Monday, June 3, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Palmer

Name: Lora Palmer
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The MirrorMasters

Leah Ellis stretched her legs. She had been curled up on the couch so long her knees ached. The old sci-fi movie her brother and best friend picked was almost over. Why would they choose a movie like that? Tonight...of all nights. Next time, she would pick the film. She brushed back a stray lock of blond hair and tried to focus, but anxiety, loud and unrelenting as alarm bells ringing in her head, fragmented her thoughts. She turned to David and Kara, who were sitting, engrossed, on the love seat. “Let’s watch something light, a comedy, when the others get here.”

She’d busted her skinny behind in AP English, Algebra, and Biology all year, and she’d earned a carefree summer working part-time as a babysitter and laying out on the beach with her friends. Tomorrow, that summer would be hers, so long as she could get through tonight unscathed.

“We should go out to the cemetery after the movie,” Kara said, her blue eyes sparkling. Long auburn hair spilled around her as she leaned down to retrieve her soda from the coffee table.
Sure. Why wait for trouble to find us when we can seek it out and bring it right here?

It was the eve of the town tragedy that happened back in the 1870s, when the Stanford twins, the daughters of the town mayor, were killed at the community church. Of course Kara would want to do something scary to commemorate it. Every year, on this date, something strange happened, like mysterious pulses of light in the forest and not-quite-solid figures that appeared in the cemetery one second and disappeared the next. Leah’s gut instinct warned her tonight's occurrences would be worse than usual, and her intuitions usually proved true. Stressing about it all day had exhausted her.

She couldn’t help glancing over at the sliding glass doors out toward the church beyond, checking for any signs of unusual activity. Her hands started to fidget, and she fought to still them. Leah thought she could just make out the sounds of otherworldly voices outside, speaking in urgent whispers. She listened. A gust of wind rustled the palm trees, obscuring any other noise and causing moonlight and shadows to flit across the lawn.

“No.” Leah leaned back against the sofa, taking a bite of popcorn for a bit of self-comforting. “No way, Kara. I’m not playing around with that stuff. If there are ghosts, or aliens, or whatever, I don’t want to know about it. And I sure am not going to confront them.”
Kara pulled a puppy face, complete with irresistible dimples. “Aren’t you the least bit curious? They lived in your house. They could still be here.”

Leah rolled her eyes, but her anxiety was starting to get the best of her again. “Don’t give me that look!” She laughed, in an effort to act casual, and held up a pillow to cover her face. She appealed to her brother. “David, talk some sense into her.”
She couldn’t bring herself to tell either of them how rattled she was. If David knew, he’d tease her mercilessly. Kara, with her love of all things sci-fi and paranormal, would never understand.

“Oh, I don’t know. What’s the harm? Unless you’re too scared to see what happens.” David grinned, his brown eyes crinkling with mischief.

Kara leaned over and ruffled his sandy blond hair. “See? Even David’s game.”

Leah shook her head and gave her a knowing smile. Of course he would be game for whatever Kara wanted to do. She threw her pillow at him. “David, you don’t even believe in that stuff.”

“Hey!” David caught the pillow easily and tossed it back at her. “Ergo, there’s no harm in going.”
Leah laughed and raised her arm to block his throw. “You don’t know that.”

Kara grabbed the pillow and whacked David with it. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”

Their eyes lit up as they wrestled each other for control over the pillow, laughing the whole time. Leah looked away, a pang in her heart at the sight of them together. It reminded Leah that in their group, she was a fifth wheel. She crinkled her nose. “On that note, I’m going to go splash some water on my face. Maybe it’ll help me stay awake.”

Maybe it would give David and Kara the chance to have The Talk, but she doubted it would happen. It would take an act of divine intervention to get one of them to make the first move. Neither of them noticed as Leah crossed the game room and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. Good. At least they wouldn’t pick up on how alone, how odd-girl-out, she felt.

The cool water invigorated Leah as it splashed against her skin. She wiped her hands and patted her face dry with a towel, meeting her wide-set green eyes in the mirror. In the florescent lighting, her fair complexion shone snow-pale, even though she’d already started working on a summer tan. It was a hopeless cause.

Jenny and Kevin should have been here by now. Or at least Kevin should have. He didn’t have to babysit tonight. Leah’s nerves would ease, at least a little, once all her friends arrived safely. It would definitely make her feel better to hear Kevin say he hadn’t seen anything strange by the cemetery. That’s where it would start, if anywhere, and he lived the closest to it.

The lights flickered, then went out. Leah jumped, startled, as darkness enveloped her. Her breaths quickened, and only then did she notice the scent of cucumber-melon air freshener. She felt for the light switch and managed to find it, but flicking it up and down did nothing. Her hand paused midway toward the doorknob as a bright flash in the mirror caught her gaze.

Drawing closer, Leah saw the images in fragments. A soft glow of white light amid the trees. A wave of a hand, and shattered glass reassembling itself. Lightning bolts of electricity from a dark, cloaked figure. A body, small and slender, falling to the floor. A hole in the ground, surrounded by headstones.
She stepped back, toward implied safety. That did not just happen. Images of danger and death did not appear in her mirror. Oh, God, they did. The last trace shadows of a freshly dug grave, now covered, lingered in the glass.

“What is that?” Leah’s voice sounded small and tight to her ears in this enclosed space. The scene gave her the chills, making the room feel ten degrees colder. She rubbed her arms in a vain effort to warm herself. Goosebumps prickled all along them. Dread seized her, settling like lead in the pit of her stomach.

Leah blinked as the images disappeared, leaving her in complete blackness again. She had to get out of here. Heart pounding in her chest, she fumbled for the doorknob, barely restraining the impulse to pound the door like a crazy person when her fingers failed to find it. Wait. She would not let a little power outage freak her out. She couldn’t have actually seen those things in the mirror, anyway. No, they were just a product of her wild imagination, fueled by her fears about tonight.
‘Use logic to rule out possibilities until you’re left with the correct explanation’, Dad would say. Logically, it made the most sense to believe she’d imagined it all.

But what if it was real?

‘Trust your instincts’, Mom would say. Maybe she’d experienced those glimpses for a reason. If it meant finding out what might happen so she could protect herself and the people she loved, Leah wanted, no, needed, to know.
The mirror lit with an eerie glow again, as if responding to her desire. All thoughts of fleeing gone, she peered in closer, willing the images to become clearer.


  1. I love some of the spooky images you've conjured up in this opening - the threatening images appearing in the expected safety and ordinariness of her own bathroom with its cucumber air freshener, the church looming through sliding glass doors (I hated the sliding glass doors at night in my childhood home BTW - you do feel really exposed). I think the tension could be heightened by giving us a little more detail about the death of the Stanford twins. What was so unusual about the deaths that the town is still talking about it? What about the deaths would suggest alien activity to the modern mind (certainly the locals in 1870 wouldn't have perceived events that way).

    I also found Leah's sudden willingness to explore the images in the mirror a little abrupt given that in the rest of the opening she is doing everything she can to avoid involvement with supernatural stuff. Does she have a strong reason to believe her loved ones are in danger? Perhaps she needs to see them being hurt or threatened in those initial mirror images.

    Looking forward to learning more about your story.

  2. First off, note to self: don't read this next time before going to bed. You have a really spooky opening! I was just creeped out enough, especially where the pages leave off. I, too, was confused by Leah's willingness to delve into the mirror, though, as up until that point, we hadn't seen any inkling that she was interested. I didn't feel like her desire to protect her friends, no matter how spooky, had been established yet (though I get that anyone would ideally feel like that). If she has that toughness in her, or that macabre streak, I think that would be good to establish when she's thinking on the anniversary of the murder in general. Maybe something about her hating the thrill of horror - and interest - that always ran through her when blah blah blah. Something like that would have made the ending here feel more plausible.

    You've set up the creepiness really nicely already, but I think you could add some more tension by shortening/breaking up some of your sentences. Her breath quickened. Her hand fumbled for the door. That sort of thing. I also feel like saying the scene "gave her the chills" is unnecessary - let the goosebumps and her trying to warm herself show that for you.

    I like that you hinted at and then explained the relationship between David and Kara, because I immediately wanted to understand that. I love hints of love. :)

    Catching her own image in the mirror is a common way of describing a character, but I think you kept it from being cliche by not describing all the little details. With her being fair, though, I wonder if you couldn't say something about her being ghostly, deathly pale, etc. to up the creep even a notch more - maybe her being sarcastic or ironic about it. Or, rather, make it fit her style (not mine, sorry!). :)

    I'm excited to see future versions, because I'm already interested in the book as a whole. I'd definitely read more from what I see here!

  3. I liked Leah right off the bat. I'm a sucker for characters who are a little self-depricating, who have a sense of humor. We get a lot of information about her from this passage, including that she considers the advice of both of her parents before acting. I think that goes along way towards putting her in a real world where paranormal things are happening, rather than a story in a bubble.

    I agree with Rebecca and Katy that it doesn't ring quite true that she'd seek out the images in the mirror. I'm not sure if there's a window in there, but maybe since it's so dark she could think it was a reflection of a light from outside?

    I'm curious about why you chose the1870's for the deaths, and what the significance of this year would be. Is it a big anniversary year? I just wonder, if strange but presumably harmless things have been happening each year for more than 100 years, why Leah feels so strongly that *this* year will be worse.

    Overall, though, I like your start! You have a lot of irons on the fire already and I'm curious to see what happens.

  4. With the spookiness of your opening I kind of feel like we should see them watching a horror flick. Or describe a particularly scary scene she wants to avoid. And speaking of which, avoidance seems to be her MO. So, like they say above, she'd better try to escape that scary bathroom only to find the only thing left to do is watch the mirror after figuring out it won't kill her. :D You have a clear plot arc set out, but you need to provide that change in her character as well. Take it slow and easy. What would she do in each situation?

  5. I can definitely relate to your character in the first paragraphs. I don't do scary anything! So when she saw the images in the mirror, and then decided to stay and watch them again, it seems she suddenly had a change of heart. If she's so scared, maybe she's watching it because she's frozen in fear and can't move, instead of choosing to stay and watch a second time?

    Also, was she watching a reflection of something happening outside, or was it actually in the mirror?

    I would like to know more about the girls death, why it was in a church, etc...

  6. I like the opening paragraph, with its telling and specific detail that Leah had been sitting on the couch so long that "her knees ached." Sentences three and four serve to set up expectations of action as we wonder "Why is tonight so special?" The rest of this paragraph and the next one do a great job of giving us Leah's age, situation, and desires: a carefree and easy summer. Paragraph three sets us up to know that Leah probably won't get it, because Kara has other ideas. Nice.

    After that, however, things get a bit sketchy. For me to accept Leah's exaggerated dread, I need to believe there are reasons for it. Why should this year's anniversary of the twins' death be any more traumatic than other years? You say it's because Leah has an "intuition" that it will be, and her gut feelings are always right. But this critical point is glossed over in one sentence. To be convincing, I need to know a lot more.

    What other intuitions has she had that have been correct? Were they scary? Did they have real and dire consequences? This early in the story, you don't want either a lot of exposition or a flashback, but we do need to know more. You might, as one possibility, let Kevin and Jenny arrive and everybody be enthusiastic about going to the cemetery, Leah hanging back, and when you've generated tension by having them argue with her, let Leah escape to the bathroom. There, do first a brief exposition of her previous intuitions, and then the mirror scene.

    Here, too, you need to convince me more that she would stay for a second look into the mirror. Maybe she tries to flee but the bathroom door won't open. She screams but no one comes--the others went outside already. Leah looks for something to smash the door lock, and then she catches a glimpse of further doings in the mirror and finds herself unable to look away. That she looks again in case her parents might need protecting doesn't work, because we've never seen Leah being particularly protective, nor been given any reason why the adults are vulnerable.

    To further increase tension, you might not tell us yet what happened in 1870. Just allude mysteriously to "the Sanford twins" and make us wait for the horror.

    Finally, I was puzzled by the allusion to "The Talk" that Leah wants Kara and David to have. If the pair were older, I'd assume Leah wanted them to get married--but they're not that much older than she is, right? So, have a talk about what? And why is she so anxious for them to have it?

    I hope the rewrite can clarify some of these points.

  7. Hi Lora,

    This is wonderfully creepy, and I like your mc and the fact that Im not entirely sure whether its going to be a scifi or a ghost story, or a combo of the two. You do a great job with the opening, getting us right into who your character is and launching us into the story. You had me right up to the intuition. Along with some of the facts about the twins, this felt a bit "told" when I would rather have it shown. For me, it also begged a question: if she is known for her accurate intuition, wouldn't she mention it to,get the others in line? Also, the "celebration" of the anniversary comes a bit out of the blue, so I wondered if you might consider making it more of a ritual, scary movie, scary food and so on. And since she isn't as into it as the others, I wonder why it is at her house? it seems as though being elsewhere could allow her more opportunity to feel pressure and want to retreat to a bathroom. Finally, bravo on describing what she sees. Slow down that bathroom scene though so that we can understand her motivation when she looks in the mirror.

    Great job, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you do next week,

  8. Thank you all so much for your wonderful feedback! It was tremendously helpful, and it was fun to make the edits! I've incorporated suggestions from all of you and am so happy with the result. I've just sent off my revisions, and hopefully I've managed to pull it all off to fix the main issue you all pointed out in terms of making Leah's staying to watch more images in the mirror ring true.