Saturday, April 9, 2011

7 1st 5 Pages Workshop - April, Entry #4 Rev 1

Young Adult -- Lisa Marie Basso

Darkness swallowed the too-real dream and I awoke to a scream ripping from my chest. My heart pounded against every angle of my chest, the sound reaching a crescendo as my doorknob pinged off the crumbling lath and plaster wall. A dark figure smelling faintly of pears and honey tip-toed to my bedside.

I fought the instinctual urge to reach beneath my pillows and unsheathe my katana. Nearly three months here and I still hadn’t fully allowed myself to feel safe.

A weight lighter than a sack of potatoes sat beside me on the bed. The lamp on the nightstand clicked on, bathing the room in soft yellow light. “You’ve had some bad dreams before but that one…it sounded bad.”

My breath still hitched in short gasps. I looked up at my roommate, Taylor. Metal shined from her right nostril and just above the right corner of her lip as her piercings stole light from the lamp. “It’s fine,” I said in place of I’m fine, and avoided her gaze, scolding myself for coming even that close to cutting her in half.

“Want to talk about it?”

I shook my head. Nothing had ever felt so real. Or so threatening. It was like I hadn’t truly lived yet, hadn’t felt anything before the grit of that dream. Something stung my eyes, but it couldn’t be tears. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d cried. At my previous home doing so was forbidden.

“You’re wringing wet,” Taylor said after sweeping my dark bangs aside. “And not in the good way.” She wiped her hand on her too-short pink sleep shorts.

I tucked what I could of my almost chin length hair back behind my ear and swiped at my forehead with the back of my hand. Sweat not only dripped from my brow, it trickled down the back of my neck and seemed to cover every inch my skin. The images from the dream came again, flowing like a faucet with broken knobs.

Chained to a chair. In the dream I had felt the cold metal biting into my wrists. With my eyes open and Tay by my side, I sank back in, reliving ever moment.

My thoughts bounced recklessly from place to place, not stopping anywhere for too long. It was the waiting that burdened my mind, frayed the edges of my ragged nails, and chewed tiny pieces of flesh from my bottom lip, causing it to crack and bleed. The Council of the Supernatural had convened seventy-four hours ago. A decision regarding the accidental death of an innocent mortal should have already been reached.

The mahogany grandfather clock chimed away down the hall.

I bounced my legs beneath the table anxiously.

The silver haired man sitting across from me opened his reptile-like eyes. With movements too fast for my eyes to track, he rose and appeared before the fire place. Smoke, rich with the scent of must and earth, drifted up the chimney. One of the logs crackled, sending orange sparks drifting up into the air before petering out, almost as if caught in chains of its own. Placing his long fingers against the chiseled rock hearth, Reptile Eyes leaned forward warming his leathery face.

My hand circled clockwise beneath the table as I vividly imagined twirling it in his waist-length hair then thrusting him into the very fire he stood before. The chains around my wrists jingled, giving me away.

“It won’t be very much longer, Skya. Please, try to relax. Patience is something we have come to expect from a young lady such as yourself.” With a gust of wind and a blur of fabric he appeared across the table, leaning into the old wood, his long garb hurrying to catch up. “After all, it does take patience to learn all the secrets you know, but what of your partner, how has he come to control the elements the way he does?”

So this wasn’t just a waiting room. Divide and conquer. That was their strategy.

I pressed my lips together to keep them ironclad, but as his long fingers beckoned to me, my resistance slipped and I began singing Devlin’s secrets. “He much like I, was taught by a skilled practitioner. His master followed in my master’s teachings.”

“Darius,” he hissed.

Hearing the name of my former master—and top dog on my shit list—stirred feelings I had long since locked away for the safety of those around me.

Magic. He had to be using magic. I’d never cracked before, and I’d been Darius’ spy for years.

A swarm of panic attacked me and I fought the chains, desperate to touch the amulet dangling from my neck. Unable to reach it, the panic rocketed up my spine. I tugged the chains, fingers begging for the calm the amulet brought, but the red stone remained just out of reach.

Why was I so determined to touch it?

“Please, you have to unchain me!” My voice sounded strange. I’d never heard myself… plead before.

Reptile Eyes faltered. From the look on his face we both felt the powerful force coming, disrupting the uncanny clutch The Council had over everything inside in this place. It only took a moment from when the door splintered, but in that moment, hell found me.

The dream dropped away for the second time tonight and I fought through the tightness in my chest for air. I heard myself wheeze and centered my chi inward, willing my lungs to expand and contract normally. Taking control; the way Darius had taught me to do in case I ever got captured or sustained a fatal injury. He used to say: with meditation and inner control you can delay the inevitable and take your revenge. You can carry that soul over to the other side with you, a trophy.

He never was much of a role model, but his teachings kept me alive on the near-impossible missions he sent me on.

I had no idea what came for me, who the Reptilian or that Devlin character were, or how I got myself involved in The Council’s ruling over a mortal girl’s death, but I was glad it was over.

I wiped my mind clean of everything that reminded me of him—including the all-too-real dream—and threw my blankets off. “I’m good, Tay. Thanks.”

She stood and folded her arms. The tattoo of a bird centered on her chest peeked out from beneath her pink tank. “I don’t buy that for a second. I’ve never seen you so scared. What was it about?”

I thought about telling her, but what good would it do?

The creak of a floorboard outside my room sent my hand beneath my pillows. Twisting my fingers around the hilt had never felt so good. With the flick of my thumb, the sheath loosened. All I would need to do was move the blade and the sheath would fall away. Another creak. The footsteps were coming slowly. I tensed my arm rather than immediately freeing the Praying Mantis from her cell. I would have more than enough time to see the intruder first.

A busty blonde stepped in the doorway wearing nothing more than a pair of red lacy underwear and a sheer bra. I used my thumb to close the distance between the hilt and the sheath, putting the blade to rest once again. “Come back to bed, Tay.” She crossed one foot over the other and leaned into the doorframe. A satisfied grin stretched across on her unblemished face.


  1. Okay don't shoot me, but here's the thing... Rearranging the telling of it doesn't change the fact you are starting with a dream. You've executed it well, but starting with a dream is cliche in and of itself and no matter what that may turn away some agents/editors. Also, the dream sequence itself feels a bit awkward now. She's remembering every detail of it, and seeming to understand it all even though she didn't understand it in the dream (I know that sounded confusing but hopefully you see what I'm getting at). If you have to go with her waking from a dream, perhaps she can recall flashes of it at a time, and connect those flashes with real memories? That's a tad dangerous too as it involves some backstory. But if you choose the most important moments it could work, then have her have the full dream a bit later in the book. I guess you have to decide how important it is for us to have the info from this dream at this moment, and how much can be dripped in throughout. I am far more interested by the roommate situation and the sword under her pillow. I LOVED where you say crying at her previous home was forbidden, it was just enough to make me want to know more. :D So those kind of clues are great.

  2. This is much better in terms of clarity, so good job there. The problem writing-wise now is that there's still a good bit of description that slows the flow of the story.

    For next time, consider going thround and examinining every adjective and descriptive phrase. Think about what you want to say in terms of giving us just enough detail to show how your mc views the world while ensuring that she has the time to notice and describe every detail you give us. Consider which details she would notice, and give them to us in her voice--with her experiences and background, how would she phrase that description? What is she seeing in that detail that places it in context with her world?

    Otherwise, I'm completely with Lisa. She explained the problem with the dream perfectly. Condider presenting us with the most critical details, the things that we can't NOT know at this point in the story. Then continue with your present action. You can have your mc struggle to rememeber the dream, feel like it's important, but all she remembers is.... And then, as Lisa said, perhaps there are flashes that come interspersed with present action. You can even have her react to those flashes: rub her wrists, reach for the amulet. Perhaps she can remember the name, but wonder why it would make her chest tighten, her heart pound, etc.

    Don't be discouraged. You've set yourself with a difficult challenge.

    One other thought, and I don't know if this is the way to go because many agents hate them, but if the information in the dream is so critical that it must appear up front and intact or it will change our perception and understanding of what's really happening in the present, consider putting it into a prologue.

    Breathe, and take time to acknowledge the difficulty of what you've set out to do. Have some chocolate. Then cut what can be cut or move your facts around. You CAN make this story work. She's a fantastic character and you've got terrific conflict and action already.

  3. I agree with Lisa and Martina. You have an excellent character and some excellent conflicts, but they are getting jumbled by the dream stuff. Lisa’s suggestion to focus on a few key elements in the waking world is a good one. You also have some excellent descriptions, but as Martina said there is always room to improve your voice, especially in a first person narrative. Give careful consideration about your MC’s background (likes, dislikes, hobbies, previous family/friends, etc.) and how it’ll effect her thoughts, feelings, and descriptions of persons, places, and things.

    Last but not least, keep in mind the pacing of things. It’s easy for us writers to fall in love with our own words, but sometimes they slow down the story. I tend to go through the following process... write too little for first draft (focused on action and dialogue), write too much for the second draft (adding character feelings, descriptions, etc.), and only then trimming back to something halfway decent. Revision can be difficult to do, especially if you’ve lived with a chapter/scene for a long time. However, one thing that I’ve found helpful is creating a “cuttings” file where I put all my favorite pieces of writing that ended up on the chopping block. It helps to know they aren’t completely gone.

  4. Ugh... the waking from a dream thing... it doesn't work. Something like 80% of subbed MS start with the MC waking up or dreaming. It has to rock to work, and this is just too trite.

    If your story revolves around a dream, then start later in the day and reference it.

    As to the katana - do you have any idea how big a sheathed katana is or what it would feel like under pillows while someone was trying to sleep on it? The blade is flat, but the saya isn't. You can either lay a naked blade beneath the pillow with the tsuka hanging off the edge past the guard and collar, but even then, it's not an easy thing to pull off.

    Also, keeping a sheathed sword under a pillow is useless. You'd have to remove the full unit, unless the sheath is fastened down, before you could pull it free because the sheath locks on the blade collar, like a snap.

    I don't even know what to do with "a weight lighter than a sack of potatoes". What's that even mean? Weight implies heavy, but less than implies not. So something that weighed less than five-to-ten pounds was stilling on the bed?

    Do your research (especially with the sword - your word choices are for European swords, not Japanese). Be careful with your descriptors (You overdid it on the hair details. People don't think of their hair that way, and these are the MC's thoughts we're reading.)

  5. I love you're writing style--I feel like you're in control of the wheel, but in terms of the story, starting with the dream sequence part is too unsettling.

    Other than that, I'm in for the ride!

  6. I agree with Martina and Lisa - rearranging the dream only confused things more. I had to reread the part where you start the dream before I realized we were remembering the dream. It's too soon at the start of the story - we're just getting to know your MC and then you introduce us to a dream-world that may or may not have anything to do with her character as it stands right now. Is she a member of this supernatural council? You mention that she doesn't know this Devlin or the reptile guy, so I kinda assume all that dream stuff is foreshadowing of what's to come in the book. Like maybe we'll see that same scene later on. If that's the case, I'd say cut it. If you must, keep vague details about the dream. Like something about a supernatural council, a partner, and being responsible for a girl's death. But when you wake up, dreams aren't that clear anymore.

    I think you have enough going on in this "real" world to keep us reading. It's exciting, your character seems interesting, and I want to know more about her. You've done what you need to do already, and this dream is just cluttering things. So if you can, cut it. I want to find out what happens next!

    Can't wait to see what you do next week!

  7. I don't have a whole lot to add to this. I know you must have some writing from the dream sequence that you love and don't want to let go of (and I totally understand, because there is some great writing there). But perhaps you need to take a step back and find a new way of opening this story without it. Save the dream sequence -- you will use it somewhere. But for the strength of your story, reimagine the beginning.


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