Monday, August 20, 2012

5 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Pruitt-Goddard Rev 2

Author: Candyce Pruitt-Goddard
Genre: YA Dystopian
Title: Desiderium

If I had a dollar for every time I found myself wishing for more time, I might only have to work two jobs. Maybe then I'd actually have time for a life. As soon as the thought slips out, the temptation to let myself feel desire consumes me. I squeeze my eyes shut and take a deep breath. I can't want more time. I can't want anything. Not if I don't want to end up in jail.

A flickering yellow light catches my attention. My gaze fixates on the steel bracelet clinging to my wrist and I have to remind myself to breathe. I strategically place my jacket over the bracelet to conceal the yellow light, and double check to make sure no one noticed. I quicken my pace and try to focus on getting to Calculus on time. When I'm within a few steps of the classroom I take a subtle peek at my wrist and heave a sigh of relief when I find no sign of the desire I almost let myself feel.

I scurry through the door and slide into an empty seat in the back. Without glancing at the clock, I pull out my textbook to cram in a few extra seconds of studying. Before I have a chance to become fully engrossed in the dot product, someone taps my arm.

“Have you heard the rumors?” the girl next to me leans in and whispers.

“What are you talking about?” I narrow my eyes in confusion.

“They’re saying the Desiderium died yesterday.”

My heart skitters in my chest. A blank look takes over my face and I forget how to speak.

“They’re saying it was someone from Canada,” she elaborates, ignoring my blank stare.

My brain races to put all of the pieces together. There’s no telling what would happen if the rumors were true.

"Good morning, class," the professor interrupts. “Please put everything under your desks except for a pencil. For those of you who have just been added to the class, you will not be required to take the quiz but you will be responsible for the material. For everyone else, you have exactly ten minutes.”

Desperate to distract myself from obsessing over the rumor and everything it would mean, I scour the room for any new faces. Students are always adding and dropping courses in the first couple weeks of the quarter, but I always hold out hope that I’ll see somebody from the high school. There are at least a handful of us who take advantage of the Running Start program that lets high school students take college classes for free.

I recognize most of the faces from the first week of class, and am about to look away when a student a couple of seats to my right catches my attention. He brushes his curly amber hair out of his face to reveal startlingly deep blue eyes. He doesn’t look much older than me, but I haven’t seen him around the high school before. I definitely would have remembered him.

His eyes catch mine and all of the blood in my body seems to pool in my cheeks. He raises his eyebrows, adding a sense of mystery to his subtle smile, and time seems to slow down around us. A deep breath brings me back to my senses and casts a dark shadow on the silly thought. My lip twitches into a smile and I convince myself to look away.

Someone jabs me in the shoulder and shoves the stack of quizzes in my face. I slide one off the top and notice the new student doing the same. My pencil glides across the paper until all of the questions are answered. With two minutes to spare, I flip my paper over and lay my pencil on the desk. Everybody else is still scribbling away at their quizzes. Except the one person who didn’t even have to take the quiz.

He gazes at the clock and his face softens. I tuck my unruly hair behind my ear and smooth the wrinkles from my shirt. His eyes meet mine, forcing my stomach into a knot. A few seconds is all it takes to lose control. His gaze shifts to my wrist and he struggles to suppress a smile.

My bracelet blinks an annoying shade of yellow.

As soon as I realize what I’m doing, I fight to regain control of my thoughts. I force my hands into my lap where they're safely out of sight. Desperate for a distraction, I count the holes in the ceiling tiles. I only have a few seconds to squash the desire before the excess dopamine in my bloodstream turns the bracelet red. Once it’s red, it’ll only be a matter of minutes before the officials show up to arrest me. With everything I have going on in my life, that’s the last thing I need.

I long for the days when I’ll be old enough to not even be tempted by desire. I won’t have to worry so much about setting off the red light on my bracelet or letting the words want and desire slip out of my mouth. For now though, I just have to deal with it.

The door slams open behind me, forcing my head to whip around. Two police officers barge into the room trailing an official in a green uniform. The official passes the professor a respectful nod.

My heart races. My leg jiggles beneath the desk. With as much subtlety as I can manage, I glance down at my wrist. A heavy sigh escapes my lips when I’m unable to find the light. If it had turned red it would still be red, even if the excess dopamine was no longer in my bloodstream.

“Samantha Jones,” the official’s voice booms.

All eyes shift to a girl in the front of the room.

"Yes," she stutters.

The police officer slides out a pair of handcuffs.

“The levels of dopamine in your system have exceeded the legal limit. You are under arrest.”

The solid red light on her bracelet gives her away.

"No, you don’t understand,” her voice shakes.

The officer yanks her out of her seat.

She screams.

Before anyone can realize what’s happened, the girl’s elbow smashes into the police officer’s nose. Blood trickles down his face. The desk crashes to the ground. Everyone in the room averts their eyes and refuses to make eye contact with the girl as she makes a break for the door. The second police officer stumbles after her. Just a few feet from the door, the official reaches out, his face expressionless, and shoves a black object against the girl’s side.

Her body convulses as she tumbles to the ground. The official slides the Taser back into his pocket and waits for one of the police officers to slide the handcuffs onto her wrist. The officer jerks her up off the ground and a tear streams down her cheek.

“Sorry for the interruption,” the official passes another nod to the professor and everyone watches them lead her out of the room.

The professor nods in return. “Back to work everyone.”


  1. I like this revision a lot! I only have two minor nits:

    "A blank look takes over my face" - this sentence seems awkward to me, because it doesn't seem like something she would think in her own POV - does she really know exactly what's happening on her own face, and is it just happening without her doing it? Something like, "I forced a blank look onto my face" would work better for me.

    "“They’re saying it was someone from Canada,” she elaborates, ignoring my blank stare." After reading this twice, I realize that it must be the Desiderium who is from Canada, but my first time I assumed that "the Desiderium" was a known person and therefore "it" must be referring to someone who assassinated the Desiderium. Maybe find a way to make it clearer?

    Otherwise, I think this is really good. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Leah! Done and done.

      I have a question for any of the panelists. How do you know when your first five pages are as good as they can be and should be sent out to agents (provided that the rest of your manuscript is equally strong)? Is it something you just send out when you're happy with it and test the waters?

      And the question I'm afraid to ask is, but for the sake of my sanity think I should ask you think my first five would be likely to get interest from agents (i.e. should I think about sending them off soon)? I know that it's ultimately up to me, but I'm hoping to get a second and third opinion from people who have had success with this before. I don't want to send it off before it's ready.

      Thank you in advance for any advice that you can give :) And thank you for all of the constructive feedback you guys have given. It helps immensely.

  2. You must have clarified the desire/need for time for thickos like me.
    Very minor / picky points. Feel free to ignore. Would the blood from her head pool in your cheeks sound better? (It is her head that has been turned).
    I had to look up the dot product to be sure (and I trained to teach maths) – must be a term used more in the US. Would my pencil glide across a calculus paper? (I know people who are serious about Maths consider much of it elegant.) Raced / Moved furiously / Worked round- but perhaps you find Calculus really easy.
    Really not sure about a deep breath casting a dark shadow – how about simply clearing/blowing away silly thoughts?
    Door slams open forcing your head to whip round – how about something like all heads whipped round as a door slammed open ... (the door didn’t force but that’s just me being pedantic, feel free to ignore)
    I like leg jiggling – I know that happens.
    The levels of dopamine ... doesn’t sound like a police expression to me. Would it sound better saying something like – You are under arrest for contravening the Excess Dopamine Act of 21?? (doubles as a way of getting a year in – if you want to do that.)
    Try the ABNA comp next year. At least, if you get past round one you will get some feedback. Agents just send standard rejection letters, so isn’t really a way of testing the waters.

  3. I would say this is a stronger opener than the last version I have read. Starting in the classroom helps, and the general direction of the story is clearer (a forbidden romance, at least as a sub-plot?) There's also the hint that the protagonist isn't as undesired as it seems.

    The moment with Samantha Jones is also handled better, especially factoring in the narratator's close-miss.

    I'm also confused about the Canada part too.

  4. Hi Candyce,

    I think this is a solid place to start your story. You've brought in a nice mix of action and world-building, with several strong hooks to keep readers interested in reading more. I agree with the others that perhaps a touch more to help ground us into the situation with the Desiderium. Either a bit more or a bit less would work, but as it is, the way that you have it reads a bit unnaturally and leaves the reader confused rather than tantalized. It won't take much to tweak that into shape. Claryfying what you mean by "it was someone in Canada," would help. I.e. -- Do you mean that someone from Canada killed the Desiderium, or do you mean that there are multiple Desiderium and that it was one in Canada who died. Be careful of repeating vague concepts like:

    "There’s no telling what would happen if the rumors were true."
    "and all it could mean."

    That second statement would benefit from the addition of one minor piece of information that we didn't have before.

    Be careful in general about repeating or suggesting concepts you've already nailed. For example in your opening paragraph, "As soon as the thought slips out, the temptation to let myself feel desire consumes me," could be removed. For one thing, the temptation is essentially synonymous with desire, so that sentence is confusing. For another, you show her struggling to control her desire anyway. Consider something like this.

    "If I had a dollar for every time I found myself wishing for more time, I might only have to work two jobs. Maybe then I'd actually have time for a life. But I can't want more time. I can't want anything. Not without risking a jail sentence. Already the light on my XXX bracelet is flashing yellow. I squeeze my eyes shut, take a breath, and think of something ZZZ."

    That would give you the option to "show" her coping mechanism and the values that the society has in place. Do they value selflessness, studiousness? What do they want people to feel in place of desire? You have her about to engross herself in the dot product (would all of your readers get that, btw?) and you have her gaze around the room, but presumably later you will introduce the societal alternatives. It might be helpful to have them now.

    The above gives you the stimulous with your MCs subtle humor given more prominence, and then the reasoning and the consequences, and then the reaction at the end of the paragraph when your mc brings herself to heel.

    I also agree with Leah's comment about the minor POV issues. Look at the one that she brought up, and also keep an eye out in the rest of your story for places where you have done things like: "he struggles to suppress a smile," which is only a borderline POV shift, but it can make the reader unconsiously pause since it leaves open the question of how your MC knows the boy is struggling.

    Overall, my biggest concern is the number of visceral/physical reactions that you have in this piece and the number of different things that you are reacting to. While for the most part they all read well, the quantity taken together makes it feel a bit hard-driven, and if this is where we are launching, you are not leaving much room for increasing tension. You might try highlighting every instance of a visceral response: breathing, sighing, heart/brain racing, blushing, etc. and making sure you aren't overusing them or repeating.

    Also be careful with where your MC or others are gazing, focusing, glancing, etc. Especially in a deep POV, these are often superfluous. Instead of telling us where your MC is looking and how she is looking at it, describe what she is seeing. That will free up room for significant actions that she notes in others, like the boy gazing at the clock (although perhaps gazing isn't the best word-choice there) or glancing at the band on her wrist.

    Overall though, great job. This has a lot of potential and I think you are getting very close!




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