Monday, February 6, 2012

10 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Basso

Name: Lisa Basso
Genre: YA Paranormal

Chapter One – My Freaking Life

Not in the damn hallway. Anywhere but here.

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 while the other students walk around me.

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. Slumped against a set of coral half-lockers, I watch the Santa Cruz High School crowd thin.

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

Other than a “whoa,” from one kid and a “doing okay, there, Grace,” from another, I’m ignored. By everyone except for the guy standing by the window. His tall frame casts a shadow across the floor, draping over me like a psychopath in a movie.

I open my mouth to spit out a nasty comment, 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, 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 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.

He makes no move to help—just like everybody else.

The sweat subsides and the spots from my vision clear. “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 scramble back on my hands and knees, slamming my head into a locker. Pain flares behind my eyes and my long hair tangles with the Master Lock. Darkness, something blacker than tar hovers toward 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 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 jerk 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 as 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 color saturated sea green eyes causes giddiness to swim in my stomach. Crap.

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

The bell for last period rings. Doors to classrooms close all around us emptying the halls.

“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.

Blah, blah, blah. My mind won’t shut up. I listen to my thoughts prattle on until I hear Dad leave The Office That Vacuum-Sales-Built (which isn’t really true because he’s still getting the internet side of the biz off the ground) and shuffle up to bed. The green glow of the clock says it’s ten to midnight.

I turn in bed three or four times before I reach over and thumb through my cell.

R u still up? I send the text to Pen, my best friend since sixth grade. I try to keep her away from my non-sleep schedule most of the time so she doesn’t worry, but tonight I need her. Tonight, somehow it’s worse.

Ten more very loud—in my head—minutes pass. Advanced SAT Prep must do the trick to knock her out.

Any chance ur up? This one goes to Raf.

In freshman year, when we first met in Bio class, I thought maybe I had a sand-grain sized thing for him.


  1. I'm intrigued by the possibilities you suggest here, about Grace's past and her secrets, but I had a hard time understanding the very beginning. You throw us into the action, which is good, but because we haven't been properly introduced to the character, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on.

  2. Introduce us to Grace in her normalcy before you throw us in the action. Slow down. No rush. I know it sounds contrary to a lot of what we hear, but a little taste goes a long way. I like the shadow character, creepy and cool. I was a bit confused about the "second best friend" thing. I thought whoever she'd lost was number one, but now I'm thinking brother?

    It's good writing. I just think you need to slow it down and let us savor it!

  3. I really like your writing!

    I liked your first line, too, but just like the others I had a hard time following what was going on in the very beginning. I second Lisa Green's advice to set up her character in a normal situation (even if it's really short - like a paragraph) first before you dive into hooded figures. And I think the hooded figure bit would have been a little easier to follow if it was clear she'd never seen the emo kid before -- then I wouldn't have been scrambling for footing in that part quite so much, and I think I'd try to streamline the writing in that paragraph where she's falling to the floor a bit to capture the intensity a bit more. By the way, though I absolutely LOVE the line: "Emo kid still stands there, without a freaking foot." And really, after that I was totally with you. It was so easy to picture and I love her attitude!

    One other little thing: you describe Pen in the second part as though you haven't mentioned her before, so I'd revisit that. Of course, that made me think you had originally started with the sleepless night, and for the record I do think the new scene you've added really helps to create intrigue and a great sense of character! It just might need a little bit more added to the front to set us up.

    By the end of this though, I'm rooting for Grace and am squarely in the Raf fan club! Awesome work! :)

  4. I assume you explain what just happened later. I find it a bit unfair to judge only five pages, when a story should be judged on the whole. But that's what we signed up for, right?

    I had a very hard time following the Emo Kid scene. I'm fine not knowing who he is right away. But I'm not sure how no one else in this hallway doesn't notice. (Two passersby say speak to her one sentence before Emo Kid appears.) Yes, it turns out no one could see him, and Grace seems to think her insomnia is getting the better of her. But during the attack, I don't know that. Perhaps if you cleared the hallway before he appears, I would've accepted it. The best way to execute a twist is to make me accept that the former version of the scene is completely true. Then when it turns out to be a falsity, I'm floored.

    Also, I'm not sure why Grace is so angry at the beginning. She wants to "spit out a nasty comment" at him, so I read that as rude. But then again, I don't know Grace. Maybe if I got a few lines about why she's so angry, and I felt empathy for her, I could agree that this Emo Kid needs to stop looking at her. But without it, I'm just thinking, "Calm down, Grace."

  5. Very intriguing! This is the story that caught my eye and made me stop and read. Whaaaaaaat's going on?

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoyed your mc's voice and the fact that she has a clear vocabulary and an obvious hole to fill in her life. I ADORE the creepy shadow guy, and the assumption/possibility that there's a world into which she is drifting because she's collapsing from lack of sleep. Heck of a hook going on there.

    BUT, the scene was a little hard to follow. I don't know that you have to back up any. This may well be the place to start, so long as you slow it down a little bit. Maybe set up her conditions and situation more clearly and sooner, show us a hint of her friendships and attempt to function normally despite her lack of sleep. Show us some of the other symptoms she must be experiencing before collapsing? I had a bit of a disconnect with the character who seems so isolated that no one pays any attention to her, and the fact that she has two such close friends. Not to say that that can't happen, but that initially she seems very isolated.

    Looking forward to reading more!



  7. Hi, I really like your MC's voice. I would suggest expanding on how her classmates treat her so that you develop her character more before the emo kid/smoke guy/creature? shows up. Also, I would suggest making it clear that only Grace sees this guy and maybe have her thoughts on that to clear that issue. As it stands, I was wondering why no one noticed her act weirdly (punching an invisible guy's foot?), why no one wanted to help her (though she has two best friends and doesn't seem like the type that just slips into school without getting noticed). I think that having those details would help orient us in the scene more. Looking forward to reading more!

  8. I think you have a solid piece of writing here. A few tweaks and it could be just perfect. The best thing about it is that the stakes are already really high. She's definitely lonely and in pain, and the creepy shadow figure has a definite menace about him. So, antagonism--check!

    But I agree with those who have said that the action would be more effective if you started a paragraph or two earlier when she's walking down the hall. I want to see her fall, not just walk into the story with her already splayed out on the floor.

    Also, this is our first introduction to Grace, and some of the things she's thinking leave me a little cold. I don't sympathize with her insomnia issue, because she seems kinda mean. Things like "I open my mouth to spit out a nasty comment" and "Harnessing my anger" make me think: 'Why is she so upset? Someone asked her if she was doing okay and she ignored them. This emo kid with the hood might be watching to see if he can help. I'd at least give people the benefit of the doubt.' And maybe Grace HAS given her classmates the benefit of the doubt before, and they've proven to be malicious, but we as readers don't know that yet. At least in the first half of this, she seems sort of fragile and melodramatic to me.

    That being said, RAF is fantastic. LOVE him. You set him up beautifully. So well, in fact, that I might keep reading despite my issue with the MC just to find out what he sees in her.

    Overall, intriguing start to the story. Plot-wise, you have me hooked. And the voice of the characters are very strong. If you add a pinch more likeability (or at least understanding as to why she's so standoffish) to Grace, then I'm sold!

  9. Hi Lisa,

    This is a great opening line to a story with a compelling voice and lots of interesting details. You have a nice command of language, which pulled me in quickly. I think you're starting in a good place, too: Grace's collapse is riveting! That said, even after I read far enough to get the explanation of why she was collapsing--long-term insomnia--I was a little confused as to what was happening to her in this opening scene. It's such a cool premise, that she's incapacitated by her 8+ days without sleep. I wonder if you could show us more of what she's experiencing? That is, is she blacking out? Falling asleep? Hallucinating? Your details here are compelling, but left me a little confused. (BTW, did you know that insomnia is eventually fatal? Check out fatal familial insomnia--interesting stuff!)

    Emo kid is a great hook in your opening chapter. I suspect that he's not just a hallucination, which you hint at nicely when Grace's friend wipes his hand.

    Since you step into narrative toward the end of these pages (when Grace talks about her inability to shut off the voices in her head), I really wanted to know about the person who died and how (if) he's connected to her inability to sleep.

    :) Hope this is helpful!

  10. PS: I'm trying to post from the airport, and I'm having a little trouble editing my comment--so, I just wanted to add that I really like others' comments about starting a paragraph earlier, so we can see Grace fall to the ground.

    And I wanted to say you do a great job with sensory details in this piece--really brings the scene to life. Nice work!


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