Saturday, April 2, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April, Entry #3

Young Adult Fantasy - Christine L. Arnold

For me, blue has never been a peaceful color. It’s the color of water.
And a blaring neon reminder of the things I can, but shouldn’t do.

Resisting was even harder than usual this morning.

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 wouldn’t give in.

A fat droplet caught my eye. It oozed down the glass, 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. Now it swelled to a throb.

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

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

“Nervous?”

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

She didn’t see, did she? What would she have seen? I didn’t even do
anything. And even if I had, she wouldn’t notice. She wouldn’t know
what to look for.

I swallowed the lump that’d lodged itself in my throat. “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. “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 stared down at the little beads of water. I already gave
into it once this morning. I can’t risk it again.

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. Getting locked away in some secret
government bunker and becoming a lab rat would be bad, yeah. But
having everyone I love – that is, Mom and Dad – run away if they saw
me for the freak I really am – that’s what I’m afraid of.

So I won’t give in.

I glared at the beads of water stuck to the top of my sneakers. Makes
it pretty hard to resist when my own shoes are conspiring against me.

One of these days, I really am going to snap.

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. It weighed on me, and I felt my resolve to ignore it
slipping even further.

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 perfumey 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 hated
them. 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 rosebush tendrils slithered up the path toward me.
Roses bloomed, withered, and blackened in rapid succession as the
vines 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. And still crawling.

I tried to step back, but the underbrush had wrapped itself around my
ankles. I teetered on my heels. A rose lashed out a tendril and caught
my wrist.

I struggled as it chewed on my arm, its sharp thorns tearing at my
skin. Hot blood trickled down my wrist.

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

I closed my eyes and let the yearning take over. My chest felt tight,
but it had nothing to do with my racing heart. The hum grew to a roar
as it burst from the little corner where I kept it hidden. The
sensation rushed through me until I could feel the blood slurping
through my veins and the invisible beads of water hiding in the air.

Taking a deep breath, I gathered the hidden droplets from the air and
froze them into a dagger. I sliced through the rose-stem, wincing as I
ripped the thorny vine from my flesh.

A gust of wind slammed into me and knocked me flat across the ground.

The air rushed out of my lungs. A bitter, metallic taste filled my mouth.

Some part of me was dimly aware that I should’ve been freaking out. I
should’ve been screaming, or at least paralyzed with fear. I was being
attacked by roses and wind and they were winning. But all I could
think was that I had to keep fighting and give that wind and those
roses the fight of their lives.

More vines crept toward me and wrapped around my hands and throat. I
gasped and thrashed against them. My hands bled from battling the
thorns. It was useless. They were too fast. I couldn’t catch my
breath.

That’s when I saw the mask.

Or, the man wearing the mask. He stepped into a patch of light shining
on the road and made a small motion with his hand. The vine tightened
its grip around my neck. It wasn’t the roses or the wind. It was him.
He was doing this.

I tugged at the vine around my throat, but I couldn’t get a good
handle on it. And the more I struggled, the tighter it wound.

He held out his hand and a flame appeared in his palm. Cocking his
head, he launched it at me.

With what little strength I could muster, I conjured a wall of water
and froze it into a shield. I shut my eyes, bracing for the blow. The
flame rammed into me, shattering the shield. A shard of ice sliced me
across the cheek.

When I opened my eyes again, the man in the mask was sprawled
face-first across the middle of the drive. Behind him stood a
dark-haired kid, his clenched fists smoking. He fixed his fierce eyes
on me and shot a fist of fire out of his palm.

7 comments:

  1. You incorporate the senses beautifully while echoing your character’s feelings and thoughts. I was a bit confused on the plot however. The first question I had was, if the draw for her to use her powers is so strong that watching condensation almost brings it on, how has she kept it silent? There is water everywhere. What happens when she runs the sink or the shower?

    Also I would take out the line "Resisting was even harder than usual this morning." I'm not sure it adds that much, as we get that a sentence or so down.

    The attacking roses were cool, very original. The masked man, though, again confused me. I assumed his powers had something to do with nature (roses and all), but then he used fire. And the boy behind him did as well.

    I assume most of these questions are answered pretty quickly. But you may want to slow it down a tad and give us a little more information. I know it’s hard, because there’s such a fine line between too much info and not enough action. But you obviously do an excellent job at combining the two while introducing us to Jemma and her mother, so I know you can do it. I guess I want to connect with Jemma even more before pitting her against the bad guy. Nicely done!

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  2. Hi Christine,

    Your writing here is gripping, evocative, and original. Ditch the first three lines though, because they only tell what you show in this paragraph:

    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 wouldn’t give in.

    That said, we don't have any context for where the window is. Living room? Kitchen? We don't find out until the mother speaks that it's even inside. I also wondered as I was reading a little later, how she showered or brushed her teeth, and I think that maybe starting in the shower could give you even more opportunities to let us connect to her longing and her everyday life and contrast the two.

    Which raises the major issue I had. The fact that this is the first day of Junior year suggests she's passed some milestone that let her come into her powers. That's more believable, anyway, than the idea that her mom didn't notice some accidental manifestation of her powers as she was growing up. But I'd like some mention of that in the paragraph where you set out her perception of the stakes.

    I do like that you've provided societal stakes and are already hinting at your rules of magic. The one thing I didn't see here was any sense of the cost of magic. Or is this more of an x-men, superhero type structure where magic has no cost? During the battle, the use of four elements, roses/earth, temperature/air, water, and fire suggests an elemental structure similar to Rachel Caine's Weather Wardens, in which case it is cool that (like in RC's books) you have a character that combines at least two elements. And that suggests (unless I'm misreading) a possible motive for the attack on her.

    With respect to the attack however, I'd need to see her using her powers actively earlier on to find it credible. Perhaps she uses the privacy of the shower to paint translucent pictures on the wall, or manipulates the water in some other original way that shows her personality.

    I also need the fight scene to be clearer, and I'd like to see more of her shock, questioning, and response. I'd like to really *see* what's happening. How big are these rose vines? How big are the thorns? How fast can they move? She needs to struggle against them more actively. Step back before the roses reach her, use both hands with all her strength to keep the vine from tightening around her neck.

    Be careful with the precision of your language here. Tendrils coming out of the roses doesn't seem very threatening. And are you talking about roses in teh context of the bloom, the vine, or the bush?

    I was less concerned with the ambiguity of the paragraphs with the boy and the man because she was clearly confused and you were drawing out the suspense, but be careful to give us the explanations quickly so we see whose side the boy is on. As it stands now, he attacked the man and is in the act of attacking your MC?

    Finally, suggest you make your MC allergic to roses to account for the sneezing and watery eyes.

    Great job! Looking forward to next week.

    Martina

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  3. Christine, You've got a great voice here, I can feel this girl's struggle as she's watching the drop stream down the window pane and when she's being assaulted by the smell of roses. I loved the way she conjured a wall of ice in the fight scene, too. Intense and surreal.

    I did have some confusion, particularly with the water element, since water's everywhere. I'm wondering if you could give us a little more of a hint about the "rules," as it were, to what will happen if she does give in.

    Looking forward to the next version!

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  4. Very good descriptions here...lots of detail and good use of all the senses.

    I actually like the first sentence as a hook, but would agree to get rid of the other two which are too much like telling. It would be interesting to see if you can tie in the first sentence with her manipulating water. Weak example here but maybe something about the taking a bath or shower(supposed to be a peaceful thing), the shades of blue of water and steam, and not feeling peaceful at all.

    I agree with the above...I need to see more of her ability. She said she gave in once, but manipulating one drop of water wasn't enough for me. In fact, I totally missed it and had to go back and read it again.

    Love the mother's crossed arms and "look."

    The rose fight scene is well-imagined and different. Nice job!

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  5. Christine,
    This was a very intriguing beginning. I thought your voice was very good. There were a few points were it wasn’t hitting at 100%, like the first three lines, but it does draw you in. Like Martina, I was a bit confused about the whereabouts of the story... the setting isn’t defined enough at the beginning to give me the context I need. It wouldn’t take much to give the reader the setting so that it’s not a distraction (when I don’t get the setting in a book... I tend to imagine them... like an underwater sub rather than a house... don’t ask why). I also was left wondering why drops would cause such a struggle when there are so many things like showers, sinks, with much more water... God forbid her or her family would have a fish tank! I like Martina’s suggestion of a preview of the MC’s powers before the fight scene. As for the fight scene itself... I also found it a bit confusing. At first it’s roses... then fireballs from a masked man... then a boy with smoking hands. So does the masked man have multiple powers? nature (roses) and fire? I think the smoking hands cause a bit of confusion as well... because you then have two guys with that type of power.
    Overall, I like your character’s voice. It seems appropriate for the character and provides some great insights into her personality. All you need to do is hammer out some of the rough spots with her temptation and the fight scene.

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  6. Hey you guys!

    Thanks SO much for the awesome comments and suggestions. You've given me some great ideas on how to improve my chapter! I've been working on it and since adding a bunch of stuff, it's gotten quite a bit longer. When I send in the draft for next week do I select the new 1250 words or do I send what I have up to where I left off the first time? I'm guessing the former, but I just want to make sure. Thanks again for everyone's help!

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  7. This premise is something I would definitely read if I found it on a bookshelf.

    The beginning, I'm not sure why, but I had the illusion of her being in a car and touching the rain, so maybe add just a touch of setting, maybe rolling over in her bed, or slouching deeper into the couch, maybe stiffening as she leaned closer into the windowsill. I don't know how her power works, but I'm willing to stick around and find out. There's a lot of tension that really hooks me with the raindrops then you give us more information, she's starting Junior year. Bam. instantly we know how old she is and what situation we're following her into next.

    This line came with some confusion, 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."

    Kick it up a notch. I love the explanation afterward, seeing her biggest fear play out, but the build up to it is lacking. We're about to learn something huge here, make us pay attention. :)

    Dagger of ice? Clawing roses? Yes. As she's attacked we learn your MC is a fighter (yay). Can't wait to see what happens next and where your revisions take you next week!

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