Monday, April 8, 2013

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Lynn

Talynn Lynn
YA Contemporary (with Inspirational elements)
To Find A Way

I flipped through last year’s copy of Dance on Stage in the dreary waiting area of Stony Hill Priory. The monthly journal pictured a performance by Jeanne de le Pierre, the cover pristine and glossy, free from smudges and crinkled pages. I tossed it back to the table, not wanting to mess up the pretty pages, untouched for so many months now.

My stomach knotted with a thousand butterflies. This is not the way I envisioned my first week, already summoned to the office. I should be happy my mom said. I should appreciate the school and their willingness to teach me to keep my emotions hidden, as was the law. Instead, I gripped the gold plated chair arm, letting the cold ride up my arm inch by inch. One glance out the office window and I knew why I couldn’t shake the ominous feeling hanging in the air. The perfect storm threatened to dump massive amounts of rain. Black clouds pushed the wispy white out of the way helping to illuminate the streak of lightening falling from the sky.

Thunder boomed and the windows rattled but I kept telling myself that’s not why I jumped. The school pamphlets, with my name typed across the top, Prism Jamison, fell to the floor. I wanted to crawl under the chairs and disappear as magically as the lightening.

I picked up my papers and walked to the window, watching the rain splatter on the glass. I traced the droplets, guessing which way they’d slide and disappear into a puddle on the outside sill. Today, I wished I could be a raindrop and blend in with the droplets slipping into the pool of rain.

“Miss Jamison?” said a voice from behind. “Hello. I’m Mrs. Tolson.”

I jumped and dropped my papers again. So much for disappearing. Too late now.

“I don’t know why they send all those letters and pamphlets out to new students. We cover everything mentioned in them during orientation and then again during each personal welcome meeting. I’ve always thought it was a waste of money to keep printing them,” she said as she walked over to me and knelt down to pick up the papers. She stood, and handed them back.

“Why don’t we step into my office and get started? I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions for me, don’t you.”

I followed her through a door with her name engraved in silver on a nameplate of gold. She motioned toward a red velvet cushioned chair and she walked around behind her desk and sat down in a red matching swiveled chair. The room was all glass, except for the back wall with the door with just walked through. All the shades were drawn, but the one right behind Mrs. Tolson’s desk was raised. Good. I could still watch the rain splatters roll down the glass.

For a moment, she examined me, her eyes moving from my head to my toes. She removed her glasses and let them hang loosely from the chain around her neck. She cleared her throat and I took that as a sign to say something. Anything to remove the awkward silence.

“Honestly, I don’t have much to say. My biggest question would be who paid for my schooling? Why did they do that for me?”

Mrs. Tolson looked at me with knitted eyebrows. I’m sure her job as a school counselor was to be kind, and if this was an act, I’d be able to see right through her. I wanted to know right from the beginning if she could convince me she was on my side. I stretched my legs out in front of me and crossed my arms, never taking my eyes from her face.

“This must all be so confusing to you. I hope it doesn’t make you feel lousy when I tell you I can’t say who your benefactor is. That, my dear, it strictly confidential.”

I raised an eyebrow, but never moved my eyes. “I’m sure it is. But can you at least tell me why?”

She smiled warmly. “I wasn’t told why. All I know is that you are here and now it’s my job to turn you into a proper socialite who can control her emotions.”

I dropped my jaw and rose up in the chair.

“What? Turn me into a proper socialite? What do you mean?”

There was a disturbing look of sympathy on Mrs. Tolson’s face.

“I’m aware of how difficult it is for a teen your age to move to a new school, start all over again, make new friends. It’s my job to help smooth the transition and teach you to fit in and be accepted.”

“Really? I’m trying to make sense all this, but this moves beyond my understanding. I am more than capable of making my own friends and fitting in where I need to fit in.” This is unbelievable. Where did she come off thinking I needed to change, be someone else? To fit in?

“Please hear me out, Miss Jamison.”

“My name is Prism. Miss Jamison is my mother.”

“Very well, Prism. I hope you don’t prove to be a drama queen hear at Stony Hill.”

How dare her!

I placed my hands on my knees and gulped in some fresh air. Calm down, Prism. Remember. You can disappear any time you want.

Mrs. Tolson wrote something on her paper stacked in front of her, and then reached into her desk draw and pulled out a brown colored envelope. I wasn’t going to let her get away with calling me a drama queen. I couldn’t be farther from her…that type of person.

“Mrs. Tolson, I'm not a drama queen. I’m just surprised at what you are saying. I wasn’t aware this was a charm school of sorts and I certainly didn’t know I was going to have a metamorphosis during my stay here. Maybe I’ve made the wrong decision.”

Mrs. Tolson laid the packet down on her desk. She fumbled with the chain around her neck before placing her glasses back on her face as if they were a magnifying glass.

“Prism, this is the greatest opportunity you will ever have in your life. Someone, a very generous and caring someone, has paid, upfront, for you to obtain the highest education in the state. Not only that, but this person has demanded a complete turn around in your presentation and social standing. This means, you will attend charm classes, you will learn to behave like a socialite and you will learn to dress like one, as well. And you will learn to control your emotions, which is the only reason you are here in the first place. We have a lot of work to do, and very little time to get it done. I hope to have your complete cooperation. Do I make myself clear?” She finished by pulling her glasses of her face. This gesture was getting on my nerves.

"Sure. Clear as crystal."

Demanded? Well, I’ll show her.


  1. I expected your contemporary story to be taking place in the now. After reading that emotions are against the law and Prism can disappear, I think the story is from a new and different world. The second paragraph has more tension and might be a better starting place. You can always add the name of the school in that paragraph.
    I loved the sentence where she is clutching the arm on the chair."Letting the cold ride up my arm." and the whole paragraph "tracing of the droplets..." Super!!
    Some sentences use too much information, such as her name on the pamphlets. More interesting when she tells her name. Great line!
    In paragraph #9 I think you've left out a word.

    I like most of your visuals.I can see the room, but want to see Mrs. Tolson. Could do more without telling, such as "a disturbing look." Could they both be examining each other? How old is Prism? You have a perfect place in your dialogue to tell her age instead of saying, "a teen your age."
    I do feel Prism's fear and frustration. You have a nice balance of dialogue and narrative.This seems to be about another world and with a little tightening, I'd want to see what this school is about. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Thanks. Great advice I'll use in my edits! Just so you know, disappearing is a metaphor not a superpower.
      I plan to cone back later for critiques!

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    1. Hi Talynn,

      I'm just re-adding the above deleted comment w/ a slight change. Whatever shall I do without the handy edit option? =)

      You have an interesting premise. I like that Prism (love this name!) is over-emotional and now under obligation not to be. Makes me curious about her benefactor.

      It does come across more Fantasy than Contemporary w/ her name being as it is along w/ her possible ability to disappear. I'm not sure if this line is literal, "You can disappear any time you want." Can she literally disappear? Or is this just a figure of speech? She also seems to have an infinity to glass as she's overly aware of the window and makes connections like "magnifying glass" and "clear as crystal". Or is this just me being overly imaginative which I have a tendency of doing. =)

      I agree w/ Sheri - start w/ the second paragraph. It leads readers more directly into the story. Also mention her exact age. There's a lot of unnecessary wording (a little too much detail) in the dialogue and narrative that can be omitted to make it flow faster. For example, I don't think the word "ominous" in the 2nd paragraph needs mentioning because you do a great job describing her environment as it is. =)

      I know we aren't supposed to mention line edits but I thought you might like to know of these few misspellings: hear (here), lightening (lightning), "it strictly confidential" (is)strictly confidential, draw (drawer), "of her face" (off) her face.

      The characters are displayed well. The beginning tone sits well w/ the remaining pieces. Tighten it up and I'd be interested to know more about Prism. =)

  3. Oops, I just read your post regarding Prism's reference to disappearing. Since Sheri and I were under the same impression; maybe clarify that a bit. =)

    1. Thanks for your advice. You are right about the glass attraction and it plays a huge part of the story. Miso glad you noticed:)

  4. Hi Talynn,
    I think you have an interesting and intriguing start. You write great imagery, but I think it starts to become too much description. It slows the pace. I would agree with the others to start with the second paragraph. It takes you right into the story.
    And I love her name.
    Pasha mentioned the misspellings, but that's more line edit items.
    Otherwise, I think you are off to a great start.

    1. Hi Christine, thanks for your suggestions. I think I need to axe my 1st paragraph and minimize some of my descriptions.

  5. Hi Talynn,

    You have an intriguing start to a story here. I enjoyed not knowing why she got called to the office, the mysterious benefactor, the posh setting, and ominous weather. You set a mood. Your character's name suggests that she has many facets. Nice!

    There's a little too much mystery for me, though. I don't mind being a tad confused in the beginning, but want to know what kind of story I'm reading. I couldn't decide if it's a dystopian, paranormal, or a contemporary. Here are the elements that suggest a dystopian and/or paranormal:

    The narrator's name
    The law that requires you to keep your emotions hidden
    The phrase "perfect storm"
    The phrase "disappear as magically as lightning"
    The name engraved in silver on gold
    The glass room
    "I'd be able to see right through her"
    The phrase "a disturbing look of sympathy"
    The fact that she's being trained to be a socialite, which doesn't happen in the ordinary world.

    However, these elements weren't developed enough to convince me of the genre.

    One solution to this would be to tell us about the school. If the school sounds dystopian, then we'll know it's a dystopian story.

    If Prism has powers, make it clear.

    One other thing confused me. Prism is timid in the beginning--butterflies, wanting to hide, dropping papers, wanting to melt away. Half way through the scene, she becomes almost too confident, crossing her arms, raising her eyebrows, and speaking defiantly.

    Solution 1: Make her consistent
    Solution 2: Show a transition where she gathers her strength, or her feelings change.

    I loved the line, I wished I could be a raindrop and blend in with the droplets slipping into the pool of rain! I know the feeling.

    Nitpicky things:

    Having a strong first paragraph is essential to attract the attention of an agent and/or editor. Your second paragraph is a much better place to start.

    Your dialog can be tightened a bit. Here's an example--Change, "Why don't we step into my office and get started? I'm sure you've got a lot of questions for me, don't you." to "Why don't we step into my office. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions."

    This story has much to recommend it--conflict, mystery, setting. If you define the premise a little more clearly, you'll be off to a fab start!

    1. Thanks for the advice. I'm already working on everyone's suggestions:)

      Prism is very wary at the beginning of the story. She is a drama queen but doesn't want to admit it. When she's pushed into the corner, though, she reacts very emotionally. Which is one of the reasons she at the school to begin with.

    2. I'm looking forward to the next draft!

    3. The premise is emotions have been outlawed and and Prism was caught writing love stories in her diary. She's sent to Stony Hill to learn to control her emotions. She is a drama queen and can change from calm to nervous to over reactive and protective, even on the defense in a matter of minutes. How do I portray that?

    4. Good question! I can't really answer without asking you some questions first.

      Do you mean the expression of emotion is outlawed, or feeling emotions, or both?

      Do law-abiding types manage to feel no emotion at all?

      Or is it just expressing excess emotion that's forbidden? If so, how would excess emotion be defined?

      There is quite a bit of emotion shown in the first chapter: Prism's anxiety, curiosity, and then defiance.

      Even Ms. Tolson shows emotion knitting her eyebrows, for instance. Plus she refers to Prism having emotion. "I hope it doesn't make you feel lousy ..."

      (If you mean ANY emotion, then you need to revise for the story to make sense.)

      Do most people comply with this new law? What happens to those who don't?

      What happens to drama queens that don't have mysterious benefactors to help them?

      Why are emotions outlawed?

      Would it work for your story to have love be the only outlawed emotion? Just a thought!

    5. Okay, it's the expression of emotions that are not allowed, especially when it comes to passion and love.

      And law abiding citizens are very strict and hold dear to the law. Of course, there are always ones who defy the law.

      Yes, Prism is very emotional and quite the drama queen which is why she's been sent tot he school.

      The school Prism is sent to is similar to a reform school. The teachers do express emotion, to some degree, as a way of testing and trying the students, looking at what they are made of, what makes them emotional and ticks them off.

      Most people do comply with the law, but there are rebels, or the Resistance, who synthetically create emotions and sells them to those who fight the law. If caught, you can be jailed, sent to concentration camps, exiled, or even executed.

      The benefactors are those who want part in "reforming the society" If you are not lucky enough to get the benefactor are generally exiled. The black market works with the exiled ones.

      Who is the black market? They sell emotions. They make them synthetically using really emotional people, especially girls who are passionate.

      Emotions are outlawed because the government wants to rule in everything, including who marries who, who is happy, who is sad, who can be in power. Its just another step toward complete government control.

      And yes, making love the emotion outlawed would work. It's mostly the one the government is after anyway.

      I could post my query letter if that is allowed or needed.

    6. Thanks for sharing the details of your premise. Perhaps the one illegal emotion could be love, but all emotions are frowned upon?

      Though teachers express emotion as a test, consider showing this in a later chapter, so as not to confuse the reader in the beginning. It would be chilling if Mrs. Tolson were an extremely controlled person in the first chapter. It would provide contrast with Prism, and add tension to their interaction

      I believe it's fine to reveal that Prism is going to a reform school in the first chapter.

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  7. My comment posted twice, so I deleted the second copy :-)

  8. There is a lot to like about this. But I will focus on the other stuff so you know what I think needs adjustment! :D I agree that I was distracted the entire reading by the fact that showing emotion is against the law. If it is a future or different world I need that to be clear and demonstrated more thoroughly. I also feel like I don't know your MC very well to be thrown into a confrontation and expect to be on her side. I'd take out some of the description, the storm strikes me as being stressed a bit too much for example. Leave the raindrops on the window and wanting to disappear with them. That shows character too. But replace that with explanation of world. Be careful about it, don't just dump it either. Give us some major stakes here. What are the consequences if she doesn't succeed? What does she stand to lose? Can't wait for the revision!

    1. So, changing the genre would clear up your distraction?

      As for the storm, it is central to the story. Storms, especially rain, is Prism's emotional power. So mix that with explanations of Prism's world?

    2. Does she know about her power? If so make that clear. But yes, mixing it would be great. The genre does have to match, but it's more than that. If there are differences in world let us see those, or at least more examples. But yes, I was confused because I would have expected Dystopian as a probable genre for such a world. Or something similar. Magical Realism? It depends on where you're going.

      I look forward to the revision!

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  9. Hi Talynn,
    Interesting story! It left me with lots of questions to keep the pages turning. You’ve received plenty of great comments already so I have nothing to add. I’m looking forward to the revised edition.

  10. Hi Talynn,

    Very interesting premise. I agree with the other comments about making your genre a little clearer in the opening. I love the ominous feeling of the storm and the way she seems to connect with it. Maybe focus less on the disappearing. It seems like that is her power. I think if you have less of that, her connection with the storm will be clearer.
    Mrs. Tolson's dialogue seems a little contrived. One minute she sounds prim and proper, and the next she sounds almost too familiar and relaxed. I would work on making her dialogue abit more realistic.
    You've done agood job with the setting and grounding the reader. Your writing ia very descriptive. Be careful that you don't go overboard describing things that don't really matter. Keep the lovely descriptions for elements that have a place in the story, like you did with the storm.
    Looking forward to your revision!