Monday, August 6, 2012

9 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Pruitt-Goddard

Author: Candyce Pruitt-Goddard
Genre: YA Dystopian
Title: Desiderium

The deadbolt of my front door clicks and the door creaks open, urging me to move faster. More time to get ready would be nice. As soon as I think it, I squeeze my eyes shut and try to distract myself. I can’t want that. I can’t want anything. Not if I don’t want to end up in jail.

My bracelet blinks yellow for a few seconds and then stops. I heave a sigh of relief. If the light turns red, it means the amount of dopamine in my blood is over the legal limit and the government will know about my desire. It’ll be a matter of minutes before the government officials show up. I know they’re just trying to protect us from the Desiderium, but an official knocking on my door is the last thing I need.

“Are you ready to go, Rhiley?” My best friend JM wanders into the living room and plops a copy of my house key onto the coffee table.

“Only if I can study in the car,” I say as I throw my hair into a sloppy bun and jam my books into my bag.

“You do know you can take a break, don’t you?” he asks as he topples onto the couch and sinks into the worn-out cushion.

“I don’t have time for a break.” I don’t have time for much of anything. I wince as soon as I think it.

“You might very well be the only 17-year-old workaholic in the world,” he smiles as he tosses a pillow at me.

As I gather the rest of my things, I can’t help but notice the concerned look on his face. His chocolate colored eyes always reflect a hint of worry whenever he gives me some variation of the “you work too much” speech.

JM hauls himself off of the couch and reaches for his key.

“You know I don’t have a choice. And if we don’t hurry I’m going to be late for class.”

I shove him towards the door, but he doesn’t budge. He chuckles and shakes his head in amusement as he steps outside. I shoot him a reprimanding look, but his smile forces a grin onto my face. JM and I have been best friends for ten years and I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s the only reason I feel anything since my brother died.

JM leans against the side of the house as he offers me his copy of my house key. I shoot him a playful glare and lock the door. He grins and jumps off the porch. I chuck the key at him, but he turns just in time to catch it. He waves the key tauntingly and jogs over to the car. I try to fight back a smile as the gravel crunches under my feet.

JM climbs into the driver’s seat and reaches across to open the passenger door for me. I toss my bag onto the floor and hop in. His car whispers to life as he flicks on the radio. The blaring music makes me flinch. I roll my eyes and reach over to turn it down. A smile takes over his face as he backs the car out of the driveway. For the rest of the ride, he hums to himself while I try to study.

Before I know it, the Central Washington University sign whirs by us as we approach Bouillon Hall.

“Thanks for the ride,” I say as we pull into the crowded parking lot and I jump out of the car.

“No problem. I’ll see you back at the high school,” he hollers after me.

Frantic students brush past me as my feet glide across the floor. Once I reach the secluded classroom, I slide into an empty seat in the back with just enough time to cram in one final minute of studying.

“Good morning class,” the professor says, interrupting my thoughts. “Please put everything under your desks except for a pencil. For those of you who have just been added to the class, you will not be required to take the quiz but you will be responsible for the material. For everyone else, you have exactly ten minutes.”

Students are always adding and dropping classes in the first couple weeks of the quarter, but there’s always the slightest chance I’ll see somebody from the high school. There are a few of us who take advantage of the Running Start program that lets high school students take college classes for free.

Most of the faces in the room seem familiar. I’m about to look away when a student a couple of seats to my right catches my attention. He brushes his curly amber hair out of his face to reveal startlingly deep blue eyes. He doesn’t look much older than me, but I don’t recall seeing him around Ellensburg High School. I definitely would have remembered him.
His eyes catch mine and something sparks inside of me. He raises his eyebrows, adding a sense of mystery to his subtle smile. A deep breath brings me back to my senses. My lip twitches into a smile and I convince myself to look away. It isn’t easy.

Someone jabs me in the shoulder and shoves the stack of quizzes in my face. I slide one off the top and notice the new student doing the same. My pencil slides across the paper until all of the questions are answered. With two minutes to spare, I flip my paper over and lay my pencil on the desk. Everybody else is still scribbling away at their quizzes. Maybe I could just sneak one more peek at the new student.

His quiz is already flipped over. His eyes find mine and hold my gaze. My eyes glide across his face. His eyes do the same to me and I can’t help but wonder if he sees the same green-eyed girl with curly hair and tiny ears that I see when I look in the mirror. My stomach ties itself into a knot. I wish I knew more about him. As soon as I realize what I’m doing, I have to struggle to regain control of my thoughts.

My bracelet blinks an annoying shade of yellow.

My eyes dart around the room, searching for something to distract me. Whatever I do, I cannot let myself feel desire. The bracelet will pick up on even the smallest desire. Anything more than a trace amount of dopamine will turn it red.

People tell me I won’t even be tempted to feel desire anymore when I’m older. It’ll be nice. Then I won’t have to worry so much about setting off the red light on my bracelet or letting the words want and desire slip out of my mouth.

The door slams open behind me, forcing my head to whip around. Two police officers barge into the room trailing a uniformed official. The official passes the professor a respectful nod.

I subtly glance down at my bracelet and heave a sigh of relief that it isn’t red. It isn’t even yellow anymore.

“Samantha Jones,” the official’s voice booms.
All eyes shift to a girl in the front of the room.

“Yes?” she stutters.

The police officer slides out a pair of handcuffs.

“The levels of dopamine in your system have exceeded the legal limit. You are under arrest.”

The solid red light on her bracelet gives her away.

“No, you don’t understand,” her voice shakes.

The officer yanks her out of her seat.

She screams.

Before anyone can realize what’s happened, the girl’s elbow smashes into the police officer’s nose. Blood trickles down his face. The desk crashes to the ground. The room erupts into confusion as she makes a break for the exit. The second police officer stumbles after her. Just a few feet from the door, the official reaches out, his face expressionless, and shoves a black object against the girl’s side.

Her body convulses as she tumbles to the ground. The official slides the Taser back into his pocket and waits as one of the police officers slides the handcuffs onto her wrist. A tear streams down the girl’s cheek as the officer jerks her up off the ground.

“Sorry for the interruption,” the official passes another nod to the professor as they lead the girl out of the room.

The professor nods in return. “Back to work everyone.”


  1. I feel a little sorry that you haven't received any comments yet.

    I find the premise intriguing. Although the first few pages started off without conflict, you ended it at a chilling scene. A girl being tasered and arrested for having an excess of dopamine? That's your setting's establishing moment.

    Focus on it, and use it as a hook. Maybe even try writing your hook so it starts when Rhiley is in the classroom.

    Now, about the logistics of your premise, I'm don't know whatever if you did your research or not. A quick Google search shows that low dopamine affects motor control and attention span. But you probably put it at a level where it only affects desire--and only have some stray signs of side effects.

    You slip your exposition in right now with passing details. Besides the moment with Samantha Jones, it's not exceptional, but I love the implication that there's a large drop-out rate due to dismotivation.

    One little nitpick: With your dialogue tags, you have the tendency to use the construction "[subject] says as [subject] [does action]". It's not too excessive, but I would think of changing a couple of cases for the sake of variety.

  2. I looked up dopamine to remind me what it is and does, but you make it clear what is being monitored. Geez, suppressing desire is mean!
    I do like the bracelet blinking yellow so early on. It lets us know what this is about quickly. Presumably, it also suggests there might be more between JM and Rhiley. If so, it is subsequently well controlled. For all the shoving, chuckling and smiling between the two, his bracelet doesn’t flash.
    His car whispers to life as he flicks on the radio. If I was picky I might say that my radio comes on when I turn the ignition to start the car rather than the other way round.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the radio thing, Tim. Definitely should have been an "and" there. :)

  3. Hi Candyce,

    This is an intriguing dystopian premise. I love the idea of the desiderium and the way that you show us the bracelet working. You do a great job incorporating sensory details, and there are hints of cool worldbuilding. There's a LOT to like in here, but I think you could easily pick up the pace and the tension by changing the structure somewhat. Consider eliminating what is essentially a static first scene and starting at the classroom door. Your classroom scene is so powerful that the reader is well and truly hooked, and you can trust us to come along with you as you give us a little bit more background while you describe the government types and why they are there, and give us a deeper glimpse into the effect of the arrest on the other kids and on your mc. I love that you have her glancing at her own bracelet when the men in black come in, and if we start there, then see *see* the results of violation with the other girl's arrest, then see something about the arrest prompt her to another illicit pulse of desire that she has to struggle to control, we are going to be right there with her and you have time (and room) to weave in the grounding details that we need and show us the reactions of the other kids and the teacher more fully to establish your worldbuilding.

    Others have pointed out your writing quirk (I happen to struggle with the same one, so I sympathize) of describing simultaneous action using "as" to link them. The problem there is a little deeper than just the sentence construction though. Many of the places where you use "as" point to action that isn't necessary because it's too basic. One of the best tips anyone ever gave me is to think of action and dialogue cues the same way as dialogue or anything else--don't show it unless it's interesting. In other words, make sure that dialogue cues and bits of business advance plot, show emotion, delineate character, or contribute to specific world building--or preferably more than one of these at a time. Since much of the action in your first scene could take place anywhere, between any characters, the scene structure isn't ideal for your story.

    Looking forward to reading more,


    1. Thank you for the excellent advice, Martina. I'll have to play around with the sequencing of my scenes, and see if I can trim down some of what is now the opening scene. And I will definitely try to make my dialogue tags and actions more interesting/character/world specific.

      I just have one question though. When you say "the scene structure isn't ideal for your story," are you referring to the use of "as" and non-specific dialogue tags? Or something else? I just want to make sure before I set to work on the revisions.

      Thanks again!

    2. Candyce, I meant that I think you're starting in the wrong spot. Instead of trimming that first scene down, try (at least as an experiment) to cut that scene altogether. If you start at the classroom door, I think you will be in better shape. It's hard to make everyday acts interesting, and that's basically what's going in your first scene. They're moving from one place to the other, but there's no tension between them to let you build that as a scene. There's the little bit with the bracelet, but that's not different *to her* or *for her.* I like to think of the scenes in terms of conflict. Character A wants one thing, and Character B wants something that will either further or hinder what Character A wants, either for a reason that A knows and agrees with, or a reason that will eventually bite A in the a$$. Perhaps part of the problem with your first scene is that you've tried to put that conflict in by emphasizing that your mc feels hurried and that JM doesn't -- which causes stress for your mc. The inherent problem with this is that it casts your mc's judgment into doubt. If there is real danger, then JM would be aware of it. If there is a reason that your mc is in danger, then we would need to know that and know why JM is unaware of it. THAT could provide the tension to fuel this scene, provided that you cut out the nonessential movements.

      Three more thoughts.

      1) Your second scene builds nicely to a scene climax, but your first scene begins with your highest point of tension and drops from there. That may be part of the problem.

      2) Your opening sentence reads as if the government has released the lock on her front door by remote control, which is VERY cool, and that she has a certain amount of time to get to wherever she is supposed to be. But then your subsequent paragraphs contradict that impression and we realize the door was opened by JM. Or at least, that's how I understood it, which was a letdown and fueled my impression that the subsequent action wasn't very interesting. Then the next scene was great again.

      3) You need to provide names for your government officials and the police and so forth. Names that tell us what they are. Even better if we get the official version AND what different people think of them. This is the kind of worldbuilding that needs to start happening up front, and you gave us that with the Desiderium. Name the bracelet, too. Are kids aware of each other's bracelets? Do they watch them for reaction as they speak, how does this color what people say to each other and how they act in everyday situations? In unusual situations?

      Just some things to consider :) Hope this helps.



    3. One more thing. To clarify, conflict doesn't have to be between Character A and Character B. It could be between what Character A wants, or what she thinks she wants. Or between what Character A wants and what she needs. It can be virtually anything, so long as there is a question about which one will win out.

  4. This opening starts off strong, with a clear sense of both the main character and a strong hint of what I assume is the central issue in this world; however, I feel that it bogs down as it starts walking us through the steps of every motion Rhiley and JM are taking. We don’t really need to know that he puts her house key on the table, that she puts her hair in a bun, that she puts her books into her bag, that he sits on the couch, etc. etc. Of course, we need to know SOME of these things, but the way it’s laid out here it seems a bit too much like a list of actions rather than a coherent scene.

    (Having read the previous comments, I agree with Martina that just starting at the classroom door might help a lot - or at least starting with her and JM walking down the hall to her classroom and then he leaves her at the door. Definitely worth trying!)

    Everything else comes together pretty well. I’ve got to admit that the instantaneous-attraction-to-a-gorgeous-stranger trope isn’t my thing, but hey, it seems to work well in a lot of books, so go for it. :) I also don’t find it entirely convincing that everyone would go calmly on with their work after the scene with the girl being arrested, especially since her fighting back apparently wasn’t part of the standard plan, but it may be that you have their reactions after the cut.

    I also agree with Martina that kids would be watching each others' bracelets as well as their own. Wow, that would make flirting difficult... ;) That said, I don't agree that you necessarily need to name the police officers, bracelets, etc., or that we need an official version of what's going on just yet. As a reader, it's pretty clear to me what's going on and how it affects the mc, so I don't feel that I need to know about the greater world around her just yet... at least, not until she starts going out into it herself.

    Again, great concept and great start - I'm looking forward to reading the rewrite

  5. I think that I would rather not know specifically what the bracelet does until someone else is arrested and taken from the classroom. She could still communicate that she is nervous about the blinking yellow light. The dopamine explanation doesn't seem like something she would be thinking to herself.

    I agree with previous comments about the details in the action before the classroom. Unless the keys are going to be imminently crucial to the plot, you could leave those descriptions out until later. Likewise, she throws out there that her brother died, but it does seem like a throwaway statement about something that clearly hurt her. I don't know if that is the best place to reveal that information.

    Some descriptors are confusing. Why are the students frantic? Why is the classroom secluded?

    And the "whatever I do, I must not feel desire" seems unnecessary to me. You've communicated the danger of feeling in many places already. Let our understanding of the bracelets, the police, the danger, etc. grow more organically through the events instead of her thoughts.

    Very interesting!


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