Saturday, April 23, 2011

6 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Final Revision Round Entry #3

YA Fantasy - Christine Arnold

Beads of condensation rolled down the window. 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

“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.

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 you 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

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.

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 my parents 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

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.

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.

I tried to step back, but the long grass had wrapped itself around my
ankles. A few strands ripped out of the ground as I teetered on my
heels. Rearing, snake-like, a rose-vine snapped at me and wrapped
around my wrist, pulling me upright.

I cried out in pain. Sharp thorns chewed on my arm, tearing at my
skin. Hot blood trickled down my wrist.

I had no choice. I had to use water. It was my only weapon.


  1. Hi Christine,

    As always, this is excellent. I still love this whenever I read it. That said, the italics didn't fix the tense issue for me, because there are so many direct thoughts that I end up getting lost in the mechanics. Which is the problem with the way you've structured the past/present switches. Take another look at each tense switch and see what you could do to put it in past tense. I believe you'll see that most of them can be without losing anything.

    The problem with tense switching is that it causes the reader to pause and think, instead of reading. Especially in a fantasy, you can't afford anything that throws you out of your story.

    Good luck with this. It's an excellent idea with many creative elements! I think you've very close.



  2. Christine,

    This is such a great beginning. I love how you've given us an engaging character and story problem, and then kicked it up a notch with the attack.

    As Martina said, I think there are too many tense switches... too much italics. A little bit for emphasis is fine, but you have a lot of it. You could probably keep most of it in the past tense and only italize direct thoughts/important thoughts. For example:

    I can’t give in.

    This is a direct thought... something you want to emphasize so you'd want to keep it italized.

    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.

    This would be regular because these are more tangential thoughts. Also be careful that your italics are all present tense and your non-italics are past tense if you make this switch.

    Another thing I noticed was that there was some repetition in certain areas of the text. Ask youself how you could condense these down to their essense. For example, you write:

    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.

    You might be able to condense that down to something like:

    I can't give in.

    Mom would kill me. Even though the chances of anyone seeing me through the living room window were pretty low. If trees could talk, I might be worried.

    Last but not least, I really like how you have the tall grass grab onto Jemma to keep her from escaping the crawling roses. It makes even clearer that the attacker has powers over plants in general. Very cool.

    Best Wishes,

  3. LOL Joseph beat me to it!! :D I was going to use the same first example! Use italics for short, punchy thoughts. The rest goes to past tense. Precisely! Sorry if this is driving you crazy, but I think it will make a huge difference. Especially since everything else is SO well done. Seriously. I LOVE it.

  4. I like the way you've worked this piece over, but I'm going to have to agree with the "no italics" part that was mentioned above.

    This piece has a great voice. Keep up the good work! The only thing I'd really add is that I feel like this time the pacing slowed down. The pacing from last week's revision worked much better for me.

    Good Luck, Heather

  5. Christine, while you are evaluating the pacing comment that Heather just made, go back and look at the changes that you made and consider whether it is a case of the big blocks of italics slowing the eye. I suspect that's most of your problem. (I haven't gone back to compare what specifically you did different though, so don't dismiss the comment off hand. But do be mindful that this is exactly the effect I was trying to caution you about. Once the reader is out of the story, there can be a sense of impatience that can affect our perception of pacing.)

  6. I think this is great! Once you address the italics issue (which others have commented on much better than I could), I think you'll have a super strong opening. You have some great description, good tension, and lots to make the reader want to read on. Such good work!


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