Sunday, May 8, 2011

5 1st Five Pages Workshop - May: Entry #4

Cassandra Marshall - YA

All hope was lost. There was no escape.

I dangled perilously from the Cliffs of Broken Glass, my fingers barely grasping the edges.

“See what happens when you mess with me?” Captain Aragno said, pointing down at me and then thrusting his head back in laughter.

“Let’s see how you get out of this. Your precious Mikaehl can’t save you now! So long, Princessa!”

Aragno laughed again and stomped away. My eyes watched him as he strutted over to the nearby table, winking before taking a quiet drink from a large Nalgene bottle, the feathers in his hat blowing madly from the force of the wind machine beside him.

He was awful. Where did they find these lame villains?

Refocusing on the ledge, I started swinging my legs up, trying to get a foothold.

I remembered a training day from about a year ago, when my father took me to the Navy Seals training grounds in North Carolina and we worked on dangling techniques.

“Keep your arms slightly bent,” he said. “Try to pump if you can, keep that blood flowing. You don’t want to tire out your muscles too quickly.”

I had been hanging for nearly five minutes now, and my muscles were definitely tired. I swung again and again, barely missing my foothold.

“Need a break?” I heard a voice say from below me.

“No!” I yelled back, voice shaking with the effort.

Pull it together. Pull. It. Together.

I gave my legs another swing and finally found a foothold. I gripped the plastic and rubber grass for all it was worth, and heaved myself up and over the edge, where I landed with a thump in the dirt.

“Alright, Pom, you’re in.”

A girl dressed exactly the way I was approached me from the right. Her corset was just the tinniest bit tighter and her boobs popped out over the top the way I wish mine did.

“You could have been more graceful, you know. Everyone’s going to make fun of the way I did that. We’ll have to cut out all of your grunts too.”

I stare up at her and sighed. “Pomegranate, I—”

“Really,” she interrupted. “Get out of the frame.”

I groaned and rolled towards the cliff edge and looked at the drop.
Pom gave me a shove with her foot, catching me off guard. I fell.


Pom laughed as I soared down, trying to right myself. I barely managed to get my hands up and my knees in the right position before I slammed against the hard mats.

The air left my lungs for just a second and I sucked in a renewing breath before I lifted an arm to wave off the waiting medic. Tingles spread their way through my body before fading away.

Alison Arroway does not get hurt.

That’s what made me one of the best in the business. But no one knows my name, I’m just the stunt double for big names like Pomegranate Posy.

I laid on the mat and watched as Eric rode in on a white horse, his amour shining in the bright lights of the studio. The horse didn’t seem to like the feel of the fake cliff under his hooves and widened his eyes in terror. It didn’t really matter anyway, as soon as Eric jumped off the horse and wrapped his arms around Pom, pulling her up from where she clutched the edge of the cliff above me, a trainer crept up and led the horse away. That horse probably got paid as much as I did today.

“Oh Mikaehl, I was so scared! I wished and hoped for you and now here you are!”

“My dear Princessa! Have no fear! We are together now and you never have to worry again.”

All eyes in the studio focused on Eric and Pom’s faces as they leaned in for the kiss.

I couldn’t look. Instead, I watched the people around us, the men behind the cameras and holding boom mics, the makeup people waiting with palates for touch ups, the caterers wistfully looking in Eric’s direction and wishing they were in Pom’s shoes.

“And, CUT!” The director yelled. He rushed over to Pom and Eric and gushed about how well the scene turned out, how he could really feel the passion behind their words, how Pom really seemed to have struggled and how her sense of relief at being rescued by Eric was felt throughout the entire studio lot.

I rolled over and gagged. Pom couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.
And Eric was just a pretty face. A pretty face I wouldn’t mind cuddling up to, but a pretty face nonetheless. He was always typecast into these white-knight prince roles.

No one seemed to notice that Princessa saved herself there, that all that grunting and pulling I did meant that the princess didn’t really need the prince to save the day after all. If he hadn’t shown up, she could have walked into the sunset on her own like a bad-ass.

Swarms of people gathered around Pom and dabbed her with swabs and handed her soft damp cloths and bottled water as the makeup and wardrobe teams did their best to clear off the dirt she picked up.

Most moviegoers don’t like to see dirty heroines.

Dirty was my job.

Finally, the director worked his way over to me and said, “Nice job, kid.” He motioned to his many assistants and one came running over with a packet. She thrust it into my hands and gazed adoringly at the director but he ignored her.

“That’s your ticket now, don’t lose it. The plane boards at 3:00 and you better be on it.” He turned away and walked over to the monitors to check the dailies.

I ripped open the packet and searched amongst the papers for the ticket, finally finding it wedged between a list of things to pack and a list of rules while on the island about what is and what is not acceptable to talk about to the press. I scanned the ticket, seeing my name and the date and the final destination: Portugal. There were stops in both NYC and London, but I didn’t really care. I’d been there loads of times. But Portugal! It was going to be awesome, a European vacation with a few rope swings and cliff dives and for three weeks!


I searched the ticket again and my smile faded. Row 32, seat B. Coach.

Not even a window seat.

I gathered up my things and swiped a towel from one of Pom’s crew. She scowled at me, but I didn’t care. I was sweaty and gross and my dad wouldn’t be here to pick me up for another hour or so. He was over in lot 12 filming a scene for Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest thriller.

I grabbed my bag and headed out, squinting at the bright light of the sun.

Through the gates, I saw throngs of people huddled around two forms:
Pom and Eric. They hugged one another and waved and even blew kisses towards the fans, each snapping away with a camera or a cell phone.

Pom stood in a dress of her signature shade of Pomegranate red with matching lipstick looking all dewey and refreshed. Eric wore a white polo and jeans. He seemed to sense me looking at him and turned in my direction, lowering his aviator sunglasses.


  1. LOVE the premise here and the heroine’s spunk—especially the way you’ve set this up for a heroine rescues herself and hero situation, which is where I presume you are going after reading the grunting and pulling and badass comment. (Which I adore.) I love the Princess Bride feel of this scene. I’m also assuming there is a prior relationship between Allison and Pom, or Allison and Eric. Pom’s animosity is too extreme for it not to be personal, but you don’t give us specifics. Can you give us a bigger hint in these first pages about the relationships?

    The narrator seems seventeenish, or possibly even older, right up until we get to waiting for her father to pick her up. That pulled me out of the story, so I suggest that you find away around it. If it’s necessary to the plot, work in something about why she doesn’t have her car with her. Or make it so that she wants to go watch her father work so that she learns something—some reasonable motivation anyway.

    Be careful with the airline ticket vignette. Overall, your protag comes off a little entitled, and since she is resentful of the stars all through this, you are walking a fine line between spunky and unlikeable. Can you give us something in these first pages to show us why we should love her? Does she adore her job? Has she had to fight for it? Is it critical for her to get to Europe for some reason? Give us something she cares about, and something she wants (external) besides a vacation. If you can hint at what she "needs" (internal), so much the better.

    Along those lines, I think you could probably strengthen her voice, too. Add a little more personality, a little more uniqueness. (Don’t get me wrong, female teen stunt double—love, love, LOVE that—and it is unique. I just don’t feel you are fully in her reality yet, and I'd love to see more of her world coming through in her thoughts and actions.)

    You write well, but be careful with the accuracy of your verbs in phrases like “soared down” – which doesn’t sound very perilous – and “widened” where the horse has an involuntary reaction to fear. Check for places where you risk POV violations with phrases like: “my eyes watched” and “I remembered.” These aren't necessary, so be sure you are adding distance between her and the reader for a specific reason or simply drop them and describe what she sees.

    Apart from the likeability issue, the biggest problems I saw on my read-throughs related to where information sequencing and your starting point. The two “hook” sentences feel like a cheat, since they don’t apply to the protag’s situation. I understand that it’s her “motivation” in acting terms, but that isn’t clear enough.

    I wonder if you couldn’t start with your brilliant “Where did they find these lame villains?” line, then go to the fact that she’s been dangling from the Cliffs of Broken Glass (love the name, btw) for five minutes while he struggled with his lines, and she has to hang on (now give us some stakes) and falling back to her father’s tips to get her through. Then maybe add the Captain’s first line of dialogue next. (BTW, what edges is she clinging to? Overall, consider taking another pass at your mechanics. I had a hard time envisioning the physical layout of the set. How far up is she? A set wouldn’t usually have an actual cliff-height cliff.)

    Sequence-wise, consider what information we need and when we need it, and see what you can tighten so you can squeeze a little more plot set-up and personality in here.

    I'm eager to read the revision, and I'm definitely "hooked."

  2. I had a difficult time situated myself in this scene. I thought, at first, she was committing suicide (standing at the edge of a cliff), and then she was dangling from it and someone starts threatening her. It wasn't clear that she was acting as a stunt double until somewhere between the fifth paragraph and the ninth paragraph. It feels like her profession as a stunt double is supposed to be a mystery, but it's so interesting and new that if I knew from the first paragraph I'd be instantly engaged.

    On that same vein, I had a hard time picturing the setting or the characters. The most defining feature I learn about Captain Aragno is the feather in his hat. I get a physical description of Pom in comparison to Allison's body, and I'm told Eric is a pretty face. At the end of chapter (or scene?) two, their clothes are described. I'm missing what their facial features look like.

    As with the above comment, there is an implied history between Pom, Eric, and Allison. Why did she look away from their kiss so pointedly? Then, a few paragraphs later, she says Eric is "just a pretty face." If he's just a pretty face, and Pom is superbitch, why can't she watch them kiss?

    I'm confused about the director and this ticket. Why is he giving her a plane ticket and a vacation in Portugal?

    As for her personality, I didn't like or dislike her. I didn't feel a real connection to her because I didn't know what she wanted. What's driving her to be a stunt double and to put up with Pom's attitude? Why does she want to go to Portugal?

    There's definitely strong writing here. I love the premise, too. Great job! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Cassandra,

    I love the stunt double idea. That sets us up for both an awesome character and a fun setting.

    I really liked finding out it was a movie set with the mention of the Nalgene and wind machine, and I loved the line about lame villains. But I agree that I would nix the first line you currently have, and the villains line could be a great way to start.

    I did have a hard time imagining the set up with the cliff. When the villain goes to get a drink, does he walk down stairs? If he stays up level with the cliff, how can she see him if she's hanging off it? Also, when I read plastic and rubber, I thought, the cliff is fake, but then she lands on dirt, and I had to rethink that.

    I also agree that her reaction to the plane ticket seemed odd. It seems funny that getting a middle seat would trump how she feels about getting to work in Portugal for three weeks.

    I thought we got plenty of descriptive details about the main characters considering its just the first five pages because, really, we know key details about each of them (Pom - busty, Allison - strong, not busty, Eric - pretty). That sets us up quite well. :)

    This is a good start!

  4. Fresh premise, that's for sure! I worry though. I worry about the realities and legalities of having a minor be a stunt double. I would check out SAG info on that. I'm also going to jump right in the discussion here. When you mention "lame villains" my head immediately went to - this is a superhero story. So I was thrown as well, but I wouldn't start w/that line. It's as simple as "where do they find these Hollywood writers" or some such thing. :D I get what you are doing, but I think throwing us right into that much action w/o knowing the character makes me more wary than excited. And WHAT A COOL CHARACTER SHE IS. So much potential here. I want to get to know her better! She obviously is kick-butt. She has a very unusual upbringing and perspective on things. I can see her getting into all sorts of interesting situations.

    I was confused about the movie. It read more like a series w/predictable ending for those specific characters. So I'd like more background on who they are, how often she works w/them, is this a repeat gig, etc. And yeah, more info about relationships if that's where you are going.

    I'm excited about this! I feel like it could be almost an Indiana Jones type adventure. And I love pointing out right away that the girl could have saved herself just fine.

    Hope that helps!

  5. Love the premise of this and the potential. I really like Allison's sarcasm and insights into the world around her. I can't wait to see what happens in Portugal--even though that won't be in this workshop ;)

    I'm not going to echo what's already been pointed out, so, my little nitpick of the day is; you used before twice in the first two paragraphs of chapter 2.

    Also, since we've already seen a hint of her sarcasm and her revile for this particular movie, I think she should comment on the dialogue between the two leads after they are reunited. I mean,

    “Oh Mikaehl, I was so scared! I wished and hoped for you and now here you are!”

    “My dear Princessa! Have no fear! We are together now and you never have to worry again.”

    Those two lines are just begging to be made fun of by your heroine. Also, maybe put in some description of the characters as they say these lines from Allison's pov.

    Nicely done.


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