Saturday, June 11, 2011

5 1st 5 Pages Workshop - June Entry #3, Rev 1

Kate Larkindale -- Young Adult

The darkness is absolute. I’m not sure if my eyes are open or closed.

I strain to push the lids up, but they’re already wide. Something covers my mouth and nose, making breathing difficult. My lungs burn for air, but I can only suck in tiny mouthfuls through whatever smothers my face.

I turn my head, crying out as a savage bolt of pain shoots through it.

I teeter on the edge of consciousness, wavy grey lines wafting across the blank space before my eyes. I struggle to keep my wits about me - what’s left of them - fighting the darkness threatening to drown me. I gasp for breath, certain now I won’t pass out. There’s nothing covering my face. It was the ground my nose and mouth were pressed into. The ground? Wet. Greasy. Reeking of something that reminds me of … gas? Reaching out my left hand, I try to find something to hold onto. My fingers scrabble over small objects, pebbles perhaps, that skitter away beneath my touch. I reach further, wrapping my fist around them. Pain prickles my fingertips. Not pebbles. Glass. Small, sharp shards of glass.

Using my torn hand, I drag myself forward, an inch, maybe two. A huge weight pins my legs to the ground. I can’t move them, can’t even feel them. Raising my head, I see light. Not a lot of light, but light. Red light, bright at one end, dull at the other. I know what this is. I do. My heart thumps at the side of my head and I can almost hear the gears of my brain creaking to make sense of this weird red glow.

A taillight.

I let my throbbing head drop as a reward, a surge of relief passing through me at this small achievement. It’s a taillight. But why is it there? What is there? And if that’s there, where am I? The questions whirl dizzying circles around my skull. What day is it? I struggle to remember. What did I have for breakfast? My eyes fix on the taillight, broken I realize, staring into it as if hypnotized. That’s why it’s brighter at one end.

More light. White this time, sweeping in an arc across me. I blink, dazzled by the flood of brightness. All around me I see fragments glinting in the beam, tiny jewels strewn across what I can now see is a road. The yellow line is inches from my nose. Why am I lying in the middle of the road? Ghostly music drifts in my direction. A song I know, an oldie, The Beach Boys. It makes no sense here, must be in my head. I try to drag my other arm forward, wanting to raise myself onto my elbows for a better perspective. It won’t move. Pain rocks through my shoulder, my chest and courses up my neck to my still-aching head.

The heavy, metallic scent of blood hangs over me. When I glance back down at the road, I see the yellow line is smeared red.

The slamming of a car door breaks through the dull thumping in my skull, chases the music away for a moment. Footsteps scuff across the gravel, heading away from where I lie.

“I’m here!” I can’t tell if I’ve spoken aloud, or if the words are just in my head, like the unearthly jaunt of the Beach Boys song.

“Help me.”

The footsteps grow nearer. “There’s another one over here.” The voice is a woman’s. Another what? I try to form the words, but my tongue is heavy and thick, my lips uncooperative.

A face hovers over me, pale and moon-like in the unforgiving glare.

“This one’s conscious, I think.” The same voice as before. She leans closer, coffee and cigarettes on her breath. “Honey? Can you tell me your name? You’ve been in an accident, but you’re going to be just fine, okay?”

An accident? The cogs and wheels in my head speed up again, grinding together as they try to absorb the words.

“Mom?” The word is painful to form, “Dad?” Somehow I know they’ll be there.

“Is that who you’re with?” The voice is gentle, soothing even, but I sense the urgency in her tone, “Your mom and dad?”

I try to nod, not sure if my head moves or not. I’ve been in an accident. That’s what she said. Does that mean Mom and Dad were in an accident too? Where was I before here?

“…Okay?” I ask, only the last part of the phrase making it out of my mush-filled mouth. Are they okay? That’s what I wanted to ask. Are they here? My parents? Are they okay?

The words build to a scream behind my forehead, hammering the bone with the need to escape. I’m aware of the woman’s hands coming down to hold my shoulders and realize I’m writhing on the cold blacktop, every movement awakening new hurt. A shriek rises and falls in the distance, growing nearer whoop by whoop. It’s in my head, extinguishing any music that lingers there. It stops abruptly, as if a switch has been flicked. Seconds later, flashing lights, red, white, blue, replace the sound.

Voices surround me. They’re all talking at once, the words swirling into a dull cacophony. I let myself drift in spirals on the rise and fall of their voices, the steady thud of my heartbeat an underlying rhythm to their song.

“Sweetheart?” The voice by my ear startles me. “What’s your name? Do you know your name?”

Do I know my name? Of course I know my name. I’m not an idiot. “Lucy…”

“Okay, Lucy.” The man’s voice is soft, yet firm at the same time. It’s a voice I can trust. A safe voice. I can’t see who’s speaking though.
A white beam shines right into my eyes and he’s nothing more than a silhouette against it. “Do you feel any pain, Lucy?”

I nod again, still not sure if my head moves or not.

“Can you tell me where it hurts?”

I shake my head this time. Everything hurts. Those wavy gray lines dance across my vision again. His shadowy figure appears to melt into the darkness for a moment, then comes back into focus.

“Mom?” I ask again, certain she’s around somewhere. “Dad?” My parents must be here. We were at a wedding. Adam DeMarco’s. The grinding cogs in my skull work overtime as I try to make sense of it. Adam DeMarco?
I haven’t seen the guy since I was about eight. He was Tony’s friend.
Sort of friend. Those early childhood friendships based more on who your parents choose to spend time with than any personal selection process. But Tony wasn’t there was he?

I struggle to remember. My eyes rake the ground before me, dazzled by light playing on glass. I blink. No. Tony wasn’t there. Of course not.
He’s at college. Diving. Miles away. I doubt Adam missed him. He’s older than Tony, but not that much. A couple of years, maybe. Young to be getting married. Must’ve knocked the girl up…

“We’re going to move you, Lucy.” The voice shatters my unfocused train of thought, bringing me back to the slick tarmac, damp beneath me.
“Let me know if it hurts, okay?”

“‘Kay” The word sounds like slush coming out of my mouth. Worse than Mom’s mush-mouth after too much chardonnay. Someone lifts my head, wrapping something soft and firm around my neck. I remember the tightness in my lungs before, the struggle to draw breath. Panic rises in my throat, hot and poisonous. My breath quickens and I hear a strange gasping sound, a repetitive “nononononononono” coming from somewhere very close by.


  1. Hi Kate,

    YAY! I know you have reservations about this, but it really is much stronger this way overall. Taking out the flashback leaves the tension intact.

    My only problem at this point is that I don't quite believe it. Don't get me wrong, I think you're almost there, but I feel like you're focusing a little much on externals rather than internals. For me, it's more about balance than anything else for the next step.

    I suggest you go through and really put yourself deeper into her shoes, immerse yourself in her life. What does she think and feel as she encounters each step, as she hears things? What memories and thoughts can the physical sensations and smells trigger? How do they connect to past experiences?

    I also worry a little that you're going too long with some of this looking for that knock-your-socks-off opening. Hitting with this much power leaves you with nowhere to go through rising action, an unfullfillable promise, and you've given us no exposition phase at all. I would definitely keep reading, but I am a little worried about a flaw in the overall structure leading to a let down at the end. I really hope that the payoff here isn't going to be that you spend the book remembering bits and pieces until she realizes the accident was her fault, that she is responsible for killing her entire family. I'm probably off base, and having a synopsis would surely take care of my doubt. I'm going to trust that your plotting skill equals your writing skill and that you've considered your pledge with the reader to keep giving them more building to the payoff at the end.

    Even with an opening this strong, especially without giving us time yet to come to care about the character, you have to be especially careful to keep us reading as the power level drops. Hopefully you've got this covered--again, you write with authority, so likely you do--but it is something to consider. If you can't plot a strong line of rising action going from here to the climax, you may need to find a way to bring this down a few notches.

    Hope this helps. I look forward to seeing where you go from here.



  2. Yay!! Great revision! It's really getting there. I think the next step is to pare down the opening. I know it's hard to kill your darlings. I KNOW. And you are a good writer, so it's not like there's anything wrong with what you've written, it's just too much because you haven't really moved the story forward for a bit. And that's important. Every bit has to have a purpose. SO, let's start with this. "A huge weight pins my legs to the ground. I can’t move them, can’t even feel them." If you can't feel your legs, how do you know there's something weighing them down? Think it through logically. She asks a lot of questions. I'm not sure trying to remember what she ate for breakfast is exactly logical there either. We get it's an accident pretty quickly, yet it takes her several paragraphs. Every time I think okay she's got it what's next? She says it again. Take those first maybe ten paragraphs or so and see what you can cut and still have it make sense. Get us there faster. Get her there faster. Not rushed, just not extra-info. Ask yourself whether the words add to plot? Character? Etc. Again, to me, it's when she calls for her parents that I start actually connecting with her. Also, be careful. You have several of the first paragraphs starting with an "I". "I strain" "I turn" "I teeter" and you want to vary that.

    Great job with incorporating the flashback! Great work. I can't wait to read next week. :D

  3. This was beautifully written. The prose is gorgeous, no doubt about it. I love how visceral everything is.

    However, I feel like the pacing could be a little snappier. We get a lot of beautiful description of the MC's pain and her sensory perceptions, but I'd like the rescuers to show up a little earlier. That's when I really started to connect to the character. I cared about Lucy's predicament immediately, but I didn't start feeling concerned about Lucy herself until facts about her began to trickle in.

    But for lovely prose, this is absolutely tops. You've captured disorientation in a really poignant way.

  4. I agree, the prose is lovely. I can tell it'll be difficult to find somewhere to shorten the narrative but I really think it needs to move just a tad quicker. And may I say I'm glad it's you and not I who needs to figure out how to do it? :)

  5. Tardy to the party, but I've read both versions. I loved the first version, but the second is much better! This is just very strong overall. I'm drawn right in. The only thing that stopped me was the MC not being able to remember what she had for breakfast. It just seemed unnecessary and unreal. Very powerful stuff. Great job.


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