Sunday, May 8, 2011

6 1st Five Pages Workshop - May: Entry #2

Sara Baker-YA Paranormal Romance

CHAPTER ONE

Death

Death, it is an inevitable part of life. For some, it is a means to an end where as for others it is an unavoidable terrifying prospect everyone must face. Every life comes to an end at precisely the right time.
It is autumn in Dayville, Connecticut. The sun is shining on this Saturday afternoon and a slight chill floats on the gentle breeze that swirls about me. I know this because those around me are wearing sweaters and I long to feel it against my own skin as it tenderly rustles the turning leaves as they fade from a waxy caterpillar green to vibrant shades of lemon zest yellow, saffron red, and hues of an orange peel.

No one suspects it, but a dark cloud lingers and edges its way closer as time goes by. I take the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket and look at its fading face. The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.

2:38

Four minutes and it will be time to collect him.

Leisurely I stroll along the sidewalk that leads into the park. Around me is silence, except for the ticking clock.

Delight filled screams emerged from the children as they climbed, ran, and swung… I see it on their faces, the smiles, their mouths open in joyful laughter. It will end all too soon.

I spot him as he flies out from the tunnel of the slide and into the loving arms of a young lady that awaits him at the bottom. His blonde hair catches in the afternoon light, a golden halo upon his head. He smiles with his heart, his cherub cheeks filling with laughter, and his cornflower blue eyes dancing with joy as only a small child’s can.

It is taking the young ones that bothers me. There is so much they have yet to experience and never will, in this lifetime anyways. I, myself, have had never had any of it. Part of me hungers for the human experience instead of watching from the sidelines as I do now.

I watch the boy alone. The female stands; carrying the boy in her arms. With their backs turned, she walks with him to the bench where their belongings sat. She sits him down and tugs of his shoes, tips them over, and empties out the fine grains of sand that has collected within them. He squirms impatiently, eager to get down and head home. It is his fourth birthday. Cake is waiting for him when they return.

She is speaking to him as I walk up behind them.

She brushes off his socks, put his feet back into the shoes, and ties the laces. Her hands are delicate and her fingers nimble.

“It’s my birthday, Aamira!” he tells her; I reading his lips. “It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!”

She responds; her face turned slightly from me. It is better this way. I will not look at her directly. I cannot.

She stands, picks up her bag, and holds out her hand to Jake.

It is the beginning of the end.

Instead of taking it, he slides off the bench and bolts down the sidewalk and towards the street.

She yells after him.

He does not listen. Jake giggles as he runs, excited to head home.

The girl does not waste any time. Aamira races after him not knowing her efforts will soon be rendered futile.

A squat looking man with a bulging stomach walks his a dog and watches as Jake races by. He could have stopped what was about to happen had he reached out for the child… or had he moved out of the girls way. His poodle jumpes on her and the leash becomes tangled in her feet and she falls to the ground. She scrambles to get up.

Standing, Aamira calls out after Jake yet again. He does not stops running.

She is gaining ground on him.

Aamira reaches out to grab him, missing his shirt by a mere inch. Jake jumps off the curb and heads for their red brick metallic Pathfinder parked on the opposite side of the street.

I am beside the boy as he looks down. He then studies the silver car that had tried to veer to the side. It had not been enough. There was nothing to be done for it.

I hold out my hand to Jake. His small hand grasps mine and he looks up at me. He is in my plain of existence now.

"Do I get to go home now? I want my Mommy and Daddy." His voice shakes slightly, not quite grasping what has happened.

"Yes," I tell him, "to your new home. You parents will meet you there later."

"What about Aamira? I want her to come with me now."

I shake my head.

Jake looks at his elder sister. "I don't want her to cry." His lower lip pouts.

I do what I swore I would never do. For the first time, I look at the one left behind.

Aamira is sobbing, silently to my ears. Tears stream down the gentle slopes of her cheeks as she shakes her head vehemently as if it would change the outcome, refusing to accept her new reality. In her arms she cradles the lifeless boy.

She looks up and she sees me, truly sees me standing there. Her stormy glistening grey eyes pierce mine. She becomes real to me in this instant, no longer an invisible casualty of my job.

I hear her gasp, a distinct sharp intake of breath. I hear someone from the other side. Her eyes, I know those eyes and her soul from a time before, but from where?

I breathe her in. Her hair is the color of hazelnut streaked with honey, her sun-kissed skin still warmly glowing from the summer sun, her lips are pouty ripened raspberries, and the smell of her skin; I can compare it to nothing. I had never smelled anything before that moment. I had to know what it was. I had to know her.

It disappears in an instant.

She is back to looking at the small lifeless body in her arms, rocking him gently on the sun warmed pavement. But still, I can hear them. I can hear them all.

A crowd of people was gathering around. Sirens wail in the distance.

"I don't want her to cry," repeats Jake and he tugs on my hand.

I regrettably take my eyes from the weeping angel and return them to Jake. I understand the sadness in his eyes.

"She will not cry forever," I tell him. "One day she will be with you again."

Right then and there I want to trade his soul for hers. I would have if I could have done anything about it.

'She should be dead,' I think longingly. She had to die, I want… no, need… her to die. Perhaps in her death, I will be made whole.

“It is time to go now,” I tell him.

Death, it is an inevitable part of life. For some, it is a means to an end where as for others it is an unavoidable terrifying prospect everyone must face. Every life comes to an end at precisely the right time.

Death is immortal. I am immortal. I am death.

6 comments:

  1. This is a lovely premise, and I love the way that you’ve worked the sound elements of the distinct planes of existence into the manuscript starting from the watch. I think you’re beginning the novel in the right place, with a potentially very powerful scene. Overall, you have a knack for conveying emotion. We feel Aamira’s love for her brother, and the love Death is already beginning to feel for her. Your world is intriguing, but your mechanics and sentences need some work.

    The reason Death has the “antique watch” isn’t clear, if he’s never been human. I wonder if it is your choice of adjective that threw me out of the story. I would imagine a watch is an important item in Death’s line of work, so is it an official watch? A certified one? One handed down from his father? I’m wondering about the set-up in your world. If he isn’t human, and never was human, how did he get his job? Is it inherited, or is it something he chose. Does he want to be Death? Is there a way he can ditch the job? I’d like to know more about him and what is at stake for him personally before we meet the reason why he is going to risk it all.
    You can have plenty of room in these five pages for world-building and more personal details hinting at his life if you trim some of the description down. There are too many adjectives and adverbs here, so many that the critical details get lost in the noise. Boil this down to what you want to reader to focus on. Show us the one detail that reveals, instead of telling us the many words that remove us from the action. Also be careful about showing us something, then telling us. If he longs for the sun on his skin, we know he wants the human experience.
    Watch your tenses (switches from present to past): Delight filled screams emerged from the children as they climbed, ran, and swung should be delight-filled screams emerge from the children as they climb, run, and swing; and I would have if I could have done should be I would if I could, for example. And ditch your wordy phrasing: as time goes by, upon (on is good enough). Eliminate most of your ‘ing’ constructions: is shining, are wearing, is waiting, is talking, etc. Clarify your its--you have a lot of them--and you should replace most with the noun they represent. Check every sentence for wordiness and grammar.
    Once you have the room, give Death’s voice a twist. What makes your Death different from others that have been done already? Bring THAT into these five pages. Give him a unique perspective. Breathe more life into him.

    Looking forward to reading your tweaked version!

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  2. This scene in the park is incredibly powerful. I was able to picture it easily (as much as I didn't want to as the mother of a toddler :)). I loved the detail of how Aamira pours sand from Jake's shoes even though he's squirming. It says so much about her character.

    I also like the juxtaposition of the ticking watch versus the screams of children, but can he hear them, or does he just see their mouths forming the screams? I wonder if you can make more use of the ticking watch, maybe by replacing a line that's more telling like "It was the beginning of the end," with something about the clock ticking.

    I did get tripped up by the the descriptors of the different colors, particularly the leaves and the car.

    Also, with this line: "I am beside the boy as he looks down." I couldn't quite figure out what was going on at first. I now understand that he's above the whole scene, but I wonder if you could add a bit more to that line to make that more obvious. Maybe just: I am beside the boy as he looks down at the street below.

    But, in general, this is a fabulous opening scene.

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  3. Here goes... I'm having trouble w/the comment boxes today. My apologies.

    I love the concept of Death being a teenage boy. I was struck almost immediately, however, by the unique color descriptions on the part of Death being so much like the beloved Book Thief. You should be careful of that, perhaps even change that to be completely honest. You do need that quirky perspective of Death though, you just need to reach to find it in a different place. Perhaps the things about the world that catch his interest. You have such a huge opportunity here (what an awesome premise) for Death's voice. Really wow us with it!

    I loved the descriptions of the child and the situation. Really felt for the sister.

    I was bothered by the tense shifts. I think you were doing on purpose because of Death's being perhaps outside the timeline, but it read as confusing I'm afraid. Pick one. Slow down the things he's watching or speed them up so that we can see he sees time differently if it's important.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing where you go with this. Very very cool.

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  4. Great premise. What an emotional, gripping first scene. Well done on setting and action. You can really polish this up with more editing and tweaking your sentence structure.

    Like Lisa, I was also immediately put in mind of Death from The Book Theif. There were a few elements and phrases that felt very similar to that book. If you haven't read it before, I highly recommend it!

    As has been mentioned already, the tense shifts took me out of the narrative. I also noticed at least two typos -- "plain" insteand of plane and "of" instead of off -- that knocked me out of the story as well. Death's voice is nicely disconnected and meloncholy, but I feel like it might be a little too stiff and formal, like you're trying to make him sound refined and traditional but not quite getting it. The opening line ("Death, it is an inevitable part of life") just felt really stiff to me. I think you can tweak to make him sound elegant without being too wooden.

    I was a little thrown by Death's sudden desire for the sister to be dead. I kind of get where you were going with it -- she ignited a feeling in him and he wanted her to be with him instead of the boy -- but as written it felt a little, um, homicidal to me. A little cold. I think it was his comments of "she should be dead" and "I want... no, need... her to die" that threw me. It might read better if you stick to expressing his desire to be with her rather than his wanting her dead, specifically. The bit about briefly wishing it were her instead of the boy was actually okay for me, it was the specifically saying he wanted her to be dead that made me uncomfortable.

    Okay, those are my thoughts. This is a solid scene to start with and draws the reader into the story well. Keep it up!

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  5. I'd start this one without all that introduction stuff:

    "No one suspects it, but a dark cloud edges its way closer as time goes by. I take the antique pocket watch from my vest pocket and look at its fading face. The second hand ticks, its sound available to my ears alone.

    2:38

    Four minutes and it will be time to collect him.

    Those around me are wearing sweaters and I long to feel the crisp breeze against my own skin. I have to settle for watching it tenderly rustle the leaves as they turn from a waxy caterpillar green to vibrant shades of lemon zest yellow, saffron red, and hues of an orange peel."

    I love that last bit, the way he compensates for not being able to feel with his visual descriptions. Well done there.

    Also, you say, "Around me is silence, except for the ticking clock." then start the next paragraph with, "Delight filled screams emerged from the children as they climbed, ran, and swung… " So which is it, silence or sound? Maybe make the silence almost another character, really drill home that there is no sound. Maybe he walks in time to the ticking, taps his foot while he wait, etc. Then when he's bombarded by the sounds later on it can throw him (and the reader who has accustomed themselves to the sort of slow rhythm) off. Maybe he stumbles backward, the quick succession of footfalls breaking the pattern.

    Use the five senses to really bring this to life. The absence of one or more senses heightens the others, and you do a good job with the visual over-cuing, but I still think you could do more before with the remembering of sounds, smells, textures, etc, (or maybe he'sheard tell about those sorts of things from others? How does he know they exist? Does he remember "a time before"?) and the noticing of their absence, in comparison to the many things he notices after. Perhaps he only thinks he hears her gasp, and writes it off. Then he gets a whiff of her hair. Then the blast of sound.

    Who is he talking to? You have this section, "It is taking the young ones that bothers me. There is so much they have yet to experience and never will, in this lifetime anyways. I, myself, have had never had any of it. Part of me hungers for the human experience instead of watching from the sidelines as I do now." Who is he telling this stuff to? If it's just him and his thoughts, he already knows this. I also don't think you need that last part because the reader already knows of his longing from the thing with the wind just before. Of course taking the little ones would bother him. It'd be worth mentioning only if it DIDN'T bother him.

    I don't think you need that "I am death" stuff at the end either. It's obvious what he is and takes us out of the moment.

    What your tense and your commas.

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  6. The problem with being sixth or seventh commenter, is that everyone has said most of the things I noticed. The tense shifts, the plain plane, and the "ings".

    I really, really like the concept of this story and loved death's voice..and hey, if he looks like a young Brad Pitt(Meet Joe Black), so much the better.

    Love the watch and hope it is a reoccurring object. I think when he listens to it, you might want not only to say he's the only one who hears it, but also that it is the only sound he's able to hear.

    You had "Leisurely I stroll along the sidewalk.." I don't think leisurely is needed. Strolling implies leisurely or you're not strolling :)

    Can't wait to see where you go with this. Really did enjoy it.

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