Monday, August 5, 2013

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Moss

Name: Michele McCole Moss
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: The End

When you have one person in the world, you want to keep them. As long as she knew he was safe, she happily orbited around him, but never strayed far. Her father didn’t know that she had imagined policemen coming to their door, telling her he’d been in an accident. He didn’t know that she constantly worried about him leaving and never coming back.

Today she had violated one of his sacred rules—she’d fallen asleep on the back of his motorcycle. Worse than that, she had lied to him. She had just wanted to go with him. She looked at her bed, her favorites surrounding her, a crevice in the middle just big enough for her long boyish body. Her brain reeled trying to think of something that would change his mind.

“There’s nowhere else to put them,” she pleaded.

“I’ll find a place,” he said.

She looked at her father, hope lingering in her eyes. He couldn’t really make her relocate all of them.

“I don’t care if you pile them outside your door, but they can’t be inside your room anymore. The temptation is too much,” he said.

“But all of yours are outside my door lining the hall,” she yelled.

He was actually going to make good on his threat.

“You know, every other parent in the world would be happy with me. You’re being unreasonable,” she said.

“My beautiful bookworm, this is not a punishment, just a safety measure. We’ll find a perfectly reasonable spot. I just need to know you won’t stay up all night with them anymore,” he said.
He pointed to her bed in a gesture that said “get started.”

She stomped out of her room, then pounded her feet into each step leading to the living room. She stood peering at the piles of books and papers that cluttered every surface. An ancient TV, almost waist high, stood in the room’s center, its screen absent, its guts replaced with books. More titles stood three deep on each shelf. Slimmer volumes laid horizontally on vertically arranged titles. No space remained. She threw her hands up in the air, but he wasn’t there to see the gesture.

She climbed the stairs and went to her room. Her favorites were arranged around and on her bed forming a nest of words. She knew if she had nightmares, or couldn’t sleep, that they were all right there, ready to rescue her.

“C’mon, it’s not such a big deal. You can put them on the attic staircase. I pulled it down for you. I never realized it, but it’s like a bookcase waiting to be used,” he prodded.

She didn’t even look at him.

“When you want to read in your room, you can take a book from it and then replace it before it’s time for lights out,” he said.

Brynn answered with an audible sniff. She was too old for ridiculous rules like this.

“I’m going to run out to get us some food. Our supplies are dire,” he said dramatically, trying to make her giggle. When no giggle was forthcoming, he continued, “The only place open is the Stop-N-Shop, so I’ll be awhile. It’ll give you some time to clear out your room.” He stood for a moment watching her, waiting for some sign that she wasn’t as upset as she appeared. But she said nothing and stared at her bed. He closed the door behind him.

“Please!” she yelled after him.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but until you learn that you can’t stay up all night reading, this is the way it has to be,” he said. “I’m just looking out for you.”

Brynn could hear his footsteps as they trailed down, through the living room and out the front door. A moment later his motorcycle started up and she knew she was alone. She looked at her books mournfully. She picked up a beautiful illustrated edition of The Return of the King and clung to it. She searched around for the other two books to complete the set. She might as well put them in order if she had to move them.

She walked to the attic ladder and placed the volumes on the top stair. She went back to her room, deciding to gather her favorite series and put them all together. Her arms barely managed to contain Harry Potter and her copy of His Dark Materials Omnibus. She approached the ladder again and placed her stack on the floor.

She climbed the first few rungs and peeked into the attic. In all the years she and her father had lived in the house, she’d only gone inside it once. Her father had indulged her when she’d wanted to look for a magical wardrobe. When she’d discovered none, the attic quickly lost its appeal. There wasn’t much space in it. There were big wooden beams, piping and vents, electric wiring and sheets of insulation. The attic was not the attic of stories where small treasures held secrets. There was only a handful of boxes and bags stashed into one corner.

Brynn crawled up. The last time she’d been here she could stand up, but now she was bent at the waist. She made her way to the boxes, curious. Maybe there was treasure still to be found. Her dad always had books squirreled away in odd places. Perhaps there were some he’d packed up for lack of room. Maybe she could put a few more titles on her “new” bookshelf. She couldn’t help herself. The idea of uncovering some old volume propelled her forward.

She pushed aside a few boxes of Christmas decorations. She felt the same prickle of excitement she had the first time she’d been in the attic. Reaching out, she opened the lid of an old brown box and inside she discovered the saddest of tales, its chapters folded inside corrugated cardboard.

First, there was the tiniest set of baby girl clothes, straight and neat and, impossibly, smelling both just laundered and dusty with mildew. There was a little stuffed dog, the twin of the same little creature that rested on her bed now. But this one was perfect, whereas hers had been washed many times over and been lovingly, if inexpertly, patched up. An old worn velour nightgown had a zipper that started at the neckline and reached to the floor. The robe’s rich reds and blues had faded with time. Behind the scent of the attic, she could smell something familiar on it, but what, she didn’t know. All the items were an exciting discovery, but not in the way she had hoped.

Her heart began to race. Why hadn’t her father ever shown her these things? He had told her that someday he and Brynn would see them again, but he couldn’t have meant it. Not in a literal way. He’d made up stories about them. Impossible stories that kept her enthralled well into the night when it was so easy to fall into the grips of a story. She knew the stories he told were impossible, but she had believed them when she was little. As she grew older she assumed he told her those stories because he didn’t have anything else to give her. But here was proof to the contrary.

She looked out the small triangular window of the attic. She felt an inexplicable pull to the pond outside.


  1. First of all good job on finishing a ms, not many people can do that.

    I read the pages over a few times as I tried to make sure who was talking, where they were, and who they were talking about. You may need to tell us a little more about the "favorites" the first time it is mentioned. I think from reading on they're books but you may need to offer more at first.

    Also I think these 2 passages are saying the same thing so you may want to eliminate one of them:

    She looked at her bed, her favorites surrounding her, a crevice in the middle just big enough for her long boyish body.


    Her favorites were arranged around and on her bed forming a nest of words.

    You may want to put the titles of books etc in italics. Thoughts should also be in italics.

    In the last two paragraphs there is a lot of telling. Let her find the items and have her thoughts about them speak to the reader.

    The last suggestion I have are lines like this: Impossible stories that kept her enthralled well into the night when it was so easy to fall into the grips of a story. It seems a little old for MG and there might be a better way to describe it.

    I'm looking forward to reading the revision.


  2. Right away I know what kind of story this is going to be: something dark is on the way. A very strong opener, tone-wise.

    Story-wise, the first two paragraphs don't quite work with the rest of the material. There is a lot of information and the lack of specificity adds confusion rather than intrigue.

    What if the first line was this:
    “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but until you learn that you can’t stay up all night reading, this is the way it has to be,” he said. “I’m just looking out for you.”

    This would eliminate the confusion about who "he", "she" and "favorites" are. I appreciate the mystery you are seeking to build, but it isn't much of a payoff if we find out the answers to these things just a paragraph or two later. Best to just tell us straight up who the characters are and what the "favorites" are. Then we can get into the action, and the ominous premonition (?) Brynn has about her father.

    Brynn seems like a reader and an introvert and a girl who loves her father very much. What else can you tell us about her in the beginning? Does she have any nervous habits, anything to signal what kid of girl she is? Is she brave, shy, confident, frightened? Who she is now should be abundantly clear as she needs to undergo a change during the course of the story.

    I'm immediately curious as to what happened to the mother and the (twin?) sister. And why books are so dangerous.

    So far nothing of their world is shown except that their dwelling is overrun by books. There is room for a bit more description. It feels like a drab, sad world, but this is only an inference and not wholly supported by the writing itself. Would be great if we could see more of the home through Brynn's eyes. That goes for her father as well. We know she loves him, but how does she see him?

    The action is a little slow here, with the exception of the first two paragraphs. Would love to see more happen, even if through flashback or other device.

    I'm really drawn into the story you've constructed and think it'll be exciting to read. Great job!

  3. I liked the kind-of creepy hoarder feel to this. Books everywhere. Who doesn't want lots of books? Or to read a story about a girl who loves them?

    I don't understand her fear of losing her father in the beginning as it's not brought back again. It also took me a little while to connect the falling asleep on the motorcycle/lying with staying up all night reading books. I think it's the "She had just wanted to go with him" that leads me away from the overtired idea. And then not stating right away what's in her bed and all through the house.

    These almost came across to me as false starts, which could be what you're aiming for.

    I particularly love: "nest of words" to refer to the books in her bed, as well as: She knew if she had nightmares, or couldn’t sleep, that they were all right there, ready to rescue her.

    The attic staircase confuses me as a storage location. I've only seen one at my grandmother's that pulled down; if you put it back up everything would fall off; maybe they intend to leave it down in the hall? Or perhaps it's a different sort than I'm familiar with.

    How old is the MC? When you say, "She was too old . . ." you could say "Eleven (or whatever) is too old for . . ." to make it clear. Some like to be grounded in the age of a character right away.

    I was a little confused with her finding things in the attic and the reference to "see them again," and "stories about them" that he uses to keep "her enthralled." At first I thought she might have a twin who'd died (the unworn toy like hers), or a divorce and each parent taking one child. However, it creates a mystery and makes me want to read more, so I can discover why these things are hidden away in a room that is purposefully not used in a home that's obviously filled with books.

    Nice job; hope this helps!

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  5. Hey Michelle! Thanks for submitting this month. It takes a lot of courage to put your manuscript out there for critique and many people don't have the strength to do it, so good on you.

    Let me just say I think your overall writing skill seems strong. The first two paragraphs were a little confusing with the he, she. At first, I had trouble figuring out who she was talking about and I had to read over it a few times to get it.

    The one thing I think you need to really watch is making your MC read the right age. At first, when she falls asleep on the back of his bike, I am thinking very young, like 6-7 years old. Then, as she begins to describe her surroundings, she sounds overly adult. Even a very clever, precocious 8-10 year old doesn't really use words like 'enthralled', even to themselves. This to me, reads like a very eloquent adult telling me how a child is feeling, rather than experiencing it through her eyes.

  6. Hi! Great work. :D I enjoyed this and am definitely intrigued. Two things. One, watch for those helping verbs. You have lots of passive sentences in the opening paragraphs. You can get rid of the "had"s and make it more immediate. Example? There are four right here: "Today she had violated one of his sacred rules—she’d fallen asleep on the back of his motorcycle. Worse than that, she had lied to him. She had just wanted to go with him." Why not, Today she violated... She fell asleep...She lied to him. Etc.?
    Two, I love the idea, but you hide info that needs to be out there to make it more understandable/accessible. So mention pretty quickly that it's books they are discussing (I get that you're using that as a device, but you can do that and end it quickly). Same with the he and she's in the opening as mentioned above. Use a name or two. Let us know it's her dad, that won't hurt any of the intrigue. And at the end you refer to other people, I'm assuming the rest of the family, but again, you can say that outright and not hurt anything. You want questions, but just enough so it isn't confusing, especially for young readers.
    I already LOVE your MC. You've hooked me. Great job!

  7. Hi Michele,

    I love where this is going, I think. Do I understand correctly that her mother and sister, twin, disappeared and that's why she is afraid of losing her father, too? so she comforts herself by keeping her magical worlds, where things end happily, around her to block out reality? That's fabulous.

    But. I am having to do a lot of reading between the lines to get there, and there are a lot of,extra words that pull us out instead of letting us feel it. Remember, writing is about emotion, so if put us in the scene, into the conflict. She is there with her father, and he is pulling down the attic steps, telling her she can use that as a bookshelf, but the rule is that she has to pull out one book at a time and it has to be back before lights out. She has a physiological reaction, a visceral reaction that you describe to show is she is afraid, then she tries to argue. He is firm, reminds her she fell asleep on the back of his motorcycle. Does she know what could have happened? She bargains with him, thinks about what is at stake for her, what is she going to do when she wakes up in the middle of the night and he isn't home yet, while she wonders if he is going to disappear like her mama and her sister. He kisses her goodbye and she hears the front door close downstairs, and she goes into her room, where you show us the books stacked to make a nest around her bed. She drags her feet while she starts carrying them to the attic steps, thinking about what she is losing as she pits them away. What she loves about them can tell us a TON about her and her life. Use that! And then the lure of the unexplored takes her, she climbs the steps in search of a magic wardrobe, an xxx. A yyy. But when ...

    Okay, so the above is just an example of what you could do to bring this kicka$$ potential to full bloom. There are an infinite number of ways to accomplish the same thing. The bones of your story are great, they just need to be clothed differently so that kids can feel the tremendous drama that you are promising to unfold. You can put words together well, now use the, to make us care!

    I can't wait to see what you do with this!

  8. Thank you so much everyone for your comments. They are so, so helpful. I NEEDED this workshop. I can't wait to get writing and come closer to getting it "right." This process--the writing, the re-writing, the querying, the re-writing--can be so tough. But, getting kind, encouraging feedback like this bolsters me and gives me fresh energy to work on it all again. Thank you so much for this workshop!