Saturday, April 23, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Final Revision Round Entry #2

Young Adult - Heather Tourkin

I teetered on the narrow metal railing and tightened my grip on the mast line. Jumping was supposed to be a piece of cake, except that now, looking down at the Mediterranean Sea swell against the wooden sailboat, I wasn’t quite so sure. I mean, it had to be at least twenty-five feet to the water. Twenty-five feet! I did a quick calculation and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Holy moly, that’d be like leaping out of a third-story window.

“Hold up, Luke,” Dad called from the main deck. He held up his lucky Apollo coin and tossed it, like he always tossed it, with a swift flick of his thumb. The gold glinted in the sun before he caught the coin in one hand.

I furrowed my brow and shot Dad an annoyed look just so he’d know he was starting to piss me off. If I was going to jump, it was going to be on my terms, not his.

“Heads you jump, tails you dive.”

Dive? Diving wasn’t part of this deal. My temples pulsed. “Dad, I never said I’d—”

“Apollo says…” he interrupted as he opened his fist. “Dive!”

The word spun around in my head, my panic building, and I got all woozy inside. It was like I was riding a tidal wave of nausea. Then, in the back of my mind, I heard my main bro, Conner Larkin. He was egging me on like he was some kind of authority. “Chillax,” he’d say if he were here now. “Don’t get your tighty-whiteys in a twist. Just do it.”

Dad rocked back on his heels and rested his beer can on his paunch. “Want me to toss it again?” The way he said it made it sound like he thought I was a wuss, a real yellow belly.

The whole point of my being up here was to prove that I wasn’t a wuss. I guess you could say I wanted to show my dad I still had grit. I gulped down air like I was popping a couple of chill pills and stared at the water.

Suddenly, my brain sparked. At first it told me to dive, but it was so amped-up that it went one better: You’re fifteen, Luke. Forget the dive. Go for a front flip.

So I did it.

I propelled myself off the railing so fast that my gut never had the chance to the spew the humus I’d eaten for lunch. But I pushed too hard. The greens and browns and grays of the scrubby Turkish coastline become a muddy blur as I realized my error. I was over flipping and if I didn’t do something I was going to land on my stomach. Instinctively, I twisted to the right.

The result was a pathetic side-flop, if that’s even possible, onto a slab of turquoise-colored cement. Pain radiated from the pit of my stomach to the tips of my fingers. I curled into a ball and sank.

Not for long, though. The sea pushed back and shot me to the surface.

“Son,” Dad said when I exploded out of the water. “That was one hard fall.” He tossed me a life preserver. “You all right?”

It didn’t take the brightest bulb in the box to see I wasn’t all right. I started to reach for the preserver, but dodged it at the last second. No way was I going to let Dad know how much I hurt. Instead, I treaded water and eyeballed the distance between our boat and the rough grey cliffs that jutted up at a ninety degree angle. I’d be hard pressed to scale those cliffs on a good day, and it was too far to swim to point where the sand met up with the rocks.

I gritted my teeth and forced a fake smile. I knew I should have made my gut pull rank on my brain. I just knew it.

Chapter 2 The Blues

It wasn’t until I ducked back under water that I realized how close I’d come to taking up permanent residence with a certain Mr. Hades. The lagoon where the Didyma 111, our 89-foot broad-beam gulet, was anchored was shallow, and the sea floor gave way to an entire underwater mountain range. If I’d nailed the flip and entered the water feet first, I’d have mashed myself into a boulder and splintered my ankles at the very least.

I shivered just thinking about it, and then moved into a slow one-armed breast stroke around the bow of the boat. The only thing left was to haul my sorry butt up the rope ladder. I took a quick look-see at my chest and winced. The whole right side was as red as a hunk of rare roast beef.

When I finally got onto the fore deck, I made a b-line through the few late-afternoon sun worshippers and rushed into the lounge. I needed some serious time in solo-land and I figured the best place to do that was in my sleeping cabin below. Unfortunately, Kaitlyn Davies jumped down from the upper deck and intercepted me.

“L-L-Luke,” she called, trailing me to the stairs like a puppy dog.

In my haste I tripped on the bottom tread and stubbed my big toe against the wall. Man, that hurt. I shot Kaitlyn a fierce look, and then snarled. That’s when I saw Ray Davies’ large square head darken his daughter’s shoulder. He glared 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.

I opened my mouth, an apology right there on the tip of my tongue, but then I thought: no way; I’m not the problem, she is. Kaitlyn Davies. Why can’t she just bug off? She’s thirteen for Christ’s sake. Thirteen. There ought to be a rule.

I bit my tongue and stomped down the dark hall to my cabin, slamming the door behind me.

Inside the tiny room, my younger brother, Adam, was sprawled across the upper berth. His scraggly brown bangs masked the fact that his nose was glued to a book. He was so gripped by the words on the page that he’d forgotten to remove his shoes—a crime punishable by a lifetime of Mom’s “I told you not to’s.”

I switched off the overhead light and slid between the sheets on the narrow bottom berth.

“Hey, what’s your problem?” Adam complained.

The dark mahogany-paneled room was equipped with only one of everything: one wardrobe, one side table, and one port hole. Without the glaring overhead light, it was too dark to read. Adam leapt off the upper berth and switched the light back on.

I pulled the pillow over my eyes and ignored him.

“I heard Dad telling you to dive.” Adam climbed back up top.

“I thought you were reading,” I said.

“I can read and listen, you know.”Adam made a nasal squeaking noise, which meant he was pretending to clean out his ear. Creepster.

“The minute we land at Dulles airport. I’m history. Gone, like yesterday.”

“Why? Because of Dad?”

“Dude, you don’t understand.” I pressed down on the pillow. “He’s a tool. Always pushing me…in front of everyone. Then I do my birdbrain routine. This time Ray and Kaitlyn and the whole stupid boat crew saw me.”

7 comments:

  1. Hi,

    This has come so far!!! You've aged the voice a lot, but this is still where I think you can concentrate the bulk of your efforts. Have you read a lot of books with teen boy POVs? Books like The Marbury Lens are great reads to get you into that mindset.

    I like what you've done with the opening, but you could speed that up even a little more, make us feel his tension and anger.

    You're doing a great job. This is tough to nail and you've packed a lot into this opening. I'm so impressed at how far this has come!

    Martina

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Martina. Your comments have been invaluable.

    Yes, I've read quite a few books with teen boy povs--M T Anderson, Neal Schusterman, Gordon Korman--to name a few, but I'm just not sure where the problem with the voice is. I'll definitely check out The Marbury Lens.

    Do you have a suggestion for what else you would do to speed up the opening and enhance the tension?

    Again, everything you've said so far has been really helpful. Sometimes its hard to see when you're so close to a project.

    Heather

    ReplyDelete
  3. Heather,

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I've enjoyed seeing it evolved over the past few weeks. It has come a long way. You voice is much better, although as Martina pointed out you could still do some more work on it.

    One thing I've found out about my story through this process was that I wasn't picking the right details to dwell upon for my character's voice. You might want to examine your voice for that, too. I think there are areas were you could trim the fat (repetition, work choices, etc.) and make a much leaner narrative. For example:

    Original:
    I teetered on the narrow metal railing and tightened my grip on the mast line. Jumping was supposed to be a piece of cake, except that now, looking down at the Mediterranean Sea swell against the wooden sailboat, I wasn’t quite so sure. I mean, it had to be at least twenty-five feet to the water. Twenty-five feet! I did a quick calculation and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Holy moly, that’d be like leaping out of a third-story window.

    83 words.

    Edited:
    I teetered on the narrow metal railing, twenty-five feet above the water. My grip tightened on the mast line. Jumping was supposed to be a piece of cake, except I looked down. Big mistake.

    34 words.

    This is just an example (and probably not the best one) of how you might trim the details and boil them down to their essence... to the important parts. This will do two things. It'll bring out your voice and speed up the pace.

    I hope this advice helps and keep up the good work.

    Best Wishes,
    Joseph

    ReplyDelete
  4. Heather, I know just what you mean. I wish I could have this much clarity with my own work. :D

    To tweak the opening, I'd recommend reading aloud and seeing where you feel like you're losign the tension. Consider each line and try to put yourself into the head of your character. What is he really thinking? Approach it from that perspective instead of the 'how can I convey the information perspective' -- it's a subtle mindtwist, but you may catch a few things that you could move to later on in the story. Part of this is voice, too, so I'm reluctant to mess with that. Only you can know where you are going with this. All I can suggest is that you look at the voice and decide how blunt this kid is. For example, a blunter kid might say something like:

    Twenty-five feet down, the sun **** on the water of the Mediterranean. My knuckles went white. It would be like **** concrete from three floors up.

    "Heads you dive, tails you jump," my dad shouted from down on the deck. Etc. etc.

    The **** spaces indicate where you can really insert something that showcases voice.

    Don't know if that helps you any?

    M.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello! Sorry I'm late to the party. :D Here's my take: I don't have a problem with the tension at the beginning now. I think when something is big or important it's okay to take more time with it, and you have shortened it a bit. HOWEVER, I think what is really hanging people up is the "voice." Let me clarify. You're so focused on this teen boy issue (because of US) that you are forcing it. Things like "Holy moly", "Main Bro", and "Yellow Belly" slow it down and act like speed-bumps. They can go. Things like "wuss" and "piss me off" flow easily and you can keep. You have to ask yourself what feels natural.

    Pretend you are this character and speak out loud and see what feels right to you. Not every teen boy is the same. You have him, I know this by lines like "hunk of rare roast beef", which is awesome. I think we've just got you all wound up. Like you said above, it's HARD when you are so close to it. I'm the same way. And "voice" is such an elusive concept I almost hate to even use it.

    Go through out loud and decide what is important enough to keep. Another example: "I guess you could say I wanted to show my dad I still had grit" You can eliminate "I guess you could say" without hurting anything. Does that make sense? The more streamlined you make it, the more the voice and story will have a chance to shine.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree with Lisa. I think the pacing is great now, there are just certain phrases, like "holy moly" and "main bro" that threw me out of the story. To me, those expressions aren't consistent. Holy moly and yellow belly seem like southern drawl slang to me, while main bro seems surfer dude. But honestly, they feel forced to me. Lisa's right about the moments like wuss - those are natural and just flow. I'm sorry that I don't have more concrete suggestions for you, voice is just one of those things that you know when you hear it. Luke's voice is in here somewhere, I do feel like you're REALLY close. Maybe try reading this out loud to see what feels awkward and what feels right, and just keep tweaking? Anyway, I really enjoyed seeing you progress in this contest! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Heather, I do think you are really close here. These critiques are extremely valuable but sometimes focusing so hard makes us miss our natural rhythm. Your pacing was a little tighter in the last pass, so I think it was the effort to add the voice-y stuff that slowed you down a bit.

    Sometimes, it's the tiny stuff. In this version, Conner says "Chillax" but I thought his "Chill" in the last version made it flow better and was more authentic.

    We don't need so much description of the dive/flip thing; we really only need the essentials. Combining this version and the last version, you could have something like:

    "Forget the dive. Go for a front flip.

    So I did.

    I propelled myself off the railing so fast that my gut never had the chance to the spew the humus I’d eaten for lunch. The greens and browns and tans of the scrubby Turkish coastline became a muddy blur as I spun toward the water.

    What resulted was the most pathetic, whopping side-flop onto a slab of turquoise-colored cement. Pain radiated from the pit of my stomach to the tips of my fingers. I curled into a ball and sank."

    Perhaps if you read all four revisions out loud you can hear what works for each (I thought rev 2 had the closest thing to a natural voice, with some word changes). They all have strengths and I think you can pick and choose from them to create a really strong opening.

    But all in all, you've done such a great job throught these revisions.

    ReplyDelete

Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)