Tuesday, March 20, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages March Workshop -Robert Rev 2

Name: Cecilia Robert
Genre: YA Dark fantasy (Reaper's Novice)

With a soft microwave-like ding, Grim’s instructions flash like a neon sign in my mind’s eye.

Assignment: Soul Collection
Hermannsweg, 7th district, Vienna
Age: Thirty-two years
Soul Colour: grey

Quickly I dig out my notebook from inside my messenger bag, and flip through to the dog-eared pages. On the red stickers, I pause and flatten the page with my hand: soul colours. Since I began my training with Grim a week ago, I haven’t had enough time to cram even the basic details. In between learning for my final exams at school, baby sitting my siblings, adjusting to my new life as a soul collector and above all avoiding any opportunity my parents might question my frequent disappearances, it’s been exhausting. Besides, Grim believes in letting the fledgling bird learn to fly using it’s frail wings. His exact words after my three days orientation. I bite the nail on my index finger as my eyes dart down the list of hastily scribbled words.

Red – lively, vibrant, and also mean danger or anger
Yellow – Happy, liveliness
Green- calm, peaceful,
Gold – divine, pure
Grey – restless, troubled

I groan as the soul colour dances tauntingly in my head.
Grey, really? Did I wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Or land on the wrong foot? I shudder at the thought of this collection. Grim’s words pour inside me head: A soul is a soul, Ana Maria. Different scenarios of the kind of troubled life the grey soul endured skitter through my mind. I shake my head, scattering the unwanted images. I’ll know soon enough.

I shove the notebook inside the bag, grab my music player from the windowsill, turn it off, and drop it inside my trench coat pocket. After slipping a hair band around my hair, I push off the cool wall, get on my feet and walk away from the Cathedral’s barred lookout window, while at the same time summoning the Concealment Spell. Between one step and the next, I feel the caress of the light-as-air veil settle around me.

I descend the spiral stairs of the Cathedral. The click click of my heels on the stone floor shatters the silence. The effect is comforting. No one is around. The opening hours ended half an hour ago. About forty metres to the ground, I stop at one of the barred windows and peep out, measuring the distance. Yes. This will do.

Taking a deep breath, I ghost the stone cold wall and leap forward, my hands extended at either side of my body, and I’m flying. My blood sings as I soar in the air. Before hitting the stones, I flip and gracefully land on my feet. Coolness. I grin and straighten to my full height. There’s nothing as mind-blowing as this, even though the possibility of twisting an ankle or worse is there. Been there, done that, and broke a leg. Almost died in pain, but I healed. I always heal, thanks to Grim gift. The pain is the only thing that reminds me, body-wise, I’m human.

The early summer heat blasts my face. I pause and suck in hot air while glancing around St. Stephen’s square. The sidewalk cafes are brimming with visitors. A woman pushing a baby stroller grazes my arm as she hurries off towards the U-bahn station. Up ahead a couple poses beside a ‘living statue’. A group of aged Japanese tourists with their faces rapturous in attention crowd around their tour leader. Flashes and clicks from cameras fill the square. Laughter peals through the air, mingling with the sounds of metal wheels on cobblestones from horse ridden coaches. My heart squeezes, rendering me breathless. I miss this. I miss this life.

I project the collection destination in my mind. I ghost through a wall and exit on the other side of it. As I cross the rails, an oncoming tram misses hitting me by a hair. I smile. I can’t be hit. In my current form, things just pass right through me. Even when I’m not concealed, I can’t die. I’ve tested this theory several times, and I just keep coming back. My soul is under lock and key, and my body indestructible, thanks to Grim.

The temperature drops suddenly, and my skin prickles. The fine hairs along my neck curl, and my heart drops to my feet in dread. My eyes dart around, then up knowing full well what I’ll see. My heart stops beating altogether at the sight the dark cloud zooming by.

Soul snatchers. The opposite of what I am. Just like their name, they capture the soul and sell it to the highest bidder, people who enslave souls to work for them. There’s no doubt where they’re heading to. The troubled souls are drawn to the darker side of life. It’s like a drug to the snatchers. I’ve seen the kind of cruelties they endure, and vowed to myself to never let them get even one from me. My heart jump starts and so do my legs.

Moments later, I emerge at Hermannsweg. I spread out my senses, seeking out the snatchers cold presence, and I sigh in relief Ahead of me, people are scattered all over the place. Some are hugging one another and weeping. Others are stare in horrified expressions in front of them. I hurry forward, my breath saws in and out of my chest painfully, trepidation squeezing through my veins. I skirt around a group huddled together, and I freeze. My heart drops to the bottom of my stomach. A sour taste fills my mouth as I take in the scene. Blood darkens the black surface of the tarmac. Splitters of glass covered in blood, wink like rubies in the sun. Every sound around me fades. It’s just me and the metal wreckage, which was once a car, now a flattened mess in the middle of the road. A huge white truck partially covers the whole mess. I catch a glimpse of what I think is a body under the truck. A sudden flash of long buried memory resurfaces in my head. Pain slashes through my stomach, and I bend over and vomit until I feel there’s nothing else left. Sirens soak the air, cutting the memory into tiny ribbons, then dissolves, leaving my knees week. All I want to do is huddle in a corner and block away everything.

I straighten and fumble inside my pocket for a paper tissue, and wipe my mouth, at the same time try to block the memories warring for supremacy inside my head. I clench my hands and take deep breaths, calming my trotting pulse. I lift my head and glance around for the soul. It should be somewhere here. By the looks of the smoke snaking from in between the truck and car, the accident took place moments before my arrival.

The temperature shifts, and I tense. They are here. I’ve wasted too much time already. Angry with myself, I scan the area, for both the soul and the snatchers, my breath coming in sharp hot bursts. My eyes zoom in on the black moving mass above the immobile body. My heart stops, then starts at a full gallop, adrenaline kicking in my veins.

Where is it? Dipping my hand in my well-padded trench coat, I carefully pluck a soul vial, still scanning the area around me.

There it is, swaying above the snatchers, looking lost. Will it bow to my coaxing? Grim always tells me I have a lovely voice, though I’m not certain if his reasons are to cajole me into staying on as his novice. As if I have a choice in the matter.

I shake those thoughts away, and focus on the soul, both eyes and mind. Slowly, I take tentative steps toward the truck to avoid alerting the snatchers, and begin humming under my breath. The soul snaps to attention, and its colour burns brighter. It begins a graceful glide towards me, ensnared by the rhythm.

Abruptly, as if sensing fresh soul, the snatchers surge upward, hissing like a pack of snakes. Before I can react, or the soul waltz inside the vial, they descend upon it.

The word tears through my throat and out of my mouth. I slap a hand on my hip, and before I can yank my knife from its sheath on my waist, the grey soul is engulfed in the blackness of the snatchers. The mass begins a swift ascend toward the blue sky, up, and up until not even a trace of them can be seen.

No! No! No! This isn’t supposed to happen. Me wasting time has cost a soul. I clench my hands, and look around afraid I might see Grim glaring at me disapprovingly. My heart stutters. Grim. What will I tell him? How do I explain to him? Mostly, how will I save that soul?

All fight leaves my bones. I sink on the scorching tarmac, and welcome the heat seeping through my skin, then bury my face in my hands. I shudder at the thought of soul enslavement.

I snap my head up at my mobiles insistent ringing, and glance around at my deserted surroundings. How long have I been sitting here on the tarmac? The only signs to indicate their was an accident are the glass splinters still glinting on the black surface. I brush my eyes with the sleeve of my trench, while fumbling inside my bag with my free hand. I glance at the screen. Mom. A ding sounds in my head and instructions of my next collection flash in my mind. I let the call go to voicemail, afraid my mom will know something is wrong. She always seems to have a knack for sensing things.

I pull myself to my feet, and stumble to my next assignment. Tonight I will tread the Shadow dimension to retrieve the soul. An unshakable chill soaks my bones and clings on with iron-like teeth.


  1. Hi Cecilia,

    This is MUCH better! I really like how you have set the scene and the writing is stronger.

    I do have a few minor suggestions and a larger question. You're giving us quite a bit of backstory, and the content of that backstory makes me wonder whether you are beginning in the wrong place. Generally, the rule of thumb is to start on the day that is different. What is that point? It seems to me that the day she becomes the reaper's novice had to be pretty different. Of course, losing a soul for the first time might be pretty different, too, but that only occurred in this version, so it may not be the direction in which you are heading. What if you back up a little? Show her becoming the novice in scene, then make this her first reaping and she blows it?

    As a niggling point, I think you might be overwriting a bit. Let it flow more naturally and just relax into the storytelling.

    GREAT revision though. Truly. This has come such a long way from your initial version that I'm astonished!


  2. Still a super-awesome concept. The soul colors are interesting. I missed the way the scene began overlooking Prague, though. It really grounded me into the scene first, and I enjoyed learning about the grim reaper and soul colors slowly in the following narration. (Maybe not enough space for that here?)

  3. I love the concept too, but I'm wondering the same thing Martina is. It seems like the story of this person becoming a novice reaper is something as well, and the little references to it take my interest in that direction (Why is she a reaper? How can she ghost through walls but also have bones break?). Becoming the reaper's assistant is a great story in and of itself, and maybe more of that back story comes in later, but the way this piece works right now, I want to know more about her. I care more about who she is than I do about her botching this soul collection. Again, I know we cannot fit all we want our workshoppers to know in 1250 words, so maybe you are doing what I've been guilty of...trying to begin in scene while still giving background we think is necessary. It is a really great concept, and I'm hooked. I want to know more. I just feel like I might want to know more about our reaper's apprentice. Is she dead? Is she a human who now has special capabilities? So much to play with here!

  4. I don't quite understand how she wouldn't have soul colors memorized but somehow has a firm grip of her powers? And I'm still not sure how her body can be indestructible although she's broken her leg. I feel like, too, sometimes there's a bit too much going on at once with what you're MC is doing. For instance, when she feels the soul snatchers, the 1) temp drops, 2) her skin prickes, 3) the hair on the beck of her neck curls, 4) her heat drops to her feet, and 5) her eyes dart around. Maybe just pick two? The temperature drops and her eyes dart around?

    This happens again when she sees the wreck: 1) she freezes, 2) her heart drops, 3) a sour taste fills her mouth, 4) the sound around her fades, 5) a flashback, 6) pain in her stomach, and 7) she vomits. I feel like if you picked one or two of these great details, the strongest ones, the scene would feel more powerful and poignant.

    When she loses the soul, I would've liked a little sense of what will happen to it that makes losing it so awful for her (i.e., what does "soul enslavement" entail?). Being scared of Grim's disappovral seems very surface-level here, because while he'd be angry, he could just fire her. Then she'd be free from this job she seems to dislike. It feels like her sadness would be more powerful if it came from the fact that she felt she'd let the soul down, that she'd lost it to such a bad creature. I need to know how bad soul enslavement will be so I can feel her disappointment.

    I didn't mind at all that there were hints about how she became Grim's assistant. I thought it added some dimension to her job. Sure, it was a day that changed her life, and while she misses her life, I don't get the sense that she changed *as a person* from it. Not to mention, it doesn't seem like she had a choice. YA is all about teens making choices and decisions that change them. If this is the part of her story where nothing is ever the same for her again, I'd stick with where you are :)

    (wow, long comment. sorry!)

  5. I think that now you've got a fairly good starting point that grabs the reader, work on paring it down to what's absolutely essential. As Martina said, you've overwritten in some places. For instance, the soul color-guide doesn't have to explain every color. She could just refer to gray--and the description. The fact that she's referring to a guide for help is kind of funny, and makes me think she's a greenhorn. With that in mind, perhaps she's discovering her powers while on the job. Through her discovery, the reader comes to understand what's up with her as well. The backstory of how she became a reaper's assistant can come in the next chapter.

  6. I apologize for being so late. I guess I commented on the others too early! I know you will have a revision ready before reading this, and that's great - I can't wait to read it! If you don't decide to start earlier, perhaps a glimpse of her "normal" life, whatever that is. Her family perhaps? Maybe she's with her mother and has to make an excuse to get away and fulfill her assignment? Just another thought, but as I said I can't wait to see what you come up with!

  7. Thank you so much for the wonderful comments. These five pages are much, much better because of wonderful feedback from everyone. I was having a big problem working on the flashback and began the story with the day everything changes for her. I've saved the above feedback so I can work it in when I work on this chapter later on.
    Once again, thank you. :)


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