Sunday, September 15, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Noser Rev 1



Name: Ann M. Noser

Genre: Young Adult Dystopian

Title: TBD



Chapter 1 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME



My tenth birthday was the worst day of my life.



Dad had to work late.



Mom and I waited for him to come home.



Five years later, we’re still waiting.



Today I’m fifteen. Most kids would’ve requested a vacation pass, but not me. I’d rather forget the whole thing and help Old Gus prepare the chilled bodies in the hospital mortuary. I drag myself out of bed and pull on teal blue scrubs.



I fumble for socks and shoes, and a ray of early sunlight glints off my dad’s picture hanging on the wall. Once again, his eyes capture mine, as if he needs to tell me something important. On the floor beneath the photo sits a memory trunk full of how things used to be. But I won’t open it today. I just can’t.



Dishes clink in the kitchen. Mom calls out, “Hurry up, Silvia. I’ve got a surprise for you.”



She sounds happy, but I can’t tell if it’s real or fake. Since Dad’s death, both of us have done a lot of pretending. So far this year we’ve been able to avoid Psychotherapy Services and Mandated Medication, but sometimes I think I was sent down to Mortuary Services to push me over the edge. Fortunately, I find autopsies intriguing, not depressing. And since I never got to see Dad’s body after the accident, caring for other people’s dead loved ones soothes the empty ache inside.



So does Old Gus. He always knows what to say to me and what not to say.



Too bad Mom doesn’t have a clue.



Mom glances up from her green tea as I enter the modular kitchen. “I planned a big surprise for your birthday.”



I tense. “What is it?”



Mom slides over a bowl of organic oatmeal topped with raspberries, normally my favorite. “I got us Park and Art passes today.”



“I’m not hungry.” I shake my head. “And Gus is expecting me.”



“No, he’s not. He knows all about it. I told him weeks ago.”



“Really? Gus must be good at keeping secrets. He never even wished me ‘happy birthday’ yesterday.”



Which proves he knows me better than Mom does.



She frowns. “You should eat something, even if you’re not hungry. And if it makes you feel better, we can pretend it isn’t your birthday. It’s just some other day instead. A good day, not a bad one.”



I want to protest some more, but there’s a determined gleam in Mom’s eyes—one that hasn’t been there for a long time. And I don’t want to be the one to snuff it out.



I halfheartedly take a few bites of breakfast, swallow my eight prescribed supplements, then return to my bedroom to change into jeans and a long-sleeved green T-shirt. All my clothes are soft and plain, without decoration, made by hands like my father’s. Only Dad proved himself to be Gifted, so he didn’t make Basic Worker Level clothes for long. Instead, he got promoted to Government Level clothing production.



That’s where he burned to death.



“Hurry up!” Mom calls from the front door.



We clamber down six flights of stairs in the brightly-lit stairwell. Once we reach the main floor, we push out the airlock into the swarms of people flooding the streets. Dashing across the busy bike path and an empty car lane, we finally reach the closest walk way. Traffic is orderly today. No bikers stray from their lanes into ours. Men and women wearing blue scrubs of various shades hurry towards the hospitals and medical facilities. Those in green coveralls rush towards the monorail station to speed off to one of the numerous Plant and Protein Production Facilities.



I glance back at a beautiful dark-skinned woman, and try not to feel envious of her green uniform. Normally, I don’t mind my job. In fact, I feel more at home in the mortuary than anywhere else. But part of me still longs to spend all day surrounded by plants. Nothing can be done about it now. The Occupation Exam is over, and I’ve been placed where I’m most effective.



The street is crowded this time of day. People whoosh past us on bikes, as those on foot press constantly forward. Only the car lane remains empty, as usual.



We march past rows of tall buildings, offices on the first two floors and apartments up above. We make good time until we hit the Citizen Family Planning and Redistribution Building. Traffic stalls. A crowd of walkers fidget in place ahead of us.



“What’s going on?” Mom cranes her neck and rises up on her toes. “Can you see?”



After a long pause, the people ahead of us begin to shuffle past the building. A few cast furtive glances over their shoulders. Everyone’s in a hurry to get somewhere. Now I see who is causing the fuss. A red-haired girl who looks to be about my age shoves an orderly away. The crowd behind us pushes us forward. Tears stream down the girl’s pale face. She backs away from the building and turns as if to run. Then she cries out in pain, and clutches her swollen belly, breathing hard.



In her moment of weakness, the orderlies surround and restrain her.



“I won’t do it! I won’t do it!” the pregnant girl screams as they drag her away.

13 comments:

  1. Hi Ann,

    I like the way you end the new opening with: "Five years later, we’re still waiting." That said, the very first line (coming right after that title) makes me think it's her 10th birthday... and I'm taken out of the story a little when, a couple lines down, I have to revise my model.

    Moving on, you could consider capitalizing 'vacation pass' to clarify that it's a piece of your new world and not some teen expression Also, I don't think you need 'or fake' after 'real' three paragraphs down, but I like the line that precedes that: "Since Dad’s death, both of us have done a lot of pretending."

    I love: "sometimes I think I was sent down to Mortuary Services to push me over the edge." Could you elaborate on who sent her down? I'd enjoy seeing a little push back on the establishment before we learn that she actually found a match in mortuary work.

    Gus is such an intriguing character. I don't think you need to soften "which proves he knows me better than Mom does" with mom's line "if it makes you feel better, we can pretend it isn’t your birthday". If you give me a gap here, I'll read on to see how mother and daughter come together over the novel. I do like that she later shows understanding of her mother's vulnerability with the line: "... there’s a determined gleam in Mom’s eyes—one that hasn’t been there for a long time. And I don’t want to be the one to snuff it out").

    I'm on the fence about whether you reveal too much about the father's death. It raised questions that you're not going to answer yet. I wonder if something more subtle would work better here -- e.g., "the promotion cost him his life".

    The opening two lines of the third to last paragraph feel too quiet to me. I'm expecting noise and chaos at the end of your beginning. Do you hear it too?

    I'm still loving that exciting last line!

    Ashley

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  2. Ooh, I like "the promotion cost him his life." Might have to steal that idea from you!

    Thanks for your insightful comments.

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  3. Hi Ann,

    I like the new opening -- "Five years later, we're still waiting' is great. Perhaps group the first three sentences together and keep that zinger of a line as a standalone?

    Great job folding in the details of Silvia and her mom's past as well as showing us the toll it's taken on their relationship.

    I wondered if the 'caring for other people's dead' needed the inclusion of 'loved ones'?

    Love the detail that even though Mom doesn't 'get' Silvia, Silvia doesn't want to risk snuffing out the look of determination in her mom's eyes.

    To avoid two uses of 'us', perhaps 'The crowd behind us pushes (us) forward'?

    Very exciting beginning. Looks like a winner to me.

    - Peggy

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  4. Thanks for catching the double "us" and for your suggestions for the first few lines. Really appreciate the help!

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  5. Ok - so I like how you've shown us why she agrees to go with mom! Good way to make me sympathize with your MC as well. You don't need to say she's fifteen btw, if it happened on her tenth bday and they've been waiting five years... Let it go at that. We will get from the dialogue that it's her bday.

    I like the way you mention her father burned to death. BUT I would take it a step further. What does that mean to her? Did it affect how she feels about excelling at work for example. Maybe she doesn't believe in doing her best anymore for example? It's a possible opportunity to hint at where she starts in her character arc.

    Can you describe the world more as they walk through it? Not just visuals, but sounds, tastes, smells, etc...



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  6. You bring up an issue I've wavered on. In an earlier version, I did as you suggested--not stating directly she was 15 and I had multiple people tell me they got confused and needed it spelled out for them. So I'm not sure what to do about it. Hmmm

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  7. Hi Ann,

    I really like the revised introduction. It sets the tone for the character and is much much conciser.

    I think the narrative could be strengthened with some subtle details that reflect more context for the MC's observations about her world (e.g., the traffic being orderly, why people are rushing at the time of day -- where are they headed? is it because the orderlies patrol the streets and keep them moving?, why is the car lane empty and why is that the usual).

    Small nits:

    "normally my favorite" -- she's just not hungry that day but does that make the oatmeal with raspberries not her favorite anymore?

    "swarms of people flooding the streets" -- can probably do with either "swarms" or "flooding" to convey the congestion.


    Cheers,
    Sunni

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Ann,

    I really like the revised introduction. It sets the tone for the character and is much much conciser.

    I think the narrative could be strengthened with some subtle details that reflect more context for the MC's observations about her world (e.g., the traffic being orderly, why people are rushing at the time of day -- where are they headed? is it because the orderlies patrol the streets and keep them moving?, why is the car lane empty and why is that the usual).

    Small nits:

    "normally my favorite" -- she's just not hungry that day but does that make the oatmeal with raspberries not her favorite anymore?

    "swarms of people flooding the streets" -- can probably do with either "swarms" or "flooding" to convey the congestion.


    Cheers,
    Sunni

    ReplyDelete
  9. I agree with everyone else. I love picturing them waiting for him to come home only to have bad news.
    " On the floor beneath the photo sits a memory trunk full of how things used to be." This is passive voice. Try rewording.
    I love that she thinks "they" might have put her in her job to push her buttons. It is subtly creepy. I also love that she finds the work satisfying.
    "So does Gus" I read that as Gus finds it soothing also. But then I got that he soothed her. Wondering if you could clarify that somehow.
    Love the changes you made to the first interaction with her mom. So much moodier now. And I like that she's pondering her father and her mom sort of interrupts her. It just keeps driving me forward and makes me want to know more. :)
    I feel like in your description of the street you could condense a bit. You mentioned already that there weren't cars in the car lane. Then you clarify. I think you could take out the first mention. (so nit-picky of me)
    Also- and this is so completely subjective- I feel like a lot of dystopian focuses on people being placed based on their aptitude. I think it's fine if that's how it works in the world. I sort of get that from her being assigned and finding out that her dad was a garment worker. But I think maybe I wouldn't spend so much time on it up front. Perhaps focus on the ways that this world is different from other dystopias.
    Still love the note you leave us on. I would definitely keep reading :)

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  10. Thanks for everyone's input--I'm ready to sit down and revise.

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  11. So sorry for my late comments.

    I think you have a great start here! I would suggest making the first 4 lines all one paragraph though. I initially thought it was a formatting error. I think you can make the words strong enough that you don't need the spacing to make an impact.

    I agree with Lisa about not needing you to tell us she's 15. Her 10th birthday was such a monumental day for her that I think she would be more likely to think of it as "5 years since my 10th birthday" rather than "my 15th birthday".

    I don't think the sentence about the memory trunk is passive voice at all. I personally like it the way it is.

    I'm really enjoying and would probably keep reading. If you can make the action start a little sooner, I think it would be better.

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  12. Just dipping in here - I much prefer the new opening lines, but agree with Jan that you needn't rely on the spacing for impact.

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  13. Thanks again to everyone! Just finished my revisions. Really appreciate the help. Enjoying the workshop. A good weekend to all of you! :.)

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