Monday, February 11, 2013

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Mezher Rev 1

NAME: Helene Mezher
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Title: Untitled

Eighteen-year-old Edge, budding scientist and indeterminate prodigy, was claimed by the promise of adventure. It stalked her every waking thought, her every late-night craving. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins. When she discovered an unknown molecule, her first thoughts ran to the possibilities it offered. When she traveled home via the Light Generators, she wished that she could feel their tremendous speed. And when darkness descended on her domed shelter, she thrilled. On most nights, darkness marked the time to play, to explore.

Tonight, it marked the time to worry.

Unfortunately, sorting the papers on the desk was proving more difficult than she thought. It was too easy to lose herself in the markings. Terra incognita, one map said, in that cartographer calligraphy, highlighting half of the planet. The rest was covered with the rivers and valleys that her mother had found on her previous missions. Edge could analyze the chemical composition of the maps, but no lab test would tell her where August Gray was or why their ear bud connection had failed.

Her thoughts stalled when she heard a familiar assured step. "I'm in the back," she said as the pressure in her chest lessened. "Grab gloves and get your ass over here!"

"Well, well, what's the junkie up to now?" Sage said, his teasing tone floating through the house. Edge returned to her work with a sad smile.

If Edge was honest with herself, she might admit to the curiosity that August inspired as a famous traveler. She might admit to the hurt that their separation evoked. Despite her best efforts at avoidance, that reality persisted; missing her mother and wishing that she could accompany August on her government sponsored trips. But Edge did not deal in personal truths or unwieldy emotions. She dealt in hard facts and cold observations, and her mother's desk was a mess of paper and pens and cracked computer screens. There was a lot of data to organize.

Some seconds passed before a droll voice said, "No death-defying activities tonight, E? I'm shocked. So, so shocked."

Sage leaned against the front of the desk, his arms crossed. When Edge was younger and her mother less in demand, August would tell her stories about Earth. One involved an iceberg with a fourth of its mass floating on the cold ocean, and the rest hidden to those who passed. Sage was that iceberg: tall and lean but undoubtedly present, saturating the room with an indelible force. She might never discover what he hid, but it didn't matter because he was solid and steady, and harsh and proud, and the best friend she had ever had.

"Hey, there's plenty of light left for a good run through the dome-ways. Don't discount me yet." Then worry wrenched Edge, and her grin faded. "Actually that was a lie. I can't tonight. I... She's gone, Sage."

Without hesitation, he secured his spot at her side and observed her in that frozen way he had, gaze fixed and no muscle twitching. Sometimes his attention bothered her, so she would look at him, really and truly look. You want people to stop? Stare at them until they shift and adjust and focus elsewhere. In her experience, most people seemed uncomfortable with being caught, judgment so clear in their eyes. Sage was no exception, though he tried to withhold his opinions until she asked for them.

Tonight Edge welcomed his looks, his observation. His presence was instant comfort, a warmth that erased the dread of absence.

He cleared his throat. "What happened?"

Gratitude filled her; he knew which questions to ask. "The connection failed. I... We... All I could hear was static. Like her ear bud was damaged, and there's only noise left."

"Did you try tracking the IP address?"

"Nothing there."

"How did the static come through?"

She shook her head.

"What about her partner? Jameson or whatever his name is?"

Edge gave him the look, which, as always, made Sage laugh. "Do you think that I would snoop through her things without having considered every possibility?"

"All right, but I know you, E, and I know that you didn't call the authorities. They're an option too." She closed her eyes when he squeezed her hand; so small, so childish and naive within his. "You work for the government, so you know they're not all bad."

"They haven't done anything good for her." She took a deep breath as the weight of fear pressed on her throat. "As long as she promises to return with goodies, they're happy. When she doesn't, they send her on impossible trips to find ridiculous crap. Maybe this time it was too much for her. And why should they care if she chose to stay away? Or if she was trapped somewhere? One less mouth to feed in this overcrowded shithole."

Sage rubbed the small of her back and sighed.

"How many people leave the dome? Think about it. She and her crew and who else? You're the history nerd. You know the answer. You know no one would risk leaving without a contingency like hers. None of them care!"

"No one can replace August Gray," he whispered.

A tear marred her cheek.

He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear and waited until she returned his gaze. "No one can replace you."

Her voice was small but steady. "There are only two people I trust. Am I right to include you?"

He watched her face in that still way, then her hands, which shook as she created two piles: useful and useless. "You want to leave," Sage said. "You want to find her on your own. And you want me to help."

The tear reached the edge of her mouth. It was no benediction, nothing like the twenty-year-old who stood steadfast beside her in form-fitting clothes, slanted eyes glaring and wide nose flaring as he sought her response. Her lips cracked when she smiled. He knew her well.

"Edge," he said as he gripped her shoulders. "This is too much."

She joined their hands and squeezed. "I know that it's arrogant, dangerous even. Stupid, too, but you're my best friend and I... I need you."

He closed his eyes, and after a few moments, he nodded.

When Sage bent over the papers, his body taut next to hers, Edge could feel her pounding heart. Whether her pulse sped due to fear or excitement, she didn't know. What she knew was that she had found her beginning. Adventure took on a form of its own making, but this time her name would inscribe its edges. This time she would find her mother.


When Sage strapped the wings to his back, he cursed the cruelty of circumstance. The metal wires were clamped to his skin. His arms dragged from the attached weight, but he could feel the unwelcome excitement coursing through his body. Standing on Edge's roof, he thought about the luxury of adventure. How even Edge, in her privilege, had thought nothing of handing her friend the extra wings that she and her mother had the money to buy. She had programmed them to glide toward his house with a smile as bright as her orange highlights. For her, little was wrong or out of place. Circumstance was cruel, yes, but not as cruel as the dream that he once lost; the dream of false hope. Sage tried not to dwell on the past, but historians were saddled with that blessed burden. Historians, he mused, and his family.


  1. It reads well, but I still feel like that opening paragraph is telling and not the right fit for the rest of the piece. Otherwise good.

  2. Because your writing is gorgeous I'm going to get very nit-picky about a few things.

    The first sentence could be turned around so it is not passive. Because we don't know what promise of adventure means when the rest of the paragraph is about the excitement of adventure. So here's my best shot: "Long ago adventure claimed the heart of eighteen year old Edge, budding scientist and indeterminate prodigy." Or you could rework that into something better.

    I still think there are some point of view issues. Your point of view character would not have the opinion that her hand is small, childish and naive in someone else's hand, I hope. Also, she does not see her own tears on her face. She can feel them or brush a tear away but a tear appearing on the face is either omniscient or in the point of view of the other person in the room.

    The last sentence "This time she would find her mother." Do you mean there have been other times that she looked for her mother? Just saying "She would find her mother". is stronger.

    I love the beginning of chapter two. I'm glad you have firmly jumped into Sage's point of view here.

    The wording "...the dream that he once lost; the dream of false hope". I don't understand this and I think it is because the words 'dream' 'lost' and 'hope' are abstract nouns and we really crave a concrete noun to understand what he is feeling. Has he lost at love? Did he hope for riches? I recognize that you don't want to give away too much here but give us an inkling into his heart to help us love him.

    1. Hi, Rebecca. Thank you for your comments. I have one question though -- about the tear. There are two descriptions for it.

      "A tear marred her cheek."

      "The tear reached the edge of her mouth. It was no benediction, ..."

      I'm a little confused as to why you're saying this is her seeing her tears vs. feeling them. Having it reach the end of her mouth + her POV on it "marring" her cheek seemed to me still in her POV, her feeling it and how much she dislikes crying. Is that a personal association on my part? I can't tell if it's just me or you in this one. If the other workshoppers see this, can you let me know? Or are you commenting more on how you think those descriptions of the tear are inappropriate in general?

    2. When you cry you feel the tears on your cheek, or the tear slipping down to your mouth. You can feel it but not see it. When you cry you don't think to yourself "A tear is on my cheek". I don't. I might think "look what you've made me do." Or I might think "my eyes already hurt, I don't need this." Or you may hate crying in which case you will brush away any evidence before it gets to the point that someone can see it.

      Marring is a good word to denote disgust on her part but here it feels omniscient.

      Maybe I'm not explaining this very well.
      It isn't that important.

  3. I think Rebecca nailed it. I didn't have any problems with it this time, aside from it being a tad slow. Just trimming your sentences would help with that, though.

    Also that snippet at the end with Sage POV is intriguing. But I've also read that you should stay in one character's POV for at least the first 30 pages to really ground the reader in the world before switching to other POVs. I've seen authors ignore this suggestion, though. Just something to consider.

  4. Helene,

    Continue to really like your writing. I agree with Lisa on the opening paragraph. Just a thought--the best line to me is the last line and the one that follows:

    On most nights, darkness marked the time to play, to explore. Tonight, it marked the time to worry.

    Any chance that could be the start?

    I think you did a really great job of thinning out the words just a little in key places and that for me helped a lot.

    Nice revision.


  5. Hi Helene,

    I agree that the opening paragraph should be dissipated into the rest of the text. I suggest trying to come up with a distinctive opening line for the next revision, or moving a later line up to the opening as Steve suggested. There was just a great blog post on opening lines here:

    I think your characters really come to life when they interact, and that seems to come naturally to you, so you should capitalize on that as much as possible by having them interact a lot.

    Your narrative paragraphs are often long and read a bit slowly and as the writing is a bit formal the plus side to that is that it flows beautifully and the downside is that it feels distant and lacks some warmth at a time we're wanting to bond with the main character.

    Perhaps you could break them up into smaller paragraphs to speed the pace a bit for the reader, and add more close third person observations of the MC in the narrative?

    For example: "The tear reached the edge of her mouth." How did that feel/taste? Use all five senses liberally. "It was no benediction, nothing like the twenty-year-old who stood steadfast beside her in form-fitting clothes, slanted eyes glaring and wide nose flaring as he sought her response." The language is beautiful here (I love the word "benediction" even though I have to look it up every time I read it) - can you add how it makes Edge feel? Warm in her heart? Beautiful language can feel cold without a bit of extra care (take it from someone who's received that comment in fifty zillion different forms). "Her lips cracked when she smiled." I want to feel how that hurts with her. I want to experience the sensation of dryness splitting apart from dryness. Of course it's the point of early drafts to mark the bones, and we flesh out in revision, so if you continue fleshing out, you'll nail it, big time.

    The story elements are all in place for an exciting adventure. I don't want to suggest that you try to play down any of the lyricism you're going for, just remember that with lyricism comes the responsibility to add extra warmth to make sure the MC earns a place in the reader's heart early and remains there.

    Looking forward to the next version!

  6. Hi Helene,

    PLEASE ditch the opening paragraph. You can easily sliver that information throughout the rest of the piece. Beyond that, we're getting a lot of our character development through introspection and narrative, and I'd love to see more of that through dialogue and interaction. Overt instead of covert -- consider your different types of conflict choices here and really pull them to the forefront.

    Remember that this is our first introduction to your mc. We're looking forward to connecting to her, so give us enough that we can see ourselves in her and see the room for improvement by making her vulnerable. This is even more important because your voice is smooth and formal and therefore holds us a little at arm's length. Do anything you can to put us more deeply within your story and pull us closer to your characters.

    Looking forward to round 3 :) Your writing is lovely.