Monday, February 10, 2014

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Wilson Revision 1

Name: Kip Wilson
Genre: Young Adult LGBT Historical
Title: The Most Dazzling Sunrise in Berlin

The steel-gray sky loomed, pressing me to hurry. With one hand, I held on to my cloche as I launched my heeled oxfords over the sidewalk. Most everyone stepped aside to let me pass, but one bespectacled old woman eyed me with disapproval, clutching her handbag with hawk-like talons. Perhaps she secretly wished she could be so spry, so brazen. Or perhaps she knew something I didn’t. I pulled my own handbag closer as I sped down the block.

Moments later, church bells chimed six o’clock. It couldn’t be! The film production studio was across the Spree River; I’d never make the audition in time. My footsteps faltered. Leaning against a shop window, I pulled the advertisement from my pocket and held it up to the light.

Extras wanted for Fritz Lang picture
10 Reichsmark/day
Auditions Nero-Film AG, Unter den Linden 21
Doors close at 18:00

I’d missed my chance. I should never have indulged Lottchen one last fairy tale before bursting into the evening. I kicked a pebble and shoved the paper in my pocket.

Just then, movement inside the shop caught my attention. A carefully-coiffed, well-fed woman pointed at the display case. The salesgirl smiled proudly and held up an ornate necklace of glimmering gold. I pressed my nose against the glass. The necklace gnawed at me with as much ferocity as my empty stomach. Not because it was beautiful—though it was—but because its theft might tide us over a bit longer.

Evidently the necklace tugged at the customer too. She waved a hand, as only the rich can, confident that others will do their bidding. The salesgirl nodded and smiled. She took great care placing the necklace in a box and adorning it with a silky bow before handing it to the customer, who slipped it into the pocket of her ermine coat as though it were nothing. Yet that unimportant necklace could feed my little sister for a month.

My mind was made up. I pulled my cloche lower and leached into a doorway beside the window as the woman stepped out onto the sidewalk. Wasting no time, I took a deep breath and attached myself to her like a shadow. Matching her movements, I swept my arm forward when she did, reaching from behind and lifting the box with extreme care. She continued down the block oblivious, while I slipped back into the darkness.

Only then did I see Kurt across the street, watching. Nein! I froze. He stood spindly as a street lamp in his too-short knickerbockers. His cap was tipped back, giving him a startled expression. A foggy breath escaped my lips as I waited to see what he would do.

For another moment, the two of us stood there, observing each other. We had history, Kurt and I. History that had ended badly.

His gaze fixed on me, Kurt pulled his cap firmly in place. He ran.


I turned and ran in the other direction—as far as I could get from Kurt.

Surely he was already on his way to turn me in to his Ringverein’s boss. A lump grew in my throat. I had to get out of this neighborhood. My breath thundered in my ears as I sped down the block. Everyone knew this part of Berlin was his gang’s territory, but I didn’t think anyone would’ve been watching my theft.

Especially not Kurt.

I hurried down the sidewalk, slowing only when I got to the corner of Lüneburger Straße. The oncoming traffic was never-ending. I waited, dangling a foot over the curb. A taxi honked its tinny horn at me. If only I had the handful of Reichsmark needed to step inside and let it whisk me away.

But I didn’t, and before I could cross the street, rough hands grabbed me. A thick arm braced my neck in a choke hold.

“Nein!” I cried. None of the passersby who’d been on the sidewalk moments before my theft were anywhere in sight now. I was on my own. Before I could twist around for a look at my attacker, he had already dragged me to the mouth of a dark alley. Fear sent an icy chill down my spine. He could do anything to me back there, and no one would know.

“Let me go!” I wiggled my shoulders to try to free myself. But my struggle only made him drag me faster. Within seconds, we were deep in the alley. It stank of week-old garbage. Something scurried over one of my shoes, and I quivered, snatching my foot away. But whatever creatures lived in the alley were the least of my worries. My gaze darted left, right, up. There was no way out.

The thug shoved me against the wall and ripped my handbag from my grasp as two more shadows appeared at the end of the alley. One was solid and stout, the other tall and thin. Kurt. I let out a breath of relief before remembering Kurt had put me here. He’d be no help. Together he and the other shadow blocked out the light from the streetlamps beyond. They made their way toward us as the man in front of me rifled through my handbag.

“That’s mine.” I tried to snatch it back, but he shoved me against the wall again. Once he found the box, he handed it to the giant of a man who stepped forward from the shadows. Even with the brim of his black fedora low over his eyes, I’d have recognized him anywhere: Emil Feuerstein, the boss of Kurt’s Ringverein. I glanced beside him at Kurt, but he avoided my gaze.

“I’ll take that.” Emil pocketed the box and moved closer. His muscle-bound thug pressed closer to my side as if reminding me he was there. As if I could forget. The lump in my throat grew, making it impossible to swallow.

“Magdalena Braun.” Emil poked my chin upward with a thick finger. “I don’t know what you were thinking, robbing in my neighborhood. The spoils around here belong to me, which can only mean one thing. You belong to me.” His finger jabbed into my chin from below again, knocking the back of my head against the wall, coating my hair in alley grime. My head smarted.

“Hey,” I said, trying to sound brave. “Watch out. You’re hurting me.”

“I’ll hurt you a lot more than that if I have to.” His grip closed around my throat. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. I shot a glance at Kurt. He was all I had.

Kurt was bouncing up and down on his heels, but after meeting my gaze, he stepped forward. “Emil.”

It was all Kurt said, but Emil whipped his head around. When he turned back to face me, his lip curled up in a smirk. “Anyone who owes me a debt has to work for me. Luckily for you, one of the dancers at my cabaret up and left this week, and I can use a pretty girl like you to replace her.”

A cabaret. As badly as I wanted to make it big on the silver screen, I hadn’t sunk that low yet. The cabaret wasn’t a rung on the way to stardom; it was a step down. Even worse, I’d heard the rumors about Café Domino—that it was for lesbians. I squirmed in my heels.


  1. I like what you did to clarify why Magdalena gives up on the audition, but I still don't feel entirely connected to her in that moment. It should be the moment when we as readers feel her dejection and know that in her desperation, she's turned to thievery and then gets trapped into this life of serving a gang boss. Because it has such heavy repercussions for the MC (or at least her actions directly afterward do), I'd like to know more of what she's feeling then - who she is before her life turns completely wayward. You have: "It couldn't be!" "My footsteps faltered." "I’d missed my chance. I should never have indulged Lottchen one last fairy tale before bursting into the evening. I kicked a pebble and shoved the paper in my pocket." It feels kind of faint given how detailed your scene with Emil is. There I feel her terror and I'm with her, imagining how horrible that will be. I'm with her as she steals the necklace (though I miss some of the detail you had in your first submission). But I'm not with her yet when she gives up on the audition. Otherwise, I think this is a really strong piece.

  2. I thought this was pretty strong to begin with, and you've only improved it. Nice job!

    I love the addition of the audition details. That definitely makes it clear why she won't make it in time. You've also added more time-period details. I don't have a lot to add at this point. You've raised some questions - her history with Kurt, her future at the cabaret- that will hook the reader. Nothing at this point that would trip me up.

    Good luck with this!

  3. I really enjoyed the WWII Germanic touches you inserted. Reminded me a bit of how The Book Thief was set (if you haven’t read already, that might be a good one to peruse for details on the settings). And the ad had a lot of nice touches. Overall, this revision feels so much more real to me. Well done!

    The first paragraph had a much better sense of urgency this time around. I actually got the feeling that she was trying to get somewhere, rather than leaping about, carefree. However, I still didn’t get the sense that she was in a “Run, Lola Run” dash. I’m not sure if you’re trying to get across an ambiguity (if she only half-heartedly wants to get there), but that’s still what I’m getting. If she was really rushing, I want a better sense of pushing people out of the way, darting like the wind, etc. and then showing some real emotion about missing out. Swears at herself? Crumples up the ad? Something to show me that it was actually important. And if it really wasn't important, show us that.

    Also in the first paragraph, “cloche” threw me off. It didn’t particularly feel German, and I had to go look it up. And after figuring out what it was, it didn’t seem right for a thief, especially in WWII Germany.

    Here are some other word choice issues that cropped up for me:
    - Leached – nice word! But I’m not sure it’s quite right.
    - The word “knickerbockers” doesn’t feel right to me. Is Kurt a kid?
    - “Nein!” doesn’t feel quite right. I know it helps the story feel more German, but why is she speaking a combination of German and English?”
    - “Quivered” and “snatching” produce a dissonance for me. I would think she’d snatch her foot away, and perhaps quiver afterward?
    - “Breath of relief” doesn’t feel right. I think you’re trying to give us a sense that she’s trusted Kurt in the past, and I like that. But she’s running right now, knowing that Kurt is the one that is turning her in. Consider having internal dialogue, showing us her torn feelings for Kurt?
    - “Bouncing up and down…” doesn’t feel right. I think you’re trying to have him be anxious? The bouncing bit makes him seem more excited to me. And I think he’s torn, perhaps trying to protect her? It would help to clarify that, even if he just says a few words before Emil cuts him off.

    “Just then…” I would like a better transition here. The shop is introduced too suddenly.

    The theft is much better – I really like getting a little detail. But it doesn’t seem realistic yet. Wouldn’t the woman notice someone walking right alongside? It felt a little vaudevillian rather than shadowy thievery.

    It still seems too oblivious for her not have watched for gangs around her. I’d buy it if she had gone into her thief zone/trance, forgetting about everything else. But avoiding the gangs would likely be in the forefront of her mind, wouldn’t it? She doesn’t seem stupid; I would expect her to at least check carefully around before she does it.

    Emil’s idea still seems to come to him too easily. Could you at least have him look her up and down, seeing her dancer’s outfit or something?

    Finally, I really like the way you end it. Lesbians would likely be a real pariah in WWII Germany, yeah? Nice touch! Perhaps you could expound even more upon that. Squirming is good, but feelings of disgust, perhaps?

    Really looking forward to your next revision!

  4. Kip,
    This is a much improved beginning, setting the scene and giving us insight into Magdalena’s character and motivation. Very nice description of pickpocketing. Exciting action when she’s grabbed and dragged into the alley.
    “It was all Kurt said, but Emil whipped his head around. When he turned back to face me, his lip curled up in a smirk.” How does Kurt react when Emil whips his head around?
    This piece has been vastly improved, and you should feel good about that. The one issue I’m still having trouble with is no sense of when in history it takes place. Some time after 1910, clearly, but when? As I said previously, a few details would help. A bit of description of the jewelry shop? The street and streetlamps (gas or electric?), public transportation, etc.

  5. Hey Kip,

    Strong move forward. Good problem solving with the line “Doors close…” Overall much tighter piece. Hooray for you.

    Some broad strokes:
    More details to ground the setting. Fodder for visualization. Is it a street of fancy shops? Is Mag out of place? Is that why the lady grabs her cloche?

    The added German touches are helping, but make sure your choices are audience relatable and ring true. Example: Someone on the way to a dance audition wouldn’t have a cloche – they’d have whatever the German version of a dance bag is. The word Ringverein takes me out of the story. I’m trying to figure out what it is. Maybe a quick appositive would help. It jars me again when it appears later. And speaking of appositives – can we have one after Lottchen so we know who that is? And knickerbockers make me think of Newsies. That may be an accurate German term, but since it’s a funny sounding word it is a mismatch for your opening tone.

    I still want to be more inside Mag’s emotions. I also want her reactions throughout the piece to ratchet up. What are the stakes of her missing that audition? Surely more than a pebble kick. The negative energy from that misfortune could drive her to the disastrous chain of events that the stealing sets in motion. I need to feel an adrenaline rush during the theft. How good a thief is she? What are her odds of success? Is she worried about a slip up? Immerse me in all the uncertainty, stress, and potential disaster of her act. AND I want to feel her panic, desperation, and genuine fear when she is snatched in the alley.

    Avoid using AS unless it is essential two actions happen simultaneously. Let each specific action make its impact.

    You don’t need time markers: “moment later,” “just then,” etc. They can stall or dilute the action unless they are absolutely necessary information for the reader.

    More specific notes:

    Watch out for clichés and go for word choices with crisper levels of specificity.

    -P4 swap: missed my chance for something that conveys the importance of the audition
    - P5: ornate necklace (how is it ornate) glimmering gold (what part of it is gold?) I want to be able to draw the jewelry from your words.

    Same principle with the theft. I want to be able to act out the scene from your description. Bravo for the added details – now add an emotional component. When you say Mag. attaches like a shadow – can you amp up the description with a poetic spin maybe?

    The “had history” with Kurt isn’t enough for me. I know you just want to drop a hint here, but can you give me a teeny something more. Toxic past? Unresolved feelings? I’m craving a little more foundation since he does step in for her in the alley.

    What does the # mean?

    Watch out for repeated words. Kurt ran then she ran.

    I’d nix the lump in the throat. It feels sentimental and she’s in survival mode.

    I’m still wondering what happened to all the people on the street?

    The line “remembering Kurt had put me here” threw me. I feel like I missed something.

    I think you can still skew the dialog to feel more scary/threatening in the alley.

    Why is it “lucky” for her that Emil needs a dancer? Does that keep him from killing her? It also feels very quick that he pegs her for a dancer. Can he reflect for a moment – pull something out of her bag? Or maybe even act like she’s a crummy choice, but she fills a gap and he owns her now.

    Rephrase it was for lesbians. Catered to…Attracted…Famous for its…Her action of squirming shows she’s uneasy – can you play with an internal thought there?

    I can’t wait to read your next installment.

    Your story still has me in its clutches. Such an intriguing premise. My reader brain is dying to see the inside of Café Domino and dig into the Mag./Kurt relationship. See the hook sticking out of my lip?

  6. Hi Kip,

    I love this revision! You really dove right into clarity, well-done! I don.’t really have that many suggestions

    I love how visual your writing is. I could see Magdalena shadowing the woman she stole the necklace from.

    I still would like a couple more details for when this is all happening, maybe put a date on the call for auditions?

    The ending seemed a tad bit (seriously, the tiniest bit) heavy handed when it is mentioned Cafe Domino is for lesbians. Can you have that revealed in dialogue? When Emil tells her she has to work at the Cabaret maybe something along the lines of her saying she isn’t a lesbian or some other way to drop it in. (Lightbulb moment! Is this about the Weimar District?! Oh I hope so!)

    Looking forward to more!

  7. Hi Kip! I have to agree with the other critiquers here and say, Bravo! You've really brought this up a level from last week. I love the details you’ve dropped in—like with her shoes or the location of the studio. Well done!

    That said, I think you can bring out the setting even more still. And if it makes you feel any better, I ALWAYS have to layer in setting several times. Even after my book is with my editor, she’ll want more-more-more—so you are totally not alone in this! A few more key descriptions will really bring this to life. Like you could add something in the very first sentence: The steel-gray sky loomed behind (building description here), pressing me to hurry before another Berlin spring rain erupted. Obviously I have no idea what season it is or if rain is common in a Berlin spring (they sure were in Bayern, where I lived!), but maybe you get what I’m saying?

    You’ve also done an excellent job showing more/telling less. So yay!! Now let’s take up one more notch. Show me more of M’s personality. What about this word choice follows M.’s way of thinking and reacting? Give me her unique filter on the world; write everything she sees/does through that lens. I’m not saying rewrite what you have here, but rather sprinkle in things that instantly tell the reader what kind of person we’re dealing with.

    Here are some examples. So if M. were a cavalier MC, she might say:

    “With one hand, I held on to my cloche as I launched my heeled oxfords over the sidewalk. They clacked in that satisfying way that said “I’m important, step aside.” Most people did step aside, but one nasty old woman eyed me like I might steal her handbag.

    She was right—I would steal it, given the chance. So I flashed her a toothy grin and then clack-clacked past her.”

    Or a more self-deprecating MC:

    “Cloche clasped tight in one hand, I launched over the sidewalk—only to step right into a pile day-old dog crap. Great. Getting poodle turd off heels is almost impossible—not to mention I’d had the darn oxfords shined last night. Oh, and I’m sure the people at my audition would love the smell I’d carry in.”

    OBVIOUSLY, these are just examples (I’m sure you can do much better! Plus, you know M’s personality, and clearly I don’t!). Maybe you see what I mean, though, about sprinkling in voice and M.’s unique lens? I’d love to see more of her personality, how she views the world, and how she sees herself. I think just peppering in a few more details and reactions will really let us see that.

    I can’t wait to see what you have next week! You’ve done SUCH a great job—like, I can see how hard you’ve worked. So go you!! I’m sure next will be all the better. :) :)