Saturday, April 9, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April Entry #2 Rev 1

Young Adult -- Heather Tourkin

I teetered on the narrow metal railing and tightened my grip on the mast line. Twenty-five feet below me the Mediterranean Sea swelled, rocking the sailboat. I’d never been this friggin’ high before, and now I was supposed to jump? A knot formed in my gut. This was like leaping out of a third story window. Only idiots leap out of third-story windows. The knot twisted.

“Luke,” my dad called, waving at me from the main deck. The gold coin in his hand glinted in the sun. “Hold on. Let me toss this baby.”

I gave him a casual look of annoyance. Everyone knows ancient Greek coins don’t have tails. I hesitated. Then again, maybe they do. But that wasn’t the point. I just wanted him to back off. Let me do things my own way.

“Heads you jump, tails you dive.” Dad tossed the coin. “Apollo says…” he caught it and opened his fist. “Dive!”

Dive? The word sounded foreign to my ears. My head started to spin. It’d be crazy to dive from this height. I started to get a little woozy. Then in the back of my mind I heard my best friend, Conner Larkin, egging me on like he was some kind of authority. “Chill,” he’d say if he were here now. “Don’t get your tighty-whiteys in a twist. Just do it.”

The truth was I wanted to prove myself, show my dad I still had grit. I had to do it. Then suddenly something inside me sparked. I stared at the water and mouthed, “Forget the dive. Go for a front flip.”

Dad rocked back on his heels and rested his beer can on his paunch. “Want me to toss it again?” The way he said it made it sound like he thought I was too much of a whuss to dive.

A gust of wind whirled around me and sent a shiver down my spine. I wobbled, catching myself before falling backwards. Just as I got my balance, nervous-Nelly Kaitlyn Davies walked around the corner of the bridge, gripping her tangled curls behind her head. She stopped short and gawked.

“Mr. Ha-ha-hansen,” she said, jabbing a finger anxiously in the air. “I-I-I don’t th-th-think he should do it.”

My father roared, “A strapping young man like him?” He took a giant swig from his beer can, and then wiped his lips. “Now, which is it, son? Are you an archer like Apollo? Or do you favor Athena with your bright baby blues and long golden hair?”

I rolled my eyes. Dad and his not-so-subtle attempt at sarcasm. Here he was comparing me to a Greek goddess just because of my long hair, when the man didn’t even have his facts straight.

“Gray,” I said, ignoring the insult, but still letting disdain creep into my voice.


“Athena. She had gray eyes.” I resisted the urge to add, Where were you when Mom, the bulldog, was force feeding us the Iliad and the Odyssey, downing a six-pack in front of the TV?

“Whoa!” Dad did this little pretend bow and wiggled his rear end. “I stand corrected, smart al—er…Bright Apollo, sir.” He saluted me.

On the main deck, Kaitlyn’s father, Mr. Overprotective Ray Davies, sidled up to his daughter. He glanced at me with these rheumy green eyes etched with red veins that made him look like he was on the verge of crying, or screaming, or both. Then Tasant, the cook and co-captain of the boat, poked his head out of the galley. He gave me a thumbs-up.

Dad yelled, “Shoot!”

So I did.

I forced back my shoulders and faced the sun head on. I raised my arms, bent my knees, and in a moment of no return, propelled myself off the railing. The tans and browns and greens of the scrubby Turkish coastline became a blur.

What resulted was the most pathetic, swan-dive-cum-front-flip a 16-year-old American teenager has ever attempted. It felt like a whopping side flop onto a slab of turquoise-colored cement. Waves of pain radiated from my solar plexus to the tips of my fingers. I curled into a ball and sank.

So this is death.

But death would have been too easy. The sea pushed back, and like an arrow, I shot to the surface.

“Son,” Dad said when I exploded out of the water. “What happened? You all right?” He tossed me a life preserver.

I cringed just hearing his voice. Of course I wasn’t all right. I dodged the preserver and eyeballed the distance between our boat and the rocky shore. Too friggin’ far. Then I gritted my teeth and tried to smile, if only to keep myself from crying out. I knew I should have forced my gut to pull rank on my brain. How could I be so dumb?

Chapter 2 The Blues

It wasn’t until I ducked back under the water that I realized how close I’d come to taking up permanent residence with the fearsome Hades. The lagoon where the Didyma 111 was anchored was shallow and the sea floor hosted an entire underwater mountain range. If I’d done a flip from any higher, or from a little more to the stern, I’d have done a face-plant on one of the boulders.

I breathed through the pain and did a slow, one-armed breast stroke around the bow of the boat. Just as I got to the ladder, I saw a shadow from the corner of my eye. I did a double-take and gulped down a mouthful of salt water. I couldn’t believe it. A dolphin was swimming only inches beneath me. I spat and reached for its dorsal fin, but it dipped down and swam off. Too bad, I thought, there goes my ticket to freedom.

The only thing left was to haul my sorry butt up the rope ladder. Man, it hurt just thinking about it. Then I took a gander at my chest. The whole right side was as red as a hunk of rare roast beef. A whimper bubbled to my lips, but I sucked it back. My reputation was at stake. If a Hansen boy broke down in tears, what would the Davies think? Or the boat crew? Or worse, my dad?

When I got on deck I rushed for the stairs to the sleeping cabins below. Unfortunately, stuttering Kait spied me dodging through the lounge.

“L-L-Luke,” she called, following me like a puppy dog. “Y-y-you okay?”

In my haste I tripped on the last tread and stubbed my big toe against the wall. I shot Kaitlyn a fierce look and snarled. That’s when I saw Ray’s large square head darken his daughter’s shoulder. The crow’s-feet along the corner of his rheumy eyes deepened.

I opened my mouth and was about to apologize. The words right there on the tip of my tongue, I could almost taste them, but then I thought: wait a minute; I’m not the problem, she is. Kaitlyn Davies. Why can’t she just leave me alone?

I bit my tongue and spun around. I needed time to think. I needed space. I stomped down the dark hall and slammed the door to my sleeping cabin.

Inside, my younger brother, Adam, was sprawled across the upper berth. His straggly brown bangs masked the fact that his nose was glued to a book about Theseus. He was so gripped by the words on the page that he’d forgotten to remove his shoes—a crime punishable by a lifetime of Mom’s “I told you not to’s.”


  1. Okay so I think the voice comes through better here. He does seem to waffle too much when considering the jump. This paragraph: "Dive? The word sounded foreign to my ears. My head started to spin. It’d be crazy to dive from this height. I started to get a little woozy. " is good but it does kind of repeat what you've already said at the opening. Great first line btw. And like Martina said last time, when something inside him sparks I expect his decision has been made, so why go back to being unsure? Or move that line up to right before he actually does it.

    Kaitlyn is more of a mystery here. You don't say her age, so again, I feel like she's closer in age to him, but maybe (now that I see the younger brother) that will be remedied pretty quickly. Her father I think you can describe better without actually labeling him "overprotective" Him showing up over her shoulder like that with the look shows it enough. Also you use Rheumy to describe his eyes twice. It's an awesome description, but don't use it so much.

    The brother is reading about Theseus - is that too much with the mythology? IDK where you are taking that, but it does feel like you use it a lot. I get that that's part of the MC's character, that he knows it so well, and it has been drummed into him so he may think in those terms, but I'd just caution you to think through each one and whether it's necessary so you can make the ones you choose count.

    Still love that opening!!

  2. Heather,

    I also like your opening paragraph. However, like Lisa I think that the section starting “Luke, my dad called...” and ending “Just do it” could be condensed a lot more than it is. Have you considered jumping right into the heads or tails dialogue? (Another problem with the scene is the MC talking about heads and tails on Greek coins before his father mentions it.)

    Also watch out for tense changes. Most of the story is past tense, but I noticed a present tense slip ("Only idiots leap out...", should be “Only idiots leapt out..." at least I think so)

    Have you considered introducing Kaitlyn and her father after the dive? I only mention this because I think it could help quicken the pace of the beginning and you already bring them all together after the dive.

    Some of your descriptions are awesome, such as “I teetered on the narrow metal railing and tightened my grip on the mast line” and “side flop onto a slab of turquoise-colored cement.” I’d like to see more of this uniqueness come from the character’s voice. Ask yourself how a teenage boy would describe things. What are his hobbies? His likes? Dislikes? Experiences? All of these will color his descriptions of people, places, and things. This is especially needed in a first-person narrative... would a teenage boy use “rheumy” (awesome word by the way!) in his vocabulary? Or would he use watery or sunken or some other word that he’s more familiar with?

    Overall, you do a good job of setting up conflicts. You just need to find your character’s voice... sometimes it comes easy. but other times not so much (it took me three years to finally nail down a decent eleven year old voice... and I still struggle with it on occasion). However, you’ve got talent, so keep at it and you’ll work things out. Can’t wait to see your next version. ;)

  3. Great work on this revision. Luke does come off more masculine this time around, but as Joseph said, I think it still needs more. And as Lisa said, the moment before he dives really needs speeding up. I know you are trying to use that moment of tension to introduce us to the characters and set up the conflict, but it's so long that Luke still ends up coming off weaker than he probably is.

    This may not work for you, but one thougth I had was was starting off with that great first line, then saying that below him his dad flipped the lucky Apollo coin, the gold gleaming in the sun as it flipped. His dad does some movement that lets you showcase his beer belly, and with a slur in his voice says something about it being heads, so dive. Luke thinks of course it is, there's no tails on that coin or in his father's vocabulary. It would be dive either way, but fine. Suck it up, the line about his best friend, and then he dives. Once he comes up and he's sputtering and struggling and realizes he might have died, you can build up a little more suspense in anticipation of his father's reaction by very briefly integrating some background into Luke's pain and resentment.

    Do pull out about 80 percent of the mythology here though. You're hammering us with it, and in this beginning, you want to tantalize us instead. The setting and the conflict with the dad and Luke are enough to hook us. Trust yourself!


  4. In paragraph one, your rhythm is uneven. I'd cut the "me" after below, and all references to the knot in the gut. It may be an attempt at a nautical reference, but it's cliched and doesn't help your flow. At the very least cut the first sentence about the knot and make the last one "the knot in my gut twisted"<--- this fits the flow better.

    The coin tossing pulled me up short. I thought the dad was tossing the coin into the sea for luck, not flipping heads/tails and I had to reread it a few times to figure out why the MC mentioned "tails". I'd also drop the "everyone knows" line and what comes after it. It's an odd fit.(Yes, I know it's explained the next paragraph, but I didn't get that far because it was confusing.)

    Your mythology references are serious overkill, like you're shouting "THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT THING, SO YOU'D BETTER PAY ATTENTION!"

    And I thought Luke was a girl, even with the name, until the "he". He thinks and speaks in a traditionally feminine way.

  5. I agree with the above, and would ask why you chose to make Kaitlyn a stutterer. Having studied speech pathology in college, I'm always alert to these characterizations and IMO they promote a stereotype (i.e., the first couple of words are misspoken 2-3 times and then the rest are fine). Unless it's crucial to the story that Kaitlyn have a verbal handicap, I'd give her as strong and clear a voice as the other characters.

  6. I think the masculine voice came through a little better in this. My issue now, is since we are getting a clear sense that Luke resents his dad, thinks of him as a sort of drunk low-life, why would he feel the need to prove himself so desperately? It seems to me that a teenage boy would rebel against his father normally, but if they're a drunk jerk like this guy? I imagine he wouldn't want anything to do with him.

    Also, about the mother. You refer to her as a bulldog, which I'm kind of getting that you're using an epithet-like method of describing characters. Which works with all the mythology references, but would he really think of her as a bulldog in that moment? Clearly, he likes mythology or he wouldn't bother correcting his dad, or making all the references to it in his head - so the fact that she introduced him to it, I would think would be a kinder memory. Maybe if you toned down the references, it wouldn't come off as strange. But the way I see it now, Luke and his brother are mythology enthusiasts, and while his mother might be strict, Luke should at least have that connect with her and think of her in a less resentful way.

  7. The voice is much better now, much more fitting of a 16 year old boy. There are a few phrases (swan-dive-cum-front-flip in particular) that still stand out, but generally this is much stronger.

    I agree that if you take out some of the doubt and waffling and get to the leap sooner, you will have a fantastic opening. Your description and setup is wonderful -- I can just picture him standing up there shivering as the boat rocks on the swells.

    And I have to say I agree with kathryn above. Unless the stuttering has a very specific purpose (and is dealt with sensitively and accurately), I'd remove it and find some other way to characterize Kaitlyn's nervousness and timidity.

    I miss the father's response ("That was one hard fall, son") from the earlier version. The father's concern ("Are you OK?") seems out of place since he dared him in the first place and I think having the father respond with that one cold phrase conveys a lot more about the relationship (at least how it is set up now).

    But overall, a great revision. Good work!


Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)