Saturday, April 9, 2011

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April, Entry #3 Rev 1

Young Adult - Christine L. Arnold

I ogled the beads of condensation rolling down the window. My hands itched to reach out to them. I stretched my fingers and rubbed my palms across my jeans. I can’t give in.

At least, not in the living room. Mom would kill me.

The glass was cool and clammy as I pressed my forehead to it. I stared past the drops and into the yard. Everything was wet, soaked with dew.
The woods that circled our house were glistening in the bright sunlight. I peeled my face off the glass and looked away.

This is what I get for rushing my shower this morning. How many days has it been? Three? Four? Too many, and now I’m paying for it. I knew I should’ve taken a few extra minutes and given into it in the shower.
A heavy dew wouldn’t be half so tempting if I had.

A fat droplet caught my eye. It oozed down the window, shedding a thin, wet trail. It gorged on the smaller beads and ballooned.
Any minute now, it would burst.

I gripped the window frame. A sweat broke across my back. I ached with anticipation.

There was a place in my chest, just below the ribcage that hummed whenever I was near water. Most of the time, I wasn’t conscious of it.
But now it swelled to a throb.

I licked my lips. Another bead and the droplet was too heavy. It peeled away from the glass. A shudder raked my spine. The drop spattered. I felt the jolt deep in my gut.

I sighed; a sound so low it was almost a moan.


My shoulders tensed. Forcing a smile, I spun and looked at Mom.

She didn’t see, did she?

I studied her expression. It wasn’t the eye-bulging gape she always gave me when she caught me playing with water where someone could see.
Though, I never knew who she thought would be around to see. We lived in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, for Christ’s sake. Once the Summer-Homers left, the population dwindled to about ten.

No, she hadn’t seen anything. And I wasn’t about to give myself away.
“Why would I be nervous?”

“First day of your Junior year? Seems like a pretty good reason to me.”

Oh, that. I shrugged. “Maybe a little.”

“You better get going or you’ll miss the bus.”

The back of my neck prickled. It was normal to feel jumpy when you almost get caught doing something you know shouldn’t. But this was something else.

I looked outside. I tried but couldn’t shake the feeling. The feeling I was being watched. I guess Mom’s warnings were starting to get to me. “Do I have to go?”

She crossed her arms and gave me that look. I call it the Oh-For-Heaven’s-Sake-Jemma-Eleanor-Stone.

I sighed. “I’m going, I’m going.”

I stepped outside and shivered. Even though it was late August, I felt a dull chill creeping through the early morning air.

I followed the tire tracks, kicking at the dewy clumps of wildflowers and weeds sprouting up in the middle of the dirt road. Droplets bungeed off the petals and splattered across my shoes.

I sighed and glared down at the little beads of water.

You hear stories about people with superpowers. And by stories, I mean the ones in comic-books and fairytales. Real people don’t have superpowers. Except for me. But I imagine that what happens when someone discovers the hero’s secret in those stories isn’t so far from what would actually happen.

Mom and Dad never say what they’re so afraid of. But I know. Because I worry about getting locked away in some secret government bunker and becoming a science experiment too.

But they don’t understand what it’s like. These urges – they don’t have them. They aren’t like me.

I stared at the beads of water stuck to the top of my shoes. Would it really be so bad to give into it, just for a minute? I’m in the middle of the woods. No one’s around to see. And if I don’t do it here, I can tell I’m going to have to find somewhere to do it at school. Like a bathroom stall. And toilet water’s gross.

I took a deep breath and released it slowly while I looked around. It was safe.

My chest felt tight. I hadn’t realized how much the pressure had built. I tried to release it slowly. After all, my house was just around the bend. If I did anything too big, Mom could see. And the repercussions for that would be worse than if some stranger saw me.

But the pressure didn’t want to be released slowly. I clutched my chest, trying to keep it in. Like that’d ever worked.

I doubled over and squeezed my eyelids together. This was a bad idea.

But it was too late. I couldn’t stop now. I could already feel every single droplet of water soaking the leaves, the grass, even the ones hiding in the air. They called to me.

The treetops rustled as if a violent wind raked through their branches. But it wasn’t wind. It was the dew drops diving off the leaves, lunging to greet me.

I threw my hands up and they froze, both in the air and into ice. I cracked an eyelid stole a glance around me. Thousands of droplets hovered in the air, glistening in the places where the sun broke through the leaves’ thick canopy.

They looked like tiny crystal ornaments, or other-worldly wind-chimes hung from the treetops by invisible strings. But of course they weren’t.

I took another breath and released them. They fell, shattering against each other as they ricochet across the ground. The sound echoed through the trees, whispered falls followed by the chinks of a thousand landings.

That would hold me, at least for the day. I’d have to remember to make time in the shower tomorrow though, as the pressure wasn’t gone completely.

I glanced around and strained to listen. The sound of them falling hadn’t exactly been natural. At least, not for this time of year. I half-expected to see Mom marching up the drive to chase me back into the house. I was a little disappointed when she didn’t. If she caught me, it would delay me going to school.

I dusted the tiny chips of ice from my hair and nudged a pile of them with the toe of my sneaker. They were freckle-sized, perfectly round, and already melting into the ground. They crunched underfoot as I continued up the road.

I reached the end of the drive and leaned on the row of rusting mailboxes. The air was getting stickier, heavier as the thick dew evaporated.

I sniffed the air. The wet brought out the scent of the long grass, decaying fireflies, and pungent, late summer leaves. I even caught of whiff of pine from the tree farm down the road.

And there was something else, something that didn’t belong. Roses, heavy and perfumy accosted my nostrils. My eyes watered, preparing for a sneeze. The scent grew stronger.

I searched the ground for the bush. We never planted roses. Dad and I were allergic. But there was no mistaking that smell.

Spotting something in the road, I clawed the wet from my eyes, not trusting my sight through the sneeze-tears. But I didn’t mistake it.
Three thorn-covered rose vines slithered up the path toward me. Roses bloomed, withered, and blackened in rapid succession as the tendrils grew and stretched.

I kneaded my knuckles into my eyes. It has to be a dream. It can’t be real. Roses don’t grow like that.

But when I removed my knuckles and the dark spots stopped popping across my vision, the roses were still there.

The thorns bristling down the vines were larger than they should’ve been; each about the length and width of my pinky. The roses were ominous too, and not just because they kept blackening and falling off the vine. Their petals were ragged and the wrong shade of red. The leaves curled under and worked like feet as the vine scuttled toward me like a giant centipede.


  1. Great revision!! You've slowed it down enough for me to really enjoy it, and I feel like I understand her powers better now. How fun, there is so much you can play with. Love the experience of the tiny drops of ice. You'll probably have to be careful with this though, in giving her limitations because otherwise there will be little she can't do or get out of and there has to be a good sense of danger.

    Watch the little things. You say: "I can’t give in." right away and you've just switched tense to present. Things also like "the wrong shade of red" - aren't there a million variations of roses and shades? There are a couple of typo type things too, but I'm not line editing - just want to say watch out for those.

    As to voice. The voice is clear in moments like where she decides to go for it now instead of using the gross toilet water. :D I kind of want something else that makes her feel even more teen to me though. Something that screams "I am a teenage girl" if that makes sense. Right now other than the first day of Junior year line, I feel like this character could be much younger.

    That's really all I've got for you on this round.

  2. WOW! Much clearer! You've set out the stakes more clearly, grounded us in the family situation, and set up her need to use the powers. That's all very powerful. I agree with what Lisa said about the voice, although I feel like in places it's also more mature than a teen. Strive for more consistency and clarity in her voice.

    My biggest comment now is to condense that opening struggle with her powers. It goes on a bit too long, and I don't think you're adding much as it continues. Definitely keep her questions about her mother seeing, others seeing, and the idea that she will have to give in at school. LOVE the line about the toilet water. That's VOICE and excellent!

    Overall, tighten. Either put her interior dialogue into past tense or set it off like true dialogue.

    And again, I still come down to the question of ice and water not necessarily being a water power. So I'd love a line of explanation about that sooner so that it doesn't make me stop. But that said, that demonstration of power? SO cool!

  3. Christine,

    I enjoyed this a lot. Like Lisa, I feel like we’re eased into the story a bit more this time. I was a bit confused by the “She didn’t see, did she?” line mainly because I didn’t get the sense that the MC had used her powers. She thought about it, but I thought she’d resisted it. I like how you’ve made it clearer that the parents know about the MC’s ability and are just as worried about it as the MC.

    I didn’t mention this last time, but using the mother’s “look” to introduce the MC’s name was a nice touch. ;)

    Like Lisa said, watch out for those pesky tense changes... I find they are much easier to fall into with first person narration.

    As for voice, I also think you could make the MC sound more unique and teenage. This is where having a good character background can help (which you might already have). What are the MC’s favorite/hated things? Hobbies? Talents? Experiences? Etc. that have shaped her world view and personality. Find ways to sprinkle these into her thoughts and descriptions and that’ll help make the MC’s voice even stronger.

    Another thing I’d like to mention is pacing, I love it for most of the first five pages, but the opening drags one for a bit (with all the back and forth struggling against her powers... I think some of that could be condensed).

    In addition, the crawling roses section starting at “And there was something else...” to “scuttled toward me like a giant centipede” is almost a full page of scuttling (about 200 words) seems a bit slow to me. I understand the desire for build up, but the pacing felt a bit off to me... I got more of a sense of plodding approach than a fast one. Are there any ways you can quicken the pace of the rose vines?

    Overall, I really liked these first five pages. They gave me a good feeling for the MC and the tensions in her life.

  4. I try and wait until I'm done reading to comment, but in this case, I wanted to say this after the first line -- step off the gas pedal. Ogling beads of condensation is WAY too much for an opening sentence. You're setting the tone with those first few words, and you want that to be a relatable tone. "Ogle" is also a misnomer for what your MC is doing. You ogle a hot guy or girl, not water spots.

    Beyond that, your sentence structures are too homogeneous. "I [verb]', it [verb], etc. So many of them sound the same back to back that it's like listening to someone in monotone. Rhythm is important because no matter how good the story, no one will want to read it if it "sounds" odd.

    Check the number of times you start a sentence with "I", too. You overdo it It's a sign of filtering, and it's not necessary for a clear narrative.

    Let me give you an example of something that doesn't mean what I know you meant: "Roses, heavy and perfumy, accosted my nostrils."

    The way this is written, the roses physically beat the MC up her nose. I know you mean she smelt something too strong, but that's not what you've said - the verb is applied to the rose, not its scent. "Accost" in this instance is also too strong for the surrounding narrative.

    You've got a good story here, but you're choking it with your own words. Tell the tale; you don't have to paint gold bricks to make them shine.

    Check your word choice. You're trying to create flavor with "strong" descriptors and strong verbs, but you're over-spicing the soup.

  5. You've definitely ironed out some of the earlier confusion, and I'm following the story much better. But where you say--"At least, not in the living room. Mom would kill me." I came out of the story. Immediately, I wondered why that was important enough to have the mc think about, especially right in the beginning, since the action occurs outside the house. If it's because it's a public space, then go there...

    Otherwise, it felt more like it was a response to last week's comments, than an important piece of information. At this beginning point, we really need only the important information. You're getting there, you're a lot closer! But I'm still wanting a little more about the water/ice mystery, especially as she's clearly thinking about it, so I can get my grounding.

    I'm excited to read next week's submission.

  6. This is much stronger! I feel much more grounded in her world now. The line "I knew I should’ve taken a few extra minutes and given into it in the shower" tells us so much about her life.

    Watch for unclear pronouns: Take the line "But they don’t understand what it’s like. These urges – they don’t have them. They aren’t like me." It took me a second to figure out who you were talking about -- her parents or people in general. It could be easily fixed by rewriting it "But my parents don’t understand what it’s like. These urges – they don’t have them. They aren’t like me."
    And again with the sentence "I threw my hands up and they froze, both in the air and into ice." You clearly mean the dewdrops froze, not her hands. Make sure that when you use a pronoun, it is clear who/what you are referring to.

    I think Josin has an excellent point regarding your sentence structure. I had this problem with the first person in an earlier WIP(actually, an agent called me out on this -- yikes!). I called it the "I blanked" syndrome (I walked, I looked, I raised, I tried) and can make you sound like you are telling someone your actions step by step, rather than weaving a scene. To see how often you do it, you can use a search string in Word. In the Find dialogue box, type I [a-z,A-Z]@ed and then click the More>> button and select Use Wildcards. Then click the Reading Highlight button and select Highlight All.

    But all in all, a real improvement!


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