Sunday, May 6, 2012

13 1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Amabel

Author: Katherine Amabel
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Hourglass Bridge
Di couldn’t decide whether to tiptoe away or start running. Regrettably, being paralyzed with fear made it difficult to do either.
There’s someone in my house! The realization slammed into her again. Locked in a silence pierced only by the ring of her nervous system in her ears, she stared at the miniature, wooden hourglass on the bookshelf. It didn’t look particularly scary, standing on a lace doily next to a bowl of potpourri, but those things had been there five seconds ago.
The hourglass hadn’t.
Coby? She grasped at a desperate hope as the last, silvery grains of sand trickled through the rough, glass shell. No. Her brother was upstairs, doing his absolute best not to get ready for school, while she was alone with a potential robber, axe murderer or raving lunatic for company. Or maybe even all three.
She pressed herself against the wall to cover her back, throwing panicked glances up the hall in both directions. The skin on her right arm prickled, where, only an inch away, the wall ended for the world’s creakiest stairs. If she went up to check on her brother, she’d cut off any means of escape. But if she tried searching for the intruder, she couldn’t move anywhere without leaving the rest of the house open for them to sneak around.
The hourglass stood directly opposite the stairway, but it was too ancient and unpolished to provide any decent reflection up the stairs. In other words, her life potentially depended on a bottle of window cleaner.
Di locked her eyes on the hallway phone. And something crashed to the floor above her.
Coby! She dived around the corner, without considering who she’d meet or how she might defend herself, and found Coby on the landing with his hands raised in surrender.
“Before you go mental,” he said as a cricket ball rolled out behind him, “that vase was ugly anyway.”
“Uh-huh.” Di couldn’t even process his words. “Where did this come from?” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder.
“What?” Coby craned his neck to see beyond her. She turned to follow his gaze. The hourglass was gone.
“That’s impossible.” Di groped across the doily and checked behind the bookshelf; on the floor; and even in the gap between the shelves and the grandfather clock. “There was an hourglass right here – a little tiny one. I swear.”
“Ooookay…” Coby raised his eyebrows. “Forget the vase, you’re mental already,” he added, kicking the ball into his room and disappearing after it.
“But— I—”
Ignore him, said a voice in her head. Sure he’d caught her creeping through the house with a butcher’s knife two weeks ago, looking for what turned out to be nothing more than a mouse in the pantry, but that didn’t make her crazy and neither did this.  No, she was just seeing things after last nights’ study cut into her scheduled seven and a quarter hours’ sleep. Di yawned and checked her watch – and the sight woke her faster than being drenched in a bucket of ice water. How could it be that late already? Ironing Coby’s shirt had stuffed up her routine a bit, but by this much? The bus would be there any minute.
Di rushed upstairs to the apocalyptic mess Coby called his room. His scruffy brown hair, stained uniform and grubby trainers were like camouflage amidst the chaos.
“Who lost my schoolbag?” he whined, kicking aside piles of dirty laundry and untouched textbooks.
“No-one. Can you hurry up? Mum and Dad already left for work and I don’t want to get in trouble if you miss the bus.”
Coby muttered something, probably rude, but at least he wasn’t making last minute fridge raids or playing living-room obstacle football. And if he complained again about face washing and teeth cleaning and other things fifteen-year-old boys say are a waste of time, she might just disown him altogether.
Like that’s ever going to happen. Di sighed. Despite Coby’s persistent belief that she must have been adopted, they were, to their mutual annoyance, twins. So for as long as they were stuck with each other, she might as well help him find his bag.
“Fine. I’m ready,” Di said. “I’ll search too.”
“Right.” Coby finger-combed his hair as he dashed out, but he still looked like he’d been mugged. By a cyclone.
You’re welcome. I was running on time until… you.  Di grabbed her own bag from her room and hurried back downstairs, silently composing the lecture she would never have the heart to deliver.  When she reached the landing, she checked the grandfather clock and froze.
From the glass case, two solemn figures were watching her.
Di spun around, searching for the source of the reflection. The stairs were empty. Gripping the banister in case her legs gave way, she started to turn back again. Every incremental movement was stiff enough to make her neck creak but she didn’t have the courage to go any faster. Eventually her gaze reached the base of the clock. She raised her head.
“Found it!” Coby thundered downstairs, slinging his backpack over his shoulder while Di tried not to faint with shock.
“It was in the bathroom,” Coby said, pushing past her to the front door. She didn’t move.
“You coming?” He paused. Di looked at the clock and saw nothing but her own wide, brown eyes staring back at her.
Tired. Plain, sane and tired, she told herself. She brushed the creases from her uniform, ran a hand over her ponytail to ensure there wasn’t a hair out of place, and followed Coby outside.
The bus passed their stop just as Di locked the front door. Coby was in no hurry for school but he couldn’t resist a race as the bus dragged itself up the hill. Di chased after him, dying of embarrassment; with her overstuffed schoolbag bouncing on her back, she felt like a giant, uncoordinated turtle.
At least it won’t make me any less cool, she reasoned as she caught up and climbed on board. Coby headed straight for the back seat, leaving Di, with her rank on the social ladder of about five rungs underground, to that most fiercely coveted of spots: smack-bang behind the driver. Waiting for her as always was her slightly freckly, slightly lanky, best-friend-ever, Josh.
“Since when do you have to run to get here on time?” He gaped at her as she joined him. “What happened, did every watch in the world stop working?”
“Coby was taking forever,” Di said distantly, still thinking of the faces in the clock.
“You okay though? You seem stressed.”
“I’m just tired.”
“Were you up all night reading again?”
“Maybe,” Di admitted. Josh feigned disappointment.
“You need a life,” he teased. He was joking, but the honesty in his hazel eyes hit a painful nerve.
Di turned away, fiddling with her neatly trimmed nails to avoid his gaze. Josh was right; her life was about as exciting as leftover Brussels sprouts.
“Maybe you… you could… come out sometime,” he said quietly. Di jerked her head up and saw, to her astonishment, a hint of colour creeping up from his cheeks to the roots of his dusty blonde hair. He met her eye, went completely red and turned to the rain streaked window, suddenly fascinated by the semi-detached houses and soggy, Welsh countryside sliding by.
“I mean… I know the library’s all the rage,” he mumbled, “but I thought we could—”



  1. You do a great job establishing your two main characters. Their personalities are interesting and clear. For these first 5, mostly I think it needs tightening up. The bones are good - a good starting spot, a mystery, drama & conflict between characters. You have a gift with metaphor. Turtles, cyclones, brussels sprouts and ladders - all wonderful.

    I had difficulty understanding why Di would assume somebody was in the house. The hourglass is such a small object, I think most people would figure they'd just missed it before. If she did have reason to think somebody was there, why suppose the person had evil intent? Robbers take stuff, rather than leaving it. And 5 seconds - if she looked at the same spot with only a 5 second interval, there's no way she'd miss seeing or hearing an intruder. I wonder if you need her panic. I wonder if it would work better for her just to be conflicted about whether she saw it or not, whether she's going crazy, etc. That's plenty dramatic.

    I think you can replace "nervous system..." with just ringing in her ears. It's a little overwrought.

    Try flipping the two first sentences in the second paragraph. I didn't get that the first one was a thought at first.

    I just love Coby's character.

    I'd like a description of the broken vase. And don't either of them worry what their parents might think? Frantic cleaning up in the vain hope mom might not notice?

    Was the crash upstairs related to the cricket ball? Not clear.

    When Di points out the hourglass to Coby, she's already gone around a corner. How can either of them see it? Check your blocking. There's a few places where I can't tell who is upstairs or down.

    There's not many sisters who would iron their brother's clothes (or brothers like Coby who would want them to). Is this a hint there is something awry with the parents? If so, can you make it more explicit?

    Is the voice in Di's head her own?

    Mugging cyclones! Love it.

    Some of the dialogue sounds too old for the kids' age.

    The lecture idea is odd - unclear to whom she wants to deliver it, and lecturing seems something a parent would do, not a sister. Cut?

    The reflected figures - Di registers they are solemn - can you give us a snippet more description?

    Using a reflection as an opportunity to squeeze in mc physical description is often frowned upon (done too much).

    So Di's embarrassment make sense, perhaps she can see kids' faces in the bus windows?

    I feel like I'd like to get to know Josh as Di's best friend before he reveals his crush. Establish the relationship before changing it? Maybe he just hints somehow and Di brushes it off?

    I'm looking forward to see your revision next week!

  2. This is my first time participating in First Five Pages, but I hope I can be of some help.

    The beginning was kind of confusing, and I felt like your thoughts were scattered when you were putting it on paper. I didn't feel nervous and tense, like there was someone actually in the house, just lost. I had to go back and reread, to make sure I hadn't missed anything. And even if there WAS someone in the house, why should I care? I know nothing about this MC, I've got nothing invested in her, making me want her to be safe.

    After I got over that, you introduce her brother, who I first thought was eleven. Either you think that girls and boys have drastically different aging rates, or you don't remember what it's like to be 15. Di just came across as obnoxious, looking down on her dumb, irresponsible little brother...who's the same age as her.

    Finally, I didn't like Josh. When he popped into the picture, my first--and only--thought was: "Here we go again. Another male best friend who secretly has the hots for our MC. Except she's totally oblivious until she falls in love with some new boy, and then Joshy-boy will confess his love, Di will be stuck in a love triangle, and everyone's favorite freckled fiend will end up spurned, but will continue to play biffle."

    Hope I could be of some help. =D
    And I'm sorry if anything came across rudely; I have no patience for pleasantries when I'm offering critiques.

    ~Riv Re
    Riv Reads

    1. There's a big difference between being constructive and what you've offered here. Condescending feedback doesn't help anyone, it's just rude.

    2. Methinks the commenter is young and confuses honesty with helpful criticism. I certainly find it difficult to offer a critique that balances "love this - more please!" and "this really doesn't work" - particularly with people I don't know and who don't know me.

      As those of us in the trenches know, a draft is a draft, not the final product. You're doing great Katherine - I look forward to seeing what you do next week. You definitely have the chops.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I really like Di's character! You do a great job of making her seem like an outsider that we can all relate to.

    The beginning was a little confusing for me. I genuinely thought she had an intruder in her house, and it took a few readings to understand that it was actually Coby. In fact, I'm still not sure that I got that right! I wonder if you actually need the intruder at all. The hourglass that was there and then wasn't is plenty intriguing. As is seeing figures in the clock.

    I also thought Coby was a younger sibling. I would fiddle with his dialogue to make him sound older.

    As for the love interest, it's very obvious that Josh has a secret crush on Di. I agree that it would be more interesting if the reader didn't know that right of the bat.

    You do a great job with character and description. I think this opening just needs to be tightened up a little. Look forward to the next installment!

  4. Hi! Neat idea, I wonder what's going on with the time and why she can see them but not her twin. That said, I got the impression that she's both a touch OCD and somehow in charge of taking care of her brother? If this is NOT the case, you should clarify. If it is, make it even stronger so it's clear. I really got that image of her as a turtle running for the bus. Nice.
    I'd like a bit less description of her fear of intruders - if it's there because you want a heart pounding opening I'd reconsider - and more of the intruders themselves. I'd rather learn more about her and her interactions in her daily life like you have with her brother and her friend than too much of the plot starting. Just a hint is enough. The hourglass and reflections are great. It's the reaction that takes too much.

  5. Katherine -
    So much of this was just terrific!
    I really like Di already - her earnestness and self-consciousness rang very true. She is very buttoned up, of course, and I'm assuming there's a reason at least somewhat related to her parents that this is the case.
    Your use of descriptive turns of phrase and metaphors is outstanding. I loved so many of them - the cyclone, the turtle and the brussel sprouts! Well done:)

    I'll echo what a couple of the other critiquers had to say - it seems like she really takes on Coby as her responsiblity. This made me think he was significantly younger right up until the moment you reveal they are twins. I was very surprised by that - an explanation of sorts of why she feels so responsible for him even though they're the same age would help.

    The other things are also echoes - the beginning is confusing. I went back and reread to see if I'd missed actual evidence of an intruder. I wasn't able to see what made her think that other than a tiny hourglass. I also would like to see her friendship with Josh as it is before he tries to make it something more. I did find him to be adorable even in his brief appearance in this submission.

    Great work and I'll look forward to next week's revision!

    Marilee Haynes

  6. Thanks so much for your feedback everyone! *revises frantically* :D

  7. Lovely punch of humor to start things off! I'm always drawn into a story when it starts off with a bit of funny :)

    I like the immediate tension at the beginning, too. It's enough to draw the attention, but not so much that the reader is lost in some big action scene.

    Di seems to relax a little too quickly after deciding she's just sleep deprived, though. I'd expect her to stay a little freaked out, if somewhat calmer—hallucinating hourglasses and faces in reflective surfaces is pretty scary in and of itself!

    Great voice in this one. I enjoyed the humor and am caught up in the suspense!

  8. Ah--looking at the other comments, I will add that I, too, got the impression that Coby was say 10 or so, much younger than Di, until you revealed they were twins :)

  9. Hi Katherine,

    This is a great premise so far, and I really enjoy the way that you have set up both a bit of mystery and a bit of urgency. Your characters are solid and unique, although I echo what has been said by others. Check the depiction of your Colby character, and fairly soon, give us some reason for why your mc is as earnest and buttoned-down as she comes across. Especially since Colby isn't that way. What has made her so different.

    I do think the emotion at the beginning can be dialed down a fair bit, and I might suggest considering her actual reactions. An hourglass might not invoke as much fear, whereas seeing a face might invoke a great deal. Consider how she would really reacht and really put yourself in her shoes. What would scare her and what would make her question herself? How might she rationalize things?

    Looking forward to seeing your revision,


  10. Gah! I'm trying so hard to revise this but I have the flu and can't think straight. Worst. Timing. Ever. :(


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