Monday, May 21, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Hull Rev 2

Mary Hull
Young adult
Eyes from Heaven

Chapter 1: Neighbor

      The waves crashed against the shore relentlessly. The salt water burned against the tears glistening on my face as I stood in between mom and dad, their arms around my shoulders. The sun’s sizzling beams cast shadows over the figures swarmed on the beach, their faces etched with panic.

     “Hey, you guys swim out that way, we’ll go from here!”

    “Ok, stabilize the head and neck!”

    “Quick, grab the paddles!”

    “All right, we’re all clear, you guys, and you’re clear right?”

    “There’s no pulse! How many minutes have passed?”


     They turned off the machine and sat back on their heels, tiny beads of sweat dripping from the sides of their faces, the realization of failure etched across their faces, synonymous with the shock in their eyes, as they sat on the warm sand, rigid, unmoving as the body was being taken away.

     That was the last time I saw Ben.

    Then he was gone.

I must have been standing under the hot water for a while because my skin felt like rubber. After drying off, I wore khaki pants and a pink blouse. Mom always made it a point to remind me that I was too beautiful to ever choose to dress like a tomboy and growing up I had come to enjoy feeling comfortable in nice clothing.

   The small black box was perched on the dresser. I must have forgotten to put it back, I thought as my fingers traced the box. I opened it and stared at the mirror image of myself. The same fair skin, green eyes and honey colored hair. We were standing in front of our house, now my old house, in Viewbridge. It was the day of the beach trip. That was the last picture I’d take with Ben. I recalled the incessant arguing that started shortly after my parents and I came home from the hospital that night. I felt like an intruder in my own home as I watched my mom and dad go through the motions of work and home duties as if the other didn’t exist. Whenever my dad or I would bring up Ben’s name my mom would get mad and accuse us of not caring about her loss. Mom never talked about Ben after the funeral. She didn’t take down his pictures from the walls or anything like that. She woke up every day, cooked breakfast and went to work as if nothing had happened. She stopped wearing black, which I had heard was done out of respect, the day after the funeral.

    I went back to school the week after the funeral. I didn’t want to but my mom stressed the importance of trying to make life normal again. I couldn’t understand how anything could be normal again, ever. It was strange being in school without Ben. Those who had been at the beach that day made it a point to sit by me at lunchtime for the first few weeks but that didn’t last long. Maybe it was the fact that most of them were Ben’s friends. The few close friends I had somehow sensed that my usual quiet nature had turned into a loner state and completely shut me out.

    My mom didn’t allow anyone to go into Ben’s room but I made it a point to go in there once a night when I was sure my mom was asleep. Being careful to leave everything the way Ben had left it, I’d lie on the floor and close my eyes to remember the fun things we did. All I saw was that last vision of him struggling in the water.

   One month before I finished tenth grade my dad moved out. He rented a two-bedroom apartment near the office where he was president of a news firm. The reality of my dad living somewhere other than our home hit hard the day he left with a u-haul truck. But when my mom came into my room the night dad left with the announcement that she and I would be moving to the town of Meadowcreek, the life I’d come to know in Viewbridge seemed to suddenly vanish. When I told my mom that I wanted to live with dad I’d hope she would understand my reason to be closer to the memories of Ben. Mom, on the other hand, warned me that she would be all alone in a new town and we needed each other to move forward. My dad, always being the non-confrontational one, supported mom’s request for us to move, promising to call and visit.

     We moved to Meadowcreek in May and my mom transitioned rather smoothly to her new TV journalist office. I, on the other hand, only left our new house when mom had to run an errand and asked me to come along. Whenever I’d ask to go to Viewbridge to visit dad, mom would make up an excuse of having planned an outing for us. Dad hadn’t visited since the move and whenever I questioned him why, he’d simply say, ‘I will when your mom feels she is ready.’ Three months passed with no mention of Ben; no phone calls from my old friends.

     I jumped at the hard knock on my bedroom door.

    “Lily! Are you up yet?”

    My mom walked into the room, her eggplant color pantsuit complimenting her shoulder length brown hair and light makeup. I tried shoving the box back into the drawer and in my hurry my fingers got caught in the hinge. I pursed my lips, trying to conceal the throbbing sensation.

       She eyed me with her brows lifted. “Do I have to remind you that this is your first day at a new school?”

         Why did she feel the need to question everything?    

      “Nothing, I was just…”

             “My dear,” she said, her tone firm. “Surely you’re not trying to skip your first day of school are you?”

    I looked her straight in the eyes but I’d never been good at keeping things from her. “No, mom,” I said looking away, “I was just putting something away and my finger got caught.”

           Her voice softened. “Are you all right?”

          “Yeah, I’m fine.”

        She placed her hand on my shoulder. “We must carry ourselves with confidence so those around us will want to get to know who we are.”


She reached over and hugged me. “Don’t forget to wear some mascara. Our eyes are the windows to our soul.”

    I remained quiet, waiting for her to leave the room.

    Most of the girls my age I had come across in town were highly fashionable in their taste of clothing and surely I didn’t want to look like an outsider. Even though I totally feel like one, I thought staring at my appearance in the mirror.

       I went downstairs into the kitchen.

“There’s orange juice and bagels on the table,” mom said, rinsing her coffee muff. I watched her eyeing my outfit. The smile on her face meant she approved.      

     She kissed my forehead before heading out the door. “Oh, and for the sake of both of our reputation in town please try to be a bit outgoing and make new friends,” she added with a smile.

         I didn’t reply, relieved that this one-sided conversation had come to an end. For now.

My parents would call me their timid child. There was someone, though, who was uninhibited; eager to challenge everything. My brother, Ben.      

     I opened the front door. The sun’s bright rays welcomed me to my first day of eleventh grade at Meadowcreek High.

             I stepped off the porch and looked to my left at the house next door. It was almost twice the size as our house, although I’d never actually seen the inside. The house had been empty for about a month since the previous owner, Mr. Culling, a widower in his eighties, had passed away. I watched two men, wearing blue uniforms, carrying boxes from a large u-haul truck parked in the driveway up the front porch into the house. It seemed strange to have neighbors again even though no other car was parked in the driveway.

              “You can put the rest of the boxes in the garage!Yeah, right there, thanks!”

      It was a boy’s voice and it was coming from the upstairs window directly across from my bedroom.

The boy suddenly turned and looked at me. Embarrassed, I quickly started walking down the sidewalk.

       I crossed the intersection in front of the school. Meadowcreek High appeared ready to engulf me. I had no choice but to endure what the next two years held for me. 

      “May I help you?” a soft voice asked.        

     “I have a meeting with Mrs. Cash.”

        “This way please.” She smiled and began to walk down the hall. “I’m the librarian, Mrs. Sanders.”

          “Hello.” I felt like a stone wall that had been carved through, my past divulged to all. After all, I was the new girl and knew the other students would seize upon the interest of discovering the reason of my move to Meadowcreek.

    We walked down a long hallway. Mrs. Sanders stopped in front of a door labeled Counseling Office.


  1. Hi Mary! I love the emotion in this, it pulls me in. My suggestion is not to interrupt the pacing of the story with too much background info - at least, not too early on. This is all necessary and emotionally gripping information, but is it difficult to focus on a story and scene while reading background information? Also, could the flashback come at a later time in the story? If you read the beginning of the story without the flashback, starting with the paragraph about the last picture the MC had taken with Ben, do you feel more drawn into the story? Personally, I become more curious and emotionally pulled in without the flashback, because I'm wondering who Ben is and what happened to him, and I'll keep reading to find out. When the story starts with the flashback, I'm not as curious because I already know what happened, and I can assume that Ben is her brother. (But! That could just be me!)

    The background info described had great emotional information that, to me, could be drawn out into a scene. Is the background info a case of telling and not showing? It describes how the mother reacts without showing how she reacts. Of course, everything is absolutely up to you, but as the reader I know I'd be really interested to see those background info paragraphs in scene. (Especially MC going into Ben's room at night! How heartbreaking!) Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Thank you for your advice. I truly appreciate it!

  2. First I want to say kudos to the author for allowing online critique. I know it can be tough to hear feedback.

    The opening paragraph has a lot of great description, but it feels overworked. You have the right idea, but the lines could be combined and pared down; choose your best descriptors and leave out the rest so the best can shine.

    The dialogue that follows feels disconnected since we don't know yet who's talking. A quick intro of "the paramedics all talked at once" and then the dialogue would help. I also think you should name the machine they turn off (and again clarify who is turning it off - a paramedic, a lifeguard) to give context. It feels like you are hinting at what's happening rather than making it obvious.

    I love this line: That was the last time I saw Ben.

    I would suggest clarifying that Ben is her brother in the line that follows.

    The next paragraph flows well. I would watch for cliches like the protag standing in front of a mirror to describe herself. As the other commenter said, lessening the backstory will keep the story moving. The whole paragraph beginning "one month" could probably be entered in snippets throughout using dialogue and brief reflections, but as is it slows down the pace. The following paragraph about moving and mom's job are sufficient to get the point across they are starting over without the previous infodump.

    What follows is a nice mix of dialogue and reflection. The pacing is great.

    I was intrigued by the boy in the window and then he was gone. I'm guessing this boy has significance later in the book. Another line or two about the boy might help since it feels a little abrupt that the boy is mentioned and then she's off to school. Around what age is he? Why isn't he going to school, too?

    My last comment is that whatever your main conflict will be in the story, you should make sure it's in the first chapter. I see this cuts off so I don't know what happens at school. We know her brother died and she's starting over, but what will be her obstacle in the larger arc of the story? I just wanted to mention this so you can make sure it's there.

    Great job at setting up the emotion of the character. Good luck with your writing!

    1. Thank you for your advice. I really appreciate it!

  3. Hi Mary - the comments you've already received are excellent. You're clearly casting about for the right place to start the story. For my two cents, I think the best scene is the one where Lily is lying on her brother's bedroom floor. Although I don't know what her external problem is yet, that tells me what her internal problem is. Then you could describe what a wrench it was for her to leave the house, the last link she had to her brother. Later in the book, you can work in how her brother died as a reveal now that the reader cares about Lily. Anyway, that's just a thought. Good luck!

  4. Mary - you've done a lot of work here and that's great. I think starting with her lying on her brother's floor - maybe even clutching the box with the picture is a great place to begin. I would take out almost all of the backstory. You basically end up telling us what happened like it's a summary instead of letting us experience it. If it's not essential for us to know at the beginning, don't bother including it. A well placed line here and there dripped in the story will give us all we need. Keep us in the moment. You're getting there! Good luck!

  5. Agree and agree with the above comments. Allow the backstory to come in little by little throughout the first chapters of your novel. And hold back the true story about Ben's death for sure. Finding that out is the main reason I would keep reading!

    I tried to start my story with a flashback, and got lots of critique not to do so. I have to say that I agree. It isn't easy to find the right place to begin, but I think you are getting closer. I like the suggestion of starting with her in her brother's room looking into the box.

    Good luck to you!


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