Sunday, May 6, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages May Workshop -- Hull

Mary Hull
Young adult
Eyes from Heaven
I'll make death love me; for I will contend
Even with his pestilent scythe.
-Anthony and Cleopatra
Some will discover their true love during their existence on earth. Others may never embrace it with death overcoming them in the end.

    In the depths of my dreams I was overpowered by a stronger force taking charge of my destiny and soul. For after we came face to face the essence behind my dreams was unveiled.

When you walk through darkness, how will you find your way?
Chapter 1: Neighbor

    The sound of the moving truck awoke me from a restless sleep, one of many since that day in May. Thunder had brought upon a heavy rain, surprising for the month of September, but I awoke to sunlight streaming in through my curtains. I swung my legs out of my bed and walked to my window.

          The house next door had been empty for one month since the previous owner, Mr. Culling, a widower in his eighties, had passed away.

     Two men, wearing blue uniforms, were unloading boxes from the moving truck parked in the driveway

      “Please be careful with those boxes!”

       The voice came from one of the upstairs windows directly across from my bedroom. My eyes came upon a boy who didn’t appear much older than myself.

      “Thanks, just put the rest in there!” he said, pointing to the detached garage on the side of the house.

      To my surprise, he suddenly turned, looking directly at me. I took a step back, my face now concealed behind the white curtain. I wonder if he saw me staring. The only thing separating our houses was the long driveway leading to the garage.

      My curiosity stirred, I peeked from the side of the curtain but he was gone. Was he going to live in that enormous house by himself?

   I was startled by the loud buzz from my alarm clock. Glancing at the clock, I sighed. School didn’t start for another hour but if I didn’t show up for the meeting the repercussion from mom would be endless.

     As I turned to walk into the bathroom my eyes fell upon the small black box perched on my dresser. I must have forgotten to put it back, I thought as my fingers traced the box. It wouldn’t have been the first time I had looked at the contents inside. And so I opened it once more and   stared at the mirror image of myself. The same fair skin, green eyes and honey colored hair. The picture was taken in March, two months before the accident.

   I jumped at the hard knock on my bedroom door.

    “Lily! Are you up yet?”

     As my mom walked into the room I tried shoving the box back into the drawer and in my hurry my fingers got caught in the hinge. I pursed my lips, trying to conceal the throbbing sensation.

       “I was just going in the shower,” I said, my hand reaching for the door. Please don’t ask about the box, I thought.

         She eyed me with her brows lifted. “May I ask what you are doing?”

         Why did she feel the need to question everything?     

      “Nothing, I was just…” I said.

      “My dear,” she said, placing her hand on my shoulder. “Surely you’re not trying to skip your first day of school are you?”

    I tried to look her straight in the eyes but of course I had never been good at keeping things from her. “No, mom,” I said looking away, “It was an accident.”

          “I didn’t think so,” she said, reaching over to hug me. “Don’t forget to wear some mascara. Our eyes are the windows to our soul.”

    I remained quiet, waiting for her to leave the room.

    Here we go again, I thought as I stepped into the shower, the hot water beginning to penetrate my skin. My overprotective mother, assuming she knew her daughter so well.

        I realized I had been standing under the hot water for quite some time, for my skin felt like rubber. After drying off I decided to wear khaki pants and a pink blouse. My mom had made it a point to remind me that I was too beautiful to ever choose to dress like a tomboy and growing up I had come to enjoy feeling comfortable in nice clothing. Most of the girls my age I had come across in town were highly fashionable in their taste of clothing and surely I didn’t want to look like an outsider. Even though I totally feel like one, I thought staring at my appearance in the mirror.

       My mom was rinsing her coffee mug when I walked into the kitchen. “There’s orange juice and bagels on the table,” she said, eyeing my outfit. Somehow I sensed that the smile on her face meant she approved.      
She kissed my forehead before heading out the door. “Oh, and for the sake of my career’s reputation in town please try to be a bit outgoing and make new friends,” she added with a smile.

         I didn’t reply, relieved that this one-sided conversation had come to an end. For now. I was more like dad, non-confrontational. My parents would call me their timid child. There was someone, though, who was uninhibited; eager to challenge everything. My brother, Ben.      

     I stepped outside where the sun’s bright rays welcomed me to my first day of eleventh grade at Meadowcreek High. I had been living in Meadowcreek for 3 months since my parent’s separated back in May. Although my dad, the president of a top newspaper, still lived in our house in Viewbridge, I declined in fear of leaving my mother alone.

           As I crossed the intersection in front of the school, my steps faltered. Meadowcreek High appeared ready to engulf me. I had no choice but to endure what the next two years held for me. 

      “May I help you?” a soft voice asked.        

     “I have a meeting with Mrs. Cash,” I said hesitantly.

        “This way please.” She smiled as she began to walk down the hall. “I’m the librarian, Mrs. Sanders.”

          “Hello,” I said softly, trying not to stare at passing students.  I felt like a stone wall that had been carved through, my past divulged to all. I had to relinquish in the mere fact that their scrutiny of me was merely a curiosity on their behalf. After all, I was the new girl and knew they would seize upon the interest of discovering the reason of my move to Meadowcreek. A reason I was not ready to reveal

    We walked down a long hallway stopping in front of a door labeled Counseling Office. Mrs. Cash’s door was locked and I hesitated, looking over to Mrs. Sanders for some reaction.

        “Go ahead and knock, dear,” she said.

        “Thank you,” I said and gently knocked on the door.

         “Yes, come in please,” a lady said.

      Mrs. Cash stood up from her desk and smiled. “May I help you?”

      “I’m Lily Casteel,” I said, handing her the letter from school confirming the appointment. 

   She scanned the note and smiled. “Welcome to Meadowcreek High, Lily. Please sit down.”

      Feeling awkward, I sat perched at the edge of the chair.



  1. My main comment is that there is very little happening in this opening. There's a little bit of conflict with the mc's mom, but I gather that's not what this story is about. There's the guy across the street, but nothing untoward happens. So far, we're simply walking with Lily through a normal morning. I'm wondering if you've started this in the right place. At the end of these 5 pages, it sounds like the story is about to start. My opinion, but I think the hook should be early.

    I'm on the fence about the preface. It's mysterious and interesting, but I am bothered by not knowing who the speaker is. It kind of reminds me of chapter prefaces in Dune, but those were tagged as the princess' writing.

    Starting a story with waking up is often perceived as cliche. Sure it's still done (Hunger Games), but I think you will instantly have a strike against you when querying.

    I think you need to give an idea of the mc in the first couple of paragraphs. As it is, I feel like I'm seeing things through her eyes, but I don't know who she is.

    Little stuff: You are using "my eyes fell on" a lot. You don't need it - or I heard, or I thought, or I saw or otherwise perceived. The reader will assume everything is from her POV. I suggest you try getting rid of as many "said" tags as possible. Often, you don't even need them as you've made it clear who is speaking by using an action.

    I look forward to seeing what you do next week!

  2. I hope that you wanted to make us hate the mom because I found her absolutely vile! Lily refers to her as overprotective, but I don't know if it's overprotective to tell your daughter to wear mascara. Even though she's shallow, I found it unrealistic when she said "for the sake of my career's reputation..." Very telling. You can let us learn this over the course of your story.

    There are some other details that stood out to me as info-overload. The paragraph about her parents' separation, the details about her brother, Ben. Can these details come out in a different way that will flow more naturally? Maybe the counselor says something about the parents' separating?

    I feel like Lily could linger over the photo in the box for just one more sentence. Something to build the mystery just a little more and make us burn to know what really happened.

  3. Hi, Mary! Here are my thoughts, and I tend to agree with Heather above.
    1. I would lose the preface. It's controversial whether it's needed, but in truth unless it's necessary and I don't see it as necessary here, I'd err on the side of caution.
    2. Waking up at the beginning is cliche, I'm afraid. So much so, that I've heard agents say they automatically discard openings like that. You don't want to be in that group, so again, unless it's imperative, and I don't get that it is, I'd start somewhere else.
    3. Your writing is lovely. But this is first person, and I don't think a teenager would use the kind of poetic language and distance she does. It feels older. I want you to really get into Lily's head and write from inside of her. You distance yourself not only through the language, but by saying things like: "My eyes came upon a boy who didn’t appear much older than myself." You don't even really need the "I thought" tags. I don't feel like you're in her head properly and I think that will make all the difference here.
    4. I'm seeing the situation set up, but not the plot/problem. I need more breadcrumbs in the opening. The black box is good. The line from the mom with the mascara is golden - it definitely reveals her character by showing and not telling. Nice. But what is it that makes this book stand out? I need to have an inkling of that.
    Did I give you enough to start with? LOL! Sorry. But I see a lot of potential here that can really blossom with more revision. Can't wait to read it.

  4. Mary -
    I'd love to offer something new an insightful for you to consider, but all of my thoughts have been expressed above:)
    I think you've got a story with a lot of potential - it's obvious there's a mystery that will be revealed and a girl who's gone through a lot of loss.
    I echo Lisa and Heather's comments in particular about the preface, opening with MC awakening, and the flowery language. You write beautifully, but almost too beautifully to be believable as first person YA. I hope that makes sense. The times when your language was the most poetic were the times I felt myself pulled out of the story. So yes, to restate what others have said - my recommendation would be to tighten up a lot of this and give the reader and better sense of what's at stake. As it is, I feel like we meandered along with the MC through her getting to school. I know she's miserable, but that's about it. I hope to learn more when I read your revision next week!

    Marilee Haynes

  5. Even though I generally have nothing against prologues and such, I'm not sure the Preface is needed here? The epitaph already gives us a sort of intro to the story, and the preface doesn't give the reader anything particularity gripping or suspenseful. I think you could just start with Chapter 1 :)

    I like your descriptions and the voice, but there are a few bits that I think make your protagonist sound "old-fashioned" rather than contemporary. It's things like "didn't appear much older than myself" and "the repercussion from mom would be endless" and "I had to relinquish in the mere fact that their scrutiny of me was merely a curiosity on their behalf." By themselves, it's not a big deal, but overall, it does make Lily's narration sound a little bit like a more period story.

    I was a bit confused by the part where Lily tells her mother "It was an accident." What was she referring to?

    I thought you did a great job portraying the relationship between Lily and her mother without coming right out and saying that her mother was pretty controlling and judgmental.

    I feel like there's a lot to tell us about Lily's past and I'm interested in learning more about her :)

  6. I was intrigued by the first line, but confused by the second because I couldn’t tell whether it was sunny or rainy. I was also jarred by the word ‘awoke’ twice in a short paragraph. Also, agents are always saying they’re tired of stories starting with - preludes, the weather, or waking up, so I was very concerned for you. The preface in particular doesn’t give me a character to care about, so I would leave it out of submissions entirely. That’s 68 words you could use to hook us further into the story.

    The line about the house next door is telling, and the phrase ‘were unloading’ is passive. Can you combine the thoughts. I.e. I watched the removalists hard at work. Seemed strange to have neighbors again after so long.

    Suddenly – another agent pet hate. Was startled and was rinsing – also passive.

    I felt the line ‘Was he going to live in that enormous house by himself?’ was a deliberate attempt to make me curious, but since I didn’t have a character to really relate to yet, I didn’t share their curiosity.

    I also used reflection to describe my MC in my entry but I think my commenters were right – it’s an overused technique. Can you insert the information another way?

    The accident piqued my curiosity. I felt like the story was beginning to start there.

    Wow, the MC is a girl? I hadn’t expected that.

    Three paragraphs starting with ‘As …. Something happened…, something happened.’ It’s passive.

    I didn’t buy that she would say ‘May I ask.’ Show her character by the words she uses, not just a standard question.
    “It was an accident.” - What was an accident? Did the mother notice that her daughter had slammed her hand in a drawer? And if so, wouldn’t she care a bit more? For that reason I didn’t like her, and when she spoke about her career I felt it was not only telling, but also made me dislike her more.

    There are three instances of ‘I thought,’ and for me that repetition becomes a bit jarring. Also, if you are in the MC’s POV, there’s no need for filter words like I said, I thought, I saw, I heard. Think about it - if you’re walking along a street observing the world you don’t think ‘I heard that car horn beep’ you just think ‘that car horn beeped.’ Every time you use a filter word you remove us from deep POV. Also while we’re on that subject, her thoughts, although beautifully written, don’t sound like a teenager. If she’s a princess/angel / a hundred years old that’s fine, but tell me so I can understand why she uses phrases like fell upon.

    The mention of Ben comes out of the blue and doesn’t lead anywhere, so I was left hanging. Same with the divorce.

    The fact that she doesn’t want to abandon her mother is a good characteristic to make us care about her, and yet it doesn’t appear until the excerpt is nearly over.

    I’m curious again about the reason she doesn’t want to reveal. That and the accident are pointers I would really try and move closer to the start of the piece.

    We walked down a long hallway stopping in front of a door labeled Counseling Office. This is a dangling participle, because the phrase ‘stopping in front of…’ changes the characters from being just characters to characters who are stopping in front of something. It changes their actual state of being. I’m don’t know how well I’m explaining this, but if you rearrange the sentence it might be clearer what I mean. Basically what you are saying is:

    Stopping in front of a door labelled Counseling Office, we walked down a long hallway.

    See how it doesn’t work anymore?

    I really hope this helps – it’s not meant to be nitpicky it’s just that I think you’re off to a good start and with some heavy editing it could be even better. There’s enough mystery to keep me reading, but I really want to care about the character sooner. And I think the new boy next door would come as more of an intriguing shock if we found out about him after we found out about her.
    If you do cut the prelude, I can’t wait to see what comes next in its absence!

    Good job!

    1. I really needed this... thank you for your time and effort. I have a lot of work to do to revise... and I thought after paying an editor it was all done!!! But that's all right because this is all good stuff!!

  7. Holy moly, I just wrote an essay! Just want to stress that I still enjoyed this, I'm just a lover of editing too. :D

  8. Hi Mary,

    You have a lovely cadence and a beautiful way with words, but unfortunately that almost works against you in writing first person because it adds distance. At the same time, we aren't really in your mc's head enough to merit the first person approach. I wonder if this is really the way you want to go? Rather than losing so much of what makes your authorial voice distinctive to hit a "contemporary" 1st person POV, maybe you might prefer to go with a 3rd person? Have you tried that?

    Consider cutting the preface. I'm not sure that it adds anything, and you could use "When you walk through darkness, how will you find your way?" as a tagline for the book.

    Apart from that, I agree with the comments above. You need to move a great deal faster and start with something other than waking up. Give us a better sense of the "boy" -- I assume he is going to figure prominently in this? Set up his family situation a little bit better, show him to us, bring him to life.

    Make sure that you are concentrating on giving us visuals as we enter new venues, and trust the audience to get things without needing to double dip (Perching on the edge of the chair tells us all we need to know).

    For the introduction, really consider what we need to know to feel drawn into the story. That's really our only job as we write--to make every sentence lead compellingly into the next sentence and every paragraph lead into the next paragraph. If you consider it that way, you really have plenty of time to reveal the mother's character and the family more completely. Intrigue us, tantalize us. Give us dialogue that has teasers on the surface and ominous depths beneath the words.

    Looking forward to the rewrite,



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