Monday, February 13, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Wilson Rev 1

Author: Rhen Wilson

Koral Waters knew she was a poor psychic. She predicted she would excel one day, but she had an unfortunately unforeseeable road ahead. At least, she couldn't see it. Nor could she foresee how this day would end. Hapless psychic or not, she should have at least known it wouldn't start off well.

Instead, Koral Waters had only optimistic eyes for the man and woman standing on her front porch. She guessed the two were maybe in their mid-to-late twenties or — No, wait, late thirties? She was terrible at guessing ages, which always became a topic for concern from the clients expecting a first-rate psychic evaluation. That and her age. Apparently twenty-two years was too young to understand someone else's future.

The man and woman were an attractive couple with blond hair and tiny eyes. Koral greeted them with her energetic introduction, "Welcome to Koral Waters's Realm of the Psychic: a unique and one-of-a-kind psychic evaluation and reading. I am Koral Waters."

The man snorted. "I'm sorry, your name is Koral Waters?"

"That's right," she beamed.

"I thought that was like your theme or something," he said, not attempting to suppress his laughter. "Like a beach-themed psychic reading." His girlfriend — Koral didn't see a ring — nudged him in the ribs.

"Right, well, anyway. . . ." She was used to people poking fun at her name, so she forced herself to smile. Keep the customer happy, she reminded herself.

And in Koral's opinion, keeping the customer happy made all the difference, especially considering her novice status. She was not the city's most popular psychic. The market was slightly crowded in the tourist-centric town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The out-of-towners only learned of her because she was sociable and friendly to the local joints that recommended her. A semi-popular magic show downtown frequently sent her tourists, and Koral was grateful for their support, but overall business was slow, money was tight, and few made a second visit.

She knew she wasn't a great psychic and that some of her predictions were a bit off from time to time, but she also knew in her heart that she had the talent. Close-minded people have no place in the realm of the psychic, so it was no wonder her visions were met with skepticism and ridicule. Koral, however, was not the type to give up.

Everyone has those days. Even God must want a day off once in a while.

"How may I help you?" she asked the couple with a warm smile.

The man held out a slip of paper with Koral's name on it. Below it, along with her address and hours of operation, screamed in all caps and bold print: "FIRST READING FREE!"

Koral's heart sank. She had hoped these stupid coupons had disappeared. Two years ago, she had printed three-hundred coupons and passed them around town to local vendors and shops. She thought it a great business tactic; she had seen other businesses do similar promotions. Yet she forgot one crucial element: she never put an expiration date on them.

She had figured eventually the coupons would run dry, but at least once a week people came in with the coupon and asked for the free reading, having no intention of ever coming back for a second visit. It's like the coupons were spawning.

"Come right in," she said, reluctantly taking the coupon.

Shutting the door, Koral led the couple to her reading table, passing through hundreds of candles and incense that engulfed the room in a aromatic scent that made Koral feel bathed in tranquility and —

"Wow. That is awful," the man coughed. "Do you have enough candles? Jesus."

"Be nice," his girlfriend hissed.

Fighting the urge to bite the man's head off, Koral bit her tongue instead. "It sets the mood and opens the mind," she said in a deliberately even voice.

"Right," he murmured, rolling his eyes. The two sat down across from Koral as she took her seat.

"How may I assist you this afternoon?" she began, regaining her poise. She tugged the shawl around her shoulders tighter. Hand-knitted with the help of her grandmother, the worn shawl comforted her when she was forced to entertain jerks — customers, she corrected.

The man slouched in his chair, appraising Koral's home with an upturned nose. His girlfriend spoke.

"I don't really know, I guess," she shrugged, an embarrassed smile escaping her. "I've never done this before. Is there anything that's normally asked?"

"Oh yes," Koral nodded, happy not to be forced down any one particular avenue of conjecture. "Money is always important to people. As are careers, love, and — "

"Love!" the woman exclaimed, her eyes bright. The man jerked his head around and gaped at his girlfriend. An uneasy shadow darkened his face as he moaned, "Why do you have to ask her about that?"

"I'd appreciate someone explaining it to me," she snapped back. She caught Koral's eye and blushed, as if she forgot Koral was still there.

Koral hesitated. She sensed a great deal about their relationship strictly from their interactions with one another, but she mustn't let her physical interpretation affect her otherworldly intuition. She must remain dispassionate and in control of her sight.

She closed her eyes. She allowed her mind to wander outside of this world. She let her soul depart and latch onto a truth, which the large majority of the world could never find nor experience. But she knew if she concentrated hard enough, she could find it. Calmness spread through Koral's body like warm water.

Finally, she saw it.

"Your love is hindered at the moment," she said, opening her eyes in excitement. The woman leaned forward an inch, the interest palpable in her bright eyes. Her boyfriend, though still wearing skepticism like a jockstrap, sat up in his chair.

"Your love is hindered," Koral repeated, "but it is not permanent. Like a dam, the wall can break and your love will flow. But you must be strong and push through like a wrecking ball." Okay, she wasn't great at analogies. "You both will be happy, but — "

"What?" the man choked on his surprise.

"What?" Koral stopped, the tranquility extinguished from the room.

"'You both'?" the man repeated indignantly. "What'd you mean 'you both'? You think we're together?"

Koral's heart began to thud in her chest. She had misread their relationship. But she might still work through it if she can convince them that their friendship will amount to more. Perhaps she had been off, but not completely. She had let her physical interpretations interfere. She could mend this.

"I'm sorry for being presumptuous," Koral stammered, "but perhaps I foresee your friendship blossoming into — "

"We're not friends, you psycho!" the man yelled, jumping from his seat. "That's my sister!"

Koral's heart stopped thudding. Instead, it fell like a stone into her stomach.

"What the heck is wrong with you?" the man cried. He flipped his chair sideways and stormed out of the house.

Koral stared petrified at the woman, afraid to say anything. The woman just looked back, disgust curling into her frown. "That's sick," she said. "Good thing this was free." She stood up and walked out, shutting the door behind her.

Once her heart found its way back into her chest, and she stood the overturned chair up right, Koral's nerves calmed down. Who goes to see a psychic for love advice with their brother?

"Weirdoes, that's who," she told herself.


  1. Hi Rhen,

    This is a stronger, more consistent beginning, but now I have an enormous problem. She's 22? How is this YA? (The workshop is only for YA and MG mss) BUT... and take this with a grain of salt -- I thought it was much more interesting to have a teenage psychic than to have a 22-year-old psychic. That may just be me though.


  2. @Martina, well, I completely understand, but I've spoken with agents and writers in the past. They've suggested that since my story is aimed at young adults, just submit as YA. Otherwise, you're submitting as New Adult, and apparently that market is so small, most people don't know it exists (the genre certainly doesn't have giant blogs that allow for good critiques).

    Also, Koral isn't my protagonist.

  3. Rhen,

    Red flag on the play. If your protag isn't in the first 5 pages, you're messing with reader expectation, so I assume you have a really strong reason for that?


  4. Koral's age and the MC issue aside, I want to say that I really love the changes you made in terms of introducing Koral. She's now definitely in that spot where those issues of business and psychic incompetence make her interesting and lovable. I'm rooting for her!

    And I also really like the change you made at the beginning: " Nor could she foresee how this day would end. Hapless psychic or not, she should have at least known it wouldn't start off well." That works so well, because my interest is piqued, but now I'm also happy to leave the street and come inside with this couple (and can be fully engaged with the scene itself.)

    Good work!

  5. I think your changes are an improvement. But not opening with the MC is HUGE. I can't imagine your reasons, and though I'll trust you on it, I have to caution you as part of this workshop that it's a really dangerous thing. We should start off with the main character. As far as the age goes, for YA, it's generally accepted that the protag be no older than summer after HS and that's pushing it. SO, I'm not against an older MC, but if you can get away with it, I'd make the MC 17 or under. It will save you a lot of heart ache.

  6. I agree that the changes are a definite improvement--taking out the old lady for the first bit puts us closer to Koral for sure.

    About not opening with the MC, it's done all the time in prologues. If this is a prologue, or if it could be made into one, then I think you're okay (leaving aside for the moment that prologues are somewhat passe in certain genres). Also, some writers choose to make their narrator different from their protagonist (not often, but it happens--think The Great Gatsby). I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for a YA audience, but it's probably not outside the realm of publishibility, if the writer really does it well.

    Other than those two exceptions, I agree with Martina and Lisa that chapter one would really be stronger if it's protagonist-centric.

    Note that following the "rules" (and by 'rules' I mean strongly recommended guidelines which are even more strongly recommended to first-time authors) behind the genres (ages, etc.) are ultimately in a writer's best interest. Publishers base these "rules" on market research, which is based on what they can convince people to buy. And if us writers want our stories to make us any kind of living, (get your laughs out now, people, I'm trying to make a point), then we have to bow to the will of the masses.

    Writers who are writing purely for the sake of artistic expression have a much harder row to hoe. Their stories may eventually become the next great XYZ-nation novel, but whether or not they'll pay the rent is up to fate. Not at all saying that that's what you're trying to accomplish here, just wanted to point out that the aforementioned "rules" are really meant to help us rather than hinder us.

    Sorry I got a bit long-winded there. Hope my comments were helpful. You've definitely improved this a lot since last time. Great work!

  7. Rhen,

    I like the changes so far, but like several others here, I feel this is more of a prologue than an actual "chapter one". You're doing something very interesting here, but I might be missing the point. If Koral isn't your MC, then who is? Why are we wasting time with the brother/sister psychic reading when it probably has nothing to do with the actual story (unless one of them is your main character, which I doubt). In this situation, I would rather see more about why Koral is in the beginning of your story. If she's not the main focus, show us (and quickly) why she's important and move on to introduce your main character (or one of them if this is a multiple POV book). Most agents skip over prologues and ask for first chapters. Keep that in mind when revising. You can do this. We're all behind you. Looking forward to see what next week has in store for this story. BTW, does it have a title yet? Just

  8. I know that we're only supposed to be critiquing the first five pages, but if anyone would like to read the chapter as a whole (and thus make sense of my decision) I'd be happy to send you the rest. Because my protagonist is a part of this chapter; just not in the first five pages. Just shoot me an email. Thanks to everyone for their feedback.


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