Monday, January 7, 2013

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - King

D. M. King
Chasers: Generation One

One, Neal
June 7, 2017

“Please don’t let me die.” I whisper through the yellow oxygen mask strapped tightly around my nose. Small suitcases and carry-ons break free from the overhead compartments and spray aggressively about the cabin mimicking the rapid downward plunge of the brand new Boeing 787. I’m not sure where we are on our flight back to Alpha, New York from England, but I know we haven’t flown quite long enough to be over land yet, which only means one thing. Atlantic Ocean. I brace myself fully in my seat, face-first into the crash pad---the pungent smell of carbon from the ear-splitting explosion still stuck in my nostrils.

A symphony of terror fills the air as 239 passengers vocalize their disapproval of the pilot’s flying abilities and accept their imminent demise. We’re about to make contact with the swiftly tilting planet, and it’s as if time stands still for a moment then disintegrates like the charred wreckage of the massive plane. Brilliant flashes of glass shards race across my blurry vision, and I swear the forty-five year-old stockbroker named Larry sitting next to me takes one of them straight through his temple. His lifeblood splattering into my right ear and across my lips. More than likely my last supper. I strain to admit to myself.

I peek up for an instant just to survey the gruesome sight, still hanging nearly upside down in the aisle like a ride on the Nitro roller coaster at Six Flags. Barely able to keep my veggie omelet down at that point, pure darkness swallows me whole. Whoever said crash-landing on water is softer than landing on land must not have understood the laws of physics. Even at only five thousand feet, the impact forces the life right out of the airplane’s lungs and all the rest of the passengers on board. All except me, Neal Champion, 17 year-old motherless teen, that is.

Eternal nothingness eventually gives way to sketchy deformed bodies scrambling back and forth above and around me. I blink my blue green eyes several times hoping to clear my vision, but for the time being I’m still staring desperately into distortion. Hours or maybe days pass by before I lift my head and open my swollen eyes once again expecting a change of scenery. Soon shapes take form, and sideways people with masks and white coats appear upright now, like someone has finally fixed my vertical hold, and my television signal comes back.

“Wha--?” I struggle to speak with two tubes rammed down my throat and a clear mask over my mouth and nose.

“Don’t try to talk. You’re intubated. A machine is breathing for you. Best if you just lie still and let us do our jobs. We’re trying to save your life, Mr. Champion.”

“But…” I manage to squeak that word out slightly better than the first.

“Plane crash. Coma. Collapsed lungs. Head trauma.” I capture a few more words thrown my way. “Otherwise, you’re a mighty lucky kid. Rest. We’ll take care of you.” The olive-skinned doctor assures.

Tears trickle down my burned cheeks and cloud my vision once again. It’s so difficult to believe all I am hearing. The unforgettable sights and sounds of London still fresh in my mind. I glance at Dr. Zawi’s name tag and read Memorial Hospital, figure out that somehow I’m unbelievably back in the states, and drift quietly back to sleep. Part of me expects to wake up soon and start walking and ordering meatloaf, but that’s not exactly what happens.

Vaguely remembering the date of my flight, I sleep in and out for at least twenty days or more, I surmise, and awake to a series of annoying beeps and buzzes. I move my head from side to side hoping to catch a glimpse of a doctor or nurse, but incredibly the place is empty, or so I think. Still slowed by a painful headache and what appears to be a surgically repaired left wrist, I push the button to raise my bed and find the nurse’s alarm. One push. Nothing. Two pushes. Still no one.

My intravenous drip has long dried up, so I end some of the incessant noise by hitting stop on the machine. According to the fancy monitors, my heart rate seems normal enough along with my blood pressure, but where’s the staff? Why isn’t there anybody taking care of me? I wonder. Not exactly sure of what will happen, I tug lightly at the tubes still clogging my airway. After a few short pulls I realize I no longer need to have a machine breathe for me, so I gradually disconnect it. Pulling the flexible tubing out of my lungs and throat resembles a sword swallower yanking steel from his jowls---it burning like I drank an entire bottle of rubbing alcohol straight. I watch my blood trickle down the side of the bed from the tubes and onto the tile, and that’s when I jerk back with a start. Lying on the floor next to my bed is Dr. Zawi. My watery eyes blinking violently back and forth clearing some of the cobwebs still lodged in my brain, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and reach down to check his pulse. He’s still alive but barely. He looks like he hasn’t slept for weeks. His dark Indian skin now pale and cold. I stretch for the half-full water pitcher on the food tray, open the lid, and splash him in the face with the lukewarm liquid. His eyes open for an instant then close.

“Dr. Zawi! Please! What’s happened? Wake up!” I slap him a few times in the face, but he never opens his eyes ever again. One last muffled word leaks out before he dies.


Letter? I question. Not as mobile as I need to be, I make a painful decision to break free of my final umbilical cord, separating myself from my IV. An extended burning travels slowly up my arm finally touching the part of my brain that reminds me that I have nerve endings. I scream in anguish for some help but to no avail. I am on my own---rich red plasma streaming down my unbroken arm as if I’ve scratched it on a sharp nail. I tear some gauze from the cabinet over the sink and wrap white tape around my wound protecting my aching right arm from my self-inflicted ignorance. Like a drunk trying to do the tango, my wobbly legs still seeking my center of gravity, I stumble crazily around the room searching for a letter but find nothing. I take a quick glance at myself in a stainless steel surgical tray only to be disappointed.

Probably over a month since I’ve shaved and still not much of a beard, but my blond faux hawk appears a shade longer now---my new eagle tattoo healing nicely on my shoulder. By the looks of things, I guess I won’t have to worry too much about explaining that to Grandma should I ever make it home that is. How on earth Mom and Dad gave birth to this baby-faced, fair-haired son still amazes me. I’m sure faulty genetics came into play with Dad a full-blooded Frenchman and Mom a Puerto Rican American. Heavy emphasis on the Puerto Rican part.


  1. Wow, very exciting stuff! The first and most important comment I have is an easy fix. Stop pausing in the middle of life or death moments to describe your MC to us - especially in first person! I'm not going to call my eyes blue-green while a plane is crashing. Nor am I going to stop and look in a mirror at the end. I'm also not going to be thinking about the doctor's skin color unless that's uber-important to me in that situation - and if it is, I'm not liking the protagonist. Drip that info in elsewhere if you even need to.

    You do action well, which is great. But if you start out here it doesn't leave you a ton of room to increase the tension on the coming pages! Also, I'd like to get to know him at least a little bit before he's almost killed and so on. My two cents!

    1. Thanks so much! Like you said, some pretty easy fixes. It is a suspense novel, so NOT starting with action didn't make much sense to me. Sustaining that pace does make one wonder where I'm headed next, and if I can keep it going, so that's something to chew on for sure. Overall, I think I do manage to keep the "being chased" feel through the novel with still plenty of moments to take a breath. Calling eyes blue-green is my subtle attempt at NOT dumpimg/lumping my characters' descriptions all together, but I definitely see your point clearly. (notice the bad pun there?) Also, kind of mute point, but the plane isn't crashing during the eye color detail. He's in the hospital at that point. Still, very easy to fix. Thanks for reading!

  2. My first thoughts were I loved the idea of starting with the plane crashing followed by my desire for there to be a bit less description. I felt like it slowed the pacing down and I wanted to skip over some of it, especially when we got to him getting out of bed and finding the doctor. The elements are there but I'm almost feeling like I'm fighting for them to get my attention.

    I was confused how he could possibly know 20 days had passed while he's seemingly unconscious in bed. I also don't think you can talk at all while intubated. And I found the end pretty jarring--for him to have found a dead body and then be evaluating his beard seems very strange to me.

    In reflecting on this, I wonder if you could start with the plane crash, skip the interaction with the doctors, then move into him thinking about his trip in England and waking up in the hospital. Maybe it'd give you a break in the action and also some time to let us get to know the character a bit before he finds the doctor. Maybe you could even have him have a brief interaction with the doctor, be extubated, then put back to sleep via drugs. We will know him a bit more, know the doctor, and maybe feel more invested when he wakes up and finds him dead. Just a thought.

    The passage also needs some copy editing. Punctuation isn't consistent and where it should be throughout (distracting for me, a copy editor by trade!).

    I would have kept reading though!

    1. I really liked your point about fighting for them to get your attention. Makes a ton of sense.
      Vaguely remembering the date of my flight, I sleep in and out for at least twenty days or more. - Adding this was my attempt at clearing that up, but perhaps it needs to be even clearer here.
      I also need help with your punctuation issues if you have time. Specifics?
      The glance in the surgical tray is once again my attempt at spinkling in subtle characteristics instead of listing them, but it's easy enough done somewhere else. The important detail is actually his eagle tattoo, but the reader doesn't find that out until later.
      I wonder if you could start with the plane crash, skip the interaction with the doctors, then move into him thinking about his trip in England and waking up in the hospital. Maybe it'd give you a break in the action and also some time to let us get to know the character a bit before he finds the doctor. - Valid points. I'll see what I can do here. I appreciate all your help on this!

    2. I can send you a file with some copy edits if you'd like. Just leave me your email here or contact me on twitter at @_lagold

      Thanks for helping out with the edits!!!

  3. “Please don’t let me die.” Love this first sentence. How can you not read on with something like that? You've done a great job describing the wreck and throwing us right into the action. My initial reaction kind of echoes the two above. When he wakes up in the hospital and rips out his intubation tubes, I kept asking myself, "Who is this guy?" I wasn't sure if he was someone like Jason Bourne, who perhaps might know how to do that (maybe I'm just ignorant, but it seems like you could do some major damage just ripping them out) or is he just a frightened kid, in which case, maybe his reaction to the bloody tubes isn't strong enough...

    Also, I think his reaction to finding the dead doctor could be a little stronger. He doesn't seem to be worried about what might have caused his death and the fact that the hospital seems to be empty of any other life. Perhaps you could save the description and the tattoo for when he finds himself in a safe place. If it's absolutely necessary for us to know about the tattoo at this moment, make it infected or painful or something along those lines.

    Overall, I think you've done an excellent job. Keep it up!

    1. Erica,
      The MC is 17, so he would be ignorant of the tubes. In only five pages, you never get to read the letter from the doctor that explains why there is no one taking care of him. While he was in a coma, terrorists unleashed an anti-sleep toxin into the atmosphere. Three-fourths of America succumbed, but since Neal was on a breathing machine, he wasn't affected. At least, that's what he believes at first. I like your suggestion for his reaction to the tubes. I'll work on that. Once again, on the dead doctor, we never get to see his full reaction because it happens after the first five. I plan on working on the descriptions. You see, there really was a purpose for him to glance in the surgical tray because it helps to establish that quite a bit of time has passed since he first arrived at the hospital. That was my intention there. Thanks for your encouragement!

  4. Your plane crash made my hands sweat LOL! Nice job.

    There were a couple things that stood out, but I think they are easy fixes. The first is that during the plane crash and during the hospital scene, you have moments where you lose the chaos and panic by stopping to describe things, either the character, equipment or the scene. I don't think it's a problem describing some of these things or adding bits of back story, but in some spots it slows down the pace and pulls the reader out of the story. Here are a few examples...


    *"Eternal nothingness eventually gives way to sketchy deformed bodies scrambling back and forth above and around me. I blink my blue green eyes THE COLOR OF EYES NOT NEEDED TO MOVE THE PLOT FORWARD.


    *"Tears trickle down my burned cheeks and cloud my vision once again. It’s so difficult to believe all I am hearing. The unforgettable sights and sounds of London still fresh in my mind. IS HE THINKING ABOUT LONDON HERE? I glance at Dr. Zawi’s name tag and read Memorial Hospital, figure out that somehow I’m unbelievably back in the states, THERE MUST BE MEMORIAL HOSPITALS IN OTHER PLACES, NO? IS THERE A WAY TO MAKE IT OBVIOUS THAT IT'S IN THE US? I DON'T FEEL LIKE HE'D BE THINKING THAT STRAIGHT. OR DO YOU EVEN NEED THAT HERE AT THE MOMENT? MIGHT BE COOL TO WONDER WHERE HE IS? and drift quietly back to sleep. Part of me expects to wake up soon and start walking and ordering meatloaf, but that’s not exactly what happens. HE JUST DRIFTS OFF TO SLEEP SO HIS THOUGHTS SHOULDN'T BE SO PUT TOGETHER--THEY SHOULD DRIFT OFF TOO OR CUT THAT LINE ALL TOGETHER.

    *I'm not sure how he would know twenty days have passed or if it matters at this juncture. I'd like to see Neal's inner thoughts reflecting the confusion he feels. It seems as if he pulls out of his bruised and battered state to look down on his experience and I want to be in there with him the whole time. I want to gain knowledge as he organically gains it too.

    *The end is very exciting, I particularly love that he wakes up almost alone with the Dr. dying, but I still feel as if the panic and confusion needs to be amped up a notch. (unless your character turns out to be someone with unique military or medical training, or is an android or some other unusual thing that I can't imagine LOL!) But if he's a 17 year old boy, bravado only goes so far and even if he gets his act together.

    You really got me hooked on your story--reminds me of some of my favorites. I know my boys would be interested too. Looking forward to seeing what you do with it. :o)

    1. Kimberly,
      Your insight along with everyone else's has really been valuable. I have made some initial changes, but I will leave them be and come back to see if I still like them. Still working on amping up Neal's reactions, but I think I've made some minor changes to some of the other issues. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and your kind words. Sometimes this is just what writers need to get to the next level. :)

    2. You are so welcome and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you do with it--so much good stuff in there. :o)

  5. Oh my gosh, the plane crash was so, so scary! And this is why I don’t like riding in planes. Your action and suspense were great. I love the details with the deformed bodies scrambling, rich red plasma, blond faux hawk, eagle tattoo. Nice. My only question is how he would know it’s been roughly 20 days? I think when you’re injured in the hospital it’s difficult to tell how much time has passed. Could you put in some detail that would indicate time or dates somehow? His beard is definitely one, but maybe something more so we can understand that many days have gone by. A watch with the date and time perhaps, something like that.. When he notices his IV is dry and he’s looking around for the hospital staff, I thought of “Walking Dead” and it freaked me out! Then he finds the doctor right there dying beside him and I got even more scared again. Strong beginning and I would definitely read more!

    1. V.T. I appreciate the comments! I'm ruminating on ALL of what people suggested already fixing many of the issues including the TIME FRAME stuff. I think I may have a unique way to show this. Anybody have any idea whether the re-write can exceed the word limit or not? Just wondering.I'm glad you got caught up in the suspense since it IS YA/Suspense. LOL Can't wait to read everyone's re-writes.

    2. No, the word count has to stay at 1250 words. :)

  6. Someone has already offered the line edits so I’ll skip those. Overall I liked this – good job! – here are my thoughts. Hope they help.

    Nice first sentence to pull us into the action. :) Agents often warn about starting with action without giving us a character to care about first, so I hope we’ll get to know and empathize with them very quickly.

    A symphony of terror... This felt odd because I couldn’t place the character. Even if they’re naturally sarcastic I don’t think they could be at that point so it was hard to believe and relate. It also makes it sound like she’s talking in hindsight, which took me out of the moment.

    The next line makes time and tense sound wrong, because they are about to hit, but then time dissolves like the wreckage, which means they’ve already hit. It’s a nice metaphor but confusing.
    Oh... it’s a boy. I think I thought it was a girl because there are a lot of snarky female MC’s out there at the moment, which is another reason why that first, sarcastic line bothered me. I’m sorry I didn’t get it from ‘Neal’, but it’s not a spelling I’ve ever seen before (I’m from Oz – might be different in US) and because it was next to One, it sounded like a place.

    The word ‘deformed’ made it sound like mutilated passengers, so it was confusing as you had just said they’d all died. Wasn’t clear that they were doctors until late.

    Blinking my X-colored eyes is a little done as a way to portray a character. Also, no-one who has lived with their eye color all their life would consider it noticeable enough to mention, especially at that sort of time. Same with mirror at the end.

    Putting ‘or so I think’ immediately takes us out of deep perspective – how can we be in the MC’s mind if they’re stating stuff they don’t actually know? If we’re due for a nasty surprise, let us experience it with him. (As you do later, with that great line about the doctor!)

    Don’t need I wonder – you’ve just shown the wondering.
    I’d cut half-full – unless you’re showing he’s an optimist :P
    I’d put letter before he dies. It’ll build heaps of curiosity, then his dying will make that stronger still.

    Dad didn’t give birth... I know what you mean but it sounds odd.
    I love the suggestion of having the crash, then some recollection, then go back to the hospital. I’d definitely read on here but I don’t have a character to root for yet. Show me!

    1. Wow... didn't look like that much in my word doc. Anyway, I'm really just trying to help. These are personal opinions only. Good luck! :D

    2. Beyond- Wow! Thanks for taking so much time to comment! You have touched on some stuff others haven't really mentioned much,and I'm glad you discovered it was a BOY. LOL I assure you that you will care about my main character's plight. It's just that five pages doesn't give much time to show you why. I have built in a reflection back to London section that will help with that, I think. Thanks so much again!

  7. Hi Don,

    Great opening line, tons of action and suspense, great scenario. I'll echo everything everyone else has already said.

    My concerns:

    1) This doesn't read YA to me. I'd think 25 - 35 on the voice because of the details and the word choices, the sheer presence of mind involved.

    2) What this mc knows doesn't scan right. He knows exactly what all the medical equipment is called, refers to the plasma, knows how to disconnect everything, takes time to count out the number of passengers and the type of plane etc. I can see he's smart and observant, but this is beyond smart and observant. Also, is he extubating himself?

    3) For all his intelligence and observations, he doesn't seem curious enough. Doesn't he wonder how he got there? Where precisely *there* is--and yes, see Kim's comment above--who got him there, where those people are, what happened to the others, how he's going to get home, why no one is there, why the doctor is dying, what happened in the room?

    3) I don't feel much from him, so although I love the opening line, I'm not getting his terror strongly enough. That could be incorporated into his thoughts, his syntax, his visceral bodily responses, the paragraphing and broken sentences you choose to show the speed of the events. Your syntax seems too relaxed and detailed for what is going on, which takes me out of the story. And I don't know anything about what he cares for, what he loves and--presumably--stands to lose as part of the plane crash. You don't need to show us the cliched life flashing through his mind thing, but it would make sense to give us some insight into his deepest passions and regrets at that moment.

    I think what I'm trying to say, what I'm feeling from this piece, is that I'm not sure what you're setting up and for the moment, I have limited incentive as a reader to go along with you on the journey yet. The first five pages of a novel are our covenant with our readers. Clearly, this is going to be a thriller, but throwing more explosions and crashes and bodily injury at us isn't going to be enough to keep us turning pages. We need to care about your character. That requires us to know more than the outward description and a few details.

    Why is your character different from others? What makes him unique and real? What is going to turn him into flesh and blood (not referring to the plasma and injuries) and walk him straight into our psyches so that we want, we need to be with him through 250+ pages?

    You've got us with the action. Now put yourself into the character's shoes. Feel what he is feeling, see what he is seeing, what he is thinking in the exact moment that each sentence flows on to the page.

    This is a strong start, but you can make it stronger. The spark of a great story is in here, now coax it out for next week! :) I'm looking forward to reading more.



  8. Martina, thanks for all the help! Believe me, this is YA in disguise. LOL You are right in saying that my MC is unique. There are very good reasons for his intelligence and knowledge, but that's mainly because I know him beyond these first five pages. :) My goal was to hook the reader with Neal's peril first. Who can't sympathize with a 17-year-old motherless teen who's about to crash? Don't we live in a society where information is so readliy available at the tips of our fingers? Who doesn't know what an IV is or heard the term intubated before? Teens hear and see this stuff online, in the movies, and on television all the time. Some of my beta readers are 13-14 years old, and they had no issues with the terminolgy.
    As far as his curiosity goes, I believe he says, "Why isn't anyone taking care of me?" "...somehow I'm unbelievably back in the states." He tries to question the doctor, but the guy dies before he can find out. The letter the doctor leaves him answers many of his questions, which I had no room to include in 1250 words. I know this sounds a lot like ramblings of rationalizations. LOL But I do think I've made a few valid points. We writers need to stick up for ouselves sometimes, right? :) I have included a section in the re-write that explains Neal's reason for being in London to begin with, so that should connect the reader to him more, I hope. Also, understanding how to disconnect the tubes/IV is handled by his comment of "protecting my aching right arm from my self-inflicted ignorance." No. He doesn't know any better, but he's sure not going to stay in a hospital bed with a dead doctor on the floor. He's going to search for that letter. Don't these actions prove he wants to know what happened? He's curious? You don't get much sense of this until after these 1250 words, but he goes nuts running around the hospital floor trying to discover what happened. It is also difficult to show the MS is a multi-pov in five pages. Think Marie Lu's Legend series. I believe her character of Day has a hospital scene where he knows exactly what vials of meds to steal from the cabinet, where'd they'd be keeping it, and so forth. Sure. I had to suspend my disbelief for a second, but I accepted it.
    I'm truly grateful for your knowledge in this regard because in essence, if anything, it's gotten me to deeply consider this stuff when I may have just let it slide. I know it's only been a week, but so far this workshop has been an oasis! Hope you didn't mind me addressing some of your concerns the way I did. I'm a musician, and when chords get struck a certain way, I sing. Hope I didn't sing too loudly. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to improve, so the website/workshops and everything else you offer has kept me really busy. So happy I found it! Can't wait to wow you with some other stuff one day. Thanks again.