Saturday, July 2, 2011

8 1st 5 pages workshop - July entry #3

Mandy Campbell
Young Adult

Quinlan, dripping wet and shivering, paused at the magazine rack, but he wasn’t looking at the half-nude, three-headed picture of someone named Lady Gaga. Instead, he was looking beyond it, focusing between the torrential rain outside and the reflection of the teenage attendant taking cash from a customer. The kid pressed some buttons on the cash register.

A blinding burst of white light lit up the interior of the gas station an instant before plunging it into darkness, while at the same moment, a loud snap and a deafening clap of thunder were followed by the popping of blown transformers and the screams of startled customers. Quinlan crouched and ran in the sudden darkness, silently passing people scrambling to get out. He paused at the head of an aisle, waiting for the last person to leave. Alone at last, he vaulted over the front counter and checked the cash register, smiling when he found it still open.

So he had timed it perfectly.

Quinlan stuffed the bills into a waiting Ziploc, sealed it, slipped it into the drenched pocket of his cargo shorts, and left the station by the opposite door through which the attendant had exited. By the time he had run three blocks in the downpour, sirens had sounded in the distance.


The morning sun scraped across Morgan’s exposed skin like a dull knife. The walk down their long driveway to the mailbox, empty, had been brutally hot for 8 a.m., even in early June. Beads of sweat had gathered on her forehead and above her lip so she wiped at her face with her forearm.

Thunder rumbled. Surprised, Morgan stopped and turned in the dirt road, smiling when she saw the wall of blue-gray clouds to the west. A sheet of silver illuminated multiple times across the surface of one of the cloud columns. Finally, she thought. Months had passed with little more than a drizzle and this storm looked promising. Excited, Morgan decided to watch it come in from the family barn. Her reading corner in the loft would be the perfect vantage point.

After a few minutes of brisk walking, Morgan reached the barn. Pulling one of the heavy doors open, she stepped inside, crinkling her nose at the stuffy air that smelled like dead grass, dust, and the faint odor of long-gone animal droppings. Walking to the shaded corner to the left of the door she ascended the ladder and stepped onto the hay-covered loft, smiling as a deliciously fresh breeze blew past her from the glassless western window.

Morgan spread the faded quilt that she kept in the loft for reading and napping over a large pile of hay, lowered herself onto it stomach-down, and watched as the dark cumulonimbus rolled in. A thick curtain of slanting rain was pouring from the billowing clouds, blurring the horizon line. Thunder made her teeth jar as the flashes of lightning grew closer and closer, the blue sky bleeding to Payne’s grey until even the mid-morning sun was blotted out. The oak trees below shuddered beneath the suddenly stronger wind as a dirt devil panicked past the corner of the barn before dissipating at the barbed wire fence. A cloud of dust came swirling through the windows as a roaring sound rushed closer.

The rain struck. It pounded with shrill fury on the tin roof of the barn. Cold phantom drops swirled inside, landing on Morgan’s forearms and face. Lightning struck, though she didn’t see the bolt, but the almost instantaneous crash of thunder made her nervous.

That was close. What if lightning strikes the barn? Uncomfortable with that thought, Morgan stood, folded the quilt, tucking it away from the windows, and carefully descended the ladder into the corner.

One of the barn doors blew open.

Morgan froze.

Lightning flashed, briefly revealing someone’s shadow in the rectangle of light in front of the doorway.

The fine hairs at the back of Morgan’s neck stood on end.

A young man, dressed in cargo shorts and a dark t-shirt stepped inside. He was absolutely soaked, dark hair wild and dripping past his eyes, water running down his nose and falling from his chin.

Heart racing, Morgan quickly looked around for a weapon, finding only hay. She hadn’t even brought her cell phone with her. Trying to stay focused, she slipped farther into the dark corner, hardly daring to breathe as she watched the stranger’s profile.

He swung the door shut and when he turned, Morgan caught a brief glimpse of a pale face drawn with exhaustion. He took a few steps forward and sat down heavily on the floor, slipping a medium-sized backpack from his shoulders. Then he lay down on the floor, his chest rising and falling in rapid movements, one hand draped over his stomach, the other at his side.

Morgan’s mind raced. Is he—is he going to take nap?! No, people don’t barge onto private property to take a nap. Is he a thief?

Vaguely, she noticed the rain begin to lessen until only a soft metallic pattering remained, even the wind hushing itself.

Suddenly, the boy pushed himself up, roughly running his hands through his hair and flinging shiny drops of water everywhere. He began working off his shoes, putting them aside, then pulled off both socks, wringing the water from them before setting them lengthwise beside the shoes. Bending his head down, he began to rub both of his feet. Even with the rain still thrumming, Morgan could make out small pops and cracks, presumably from his joints.

After he finished rubbing his feet, which looked extremely white in the semidarkness, he grabbed the backpack, pulling out a medium-sized Ziploc bag. He opened it and out came a power bar, which he ate in three quick bites. Then from the same Ziploc, he brought out a fat white pill bottle. Morgan couldn’t make out the label. He unscrewed the lid, shook the rattling bottle over a hand, and then swung his hand to his mouth, leaving his head up as he swallowed.

Morgan didn’t know much about drugs, but that was a pretty big bottle. Didn’t addicts and dealers use small bottles or tiny baggies?

While Morgan was recalling movie scenes involving drug use, the boy opened the backpack again and reached inside, yanking out several more Ziplocs before producing a large square object that was wrapped in plastic. Baffled, Morgan watched as he uncovered it and fiddled with two knobs before setting it between himself and his socks and shoes. The thing reminded her of the toy talking radio she’d played with as a child. He leaned towards the square object and at that angle she could make out more of his features. His face was dominated by slightly hollowed cheeks that gave way to rounded cheekbones and thick eyebrows that hung like thunderclouds over gleaming eyes.

The boy suddenly stood, bent over and peeled off his saturated shirt. Shocked, Morgan continued to watch, eyes wide. His skin was so very pale. He was leanly muscled, but looked thin, like a runner or swimmer. He wrung his shirt out, laying it next to his socks.

When his fingers went to the button of his drenched, low-lying shorts, Morgan blurted, ”Don’t move!”



  1. I'm intrigued by the premise here. I want to know what's going on with Quinlan, and how he can control a thunder storm. I couldn't help but notice that you have a bit of a repetitive writing style though. You should vary your sentence structure a bit more. There are many sentences, particularly from Morgan's POV, where you start with an "ing" verb. Example: "Pulling one of the heavy doors open, she stepped inside" and "Walking to the shaded corner to the left of the door she ascended the ladder".

    I also wonder if you can cut down Morgan's portion up until he enters the barn. It's when he chooses her barn to rest in that the story really starts, I assume. So let's get there a little bit faster. :D

  2. How old are Quinlan and Morgan? Both narrators refer to others as "kids" or "teenagers", to me, implying that they are older? Maybe just how I'm reading it.
    Morgan's narration seems to list everything that is happening and it slows the pacing down, in my opinion.
    Interesting story you have so far, though!

  3. I like the "boy controls thunderstorms" idea intriguing, and the opening's a grabber... well done.

    I find Morgan's scene more removed and hard to get into. I feel the descriptions are a little overwritten -- they don't match Morgan's observations, and it doesn't sound like a teenage girl's POV. It's like a narrator is telling me what Morgan's doing, and it makes me feel removed from the character.

    That said, I don't think we need to "hear" all of Morgan's thoughts about the boy and his actions in the barn. I think that too many of those observations makes the action of the scene disjointed -- here you've got this wet stranger coming in from a torrential lightning storm, acting strange. It would be frightening at the least, I'd think, especially for a sheltered and somewhat naive girl (which is what she sounds like in her internal monologue.)

    Right now, it feels more like she got caught in the men's restroom, and she's trying not to be discovered. A strange boy just stumbled onto her property, who may be taking drugs, who may be a thief, who is possibly about to get naked... it just seems like she'd be more frightened. It's a touch off, tone-wise.

    How do you want the reader to feel with this scene? How do you want the reader to "see" Morgan? And is the scene supposed to be funny, or not?

  4. A few sort of random thoughts as I read this:

    Creepy guy on her property? why isn't she doing anything?

    A lot of emission, action sentences.

    A lot of description of setting without action

    But very interesting beginning, lots of questions

  5. I liked the opening, but I have to admit that my attention began to wonder during Morgan's POV. It's not until the guy(who I assumes is Quinlan) barges on her that the action picks up again. Perhaps you should begin there instead?

    Another thing that jarred me, and perhaps that's just a personal pet peeve of mine, is the length of the paragraphs. My eyes kind of crossed over and I found myself skimming sentences, hoping to get to the good bits.

    All in all, it's an interesting beginning, and Quinlan's power, and how he chose to use it, is nifty. Good luck!

  6. Wow, guys, these are seriously amazing and detailed critiques! Thank you all SO much! I’ve read them all several times and taken notes (ah, dork coming out), and so far I’ve had a blast editing and reworking Morgan’s POV, which seems to be the most pressing problem. I KNEW there was a problem (or several), but I didn’t know how to voice it or find it, much less how to fix it.

    Confession: I have a difficult time getting connected to female protagonists I create (unless they’re bookish nerds in their mid-twenties—me). Getting connected to female MCs who are well-conceived in others’ books is usually no problem. But my own? Not so much.

    Anyway, I realized (in hindsight after reading your comments), that I literally didn’t know what to say or do with Morgan. (Who is this strange girl who barged into my story about a boy and thunderstorms??) So I just did a “See Morgan walk. See Morgan run.” thing, which obviously was boring. And didn’t work. Unless I’m writing for a five-year-old with a pretentious vocabulary (“See Morgan amble. See Morgan hasten.”).

    So…I combined lots of your advice (including what Lisa pointed out: the whole repetitive phrasing thing—author-speak for banging my head against a wall), heavily fortified my Morgan info (backstory, personality, birthday, personal random facts that popped into my head that I hope to use somehow), basically got connected to her, and started over with her scene. You were all right—the scene dragged and didn’t really “start” until Quinlan (or whoever this creepy weird guy is) barged into her barn.

    Also, fantastic point about Morgan not being scared enough! Of course she’d be scared—she should be terrified! It would scare the hell out of me. (And Cathy, you were right on! I laughed out loud about the “caught in the men’s restroom” comment—too true. And hilarious.) The reason I didn’t write her as being terrified, was because I, as an author, knew Quinlan wouldn’t hurt her. I knew he didn’t have a gun. And I made the mistake of slipping into all-knowing narrator-mode so it distorted Morgan’s reactions. I never would’ve been able to voice that mistake or even find it without all of your helpful comments.

    So thank you!! You all rock! :D

  7. Looks like you have everything in hand. Most of the comments I was going to make have already been said. A quick thing, the description of the object he pulls out was a little confusing. He pulls out a large square object and fiddled with two knobs... The first thing I thought was "What knobs?" It's a little thing and probably just my own brain being stupid but I thought I'd mention it since it stuck out to me. I'm excited to see you revisions!

  8. I love the idea of controlling the weather - such a great concept. There is a lot of detail as the comments indicated about and I agree with those. I was also wondering why Morgan didnt do something or react in a different way since he is a stranger on her family's land. But I am intrigued by Morgan and the boy. I dont know that I have different comments from everyone else.


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