Monday, January 13, 2014

1st Five Pages Jan. Workshop Rev 1: Moreno

Name: Maria Moreno
Genre: Young Adult-Mystery/Paranormal
Title: In Your Wildest Dreams 

When I was 14-years-old I read my obituary and it went like this:

Ms. Montesino is survived by her parents George and Elena. She was a freshman at Celebration High School. She was loved and will be missed dearly.” 

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend I felt life leave my body. That night I went out with my best friend Jordania and her then boyfriend, Andrew. “Pleaseeee. You know my parents won’t let me go without you,” said Jordania as she was straitening her blond hair in front of her bathroom mirror. 

“I don’t know Joey. I hate feeling like everyone thinks I’m your creepy little third wheel.”

“Ugh, stop it with the pity party! You know no one thinks that. Come on. I’ll buy your dinner.”

“Fine! I said rolling my eyes and crossing my arms. “But you still owe me!”

“Whatever. I don’t even feel bad because I know you like going.”

It’s true. I actually didn’t mind tagging along because it meant that I could go to “The Point.” The point is located on the tallest clearing in our town and it is divided by a two-lane street. One side overlooks the lake while on the other is the woods. It was here that I imagined myself going on my first date and having my first kiss.

I liked to suck in the smell from the pine trees and the nippy air from a fall in central Florida; It put a smile on my face and made me feel like anything was possible. It was exhilarating to see so many kids together at one place besides school. As I scanned the groups I couldn’t help but look for one face in particular: John B. He was Andrew’s close friend, but I had yet to see him at the point. 

On this particular Saturday most people had already paired off, so I fell asleep in the back of Andrew’s van while Jordania and him took a blanket and went into the woods.

I was awoken when I felt a gentle rocking movement and then a small slide back as if the car was put in reverse. “Hey. Jordania? Andrew? Back already?” I said as I removed my ear buds and sat up. No Answer. Silence.

My stomach dropped when I looked around and saw that no one was in the van with me. The car lurched back again with a little more force. “Oh my god,” I thought. “This car is going to roll off the cliff and into the water with me in it if I don’t get out now!”

I jumped for the side door, and kept pulling at it, but it wouldn’t budge because the child safety lock was on. Frantically, I tried to climb over the center console in order to reach the front passenger door. As I did so, the weight from my sudden movements shifted the car back and propelled it into its quick descent down the hill. I held on to the headrest for grip, but I felt a hot pain when I hit my face on the headrest knocking out four of my front teeth and making me unconscious.

The pressure from the water forcing its way into my nostrils and mouth woke me up. “Ughhh, I’m still in the car.” I sat up, but I still felt dizzy from hitting my head. I knew that I still had to exit the car. Again, I tried to climb over the center console, but the resistance from the water was making it impossible. All of my movements felt like they were in slow motion. My eyelids got heavy and I felt the rising and falling of my chest slowly coming to a stop.

I let myself fall back into the seat. “Don’t. Freak. Out.” I thought. “Count to ten.”  

“1, 2, 3….4….” In that moment my spirit peeled away from body and I felt it rise up. As I began to exit the world, I felt weightless and I looked down and saw myself from below. My pudgy body was hovering slightly over my seat, my hands raised and my hair was floating all around me in the green murky water like a mermaid. For the first time ever I saw myself and thought I looked pretty.

There wasn’t a tunnel of white light to follow, but I soon found myself in a sterile empty room. I couldn’t see my body and I didn’t feel safe or at peace. Rather I felt an empty void where my heart was and it was soon filled with hopelessness, anxiety, guilt and anger.

This must be limbo.

On the floor was the Central Lakes Gazette and it was there that I saw my obituary. Just to the left of all two inches of my life, was last year’s equally plain yearbook photo showing a round-faced girl. The purple background making my hazel eyes look a mere brown. The only thing that has always been magnificent about me is my long Pantene Pro-V style brown hair.

I kept staring at my picture and I felt a tremendous lump well up in my throat. I wasn’t sad for the people I left on earth. I was sad for myself. The little girl in the picture would never get to grow up.

I silently pleaded to be given my life back to have the opportunity to live it. Right then an opening in the room appeared and I went through.

My eyes opened wide and I found myself submerged back in the water in the lake. Outside of the window I could see dozens of sparkly lights. I couldn’t tell if it was stars in the sky, but then I saw them moving towards me. “Rescuers!”    

I finally had my adrenaline kicking in and I made it over the console. I looked for anything that I could use to break the window. I opened the glove compartment and there it was: a red emergency window breaker.

I slammed it once against the window. Nothing. A second time. Nothing. I screamed in anguish, but only bubbles came out. I hit it again with all my might and finally the window shattered and the glass shards floated around me. More water began to pour into the vehicle while I struggled to get through.

I wanted to go in the direction of the lights, but I could no longer see them. Panicked I let out another wail with more bubbles going upwards. “UP! The bubbles are going up!” That must be the direction of the surface.

I swam up with all my strength, but my eyes were getting heavy again. “Take a break and count to five.”

“1..2..3…” then a hand gripped my arm and I felt it push me to the top of the lake. I let myself rest.

I woke up to a pair of oily lips suctioning onto mine. I gagged and threw up what seemed like a galloon of lake water. Gabriel, the only chubby guy on the swim team, was performing mouth-to-mouth, while John B. had his hands on my stomach pumping out the water.

I sat up and Gabriel instantly put his arms around me. “Clara, lay back down. You could be really hurt.” 

I laid there on the ground running my tongue through the gaps where my front teeth had been.
Gabriel put a blanket over me. “Cool. My first kiss and he wasn’t even cute.” I thought while looking up at him.

All the kids who had been at the Point were now gathered around me in a circle. “Don’t worry, Clara. Help is on the way.” “Gosh, Clara you’re so lucky to be alive.” All their faces were indistinguishable and their words of comfort were nothing more than incessant noise.

The only face I could focus on was John B’s. Where had he come from? Also, if those lights hadn’t been searchlights what were they?

12 comments:

  1. Good revision! You're really getting there. Now you need to go through and find all the "I felt" sentences. What I mean is find unique ways to make it all immediate. We get that it's her POV so let's experience it with her. Let me give an example.
    Instead of:
    "The pressure from the water forcing its way into my nostrils and mouth woke me up. “Ughhh, I’m still in the car.” I sat up, but I still felt dizzy from hitting my head. I knew that I still had to exit the car. Again, I tried to climb over the center console, but the resistance from the water was making it impossible. All of my movements felt like they were in slow motion. My eyelids got heavy and I felt the rising and falling of my chest slowly coming to a stop."

    How about?
    The pressure from the water forcing its way into my nostrils and mouth woke me. Dizziness tried to claim me as I scrambled to find an exit. The resistance of the water made it feel like moving in slow motion as I forced my way over the center console. Consciousness slipped away as my heartbeat slowed.

    You can do it how you like of course, but I wanted to show you that you don't need to phrase things the same way and you don't need every bit of info in there. Some of it is obvious. She knows she has to get out. We see that with her attempt to exit. She can't speak under water by the way.

    Also, I'm concerned about likability with her preoccupation with looks. I get that she has low self-esteem and she likes the other boy, but maybe there's also something else she can think about herself or what she misses to make us feel a bit more connected to her?

    Again though, this is improving and you are doing a great job. I just want to see you do even better and I'm sure you can!

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    1. Hi Lisa,

      Thank you so much for your suggestions! They have been really helpful and encouraging. These first five pages have been really hard for me because essentially it is a flash back. These first five pages serve (or how I want them to serve) as a way to explain why the main character is the way she is today. The drowning is something that happened to her as a freshman and the rest of the story is how she has dealt with things as a result of the accident.

      I have tried to write it a couple of different ways, but I think so far the best way is to present the drowning scene as a prologue. I am struggling with this because I know prologues/flashbacks are not well received. As a result I'm having trouble finding a way to present these first five pages.

      ~Maria

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  2. My comments are similar to Lisa's in that now you want to make the sentences match the action. When things are moving quickly, we often think in quick bursts instead of full sentences. I'm not saying you need to use fragments, but shorter sentences will make things read faster.

    A couple examples:
    1.) You write: “Oh my god,” I thought. “This car is going to roll off the cliff and into the water with me in it if I don’t get out now!”

    You might consider shortening the last sentence to something like, "It's rolling. The car is rolling. I need to get out."

    2.) You write: "I jumped for the side door, and kept pulling at it, but it wouldn’t budge because the child safety lock was on."

    You might consider shortening it to something like: "I jumped for the side door. It wouldn't budge. The safety lock must have been on."

    (You can see I struggle to write in past tense. That last sentence I offer is clunky, but does it make sense what I suggest?)



    I know we aren't supposed to line edit, and that I personally try to take a minimalist approach to writing--just enough words and not a single word more--but consider shortening some of your sentences to nix extraneous words.

    1. You write: " I knew that I still had to exit the car." It can become: "I had to exit the car" or "I had to get out."

    2. You write: "Again, I tried to climb over the center console, but the resistance from the water was making it impossible." It can become: "I tried to climb over the console [center is implied]. The water's resistance made it impossible."

    Any time you have double verbs (ex. was going, was trying) see if you can shorten it to one verb (went, tried). Those sorts of things. Shorter sentences say 'move!'

    Q: In the section: " I couldn’t tell if it was stars in the sky, but then I saw them moving towards me. 'Rescuers!'"...is she saying rescuers? If she is, it feels clumsy.
    Same with: “UP! The bubbles are going up!”


    Maybe it's because I'm biased toward present tense, but have you considered writing this in first person present? It might be an interesting exercise, not necessarily to keep, but to see what happens. You might find some areas that become bogged down in present tense that don't seem that way in past tense.

    What I mean is, something like "I kept staring at my picture and I felt a tremendous lump well up in my throat" would be rewritten as "I keep staring at my picture and I feel a tremendous lump well up in my throat." That feels wordy. So we can make it feel better in present tense: "I stare at my picture. A tremendous lump wells in my throat." and the transform that back into past: "I stared at my picture. A tremendous lump welled in my throat." Of course, you would skip the whole present tense thing and go straight to tightening up the past tense, but I've found in my own writing that playing with tenses really helps me focus on what words are important to the sentences.

    Nice revision. I definitely find the new section about Clara less jarring than it had been before. :)

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    1. Hi April,

      Thank you for your comments!! You offered some good ways of editing my work. I really do appreciate it.

      I do agree that writing the scene in the present tense would make it more smooth. The thing is my opening is meant to be a flashback, so it has to be in the past tense. I think that's part of the reason why I am struggling with it. The drowning is something that happens to her as a freshman and in her later HS years, she is dealing with things as a result of it.

      Essentially these first five pages or so are really more of a prologue. The remaining chapters are in the present.I wanted to keep her anonymous in the opening (kind of like a ghost) and really introduce her in the first chapter. But I'm getting the reader may not want to keep reading if I take this approach.

      You are also totally right about keeping a minimalist approach. Since I have never experienced a drowning or an accident of that nature I am having trouble thinking about how to portray that. I would like to make that part super compelling and clean. I think what I am going to do is watch videos or read about people who have experienced similar events.

      Thank you :)
      ~Maria



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    2. Ah, I see now. I think prologues can work. I mean, there are tons of books that have them.

      I'm just tossing ideas out here--so take what you want or nothing at all--but maybe reduce the "prologue" to just a sentence or two, sort of like a quote. Maybe something like, "I was 14-years-old when I read my obituary, my life reduced to two inches. It didn't mention the car accident or the long fall from the cliff. It also didn't mention how I drowned, or that someone pushed me." Then go into your real chapter one. ?? I mean, you'd want it in better words than that (obviously) but it might have the same effect you're going for?

      Just a thought.

      PS. I'm glad you've never drowned. :)

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  3. Hello Maria. Thank you for sharing your work. I've read your original and your revision. I'm impressed with your progress and will be zinging you some notes in the next day or two.

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  4. Hello Maria –

    First let me throw confetti in the air for the progress between your first and second versions. Much more clarity and sense of story in the revision. I haven’t read any of the other comments, so forgive me if there is redundancy in mine.

    Applause for:
    • Your Lead
    • Building curiosity over John B.
    • Action packed beginning – dare I say white knuckler
    • Potential for terrific reader visualization & emotional buy in
    • The lure for me to read on

    Questions:
    • Why don’t you use her first name in the obit?
    • Do you have to refer to Jordania as Joey? A wee bit confusing.
    • What is the significance of going in and out of consciousness vs. dying? I was lost in her levels of reality/awareness. You might want to tighten her process of transformation.
    • I was a little confused about her purposefully napping in the car. Could she be frustrated having to wait for her friends, and the music via her ear buds is what causes her to doze.

    And now a few suggestions...to kick it up a notch:
    • Ground your reader with just enough description, but not too much to affect the flow and action of the moment. Give me what I need that is important to the story. When you describe The Point – maybe use a flash image like – We were headed to The Point, a stretch of woods along the lake, perfect for first kisses and the possibility of running into John B.
    • Word choice – Assist the readers to stream the most vivid movie possible in their brain as they read. Cut filter words: I like, I feel... Banish boring verbs – substitute where you can without slipping into the over-dramatic. Quick example: Swap – making my hazel eyes look a mere brown – to – diluting my hazel eyes to the color of a mud puddle.
    • Vary your length and style of sentences. Beware of falling into patterns. I notice you use a lot of: helping verbs + -ing. Using straight past tense can make a sentence sound snappier. Think dynamic. Example: Outside the window I could see dozens of sparkly lights. I couldn’t tell... – to - Lights sparkled outside the window. Stars?
    • Avoid clichés like “limbo,” the tunnel of white light, the sterile room. Give them a unique sense of place. Have fun and invent.
    • Add more of Clara’s internal landscape. I want to go on the emotional journey with her. Like a sing-a-long with feelings, one might say, a feel-a-long.

    Again, congratulations on the bravery of putting your work out there and letting me smudge it up with my own fingerprints. Well done. I look forward to your next revision.

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    1. Hi Leslie,

      Thank you for your wonderful comments. They're extremely helpful and encouraging.

      Related to your comments I had some follow up points/questions. First, the reason I don't include Clara's name in the obit is because in reality I don't want to introduce her name until the second chapter. I realize that I used her name at the end of this revision, but for the following I am considering taking it out. I don't want to formally introduce her until after her ordeal. If that makes sense. I get the feeling a reader may find this confusing.

      Second, thank you for complementing my lead! I do like the introduction and how people say it's eye catching. However, I wonder if it's the best possible intro so I may play around with the order a little more for the next round.

      Thanks again!

      Maria

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  5. Hi Maria


    This rewrite is better. You’ve tightened the beginning and get us there a lot quicker. Now the pacing and tension feels right. Great Job!


    One thing you might consider is the dialog between the girls. Is there a way to give us more about what these girls are like or the world they live in with this conversation? I read an excellent article today in Writers Digest mag that said to paint your world through how your character sees it. Are these girls rich and popular? Poor, but have a close group of friends. Parents are strict, because their religious or it’s a dangerous neighborhood? Does she think Jordania’s pretty? It might work better to show her admiring Joey’s long blond hair and to give some IM on how she sees her. Is she the popular girl? The pretty girl? The smart girl? Give us your MC’s perceptions and it will make the dialog stronger while also showing us more of who she is and the world she lives in.


    On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend I felt life leave my body. That night I went out with my best friend Jordania and her then boyfriend, Andrew. “Pleaseeee. You know my parents won’t let me go without you,” said Jordania as she was straitening her blond hair in front of her bathroom mirror.


    “I don’t know Joey. I hate feeling like everyone thinks I’m your creepy little third wheel.”


    “Ugh, stop it with the pity party! You know no one thinks that. Come on. I’ll buy your dinner.”


    “Fine! I said rolling my eyes and crossing my arms. “But you still owe me!”


    “Whatever. I don’t even feel bad because I know you like going.”


    This is better: I let myself fall back into the seat. “Don’t. Freak. Out.” I thought. “Count to ten.”

    GREAT! “1, 2, 3….4….” In that moment my spirit peeled away from body and I felt it rise up.


    The rest is very good and intrigues me. Much better than the first draft. Now I know who Clara is. I also know something’s up. She read her obituary, but she’s back in the van. Now you really have my attention and I must know what’s going on here.

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  6. Hi Maria!

    Thank you so much for letting me critique your work! I know how nerve-wracking it can be to get critiqued (especially publicly) so I send much applause your way. And I hope that perhaps some of my comments help. But, as always remind writers, take my feedback with a grain of salt. If a certain point doesn’t resonate with you (from me or anyone else), then pass over it. :)

    First off: THAT OPENING LINE! Holy whaaaa?! That had me hooked instantly. Great job!

    Which leads to my only somewhat large comment: Do you need this first scene? If this is not where the story actually begins—if this is a flashback—then do we even need to see it? Or do we need to see it all at the beginning—could it be shown later? (The answer might be yes, in which case, ignore me. :))

    On that note, I actually like April’s comment above that you skip this scene (but keep that stellar first line) and instead cut right to present day. Usually, if you’re struggling with making something work, it’s a sign that that something doesn’t even need to be there. (Note: this does NOT mean all scenes need to flow—goodness knows I’ve written many a scene that was nigh impossible to squeeze out. But if, even in the revisionary process, you can’t figure out how to make a scene work, then that scene likely doesn’t belong at all.)

    I pose a simple question for you (feel free to answer or not): Why do you need to show us the drowning? Why can’t you refer to it in (as April suggested) a brief paragraph and then move right to present day, when the story is actually happening? Keep in mind that the inciting incident (what sets the story events in motion) doesn’t always have to be in the book. In murder mysteries, we often don’t see the first murder (which is the first event that sets the story events going). Instead, we only see the body—and that’s when the events that actually matter to the story begin.

    Also, keep in mind that if the reader doesn’t need to know why a character is the way she is from page 1—in fact, part of the book should be discovering all that. Showing us who your MC is through her present day actions with only a few references to the past might do more than a full prologue. Does that make sense? Or help any?

    Also, it’s just an idea, and removing it might not work at all for what you’re trying to do. :)

    With regards to your actual writing, I have little to add to previous critiques (they nailed my thoughts!) other than putting a few names to what they describe. Essentially, you want to work on cutting out (as Leslie mentioned) your “filter words”. Here’s a post on that: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/05/21/filter-words/).

    You also need to work on showing instead of telling—which is always easier said than done. I still tell when I ought to show…and even show when I ought to tell. :P Here are a few posts on that: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/09/25/show-versus-tell-macro-micro-and-when-to-use-it/, http://susandennard.com/2013/09/20/a-quick-show-vs-tell-troubleshoot/fi

    And finally, you want to work on deepening your POV. That’s something that takes practice, but the more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes. Here’s a guide to that: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2013/07/01/troubleshooting-deep-point-of-view-and-voice/

    Fortunately, these are all easy enough things to weave in during revisions—whether or not you keep the prologue.

    Hope this helps and if you have any questions, just ask!!

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  7. Hi Maria,

    You've done a great job with these revisions -- everything is just a little bit clearer to the reader now. I still think you could make it even cleaner and tighter, though. I read above that this scene is actually prologue. I know there have been suggestions to cut it, in that case, but I have to disagree with them. I think it can totally work as prologue, but you have to approach it the right way. Don't tell us what happens as a retrospective -- put us RIGHT in the scene. Make us experience it with her as it's happening. Does that make sense? I know you said that it *has* to be in past tense because it's a flashback, but ... why? Why does it have to be a flashback? You can always do a "three years later" type thing before Chapter One -- it's just something to think about. :)

    One other thing that may or may not be helpful when doing this revision: concentrate on your verbs. I'm going to use this line as an example: "On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend I felt life leave my body." It's weirdly constructed--it's passive and weak. You have a great verb there in "leave", but you're obstructing it with all of that other stuff. I think it's been pointed out up above that your use of "filler" words are messing with your pacing. We're already in first person POV, do we really need words like "felt?" (and "saw" and "heard", etc...) Let "leave" do the heavy lifting in this case--what if you reworded it to say something like "Life left my body on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend"? I think once you tidy up some of these sentences and make your verbs do their jobs, your sentences are going to sing.

    Thanks for sharing, and I can't wait to see next week's version!

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  8. Nice editing, Maria. You took everyone’s comments and really tightened up. Everyone has already given great advice again. Lisa’s suggestion about going from “I felt” to a more tangible POV whenever possible is dead on… I know others are still looking for more of that. It’s because when you get to her in the van and in the water, the story/scene really cooks… so the more of that, the better.

    That said: I might toy with moving stuff around and/or getting rid of the set up on how she got to the van. Remember, the goal here – the ONLY goal -- is to get the agent/publisher interest. The strongest writing you have is the first sentence and the drowning scene. So, perhaps, cut out everything between those two.

    When I was 14-years-old I read my obituary and it went like this:
    “Ms. Montesino is survived by her parents George and Elena. She was a freshman at Celebration High School. She was loved and will be missed dearly.”
    Before that, I was murdered in a van. (or something like that…)
    I’d just awoken when I felt a gentle rocking movement and then a small slide back as if the car(van) was put in reverse. “Hey. Jordania? Andrew? Back already?” I’d said as I removed my ear buds and sat up. No Answer. Silence. My friends off….

    SOMETHING to bridge those two scenes/moments faster…. Going from an obit to a page of high-schoolers doing VERY ordinary things just took the throttle off for me. In a book, okay. But for something to jump out of the slush pile, I’d like to see that throttle open all the way… blast these guys with your BEST stuff. To play with maybe…

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