Saturday, April 9, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Entry #5 Rev 1

Young Adult -- Jenna Wallace

I eyed my pillow like an enemy. It beckoned, white and smooth, the promise of oblivion. And yet I dreaded sleep. The fear that it could happen again, that I might wake up wandering somewhere in the house, or even worse, down in the field by the canal, kept me from closing my eyes.

Unable to force myself to lie down, I sat on the window seat, nodding into the book on my lap. Though it was well past eleven, the last threads of light lingered on the gardens and the flat green lawn surrounding Heraldsgreen House. In Virginia, it would have been dark by this time, but June nights in Scotland were so short. As I stared out into the fading day, a restless wind stirred the towering chestnuts and the leaves murmured with secrets, sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach.

Five nights of interrupted sleep. My head, heavy and leaden, dropped against the window and I rolled my forehead on the cool glass. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stay awake forever. Too tired to put off it off anymore, I unfolded the massive wooden shutters across the window, struggling against hinges gummed up by centuries of paint. The light was reduced to strips of brightness around the edges.

The bed was cold, the sheets slightly clammy. The glow from my laptop screen lit my room, which still looked wrong and unfinished. I stretched out, lying rigid with my hands clenched. But exhaustion won in the end. With the darkness pressing against me, I drifted.

The sound of screaming woke me from a deep sleep. And then I realized I was the one making that terrible noise.

“Abby! What are you doing?” My father’s frantic voice cut through my screams.

“What?” I cast around, trying to get my bearings. I stood next to the window by the fireplace in the great room. The room was still and eerie in the moonlight. Shadows hid the high ceiling and distant corners. Darkness pressed against the rippled glass panes and the lawn beyond was a washed-out gray.

The dusty blue velvet curtains were bunched in my hands and crumpled at my feet. Above me, the heavy wooden curtain rod dangled from one screw, the rest ripped out of the wall. My shirt and face were gritty with plaster and the taste of chalk was in my mouth.

“Daddy?” I pleaded for an explanation in a raspy voice.

My father stood in the half-light coming from the tall, bare window.

“I woke up because I heard screaming,” he said. The waver in his voice freaked me out because he was the calm one in our family. “I got down here and you just grabbed the curtains and ripped them out of the wall.”

“Why did I do that?” I asked, my throat so tight I had a hard time getting the words out.

“I have no idea, Abby. Are you OK?” he asked, panic bumping around the edges of his words.

A draft swirled dust and debris around my bare, icy toes. My jaw ached with the effort of stopping my teeth from chattering and tears pricked at the corners of my eyes. I had just ripped the curtains down in my sleep. I was most definitely not OK.

“Yeah.” I didn’t trust myself to say anything more.

Dropping the curtains to the floor, I brushed the dust from my shirt and shook out my hair. Dad took me by the shoulders and blew some plaster out of my ear. My answering laugh was small and shaky. I breathed deeply, trying to get my heart to stop tripping in my chest. Tremors shook me.

“I think we need a drink,” my father said, steering me through the massive oak door to the kitchen. He gently pushed me toward a chair and then went to the sink. The rush of water, the clink of glass, and the rasp of a cap unscrewing from a bottle all sounded loud in the silent room. He joined me at the table, sliding a tumbler of water toward me. His own glass contained a pale, amber-tinted liquid, telling me there was some whisky in his water.

“I really freaked you out, I guess,” I said, nodding at his drink, before cooling my raw throat with my own.

“You could say that.” Dad was giving me one of his scientific looks, usually reserved for crime scenes. He took another big swig of his drink.

“But, hey, out of five nights of sleepwalking, this is the first property damage,” I said. “So I guess that’s something, right?”

He just grunted and studied me some more.

Last night, the sound of my father calling my name had awakened me. When I’d tried to get up from my place on the cold floor of the great room, I was so stiff Dad had to help me. The night before, he’d managed to catch me before I made it out of the bedroom. And the night before that, I had gotten as far as the kitchen door. Each time, we’d gone back upstairs in silence, neither of us knowing what to say. In the morning, we’d laughed a little bit about it, made a few jokes. Now it wasn’t funny anymore.

“Do you think I’m going crazy?” I asked.

“No, of course not. Stress makes people do funny things. You’re in a new house, a new country, you miss Mom. It’s a lot to handle all at once.”

“I suppose.”

“I think we should make an appointment with a doctor.”

That was the last thing I needed, being poked, prodded, analyzed. I took a huge gulp of water and concentrated on looking unconcerned. “Nope, totally not necessary.”

“Abby…”

“I’m fine, Dad. It’s just sleepwalking.”

“Well, there’s something else,” Dad said in a weird kind of voice that stopped me dead. “You were talking in your sleep earlier.”

“What did I say?”

“It was truly bizarre,” Dad said. “I came in to check on you—“

“You still check on me? Dad, I’m seventeen.”

“Parental privilege. Anyway, I came in and you were speaking out loud. I could understand every word. Does the name Giles Fielding mean anything to you?” Dad asked.

“Don’t think so. Why?”

“According to you, he’s the younger son and a painter. Is this a boyfriend I should know about?”

“I’m sure I’d remember if it was. You know I only date musicians anyway.” I was trying for jokey, but the funny got lost in the strangeness of the moment. “What else did I say?”

“You mentioned a place called Ormidale House. You sounded a bit strange, talking in full sentences.”

“OK, yeah, that’s weird.”

“Do you remember dreaming any of that?” he asked.

“Nope, not a thing. But I don’t usually remember my dreams.” Most of the time, I slept like a rock, hard and heavy.

Dad drained his drink and then yawned so wide his jaw cracked. “It’s late,” he said. “Back to bed. But we’ll talk about the doctor in the morning.”

Even though I had no intention of talking about the doctor in the morning, I nodded and followed him up the stairs. When we got to my room, he turned and looked at me with concern and something else I didn’t quite understand. I was too tired to try to figure it out.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked, taking my arm and helping me to my bed like I was an invalid. Normally that would have annoyed me, but not tonight.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

He stared at me for a few more seconds before squeezing my hand and going back to the door. He kept it open a crack and left on the hall light, just as he had when I was a little girl. There was something about the gesture that made me want to cry. After he left, I lay in bed and couldn’t stop thinking about what my father had told me. Who the hell was Giles Fielding and why was I talking about him?

7 comments:

  1. Wow! What a great place to end the first five pages. :D You've done really well with the revision, the things that were a little unclear to me before are very clear now. I did notice a couple of other things though.

    Look at this example: "I stood next to the window by the fireplace in the great room. The room was still and eerie in the moonlight. Shadows hid the high ceiling and distant corners. Darkness pressed against the rippled glass panes and the lawn beyond was a washed-out gray." It's lovely, but if she's disoriented and in such a pressing situation, would she go on about the darkness like that? Probably one sentence is enough. :D Look for examples like this throughout (this is the one that stuck out to me).

    Also, you do well with showing her feelings, but with her father you continually use description of his voice to indicate his feelings. Once is OK. But more? I KNOW you can do better. Describe what he's doing - maybe some of his mannerisms - that give away his feelings. Do his hands tremble? Does he grit his teeth? Do his eyes dart everywhere but at her? These are just to get you thinking, I'm sure you can do even better.

    Really nice. I liked this!

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  2. Thanks, Lisa. Great point about the darkness...a bit of overkill there and I'll definitely rework that. I need to think about the father/voice thing. Since she can't see him well in the first scene, I was trying to convey his stress vocally. I can rework the kitchen scene to convey his feelings in body language though. Thanks for the guidance!

    This revision is actually the complete first chapter, so the last paragraph is the last para of the chapter. I want to make sure to have a really strong read-on prompt. So if anyone has any particular comments on it, I'd love to hear them. (And thanks, Lisa, that's what I'd hoped to hear about the last paragraph.)

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  3. This is much clearer! And yes, I agree with Lisa, both about the descriptions and the last paragraphs. Apart from a general comment to go through and tighten the dialogue a bit more and to use words to show his feelings instead of relying on the voice as much, I only want to suggest that you go through the beginning again and tighten up.

    Your first two paragraphs are great individually, but need to work together better:

    I eyed my pillow like an enemy. It beckoned, white and smooth, the promise of oblivion. And yet I dreaded sleep. The fear that it could happen again, that I might wake up wandering somewhere in the house, or even worse, down in the field by the canal, kept me from closing my eyes.

    (This gives me the sense that she's awake and staring at the pillow, and also that she's standing near the bed.)

    Unable to force myself to lie down, I sat on the window seat, nodding into the book on my lap. Though it was well past eleven, the last threads of light lingered on the gardens and the flat green lawn surrounding Heraldsgreen House. In Virginia, it would have been dark by this time, but June nights in Scotland were so short. As I stared out into the fading day, a restless wind stirred the towering chestnuts and the leaves murmured with secrets, sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach.

    (The first in the above paragraph clause is unnecessary because you covered that in the first graph. The verb in the second clause could be past tense or present tense. Was she standing by the bed before and now is sitting on the window seat? And then she is noddding into her book are simultaneous actions due to the sentence construction, so that eliminates the use of the present tense, so that means logically she was nodding into her book and eyeing the pillow simultaneously. This can be fixed through a past perfect switch, or you may prefer to rephrase.)

    Apart from that, there's very little to say. I love this.

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  4. This is great. The only bit of advice I'd give is to pare back on a few of your descriptors (like "towering" before "chestnuts"). They break the rhythm and make the reader stumble.

    "sending twitches of anxiety into the depths of my stomach" is a bit clunky, too, but overall this is great and it doesn't really matter much.

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  5. Great revisions! This is much clearer to me and has a lot of character and tension infused throughout. Like Lisa, I’d like to see the father have a bit more personality and to indicate his emotions through more than his voice. I’d also suggest going through the story and look for areas to tighten up, such as the beginning of the second paragraph (as Martina pointed out). Overall, I’d say besides a few areas where dialogue/description could be condensed that this is a very promising start.

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  6. You've done a great job with your revisions. The dialogue really zings and you've tightened things up.

    I'm still a little concerned about the first three-four paragraphs. By the third paragraph my eyes are drifting down the page. I'm wondering if you couldn't add the fact that the mc hadn't slept for five nights in the second paragraph and then move on.

    The only other area that concerns me is in the business that takes place around the dialogue. Some moving and thinking is okay, but not too much. It pulls the reader out.

    Otherwise, you're in great shape!

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  7. This is great! You've done a great job clarifying and tightening things up. I'm glad we get the chance to see the entire chapter - and yes, I think that's a great way to end it. I would definitely read on to 2.

    The only thing I would say is take another look at your dialogue. Most people, when asked a question, don't respond with "yes" and "no" out loud. They nod or shake their head, and often don't respond to the question in it's entirety. And I agree with some of the other comments about adding action (like expression or movement of the characters) to add to our understanding of what they're thinking/feeling.

    Great job, can't wait to read next week's!

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