Monday, February 4, 2013

1st Five Pages February Workshop - Carroll

Name: Kessie Carroll
Genre: YA urban fantasy

Carda never intended to total his car.

The drive home from college seemed normal enough--he always dealt with the traffic snarl at the 202 interchange. Phoenix ought to install subways or something. Carda drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and whipped from lane to lane. His red Miata was so much fun--like driving a go-kart.

As traffic slowed to a crawl, he pulled up beside a white vintage Firebird and its driver flipped him off.

What the heck? Carda squinted. Oh, it was Rayne Mistral, the sneaky weasel from school. With a surge of temper to match his red hair, Carda held up three fingers and mouthed, "Read between the lines!"

Rayne revved his engine and bumped the car ahead of him, a pastel-green Beetle. He jerked his head at Carda.

"Oh, you wanna race?" Adrenaline surged through Carda. Bumping an innocent car? What a jerk. The Firebird had a lot of power, but the Miata had better handling. In their last race, the Firebird had beaten Carda soundly on a straightaway.

Carda's pride was at stake. He had to win this time.

Rayne bumped the Beetle again. The driver looked over her shoulder, eyes wide.

Okay, that was beyond a jerk move. "Knock it off!" Carda yelled, although his windows were rolled up. "You're scaring her to death!"

Rayne laughed and cut in front of Carda, nearly scraping the Miata's bumper. Carda hammered the horn and stomped the brake. Rayne would pay for that.

Traffic turned from thick sludge to a fast-flowing river. Carda shifted into third gear, then fourth, eyes never leaving the Firebird's taillights.

The Firebird caught up to a pair of semi trucks passing one another, creating a rolling roadblock. Carda nudged alongside Rayne and waved. Rayne snarled.

The girl's Beetle drew up behind Carda. He met the girl's eyes in the rearview mirror.

Wait, did she have cat ears?

Rayne tapped the brake and cut between the Miata and the Beetle. The girl slammed her brakes and honked.

The Firebird's bumper slammed into the Miata's fender.

The lightweight Miata spun out at eighty-five miles an hour and skidded across two lanes. Panic adrenaline flooded Carda as he fought the steering wheel. Crap! He was totally roadkill!

An SUV smashed into the Miata. Additional horror kicked Carda in the gut as the car rolled, crumpling around him. His beautiful car was totaled!

A semi hit the Miata like a freight train. The car flew into the air, cleared the roofs of three other cars, and plunged toward the pavement. Carda clung to the steering wheel with every muscle in his body. He couldn't die this way!

Carda's palms burned.

The approaching road halted a foot from his windshield. Carda hung upside-down, teeth clenched. He must be dead and his brain had stopped. That must be why everything had turned purple.

The road retreated from the windshield. The Miata slowly turned over and sank back to the road in its proper lane. The other cars ran backward up the freeway and the Firebird swung back onto his tail. Everything moved slowly, dream-like.

He must have a concussion.

The dream sharpened into reality as the purple tint faded. Again Rayne's Firebird hugged Carda's bumper. This time Carda floored the gas before Rayne could clip him, and the Firebird fell behind.

Carda kept driving, scanning his mirrors, heart thundering in his chest. No wreck. Was this real?

Carda dropped out of the race at the next off-ramp, which dumped him in a random Phoenix neighborhood composed of two-story houses and gravel yards sprinkled with acacia trees. Carda parked at a curb and sat trembling, running both hands through his red hair.

What had happened? Had he been in a wreck or not? Carda checked his face in the rearview mirror. Green eyes stared back at him, glazed with shock, but there was no bruise. Good grief. Even if he hadn't been in a wreck, something had happened to him.

Carda opened the door, climbed into the desert sun and stood still as his stomach threatened to evacuate its contents. But after a moment the discomfort subsided and Carda slowly circled his car. It was a Mazda Miata MX-5 Roadster--his first love. No damage marred the body's perfect curves. He leaned against the passenger door and rubbed his face.

Encroaching insanity, that's what it was.

"Excuse me."

Carda looked up. A man in a black business suit and silver sunglasses stood on the sidewalk. Heck, in this neighborhood, suits were probably required dress. Where had he come from, anyway?

Carda straightened up. "Sorry, I only parked here for a minute."

The stranger smiled and extended a hand. "I'm Demetrius."

Carda forced a smile and shook the stranger's cold hand. "Uh, hi, I'm Carda."

Demetrius's silver sunglasses showed Carda twin reflections of himself. "That was an interesting race, Carda."

Carda blinked. "You saw all that?"

"Yes," said Demetrius, "including the wreck that you were not in."

Sweat trickled down Carda's back. "I don't know what happened. I was racing a guy and then--"

Demetrius slammed his thumbs into Carda's temples.

Carda yelped and fell against his car. Cold fingers dug into his skin and Carda's eyes threatened to pop from their sockets. Electricity sparked through his head as if Demetrius's hands were defibrillators. The world went black. Carda's muscles twitched and turned to water, and he grabbed Demetrius's wrists as he sank to the ground. This thug was going to kill him and there wasn't a thing Carda could do about it.

Electricity jolted down Carda's arms, and his palms flashed with searing heat.

Demetrius swore and let go.

Carda's arms fell to his sides. He sat against his car with colored spots swimming before his eyes. His head throbbed. Slowly the world swam back into focus.

Demetrius had disappeared.

First the non-wreck, then this Demetrius guy who nearly killed him. What in the heck was going on today?

Carda climbed to his feet, clinging to his side mirror for support. Why had Demetrius run away? Carda had been down and almost out. It didn't make sense, and Carda wasn't going to stand around and puzzle about it. He climbed back into his car and blasted the air conditioning at his face. Maybe he should keep a tire iron under the front seat.

Carda pulled away from the curb in Tempe. It seemed only a couple of minutes had passed before he turned into his driveway in Mesa. Shock must be setting in if his sense of time was so compressed.


  1. The line about Phoenix pulled me out of the story because it didn't seem to fit where it was. And the suddenness of the car race also pulled me out--I think you either need to develop the history with Rayne more or the situation because it felt like a slap in the face after Carda was just slugging through traffic.

    "The girl's Beetle drew up behind Carda. He met the girl's eyes in the rearview mirror.

    Wait, did she have cat ears?"

    I am confused. So somehow they escape the traffic and continue their race and the girl is also a part of it? Or, at least, she followed Carda? And she has cat ears? How is he able to see that in such a quick scan of his rearview mirror? Why is that his first thought instead of surprise at the girl even being there?

    Why did Demetrius even introduce himself before trying to kill Carda?

    You've got an amazing premise here and lots of exciting action. I think that you need to set the scene and develop some of it more for our understanding though.

    I would also love it if I could read more from Carda's perspective--that is to say, I'm not sure his voice is coming through as much as I would hope. There's a lot of action, but without it being necessarily specific to Carda, if that makes sense. Like "Carda's pride was at stake. He had to win this time." - great opportunity to give us some insight as to why his pride is important and what this time refers to, what Carda is thinking about, but you move onto the action. A few nuggets here and there would help us identify more with his character.

  2. Okay, we are IN the action at the beginning here, so good. You’ve even got some very subtle backstory slipped in - “Carda's pride was at stake. He had to win this time.” – although I think with a sentence more there (why did he need to win this time? What would happen if he didn’t? What happened the last time when he didn’t?) you could make the reader care more intensely about this race.

    The cat ears line was thrown in there, and then I was left going – wait, what? Which might be good… but then, you take us back to the crash and
    “An SUV smashed into the Miata. Additional horror kicked Carda in the gut as the car rolled, crumpling around him. His beautiful car was totaled!”

    I don’t believe it – that while our MC was actively involved in a rollover, in a Miata, all he would be worried about initially was his car. Um, how about surviving? ☺ (Okay, I know it was his “first love,” etc. But still. It makes him seem a bit shallow and not as relatable.)

    I sort of love the whole reversing of time thing. I think you need to go into more detail for me not to feel confused – stay in that moment for a while longer. I mean, it’s your Big Cool Thing in the chapter. Let us experience the MC’s mind a bit more during that. This could also give us the chance to learn who he is a bit more. Is his life flashing before his eyes? He thinks he’s dying – any regrets? Anything else?

    I’m not sure what the scene with Demetrius is for – if he’s trying to befriend Carda (I don’t think so), then introducing himself would be understandable. If he’s trying to see if Carda knows who he is, there would be a pause, etc. But if he’s trying to kill Carda, then why talk at all?

    That I’m asking all these questions is a GOOD thing – I am intensely interested to know what’s going on. I’m looking forward to your revision!

  3. Ah, just saw Helene's comments. I agree - the car chase/race scene is a bit muddy. Tightening that up would be good, too. Have fun!

  4. Can't think how to improve this except to give us more of a time and place setting than we have. The writing is great. The action is fast, tense and full of mystery. Loved that. How did he see the cat ears in the rearview mirror. Or could he think that she's wearing a costume of some sort first?
    This got me into the story fast and I liked that.

  5. I think too much is going on at once. It's good to have action, but first we need to care about the character and we need to be intrigued as opposed to confused as a reader. There were a couple of unbelievable things, like him worrying about his car being totaled and not getting killed first and foremost. Nikki's comments are great and I would use what she says! Maybe make a list of what you think the reader needs to take away in these first five pages and take out the excess. I also agree btw that Phoenix felt a little off for some reason. If the reader is unfamiliar with it also, they won't get Tempe, etc. They'll just be confused.

  6. Kessie,

    You have the makings of interesting characters and an intriguing plot.

    I agree with Lisa that you have a lot going on here. Maybe focusing on either the car chase or the Demetrius scene would help focus the opening and allow you to draw out more of Carda's character?

    A couple of specific things that I thought I'd mention that kept taking me out of the story. The first is you use Carda's name quite often. For me, it slows down the pace and jumps me out of the action scene. If you can find ways to limit that, I think the action might flow better.

    The second is the use of thoughts. Two examples: "First the non-wreck, then this Demetrius guy who nearly killed him. What in the heck was going on today?" and "What had happened? Had he been in a wreck or not?" They pull me out of the story and don't seem necessary. When I read the story a second time, I skipped these lines, and I felt it was better.

    I look forward to reading STORM CHASE 2.0.

  7. Okay, I live outside Phoenix so the roadway references are familiar to me (and accurate, though the truck blockade had me thinking, are there only two lanes there or three or four? :)

    Great opening line, though I think it could be even better. A cynical reader could say, "Of course! No one ever intends to total their car."

    I agree, we don't really know Carda before he's embroiled in this action, and it would be good to know why we should be rooting for him. I often read his name as "Carla," which was a bit distracting.

    When Rayne starts bumping the Beetle it took me out of the story because I'm thinking, "He needs to stop and exchange insurance with the driver." But he doesn't stop, and Carda doesn't try to get him to pull over (though he does seem to care about protecting her so kudos for that.)

    Same comment about the cat ears. . .they must have been big or there's no way he'd be able to see them in a rear-view mirror. But it's not stated, so it took me out of the story.

    It seems to me that Carda crossed over into near-death or death, and so I'm especially curious why Demetrius wears a suit (silver sunglasses are a nice vivid addition as well). At first I thought he was collecting Carda's soul, but then with the shocks I wondered if he was bringing him back to life, or was a dream figure stand-in for a paramedic.

    Either way, I like Demetrius. He's interesting. I like the big scope of the accident (it's exciting - you could totally see it as a grabber scene in a movie) and the hazy quasi-reality that follows.

    But if Carda died, or almost died, I didn't really experience that with him, because I wasn't yet feeling enough empathy for him. I felt the metal of the car flying more vividly than Carda's trauma.

    I'd suggest that your task for the first revision is to make the MC sympathetic before the race scene, make the action a bit clearer (with fewer exclamation points in the narrative and fewer references to cars by brand if possible?) and make the dreamesque post-accident part mysterious without being confusing (easier said than done? Probably.) and drop some hints about where the story might be heading.

    I suspect he'll return to his life with special powers or a new perspective. Or both. Though at this point I still feel like I know very little about him, so if I put the book down I'm not sure if I'd pick it up again (but don't feel too badly; I'm a difficult reader who finishes maybe one novel out of ten).

    I expect you'll be able to "fix" most of that in one revision. You're aiming very high, with driving action, consciousness shifts and electroshock, so it's no surprise it will take a few editing passes to get it to sing, but you'll get it there.

    Hope that helps,

  8. Thanks for the critiques, everyone! You all seem to hit on the same points--more time in Carda's POV before the wreck, getting to know him, and a little more overall emotion at the wreck, and some changes at the meeting with Demetrius. I'll revise accordingly! Thanks!

  9. Hi Kessie,

    I'm not going to dwell too much on what everyone else said. This is an incredibly cool premise.

    We DO need to feel for the character to care about him, but if your main point here is to show us the reversal of time, you could accomplish both by having him do something sympathetic that sets off the race. If Rayne is bumping the other car, trying to intervene would make him sympathetic/heroic. Show us that. (But not the cat ears.) Slow down and show us his thoughts, give us real feelings. Let yourself inhabit his skin and take your writing into 3D, let us smell the tires burning, the exhaust, feel the explosion of the airbag, the bite of the seat belts, hear the grind of the gears, the squeal of the brakes, the crunch of the metal, let us understand realistic thoughts that pull us into his head.

    Then let us experience all that in reverse with slightly different details. Make the twist a little intriguing.

    I'd rather not see Demetrius just yet. I'd rather wonder what the heck just happened. But maybe that's just me.

    Bottom line? Slow this way down. Put us into the moment and make it real.

    As a side note? Red MIatta? Very cute, but not very macho. Again, this is a personal preference, but I have always thought of that as a chick car. So, that said, really take time to use your props to advance character. You'll have opportunity by showing us where we are and what he sees when you get into the moment.

    Looking forward to seeing you really dig in! :)