Monday, August 20, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Zero Rev 2

Author: Chihuahua Zero
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Title: Manifestation Files

Scout and I sat next to each other for the first time in several months. We were on my back porch, sipping Fitz’s Root Beer. Her headband, which had a stuffed chick sewn on it, was ridiculous. Yet, she wore it.

Of all the people that could calm my nerves, I invited her. Habits refused to stay buried—considering Mom was picking up Finn, the exchange student, from the airport.

“Once we meet Finn,” Scout asked, “can we go to my house?

I kept my eyes on my ring finger, which I tapped against the rim of the bottle. Condensation wettened my other hand. “Nah. One of my friends is going to get pizza for Finn and I tonight.”

“C’mon Bryan.” Scout leaned into the brick wall. “You haven’t been over to my place in the longest time.”

“For a good reason.”

Scout snapped the scrunchie binding her blonde ponytail and smirked. “Say…what evil plan do you have to assume complete control over your subject?”

I rolled my eyes. “He’s not my ‘subject’. Quit being a pervert all the time and I might invite you over again.”

“All right.” She looked beyond the fence. Sirens blared in a distance; a typical sound around the hospitals. “So, are you nervous?”

“Of course.” I took a long sip, smearing the frost surrounding the glass. The coldness calmed my jitteriness. I then lowered the root beer and looked her in the eye. “I prefer not having Mom and I host for an exchange student, but I feel like I can’t push this away. Mom expects me to look after him, and she would be disappointed otherwise.”

“Why did you agree in the first place?”

“I asked myself that for a while.” I took another sip. “It was after ‘The Owl’ went viral. She was in an artist high and I couldn’t be selfish.”

“Are you jealous?”

“Well, Mom’s attention is split between three different things. Also, I’m probably not going to like this Finn guy. He didn’t make any effort to answer the messages I sent through the student exchange program—although it’s likely Mom intercepted some of them and lost them in her studio.”

“Did you ask her about it?”

“Once. She dismissed it.” I sighed. “What do you suggest I should do?”

She tilted her head to the side and gazed off to the distance. But instead of her offering useful advice, she said, “I don’t understand you. A boy is finally living at your house for an entire semester, and you don’t even—?”

I flustered. “Drop it.”

“You showed me Finn’s picture. He doesn’t look too—“

“Strike two.”

“Hey, speaking of baseball, do you think he would make good catcher—?”

I stood and pulled her from her seat. “Get off my porch. Now.”

Scout kept her grip on her bottle. She sighed. “All right. You’re no longer fun anyways.” She slipped her arm from my grasp and opened the yard gate to the front.

I folded my arms. “You can’t tease me like that anymore, you know.”

“Well, if you want me driving you again…” She walked through the alley. A few seconds later, I could hear her new car driving away.

I entered the house, plenty of root beer left in the bottle.

I walked to the front and looked out the front window. Mom was driving into the spot Scout’s car was in.

I opened the door, stepped onto the front porch, and planted my feet into the brick, feet folded. Mom exited the car, drawing pad in hand. A couple of seconds later, the passenger door opened. Finn put one foot onto the sidewalk, while dragging a rolling suitcase. He fumbled with it before placing it onto the ground with a clatter.

I had seen a picture of him before. He was pale-skinned, with mouse brown hair side-swept with a comb. Beyond that, semi-formal clothes hanging off his scrawny frame, and a sheepish, awkward smile. Already, I could tell he wasn’t sure of himself.

Step by step, he walked up the stairs and pass the flower-sparse dirt garden, his suitcase bouncing. He kept his head aimed at his feet. Mom remained at the car, grinning at me—

Finn tripped and landed on his knees, leaving his suitcase to descend the steps like a rubber band ball.

Before Mom could move, I ran down the steps to help Finn. By the time I reached him he was already lifting himself, grimacing. When he stood, he was rubbed the back of his head with his palm, laughing nervously. “Sorry about that. I can be clumsy at times.” He was soft-spoken, with a British accent.

What a way to make a first impression.

Mom picked up his suitcase, walked up, and handed it to him. “Finn, this is my son Bryan. You guys will be getting to know each other quite well over the next few months.”

He detracted the handle, and held the case to his chest. A bandage covered his right forearm. He gazed off in the distance, his chest moving in and out. “O-okay.” He then made eye contact with me. “Okay.”

God, it was painful looking at him. Although he didn’t fit my worse-case-scenario—a surly, attitude-poisoned jerk—already I could tell he wasn’t the chatty kind. On the other hand…something about his eyes looked off. I usually didn’t notice eyes, but maybe it was the shade of gray, or the size of his irises, or that subtle absentmindedness?

Nah. I was looking too into it.

“Let’s go in.” I said. I led all three of us into the house. Another bout of sirens carried in the summer wind. It better not be an omen.

Once inside, Mom went straight to the third floor, where her studio was, leaving Finn and me alone.

I stared at Finn. He was fiddling with his suitcase’s upholstery, which reminded me of that expensive couch Dad had in his apartment. Hopefully, Finn wouldn’t ask about Dad.

“Um, Finn?”

He flinched. “Oh, am I supposed to do something?”

I gestured him over to the stairs. He followed, stepping across the carpet as if it was rough ground. “You’re from Oxford, right?” I asked. “The information the student exchange program gave Mom and I wasn’t clear.”

“Father had some trouble making arrangements.” Finn’s shoulder brushed against the stairway.

“So you weren’t able to send e-mails or anything?”

“I don’t have an e-mail.”

Once at the second floor, I opened the door to the guest bedroom, the one Finn was going to occupy. “You can put you suitcase in here. You can unpack later, once I show you everything.”

Finn walked in and circled aimlessly around the room. Due to money constraints, there was only a bed, an end desk with an old clock radio, and a desk and chair set recently bought in a garage sale. Finn slid opened the closet door, and gently pushed his suitcase in. He then went to the window and peeked through the curtains.

How long he was going to take?

He opened the bathroom door, peeked in, stepped out, and looked at me with a befuddled look.

“My bedroom is on the other side.” I said. “Be sure to knock every time.” I wasn’t too happy with the arrangement, but I wasn’t my house’s architect. And it wasn’t like anyone used the basement except to store milk gallons.

Finn scuttled out and followed me to the first floor.


  1. This is really good! I found the initial confusion mostly gone (though "Fitz's Root Beer" threw me off - I don't drink root beer, so didn't realize it was a brand until I googled it, and until then thought it was another name I was going to have to keep track of).

    If there's one thing to work on here, I think it's the dialog - it's much better, but still seems slightly stilted at times (i.e. "Mom and I"). One technique that sometimes works for me is to read dialog out loud, with a partner if I can find one, and change anything that feels unnatural to say out loud.

    Good luck!

    1. Fitz's Root Beer is an attempt at local color. I'll consider it.

      I'll also consider reading out loud dialog.

      In any case, thanks for helping us in this workship!

  2. I like this revision a lot better. The dialogue still kind of threw me, but Leah already addressed that. One other thing I might suggest would be to find a stronger opening paragraph if possible...something to really grab the reader.

    One other thing. This might just be me, but the first 5 felt a little long and drawn out. It might help the pacing to try to trim it down some maybe.

    1. I agree. The opening paragraph could have more punch, but I don't know how to approach that.

      What do you think should be trimmed?

  3. While I didn’t like how you wrote the paranormal bit in the earlier version, I would quite like to see something to give me a clue where this is going.
    Minor things:
    I don’t know what this phrase means - planted my feet into the brick, feet folded. (but I am English)
    This phrase doesn’t feel right to me - Nah. I was looking too into it. (too into it? - again I am English)
    I would remove the due to money constraints – as you imply them by the old clock radio and the garage sale buy

    Dialogue I would just make it a command – Put your suitcase in there ...

    1. I meant "arms folded". That was a revision mistake on my part. I'll also consider the other phrases.

  4. I agree with everyone else: this version is the strongest. At this point, tighten, vary your sentence structure (you've got a bunch of paragraphs that all start with "I" for example) and smooth out the dialogue, and punch up the beginning. Apart from that, I'd love to see a little more focus. If the exchange student and his "otherness" is where the plot is centered, hit that a bit harder in this beginning. Emphasize any strangeness and mystery in the way that he was chosen and arrived, etc. If the focus is his effect on Scout and Bryan's relationship, clarify that relationship a little bit more. I love the sense I get that Bryan is gay and that Scout hit on him and he has now placed her at arm's length. I'd keep reading just for that. (Of course, if I'm wrong and Bryan isn't gay, then I'd suggest you give us a better grounding from the get-go about what caused the rift between them.) If Bryan is gay though, how does Scout really feel about the exchange student--a guy--coming to stay. Has she reconciled herself to Bryan's sexual preferences? What dimension does this add to Bryan's anticipation and is his mom completely clueless? There's so much to explore here, and you've done a great job settin gup the options. I'd just like a little more clarification so I know what to think and how to direct my attention.

    Great job!



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