Monday, June 4, 2012

15 1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Freeland

Lori Freeland
YA Science Fiction/Romance

Chapter 1
Death Changes Everything

I stalled at the edge of the creek, transfixed by Claire’s hair.

The long strands fanned out in wisps and rode the surface of the water. Why would my sister go swimming with her clothes on in the middle of December? She floated about ten feet out, her foot stuck on a large log, the slight current rocking her body in a gentle sway.

Clarity struck with the force of a sucker punch—shattering my lungs, knocking my breath across the muddy ravine, driving me forward. Clarity screamed—Do something, Kate. Do something now!

“Claire!” I stumbled down the embankment and sloshed through the murky water, my socks squishing inside my shoes.

I dropped beside her. Struggled to flip her over. The icy water soaked me up to my waist, saturating the ends of my hair, numbing my lower body.

A tangled mane plastered her face. I brushed it away. Wished I hadn’t.

She stared at the blue-black sky. But she didn’t see me. She didn’t see anything—her pupils fixed and dilated. Her eyes—one blue, one green—looked even more out of place frozen like that.

I pushed myself up, scraping my palms on tiny jagged rocks on the creek bottom. I slipped my arms under her and locked my fingers together at the top of her chest. My waterlogged jeans clung to my legs like a suit of armor—slowing my progress, weighting me down.

The effort to drag Claire to the bank brought me to my knees. I yanked her once. Twice. Three times. Her body finally slid across the rocks. I took slow steps. Pulling. Dragging. Heaving.

My shoes cleared the water. One final tug and I collapsed on the damp dirty ground, Claire on top of me. My numb fingers shook against the cold, wet skin on her neck where I was supposed to find a pulse.

“Claire?” I put my hand on her chest. She didn’t move. “Claire! Please.”

My hair blew across my face, blocking my vision. I shoved it out of my eyes and crawled out from under her. At almost full dark, we were too far down the embankment for anyone to see.

“Someone help me! Help me!” I yelled anyway, a frenzied tornado churning in my gut.
No one came.

Wind slashed across my sopping clothes, cold and vicious, biting my skin. My hands shook. I bent close to Claire’s face. No breath. We needed to get closer to the road. The creek only sat back twenty feet or so. Someone would drive by. Someone had to drive by.

I gripped her still form and pulled, gaining about a foot up the slope. I yanked harder, screaming her name with each inch of progress. Halfway up, I stumbled. Tripped over a rock. Hit the ground. Something sharp cut into my jeans right by the left back pocket. Tears burned my eyes. My arms ached, like someone stretched them too far.

Why wasn’t there anyone to help me? “Please! Please. I need help.”

I forced myself off the ground, clamped my jaw, and kept pulling. We made it to the small grassy area by the bridge, under the tall bright lamp where someone might see us, my legs so shaky I was sure if I took a step I would crumble next to my sister and we’d both die here.

No one stood on the bridge. No one walked the trail. No one drove down the street. “Help me!” I screamed and then remembered 911. I had to call 911.

I patted my empty pockets, picturing where I’d left my cell on the dash in my car—parked next to Claire’s Beetle in the four-space alcove down the street.

Should I leave her and get it?

No, I couldn’t leave her alone. How many precious seconds had I already wasted standing on the bank trying to make sense of what was happening?

I sunk to the ground on my knees and tilted Claire’s chin. Her blond hair fed the ground like a soft stream. How much water did she swallow? How long had she been there? I hadn’t been too far behind her. Ten minutes? Fifteen?

I pinched her nose. Pressed my mouth across hers. Blew into her icy lips. How many times? How many times? How many times?

My thoughts scattered, darting into the deepest drawers of my mind, plucking out useless knowledge. I’d taken CPR. A hundred years ago. Why didn’t I pay attention?

I blew into her mouth again. Three times. Three seemed right. I placed my palm on top of my other hand and searched for the right place on her chest. I slammed my hands over where I thought her heart was—a sob wrenching from my throat with each compression. I checked for a breath again.


I was doing it wrong. She was dying. And I was doing it wrong.
A shock of heat burned through my sweatshirt in the form of hand-size imprints.

My heart throttled into overdrive. I screamed and lost my breath somewhere in the chasm between terror and shock—imagining—I don’t know who—behind me.

The large hands lifted me off my sister. A guy in a dark leather jacket anchored a knee on either side of Claire and began harder, stronger compressions—his hands steady, moving in a controlled rhythm.

A short crack came from her chest.

He’d broken her ribs.

My compressions had been too light. How many minutes had I cost her?

My breath came in short pants. I fell against the grass and stared at the stranger hurting Claire—no helping Claire—he was helping her.

He jerked his head my direction, reached in his jacket, and tossed me a slim black phone. “Call 911.” A lock of dark hair fell over his forehead and stayed there.

I grasped the cell, barely able to feel my hands, and touched the numbers. My finger slipped, skimmed the 8 instead of the 9. Two times. Three times. Come on! I closed my fist, stretched my fingers. You’re wasting time.

I finally typed in 9-1-1 in the right order.

“911. What’s your emergency?”

“My sister…” My jaw chattered. The words got stuck behind my teeth. “I tried CPR. I couldn’t…I forgot…how.”

“Ma’am, what’s your name? Give me your location.”

“Kate. It’s Kate. We’re by the creek.” I glanced around. A savage urgency hammered my heart, driving it out of my chest. Water. Trees. Dirt. The large wooden bridge.

“Ma’am, what city are you in?”

“Plano.” I gasped. “No. Richardson. By the bridge over the creek.” How had I forgotten the street?

The guy on top of Claire gave her two long breaths, paused, and took the phone. He rattled off our exact location, unzipped his jacket, and resumed giving Claire compressions.
A long shiver stole my breath. Could Claire feel the cold? She wasn’t shaking. Her wet hair bunched on the grass in a mangled mess. Her only movement in direct correlation with the stranger’s violent assault on her chest.

“Ein, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs—” Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. He whispered words that didn’t make sense.

He was sweating while I slowly froze. I scooted closer to my sister and rubbed my arms—like that would make me warm. Helpless, useless, and relieved in the same moment that help had come, I watched the stranger pump my sister’s chest, force life into her slack mouth with his own, then do it all again.


  1. Hi there Lori--thanks of offering your first five!

    Great job here eliciting emotion--this is a very raw and compelling start and I am certain it will catch eyes as you query. I felt very much in Kate's POV and you do a great job adding sensory description to provide texture and pull me in as I read. This wasn't something I saw in my imagination, but rather something I experienced. Pacing, description, voice, POV...very well done.

    There are a few things I would suggest to make stronger, like the opening. That first line needs to show me a concrete image of a body floating int he water, but it didn't quite, not for me. The word 'stalled' made me instantly think car, and so I pictured the MC ever so briefly in a car. You don't want this--you want all readers to see that river, that floating body caught against brambles or rocks, hair drifting like curls of seaweed around her.

    Kate's initial 'softened' thoughts of why would Claire be swimming didn't quite fit for me either. Here's why--Kate's seeing a body floating face down, unmoving. Her brain would disconnect at first (holy crap--is that what I think it is?) but once she recognizes the body as her sister's, it would be all motion--running, screaming, acting. My own son fell in a pond and went under immediately, and the time it takes from shock to action is almost immediate--there is no time to wonder how it happened, not then--only that it has happened, and one must act NOW. I think that's what we need to see here. Maybe she sees the body, and while her brain is trying to comprehend it being there, she latches onto something that undeniably makes her realize it is Claire. Then it is all rushing action to save her. :)

    You have a ton of great description, but in the heat of an intense moment like this, we do not notice everything. A few details could be trimmed to tighten, (but only a few) which I questioned whether she would focus on in her state. For example, hair is referenced a few too many times--Claire's fan of hair, the ends of the hair saturated, hair blowing across the face, hair feeding the ground, etc. The detail of Claire's hair floating in the water is lessened by reusing it too much if you see what I'm saying.

    I think we need something here to indicate why she is here. She struggles with dragging Claire's body and it made me wonder why she was here in the first place. Toward the end I get that the two were supposed to meet, but maybe a detail earlier about the parking lot where her car was parked next to Claire's was too far off...something like that sooner would help.

    Love that the guy speaks German and her rib breaks, love how she tries to warm her sister's arm, love her struggling to heave her sister ashore--really great stuff here.

  2. First, I really liked the "Clarity struck" and "Clarity screamed" lines. Those were fantastic, sort of removed from the first person in a way one wants to be when something HUGE is happening.

    I'd like to know how old Claire is. Small child? Teenager? I'm wondering how Kate can carry her, number one, and number two, I'm wondering what might have led to the death. That's a very good thing to be wondering, BTW. A nice way to entice readers to keep reading.

    A couple of things that were a bit confusing to me:
    1. The depth of the water. She sloshes out and then "dropped" next to her. She says the water is up to her waist. If she drops in that... She's underwater, right? So I'm not sure how deep this water is -- if it's really as shallow as it would have to be for her to be on the ground, how did Claire drown?
    2. If her wet clothes are pulling her down, why weren't Claire's wet clothes tugging her under the water? Heavy things do sink...

    I really like the short, choppy sentences as she's heaving Claire up to the road. I wonder if she's a bit TOO coherent though. I like the rote "do this. Then this. Pull, step, heave," type of action here. It suggests the MC is in a daze, but fueled by adrenaline to get her sister somewhere someone can find them.

    I'm not suggesting you rewrite the whole thing there, but I found the movement into HER personal aches and pains to be scene-killing. Seems to me if I'd just found my sister dead in a river, I would be numb from head to toe, and heart to fingertip. I wouldn't feel anything--not then. Maybe later. So these lines: "Something sharp cut into my jeans right by the left back pocket. Tears burned my eyes. My arms ached, like someone stretched them too far." were strange for me. The detail of the right back pocket is SO specific, you know?

    Very nice job on the repetition of "How many times?"

    I really liked the pace of things once the stranger showed up. I'll admit I was a tad confused right when he appeared. The hot hands through her sweatshirt was a strange way to phrase it for me.

    Also, I wanted Kate to pull it together a bit more. I mean, I know she just pulled her sister out of the creek, and I was okay with the failed attempt at CPR. But I wanted her to dial right. Tell the operator what she needed to know. Maybe not the street name, but the town name? She couldn't remember what CITY? So yeah. I want a more equal mix of blubbering and capable. Make sense?

    Overall, I'd keep reading this. Usually I'm a fan of slow starts. Maybe where Kate pulls into the park, giving me some reason for her to be there fifteen minutes after Claire. Why were they meeting? Was Kate upset about the meeting? Looking forward to it? Those kinds of things. It really helps give us more of a chance to get to know a character--and Claire!--before the bad stuff happens. I have a hard time with these sorts of starts, because I don't care that Claire's dead. Oh my heck, that sounded wrong, but you know what I mean!

    I don't know Claire, and I don't know Kate, and just because someone dies doesn't mean I'm going to feel bad, you know?

    So anyway. I prefer the slow start. The opening image. A chance to get to care--at least a little bit--about the characters before the Big Bad Stuff goes down.

    But I'd still read on with you. I feel comfortable in your skills that you'll take me where I need to go. So good job on that!

  3. Starting earlier isn't a bad idea, just to let us know who Kate usually is. Listen to Elana, but just FYI I thought the clarity lines were a tad confusing. At least the second one. Sorry! I know it's tough getting conflicting advice. You have some great detail here that makes it feel real and mysterious, the ribs, the feel of the water, the counting in German. I'm interested to see where the Sci-fi comes in!

    1. You are the second person confused by "clarity." Which is a bummer because I like it, but...

  4. I really loved the writing here. I agree with whoever said it felt like an experience, rather than like reading.

    My problem with this scene is (1) like Elana, I don't care about the characters yet and the emotion of the death falls flat because of that and (2) while I do like this scene, it doesn't give me any hint of where the story would go from here. While you don't need to outline the whole book, I believe the first 5 pages should give a hint, the slightest taste at least, for the type of journey we have ahead. In fact, I think the opening image sets up the climax and final scene--with what's set up at the beginning realized and fought for in the climax and the final scene representing the change that has come since the first scene.

    This scene doesn't tantalize me with the sense of a larger journey about to come. From this scene, the ms could be a literary tale about a girl coming to terms with loss, it could be a murder mystery, it could be a paranormal, etc., etc. I think there needs to be some hint at which one it is--doesn't have to be blatant, it can even be wrapped up in tone and with, say, a little clue or two. For instance, murder mystery might have her start by swearing she was hearing running steps in the distance, then finding her sister, and maybe even noting a detail toward the end of the 5 of something out of place with her sister. A literary novel about a personal journey might start with more about the character and her insecurities, how she idolizes her sister/feels responsible for her sister/hates her sister, to give us the emotional beginning to the ride. A paranormal might mention how the sister's always running off into the woods, ordering Kate that it was none of her business, and it might mention the eery quiet of the place, a crow perched on a dead branch, etc.

    I don't think it'll take a ton of work or added material to make this happen, you have a very solid start. And I think addressing the second point might even help with the first (about getting to know the characters) depending on what you do with it. For instance, if she hears running steps and is curious and excited by them, we're dealing with a different character than one who clutches a tree in paralyzed terror, or one who starts thinking, "I KNEW she was out here seeing a boy. Wait until Mom finds out!"

    Best of luck! I have faith you can do this! I very much enjoyed your passage. :)

  5. Thank you for your comments. I am questioning whether I need to start with a scene before this--maybe set up the "normal" before I break it. The sisters get in an argument and Claire runs off to her favorite spot to think. Kate goes after her later when she doesn't come home. In addition to your other comments, would that help?

    I will go through and make some changes in this scene also! I appreciate all of your input.

    1. For me, this would add SO MUCH MORE to the piece. Because not only would Kate be seeing her sister dead, but she would feel responsible for it! That would add a lot to the scene, up the tension, and make the reader wonder what they were arguing about that would drive Claire to (possibly?) take her own life.

    2. I agree. Plus I can add in the sci/fi element in an earlier chapter :) The feedback has helped me so much to see what I need to do, so thanks to everyone that's commented so far.

      So the question for Elana is: Do I fix these five pages and resubmit at the end of the week or give you the new ones--which I haven't written yet but will work on today and tomorrow :)

    3. I agree--the guilt element will crank this up a notch. :)

    4. Um, I think you're supposed to revise and send them in again? I'm not entirely sure, but I think that's what is supposed to happen.

  6. I think this scene is really well written. Loved the short lines. Love the repetition. I do think that stepping back and adding a scene before this one would be a better way to engage the reader so they know more about Kate and Claire and care about them before Kate finds her sister in the water.

  7. I thought this was very compelling and I would keep reading to find out how Claire drowned and why and who this guy is that is helping Kate. The short lines made it fast paced where it needed to be fast paced.

    Great job!

    1. Thank you! I will be sending you the new pages over email.

  8. First of all … WOW what an intense opening. It has a good amount of imagery… I can “see” the scene without slowing it down.

    I don’t have a heck of a lot to say in improving this, so I am going to be extremely nit-picky.

    Once this gets going, it really gets going. The pacing is excellent. However, the start-up, I think, needs some work.

    I’m not crazy about the beginning. Where the imagery you do provide is excellent, I do not have a clear picture until you flip her over. Also, I have no idea how old Claire is. Is she a little sister who toddles off in the night, an older sibling? Even to the end I have no idea. I did not know her head was down until she was “flipped over”.

    Also, I don’t think that Kate would stew about why her sister was floating head down in the water. I think the more realistic reaction would be. “Oh no! Someone is drowning!” Because she does not know it is her sister until she is flipped over. She might think it, but she wouldn’t be sure. If she is sure, then why?

    I might consider starting this with her actually looking for her sister. Call out her name. Inner thought can give the reader an idea of who the sister was, and how old she is.

    A little later, she notices the man’s hair moving on his forehead. While this is a good image, I don’t think she’d notice something like this at this point. Her mind would be racing too much. See if anyone else says anything about this.

    I think that she would notice a German accept when the man gave the location over the phone. If he speaks German naturally (since he counted in German) I would expect him to have an accent, and that would be noteworthy at that point.

    Her not knowing where she is located is completely realistic. I know “where” I am most of the time, but if I had to give a street address, or directions with street names I would not be able to do it.

    I think this is a really strong opening. My only real concern is that it does not have a Sci-Fi feel. This has a “real life drama” feel. Do you know what I mean?

    It is exciting, and I am disappointed that I do not have more, but the blurb and cover of this book would have to be really good to make a Sci-fi person want to read more.

    I’m glad I read this, Lori. You are a really strong writer. I hope the rest of your novel is as exciting and well-written as this is. Good luck!

  9. For what it's worth, I'm not sure you need a whole extra scene, just maybe adding a little to the beginning of this one with Kate being steamed from the fight as she goes to find her sister. You can add some interiority to let us know they had a fight, how Kate feels about it, maybe a sci-fi hint there, but you can still get to this powerful incident within the first five pages. I'd be concerned that by adding a whole fight as a scene, you wouldn't be getting to the inciting incident in your first scene, which seems to be the sister's death. So, I'll reiterate, I would work with what you have and just add a few paragraphs at the beginning to set up the fight and the general dynamic between the sister and add a hint of sci-fi somewhere in the scene.

    Happy revisions!


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