Monday, February 13, 2012

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Basso Rev 1

Name: Lisa Basso
Genre: YA Paranormal

Chapter One – My Freaking Life

Not in the damn hallway. Anywhere but here.

A surge of dizziness claws its way over me. I sway on my feet, watching the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.

“Whoa.” A chick I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She comes one, two, three steps closer. In my warped vision the closer she comes, the more her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. Her lipstick wavers from orange to purple.

“Doing okay there, Grace?” The guy beside her clasping her fingers leans in. His eyes remind me of a toad’s, too far apart. But then again, the right side of his face is melting, so who am I to judge?

I whip up enough BS to shoo them away before things get worse, though I have no clue what I’ve said. Eventually they turn the corner. The hallway quiets in its empty state. I suck in air like a drowning person who’s just reached the surface. It doesn’t help. I can’t freaking breathe.

The instant my knees hit the ground I know. My insomnia is killing me from the inside out. I struggle to pick myself up, but the sweat on my palms turns cold, tacking my hand to the faded mauve linoleum. The faint odor of disinfectant and dirty sneakers wafts up, stinging my nostrils.

My pulse thrums erratically in my ears. White film spots my vision.

I can’t control anything anymore. Sleep is such a cruel and distant idea by now that when my energy seeps out, threatening to pull me into unconsciousness, the only thing I can do is wait it out. I slump back against a set of coral half-lockers, butt firmly plastered to the floor.

Only one more period, then I can go home, deal with this in private.

A dark figure by the window catches my unreliable eye. The guy’s tall frame casts a shadow across the floor, draping over me like a psychopath in a movie.

I open my mouth to ask him if he’s enjoying my misery, but the sight of him stops me. I grow even colder. He’s dressed all in black, some emo kid hoping to get off on witnessing my meltdown, but the chill that pricks my spine warns of something different. Something dangerous.

A hood shrouds his face, making him impossible to identify. Harnessing my anger in place of the fear bitter on my tongue, I turn a scowl at him.

He ghosts away from the window so fast I swear he hit fast forward, zooming dead at me. He hits the brakes, stopping on a dime mere inches from where I’ve collapsed.

A new couple holding hands swerve to avoid us. She’s wearing the ugliest purple jeans I’ve ever seen and he’s stuffed into too tight corduroys. Emo kid is still in black—no, not in black, in shadows. As if they’re cloaked around him, sealing all of him off from the light. The couple’s eyes follow me as they walk. Just me. I can still see those horrid purple pants through emo kid’s torso.

More hallucinations.

The couple enter the second classroom on the right together.

The sweat at the back of my neck subsides and cools. “I don’t know what your damn problem is, but—”I slam my fist down on what should be his foot to punctuate my annoyance. Black smoke disperses, wafting up and filling my nostrils with the smell of a thousand trees crackling in a forest fire. My hand smashes with a thwak on the scuffed mauve linoleum. Emo kid still stands there, without a freaking foot.

My heart leaps into my throat, chocking back my hiss of pain. I jerk back, slamming my head into the locker behind me. Pain flares behind my eyes and my long hair tangles with the Master Lock. Darkness, something blacker than tar hovers over me. The stench of acrid smoke invades me again as this smoky liquid leaves his body and wraps around my wrist. I can’t feel it attach to me, but I see the thick thread that links us.

A cold chill of fear freezes me. For a moment I try to convince myself none of this is real. Sucking in a gulp of burnt air helps me remember my industrial-strength self. The almost-tough-enough person I’ve become in the last five months since Jake’s death. Determined to land a kick in crazy emo kid’s family jewels, I try to pull my arm away, only I can’t move. My hand is glued to the floor, held there by the shadows, left to watch as they swirl up my wrist and around my arm. I grit my teeth, refusing to let out a whimper.

“Grace? Are you okay?” The shadows expand then float away like moths caught by a gust of air. Raf darts across the hall. The black disperses like smoke, leaving no trace, no proof of its presence.

What. The hell. Was that?

Emo kid, or whatever he was, is gone too.

“Did you fall?” Raf takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. “Or pass out?” Once I’m steady, he drops his hand and wipes it on the bottom of his green polo shirt.

“Uh,” I fight for focus, but my serious lack of sleep pelts me again with the inability to recover from whatever just happened.

“Do you want me to take you—”

Finally my mind jumpstarts. “Not the nurse!” I belt out a little too quick. “I didn’t pass out. Everything’s fine. See?” I try to paste on a smile, but I’m sure it looks more like I’m about to have a dentist check-up. Another major fail.

Raf twists his lips to the side, probably trying to decide whether he believes me or not.

I allow myself to look at him, really look. I hold onto the breath I tend to lose whenever I see his face. His faintly freckled skin, stubbled chin, too amazing lips, and those sea green eyes so saturated with color. The combination causes giddiness to swim in my stomach.

Crap. I suppress the urge to sigh or swoon or embarrass myself with some other super girly action.

Emo kid couldn’t have been real. Get a grip…and stop ogling your second best friend!

The late bell signaling beginning of last period rings.

“Want me to walk you to class?” He asks.

“No, thanks. I’ve got it.” I think.

The way he hangs back while I take control of my feet and push forward tells me this isn’t over. I beat him to the punch before we both end up with detention. “Do me a favor and don’t tell Pen about my hallway sideshow. She worries enough.” The last thing I need is another lecture from Penelope, my very best friend and toughest critic.

Raf sighs so softly I almost don’t hear it. “If you promise to get a good night’s sleep, Pen will never know.”

I pause near the end of the hall and close my eyes, taking a deep breath before casting one last glance over my shoulder at Raf, unable to avoid the place where that shadow thing had been. Raf ducks into his class, and there’s no sign of any shadows.

I have to get some sleep tonight.

* * *

One night without sleep is fine. Two? Not so bad. But eight?

Hell. On. Freaking. Earth.


  1. I absolutely love your new opening. I can picture things perfectly, and I am riveted!

    "But then again, the right side of his face is melting, so who am I to judge?" I love this line. I think I actually swooned outloud after reading it. :) The voice is just fabulous.

    My only nitpick for the beginning is that I don't see a "surge" of dizziness "clawing."

    As things get going, I have a couple other suggestions:
    1) Based on how fabulously the opening places us at the scene, the couple with tight cords and purple jeans seemed like an unnecessary distraction.
    2) I would rearrange these two sentences...
    "Black smoke disperses, wafting up and filling my nostrils with the smell of a thousand trees crackling in a forest fire. My hand smashes with a thwak on the scuffed mauve linoleum."
    ...because I would think the pain from the hand would happen before smoke would reach her nose.
    3) And for the parargraph after that, I feel like she's thought about too many different things between when her hand hits the floor and her head jerks back. Can you combine these two paragraphs so she hits her hand, jerks her head back, gets her hair tangled, smells smoke, looks and sees that Emo kid is standing there without a freakin' foot?

    "like moths caught by a gust of air" - Love that.

    I think I would add some form of "comes out of nowhere" to Raf's entrance.

    But this is just awesome. You've got great tension, fabulous voice, and with the earlier mention of her insomnia and recently having lost Jake -- I'm totally rooting for her!!

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I love the additional grounding in this opening, but I still feel that I would like to know the character a little bit better before I'm thrust into such an intense experience. Just a little bit that lets us see her struggling through a school day, perhaps, so that we can relate to her. Your writing and her character will sell this, so don't be too concerned with jumping right in. (Sounds counter intuitive, right? I know.)

    Actually, I wonder if the following line might not give you a great jumping off point:

    My insomnia is killing me from inside out.

    That's riveting! You could even go from there to the "One night without sleep..." graph, and then do a very brief grounding about her struggling to get through *insert some class that gives us her age* and maybe a two sentence interaction with a friend, then get us into the scene. I'd just love you to let us love her voice and get us on her side before we jump in.

    Great job though!


  3. One thing that struck me as I read: "my unreliable eye." You've already shown us her unreliability as her insomnia grows worse, so I'm not sure that's necessary. Also pulled me out a bit because I wondered if anyone would classify herself/her eye as being unreliable. Sorry, that's a really nit picky comment.

    I too like Martina still am wondering a bit about her character. You might not need a full on scene with her at school though--maybe you could show us parts of her with her bag which slips when she falls? What does she carry in there? Is she a serious student? Does her insomnia ruin that part of her life? Or does she not bother being organized about things because everything's in a daze, etc.?

    As is, though (re: her character), I don't understand her reaction to the Emo kid. He's a hallucination, perhaps, and her first reaction is that he has a problem with her and scowls at him / punches his foot? If you choose not to have something before this, maybe you can just expand a little on her emotion, because it switches pretty quickly. First, she's frustrated with her lack of sleep, then fearful of the figure, and then angry all in the span of maybe a few paragraphs.

    Also I'm a little confused as to why she's ogling Raf's face when a few paragraphs above, you mention something about the person she has become after Jake's death. (Unless Jake was not her boyfriend, which I'm assuming).

    Love, love your voice! Looking forward to seeing what you do next.

  4. Lisa! Love your name btw. ;D Great revision, but I agree with Martina that we still need more "real" Life. Can you take us through part of her day while she tries, less and less successfully to blow off the effects of her insomnia? Culminating of course in this episode, which is awesome? Other than that only minor things stuck out. Like the use of the word "closer" in the beginning more than once. And this "A new couple holding hands swerve to avoid us. She’s wearing the ugliest purple jeans I’ve ever seen and he’s stuffed into too tight corduroys. " Though well written, caught me because I thought 'wow, she's noticing what they're wearing while going through THAT?' Can't wait to see next weeks!

  5. I think Martina's suggestion for using "My insomnia is killing me from the inside out" as your first line is fantastic! Much more unique of a hook (IMO, at least) than collapsing in the hallway. Not that I don't like the collapsing in the hallway, or your lead-in line to that, I definitely do. But to start off the whole story, the insomnia line says so much more about the MC and her situation right off the bat.

    In terms of likeability, you've improved this leaps and bounds since last week. I have no issues sympathizing with the MC now. She still seems a bit standoffish, but your comment about Jake's death justifies her understandable aloofness.

    I agree with everyone's comments about sequencing of things she notices and feels. In addition, I don't think she'd still be thinking of the shadows as an emo kid, since there's no indication of person-like features.

    There are a couple of extraneous phrases here and there, and I'd watch out for some physical cliches like heart leaping in her throat and such, but overall the writing is excellent. I love your MC's voice! It's very strong.


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