampled is a nice way of pulling in her mother, but it isn't realistic when a paragraph later you tell us she can't even see the hand that is groping her. Also, the pole isn't going to be in her way. It would be more likely to be shoulders and purses and shopping bags, or something.

    Agree with everything Lisa said.

    I'm still concerned that Abby's reaction is too much for what happened. Maybe you need to go ahead and pull the zipper down and have fingers slip into her underwear before she can work her hand down to push them away. Maybe she has to dig her fingernails into the hand to get it to back off, and she has to zip herself up and press her fingers against herself, breathless in case the hand comes back.

    Great job, Vickie. I think you're almost there.


  6. Thanks for all the encouragement to everyone who commented! This has been an eye-opening experience, and I expect to bring your wisdom to all my writing and revising projects from now on.

  7. I love what you added to the opening scene! I thought that was really clever with her clothes beneath the old-fashioned ones. Lisa and Martina have some excellent suggestions, I can't think of anything else to add.

    Sorry it took me so long to comment!


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