Monday, September 5, 2011

8 1st 5 Pages Workshop - September Entry #2

Name: Jessica Elliott
Genre: YA urban fantasy

Prologue

The colors, faint and misty, swirled around him. As he stepped into each one, a burst of emotion burst through him. Falling into a sheen of red, anger bubbled up inside him. Why had she run off like that? How could he have been so stupid? Why had he let her? He ran, unsure who she was and why he was so furious with her.

A mist of blue drifted near him, covered him, and then he filled with despair instantaneously. No one would help him. He should give up because they would find her before he did. Who is she? He wondered.

Then the dark black wave - a black haze tornado-like with its spinning drew near. He knew he had to avoid it, but it drew him. He slowed his steps, but the black pulled at him despite his weariness and despite his fear of it.

And then an explosion, bluish and eerie, split the night, momentarily blinding him. And then the screaming. And the burning, everything burning. But the black tornado was still there, spinning and pulsating and drawing his footsteps. He couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do now, but the spinning and whirring and whispering voices called to him...

Chapter One – Jack

My eyes fly open. I’ve been dreaming. Just a Dream. Now, with the light spilling in through the window, I can’t remember much except for that it was disturbing and terrifying all at once. When I have a Dream, I can’t make myself wake up no matter how much I want to, no matter how horrible the things I see. I lay still against my pillow, the magic thrumming in me, keeping cadence with the pulse in my head, the rhythm dulling as I calm down. My breathing slows, steadies.

In the fog of my relief, I hear the high pitched electronic blare of the alarm clock next to my bed. How long has it been going off? I turn my head toward the direction of the sound, eyes bleary. Each new screech is a spike in my temple. I finally open my eyes and take in the clock and, yep, I’m late again.

I hit snooze with a dead-weighted hand and a sigh. My instinct is to burrow farther down into my pillow and try to go back to sleep, but a rush of panic hits me. Being late to school once here and there can be overlooked, but three times in a row is a pattern that might snap my mom and step-dad out of their workaholic comas to turn their combined energies into rectifying the problem that is me. That thought, more than any school policy, makes me groan and roll out of bed letting gravity do most of the work.

I walk to the closet where I see the usual folded piles of perfectly ironed slacks and crisply starched white shirts that our latest housekeeper has left for me. I grab a pair of the slacks and pull them on hurriedly and then start buttoning the stifling collar of the white shirt that is required wear at Whitford. My hands shake and tense, wanting to release the power, as the hangover of the magic continues to form behind my eyes.

I don’t feel like I can breathe right, and a nameless anxiety grows in my brain. It’s not anyone’s reaction to me being late that’s getting to me. It’s not even the Dream. I’m used to those, dreams that come true – both good and bad. It started when I was eleven years old, and even though I sometimes want to, I can’t talk about these dreams because they involve magic. It massively sucks, but it’s normal for me. Even dreaming about some weird evil thing chasing me or the feeling that someone is going to die if I don’t do something is barely a blip on my radar anymore. But those swirling colors are not normal. Seeing them in the Dream gives me the feeling that something horrible is going to happen, that any of the portents that have run through my head in the past are nothing compared to whatever omen is bubbling up in my brain now.

This is the third time I’ve dreamt about this. Usually if I dream the same Dream only twice in a row, I’m certain that later on I’ll see it fulfilled in some half-imagined déjà-vu like experience, even if it’s only on a barely-connected symbolic level. Dreaming about getting hit by a taxi because I was turning up my iPod in the middle of a busy street could have to do with being unprepared for something or stand for danger of a threat that might not actually be as bad as being flattened by a car. Either way, there’s always a moment when, I’m not sure how, I just know that a real life situation is the fulfillment of one of my dreams. It’ll all click together just like that. I don’t know that I’ve ever dreamed the exact same thing more than twice before, and the not knowing what this third time means bothers me. A lot.

Worst of all, I have never seen colors like that roiling around in any of my Dreams. It was like the clouds of color were connected to certain emotions. The way I actually felt them as I fell into them was so out of my realm of experience that just thinking of it right now as I scrabble through my school stuff makes me feel almost queasy. It’s hard enough to hide my magic with even just the regular Dreams to deal with.

I try to silence my fears with logic. Maybe this is just a part of my Sight that will develop as I mature or something like that. But still. It’s hard to employ logic at a time like this. I think about my dad and wish I could ask him about it. But that’s not happening any time soon.

As I grudgingly loop the full Windsor into my stupid, monotone tie, I hear footsteps crossing the hallway outside of my room and jump a little. Long before this time of morning, I’m usually alone in the condo with the place to myself to get ready for school. I recognize Brantley’s measured gait, and I sigh a labored why me sigh even as panic stabs into my chest. Great. This is definitely going to make my morning so much better.

“Jack? What are you still doing here?” he asks indignantly as he peers around the corner of my open door.

I’m caught, so I’m not sure that it will make a difference to him whether my reply is respectful or not. The magic in me churns, the feeling heightening as my adrenaline prepares to flare. “I’m preparing for a dinner party,” I trill in a fake English accent. “I don’t recall putting you on the guest list. Why are you here?”

I look at him, and the expression underneath his short salt and pepper hair is definitely not amused. “You can stop with the attitude,” he says, his voice even but holding the promise of some future retaliation. “Haven’t you been on the tardy list for two days in a row now?”

8 comments:

  1. Hi Jessica,

    I'm laughing a little, because this is a combination of two manuscripts I've written - one in which dreams literally come true, and another in which my mc sees emotions in aura colors and auras can form bubbles. Which makes me bring up a hard truth for both of us to hear. These are common elements in YA submissions. You've introduced a lot of original elements here, and I get a sense tha your worldbuilding and rules of magic are strongly developed. That's great, and critical to your success with a manuscript like this. But that said, you no doubt know from reading agent blogs that paranormal is a hard sell right now unless it is truly unique. So, I'm going to ask some questions.

    1) Can you start with something other than the dream and the waking up? The waking up scenario especially is so commonly done as a first chapter, that I worry you may lose a few agents/editors/readers before they've had a chance to take in the original elements. What is critical in this scene, and can you deliver it more actively as he's running into class, or running into Brantley coming down the stairs, or sneaking out of the 2nd story window and climbing down the trellis because he's been late twice already and there will be consequences for being caught. There's a wonderful exercise for fantasy writers about writing down 10 (and some writers prefer 20) possible solutions for a problem so that you force yourself to get past the obvious.

    2) Are the fake English accent and the response to Brantley truly in character and authentically teen in a way that teens will believe? As you know, teens and young adults have perfect pitch for authenticity. Lose them in these early pages, and they may put down the book.

    3) Who is Brantley? The butler? Valet? Not sure, and even if you don't tell us exactly who he is, you could show us more clues.

    4) What is the mc's problem? Is it the girl? If so, can you think of a way to bring that element into the real world in these early pages?

    5) Can you bring in more specific details to anchor the reader and really build the foundations to hang the fantasy around?

    You've got lots to work with here. Really give yourself an opportunity to let it shine.

    Martina

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  2. Hey! I love seeing YA magical realism! So yay! Ahem. That said, I have a couple of issues I'd like to see you work through. Starting with a dream and/or waking up is unbelievably common. So common in fact, that in the handful of months we've been doing this, we've seen several. SO, imagine how many an agent gets in her inbox... Therefore, no matter how cool it is, or how important to the story, I strongly suggest you change the starting point.
    The other concern that I have is character. I don't have a good sense of who your MC is. I mean I get he's a teenage boy with magic who dreams the future. I get that. But personality wise? I feel like his reflection upon waking about what the dream meant is more of an opportunity for you to feed the reader information so we get the world. Those details are hard to work in - believe me I know! But they should be added in such a way that is believable. He wouldn't be thinking about the rules of how these dreams typically work. Would you? Not if he lives this life and knows. He may remember a specific incident though... I need to feel that you are really in his head.
    I think you have an interesting premise. I love that it's a guy's POV (I'm a sucker for those). And again that the magic is already a known quantity in the world. So I can't wait to see your revision!

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  3. Very interesting Prologue. I love the concept. This line As he stepped into each one, a burst of emotion burst through him. tells us what the rest of the paragraph shows us. You don’t need both.

    Starting with waking from a dream is very hard to pull off. It’s been done too many times. Is the Prologue about Jack? Can you pull that into the first chapter and make it work? That way waking from the dream is a bit further down. Still leaves it as a dream sequence to start though, but maybe it’ll work with hints that it might be a dream and it might be real.

    Or maybe rearrange the first paragraph and see if that works. For example:
    I lay still against my pillow, the magic thrumming in me, keeping cadence with the pulse in my head, the rhythm dulling as I calm down. My breathing slows, steadies. Just a Dream. It was disturbing and terrifying all at once.

    This brings the magic into the first sentence and something new to waking from a dream.

    I’m a little confused about whether or not the dream is memorable. The first part says no, but then the middle says yes.

    I think you’re explaining a little too much and must trust that your reader will follow you through some of the actions and reasoning. Cutting out a bit of this and it will flow much better. Intriguing beginning.

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  4. Very interesting concept - I think dreams are fascinating and I like the idea of the colors creating the mc's emotions. That being said -

    -ditto about starting with dream as being problematic - what if you started with the event that the dream predicted?

    -I wanted more clarity about the girl referred to in the dream - even though the mc doesn't know who she is, the reader needs some kind of hint - age, appearance, where he knows her from, something

    -There were a couple of times when you used language describng the mc's actions that seemed out of place for first person narrative. Ex 'I turn my head''I walk to my closet and I see...' (This is something that gets me in my own writing, too).

    -The voice was a little uneven at times. I was thrown off by the 'yep, i'm late' in the sixth paragraph because the writing was more formal previously. I *like* the yep, though, and the other places where you used more teen-like language (Ex. 'it massively sucks'). My rec would be to include some of that right from the beginning so we have a better idea of mc's voice.

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  5. Thanks for the comments so far. They've actually helped me hone in on several things that need clarification not only in this passage but in my manuscript as a whole.

    Martina - 1) I can definitely start this somewhere other than a dream. I've also have toyed with the idea of taking the prologue out all together and starting where the true drama begins. 2) The English accent definitely needs to go. I debated about keeping it. 3) Brantley is step-father, which becomes apparent later in the scene. If I cut out the excessive dream issues, that part will be brought forward as will (4) what his main problem is.

    Lisa - I agree with you completely. I definitely need to take out needless exposition here. I don't think I even realized that's what I was doing.

    Sara - Thanks for mentioning how to improve the dream itself. If I keep it at the beginning (or elsewhere) that is immensely helpful. Also, I need to cut out some of the awkward leading phrases.

    Again, thanks everyone... :)

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  6. The dream issue has been covered. It's far too passive a start to a story, _unless_ you're really going to amp up the dream imagery. As Nigel from Spinal Tap would say, make it “go up to eleven!”

    My biggest concern is that in this case, the stream of consciousness voice is seriously halting the flow of the reading. Train of consciousness can be great, but it still has to be focused. What you have are choppy sentences bitten off where you actually need description and details (especially in the 4 paragraphs in the dream sequence – it’s a dream. If the colors are vivid, give the colors more depth. Don’t gloss over them.). _ MAKE IT STICK_ in the mind of the reader. If it is important to you, and to the story, make it important to the reader.

    Conversely, in other places, you are wasting words where you don't need them. (See the following examples.)

    YOUR VERSION:
    "I walk to the closet where I see the usual folded piles of perfectly ironed slacks and crisply starched white shirts that our latest housekeeper has left for me. I grab a pair of the slacks and pull them on hurriedly and then start buttoning the stifling collar of the white shirt that is required wear at Whitford. My hands shake and tense, wanting to release the power, as the hangover of the magic continues to form behind my eyes."

    MIGHT READ BETTER THIS WAY:
    “In the closet, I see the usual folded piles of perfectly ironed slacks and crisply starched white shirts. I hurriedly throw on my pants, and button the stifling collar of the white shirt that is required wear at Whitford. My hands are shaking, tense. I can feel the overwhelming need to release the power, as the residual magical hangover magic pulses behind my eyes.”

    YOUR VERSION:
    "I don’t feel like I can breathe right, and a nameless anxiety grows in my brain. It’s not anyone’s reaction to me being late that’s getting to me. It’s not even the Dream. I’m used to those, dreams that come true – both good and bad."

    WOULD READ BETTER AS:
    "I don’t feel like I can breathe right, and a nameless anxiety grows in my brain. It’s not the Dream. I’m used to them … those strange dreams that -- good or bad -- always come true."

    There are numerous redundancies in this submission. Say it once and keep moving. If you loop back, your reader will get lost, or worse, lose interest. Tighten your sentences. If you start at Point A, remember you should end at Point B.
    Remember Short Sentences = action, movement. Long Sentences w/ lots of detail = slow scenes. Look at your paragraphs, and draw arrows in the margins. Then write beside them whether your original intent is to show action, or to show detail. If the paragraph doesn’t gibe with your intent, rewrite the paragraph accordingly.

    Read your work out loud, and revise any sentence that interrupts (or completely halts) the natural rhythm and flow of the story. If it sounds clunky reading it aloud, it will sound clunky in a reader’s mind. I fear you have several revisions ahead of you, but I do feel this story has potential, and I am interested to see what you will do with it.

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  7. Jess, please forgive me if I sounded harsh. I'm new to critiquing, and I have been told that I'm sometimes too blunt. I truly do see potential in your work, but you have all been so thorough helping me, I just wanted to return the favor.

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  8. Hi Jessica, I'm sorry this is so late. I've been out of town. But I still wanted to send you my comments.
    I loved the descriptions of entering the colors. Very intriguing. I wanted to read on. I don't read a lot of fantasy, but have read it's not a good idea to use dreams and waking up at the start. I bet you can find another way to begin. Look forward to reading your revision. Sheri

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