Tuesday, July 24, 2012

8 1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Cook-Raymond Rev 2

Name: Sarah Cook-Raymond
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Title: The Defenders

Chapter One

Irony: the opposite of what you’d expect—with a twist.

Before today the only irony I knew was being the tallest boy in class but sucking at basketball. But that’s the twist. The day your life changes forever begins like all the others. It’s just the ending that’s changed.

Chapter Two: Before

I turn my boxers inside out, grab a hoodie, the same jeans I wore yesterday, and hurry downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast.

“Hey Big Shot,” says Dad, looking up from the Washington Post. There’s a stack of five other papers beside him, all already read.

“Hey,” I echo. I don’t contest the nickname. He’s spent my entire life trying to get it to catch on. No need to stop now.

The coffee pot dings. Dad smiles and stands up from the table. His massive frame is draped in his uniform: dark suit, shiny shoes, crisp shirt. I see a small splash of coffee still in his cup as he goes over for a refill—meaning this is the second pot of the day.

I look over and see Mom leaning against the counter typing away feverishly on her Blackberry, a half-eaten piece of toast balanced between two fingers. “Here,” Dad says, moving across the kitchen and sliding a steaming mug of coffee in her direction. She looks up and their eyes meet. “Thanks,” she says with a crescent smile. She puts the Blackberry down and takes a sip. As she does, her shoulders rise and fall into a relaxed soft sigh.

“Toby!” yells Shelly, bursting into the room. She’s wearing a backpack so full it’s amazing she doesn’t buckle under the weight. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for school.” Shelly’s two years younger than me but you’d never know it.

“Speak for yourself,” I say, grabbing one of the strawberry Pop-Tarts in her outstretched hand. I take a satisfying bite. “I swear if it wasn’t for you, I’d never eat,” I admit.

“I heard that,” says Mom, though she doesn’t contest it. “I have an open house to prep for,” she says, turning to Dad.

“I wanted to take them to school anyway.”

“Fabulous.” She reaches down and throws a purse onto the counter so large it looks like she’s checking luggage. She shuffles papers around. “Ah, here’s the address,” Mom says softly to herself, but still waves the piece of paper in the air for us all to see.

“So you excited about that English test today?” Dad asks.

“Excited? You can’t get excited about a test.”

“Toby,” he pauses. “Life is a test.”

“Alright, alright!” claps Mom. She hoists the purse onto her shoulder and Shelly strides up beside her—her own little mini-me.

“So Big Shot,” Dad says, turning to me. “We still on for tonight?”

Tonight is fantasy football draft night. I’m the defending champ.

“You bet. But be ready, old man!” I say to him, closing the house door behind us. “You’re gonna need some luck.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

There was one word that I couldn’t get right on my English test. One word I swore I knew but couldn’t remember: precipice.

I turn into the driveway and I see it: Mom’s car in the driveway uncharacteristically early. A cool shiver spiders its way up my back. Something’s not right.

Cautiously I tip toe up the steps and place my hand on the door. All the hairs on my body stand on end. “Mom?” I say as I push my way in.

I hear her before I see her.

She’s curled up on the floor, her knees hugged up tightly to her chest. Her clothes tangle up around her. She just looks like a pile of laundry thrown on the floor. A mess of snot and tears stream together down her cheeks, pooling on the floor.

It unnerves me in the same way horror movies do. It’s that sensation where I want to cover my eyes but can’t because something—compulsion or curiosity—stops me.

“Mom?” I ask again. Cautiously I cross the room towards her. I don’t see Shelly walk in but hear the squeak of her sneakers on the freshly-waxed floor as she stops abruptly.

Mom looks up at us from under red-rimmed eyes, her whole demeanor as fragile and breakable as ever. “Your father—” she eventually chokes out but breaks off. All that follows are blubbered incoherent words coupled with bouts of hyperventilation.

And then it comes to me. The two definitions collide: Precipice (n). A cliff or a situation of great peril.

“He’s dead?” I whisper. I only meant to think it. But then she nods…

My knees buckle and I collapse next to her. Shelly does the same. We’re just one big pile of bodies like football players in a heap only no one attempts to move and we don’t have any padding to cushion the blow.


  1. You have a great natural writing voice. Unfortunately, it doesn't work well here. The story is compelling, but the voice doesn't sound like it fits (which is a shame, cause the voice is really good. I feel like it would be better suited for an adult literary book than this YA (MG?) story you're telling). You need to listen to kids/teenagers talk to each other (not to adults, because kids/teenagers usually talk down to adults. They know we won't understand their highly nuanced communication style.) then try to capture it minus any conversational tics found in most oral languages. Leave out some of the ornate furniture (a wonderful description borrowed from Mauric Sendak)that only people over 30 would put into their speech. Put in the bean bag chairs and xbox's of adjectives that teenagers use by instinct.
    Still, I love the story and where you're going with it. Just punch up your voice.

  2. *Maurice Sendak. My keyboard hates me.

  3. Interesting. Thanks for taking a read. This is why writing is so subjective I suppose as I was in one of Miss Snark's blog contests with this WIP and inquired about the age of my MC and was told the voice was distinctly YA. Then again, I had a different opening.

  4. Hi Sarah. This is sooooo much better than the last submission. You certainly cleared up the gender question. I think Isaiah may have a point about spending more time listening to kids talk to each other. If Toby is a very bright senior, one in AP classes, or if this is set in, say, the 1980s, you can probably pull this off, but if he's younger than that or if this is a contemporary setting, you might want to make him sound more like teenagers sound today. The only other suggestion I would make is perhaps to add a little more, maybe one more short scene, of the father, something very endearing that will make us care more when we find out he's dead. Other than that, this is great and I look forward to reading more. Lots of great description and wonderful writing.

  5. Hi, Sarah. IMO, you're definitely improving here. Removing the initial bedroom start and the car scene helps to move this opening along. Now I'd say it just needs some tweaking. Though the breakfast scene is more concise, it reads (to me) a little distant. I see three things you can do to remedy this:

    1) Reading it, I get a sense of Toby standing back and watching everything that's happening. Before the sister comes in, Toby isn't interacting with anyone or really doing anything. He's watching his mom lean on the counter and type on her blackberry, watching his dad move across the kitchen to give mom coffee. To draw the reader in, we need to be immersed in the scene with Toby. Have him involved and doing something active, even if it's pouring a glass of OJ.

    2) Also, before the section break, there's no emotion from Toby. To engage the reader, show us how Toby is feeling by what's happening to his body. Smiles, sighs, tense muscles, scrubbing a hand through the hair--these are examples of physical cues that will clue the reader in to what Toby is feeling. These cues are universal, so when we see them in Toby, we know exactly what he's feeling and empathize with him. Insert some emotion into that first scene to bring it to life.

    3) I'm seeing quite a bit of telling in the form of small sentences interspersed throughout (Tonight is fantasy football draft night, I'm the defending champ, Shelly's two years younger than me). Each little dart of telling pulls the reader out of the current time story, creating a disconnect. For those telling bits, figure out how to insert them into the story as part of the story without setting them apart as an explanation.

    If you address these issues throughout, you're going to go a long way toward drawing the reader in and helping them connect fully to your characters. Great work, Sarah. Keep it up :).

  6. Hi Sarah,
    Your revisions have improved this piece SO much each week. It's crazy to think of the first week when I look back. It's much stronger now. Like Becca, I wrote down a note as I read that the beginning is much more immediate and doesn't slow the narrative down. You allow us to move right along, not getting in the way of tension-building.

    In terms of suggestions, I only got caught on two small things. I noticed the word "contest" twice- easy fix. The other consideration would be to check that paragraph when Toby comes in to see his mom on the floor. A few of the -ly words might be revisted in terms of strengthening the verb choice instead.

    Again, very simple things to consider. You've really come such a long way with this. Keep up the great work!

  7. Nice job! I agree with Becca's suggestion of making Toby the star of the first section by getting him involved more. I looked at the few pieces of dialogue he had, and I didn't have a particular problem with them (and I have two teenagers at home). Love how the last sentence brings the football metaphor into their pile on the floor. So sad. Again, great job changing this up every week :)

  8. Hey Sarah -

    You have some good writing here - true moments of greatness shine through. I love the mechanic of the spelling test here:

    And then it comes to me. The two definitions collide: Precipice (n). A cliff or a situation of great peril.

    “He’s dead?” I whisper. I only meant to think it. But then she nods…

    Awesome! The mechanic feels a little forced in the beginning but you hit your stride with it at the end. In addition, you have some great imagery - mom as a pile of laundry is really great.

    I feel that the mother is the best fleshed out character in this version. I love her but I want to love Toby. While I do like the pace of this version better - I felt more connected to Toby in the previous edit.

    Overall the dialogue flows smoothly but I too agree that there are spots were Toby sounds "off":

    "You bet. But be ready, old man!” I say to him, closing the house door behind us. “You’re gonna need some luck.”

    I'd go with something shorter that has a bit of an edge to it - for example:

    "Yep," I say as I close the door, "You're going down old man."



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