Monday, April 14, 2014

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Conner Revision 1

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

A guy’s following me.

Thigh-deep in Sand Blast Bay, with the strong Florida sunlight bouncing off the water, I focus on a scallop I’m about to snatch up to reach my quota for the day. Still, I know he’s there. I keep my back to him, irritation prickling my skin so that I can’t enjoy the warmth of the water and the faint balmy breeze. The hip-hop reverberating off the bay means he’s not here to fish. Or if he is, he has no clue. A party boat.

I touch the oyster knife strapped to my leg. It’s sharp enough to do more than just pry open shells.

The sapphire of scallop eyes flash in the grassy, brackish water. I submerge victoriously, blinking to clear my eyes as I push the bay grass aside to follow it. The scallop clicks its two shells together, an underwater butterfly, propulsing away and deeper into the mucky bay floor. I grab it. Then standing, 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—?” The scallop sinks into the now cloudy water. Floundering, the guy looks as dazed as I feel. Anger at losing the scallop and that he closed the distance between us so quickly helps me recover faster. I didn’t realize I was underwater for so long. Pulling the oyster knife from my leg sheath, I hold it out between us. I can’t stop myself from wondering if he could end my curse so I can go home. My hand tightens on the grip.

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

“Excuse you?” I spit, my bagged scallops clacking furiously.

He regains his footing as I blink to clear my eyes. 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 at him for being so hot and myself for noticing. I twist the edges of my Fish Shack tee shirt to wring out excess water.

“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, though a headache began throbbing immediately. “Why did you head butt me?” I should go, disappear into the marshes but this spot, about two hundred yards from the shoreline, is shallow and relatively clear. It’s been a favorite of mine for the past couple of days. Something makes me want to stay and talk to this sunshine-outlined mystery guy. Maybe it’s the flutters in my stomach 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? Then you went under so fast, I thought something got you.”

The bay water is still, reflecting pinks and oranges from the setting sun. “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 steps 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. I hold up my dive bag. “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 after Mama kicked me out of the house. “I’m from the Cape,” I respond once the knife is in hand again. Just those simple movements make me woozy. Not good.

“But even Cape kids go to Bayview High.”

“Home-schooled,” I say, 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 drop my oyster knife in the bay water as I clap my hand over my mouth, too late to keep those embarrassing words safely inside.

“What?” He grins and scoops up my knife, sliding it back into my leg-sheath. 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 as if a hundred motor boats are coming at me. I sway and he catches my elbow. There’s the electricity again. It grows fainter as I slip into the darkness.

Air whipping past revives me. The buzzing sound is louder, from an actual boat motor now. The sky is darker, but a normal, sun-about-to-set dusk rather than a black-out kind of darkness. I’m in an unfamiliar boat with an unfamiliar beach towel covering my still damp t-shirt and shorts. The ties of my swim suit top dig uncomfortably into my spine. Rising 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 lying on. 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. I’m hoping for a bolt of lightening to strike before I open my eyes.

“I put your scallops in the live well.”

I peek, one eye at a time. Now that the sun isn’t as harsh, his facial features are clearer. Long gold lashes frame bright green eyes with 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. I yank the towel over my head. “Thanks, but can you just throw me overboard?”

“You head-butted me—at your own expense—drew a knife on me and electrocuted me as I’m standing in water, so no. I’m not getting rid of you until you at least tell me your name.”


“Hi Mellie of the Bay, I accept your apology. I’m Raymond. And now we— that’s my buddy, Paul, captaining the wheel— are taking you to get your head checked out.”

I pull the towel down to glare at him. “I never apologized.”

“I’m sure you meant to.”

“I don’t need to get checked out.” I try sitting up again. I can’t go to the hospital because I don’t know how Mama’s curse has changed me. Fighting against waves of nausea and apprehension, I look around the boat for my water shoes.

He puts a hand out as if to hold me down but doesn’t touch me.


  1. I like these characters. She’s the tough girl who doesn’t need help from any man – yet likes the looks of this guy and wishes she didn’t. He is quite witty at times and a bit charming and cavalier.

    In this draft you have done a much better job of grounding us in the setting. Many little details add up to a much clearer picture.

    Maybe because I have a better idea of the setting, I am now struggling with the first line. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. The tension it implies is wonderful. It just doesn’t fully fit the scene to me. I imagine they are in a bay, which to me is a wide open space, and this guy is walking through the water towards her. Would that be considered following her? The word “follow” suggests to me that he is being secretive about approaching her or he is always behind her while she moves continuously forward. But in reality isn’t she staying in one area and he’s openly approaching her?

    I think the bumping of heads needs to be more impactful. How does she have time to blink the salt from her eyes before hitting him? I think it would be stronger if she just comes up and goes straight back down, possible before she even gets a breath.

    Her later comment about usually feeling things moving in the water might be best left unsaid. It makes the scene less believable by raising doubts I hadn’t considered. How didn’t she notice him? He would have to be right on top of her when she surfaces to bump heads. Unless, of course, he has some magical power that we will find out about later that allows him to move undetected in the water. In that case, nice foreshadowing.

    The section after the heads collide could be tightened up. It seems to take them a long time to figure out they bumped heads. Maybe take out one or two mentions of the heads.

    Great added details about her clothing and feeling dizzy so the faint is less sudden. I also really like the added details about the curse being from her mother and she needs to break it to go home.

    Now, about the touching. Is this the curse? If so, perhaps make that clearer. I think you need to pick one thing to compare the feeling she gets when she is touched. This line confused me: “Where his hand touches my skin jolts as if I stepped on a sting ray barb.” The “jolts” fits nice with electricity, but the sting ray barb I imagine more like a prick. Perhaps an electric eel would fit better.

    A few other lines that threw me off were:

    - “I submerge victorious” - since she hasn’t got the scallop yet, perhaps save victorious for when she stands up.
    -“propulsing” – I don’t think this is a word, but if you are creating one, I can imagine the meaning
    -“though a headache began throbbing immediately” verbs seem awkward. Maybe “though my head is throbbing”
    -“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” – something about the negative “didn’t” in this line made me have to think too hard.

    I like how by the end he has learned not to touch her. Although I am curious how they got her onto the boat without touching her. Does the shocking happen with everyone or just Raymond? Maybe the friend brought her?

    While this opening raises many questions, this time it also grounds us much better so not everything is a question. Now the main issues are clearer. What happened with mom? What is the curse? How can she end the curse? Is that what she wants the most -to end the curse and mend things with mom? Make sure her desire is very clear and your opening will be stronger for it.

  2. Hi Candice,

    Congratulations on really taking all of the feedback to heart and reworking these pages. I know how hard it is to boil down many different comments to what works for you and your story. I feel much better grounded in the setting and in the characters and their interactions/discussion.

    However, I agree with everything Sylvia has said above. She makes some excellent points and rather than reiterate them, I will just say I agree with her entire assessment and think you should take a really close look at her comments, including the lines she was confused on or thought were awkwardly worded—they all made me stumble as well. And I also now agree with her about the first line. I was going to bring this up as well. In the original draft I thought the man was after her in a sinister way and the following made sense. However, now that you've taken that more diabolical element away, I do wonder about starting with the word “following”. Every word choice helps you in your writing. It helps you set the tone, it helps the reader get to know your character, it helps the reader understand your scene. So every single word choice is key. You can't have any throw away words. If following evokes a certain feel or expectation from the reader, you need to follow through on that.

    I also completely agree with the bumping heads and that that needs to be more clearly described in terms of what's going on and how they manage to bump heads as well as just move along much faster. I was confused because she’s underwater but then the next line is dialogue and you generally can’t speak under water…. I was unsure if she, the scallop or the guy was floundering. Sometimes I think in your effort to use “high profile” verbs and adjectives, you tend to make the sentence more confusing. Simple and clear is better, I promise. I know we all want to use more unique words but when they come at the expense of clarity, it doesn’t help your cause.

    Also, whenever you are having interactions with characters and using dialogue, try to keep in mind how real people would act and the things they would say. Too much detail and going on too long about one minor thing doesn’t ring as true.

  3. As I say above, in terms of your language, I still think you need to go through with a fine-tooth comb and pay attention to every word choice. You have too much description and too many adjectives (and still too many long sentences). Keep in mind, one standout element to describe something is worth more than two or three lesser ones. The more elements you have in the same sentence or to describe the same thing, the less effect it has on the reader. Your great wording gets buried in too much wording. Even in your second paragraph, starting with thigh deep, you have a lot of description in a very short period between the strong Florida sunlight bouncing, the scallop she's about to pick up, irritation prickling her skin, the warmth of the water, the faint balmy breeze, the hip-hop reverberating, it's all a lot of description and it's a bit too much for the reader to get through. You want to set the scene but you want to do it as efficiently as possible.

    That's the word that I would use to describe the biggest thing you need to do in these pages: efficiency. You don't always have to use the most unique word ever—often a smaller word is better. Too many flashy words feel like overload.

    On the other hand, you also need to be careful about reusing phrases. You have your character clearing her eyes and blinking her eyes many times. You can't use that more than once.

    I would also be careful with how you describe her attraction to the guy. It would be better to describe how he is gorgeous than just flat out say he is gorgeous. And you actually do that so cut the line that he's gorgeous. We all know that young adult books have the cute girl and the hot guy but make sure it feels as natural as it can be and not forced which is a bit how this is coming across to me. There's so much going on, and the character is so strong and ready to defend herself and focused on the task but then the cute guy comes and literally knocks her off her feet. I'm not saying you can't have all this happen in the scene but just try to pay attention to make sure it feels as natural as it can. Or make more of a joke out of it could work too. Purposely play on it.

    I do really like how you add the information about her mother and the curse. That was definitely missing and it is a wonderful addition. Though I do wonder why a random guy might be the one to end her curse in her mind—a tiny nugget more there will help.

    I'm going to throw this out there as something you can think about. I feel like your story really picks up once she's on the boat. Have you thought about starting there? I like starting with the character being disoriented and not knowing what's going on or where she is or who this guy is. I think that may add a bit more tension and spice to your story start. And we can get the little snippets of detail about the setting while she's on the boat as opposed to getting that out to the reader first and then moving on to the story. May not work but it's just an idea.

    Efficiency and clarity should be your guiding forces in the next revision. Good luck and can't wait to see it!

  4. I love what you’ve done with this! The way you’ve changed things up makes the MC seem older to me, which is great.

    Like a previous poster, the first line, while a great hook, doesn’t work, because there’s no movement. She’s stationary. You could easily substitute: A guy’s watching me.

    Tiny suggestions to tighten this:

    You could take out the “away and” after propulsing, and the sentence would flow better.
    You could take out the “Then” before standing, because it’s implied it happens next just by her movement.
    “Pulling the oyster knife from my leg sheath, I hold it out between us.” To me, the holding it out implies giving it to him; maybe switch this to make it sound more threatening, which I imagine it is.
    I love the implication of the curse, but the “I can’t stop wondering” part confuses me, because it hasn’t been mentioned or implied in the passage thus far. Maybe something more like I wonder if he could . . ., only better.
    You could put a commas in a few places: “but really, my head is killing me” and after “Where his hand touches, my skin jolts, as if . . .” and after “I jerk back in surprise, and he does too.”
    It’s lightning, not lightening.

    I still love the sweet crabmeat line!

    All the best with this.

  5. Just thought I'd chime in again to say I like Marty's idea about changing "following" to "watching". Still a bit ominous, but also accurate.
    I cannot figure out how you could start on the boat, but I also don't know where this is going and how important the first scene is.
    On another note, something just occurred to me. Isn't there some major danger around electricity and water, scientifically speaking? Like get out of the water if there is a thunderstorm or if there is a girl giving off electric jolts. Just something to consider if what is happening is actually "electric" in nature.

  6. Hi Candice,

    Wow, you've done some super work here. What a terrific leap forward in this revision. Congratulations.

    I agree with the comments from the other wonderful ladies above about still doing some tightening and streamlining. The specifics above are all super suggestions. You have a lovely way with words, but pick and choose the ones that keep your action moving while maintaining your voice.

    As far as the grounding - much better. You have some good visual details in the "head throbbing" paragraph about relationship to the shoreline, water depth, etc. Those specifics would have really helped me earlier on. Bay makes me think of deeper water.

    Love the image of the "underwater butterfly," but I agree that propulsing doesn't hit the best note as far as word choice goes. It took me out of the story to try and picture it.

    I agree with the previous comments about the dialogue being a little too wordy. The line "You hit me on the head" could shift to something that plays with her snarky tone a little more.

    I'm also wondering if she is the type that would be overcome so quickly by a gorgeous guy. I feel she has more pluck than to go weak-kneed immediately. Is she really so out of it that she says the "You look beautiful," line?

    Agree again, that I want a more dynamic moment with the head bonk. I want to wince.

    I also need a teeny tiny bit of schooling on how one scallops - the moves etc. I'm so intrigued with the action of her gathering the scallops. Unique sitch, but I agree you don't want to dwell too much on it.

    As for the opening line - I agree that "following" doesn't seem like the best fit, but I love the tension of him invading her space.

    A little more about the curse would be cool too.

    Is the tourist and homeschooling info. necessary yet in the story? Just a thought.

    I know you have a lot to digest, so here's a high five for you and some pixie dust to sprinkle over your keyboard as you dive into the next revision.

    Thank you again for sharing your story.


  7. Hi Candice,

    I still really enjoy this, and you've definitely tightened it a bit and clarified it. Great work!

    I do agree what has been said above, but for slightly different reasons.

    1) The opening line isn't just a problem because the scene is static -- although that's true -- it's a problem because she fails to react. And that doesn't seem in keeping with her character, so it seems like a bit of a cheat.

    2) I'm still not sure that the curse or what's going on is clear enough, so I think you could push this further and really sweep us into the story. Establish what's really important to the story in that first sentence. Is it the curse? Is it the romance? Is it the threat of a guy encroaching on her space?

    3) I wouldn't worry SO much about language still for this next pass, because I think you still have a ways to go in constructing the flow of thoughts to get the reader really identifying with your protagonist. But, wherever you are thinking about language, truly opt for clarity. As an example, we have a guy mentioned in the first sentence, then in the next paragraph you are talking about a scallop, and then you reference the guy again simply as "he" -- these are issues that can be addressed in copyedit if they're occasional, but you don't want clarity to be an issue throughout.

    Overall, my suggestions for next time are to go through and prioritize your points again and to go back to thinking about her real thoughts as this progresses. I don't feel as though you're quite deep enough in her POV yet. A guy is coming up behind her -- from where? Does she not see the boat, how is there a boat so close and what does she think about that and when. Does it make her want to move, but she's only got the one scallop left to catch for her quota? At what point does she think about the curse and why? What's the trigger? What does she feel about the curse getting broken? How does it change her response?

    Basically, what are her goals? What is is motivation? The sooner you can let us get a sense of that, and give us an idea whether she thinks this guy is going to help or impede those goals and why, the more deeply invested we will be in the story.

    Good luck! I can't wait to see this next week!


  8. Great work! You did a great job tweaking your first version.

    I think you need a stronger first line. It didn't really grab me or hook me in. As I kept reading, I I got a much better feel for your characters than the previous version.

    I read through everyone's comments and agree with a lot of what was already said. I think you're on the right track and can't wait to read the next version!