Monday, August 6, 2012

8 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Zero

Author: Chihuahua Zero
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Title: Manifestation Files

Scout and I sat together for the first time in several months. Of all the people that could calm my nerves, I invited her over. Habits refused to stay buried—considering Mom was picking up the exchange student from the airport.

We were sitting next to each other on my back patio, sipping Fitz’s root beer. Scout’s headband, which had a stuffed chick sewn on it, looked ridiculous. Yet, she wore it.

“Once we meet Finn, can we all go to my house for dinner?” she asked.

I kept my eyes on my ring finger, which I tapped against the rim of my bottle. “Nah. Mom and I will have to make sure he settles in—at least for the first night.”

“C’mon Bryan.” Scout leaned into the brick wall. “Does your mom really want to cook dinner, considering she’s doing everything?”

“She’s picking Finn up from the airport. I agreed to give him the house tour.”

Scout snapped the scrunchie holding her blonde ponytail together. “Hmm…what evil plan are you brewing to assume complete control over your subject?”

I rolled my eyes. “He’s not my ‘subject’. Quit applying your perverted logic onto the world, and I might invite you over more often.”

“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. Was it safe opening up to Scout?

Before my rationality could shut me up, I 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 would be disappointed otherwise.”

Scout grew more somber. “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 get myself to be selfish enough.”

“Are you jealous?”

“Well, when my mom’s attention is split between three different things…also, it’s more of an irrational fear, but I’m afraid I’m not going to like this Finn guy. He didn’t make much 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 art 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. My fingers tensed up.

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 need to understand you can’t tease me like that anymore.”

“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 bear left in the bottle.

God, Mom was now going to ask why Scout left so early.

I looked out the front window. Mom’s car was driving into the spot Scout’s car was in. They most certainly have passed each other.


I stepped onto the front porch, planted my feet onto the brick floor and folded my arms.

Mom exited the car, drawing pad in hand. A couple of seconds later, the passenger door popped open. Finn put one foot onto the sidewalk, and dragged a rolling suitcase behind him. He fumbled with it before placing it onto the ground with a clatter.

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

Step by step, he walked up the stairs, his suitcase bouncing. He kept his head aimed at his feet. Mom remained at the car, grinning at me. How did it go at the airport—

Halfway, Finn tripped and landed on his knees. His suitcase descended the steps.

Before Mom could move, I ran down the steps to help Finn. By the time I reached him he was lifting himself up. He grimaced, but the time he stood, he was rubbing 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.

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 received the suitcase, detracted the handle, and held it to his chest. A bandage covered his right forearm. He gazed off in the distance, his breathes moving his chest. “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 jerk with an attitude—I could already tell he wasn’t the chatty kind.

All three of us advanced up the steps. At the porch, I opened the door, letting a burst of cold air hit us. We entered the house. I looked at the living room to the left, and the kitchen to the right. This was what Finn was seeing for the first time.

Mom sped pass Finn and I to the stairs. “Bryan? Will you show Finn his room and then show him around the house? I need to finish this project for a new client.” She walked up, leaving Finn and I alone. He looked at me, blinking absently. He tugged at his shoes with his feet.

“You can take your shoes off.” I untied my shoes and placed them neatly to the side. “My mom is a freelance artist. She has been jumping from project to project lately, so don’t be surprised if she seems to disappear for hours at the time.” Ever since her Owl Mural went viral, her car had been getting some mileage. Also, the phone bills, which I had taken a peek at, had an increase.

Finn didn’t respond. He was gazing out the window next to the front door.

“Um, Finn?”

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

Yep, he was absent-minded. I walked to the stairs, gesturing him over. He followed, stepping across the carpet as if it was rough ground. Strange, his socks were dyed green. “You’re from Oxford, right? The information from the student exchange program wasn’t clear.”

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

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

“I don’t have an e-mail.”

We circled around to the second floor. Besides Mom’s master bedroom, there were my room, and the guest bedroom Finn was going to use.


  1. I like your writing style, and the mysterious exchange between Bryan and Scout. I do have a couple of suggestions, but pick and choose as you like.

    In the first paragraph, try to grab the reader in some way. Maybe introduce the potential conflict, or show the reader what's different about Bryan's world that makes it fantasy.

    I thought you did a really great job with describing the body language of the characters. One thing I would suggest though would be to re-read some of your dialogue out loud. It might help you catch some of the oddities, for lack of a better word, in the dialogue. For example, the paragraph that began with "Well, when my mom's," the ellipses sort of threw me for a loop, and I wasn't sure how the two thoughts connected.

    I also noticed a couple of typos, but a quick read-through should fix that. I might suggest also taking a careful look at how you phrase certain things. Rephrasing a few things will definitely help the writing flow a little smoother. For example, instead of saying "Also, the phone bills, which I had taken a peek at,had an increase," you could say "I also took a peek at the phone bills and noticed they'd gone up." Or something like that.

    As a whole, the first five pages seem to focus entirely on the exchange student conflict, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as a reader I have no idea where the story is going. It was listed as a fantasy novel, but I so far haven't seen any fantasy elements in the story. I know it's just the first five pages, but maybe you could try to work in a couple of fantasy elements so we have a clearer idea of what makes Bryan's world different from ours. Or you could also maybe hint at one of the more central conflicts of the book. Although you would definitely have a better idea of that since you know where the story is going.

    You're doing a great job, and I can't wait to see how your story progresses.

    1. Thanks.

      The problem about introducing the fantasy elements is the fact that Bryan isn't really "in on it". He's oblivious to what's going under the surface.

      The last draft of this had an explicit hint to the supernatural, but I need to find another place to weave it in here in a way that the readers know something is going on, but Bryan dismisses it.

  2. I liked this. You're already a very competent writer who knows how to craft a story. I started reading it just curiously and finished the whole thing. I'm not so into Urban Fantasy so I was skeptical but it didn't seem very urbanly fantastical yet so it kept my interest, although like Candyce said above, I guess you have to decide if that's what you're going for.

    I think some of the explanation sentences can be omitted. Like “Of course.” I took a long sip, smearing the frost surrounding the glass. The coldness calmed my jitteriness. Was it safe opening up to Scout? I don't think you really need the last sentence. It's clear he's already nervous talking to her and that dynamic sort of plays itself out through the conversation. And same with Byran noticing that Finn was self-conscious.

    Also that line when Finn comes out of the car "I recognized him." is that supposed to be significant or did he just see a picture of him when he was emailing him?

    Also, I wasn't sure about the scene break between Scout leaving and Mom pulling in. Didn't seem like any time had passed in-between. I thought the last paragraph of the Scout scene was a little clunky and since you've already got the writing skills maybe you want to take a second look.

    Well, those are just a couple of humble suggestions. Keep on keeping on!

    1. I'm not sure whether I should categorize it as urban fantasy or paranormal, since the latter implies "vampires/werewolves/angels/etc" too much. I would say "supernatural" sounds closer, but that's not as standarized as a tone. And as I said above, the fantasy elements don't kick in until later.

      I'm guilty of sometimes tacking on internal thoughts onto Bryan's narration. I need to see where I can cut it, without pulling out his thought process.

      And Bryan just recognized Finn from a picture the student exchange program gave him--probably. I still need to do a little more research into such programs (and refer back to an earlier critique), but I presume the exchange program would require such a photograph.

  3. I think you have introduced the characters nicely. However, with no synopsis or book cover to read I don't have enough to have an idea where this might be going - but you have already responded to this point earlier. I'm a softly spoken Brit but never done an exchange.

  4. You've done a great job of weaving information in here, and you have some very intriguing elements with the potential to draw readers in and keep them reading.

    To reiterate what everyone else has already said, I suggest you make sure early on that readers will know what kind of book they are reading. You only have one a few moments of reader, agent, or editor attention so make the most of it. I think you could get us rolling faster and bring in more of the exchange student and the strangeness. In fact, consider making the whole scene more active by having Scout and Bryan exchanging only the crucialinformation exchange WHILE the exchange student is already arriving, hopefully while Scout and Bryan are engaged in some active activity.

    Beyond that, I did pick up some strangeness with the student. The fact that his profile was vague was nicely handled, and the sense that the he's behaving a bit strangely came through as well.

    One thing that I'm going to mention lighty, and it may not even be a problem, is that I got a girl or into-guys male vibe from Bryan and the from the things that Scout said to him, which made the decription of the 2nd floor layout and proximity situation intriguing. If this is where you are going, I would love to have it be just a tad more overt. Sorry if I missed something there.

    Just one more general comment on your writing. You have a nice, fluid style that manages to convey a lot of subtext, but sometimes the syntax comes off a little stilted. It's not overwritten in the traditional sense, but more like you haven't relaxed into the language or voice. This is especially noticeable in dialogue, partly because it is not consistent. If you are using this to convey a sense of the alienness or otherness, try highlighting any words that an ordinary teen wouldn't use in conversation. See if you see a pattern, or if you could add a pattern, so that you have a consitent base to build on. If not, then consider every word and make sure it all, especially the dialogue, flows naturally.

    Great work. Looking forward to seeing the rewrite.


  5. I’m a little confused from the beginning. There are a lot of mysteries raised in these first pages. The mystery makes me curious about where the story is going, but details that are dropped in are a little confusing. For example, does the protag have many people who could calm his nerves? Is the mom’s habit of picking up exchange students from the airport one of the habits that refuse to stay buried? The meanings of these sentences are ambiguous, and I’m not sure if it is intentional.

    It would be great if you could preserve the slowly unraveling mysteries while still informing the reader a little more about who is speaking, where they are, and what the vibe is. Mystery is good, but if everything is mysterious, it's hard to attach onto the concrete.

  6. This is a good opening with intriguing hints about personal conflict and mystery to come. Perhaps because I read a wide variety of books, I wasn’t concerned by the lack of genre clarity, though the other reviewers have a good point that there is no hint of what type of book this is.

    I would say that the first few paragraphs are a bit too confusing. The first paragraph introduces four characters – the mc, Scout, Mom, and the exchange student – in three sentences. And then by paragraph three, we also have Finn, who apparently is the exchange student but that’s not immediately clear. As we get to know the characters better, I find them all intriguing, but in the beginning they’re just a jumble. I would suggest reordering a bit so that the reader gets to fix one character in her mind before moving on to another, i.e. even a simple fix like:

    “Scout and I sat together for the first time in several months. We were sitting next to each other on my back patio, sipping Fitz’s root beer. Scout’s headband, which had a stuffed chick sewn on it, looked ridiculous. Yet, she wore it.

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

    “Once we meet the new student, can we all go to my house for dinner?” Scout asked.”

    I also didn’t realize the mc was male until his name was used; especially given the preponderance of female mcs in YA novels, I think it’s a good idea to clue the reader in early. (I also agree with Martina that I got a girl vibe from him – didn’t want to say that originally in case it was just me being so used to reading and writing female mcs!) Just having Scout use his name in the first couple of paragraphs would do this, I think.

    I hope this helps! Looking forward to seeing the next version.


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