Monday, February 6, 2012

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Wilson

Author: Rhen Wilson
Genre: Paranormal young adult

Koral Waters was a poor psychic. She predicted she would excel someday, but she had an unfortunately unforeseeable road ahead. At least, she couldn't see it. Nor could she foresee the fate and trouble that awaited her. You see, when she answered the front door, she did not know that the old woman standing innocuously at the end of the block was staring directly at her, biding her time.

Instead, Koral Waters only had eyes for the man and woman standing on her front porch. She guessed the two were maybe in their mid-to-late twenties or — No, wait, late thirties? She was terrible at guessing ages, which always became a topic for concern from the clients expecting a first-rate psychic evaluation.

The man and woman were pleasant looking folks with blond hair and tiny eyes. Koral smiled warmly at them and said, "Welcome to Koral Waters's Realm of the Psychic: a unique and one-of-a-kind psychic evaluation and reading. I am Koral Waters."

The man snorted when she finished. Clearing his throat, he asked, "I'm sorry, your name is Koral Waters?"

"That's right."

"I thought that was like your theme or something," he said, not attempting to suppress his laughter. "Like a beach-themed psychic reading."

"Right, well, anyway." Koral forced herself to smile; she was used to people poking fun at her name. "How may I help you?"

As his laughter faded, the man held out a slip of paper with Koral's name on it. Below it, along with her address and hours of operation, screamed in all caps and bold print: "FIRST READING FREE!"

Koral's heart sank. She had hoped these stupid coupons had disappeared since she first printed them two years ago. This coupon was by far her biggest mistake in the psychic biz to date. And she'd made some blunders.

She had printed three-hundred coupons and passed them around town to local vendors and shops. She thought it a great business tactic; she had seen other businesses do similar promotions. Yet she forgot one crucial element: she never put an expiration date on them.

She had figured eventually the coupons would run dry, but at least once a week people came in with the coupon and asked for the free reading, having no intention of ever coming back for a second visit. They merely arrived for the novelty of a psychic reading. And of course because she was the one who goofed, she couldn't refuse them service.

"Come right in," she said, reluctantly taking the coupon.

As she shut the door, she did not notice a gloved hand gripping the shoulder of the old woman at the end of the block.

Koral led the couple to her reading table and pulled up two chairs for them. "You didn't know there would be two of us?" the man asked, grinning and winking at the woman.

"I had the chairs ready, didn't I?" Clients nettled her on the subject often. And yes, it always came from the men.

"Right," he murmured, rolling his eyes. The two sat down across from Koral as she took her seat. The man looked irritated to be here. Clearly his girlfriend or wife dragged him along. Koral had seen this too often, so she carried on lightly.

"How may I assist you this afternoon?" she began cautiously. She tugged her purple, hand-knitted shawl around her shoulders. She had learned from her many books that it was better to allow the client to tell you why they were there, rather than presume. Allow them to be open with you, and their souls will open up to you as well, making the art of seeing that much more transcendent.

The man slouched in his chair, appraising Koral's home with an upturned nose. He didn't seemed to be a fan of candles and incense. His girlfriend — Koral didn't see a ring — spoke.

"I don't really know, I guess," she shrugged, an embarrassed smile escaping her. "I've never done this before. Is there anything that's normally asked?"

"Oh yes," Koral nodded, happy not to be forced down any one particular avenue of conjecture. "Money is always important to people. As are careers, love, and — "

"Love!" the woman exclaimed, her eyes bright. The man jerked his head around and gaped at his girlfriend. An uneasy and disgruntled shadow darkened his face as he moaned, "Why do you have to ask her about that?"

"I'd appreciate someone explaining it to me," she snapped back. She caught Koral's eye and blushed, as if she forgot Koral was still there.

Koral hesitated. She sensed a great deal about their relationship strictly from their interactions with one another, but she mustn't let her physical interpretation affect her otherworldly intuition. She must remain dispassionate and in control of her sight.

She closed her eyes. She allowed her mind to wander outside of this world. She allowed it to enter beyond the physical realm. She let her soul depart and latch onto a truth, which the large majority of the world could never find nor experience. An immeasurable truth. A world without limit. Calmness spread through Koral's body like warm water.

Finally, she saw it.

"Your love is hindered at the moment," she said, opening her eyes. The woman leaned forward an inch, the interest palpable in her bright eyes. Her boyfriend, though still wearing cynicism like a jockstrap, sat up in his chair.

"Your love is hindered," Koral repeated, "but it is not permanent. Like a dam, the wall can break and your love will flow. But you must be strong and push through like a wrecking ball." Okay, she wasn't great at analogies. "You both will be happy, but — "

"What?" the man choked on his surprise.

"What?" Koral stopped, the tranquility extinguished from the room.

"'You both'?" the man repeated indignantly. "What'd you mean 'you both'? You think we're together?"

Koral's heart began to thud in her chest. She had misread their relationship. But she might still work through it if she can convince them that their friendship will amount to more. Perhaps she had been a bit off, but not completely. She had let the physical interfere. She could mend this.

"I'm sorry for being presumptuous," Koral stammered, "but perhaps I foresee your friendship blossoming into — "

"We're not friends, you psycho!" the man yelled, jumping from his seat. "That's my sister!"

Koral's heart stopped thudding. Instead, it fell like a stone into her stomach.

"What the heck is wrong with you?" the man cried. He flipped his chair sideways and stormed out of the house.

Koral stared petrified at the woman, afraid to say anything. The woman just looked back, disgust curling into her frown. "That's sick," she said. "Good thing this was free." She stood up and walked out, shutting the door behind her.

Once her heart found its way back into her chest, and she stood the overturned chair up right, Koral's nerves calmed down and a question popped into her head:

Who goes to see a psychic and asks questions about love with their brother?


  1. It's a really neat premise. I wonder if you've read Clarity by Kim Harrington? If not you should. Similar. I like what you're trying to do, but I think it needs some smoothing out.

    First of all, I'd love for you to try this in first person, even as an exercise. I felt just a bit too distant from your character and that might help. You can cut lines like: "a question popped into her head" It isn't necessary, just tell us the question.

    The opening: The first paragraph doesn't work for me. It's a cute idea, but the execution isn't there. I'd skip right to the couple at the door. We can see what type of psychic she is from her interaction with them. There are too many stumbling blocks. For example, if she doesn't notice the old woman, how does she notice a hand on her shoulder? Another thing first person might eliminate, as we will only notice what she does.

    I like Koral's personality. I'd like to see it completely unleashed directly to us. It's there, you can do it. Can't wait to read your next revision!

  2. I think I get what you are trying to do. I read this more like a screenplay. I felt like I was watching a movie or series and was able to see things Koral didn't notice. It was, however, a bit confusing. I didn't like the fact that I was rereading a sentence to try to understand it, only to find it was explained in the next sentence. A little too clever for its own good?

    I do love the story so far but I too am wondering if it was in 1st person could I relate better to Koral. I feel distant, like I'm watching. I know there are 295+ pages already written, so there is a lot I don't know about the story and Koral, but I also know I read a six sentence sunday not long ago with a particularly great hook. Koral's definitely got some moxie. Let's see it. I'd save this version for the screenplay adaptation and make a 1st person version 2. Editing can be fun.

  3. This is an interesting beginning!

    As for the "she didn't notice..." lines, I'm a sucker for those, so they didn't bother me at all, and I liked the intrigue they provided. But I must say, because I then wanted to know what the woman was doing there, I felt like the interaction with the brother and sister dragged along a bit. So, it might be good to either focus on the woman (and streamline the interaction with the non-couple), or bring it in later. Maybe when they're leaving her house?

    My other thought is that I got a really good sense of both of the main character's personality and the man by the end of the excerpt, but I didn't really like either of them. I'm sure I'm not supposed to like the guy, so that's fine, but I wonder if Koral comes across as too incompetent at the moment. It's a fine line between lovable vulnerability and being detestably pathetic, and I think she might be verging on the pathetic side right now. Maybe eliminate one of her business blunders? Or just take some of the emphasis off them?

    I think the way it ends it great, though, and I'm definitely interested to know where this is going!

  4. I like where you're going here, I'm just not sure you're taking the right vehicle. I, too, would love to see this in first person, but another solution would be to tighten up Koral's POV while keeping it in third person. Zoom in on her.

    As far as the beginning, I would read more, but that's based on the idea itself, not necessarily this beginning. I would love to see more about the woman watching her from the end of the block, or something equally as exciting. The interaction with the brother/sister team is fun, but not enough to really draw readers in. Try again. Excited to see you take this. Good luck!

  5. Hi Rhea,

    I loved the opening line, and I don't have a problem with starting in macro view then focusing in, if you have a reason to do it. But if you do have a reason, then I would expect that within the initial five pages, you would bring us back to that reason. The way this was set up, I expected there to be a connection between the couple and the woman down the street. An investigation into her business, something.

    I had two main problems with this. One, I didn't feel any real y/a vibe off this. She came across as older to me, and that may be because she has had a business for at least two years. Two, I was confused about her sense of whether she knows she doesn't have any psychic ability and that paragraph where she had a break-through. Does she ALWAYS have a break-through moment that she is SURE is right? Only to find out it isn't? Is she hoping for that moment? THe opening paragraph plays into this confusion about her skills, and it might be easier--and perhaps stronger--if you open with the knowledge that she predicted she would be a good psychic someday but so far, very few of her predictions had come through. How does she feel about having to rely on human observations to get through the "psychic" sessions? Why is she doing this at all? And maybe a little more about her personal situation?

    I love the concept. I like her character, but I'd love to see some of these issues addressed. And I'm not one to say that you have to start this in first person, but that would certainly let you have some FUN with this character. At the very least for purposes of exploring her voice.

    Eager to read more!



  6. How old is Koral? It seems odd, despite the free coupon, that the couple wouldn't question her age when it comes to her ability... unless she dresses herself older or? And how is able to sustain herself (and afford a place to live) if she gave out so many free coupons and is a teenager and poor psychic none the less? I really loved this excerpt, but as I was reading, I couldn't help but wonder about both issues. Perhaps you could work these details in as you explore Koral's personality more as the others suggested? As is, she seems much older than a YA protagonist to me.

    Also, I'm not sure I get a sense of where the story is headed. The first paragraph introduces us to the antagonist but then you have the reading, and I don't get a sense for how the two relate. Because of that, the first paragraph comes off as being rather random. Can you leave a hint for the inciting incident? (Unless this reading was it?)

  7. The only thing I can agree with Helene about is that I would like to know Koral's age. That other stuff, about how she stays in business by giving away free coupons, how she can afford a place to live, etc. If you spent your first five pages explaining back story, we'd all be here criticizing you for that. Ha. But you should at least drop her age somewhere; that would help me picture her a little bit.

    Or maybe you do. But you do it at the beginning of page 6. That's the problem with only reading 5 pages. I know you have more to say, and you probably explain every question Helene has (at least, I hope you do) throughout the novel. I bet the old woman even comes back to play here soon, but just not in the first five pages. I wish we could've had the first chapter, or at least first 10 pages.

    But what you should be able to accomplish in five pages are two things: believability and empathy. Whether I understand everything that's happening, I should believe it. I think I do. It all seems to make sense (and knowing Koral's age would help me decide). As for empathy, I may not need to know Koral's complete life story in the first five pages, but I agree with some of the above comments in that I don't feel like she and I are connecting. There does seem to be some distance between us. Using Lisa B.'s phrase, "Zoom in on her."

    Good luck!

  8. Great start, but I agree with the things other people have mentioned about Koral seeming just a scoch too incompetent and her seeming older than YA. Also, the guy was a bit over the top with his eye-rolling and anger. He might be a skeptic, but I don't think he'd storm out in disgust because Koral assumed they were a couple. He might leave, but more because it's obviously a waste of his time.

    About the old woman, who seems like she's being set up as Koral's call to adventure, I don't think we need to see her until the inciting incident, and I think placing her in the first paragraph takes away some of the punch of meeting her.

    I see what others are saying about being too far from Koral. I don't think it necessarily needs to be in first person to draw us closer to her, but the third person should be fairly limited for a YA audience to really connect with the character (at least according to what I've heard from YA folks).

    For example, this paragraph is perfect close-in 3rd person: "Koral hesitated. She sensed a great deal about their relationship strictly from their interactions with one another, but she mustn't let her physical interpretation affect her otherworldly intuition. She must remain dispassionate and in control of her sight."

    In contrast, your first paragraph is 3rd-person omniscient, meaning someone external to the protagonist is telling the reader stuff that the protagonist doesn't know.

    It can work to bounce between the two (think The Hitchhiker's Guide), but if you really want us to emotionally bond with Koral, there's nothing like 3rd-limited or 1st.

    Re: the incompetence issue, consider having her be good at either the psychic stuff or the business end of things. Maybe she's a poor psychic but her business sense is top-notch, which is how she keeps getting customers despite her crappy predictions. Or maybe she makes every business mistake in the book, but she sure knows how to give a reading. Or maybe she's crap at both business and psychic stuff, but she's a hell of a showman with smoke and mirrors and costumes and the whole nine yards.

    About her seeming older than YA, it is unusual for a teen to have a business where strangers come to her house on a regular basis. Unusual, but not impossible. I would just like to see in the first few paragraphs some mention of why she's running the business, just so we get a sense of who she is and why she puts herself through this. I don't think it's in your best interest to wait until page 6 to talk about it, because so much of our feeling about Koral will come into play (I suspect) when we find out why she's doing this. (And lengthening this scene would only help it, IMO.)

    Overall, I think the premise is quite intriguing and unusual, but I would need to be able to empathize with Koral more to really sink into it. Give me a reason to root for her, and I'm in!

  9. Great opening line--it hooked me right away and made me want to read more. You have a fun voice, too, vaguely reminiscent of Lemony Snickett--an omniscient narrator, which can be hard to pull off, but I think you make it work.

    You hint at a bigger picture conflict in the opening paragraph and then again when Koral's customers enter the shop, which is intriguing, but since you don't reveal this conflict in the opening pages, I would suggest cutting these hints. They left me wanting more of that conflict and, when you don't satisfy my curiosity for an entire scene, I'm disappointed. This also distracts me from the unfolding scene with the brother and sister, so I don't appreciate it as much as I would otherwise.

    You have a lot of compelling text and dialog through here. I think you could make it even more compelling by tightening the writing, moving more quickly into the story. For instance: "Koral Waters guessed the man and woman on her front porch were in their mid-to-late twenties -- or late thirties? She was terrible at guessing ages, which always concerned clients expecting a first-rate psychic evaluation. They were pleasant looking, though, with blond hair and tiny eyes.

    Koral smiled warmly. "Welcome to Koral Waters' Realm of the Psychic, a one-of-a-kind psychic evaluation and reading. I am Koral Waters.""

    The man snorted. "I'm sorry, your name is Koral Waters? I thought that was your theme or something. Like a beach-themed psychic reading." He didn't even attempt to suppress his laughter."
    You wouldn't have to do it the way I did, of course--I think the key is to look for places for one line of dialog, or one adjective, will give your reader the impact you want.

    You paint a really funny scene and an interesting character, and your submission ends with a terrific page-turner. If there was more to read, I definitely would! Nice work!


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