Saturday, April 2, 2011

10 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Entry #2

Young Adult Adventure — Heather Tourkin
I wavered on the edge of falling over the narrow metal railing, tightening my grip on the mast line. Twenty-five feet below me the Mediterranean Sea swelled. This was the highest I’d ever climbed, let alone jumped from. My gut balked.

“Luke,” my dad called, waving at me from the main deck of the Didyma 111. “Heads you dive, tails you jump.”

“Does that old thing even have a tails?” My voice sounded weak in the wind.

The coin was a relic from the pagan days of Alexander the Great when coins were minted with the likenesses of gods. But in my father’s hand it had morphed into a modern-day lucky charm.

Dad laughed and tossed the coin. “Apollo says…” he caught it and opened his hand. “Dive!”

Dive? The word sounded foreign to my ears. Then suddenly something inside me sparked. Chalk it up to youthful exuberance, but the truth was that I wanted to prove myself, show my dad I had the grit to go one better.

I stared at the water and mouthed, “Forget the dive. Do a flip.”

A lump formed in my throat. I knew that jumping from this height was the equivalent of leaping out of a third-story window. Any aerial maneuver would be a delicate balance between over-flipping and landing on my stomach, or under-flipping and landing on my back. Not an easy feat.

The confusion in my head reminded me of my best friend, Conner Larkin, egging me on like he was some kind of authority. “Be cool,” he’d say if he were here now. “Don’t get your tighty-whiteys in a twist.”

Dad rocked back on his heels, letting his beer can rest on his paunch. “Want me to toss it again, son?” The way he said it made it sound like he thought I was too sissy to dive.

“Focus,” I breathed.

A gust of wind whirled around me and sent a sharp shiver down my spine. I teetered, catching myself before falling backwards. Just as I got my balance Kaitlyn Davies walked around the corner of the bridge, gripping her tangled curls behind her head. She looked up at me and stopped short.

“Mr. Ha-ha-hansen,” she said, jabbing a finger anxiously in the air. “I-I-I don’t th-th-think he should do it.”

My father roared, “A strapping young man like him?” He took a giant swig from his beer, wiped his lips, and then shot me a narrow look. “Now, which is it, son? Are you an archer like Apollo? Or do you favor Athena with your bright blue eyes and long golden hair?”

“Very funny,” I said, rolling my eyes at Dad’s not-so-subtle attempt at sarcasm. Who was he to compare me to a Greek goddess just because of my hair? He didn’t even have his facts straight. What a joke, especially after Mom, who I’m pretty positive is part bulldog, force fed us the Iliad and the Odyssey before she’d even paid for the plane tickets for this trip.

I chose to ignore the insult and said, “Gray.”


“Athena. She had gray eyes.”

“Whoa!” Dad did this little pretend bow and wiggled his rear end. “I stand corrected, smart al—er…Bright Apollo, sir.”

On the main deck, Kaitlyn’s father, Mr. Overprotective Ray Davies, sidled up to his daughter. He glanced at me with these rheumy green eyes etched with red veins that made him look like he was on the verge of crying, or screaming, or both. Then Tasant, the cook and co-captain of the boat, poked his head out of the galley. He gave me a thumbs-up.

Dad raised his arm over his head. “Shoot!” he yelled.

So I did.

I rolled back my shoulders and faced the sun head on. I stretched out my arms, raised my heels and bent my knees. In a moment of no return, I propelled myself off the railing. The tans and browns and greens of the scrubby Turkish coastline became a blur.

But, like that kid that had feathers glued together with wax, my flight was an utter failure. What followed was the most pathetic, swan-dive-cum-front-flip a 16-year-old American boy has ever attempted. I ended up doing a side flop onto what felt like a slab of turquoise-colored cement. Waves of pain radiated from my solar plexus to the tips of my fingers. I curled into a fetal position and sank.

“Please, Poseidon, Hermes,” I agonized, sinking deeper. “Take me away. Swallow me. Deliver me to Hades!” I’d have given my right foot to disappear forever, but that wasn’t to be my fate. The sea pushed back and straight as an arrow, I shot to the surface.

“Son,” Dad said when I exploded out of the water. “That was one confused dive. What happened? You all right?”

I cringed just hearing his voice. Of course I wasn’t all right. Quickly, I eyeballed the distance between our boat and the rocky shore. Too far. I gritted my teeth and tried to smile, if only to keep myself from crying out. It didn’t take a Greek god to know that I should have forced my gut to pull rank on my brain. Sometimes I was my own worst enemy.

“That was one hard fall, Luke,” Dad said as he threw me a life preserver.

Chapter 2 The Blues

When I ducked under the water I realized how close I’d really come to moving in with Hades. The lagoon where we were anchored was shallow and the sea floor hosted an entire underwater mountain range. If I’d done a flip from any higher, or from a little more to the stern, I’d have broken my neck on one of the boulders.

I did a slow, one-armed breast stroke around the bow of the boat. Just as got to the ladder, a shadow beneath me caught my eye. Quickly, I did a double-take, and took in mouthful of salt water. A dolphin was swimming inches below me. I spat, and then reached for its dorsal fin, but it dipped down and swam off.  Too bad, I thought. The dolphin could have been my ticket out of here.

It hurt like hell climbing the rope ladder, and when I took a gander at my chest, the whole right side was as red as a hunk of a rare roast beef. A whimper bubbled to my lips. I sucked it back. My reputation was at stake. If a Hansen boy broke down in tears, what would the Davies think? Or the boat crew? Worse, my dad?
On deck I rushed for the stairs to the sleeping cabins below. Unfortunately, Stuttering Kait spied me dodging through the lounge.

“L-L-Luke,” she called, in hot pursuit. “Y-y-you okay?”

In my haste I tripped on the last tread and stubbed my big toe against the wall. I shot Kaitlyn a fierce look and snarled. That was when I saw Ray’s large square head darken his daughter’s shoulder. The crow’s-feet along the corner of his rheumy eyes deepened.

I opened my mouth and was about to apologize. The words right there on the tip of my tongue, I could almost taste them, but then I thought: wait a minute; I’m not the problem, she is. Kaitlyn Davies. She’s always oohing and aahing, like I’m some kind of lost puppy dog. Man o man, she makes me crazy. And when I do acknowledge her, which I have to because she’s the daughter of my father’s best friend, she flutters her doe-eyes and tilts her head so that her long blonde curls drape over her cheek. She’s thirteen for Pete’s sake. Thirteen. There ought to be a rule.


  1. Hi Heather,

    I love the setting here, and you’ve done a great job of bringing the ancillary characters to life very quickly. We know Luke is afraid of his father, that he is a little cautious by nature, that his best friend Connor gets after him for stressing about things, that he’s sixteen, that he’s attracted to a 13-year-old who’s the daughter of his dad’s best friend, that his dad and mother both have some sort of fascination with Greek gods, and that he’s on this boat in the Aegean under tenuous, perhaps even dangerous, supervision of a borderline abuse father who wants him to man-up. All of that is a set-up rife with possibility for conflict and suspense, so great job there.

    For me, the mythology references hit me over the head a bit too much. I would suggest being far more subtle with that. Also, wanting to die because he hurt is less engaging than thinking/believing he is going to die. Unless your goal truly is to make him seem wimpy in circumstances that are far from wimpy. A three-story fall into water is like hitting concrete. It is potentially lethal.

    The most problematic part of this is the voice. You didn’t convince me the narrator was a sixteen-year-old boy. And you are going to have to convince us, if you want to continue with the boy’s POV. I also found his attraction/awareness of the 13-year-old girl less than believable. (If you didn’t intend the attraction to come through, then just adjust your description.) Most boys that age wouldn’t be caught dead thinking of a girl that age.

    So. My biggest suggestion for next week, if you want to try something a little daring, is to really push the boy’s voice. Or, alternatively—because I do like the voice as is—make your narrator a girl caught in the same situation.

    There’s no doubt you can write. But do watch some of your phrasing and make sure your phrasing is as engaging as possible. For example:

    “I wavered on the edge of falling over the narrow metal railing,”

    Could be more succinct:

    “I teetered on the narrow metal railing,”

    That would give you room to introduce some unique thought or emotion that sets the character for us from the beginning. Even if you don’t take that opportunity, staying more active instantly evokes the danger of the situation.

    Most of all, dig deep and give us an mc we can really believe in. Especially if you are heading toward the introduction of immortal elements, we can’t have any questions about his/her authenticity or we lose the willing suspension of disbelief that is critical to our reading on and buying-in.


  2. Very interesting opening, I really enjoyed it! I like the situation your MC is in right off the bat, the dad’s character is done really well also. There were a couple of awkward moments/wording. “The confusion in my head reminded me of my best friend, Conner Larkin, egging me on like he was some kind of authority.” Just say he can hear Conner’s voice in his head, egging him on. Then you can say something about him missing his best friend. It’s a chance to add a hint of backstory without diving in (forgive the pun).

    The allusions to all the mythology confuse me a little. I mean, why is he thinking in those terms when he’s in that painful, frightening situation? Is that really what he’d be thinking right then? Is this book about the mythology in a major way? I would assume so, but probably the earlier mentions, and the later Hades mention is enough.

    The girl Kaitlyn confused me a little as well. She’s thirteen? That makes me question his age, and his potential relationship with her. Perhaps you can give us a clearer picture of his view of who she is when she shows up initially. Either that or wait until later to introduce her. It may be just me (probably IS just me) but my head immediately went to “love interest”. :D

    Overall, I really liked the fresh feel of this story, and the way you’ve SHOWN us so much about Luke and his father through this intriguing situation. I also love a boy MC. So bravo!

  3. Martina, I did have a question about the critique. When you said you had a hard time buying into the boy's voice was that because of his reaction to the girl? You also said you wanted me to push the voice. I guess I'm not quite clear what that means. I can certainly tone down the girl part since she is not a love interest, but rather an annoyance, and one of the many reasons he's unhappy being on the boat.

    I truly appreciate your comments. Thanks, Heather

  4. Hi Heather,

    Toning down the girl is clearly just a misdirection created by your choice of wording then. She came off fine up until Luke described her by noticing attractive details. (And that's the thing with details, how you describe them tells us what the describer feels about them, so be careful with that in general.)

    As far as the main POV went, I didn't buy that the narrator was a 16-year-old boy. Your descriptions, details notices, insights, even the general style read girl to me, not boy.

    For a boy that age, for example, I'd expect something more like this:

    This was the highest I’d ever climbed, let alone jumped from. My gut balked.

    Gut is a good guy word, but balked, let alone, highest I'd ever climbed, all seem too soft and literary. A girl might think like that in a stressful situation, but a boy? I didn't believe it.

    There are exceptions, of course, but boys tend to be a bit more direct. Especially in a stressful situation, a boy would be focused on what he had to do, not noticing details like:

    The coin was a relic from the pagan days of Alexander the Great when coins were minted with the likenesses of gods. But in my father’s hand it had morphed into a modern-day lucky charm.

    He's higher than he's ever been before, contemplating jumping/diving and this is what he's focusing on? As opposed to, "Why is my dad always such an a-hole when he's drunk? Look at him, playing with his 'lucky piece' like I don't know there's no 'tails' on an ancient greek coin. But what am I going to do? If I say I won't dive, I'll never live it down."

    Obviously, that example stinks -- I'm just trying to get you to think and if I push you by saying something your character wouldn't say in a milliono years, I'm hoping what he *would* say will suddenly occur to you.

    I want you to dig deep inside Luke's head. Make the words his. Not yours. What details in the scene mean something to him? What is he feeling? What is he focusing on? How--as a 16-year-old boy--would he describe everything.

    Hope this helps!


  5. It helps a lot. Thanks!

  6. Heather,
    You’ve done a good job of setting up tension points in this chapter, especially with the father, Kaitlyn, and her father.
    I agree with Martina that the voice needs work. To me it sounded too old/sophisticated (words like relic, youthful exuberance, aerial maneuver, etc. come to mind) and self-reflective. I tend to hear teenage boys as more straight-forward, brutally honest, in their thoughts/voice. They might have a moment of hesitation, but not moments. This isn’t to say that teenage boys can’t be indecisive, but they tend to act first and ask questions later. There were also moments when you teased that the MC was about to act, but then added another reason not to act. For example, you write:
    Then suddenly something inside me sparked... A lump formed in my throat. I knew that jumping from this height was the equivalent of leaping out of a third-story window
    Using “sparked” gives the reader a hint that something is about to happen, but then he gets a lump in this throat and delays longer. This causes the indecision sequence to drag on because the reader’s expectations are put on hold... instead of released.
    Another thing I noticed was sentence length and this ties into the MC’s voice and your use of more adult/sophisticated language... there are quite a few sentences that are longer than they need to be. For example, you write:
    Chalk it up to youthful exuberance, but the truth was that I wanted to prove myself, show my dad I had the grit to go one better.
    This sentence could be shortened and/or broken up into shorter, clear-cut sentences. There are also other sentences that use adverbs (-ing verbs) that you might be able to break up into shorter more powerful sentences.
    Overall, you’ve got some intriguing elements such as the MC’s relationship with his father, the setting, and other hints at tension. You just need to find the right voice for this story... the type of voice that would lead the MC to the mast line... twenty-five feet above the Mediterranean Sea! For me that is a voice with some inner daring... a desire to prove himself (to himself and his father)... even if it means doing something against his better judgment.

  7. I think the opening scene has fantastic potential. A boy poised on a narrow metal strip 25 feet above the ocean (what is he standing on? -- the cross mast of a sailboat?) is such an evocative image. So I'd like to feel more here...the swoop and roll of the boat (if that's what he's on), the sunshine, the wind, the absolute panic that he probably feels.

    But, as said so well above, I want to hear it in his voice. I wouldn't expect a 16yo boy to use a phrase like youthful exuberance. You have some great lines though that show a glimmer of his voice: "But, like that kid that had feathers glued together with wax, my flight was an utter failure."

    I felt the Greek God/mythology references could be toned down. A few is good, but too many and it feels forced. In fact, that may be why I like the Icarus reference. It's much more believable that he remembers parts of the stories, but not all the names and probably not their hair and eye color.

    Some great description here. Rare roast beef and turquoise-colored cement...great!

    I'm a little confused on what happens under the have him curling into a fetal position and sinking, but then the sea pushes back and "straight as an arrow" he shot up?

  8. Joseph, You're right. Luke definitely wants to prove himself. He's been knocked down and he's trying to get up, but he's got some emotional baggage to wade through first.

    Since he's not quite able to be the man he strives to be, he does end up pushing the envelop too far, and that's exactly the character I'm trying to evoke. He wants to prove himself, but knows he can fail, so he doesn't quite trust himself.

    All these comments have really helped to direct me! Thanks.

  9. Not sure if I have much to add - the comments above are pretty spot-on with how I felt. I think this has great potential and I'm really interested to see what will happen. I agree with the voice issues, but for me, when I first started reading, I actually got the impression that it was a much younger boy. I think maybe it was the comment about his voice sounding weak in the wind. It could just be me, but that automatically made me think of a small voice, and therefor a small (young) MC. But then I was thrown off in the next paragraph by your use of language, which is obviously characteristic of someone much older.

    I think you could tone the mythology down a little, but I get the sense that this is a unique character trait of your MC - that he's sort of a mythology wiz. If that's the case, I think you need to be specific about that Icarus reference. If he's a Greek myth buff, he probably would know the name of the boy that flew too close to the sun. So I guess my suggestion is just to be consistent. If he knows the color of Athena's eyes, it seems to me he should know Icarus' name.

    Anyway, I'm really interested to see where you're going with this! Can't wait till next week.

  10. I really enjoyed the setting and can't wait to see what happens next. I did have a small problem with the voice. I liked it, but didn't really believe the MC was a sixteen-year-old boy. Boys are brash, especially teenagers. The writing was great and I know you can take us there.

    I liked the mythology references, but with as many as you gave us in the first five pages, I would expect the worldbuilding to be very mythological, but I'm suspecting a more "normal" world outside this trip (though maybe not inside our MC's family home where it kind of sounds like Mom rules, which I like). So maybe either step up the normal world to something more fantasy-inspired or tone down some of the mythology references (for now). But do sneak them in later, because they're good.

    Hope this helped a little and I'm looking forward to what you come up with next week!


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