Monday, January 20, 2014

1st 5 Pages Jan. Workshop Rev 2: Moreno

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

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 Central Lakes High School. She was loved and will be missed dearly.” 

That was all. My whole life reduced to a mere two inches of column in a newspaper. There was no mention of the unfolding of events that led to my accident. No talk of any of my personal milestones. After all, how could there be? I was only a kid.

If I had been perceptive enough I would have noticed all the cues. All the little pieces of lint that rolled up and cumulated into one big ol’ ball of dust—the moment when life left my body.

The Saturday of Labor Day weekend was meant to be a big night. Actually, the best night for my best friend Jordan and me. As freshmen we had finally earned our spot at “The Point,” a stretch of woods on a hill overlooking a blue lake. Perfect for first kisses and “bumping” into people outside of school.

Basically, a one-mile stretch of dreams and it was ours for the taking. We were going to rule. We were most certainly going to be royals.

Honk. Honk. Our carriage had arrived. I looked out her second story window. Her date Andrew rolled up sporting his newly minted license.

“Eww, Jordan. He’s here in his mom’s min-van. I thought you said he was coming in his dad’s Benz.”

Whatever, it’s fine. As long as we show up with an upperclassman we’re still good,” she said while touching up her dark-blond hair in front of her white vanity.

“Do you really, think he was able to find someone for me?”

“Well, he said he would! I don’t see why not. If not we’ll find someone for you there. I promise.”

I sighed and watched Jordan apply her lipstick. Secretly, I had hoped that Andrew would bring John B. He and Andrew weren’t best friend’s like Jordan and me, but I was still hoping. I could talk to Jordan about anything except John. I looked at her long legs and hair and felt embarrassed. I knew he was out of my reach and I’m sure she’d think so too.

“Ok. Let’s go,” said Jordan. “Oh wait.” She gave me some of her lipstick and fixed my hair. “All right, now we can go.”

 She was always doing nice stuff like that for me.

I scanned the Point for John, but he was nowhere to be found. 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 by 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. A knot formed in the pit of my stomach when I saw no one was in the van with me. The car lurched back again with a little more force. I lunged 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 console 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 and into the water. I held on to the headrest for grip and pressed my feet firmly to the ground to hit the invisible breaks. Like I could really stop this.

A hot pain seared across my face when I hit the headrest, punching out four of my front teeth, spilling blood down my throat, leaving a thick-metallically taste. I let go of the headrest and clutched my face to clench the pain. In the process I was flung into the backseat. I was out cold.  

The pressure from the water forcing its way into my nostrils and mouth brought me back into a mild state of awareness. The car was now fully submerged in water and I was still in it. I opened my eyes and tried to sit up, but I could barely lift a finger. The resistance from the water made all my movements so labored. My head throbbed and everything was in slow motion.

“Don’t. Freak. Out.” I thought. “Count to ten. Try again”  

“1, 2,..3...4…”

My eyelids got heavy and the rising and falling of my chest slowly came to a stop. In that moment my spirit peeled away, leaving my body in its watery grave. The scene below me was remarkable. Dozens of kids running down the steep hill, while others had already reached the shore and were swimming to the car to get me.

But they were too late. I had already left earthly limits.

There wasn’t the token white light to follow. I just found myself in an empty sterile room. Actually, it was bigger than a room and more like an endless plain of white. This must be heaven’s waiting room. There were no other patient’s like in a doctor’s office or even a ticket dispenser like at a deli. Nothing like I had imagined it at Sunday school.

It was only me surrounded by nothingness. I didn’t feel safe or at peace. Rather, I felt an empty void where my heart should have been and it was soon filled with hopelessness, anxiety, guilt and anger. I never thought something so infinite could make me feel so claustrophobic.

I looked down at myself and saw that I was naked. It kind of didn’t matter because it’s not like I was made out of flesh and blood anymore. I was invisible all the way through only seeing my silhouette. Except for my center. There was a huge white orb resting behind where my rib cage used to be.

A few paces in front of me was the Central Lakes Gazette and it was there that I saw my obituary. Just to the left of the article, was last year’s 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.

My mother is catholic and she believes that there is great beauty in dying. “My baby,” she would say. “There is a time for everything. If you’ve done all that you could with your time on earth then rest assured that eternal rest is a gift to look forward to.”

I always thought it was such a scary thing to say to a child. But I understand it now, and I don’t think it’s fair. At least not for me. Right now. I didn’t get a filmstrip showing my happiest moments or even my saddest. What could I be “judged” for?  

I kept staring at my picture and a tremendous lump welled up in my throat. I wasn’t sad for the people I left behind. I was sad for myself. The girl in the picture would never get to grow up. I silently pleaded to be given my life back to have an opportunity to really live it.

A tear ran down my face and went down my body until it reached the floor. That is when I became solid again. Slowly, my organs popped back into place, my bones made a disturbing crunch sound at the places they joined, and the orb in my middle melted away restoring the original color of my skin. Plus, I was now wearing a long white night gown.

“Ugh!” I clasped my hands over my ears and huddled onto the floor in fetal position. A deafening buzz pierced the silence of the room, further punctured by a blinding light.   

When the sound faded I sat up and saw that a portal had emerged. From where I was, I could see oak trees and a blue sky. A slight smell of cigars and the comforting scent of a cologne that I had not smelled for a long time drifted over to where I was.

“Grandpa Juan?” I ran over to the entry and soon found myself consumed by an all-encompassing warmth. 

My eyes opened wide and I found myself submerged back in the water in the lake. Outside of the window there were lots of sparkly lights zooming towards me.


  1. You wowed me again, Maria. Super leap from your last revision to this one. Well done! Your story becomes more engaging with each pass.

    Applause for:
    *The heightened immediacy of the events
    *Improved clarity of the states of consciousness
    *Dialogue sounding more authentically teen
    *Overall tightening
    *Movement toward knowing the MC better (hints of her Catholic mom - relationship to BFF, etc.)
    *More voice coming through
    *LOVED the transition from "spirit" body back to real body
    *LOVED the line: "I never thought something so infinite could feel so claustrophobic." (Yes, I trimmed it a bit :))

    * Instead of italic statements of how she feels - weave it into the narrative. Maybe she can say the last thing she remembered before the water pressure woke her was being flung into the back seat. Emphasize the waking instead of the blacking out.

    *Amp up the panic as she dies. Let her fight the process and then lose when her spirit is ripped away.

    *When she first sees her spirit body - make it more ethereal. The orb at the center is such a great image. Can you make the rest of her less real - not literally naked?

    *Amp up her anger and possibly streamline the section where she thinks the afterlife statements her mother made were not appropriate for a child and her feeling of being cheated.

    *Describe what you mean by the "portal." Is it a window? Plasma? Rift in the air?

    Why does she fall asleep in the car? Listening to music? Staring at stars? Isn't she frustrated at being left behind like a 3rd wheel?

    Instead of just telling us her eyes and hair are brown, can you help us visualize by giving us a shade, i.e. chestnut, mahogany, auburn, mud?

    Stay tuned for another comment with some specific "tightening" suggestions.

  2. Here are some suggestions at specific lines. I'll go in order down the pages.

    Lead: Cut: "and it went like this"

    Obit: Ms. Montesino, a freshman at Central Lakes High School is survived...

    Cut: No talk of any of my personal milestones....only a kid. (I feel we can assume this since we see she died at 14)

    Cut: "I don't see why not." from the dialogue

    Rework: He and Andrew weren't.....still hoping. - Maybe you can tell us what their connection is instead of what it isn't.

    Shift: I was awoken... - to a more active voice - A rocking woke me...

    Change frantically to frantic

    Change "watery grave" to something less cliche

    Don't think you need: I had already left earthly limits.

    I think you can lose any reference to a sterile room and develop the image of the endless white plain. (Loved the line about heaven's waiting room.)

    Cut: It was and start with - Only me surrounded by nothingness.

    Can you connect the placement of the obit. to somewhere in the white plain? Maybe blowing around or on a white rock. I just love the white plain - have fun developing it a little.

    At the portal - Cut "From where I was"

    Clarify what the "entry" is. Help me visualize.

    Change "there were lots of sparkly lights zooming" to sparkly lights zoomed.

    Thank you, Maria for allowing me to work with you on your story. Again, I am so impressed with the changes you have made.

    Your story still has me in its clutches - and I'm anxious to read on. Congrats on all your hard work.


  3. Hi Maria,
    This is SO much better. I think you really made the right call when you decided to put us right in the action like this. You've really cleared up a lot of questions that I had and made me care about your MC. Like Leslie, I loved how we're able to get more of her voice.

    I think you can give us even more, though. You're still telling us what she's feeling in many cases, instead of showing us. It's making her come across as detached, which is hurting you a little bit. I'm going to use this line as an example: "My eyelids got heavy and the rising and falling of my chest slowly came to a stop." Is there a way you can SHOW this to us? Instead telling us that her "eyelids got heavy," could you show us her struggling to blink, the blackness encroaching on her field of vision? And her breaths -- I think you have room for much more vivid imagery here. She's underwater, right? Drowning? That's a very painful way to die--make us FEEL that. I want to feel her panic. Can you go through and try to change some of these statements about what she's experiencing into action and emotion? I think that once you do this, this will

    Overall, though, I think this is a really strong start and your hard work has really paid off. I wish I could see the rest of it! :)

  4. I have to echo what others have said.

    1.) Great revision. The opening moves so much faster. It feels...genuine to teenagers. I like the line about royals in particular. It sort of reminds me of that Lorde song, and it's just a genuine feeling. 'We are young. We have the whole world ahead of us (except we are readers know they don'e), and we are going to rock this place.' Such a great picture.

    2.) I agree with Jenny about making us feel the panic and pain of drowning. That's where I started to slow down. Snappier sentences could help.

    Ex. "A hot pain seared across my face when I hit the headrest, punching out four of my front teeth, spilling blood down my throat, leaving a thick-metallically taste. I let go of the headrest and clutched my face to clench the pain. In the process I was flung into the backseat. I was out cold," becomes something like (but obviously much better than):

    "My face hit the headrest. I spit out my front teeth and metallicy blood. My head spun (cliche, I know) with pain. Tears burned my eyes (again, cliche, I know). My fingers slipped from the headrest, and I was flung into the backseat. Then blackness."

    If you did this sort of thing throughout the crash scene, it would contrast nicely with the slowness of the sterile room.

    But yeah. This is nice. I like what you've done so far. :)

  5. Love, love, LOVE the opening few paragraphs. They’re totally killer, Maria! And I really have nothing to add on a line-by-line level critique to what Leslie already fabulously suggested.

    The only thing I have to add to her critique is that I think you need a reference point for the reader on WHEN she reads the obituary relative to the events you then proceed to relay. The reason I suggest this is because, each time I read, my natural assumption is that the events about to unfold occur AFTER she reads the obituary.

    So, to get us in the right time, I suggest adding something like, “But I didn’t see that obituary until I’d been dead for almost x-minutes/months/days/years. Obviously if I’d seen it *before* I drowned, I wouldn’t have gone to the Point that Saturday over Labor Day weekend…”

    Obviously, that’s just an idea, but I think it will help orient the reader in then “when” of the opening scene.

    Otherwise, I think you’ve done a great job condensing/tightening for more impact. Do be careful with your tenses, though—you slip into present tense here: “…But I understand it now, and I don’t think it’s fair.” IF that’s an intentional shift to present tense, then make it clear that she’s we’re shifting in time on purpose.

    For example, “I always thought it was such a scary thing to say to a child—though I understand it now. And now, I don’t think it’s fair. But as a kid, I didn’t understand. And I definitely didn’t understand it while I was floating in that weird sterile space.” Again, just an idea on how to do it, but maybe you see what I mean?

    That’s really all I have to add. These are great opening pages, so kudos to you!!