Saturday, April 16, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Entry #3, Rev 2

Genre: YA Fantasy, Christine Arnold, entry #3, revision #2

Beads of condensation rolled down the window. My hands itched to reach out to them. Stretching my fingers, I rubbed my palms across my jeans.

I can’t give in.

At least, not in the living room. Not in front of the window where someone could see. Mom would kill me. Even though the chances of anyone being around to see are pretty low. If trees could talk, I might be worried.

The glass was cool and clammy as I pressed my forehead to it. Outside, 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. Oozing down the window, it shed a thin, wet trail. It gorged on the smaller beads and ballooned.

I could freeze it. Preserve its perfect shape for a little longer.
Something so small… Mom would never know.

Who am I kidding? Of course she would. She’s got ESP or something when it comes to me and water. But just because I can’t turn it to ice doesn’t mean I can’t watch it splatter.


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

She didn’t see, did she? Not that there was anything to see. It’s just that sometimes she flips out when she thinks I’m even considering giving in.

But her expression wasn’t that eye-bulging gape. 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.”

Right. Because what it really comes down to is pretending to be normal. And a normal sixteen-year-old should be nervous for her first day of school. I should be getting excited for all the school dances I might get asked to this year, or worrying about finding that perfect shade of lip-gloss… or whatever other things normal girls think about.
But I’m not. To be nervous, some part of me would have to be hoping for those things. When you have to run from the room when some kid pukes in class, not because it makes you sick but because the puddle of vomit is calling to you, you realize normal isn’t an option.

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.

My eyes flickered to the window, scanning the dense woods. 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.”

Stepping outside, I shivered. Even though it was late August, a dull chill crept 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.

You hear stories about people with superpowers. And by stories, I mean the ones in comic-books and movies. Real people don’t have superpowers. Well, except for me. But real or not, we have one thing in common. We have to keep our powers a secret.

Worrywart-one and Worrywart-two 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 Mom and Dad don’t understand what it’s like. These urges – they don’t have them. They aren’t like me.

The dew-drops beaded on the toes of my sneakers. 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. The pressure had built to the point of exploding.
I tried to release it slowly. My house was still just behind the trees. If I did anything too big, Mom could see.

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 the droplets froze, both in the air and into ice. Cracking an eyelid, I stole a glance around me. Thousands of ice-drops 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.

With another deep breath, I 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 today. I’d have to remember to make time in the shower tomorrow though, as the pressure wasn’t gone completely.

Cocking my head, I 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 at least 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.

When I reached the end of the drive, I batted a strand of hair from my eyes and leaned on the row of rusting mailboxes. The air was getting stickier, heavier as the thick dew evaporated.

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. The scent of 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.

Thorns bristled down the vines, larger than they should’ve been. Each was about the length and width of my pinky. Ragged, blood-red petals stretched toward me. Leaves curled under and worked like feet as the vine scuttled forward like a giant centipede.


  1. Great job of creating suspense it really pulled me in.
    - Aaron

  2. Christine,

    This version sings! You've given the reader a lot more information while maintaining the mystery and keeping us in suspense!

    That said, I did get pulled out of the story a couple of times. Once, when the mc is talking about not turning water into ice--needs to come off as taboo right fromt he start. Also, part where mc is talking about having to run out of a classroom because of vomit--in my mind, water and vomit aren't one in the same.

    Love this--I could freeze it. Preserve its perfect shape for a little longer.
    Something so small… Mom would never know.

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

  3. Really great! Love the additional voice things you've put in, and the vomit -- just suggest you make it clearer that it's any liquid that she's susceptible to. Is freezing her only power? She freezes water? Or does she do other things with it?

    Watch your tense switches. Strongly suggest that you switch thoughts to past tense unless you're putting them into italics, but wherever possible avoid switching tenses at all except in dialogue.

    Also, you could still condense the opening and get some more of that fabulous battle back in here:

    Stretching my fingers, I rubbed my palms across my jeans.

    This is what I got for rushing my shower that morning. How many days had it been? Three? Four? Too many, and now I was paying for it. If I'd taken a few extra minutes and given into it in the shower, a heavy dew wouldn’t have been half so tempting.

    I couldn't give in. At least, not at the living room window where anyone could see from outside. Mom would kill me. Even though the chances of anyone being around to see were ridiculously low. If trees could talk, I might have been more worried, but I knew I had to be careful.

    Worrywart-one and Worrywart-two never said what they were so afraid of.

    But I knew. Because I worried about getting locked away in some secret government bunker and
    becoming a science experiment too.

    Blah, blah. A paragraph about how tempting the drop is, mom comes in, convo about school, blah, blah and we're off and running.

    Go through and number your subjects and see how you can put them together in a logical progression, now that you know exactly what to say. Consider the pacing and the tense switches and present everything to us at the point where we need to know it.

    This is SO close to done. I'm completely hooked and eager to keep reading.

    Great job!


  4. Really nice, as usual. I was a little thrown by the vomit line too, even though I get it. Also it made me concerned again about the limitations on her power because the human body has so much water content. Couldn't she just kill anyone that bothered her by freezing their blood or something? Just a thought. I know it gets tricky, and you can't really go into it in the first pages, but since it crossed my mind there, you may want to hold off on the bodily fluids until a point where you can go into that. Other than that, really only two very minor things. One is there was an accidental tense shift toward the end:

    "It can’t be real. Roses don’t grow like that." That's present and the rest was past. Or maybe this was supposed to be italicized for thought?

    And for some inexplicable (sorry) reason, worry wort one and two threw me. I got it was Mom and Dad, but it drew me out enough to worry whether others would. Again, not major, just thought I'd point it out.

    Great work! Very cool premise.

  5. Hi everyone, thanks so much for all your help so far! My first five pages probably would have never gotten this far if not for all your help! I have a question/comment/explanation, and I'm interested in everyone's opinion. So, the bits where I switch to present tense are all intentional. I've made the decision to put Jemma's thoughts in present tense like true dialogue, only without the quotes. Also without italics, and let me explain why. In the next chapter, one of the major plot points is introduced. Jemma meets a character and discovers that they have the ability to hear each others thoughts. A good portion of the book includes dialogue that takes place in their heads. To distinguish, I've made this other character's thoughts still in present tense, but in italics. While Jemma's are also in present, but in normal script. So my question is, does this formatting decision make sense? Or do you think there's a better way to go about it? If you continued reading to the second chapter where this event happens, do you think you could accept this formatting style or would it continue to throw you off? Anyway, I've gotten some mixed feedback so far, so I'm interested in getting as many opinions as possible. Thanks again for all your help!

  6. Christine,

    You’ve done some great work on these first five pages. I like how you’ve defined the MC’s power from the beginning... now I know she’s an Ice Queen! I also like how the parents know about her powers and worry about her... although like others mentioned “worrywart one and two” knocked me out of the text for a moment (sometimes the cleverness of us writers can be confusing for readers).

    As for the vomit... it didn’t quite work for me. As mentioned by others it jolted me from the text... it also raises questions about limitations... vomit is mainly water, but how much control does the MC have over water? At what percent is she unable to affect something with water in it. Adult human bodies consist of about 50 to 65% water (babies 75-80%; brain 85%, bones 10-15%; males have higher water percentages than women; muscular people have higher water, too). So one thing you’ll need to think about is what counts as “water” for the MC’s powers. Also most food is 70-90% water... so again there would be a lot of temptation around if your MC doesn’t need “pure water.” (btw... saliva is 98% water! Yes... I’m a research freak and had to go look all this stuff up.)

    As for your question about internal dialogue... I’d either make it past tense or go with italics (probably italics if you have a telepath). These are tried and true methods and anything that makes the reader’s job easier is pure gold to a writer.

  7. On the internal dialogue, I would put all of it in italics. I don't know if this is technically correct, but it would at least set it apart. Someone (like an agent) reading this portion would not know what is going to happen and would be as confused as we were.

  8. Christine,

    You've done an great job with this. The tension is palpable, the pacing good, and the voice is clear and believable.

    You've got some wonderful images: I can imagine the scene with her mother (I always loved the "look" line). And some great imagery with the frozen drops.

    Two things that pulled me out: the vomit line (I understand why it is there, but just...ew!) and when she mentions the shower for the second time. Since you've already said that, I think you could leave it with just the line "That would hold me, at least for today."

    But what a revision! Well done!


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