Monday, March 5, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Robert

Name: Cecilia Robert
Genre: YA dark fantasy with Sci-fi elements.

Most eighteen year olds I know are in the university, engaged to be married or bouncing a baby on their hip.

Not me. I collect souls for a the Grim Reaper. My soul belongs to the him.

From inside the Watchman Chamber of the south tower of Vienna’s , St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and away from the oppressive, muggy Summer heat, I brace my back on the cooling surface of the wall. I tap my high-heeled foot to the fast rhythm of the song blaring from my music player. My eyes trail a flock of birds performing some sort of dance across the summer blue sky highlighted with red and orange streaks, and the fading yellow of the setting sun. Doves coo from somewhere close. I smile.

These are the rare moments of my self-created paradise while waiting for my assignments from Grim.

Shifting my eyes to the ground below, I inhale deeply. My heart squeezes on itself, and my throat burns with longing. I miss my home, I miss this life.

Clenching my jaw, I shove the sneaking memories back to where they belong: at the back of my mind. I fist my hands, and remind myself that this isn’t my home anymore. The After world of Shadow and Light is, a dimension between our world and others. Although living with Grim in his gothic castle is as adventurous as it gets, I’d rather live in the city I was born in.

Instead, I focus on the people moving about resembling confused dots, and this time I exhale feeling giddy. This is how an eagle feels soaring in the sky, it’s razor-sharp eyes roving around for prey. Except I can’t fly. But I walk through walls and travel to places at the blink of an eye. And I don’t prey either. I prefer a more suave approach, namely, soul collecting.

Behind Vienna’s blend of baroque, renaissance architecture, and modern settings, its sidewalk caf├ęs, cobbled stone and well-maintained tarmac streets, the veiled world thrives. Creatures invisible to the human eye skulk in corners and slither along walls. However, I see everything. It comes with the job.

My two years as the Reaper’s novice are almost up. Soon I’ll be a Soul Collector graduate – as long as I pass my test. Grim hasn’t hinted on the details as yet. Whenever I think about it, my forehead breaks into a cold sweat, and I can barely breathe. Half the time I find myself chanting Please let it not be a collection for a young soul, like a baby, a child’s, or a teen’s. The bright spot in all this is, once I graduate, I’ll have more free with my family and friends,something I haven’t been able to do as often as I would have wanted in the last two years.

I’m snapped out of thoughts by the soft microwave-like ding, indicating that I have a new assignment. My moment in paradise is over, a reminder my job isn’t ordinary. Sighing, my eyes flutter close ,and Grim’s instructions flash like a neon sign in my mind’s eye.

Assignment: Soul Collection
Light World Home For The Elderly, 7th district, Vienna
Age: Ninety-nine years
Soul Colour: red

I don’t get names, just their soul colour. I can tell what kind of life a person lived by that colour. This one has had a vibrant life.

With one last glance at the city’s sweeping view, I turn the music off, drop the player inside my pocket, and walk away from the barred lookout window of the chamber. Summoning the Concealment Spell, I brace myself. Between one step and the next, I feel the caress as light as air, envelop me. I descend down the never-ending spiral stairs of the Cathedral. The click click of my heels on the stone floor shatter the silence, the effect comforting. No one is around. The opening hours ended half an hour ago.

Outside the Cathedral, I project the destination in my mind. Walking through walls ‘ghosting’ as I call it, takes less time than catching the underground trains and the tram street cars as I can walk through one wall, and come out close or at the exact position of my intended place.

As I pass through a wall, I glimpse a ghoul lounging on top of an angel statue inbuilt on the walls by the entrance of a Barock building. A Draangel – descendant of angels and dragons – dashes by in full Concealment, scales gleaming in the fading daylight. Glancing on my right, a Djinn in his smoke form floats around, leering at a group of girls wearing miniskirts and halter tops.

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.

Inside the Light World home for the elderly, I locate my client in room 308. Taking a deep breath, I ghost inside the room, a dull ache piercing my chest. About eight people, with similar facial features, surround the bed, shielding her from my view. Shifting my body, I peek at the name tag stuck on the rail at the foot of her bed: Mrs. Elfriede Strauss.

Knowing the names is important to me. The soul deserves respect.

Straightening , I sidle to the other side of the room, and hover at the open window, and wait as her family pays their last respects. A small child with blond curls – maybe the grandchild – is holding Mrs. Strauss’ hand, her tiny shoulders shaking helplessly. Beside her, a dark haired man has his arm wrapped tightly around the shoulders of a blonde haired woman. Her shoulders quiver. I suspect that if he was to let go of her she would collapse. I bite my lower lip, shove my hands inside my pockets of my trench coat and shift my gaze outside of the window.

Once her family leaves, I wipe my eyes and inch towards the bed. Although I have collected souls countless times, it still gets to me every time.

Mrs. Strauss opens her eyes, and smiles at me. And I know she is ready. She closes her eyes, and with a smile she draws her last breath.

Dipping a hand inside one of the many pockets of my well padded Trench coat, I extract a glass soul vial. I lift the cap off, and as if responding to a silent symphony, the crimson mist-like soul dances towards me. I hold my breath as it glides gently through the vial mouth, swirls for a few seconds, then settles down. I breath out, my heart almost bursting with joy.

After collecting her soul, I replace the cap, mark and slip it carefully inside the pockets, making sure the other vials are arranged properly. After buttoning up my designer Trench – courtesy of Grim as he insists that his novice should be well outfitted -, I ghost out of the room. Later on in the night, I’ll learn more about her during the daily conversations I usually hold with the souls before handing the souls over to Grim. My pulse picks up a beat at the thought, then stutters. This part of the collection leaves me either feeling like crap, or elated, depending on the kind of life the soul led before collection.


  1. I love Grim Reaper stories, so yay for that! To be honest, the first two lines don’t work for me. I’d prefer to start in scene and slowly figure out that the MC works for Grimmy. That said, I think the following paragraph would be an excellent start. It has great description and solidly places me into a scene. One small thing: I suggest slowing the description down a little. The sentences kind of rush by. Put in some periods and break them up. “I brace my back on the cooling surface…” could be a sentence of its own, for example. Then, the following line about waiting for assignments from Grim is perfect to me, and makes the first two lines unnecessary.

    The info about MC living with Grim and leaving the world of the living and being a novice feels out of place and takes me out of the story a little. It has good emotion, but it might work better a little later in the story. It might work well to go right into the action/description of MC doing the soul collecting, and hinting at the guilt he/she feels with their actions. (For example, MC waiting for the family to pay their last respects works really well.) The Draangel and Djinn also feel out of place. I like them for the world-building, but it might help to have more of a hint that there are other magical beings in this world before showing them.

  2. I feel like you told me everything in the first two lines...except there's no conflict or mystery. It's like...Grim's got her soul? Oh. Story over.

    BUT I really like the sensory start:
    "Away from the oppressive, muggy Summer heat, I brace my back on the cooling surface of the wall...My eyes trail a flock of birds performing some sort of dance across the summer blue sky highlighted against the fading yellow of the setting sun. Doves coo from somewhere close. I smile."

    Okay, it's not the best first paragraph without any action, just observation, but I have a good sense of place. What would make it awesome is if your MC chooses this peaceful moment to collect a soul (from the doves, perhaps? don't animals have souls too, little wispy things that no one will miss?)
    Something that will hook the reader, show us what this girl is capable of.
    Don't put us in paradise right off the bat.

    For me, this is where the story starts:
    "Grim’s instructions flash like a neon sign in my mind’s eye.

    Assignment: Soul Collection
    Light World Home For The Elderly, 7th district, Vienna
    Age: Ninety-nine years
    Soul Colour: red

    I don’t get names, just their soul colour. I can tell what kind of life a person lived by that colour. This one has had a vibrant life."

    Even so, why not go for the jugular and her first assignment of the day is something seriously wrong and tragic. You know, "these are the assignments I hate, but if I'm ever going to get my soul back from Grim, this is what's required. blue souls. blue souls are the worst." or whatever and so forth.

    And then she ghosts herself, or just drops 500 floors to the ground without a scratch. okay, the job sucks but the perks are that you get to ghost around everywhere. Who wouldn't want to do that?

    Anyway, just some things to think about in both hooking the reader and showing off the cool things in your story.

  3. I love that this is based in Vienna. Great old city.

    I had to read the first sentence twice because it sounded off. Since you are making a list, I think you need to add the word "either". "Most eighteen year olds I know are either in the university, engaged to be married or bouncing a baby on their hip." And if she is Austrian, then most 18 year olds are not getting married or having babies - they have a very low teenage birth rate there. (I live next door in Germany which also has a low teenage birth rate, and most people don't even get married, but choose to have kids and live together for years first.)

    Also - as I was reading, I wanted to know how she got the job with the Grim. Did she answer an advertisement? Did she die and offered her services in order to be saved? I think her motivation is an important thing to set up. And if she still has a family, do they know what she does?

    And I was jarred by her reaction to Frau Strauss' death (I put Frau here because if you set your story in a different culture,using easy cultural references to place the reader makes it more realistic.) It seemed she was upset then suddenly she was joyous. It was inconsistent, for me at least.

    Sorry - if this is so negative. I think you have a fantastic story here and after a few tweaks you will have a great beginning.

    Good luck.

  4. Since I'm late to the show, I am going to echo what those above me said, since they said it very well. I absolutely love Sarah's suggestion for a starting point. That was where the scene actually starts, because it's the first true action. From there, you can weave in the backstory and introspection and really build your unique story world, which is great. Lots of interesting detail and a wonderful take on her. As an addition, in terms of conflict, I get that she wants more time with her family and friends, and that she doesn't want to collect young souls, and that she has a test coming up--but since we don't quite know what the consequences of failure are, it's hard to get up much sympathy for her. Similarly, since I don't have a good sense of what happens with the souls after she gets them, I don't know how to react to what she's doing. You'll have more room to handle all that once you trim back, and I feel like you have a lot of really intriguing things coming.

    Looking forward to seeing what you do!


  5. I agree with the others. I felt like this beginning lacked conflict or tension, although the idea that this is a Grim Reaper book where her soul's already been taken seems like a great twist. But I can't get a good handle on what this book is about. Taking souls is what I'd expect of a Grim Reaper and/or his apprentice/assistant, so this kind of opening for this kind of book felt flat. I love Sarah's suggestion to start at least with a soul she doesn't WANT to take. That'd add some conflict.

  6. I love the premise. I love paranormal, and this has some great potential, but I agree that I'd like to see more conflict. Love the idea of a soul he doesn't want to take. This made me think of Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed In Blood. It's about a 16 year old boy who is a ghost hunter, and the first chapter has no explanation. It is just Cas on one of his hunts, capturing a ghost. Not until the next chapter do we get any background on Cas himself. The story starts with conflict because we see how dangerous killing a ghost is, yet here is this kid who risks his life to do it. With your piece, it may work to start with a soul collection that is difficult for one reason or another (whether he is reluctant or something that makes the collection harder for him). Right now we just have background, which I agree we need in a piece like this, but letting it trickle in through the action will keep the reader's interest. I love the idea of your MC being someone who is not right off the bat someone we love or hate. I'm not sure how I should feel about a reaper but will love to see where this goes!

  7. Oh, thank you everyone for the feedback. Very much appreciated. I'm moving around the scenes, and look forward to your feedback. :)
    Amy, I've been meaning to read Anna Dressed in Blood 'cause I've heard it's wonderful. Definitely going to read it soon. :)


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