Monday, February 11, 2013

1st 5 Pages Workshop - Balter Rev 1

Name: Steve Balter
Genre: YA contemporary 14 & up

I wish I could fly.

Maybe if I just close my eyes tight enough. Maybe then I can run away, fly away.

I try.

I squeeze so hard I think they might burst.

But I can’t escape---the smell, the heat, the flesh.

They’re so damn heavy.

They smother me.

He smothers me.

The metal bedframe creaks in rhythm and I focus on the beat, plead for it to quicken, to signal that the end is near.

A drip of sweat hits my shoulder, violating me in a way that somehow feels worse. I try to tilt, to let it run, to get it off of me. I can’t, and it burns a hole in my skin.

“Do you like it, Baby?”

I wonder if he has a daughter. Does he call her Baby, too?

I hear a siren in the distance. It gets louder, closer. I can see the glow from the blue and red lights as they speed by outside the motel window. They don’t stop for me.

He shudders, and it’s over.

He rolls off, and I can breathe.

He gets dressed, and I can live.

He throws money on the nightstand, and I can eat.

The door slams shut and I lie still, staring up at the cracked ceiling that blocks my view to heaven. I wonder what it’s like.

I guess now I’ll never know.


My name is Jade and there’s something you should know---I don’t want to die.

It’s taken me a while to figure that out. I’d like to tell you how I came to that conclusion.

First off let me say that I know I was on a bad path. There’s no denying it. I can give you reasons, justifications and all, but in the end, what does it matter? A fact’s a fact. And I was heading nowhere fast---that is if you consider six feet under nowhere.

But six months ago, just after my sixteenth birthday, everything changed for me.

Up until then I guess you could say I had been down on my luck. I’d been living on the streets for a while, doing what I had to do to get by. Stuff I don’t really like to talk about.

It’s not important anyway.

What matters is that six months ago, late at night, on the Vegas strip, I met Captain Jack, and everything changed.

I wasn’t working that night. You can’t work every night. Besides, I had enough to get by on and when it was like that, when I didn’t have to worry about food for a few days, I took a break. I liked going down to the strip, the nice part, where all the fancy casinos are. It’s like a dream world.

I would stand for hours, leaning over the wall in front of the Bellagio Hotel, watching the fountain show---the colors, the dancing water, the music, it’s Vegas at it’s best. If you ever want to feel alive, stand in front of the Bellagio.

That night I felt as alive as I had in a long time. I was primed. I just knew something had to go my way. Just had a feeling, you know? Given the way my life had gone so far, I figured the odds were with me.

So there I was, leaning over the wall, listening to music blast out of the speakers, when fate tapped me on the shoulder.

I knew it was fate, because it was just how Sugar had described it.

God I miss Sugar.

I met Sugar not too long after I got to Vegas. She had been on the streets for a long time, longer than she could remember. She looked out for me, showed me the ropes. She always would tell me that the streets weren’t the life for me, that I was destined for something better.

One day I said, “How do you know, Sugar?”

And that’s when she sat me down on the bench at the bus stop and laid it all out for me.

“Sweetness,” (that’s what she always called me) “you different than the rest of us. I seen it in you since I first laid eyes on you.” Her gold teeth reflected the neon sign in the liquor store window. “You got somethin’ special. And one day, you gonna make somethin’ outta yourself.”

“You really think so?”

She placed a withered hand on my shoulder. I could see the abandoned tracks running down her arm. She drew in a breath, summoning strength.

“I know so, Sweetness. First off, ain’t nobody on these streets talk like you. Half the time I ain’t even know what you talkin’ about. You too smart for the rest of us. And you just a baby.”

She paused, studying my eyes, searching my soul---or maybe searching for her own.

“Sooner or later, someone’ll see that you ain’t belong here. Fate’s gonna tap you on the shoulder. And then you gonna be saved.”


Sugar smiled.

“Sweetness. You know all them fancy words, but you ain’t know fate?”

Of course I knew what fate was. Page 258. After fat cat and before fated.

Fate: the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are, or events to happen as they do.

I knew what fate was. I just didn’t know that it could tap you on the shoulder. But it did.

That night, six months ago, I was leaning over the wall staring at the fountains, lost in the magic, when something hit me. Not like a thought, something actually hit me.

The desert nights can get pretty cold and windy. I don’t suppose as cold as some places, but I’ll bet windier than most. The wind was whipping that night, the spray from the fountains soaking me. But I didn’t care.

I was standing there, minding my own business, when something hit my shoulder. It was fate---in the form of a baseball cap.

It startled me from my trance. At first I thought a bird had pecked me. That’s what it felt like. I looked around, but didn’t see one.

“Sorry about that!”

Some guy was shouting over the wind, running down the sidewalk toward me.

“The wind blew it off my head.” He bent down next to me. When he stood up he had a baseball cap in his hand and an embarrassed look on his face. “Pretty windy tonight.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I turned back to the fountains, trying to slide back into my dream.

“Beautiful. Aren’t they?”

Get lost dickhead.

“I like when they shoot straight up. Amazing how high they go.”

I stared straight ahead. “I like watching them alone.”

“Yeah, sure. Sorry.” There was a pause. “Thanks for saving my hat.”

I turned my head. He was holding the blue cap up in the air.

“No problem.”

As he turned and walked away I caught a peek at his Rolex. That could get you killed in my part of town. I couldn’t help thinking he was dressed pretty nice for a guy wearing a baseball cap. Crisp shirt, clean jeans, polished shoes. Probably had some real cash, but didn’t need to show it off too much. On the streets I needed to make snap judgments about people: cop, freak, killer. It’s always the little things that tip you off. I was good at noticing the details that others missed. The guy in the blue baseball cap, he was chill.

He stopped a little ways down the wall and assumed the water watching position. I was beginning to feel bad for dissing him. From what I could see, he was damn cute. So what if he was probably almost twice my age. I could pull off looking a lot older, and usually did. I probably could have walked over to him and apologized for being rude and seen where it went. But I wasn’t that kind of person.

I never did anything that would make people take notice. Disappearing into the background was my specialty. I liked being invisible. Learned that early on. You could say it was drummed into me at home.

So there wasn’t much chance of me going up to this guy in front of the Bellagio and apologizing for being rude. I just stayed right where I was, staring straight ahead, and tried my best to disappear.


  1. WOW. Your prologue, that beginning. The sensory details, the sparse writing. That was wonderful. I really wanted to know who that guy was, how the protag. got into those circumstances...

    And then there was something about the start of the first chapter that struck me as off. I think part of it is because she says "I’d like to tell you how I came to that conclusion." and immediately that feels like a voice shift. You showed us that horrible scene in the prologue, so why start going into narrative about being on a bad path or things starting to change? (Especially when even she tells us it's not important). I would assume that you're starting the story at a place when things are starting to change... You could probably just start with meeting Captain Jack and trust us to follow along so that we can find out what happened to her, what the prologue was referring to, etc.

    Another thing that confused me was her conclusion that "The guy in the blue baseball cap, he was chill." That's because he's wearing nice clothes and doesn't show off his wealth? But isn't wearing a Rolex a bit of showing off? Or was it his acceptance of her rudeness that led her to that conclusion?(I also am really interested in how she distinguishes the killers via looks.)

  2. SOOOO impressed with the prologue and I usually suggest they go. Not in this case. Beautifully done! Still have an issue with not really starting until the encounter with Captain Jack. But you're obviously a very talented writer.

  3. Wow, the whole story flows much better. Not so much jumping back and forth between random thoughts. The flashback with Sugar still slows it down for me--I wish it came at the beginning of the scene. Like, when she's talking about deciding not to die, and maybe mention Sugar's words then, because it seems to give her resolve. Once we get to the guy with the hat, I want to stay with the guy with the hat. I already feel so sorry for her, I want to see the day it changes, you know?

    Also the prologue is shocking. I think that's what you're going for.

  4. I love the prologue.

    I miss the blood.

    I agree that the flashback with Sugar should be first with the flow of the story that you have at present coming after.

    The comment the character makes that what she had been doing was "not important anyway" doesn't ring true. I think it has everything to do with your story or you wouldn't have written such a moving prologue.

    I think a simple rearranging of this first chapter with Sugar first then captain jack and then --- the blood(please), is what I'd love to see. Call me ghoulish.

    GREAT rewrite!!!!!!!

  5. Thank you guys for your great comments so far. I have a question for anyone that wants to comment as I think about the next revision. I have done a poor job so far of getting across the structure of the story I am trying to tell. There are two parts to that poor job. First is the execution of it, second is that my choice of story structure might be wrong for this. What I am intending to write is a "frame story" where the main story takes place in the past but the first scene (after the prologue -- at this point really just the first few lines of chapter 1) are in the present, and then the last few scenes are planned to be in the present. If I do it this way, I think I need to make it clearer at the beginning. The reason I wanted to tell this story that way was to give Jade's voice some perspective and a little distance from these terrible circumstances. Not completely, but enough so that the story won't be too dark. Maybe that's the wrong choice? If it isn't I need to execute better. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    As it relates to Jade's statement "not important anyway", Rebecca you are exactly right, it has everything to do with Jade's story, that's why I thought in this revision it was important to put that statement on it's own line. In this case, Jade is intended to be an "unreliable narrator" and as the story progresses, I plan to revisit this subject as a central part of her healing process.

    I might try to do the next revision in 1st person present tense and see how that goes!

    On to reviewing your outstanding work now :)


  6. Hi Steve,

    The prologue is brilliantly executed. Love the pacing and the parallel structure to the writing ("I can breathe. . .I can eat." Though wouldn't the guy have to pay first? That's how they roll on TV.)

    BUT you've lost your biggest hook, which was the pool of blood from the last draft. Now we have a well-written intro to the character (we have her name, too! Yay! It's kind of the perfect name for her - did you just think of it this week or did you always know?) but we're missing that HUGE draw into the story. . .how did she get in such a messed up situation as the picture you painted in the last draft? I'd strongly suggest working that back in.

    The second part reads slower now since there isn't that huge draw propelling me forward to find out what happened. I feel for Jade, but this backstory part is a bit tedious for me, because there are some cliched elements as well (the way Sugar talks, the similarity of their nicknames, Sugar and Sweeness, she "showed her the ropes", etc. What's different and unique about Jade's experiences? Bring those elements to the forefront.)

    Also when she glosses over what she's been doing as if she doesn't like to talk about it, she kind of just did talk about it in great detail in this version, so that might benefit from a bit of tweaking.

    I like her naive optimism and belief in some sort of karma: "Given the way my life had gone so far, I figured the odds were with me."

    I think you can and should play with the tense and frame structure (if only in outline form, then executing where you think it might work to see if it does, to save a little time against writing fifty versions) until it clicks. In case you haven't noticed, that's what I'm doing with mine as well, only with one jump - first past to first present and it'll likely stay in first present unless she's thinking back to backstory stuff. Just "keep it real". If it enhances our connection to the character and propels the story forward, it works. If it gets in the way of those things, keep tweaking until it works.

    I agree with the wow on the prologue. If you can work your hook back in that'd be a double-whammy in my opinion and you'll have the beginning of a book readers won't want to put down.

    Jude :)

    1. Thanks for those insights, Jude. I will get that blood back in there!

  7. Steve,

    I'm awed by what you did with the prologue. Really incredible writing. So powerful. So dead on. I dream of writing like that.

    But . . . the frame story? I'm not sure I agree with your choice, and I'd like to ask you to reconsider. In the hands of a less talented writer, i'd say don't go there. But you have a powerful story, and you have a powerful talent, so go. Writing is about emotion. As readers, we need to feel, we want to feel. And this character? She deserves to have us witness her pain. If she can take it, so can we. Bring it.

    I'm bracing myself for next week. I'll get a fresh box of kleenex. :)

  8. Wow.
    I don't need blood anymore, pools of it or anything. All I needed was what you did with that prologue. Amazing.
    I have so little to say, except think about Martina's suggestions. She's a very smart person. :)
    I LOVE how you took the telling of her previous abuse, and compacted it down to you could say "it was drummed into me at home." Masterful.
    Now, I did have a slight problem with the way you kept referring back to fate tapping her on the shoulder, etc., and then backing out to talk about other things... it seemed sort of repetitive and disjointed to me.
    Also, I know we're not line editing ,but watch out for repetition of words. Something to think about when you're polishing.
    I seriously can't wait to see this again.