Sunday, January 5, 2014

1st 5 Pages Jan. Workshop: Moreno

Name: Maria Moreno
Genre: Young Adult-Mystery/Paranormal
Title: In Your Wildest Dreams

CHAPTER ONE

When I was 14-years-old I read my obituary and it went like this:
“Ms. Montesino is survived by her parents George and Elena. She was a freshman at Celebration High School. She was loved and will be missed dearly. 

Just to the left of all two inches of my life was last year’s equally plain yearbook photo showing a round-faced girl. The purple background making my hazel eyes look a mere brown. The only thing that has always been magnificent about me is my long Pantene Pro-V style brown hair.

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend I felt life leave my body. That night I went out with my best friend Jordania and her then boyfriend, Andrew. “Pleaseeee. You know my parents won’t let me go without you,” said Jordania as she was straitening her blond hair in front of her bathroom mirror. 

“I don’t know Joey. I hate feeling like everyone thinks I’m your creepy little third wheel.”

“Ugh, stop it with the pity party! You know no one thinks that. Come on. I’ll buy your dinner.”

“Fine! I said rolling my eyes and crossing my arms. “But you still owe me!”

“Whatever. I don’t even feel bad because I know you like going.”

It’s true. I actually didn’t mind tagging along because it meant that I could go to “The Point.” The point is located on the tallest clearing in our town and it is divided by a two-lane street. One side overlooks the lake while on the other is the woods. It was here that I imagined myself going on my first date and having my first kiss.

I liked to suck in the smell from the pine trees and the nippy air from a fall in central Florida; It put a smile on my face and made me feel like anything was possible. It was exhilarating to see so many kids together at one place besides school. As I scanned the groups I couldn’t help but look for one face in particular: John B. He was Andrew’s close friend, but I had yet to see him at the point. 

On this particular Saturday most people had already paired off, so I fell asleep in the back of Andrew’s van while Jordan and him took a blanket and went into the woods.

I was awoken when I felt a gentle rocking movement and then a small slide back as if the car was put in reverse. “Hey. Jordan? Andrew? Back already?” I said as I removed my ear buds and sat up. No Answer. Silence.

My stomach dropped when I looked around and saw that no one was in the van with me. The car lurched back again with a little more force. “Oh my god,” I thought. “This car is going to roll off the cliff and into the water with me in it if I don’t get out now!”

I jumped for the side door, and kept pulling at it, but it wouldn’t budge because the child safety lock was on. Frantically, I tried to climb over the center console in order to reach the front passenger door. As I did so the weight from my sudden movements shifted the car back and propelled it into its quick descent down the hill. I held on to the headrest for grip, but I felt a hot pain when I hit my face on the headrest knocking out four of my front teeth and making me unconscious.

The car flipped backwards twice before landing right side up in the water. The van was floating for about 30 seconds before popping back up again only to be immediately swallowed by an air bubble. The car quickly sank front first and filled with water.

The pressure from the water forcing its way into my nostrils and mouth woke me up. I sat up, but I still felt dizzy from hitting my head. I knew that the right thing to do was to try and exit the car. Again, I tried to climb over the center console, but the resistance from the water was making it impossible.

I was tired and all I wanted to do was sleep. Rather than continue to struggle, I gave up. In that moment I became detached and it was like tape peeling off of paper. As I began to exit the world I felt weightless and I looked down and saw my pudgy body hovering slightly over my seat, my hands raised and my hair was floating all around me in the green murky water like a mermaid. For the first time ever I saw myself and thought I looked pretty.

There wasn’t a tunnel of white light to follow, but I soon found myself in a sterile empty room. I couldn’t see my body and I didn’t feel safe or peaceful. Rather I felt an empty void where my heart was and it was soon filled with hopelessness, anxiety, guilt and anger.

On the floor was the Central Lakes Gazette and it was there that I saw my obituary. I felt a tremendous sadness not for the people I left on earth, but for myself. In my short life I had accomplished nothing, experienced nothing and I wouldn’t have the chance to do so.  

I silently pleaded to be given my life back to have the opportunity to live it.

Right then an opening in the room appeared.

CHAPTER TWO

Hello. My name is Clara; I am from Mt. Dora and I am a clairvoyant. My hometown is nestled in Central Florida spaced an almost equal distance from Walt Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center. It rests on an elevated 400 feet overlooking three swampy lakes, the highest point of land in an otherwise flat state.

Ever since my accident I felt that I gained a “gift.” Soon after I began reading other people’s obituaries in order to help settle their unfinished business. I usually accomplished this by sending anonymous messages to the deceased’s loved ones or doing deeds on their behalf.  

I was starting to doubt my abilities and began to view them as the musings of a traumatized16-year-old. That is, until I found this: “Help! The voices in my head have stopped talking. This can’t be good. This can only mean they’re up to something,” read the note that was wedged in the middle of my geography textbook.

I had always been the sender; no one had ever reached out to me before.

However, in light of recent events, and at the risk of further offending the dead and the mentally insane, I was on a break from my pastime. Tonight, along with the arrival of this note, marks the five-month anniversary of the last time I sent a message of my own, coinciding with the night that John B. disappeared, the only person who knew about my work.

10 comments:

  1. Hi, Maria! Thanks for letting us take a look at your first five pages. Here are my thoughts:

    Opening with a girl reading her own obituary certainly got my attention! Nice job. I had to re-read the opening twice, though. I was just a wee bit confused. Is she 14 in the story? Or is she 16 and she's re-living the incident when she was 14? Maybe just a few words would help clarify that.

    The drowning: creeped me out in a good way. If I were you, I'd play up that scene. Moment by moment. Gasping for air. Sucking in water. Blacking out. All of that. I think if your reader feels like she's drowning too, you'll have her hooked! Also, I think she should be way more freaked out that she just died. Show us that freaking out moment. She'd claw to life, right? If not, why?

    It's cool that she now receives a note, when she's always been the sender. Sets up the story. The part about John B. disappearing could be played up more as well. I was still a bit confused about that, so I think if you clarify that and add more mystery to that, it would work well.

    You've got a great premise here!

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    1. I definitely agree with more about John B. I want to know what's up with him. :)

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  2. Hi Maria,

    Things that are working for me:

    1. I’m SO into this idea of having a dead MC. I think it’s fresh and fun and makes me want to keep reading.

    2. You raise really great questions in the first chapter — who is this girl? how did the van plunge of the cliff? did someone (*cough*maybe this John B. character?*cough*) push the van over on purpose? I’m invested in your story by the end of the first chapter, which is great.

    3. THE DROWNING SCENE. Man, talk about intense—I almost felt like I was right there with her. I love it—but I think you can do more with it.

    Things to think about:

    1. Your first line is coming across as a little clunky and stilted and leaves me a little confused. Is your MC dead? How old is she now? Does she have a first name? Maybe we just need a little clarification?

    2. Have you considered getting a little closer in with your POV? Right now it comes across as rather tell-y because, well, your MC is telling us what happened to her. It’s reading a little like a summary and not 100% like story—have you considered showing us the events of Chapter 1? Putting us right into her head as she’s drowning (see #2 above), or as she wakes up and realizes she’s dead? While I think it works now, I think this has the potential to really, really be incredible.

    3. I’m really thrown off by Chapter 2. Is there a new narrator? Who is this person? Is there a better way to introduce her, or to show us her backstory (and her special talents) without dumping it on us? I dig the idea of having two narrators — the transition just feels really abrupt.



    Hope that helps!

    Jenny

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    Replies
    1. I like your recommendations in #2. That's where I'd like to see more focus, too.

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  3. Okay. So good plan, now you need to work on the execution. It feels too removed for me. Think about it. If it's in first person, it has to really be from the MC's point of view. Would you think in full sentences if the car you're in is about to fall off a cliff? I want the panic to claim me the reader as much as the MC. Not a point by point report. If she's unconscious and it's her POV, how does she know what happened as the car rolled off the cliff? Would she really think she's pudgy in that moment? I doubt it. But maybe… If it's that important to her.
    The second chapter confused me. Is this someone new or the same girl? There's too much telling at the top. Hi I'm a clairvoyant. This is my name. This is where I live. Show me, don't tell me.
    I hope I'm not being harsh! I know it's tough to do, I just want to illustrate in a short space what I think you can do to make your work that much better!! unputdownable. If that's a word. Can't wait for the revision!

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  4. Hi! I want to give you my assumptions and offer how I understand your opening as I read it. All my comments are what first pops into my mind as I read it. It could be that the way I read your opening is exactly how you intend it (yay), or it might not. In any case, I like to error on the side of “too much information.” The more I give you about how I read this, I hope the more insight you can get about how I understood it and how it may be understood by others. It could, of course, just be me. :) Oh, and there's a limit to how many characters I can post, so this will be in multiple posts. ~April Rose

    In the paragraph that starts "Just to the left," I get the sense of some real anger about being dead. It's like a t-shirt that says, "I'm dead, and all I got was this stinking obituary." And when I read, "The only thing...brown hair," I felt like she was saying, "And the photo didn't even get that right."

    The sentence, "It was here that I imagined myself going on my first date and having my first kiss," makes me feel like this didn't happen--either she didn't get her first kiss here or she didn't get a first kiss at all. Either way, it feels important to her and shows her disappointment.

    Hmm...in the graph that goes, "I liked to suck..." So at this point, she's looking back at what's really good about the Point. It's a general statement about the Point that could be at any point (pun intended) in her life. It's a great place. But then when we get here: "As I scanned the groups..." it feels like we're truly back in the story. It's separate from the previous sentences. Does that make sense? I kind of just want to stay in the story. With tweaking, the dialogue and a little movement could show us the Point is great without having to tell us in this paragraph. That would keep us in the moment.

    I'm reading the graph that starts, "On this particular..." The narration feels a little removed from first person. I need the immediacy that first person narrative promises--or--maybe consider changing your novel to third person and seeing what happens.

    The sentence, "'This car is going to roll off the cliff and into the water with me in it if I don’t get out now!'" doesn't feel natural. While I have no doubt this is what was going through her head, I don't think she would have phrased it quite like this. Maybe you can place us at the Point beforehand a little more. For example, start somewhere like her looking over the edge and into the water. Maybe she likes to that. Maybe she can throw a rock and count until it hits the water...something along those lines. It will give us a sense of the height and the danger before she's going to fall. That way, you don't need that sentence. The danger will already be implied.

    There are some things I really like with the next graph. For example, the fact that she grips the head rest is vivid. I like the fact that the child safety lock is on, but why would it be on in a teenager's car?

    If she's unconscious, will she really know this is what's happening. She's not dead yet, so she won't be viewing it from the great beyond. This is where third person might come in handy. She doesn't need to be conscious for us to see it because she's not narrating it. You can definitely limit third person to her POV--that way you don't have to feel like you're going to give away any mystery. Just a thought.

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  5. The graph that starts, "The pressure from..." is a little too much tell. Saying she is dizzy is okay, but I would prefer to feel dizzy with her. What sense of disorientation can you provide that will make me know she's dizzy without you explicitly saying it? That sort of thing.

    In the sentence, "Rather than continue to struggle, I gave up," it leads me to question why she would give up. Perhaps you can give us a little insight to this before hand. This makes me feel like part of the story is missing. I like the opening paragraph, but then you can give us more. You show her friend straightening her hair, but show us more. Give us some snappy dialogue (and perhaps some internal dialogue to go along with it) to give us the idea that life is worth giving up on. Things have to suck pretty bad for her not to try to get out. The car is only going to be in the air for a matter of seconds, and it's not going to take long for it to fill with water. What happens in that short period of time that makes her say, "Yeah, I'm ready to give up." ? If you gave us more details earlier--show us what's so bad with her life--it would make me more sympathetic to this girl who doesn't try to live.

    I want more of the sterile room. Show her standing up and investigating the room. What does the room look like? What does it smell like? This could be ripe for some really good internal dialogue---Wait a second. I'm dead? Holy fish sticks. And this is what I get?---that sort of thing. Have you read Lovely Bones? Take a look at how that author portrays an already dead character. From line one, Susie already thinks of herself as dead. This part could be where your MC really notices it. I still like the opening line, and I think you can work around that to make it stick, but I imagine dying would be a rather traumatic event for a person (or maybe it's not). I want to feel that trauma (or feel that it isn't).

    At this point, I feel like you could already be in Chapter Three, given the right balance of detail and showing. Chapter One: Friends getting ready to go out. We learn about MC and subtle details about why she's ready to give up so easily. Chapter Two: They go to the Point and she dies. Chapter Three: The sterile room.

    Hmm...now that I'm in Chapter Two, Chapter One feels more like a prologue. The shift of POV is a little jarring. It makes me wonder: who is this story about? I'm assuming it will be about this girl and your previous one, but who's actually the MC? Even split dialogues tend to have a dominant MC (think: Under the Never Sky). By switching to Clair, it makes me wonder who I'm supposed to care about.

    Reading a little farther in, I have a similar comment as before...I want to see this stuff happening. Clair talks about her getting the note like it happened in the past, but it feels like it's what's happening right now. I can't tell which one it should be.

    Oooh. I like seeing John B's name again!


    ^^^^^^^So these comments above are all my initial thoughts upon reading your opening^^^^^^^^

    Some additional comments:

    ~Ground the characters to a given time. A memory or a flashback can be good, but we have to always know it's a memory or a flashback.

    ~John B is what will keep me reading. He's the only character I'm truly interested in (which is weird because we haven't seen much of him). Maybe it's because I'm intrigued by his mysterious appearance (or disappearance :) ) and how it ties in to the other characters. I want to see more of him and more of him earlier.

    ~ Show us more of how the characters interact with each other. That can give us hints into the unseen things, without giving away too much.

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  6. Thanks for the look, Maria. There’s some cool stuff going on here. The idea of reading your on obit, for one! Cool first line, And, more so, the great promise of lines/voice like: "For the first time ever I saw myself and thought I looked pretty."

    For this round, I would focus on voice. The voice/telling of the first two paragraphs is, for me, a different voice than the one mostly being used to describe the action. And since it’s such a promising voice that comes back between the action every now and again… I’d just focus on THAT voice. How would she describe the car tumbling into the water, her reaction/response to, thoughts during. The way the story’s presented, this is obviously being told after the fact… SO your narrator has complete control of the retelling. She doesn’t yet. She sometimes has control. Other times (like during the brief dialogue part and during description of the car filling with water, etc.) it seems a more traditional omniscient narrator telling the story. Since you clearly have this girl’s voice in your head, I would try retelling the entire backstory scene of “how I died” totally from HER voice. Phrases, reactions, emotion, comment, asides, etc. Might/should help pull it all together more. Worth playing with some…

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  7. Hi Maria,


    You have a great opening that definitely grabs my attention, but then you kind of lose me. The story starts with her as a ghost, I’m guessing, and then we’re taken back to the day she died.


    You lose me because it starts off strong and then we’re dropped into a scene that happened before your opening, even if it just happened and no matter how important it is to the story, it becomes back story and doesn’t propel this forward as well as if we were in the moment. Back story seems to be a problem of mine also, and I really thought I’d removed it all.


    My suggestion is to take us back, but keep it short and fast paced. Only give us what we must know right now to understand what’s going on. I wonder if it might help to have her reflecting on the events that led to her death, rather than dropping us into the scene hours before her death.


    Who’s Joey? If it’s Jordania, you need to establish that in the paragraph before.



    I wonder if you need the next two paragraph’s right here. Do we need to know this to understand how she died? You have this great opening. I know she’s dead and I want to know how that happened ASAP.


    It’s true. I actually didn’t mind tagging along because it meant that I could go to “The Point.” The point is located on the tallest clearing in our town and it is divided by a two-lane street. One side overlooks the lake while on the other is the woods. It was here that I imagined myself going on my first date and having my first kiss.


    I liked to suck in the smell from the pine trees and the nippy air from a fall in central Florida; It put a smile on my face and made me feel like anything was possible. It was exhilarating to see so many kids together at one place besides school. As I scanned the groups I couldn’t help but look for one face in particular: John B. He was Andrew’s close friend, but I had yet to see him at the point.


    Here she calls her Jordan. Too many name variations for one person, IMO.



    Here is where you grab my attention again: I was awoken when I felt a gentle rocking movement and then a small slide back as if the car was put in reverse. “Hey. Jordan? Andrew? Back already?” I said as I removed my ear buds and sat up. No Answer. Silence.


    I would tighten this next paragraph. Try using short tense sentences, with only the necessary details. This will up the pace and help to build tension.


    I jumped for the side door, and kept pulling at it, but it wouldn’t budge because the child safety lock was on. Frantically, I tried to climb over the center console in order to reach the front passenger door. As I did so the weight from my sudden movements shifted the car back and propelled it into its quick descent down the hill. I held on to the headrest for grip, but I felt a hot pain when I hit my face on the headrest knocking out four of my front teeth and making me unconscious.



    Here, you’ve lost me. She’s been knocked unconscious, so how does she know the van has flipped twice? Here’s where having her reflect instead of putting us in the scene as it happens might work better.


    The car flipped backwards twice before landing right side up in the water. The van was floating for about 30 seconds before popping back up again only to be immediately swallowed by an air bubble. The car quickly sank front first and filled with water.


    On the next paragraph, keep this tight with short sentences to up the tension. Passive sentence change at the end: but the resistance from the water MADE it impossible


    The pressure from the water forcing its way into my nostrils and mouth woke me up. I sat up, but I still felt dizzy from hitting my head. I knew that the right thing to do was to try and exit the car. Again, I tried to climb over the center console, but the resistance from the water was making it impossible.


    NOT SURE I GET THIS: In that moment I became detached and it was like tape peeling off of paper.


    To be continued...




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  8. As I began to exit the world I felt weightless and I looked down and saw my pudgy body hovering slightly over my seat, my hands raised and my hair was floating all around me in the green murky water like a mermaid.


    Not sure how this makes her look like a mermaid.



    This is great! It’s unexpected and that’s what hooks me and makes me want to read more: There wasn’t a tunnel of white light to follow, but I soon found myself in a sterile empty room. I couldn’t see my body and I didn’t feel safe or peaceful. Rather I felt an empty void where my heart was and it was soon filled with hopelessness, anxiety, guilt and anger.


    At chapter two, you completely lose me. If this is from a different POV, then you need to do something to let the reader know this, because I am totally confused here. I think it also doesn’t help that the first chapter ends with an opening appearing in the room, because I expect someone to come through that opening and think it is this Clara person introducing herself and by the time I realize it’s not, I’m no longer interested.

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