Saturday, April 2, 2011

1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Entry #4

Young Adult – Lisa Marie Basso

      My thoughts bounced recklessly from place to place, not stopping anywhere for too long. It was the waiting that burdened my mind, frayed the edges of my ragged nails, and chewed tiny pieces of flesh from my bottom lip, causing it to crack and bleed. The Council of the Supernatural had convened seventy-four hours ago. A decision regarding the accidental death of an innocent mortal should have already been reached.

      The mahogany grandfather clock chimed away down the hall. My feet itched until the noise ceased completely, then my legs bounced beneath the table anxiously.

      The silver haired man sitting across from me opened his reptile-like eyes. With smooth movements, too fast for my eyes to track, he rose and appeared before the fire place. Smoke, rich with the scent of earth, drifted up the chimney and the logs crackled, sending orange sparks drifting up into the air before petering out, almost as if caught in chains of their own. Placing his long fingers against the chiseled rock hearth, Reptile Eyes leaned forward warming his leathery face.

      My hand circled clockwise beneath the table as I vividly imagined twirling it in his waist-length hair then thrusting him into the very fire he stood before. The chains around my wrists bit into my flesh, giving me away, and the silver haired man turned his silver tongue on me. “It won’t be very much longer, Skya. Please, try to relax. Patience is something we have come to expect from a young lady such as yourself.” With a gust of wind and a blur of fabric he appeared across the table, leaning into the old wood, his long garb hurrying to catch up. “After all, it does take patience to learn all the secrets you know, but what of your partner, how has he come to control the elements the way he does?”

      So this wasn’t just a waiting room. Divide and conquer. That was their strategy.

      I pressed down on my lips to keep them ironclad, but as his long fingers beckoned to me, I began singing Devlin’s secrets. “He much like I, was taught by a skilled practitioner. His master followed in my master’s teachings.”

      “Darius,” he hissed.

      Hearing the name of my former master—and top dog on my shit list—stirred feelings I had long since locked away for the safety of those around me.

      Terrified, a swarm of panic attacked my fingertips as I fought the chains. Desperate to touch the amulet dangling from my neck. Unable to reach it, the panic rocketed up my spine. I tugged the chains, fingers begging for the calm the amulet brought, but being just out of reach.

      “Please, you have to unchain me!” My voice sounded strange. I’d never heard myself… plead.

      He faltered. From the look on his face we both felt the powerful force coming, disrupting the uncanny clutch The Council had over everything inside in this place. It only took a moment from when the door splintered, but in that moment, hell found me.

      *          *          *

      Darkness swallowed the too-real dream and I awoke to a scream ripping from my chest. My doorknob pinged off the crumbling lath and plaster wall and a dark figure smelling faintly of pears and honey dashed to my bedside.

      I fought the instinctual urge to reach beneath my pillows and unsheathe my katana. Nearly three months here and I still hadn’t fully allowed myself to feel safe.

      A weight lighter than a sack of potatoes sat beside me on the bed. The lamp on the nightstand clicked on, bathing the room in soft yellow light. “You’ve had some bad dreams before but that one…it sounded bad.”

      My breath still hitched in short gasps. I looked up at my roommate, Taylor. Metal shined from her right nostril and just above the right corner of her lip as her piercings stole light from the lamp. I nodded, avoiding her gaze, scolding myself for nearly cutting her in half.

      “Want to talk about it?”

      I shook my head. Nothing had ever felt so real. Or so threatening. It was like I hadn’t truly lived yet, hadn’t felt anything before the grit of that dream. Something stung my eyes, but it couldn’t be tears. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cried. At my previous home doing so was forbidden.

      “You’re ringing wet,” Taylor said after sweeping my dark bangs aside. “And not in the good way.” She wiped her hand on her too-short pink sleep shorts.

      I tucked what I could of my almost chin length hair back behind my ear and swiped at my forehead with the back of my hand. Sweat not only dripped from my brow, it trickled down the back of my neck and seemed to cover every inch my skin. The images from the dream came again, flowing like a faucet with broken knobs. It amplified my already charged heart rate. I fought through the tightness in my chest for air.

      I heard myself wheeze and centered my chi inward, willing my lungs to expand and contract normally. Taking control; the way Darius had taught me to do in case I ever got captured or sustained a fatal injury. He used to say, with meditation and inner control, you can delay the inevitable and take your revenge. You can carry that soul over to the other side with you, a trophy.

      He never was much of a role model, but his teachings kept me alive on the near-impossible missions he sent me on.

      I wiped my mind clean of everything that reminded me of him and threw my blankets off. “I’m good, Tay. Thanks.”

      She stood and folded her arms. The tattoo of a bird centered on her chest peeked out from beneath her pink tank. “I don’t buy that for a second. I’ve never seen you so scared. What was it about?”

      I thought about telling her, but what good would it do?

      The creak of a floorboard outside my room sent my hand beneath my pillows. Twisting my fingers around the hilt had never felt so good. With the flick of my thumb, the sheath loosened. All I would need to do was move the blade and the sheath would fall away. An instant later there was another creak. The footsteps were coming slowly so I tensed my arm rather than immediately freeing the Praying Mantis from her cell. I would have more than enough time to see the intruder first.

      A busty blonde stepped in the doorway wearing nothing more than a pair of red lacy underwear and a sheer bra. I used my thumb to close the distance between the hilt and the sheath, putting the blade to rest once again. “Come back to bed, Tay.” She crossed one foot over the other and leaned into the doorframe with a satisfied grin on her unblemished face.

      I arched a brow and shot Taylor a glower of disbelief.

      She bit back a smile, badly, and said, “Take that sweet butt back to bed. I’ll be there in two minutes.”

      The blonde spun like a dancer in an almost pirouette, and trotted away without a thought in her head and not nearly enough fabric covering that sweet butt. “Another one, Tay?”

      The goofy smile of a love struck cartoon character overwhelmed my roommate’s usual poignancy as she stood and stretched.


  1. your writing itself is great. There’s a grittiness to it that I like. However, it was a bit confusing. I started out assuming it was High Fantasy because of the very different world you created. Then I got the “it was all a dream” line, which I did not want to accept. You can do better! That’s a trope that’s a bit overused, even if she’s dreaming things that are real. It’s fine later, but I wouldn’t recommend starting there. Starting with her ready to unsheath a sword on her roommate is plenty of a hook! After it all calms down perhaps she can recall bits and pieces of a dream that unsettles her? Just a thought. I’m definitely interested to see where this goes.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    This is intriguing and there's a lot of great things going on, the hint of oriental mysticism, the katana, the roommate's lesbian girlfriend, a hint that she herself might be oriented that way -- was that intentional, or did you mean her echo of "sweet butt" to be sarcastic? Either way, there's a lot to like here.

    I think the dream sequence is perhaps not the best place to start--especially since in this case, it's essentially a thinly veiled flashback. We can be patient while you ground us in her real world. You've given us plenty of hints that something amazing is going on. The way her hand tightens on the katana when she hears footsteps, the way she envisions it coming out of the sheath--those are brilliant ways to show character as well as get us into the story through action. Love it!

    You could push that even more, if you wanted to, have the roomate come in trying to be quiet, and have her bolt out of sleep and do something warrior-like. Then have her hear the girlfriend coming and react. Sprinkle some of the council stuff in there, but softly, softly as the expression goes.

    With respect to the writing, I'd like to offer some overall suggestions. First and foremost, your syntax and use of figurative language often comes at the expense of clarity and movement. This repeatedly pulls the reader out of your story. This has to be corrected.

    Some examples:

    "and the silver haired man turned his silver tongue on me."

    You've mentioned his reptilian features several times. Does he literally have a silver tongue that flicks out like a lizard's, or is this a metaphor for his ability to speak persuasively?

    "I pressed down on my lips to keep them ironclad, but as his long fingers beckoned to me, I began singing Devlin’s secrets."

    Is he compelling her to speak? How is she pressing down on her lips if her hands are chained? Who is Devlin?

    Overall, and this is purely a matter of opinion and taste, though, so take it for what it's worth, I believe you are overusing figurative language to the point where it detracts from the story. You have a great character with strong plot potential, and a lovely ear for rhythm and an eye for detail. Trust those. Enhance them. Also, be careful about anthropomorphizing body parts and nouns.

    Focus on clearing up places where you are vague or imprecise. For example:

    "Terrified, a swarm of panic attacked my fingertips as I fought the chains. Desperate to touch the amulet dangling from my neck. Unable to reach it, the panic rocketed up my spine. I tugged the chains, fingers begging for the calm the amulet brought, but being just out of reach."

    In just that section, is the swarm of panic terrified? Is it the panic that is desperate to touch the amulet? Of course not, but that's what those sentences literally tell us. And the final sentence again not only gives the fingers a life of their own, but makes it unclear whether it's the fingers or the amulet that's out of reach.

    Don't worry so much about varnishing your sentences. Just make it clear what's going on, how everyone feels about it, and take us to the action. When you do that, your writing is lovely.

    Can't wait to see what you do with this for next week!


  3. Lisa, I agree with some of the above comments, you've got a gritty, distinctive voice. The way the mc's mind works as she imagines unsheathing her sword is fabulous.

    I also agree that starting with the dream sequence is jarring. A firm grounding in the ordinary world, as you do when the mc wakes up startled had me hooked. I'm really curious to find out more about this mc.

  4. I have to echo the above...I found the dream sequence followed by reality too confusing. The reality scene had very contemporary elements (tank top, piercings, etc.) sprinkled with references to Darius and Praying Mantis, so I wasn't sure whether she was remembering her dream too vividly or if this is an urban fantasy story. I felt the need to be grounded in reality first.

    Some lovely language here. I think a little editing for tightness would make it sing.

    A few points of clarification... she never unsheathes the katana yet she is "scolding myself for nearly cutting her in half"? And I think it would be much more than scolding if she came close!

    Also, I'm not sure about the use of the word 'poignancy' in the last sentence. Deeply affecting, touching? Do you mean sadness?

    I'm looking forward to seeing more!

  5. As others have mentioned there is a grittiness to the MC that is appealing. I also like the oriental undertones and the hints at a nefarious past with Darius, which sets up all sorts of tension. The roommate is an interesting twist.
    However, I also thought the dream sequence was a bit distracting. The opening grounds the reader and here you ground us in fantasy only to take it away just as things get interesting. As for Martina’s comments about your syntax. I agree with her that you are over-writing. All those extra words are drowning out or muddling your MC’s strong, gritty voice. With some trimming you could make a much more forceful, clear, voice for your MC... one that matches with what you’ve revealed so far.
    Overall, you’ve got an interesting character and some great writing, but you need to do some trimming so that the voice matches the gritty background of your MC.

  6. As the others have said above, I love the MC's voice. I found it very compelling and believable. That said, I too was a little disappointed to find out that the dream was just a dream. I want to know what happened to the innocent mortal girl who died, or about your MC's partner and her old mentor. And switching gears so quickly kind of threw me off. I do think there's enough in the "reality" scene to make a compelling opening. But I would try to add some small details here and there about the Council, or her partner, or her old mentor. Because those details are what made me want to keep reading. Great job, and I can't wait to see what you do with this!

  7. Thank you everyone for your comments and feedback! I have a big job ahead of me.


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