Monday, March 5, 2012

8 1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Silva

Name: Jessica Silva
Genre: YA sci-fi

For most people, lying is easy. If it were for me, I could say I was on a morning walk. Or pretend I wanted to catch the sunrise, even if it were still an hour off. Maybe I wanted a hot muffin for breakfast, the best table in the library, or the center-front seat for lecture. I didn’t want any of that, but it hardly mattered.

Any of those sorry excuses would fit the image of a valedictorian better than what I was actually doing. Though, as long as I wasn’t caught, I wouldn’t need to lie about skipping my first class of the day. I had a pretty good record—six years of unnoticed truancy. Surely, my last year in secondary education wouldn’t be my downfall.

The familiar creak of the lecture hall’s double doors brought a smile to my face. Stifling a yawn, I slipped into the dark auditorium and shut the door behind me. Motion sensors set gears clicking into place until sparks ignited the Blaugas lighting. I took in a big breath, surveyed the auditorium seating and stage set with just a lectern. Only shadows stared back.

I bit off the last chunk of my apple and threw the core into the compost bin hidden by the velvet drapery on the walls. The same two stairs as last year squeaked under my feet. My fingers slid over the smooth finish on the tables in the third row as I moved to the fourth section. No one ever sat over here. I sank into the last armchair, pushed out a breath, and stilled. After a minute, the lights shut off to conserve the gas.

Now I just had to wait. I clenched my jaw against another yawn. An hour was nothing compared to the year I’d already waited. My hands clutched the lion heads at the ends of the armrests. This would be easy.

Suddenly, the door creaked. I shot under the table as the Blaugas lit again. My hand clasped my shirt over my heart. I would’ve clutched it instead if I could to stop the deuced thumping. So loud. Had someone seen me? Hang it all.

A soft, low hum filled the auditorium. Footsteps climbed down the stairs to the front of the room. Casual, comfortable. If it were a student, I could probably convince them to keep quiet, but if it were a professor, it’d be a bit more difficult. I released a shaky breath. Difficult, but not impossible. If they caught me, I’d just have to tell them the real reason I was here.

I peeked around the corner of the desk. White hair puffed on the top of a head like a cloud. The professor. He shuffled to the stage in full academic robes. His knees cracked, and the sound echoed through the room.

“I guess that’s what I get for refusing those joint replacements last year!” he said to himself. He grinned his way to the lectern on the left side of the stage. His hands opened its cabinet door and started fiddling with the projector’s settings.

I dropped my shirt. Nothing to worry about. The professor wasn’t here for me. My entire body loosened, and I resettled myself under the desk. Closed my eyes. Started my mental countdown.

This professor wasn’t the only one who’d refused to trade out their arthritic joints last year. Premier Castol had, too—and every year beforehand. That old man even wore glasses. He was the only person I knew who did. He insisted he didn’t need prosthetics to be healthy. Most of the professors who’d been born at the end of the war were like that.

The door opened again. Much too soon. I held my breath. Was it someone coming to tell the professor he had a sneak in his class?

“Aren’t you rather early, Eques?” the professor asked.

I choked. I’d forgotten Gavriel would be attending the lecture this year, since he’d become an intern. Even if he’d seen me, he wouldn’t tell, would he? I would hack into the system and fail him in every single one of his classes if he did.

Gavriel’s soft chuckle resounded through the room. It pinched the nerves all the way down my spine. “I can leave and come back later if you’d prefer?” he said and padded down the stairs anyway.

“No, no,” the professor said, “that won’t be necessary. I do enjoy the company of a good, youthful mind from time to time. Perhaps you’d like to help me set up for our lecture this morning?”

“With pleasure.” His boots clomped onto the stage.

I resisted my urge to peek around the desk just to see his stupid mug. Not worth it if he spotted me. He had some kind of trick with that sort of thing—be it from across the parterre or from two floors down. It was a worthless talent.

He was probably here for class, not to tattle. We had been eleven and still best friends when I’d told him my plan to sneak in. He wouldn’t remember something stupid like that, right? And if he’d were going to betray me, he would’ve said something by now. I was safe.

After an hour and a half, the rest of the interns—all eleven of them—filtered in and took their seat. Always in section two and three. My legs had fallen asleep by the time the professor finished his rambling introduction of the day’s lecture. I didn’t need it. I knew exactly what today’s topic was.

The room darkened. Under the blanket of shadows, I crawled from beneath the desk and sat on the stairs. Hidden from the interns with roaming eyes, I was alone in my own little corner. Finally, the projector hummed and golden wisps of light stuttered to life.

On the stage, the holograms of nine dead historians lounged in oversized armchairs. They went down the line with intros, and then it was his turn.

“Hello, interns,” the last historian said with a bright smile. The same as always. “My name is Dr. Evander Clemens.”

“Hi, Dad.” I wrapped my arms around one of the table’s legs. My eyes burned with tears. I didn’t hold them back. But it was fine since no one could see me.

While the other eight historians rambled their pre-programmed lectures one at a time, I watched Dad’s frozen form stare into the aisles. I tried to commit every angle of his face to memory all over again. His slicked back blond hair, clean-shaven face, sturdy jaw, and sharp nose. After an hour and forty-five minutes, Dad cleared his throat and stood. My wet cheek rested against the cold wood leg.

“So I heard you want to be historians,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. The black silk of his robes rippled with the movement. “Not a bad choice, if you want my opinion. Which of course you do. You wouldn’t be sitting there if you didn’t.” He flashed a boyish grin, and despite my tears, I smiled right back. “Just kidding. None of you really had a choice. Mandatory lectures were always beastly annoying, so I’ll be quick.” He twisted his mouth. “Quick-like, rather. I’m a rambler.”

The interns stifled their laughter, and my grin only grew. I couldn’t help it.


  1. I really like that this is all in scene, without too much background information, and I can tell that there's a cool premise behind the "historians." The main thing that didn't work as well was the beginning. The first few paragraphs were confusing and seemed to be a little disconnected from the rest of the story, and the sentence structure just didn't seem to make as much sense either. Maybe tightening the first paragraphs would help. Also, I wasn't too sure what the MC was doing, so I wasn't as invested in her trying not to get caught. It became clear towards the end that she was sneaking into a class, but I think a small hint a little earlier on would help me to focus on the story - otherwise, it was just a girl sneaking into an auditorium, and it was a little hard for me to care why she was. Overall, this is a great beginning.

  2. The first sentence drew me in...and then the other sentences muddled up the initial idea. I'd say to simplify.

    "For most people, lying is easy. I had my share of excuses and a pretty good record—six years of unnoticed truancy. But surely my last year in secondary education wouldn’t be my downfall."

    I mean, not perfect, but it's to the point. I'd do the same for some of the other paragraphs...get to the point. First.

    Don't let an hour and a half pass while she's hiding in the room. Have her purpose--in seeing her father again--be forefront to everything. Maybe she slips in the back of a lecture that's already taking place.

    Things I LOVED: the emotion over seeing her father (hollogram or not), the hugging the desk leg, etc. the dialogue, just a hint at what's going on, but enough for now. throwing her apple away behind the velvet curtain. All that little stuff helps me picture her character and empathize with her.

  3. Thanks Kheryn and Sarah. These are GREAT comments and I can totally see where you're coming from :) I can't wait to edit this and see how much improved it'll be.

  4. I was also confused about the beginning. At first I thought she was talking about other people lying because of the "if it were me," line. It is her so she doesn't wouldn't think that.

    I wasn't hooked until the end when I realized all this was for the chance to see her father. I think you need to hint at that from the beginning. Let us know how desperately she's been waiting for this chance to see him. How nervous she is about getting chucked out before she has the chance. This would make her much more sympathetic to the reader. We need to see the stakes.

    Also - the paragraph about the (assumed) love interest, confused me. "He had some kind of trick with that sort of thing—be it from across the parterre or from two floors down. It was a worthless talent." No clue what you're talking about here - his ability to see her from far away? At first I thought it was electronics as he was needed to help out.

    Could the professor have a name? Much easier than calling him professor all the time. If that is his title and the way your MC names him, then professor needs to be capitalized.

    I was very touched at the lengths she went to to see her dad. Good job.

  5. Eeeek! I can't wait till I get to read/crit this! (Yes. Be jealous.)

    I'd only have a nitpick here and there and maybe something to say about the top section, like previous critters...but I'll save that for in-lines.

    Awesome job. Lots of tension and emotion. I can tell it's gonna be un-put-downable.


  6. Hi Jessica,

    I love the premise, and I will absolutely echo what everyone else said. Although we don't normally line edit here, I have to say that Sarah's suggestions were really good. The opening line drew me in, but I was pulled out because I was trying to figure out what was going on, and I didn't get hooked back in until the historians came in. Then when I found out she was wanting to see her father, that was awesome.

    I was also pulled out a bit because I kept getting tripped up wondering if this was a historical, or if it was set in Britain, or both, and trying to remember that it was SciFi. I wonder if you don't need to differentiate the world a little bit more? Is there something that you can pull up front here to really ground us in your "different" world? Touches like the compost bin in the lecture hall are awesome, but again, a little too close to be--at least for me--other than disorienting.

    Apart from that, while I really like the promise of a potential romance with Gavriel, you might go back and check to make sure his characterization is what you were hoping for. Things like "soft chuckle" (sounds older to me) jar with clomping boots (which sounds younger). Overall, I'd love to get a little more of a hint about their current relationship. They were best friends at eleven, and they're the same age now, but he's an intern and she isn't? If she is good enough at school to be a valedictorian, why isn't she an intern? If she has been doing this for six years, then what is different for her is the entrance of Gavriel, and so that's what I would suggest you focus on, together with the world-building. The fact that he gets to do something openly that she has to sneak to do is fascinating in terms of what it suggests about the world and their relationship. (Unless I'm completely off base?)

    Eager to see where you take this!


  7. A wonderful beginning to a story that sounds very interesting. I loved the hologram idea of 'dead historians'as well. It raised some more questions, like why dead historians, what happend them, but I guess that comes later in he story.

    Oh, the emotion when she sees her father! Heartbreaking.

    When the hologram materializes, she says... “Hi, Dad.” I wrapped my arms around one of the table’s legs. Does she think the words, or whisper, given that she is hiding.

    All in all, a wonderful chapter to a start of an awesome sci-fi story. :)

  8. Hi Jessica. Sorry for the late reply. I am probably just going to echo what a lot have been saying. I knew from the heading it was supposed to be sci fi, but in the beginning I thought I misread because the sci fi didn't click until the holograms. Once it did, I was brought back in, and I love the idea of the MC hiding out to see her dad. Is this the only way she can see him, by sneaking around? Why risk truancy? Or better yet, why is she so good at not getting caught? There's so much I want to know, so my interest is definitely piqued. I just had some trouble connecting in the beginning because I was looking for the sci fi. Can't wait to see revisions!


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