Tuesday, February 21, 2012

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Basso Rev 2

Name: Lisa Basso
Genre: YA Paranormal

My insomnia is killing me from the inside out.

The weight of my backpack causes me to stumble, though the only things inside it now are a notebook, a few pens, and a handful of papers with red F’s and notes from teachers wanting me to “see them after class”. This has been going for almost five months now. I know the drill. So I ignore every one of them.

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

Not in the damn hallway. Anywhere but here.

“Whoa.” A chick I recognize from Geometry stops walking toward her next class. She takes one, two, three steps toward me. In my warped vision the closer she comes, the more her body jerks and jumps. I blink in the hopes she’ll even out. She doesn’t. Her lipstick wavers from orange to purple.

“Doing okay there, Grace?” The guy clasping the girl’s hand 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. Something about being fine I’m sure. By now I’m gold-metal at convincing people of that. 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. This is going to be one of those days, the bad ones. 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 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 the view—my sad idea of a joke—but the sight of him stops me. I grow even colder. He’s dressed all in black, some emo kid possibly hoping to get off on watching 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 odd fear which lays 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.

From this close, I notice emo kid is not in black, he’s in shadows. As if they’re cloaked around him, sealing all of him off from the light. A new couple holding hands swerve to avoid us, their eyes follow me as they walk. Just me. I can still see the girl’s 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 problem is, but—” I slap my palm down on what should be his foot to punctuate my annoyance and allow me stand up with some dignity. But my hand smashes the scuffed mauve linoleum with a thwak. I bite back my hiss of pain. Black smoke disperses, wafting up and filling my nostrils with the smell of a thousand trees crackling in a forest fire. Emo kid still stands there, without a freaking foot.

My heart collides with my ribcage. I jerk back, slamming my head into the locker behind me. Pain flares behind my eyes and my long hair tangles in the Master Lock.

Holy crap.

Darkness, something blacker than tar hovers over me. The stench of acrid smoke invades me again. 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 my brother, 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. I’m left to watch it 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 from out of nowhere. 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. 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.”

* * * *


  1. I like your additions. It's clearer to me that she's having hallucinations anyway, which adds more of a question to the Emo kid.

  2. I love the new beginning. The foundation it gives us is great, and we have a wonderful glimpse into her struggle. It did feel that there was still too much time spent on her physical reactions and what was going on with her compared to action and characterization. While each piece of that is nicely written, I still didn't know her well enough, and wasn't invested in her enough, to want to go through so much of that with her. I think it's important that you make us care about her, love her, before we get into that depth of reactio. So. I'm still going to suggest that you pull back further. *Show* us enough interaction with her friends and teachers, show her struggling and not complaining (by describing her physical symptoms in such depth), show her caring about something, and THEN make us feel with her when she collapses.

    This seems like a great premise. As it is though, I'm not sure that you have enough of it on the pages. The insomnia and the shadow are intriguing, and her voice is great. But what else can you include in these five pages to make the reader know how different, how special this idea and this character are?

    Great job! Looking forward to the last round!



  3. Your new beginning definitely helps me get into the scene better. Great work! Of course, because of the way it strengthened the scene so much, I'm tempted to second Martin's suggestion to tip the balance a bit away from the physical reactions and toward more characterization.

    The voice is so strong that when I imagine it applied to her character more it just seems like that would really seal the deal.

    Good luck!

  4. I think this is wonderful. Great, great work. I see what Martina's saying, though. What you have here is the inciting incident of your story, and it's a good one. After meeting shadow man, there's no way your character can turn back. She's in it until whatever "it" is is vanquished (hopefully by her and with a lot of loss along the way).

    But there is some question about when it is best to include the inciting incident. Some people say at about the 10-15% mark, some people say 5%, some people say 25%. But almost everyone agrees that it's important to introduce your character in his/her normal world in some way, showing his/her personal problems and gaining our sympathy so when the inciting incident hits, we're in it as much as the character.

    I took a workshop recently from a YA literary agent specifically about what makes up the first three pages of a good novel. Her take was that the inciting incident should happen, or at least be hinted at, by about page 10 of the novel. Anyway, hope this helps. Great revision, great premise, great voice!


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