Monday, April 7, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Conner

Name: Candice Marley Conner
Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism/ Fairytale Retelling

There’s a guy following me.

I try to ignore him but as I’m the only one wading out here, thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, it’s hard to do. His stride is unfamiliar so I glare at him even though the strong Florida sunlight bouncing off the water makes it pointless. He yells something that I can’t make it out, so I turn my back to him. Maybe it’s not the smartest course of action, but I want him to know I’ve got more important things to do like getting my quota of scallops for the day. He can just make his way back to those party boats he came from, the stereo loud enough that he and his buddies aren’t out here to fish. I touch the oyster knife strapped to my leg for reassurance.

The sapphire of scallop eyes flash in the grassy, brackish water and I submerge victoriously, blinking to clear my eyes so I can see to push the bay grass aside. The scallop clicks its two shells together, an underwater butterfly, propulsing away and deeper into the mucky bay floor. It can’t escape me though and I grab it. Standing up, blinking to clear the salt from my eyes before the sunlight makes them burn, my head smacks into something hard. I topple back underwater with a splash.

“What the—?” I screech, surfacing and sputtering, the scallop sinking into the now cloudy water. The guy flounders, looking as dazed as I feel though anger at losing the scallop and that he closed the distance between us so quickly helps me recover faster. I pull the oyster knife from my leg sheath. Holding it out between us, I can’t stop myself from wondering if he could end my curse. My hand tightens on the grip.

He gingerly touches his forehead. “What did you hit me with?”

“Excuse you?” I spit, my bagged scallops clacking at this interloper in admonishment.

He regains his footing as I blink furiously to clear my eyes. Now that I can see better without the glare, this guy is gorgeous. Even observing him with the sun to his back, he has golden skin stretched taunt over muscular shoulders, pecs, abs, and lower… oh, sweetcrabmeat!

“You’re going to gut me after you gave me a concussion?” He winces as he runs a hand through his hair.

“You hit me on my head,” I shoot back, annoyed anew at him for being so hot and myself for noticing.

“That was your head?”

The surprise in his voice makes me seriously consider gutting him, but instead I glower. If I draw blood, it’ll just attract sharks and then I’ll probably feel bad.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” I lie, even though a headache began throbbing immediately. “Why did you head butt me?” I should just go, turn heels and disappear into the marshes but this spot has been a favorite of mine for the past couple of days and oddly enough, something makes me want to stay and talk to this sunshine-outlined mystery guy. Maybe it’s the flutters in my stomach that feel like fish nibbling my toes.

“I didn’t mean to. I tried to get your attention. Figured maybe you were looking for something that flew off your boat? And then you went under so fast, I thought something got you.”

I look around at the still, flat water. Into the setting sun, the boats he walked over from are still pulled together. “Do you see a boat near me?”

“Well, I… no. That’s why I thought you needed help.”

“Oh, you were coming to rescue me. How sweet.” The sarcasm might be a side effect from the blow to the head. Or, maybe it’s part of my charm.

He takes a step back and a teeny, tiny part of me regrets being so harsh, but really my head is killing me. I’m irritated at myself for turning my back to him and letting him get so close. Usually I can feel things moving in the water; that’s why I’m good at scalloping.

By way of apology, I hold up my dive bag so he can see. The scallops inside clap their bivalves in reproach for being pulled out of the water. No matter, they’ll be in batter and hot oil soon enough. “I’m looking for these.”

“You’re not a tourist?”

I shake my head, then immediately regret it.

“I just figured you were with the um, green hair. Haven’t seen you around.”

I hold the knife between my teeth and brush my wet, yes, green hair into a ponytail, knotting it. I dyed it bright green soon after my mom kicked me out of the house for taking revenge on a father I thought for sixteen years was dead. “I’m from the Cape,” I respond once the knife is in my hand again.

“But even Cape kids go to Bayview High.”

“Home-schooled,” I say simply, uneasy at how personal our conversation is getting and how dark the world is growing.

“You don’t look so good…”

“You look beautiful,” I slur then drop my oyster knife in the bay water as I clap my hand over my mouth to keep those embarrassing words safely inside.


But I can see by the grin on his face that he understood me just fine. He scoops up the knife and slides it back into the sheath on my leg. Where his hand touches my skin jolts as if I stepped on a sting ray barb. I jerk back in surprise and he does too.

The space between us grows heavy and dark as he stands there, his eyes going from his still outstretched hand back to me. I want to sink into the water and disappear. Everything’s getting shadowy and now there’s a loud buzzing in my ears like a hundred motor boats coming at me at once. I sway and when he reaches out to catch my elbow, I feel the electricity again, but it grows fainter as I slip into the darkness.

When I come to, the buzzing sound is even louder but I realize it’s from an actual boat motor now. The air whipping passed revives me so that I see the sky has grown darker, but a normal, sun-about-to-set dusk rather than a black-out kind of darkness and that I’m in an unfamiliar boat with an unfamiliar beach towel covering me. Rising up to rest on my elbows makes my head spin.

“Hey, Ray? She’s up,” an unfamiliar masculine voice says.

Footsteps approach the padded bench I’m resting on and an electric current zings through the air so either a summer storm is about to strike or I didn’t just have a really bizarre, embarrassing dream. In that case, I’m hoping for a bolt of lightening to hit me before I have to open my eyes.

“I put your scallops in the live well.”

I open one eye at a time. Now that the sun isn’t as harsh, his facial features are clearer and they go along perfectly with everything I saw earlier. Long gold lashes frame bright green eyes with a light freckling on his nose. His lips are salt puckered and as they curve into a grin, I realize that he’s watching me stare in approval. Squeezing my eyes shut, I pull the towel over my head. “Thanks, but can you just throw me overboard?”


  1. Hi Candice. Great to have you participating in the workshop. The potential in this to be really fun story is clear! However, I think there are two overall points I’d like to make and see you work on for the next revision.

    1. We are five pages in, and I’m not sure enough has happened. Yes, you have an inciting incident with our MC meeting this stranger and ending up in his boat. However, you’re shrouding the entire scene in so much mystery that we are left not really knowing what’s happening or who our MC is (we don’t even have her name?) after five full pages. That’s too long to not have at least a better handle on who she is and what her story question is. To be honest, I received similar feedback on my MS early on. I was doling things out slowly, giving a more mysterious air to the novel. I was shot down time and again, critique after critique. Unfortunately, as I had to learn, that’s not the best way to start a novel. I fought it for a while and finally gave in (partly thanks to my own participation in this workshop last year!). And when I did, my story found its voice and started getting attention from contests and agents. And now I can see why. There are so many stories out there. We as readers as well as agents need to know what your story is about from the get go. You don’t have to give all your secrets away. I’m not saying that. But we need a clearer handle on who your MC is and what her story question is right off that bat—this way we can better understand the inciting incident and how it affects her and rocks her world. And this isn't all just for agents. For readers to connect with your main character and want to follow her, they need to be more grounded in who she is and what this story is going to be about. One thing that is also impacting this feeds into my next point.

    2. I think overall the language could use some thinning out. It is a bit heavy on adjectives and description that weighs down the scenes. Especially because you tend to write with very long sentences, having a lot of adjectives in each sentence starts to be weighty for the reader. It urge you to cut down on some of the details you give in addition to varying your sentence length. And also watch out for having repeat words close together. This will all give your writing more efficiency and it will read more smoothly and engage the reader more. For example, take out filter words, which are words like see, hear, feel, etc. Especially in first person these words take us out of the scene and we want to be right there with our main character. As an example, even in your first line you could take out try to and just say she's ignoring him. I’ll take your first couple of lines and trim them and you can get a better handle on what I mean and how it might ease things out.

    A guy’s following me.

    I’m thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, the sun’s bouncing off the water, my eyes are focused on the last scallop I’m about to snatch to reach my quota for the day, and still I know he’s there. I keep my back to him. The hip-hop reverberating off the ocean means he’s not here to fish. Or if he is, he has no clue about fishing. A party boat.

    Still, if he is following me, this oyster knife strapped to my leg can do more than pry open shells.

    This is just an example, but I wanted to show you how trimming out the excise might help the entire pages move faster and allow you to give us less descriptive elements and substitute in more of your MC and the story.

    I’m looking forward to your revision!


  2. I enjoyed your beginning and the relationship you establish between the characters but I’m not sure what your story will be about from your first five. You spend a lot of time with her avoiding the guy, then arguing with him. Things start to pick up when she wakes on his boat, but that’s 1200 words into the story. Consider shortening it somewhat to get there sooner.

    You could tighten things up by taking out unnecessary words: so, that, see, hear, look. They slow your pace.

    I couldn’t tell at first if the MC was female or male, and the voice sounds a little younger than sixteen in places. It threw me a little when she checks out the guy, because I thought she was younger, maybe thirteen or fourteen. And I picture him much older. If he’s closer to her age, maybe make that clear, since he seems to be (?) a potential love interest.

    I think you could break this and a few of your longer sentences up: The guy flounders, looking as dazed as I feel though anger at losing the scallop and that he closed the distance between us so quickly helps me recover faster. For me, there are too many thoughts here. I had to reread because I didn’t want to miss anything.

    All the best with this!

  3. I like the details you give us about the MC such as the knife strapped to her thigh, the green hair, etc. I am intrigued by her curse and definitely want to know what is going on whenever the hot guy touches her. She is shaping up to be quite an edgy girl. But obviously this guy is her weakness. I love the line “sweet crabmeat.”

    What is missing for me is the context. The novel is labelled “magical realism,” but I am having trouble picturing a place where this girl and her behaviour are real. For some reason I am imagining a more dystopian setting. A few more well-chosen details about the setting is probably all it would take to ground me in time and place. One thing that I was wondering about was temperature – is it hot? Is the water cold? What is she wearing, besides a knife?

    I agree with the comments about shortening some of the wordy sentences and tightening up the dialogue section. I found it hard to follow their conversation because it was broken up by a lot of expository. Some lines could easily be dropped or cut much shorter in order for the conversation to flow better. For example:
    “I look around at the still, flat water. Into the setting sun, the boats he walked over from are still pulled together.” This line could probably be dropped since we know there is no boat around. The conversation following shows us, so no tell is needed.

    “By way of apology, I hold up my dive bag so he can see. The scallops inside clap their bivalves in reproach for being pulled out of the water. No matter, they’ll be in batter and hot oil soon enough.” This could be reduced to “I hold up my dive bag.”

    A few specific lines that stuck out to me were:
    - “I’m the only one wading out here” – but she’s not the only one, he’s there too, right?
    - “I’ll probably feel bad” about the sharks? Or about him getting eaten? Since I don’t really have a feel for the setting and MC yet, I don’t know if this is supposed to be funny or if she is quite serious
    - “mom kicked me out of the house (for taking revenge on a father…)” I think the father can wait, give us the back story later when it fits more naturally

    Finally, I am unclear about the electricity described. Is this the curse she was talking about? If so, she has obviously had this type of experience before. It doesn’t read like she is familiar with it. But then, maybe the electricity is new and the curse is something else… see you’ve got me wondering which means I will turn the page!

  4. I like your writing here. It's solid. You do a good job setting the scene. And I like the details.

    There's a couple of things that come up that are very intriguing - why did she get kicked out? I'd read on to find out.

    My biggest issue is that I'm not entirely sure where the story's going. I'm not sure you're starting it in the right place. Is the inciting incident meeting the stranger? I'm not entirely sure from the context. I think there might be too much detail in these first five pages. I think the reader needs more action - or at least more of a clue about what the story's about to keep reading. Where does the magic come in? I'd love to have a clue somewhere in the beginning.

    You've got a good solid start here!

  5. Hello Candice,

    Thank you so much for sharing your work. You are a Ninja Jedi for putting yourself “out there” on the page for others to discuss. I’m commenting before I read the other input so forgive any redundancies. Here are some broad strokes for this initial pass.

    Applause for:
    -The title even though I’m a little confused what a Mellie Feye is. I’m assuming that’s your MC. If so – I’d I.D. her by name from the get go

    -Lead line – My adrenaline spiked (more on that below)

    -The scallop gathering setting – unique with magical potential

    -Oh sweetcrabmeat! /…makes me seriously consider gutting him./ “Thanks, but can you just throw me overboard.” – Little windows into the character (more please)

    -The potential of this piece to be something fresh for me – My mind is buzzing with lots of “I want to know the answer to this” questions that would keep me reading.

    Overall: I think you can streamline this opening segment. Try a quickwrite on just the dynamics of the action in this first sequence and then decided how much description, IM, etc. needs to be added back in order to avoid confusion, but not kill the tension

    Lead: Your opening line posed immediate tension, but then it was diluted because I couldn’t tell if the MC truly felt danger, or if the guy posed legitimate danger

    Physical grounding: more “lay of the land” (or sea). I need help to visualize the relationship of characters to the scallop bed, ocean, boats, shoreline etc.

    Character reveal: male or female/ age, personality, is she human, magical?

    Bump to blackout: a more definite deterioration so we know she’s going down and how the decline in consciousness is reflected in her actions/IM’s/dialogue

    Word choice: In first person make sure you choose words your character would use – example: is “anew” in her every day speak? Often the simpler word choice is the better one.

    Magic: Knowing this is magical realism, I focused on the word “curse,” but there was no follow up. The trick will be to bring in the magical element early on without an information dump on what the curse is, but a breadcrumb there would be nice.

    Metaphoric vs. actual: Some of the descriptions confused me as to whether they were literal or not – ex. …how dark the world is growing

    Stakes: Not sure what they are for the MC.

    Looking forward to your revision. Sending virtual chocolate.

  6. Huge thanks to everyone for commenting! I can't wait to revise Mellie.

  7. Hi Candice,

    So first off, I want to say that you've already built up some nice, fun heat between the characters and your visuals are lovely. It's clear that you've got a facility with character and description, as well as language, that is natural and pleasing. There's a ton of potential here. I'm--of course--wondering which fairy tale you're retelling, and I'm already seeing lovely hints of magical realism, so that's great.

    I do feel like you've introduced some intriguing elements--the father, obviously, and the curse--and the green hair. Her ability to spot the scallop eyes so clearly is also intriguing. But there are things that swept by too fast or were insufficiently explained that need to be prioritized.

    From a plot and character development perspective, I suggest prioritizing what you absolutely need for readers to know up front. You've got a great voice going here and you're clearly deeply, deeply familiar with your MC, but sometimes the narrative here feels as though her descriptions are going on longer than they would in her stream of consciousness. Focus and ask yourself not just why you are telling the reader something, but why you are telling it right then. If it can be moved to later in the story, push it back.

    As far as language goes, I suggest examining how often you are using simultaneous actions and conjunctions in your sentences and how that effects pace and tension. You use a lot of "as" sentences, for example, which tends to slow things down. But primarily, you need to add shorter sentences and varied sentence constructions to keep the reader focused on the content instead of falling into a steady rhythm that sweeps the meaning away in a lull of words. Use sentence construction to underscore the emotion of the sentence or paragraph.

    The sophistication of your writing--and especially the beautify of your imagery--lets me know that you can absolutely elevate the writing here another notch or two even above where you have it. And I think that will push this piece to a level where you will get a lot of attention when you submit.

    I'm truly eager to see what you will do with this next week. Focus on story question and sweeping the reader into the story, and I don't think you can go wrong with this!

    All best,


  8. Since magical realism and fairy tale retellings are two of my favorite things in YA and in literature as a whole, the genre label for this excites me, as well as the title. Overall, I'm intrigued by this beginning, but I would love to see those intriguing elements deepened.

    The mentions of the curse and the heroine's supposed-dead father are brief but powerful, and they pull me into your protagonist right away. However, they seem to be let go after an instant, which made me question how important they might be. I was a little uneasy that we don't get the MC's name even into the first five pages, but I'm assuming from your title that it's Mellie. The voice seems somewhat rough at times, trying to strike a balance between snappy and sophisticated. Although I think it is almost settled, you may want to go through and smooth these parts out.

    For example: "The scallops inside clap their bivalves in reproach for being pulled out of the water. No matter, they’ll be in batter and hot oil soon enough."

    I liked the dialogue between your MC and this mystery guy. It flowed nicely and I got a feel for both characters right away.

    My biggest question was about the conflict - I didn't feel that a definite conflict had been set up. I might suggest perhaps starting a bit later into the story in order to heighten the stakes, but this was really the only major edit I would make to these pages.

    All the best!