Sunday, November 9, 2014

First 5 Pages November Workshop - Minsky Rev 1

Name: Connie Minsky
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

I had never seen a dead body, but I suspected the one I was staring at was lifeless.
Sam, my boyfriend, and I, went out with our dogs for a hike through the Presidio, a national park in the middle of our city, San Francisco. We entered the park through an open iron wrought gate. We stood on a cement road about to turn and wander down a small grassy hill with tall trees when I spotted the body.
I tugged at Sam’s jacket and nodded toward its direction. It was to our right, not too far down and slumped against a tree. Her head hung low with long blond hair covering her face. She wore dark clothing, and there was a black backpack next to her.
My body tensed as my heart picked up its pace. It pounded against my chest and my hands became clammy and unsteady. I gripped my dog’s leash a bit tighter. The sight of the girl frightened me, but I was also curious. I couldn’t take my eyes off her distant, limp body. I wondered what happened to her. It was eerie the way the body leaned against the tree with its head dangling forward like her neck couldn’t sustain its weight.
It was Sunday morning, and the July fog was thick, which added to the sinister scene. Wisps of white ghosts lingered about as the foghorn blared in the distance. It was windy and chilly. We stood there staring when I finally broke the silence. “What should we do? Maybe she’s still alive, just unconscious.”
I took about one step toward her direction when Sam grabbed my arm.
“Lexi, I don’t think we should go down there,” he said. “She’s definitely dead.”
Miles, my dog, began barking. I held on tighter to his leash, afraid he might pull me down the slope blanketed with grass, dried leaves and fallen branches. It felt wrong to do nothing but stare.  As curious as I was, my fear was slightly stronger.
“Maybe we should go, or I don’t know, call someone,” I announced.
Sam took out his cell. “I’ll call 911. I don’t think we should mess with anything like touching her or her stuff.”
He made the call and then put his arm around me. I snuggled into him seeking comfort.
“What if she’s hurt?” I asked.
“She’s dead, Lexi. She wouldn’t be slumped like that if she were hurt. And she looks stiff. It’s kinda freaking me out. I wonder how long she’s been here,” Sam said.

“What do you think happened to her?” I questioned him.
“Don’t know. Someone must have killed her. It’s definitely bad.” We both gave a shiver as if we were shaking off something undesirable that fell upon us.

Sam was generally laid-back, always calm, but the quivering in his voice said otherwise. Some minutes passed and we became brave. We decided to go down a short distance. Would we see her face if we moved in closer? Could it be possible she was breathing and Sam was wrong? With our dogs we slowly made our way down the hill. Thin branches crackled under our feet while we descended. I panicked as we neared the site and changed my mind. I agreed with Sam, she was gone and getting close to death scared the hell out of me. I wanted us to turn back so we did.
While we waited for the police, Sam lifted the camera that hung from his neck. He took photos of the girl. He always brought his camera wherever we went. I called it his fifth limb. He took good pictures. Photography was more than a hobby for Sam, it was his passion. He snapped away. At one point he zoomed in on her.
“Lexi, look at this!”
He removed the camera from his neck and handed it to me. I still couldn’t see her face, but what I did see made me look away from the camera and stare at him. Blood. Her blond hair had some strands streaked with blood. We could also see drops splattered on her jacket. Dried, caked, dull red blood.
“I shuddered and said, “I don’t like this, let’s just go. The police will find her without us. We don’t have to wait.”
“Okay,” Sam said. “I’m a bit spooked.”
“Wait!” I told him. “But I’m also curious what the police will say.”
We talked and chose to stay. It felt like an eternity, but it wasn’t too long when two police officers, a woman in plain clothes and paramedics arrived. By then we weren’t alone. Several people gathered around us wanting to know what happened. Sam pointed to the direction of the body when one of the officers asked about it. The woman introduced herself as Detective Rosales and asked if any of us made the call.
“I did,” Sam said.
“Would you mind waiting?” she asked. “I would like to ask you some questions.”
“Sure,” Sam replied.
Carefully they balanced themselves as they navigated the grassy hill to the girl. The police and detective put on light colored purple gloves and knelt down next to the body while the paramedics waited with the gurney they wheeled along. They were talking to one another, but we couldn’t hear the words. While all this was taking place an official looking man walked through the gate and joined the crew by the body. They were all quite chatty. They surveyed the area near the girl.
Carrying the girl’s backpack, Detective Rosales made her way back up to us. She was a tall, slender, pretty woman with short dark hair. She was stylish, had a confident walk and when she spoke, her voice was strong and serious. It didn’t match her soft, model-like beauty. I was intimidated, not by her appearance, but by her tough demeanor.
“You didn’t notice anything or anyone? Just walking through and spotted the body?” she asked Sam.
“Yeah, that’s right,” he responded.
“Did you go down there? Touch anything?” she inquired.
“No, we stayed here,” he told her.
“Good. How old are you?”
“We’re both seventeen,” Sam answered.
“Your name?” She looked at Sam.
“Sam Taylor.”
She looked at me. “And you?”
“Alexis Chase.”
“Do you live around here?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I answered. “About a ten-minute walk.”
“Thanks for calling. I’m sure this was scary for you to see.” She asked for both our phone numbers, our home, not cell numbers.
“Do you know what happened?” I hesitantly asked.
“Appears to be a suicide,” Detective Rosales stated.
“Suicide?” Sam repeated.
“Sadly, yes. We found a note in her backpack.”
“How old was she?” I asked.
“According to her driver’s license she was twenty-three,” the detective said.

“Oh.” My voice sank. I felt sick to my stomach. Murder was bad enough, but choosing to take her own life really disturbed me. Then again, the detective said it appeared to be suicide, so possibly it could be discovered the girl didn’t kill herself.
“We’ll investigate, but for now, that’s what we’re seeing. Thanks for your help, and if we have any more questions we’ll call,” Detective Rosales said.
“Okay.” Sam spoke for the both of us.
The dead girl was placed on the gurney, covered and wheeled back up. The detective thanked us again and handed Sam her business card telling him if we thought of anything to call her. They all walked out the gate and the crowd dispersed. Once again we were alone.


  1. Hi Connie,

    Great job on the revision! This reads much tighter to me. There are some spots that feel telling to me still, such as spots that Lexi mentions “The sight of the girl frightened me, but I was also curious.” At this point, we know Lexi is frightened but curious because we’ve seen it within the scene, so her repeating it feels unnecessary.

    Another spot: “I snuggled into him seeking comfort.” Snuggling implies the comfort.

    I love the spot you have about Miles pulling on the leash (no need to say “afraid he might pull me down the slope…” Show that there’s risk for that, and we’ll be afraid with her).

    The whole paragraph from “We decided to go down a short distance” to “I wanted us to turn back so we did” felt a little telling. I wanted to hear the conversation that led to deciding to go closer, and then her asking Sam to turn around. Not having that distanced me from the characters.

    Can she tell when the camera zooms in? I’m not familiar enough with cameras to know if it’s possible to see that from the other side of the lens.

    Lexi seems a bit flip-floppy in this version. One minute she’s scared and wants to leave (“I don’t like this, let’s just go”) to wanting to say within a single line of dialog (“Wait…I’m also curious.”) I can understand having warring emotions, but she seems to flip too frequently and too quickly.

    And lastly, I lost sight of the dogs within the scene once the police get there. Some dogs really don't like people in uniforms, and my dog acts totally different when she's on a leash, like she's in "work mode." She becomes very protective of me when she's on the leash. How do their dogs react to all this activity and the detective?

    Hope this helps for the next round!

  2. Hi Connie,

    I’m seeing your story in there more clearly this week, but there’s still way too much exposition getting in the way.

    Your first sentence is a great start. We’re in Lexi’s pov. But then you immediately pull back with four paragraphs of backstory you probably don’t need here. You can weave all that it in as the narrative moves forward.

    I’d rather see you jump from the first sentence to this:

    I took about one step toward her direction when Sam grabbed my arm.

    “Lexi, I don’t think we should go down there,” he said. “She’s definitely dead.”

    Then decide whether you want Lexi to be predominantly repelled or intrigued and go with that. Right now, both emotions read equally, giving a sort of halting quality to the narrative that stalls the action rather than moving it forward.

    I also think it still takes way too long to get to the conversation with the cops. Stick to the dialogue and the showing action and move us there more quickly. Because it feels to me that that’s where the central story conflict will come out. And it doesn’t yet. I still don’t truly understand what this book going to be about. We need to know in these initial pages.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Connie!

    Nice revision. You've obviously worked hard on this. A few notes:

    I still think the first paragraph needs to action, in the moment such as hearing the creak of the gate as they open it or the scuffing of the soles of their feet/boots on the cement or gravel or whatever. This would make me feel like an involved bystander instead of just a person reading what already happened. You get there towards the end when you come to 'spotted'. That's happening now. I also think you could insert some immediate reactions in between the observations in paragraph two and a few others, kind of combining with the next paragraph. You don't want longevity here. You want to pack a punch and get a reaction out of the reader.

    The day and month don't really matter here, either. It kind of pulls me out of the scene. From your first line, all I want to know is what this body looks like, why it's there, how it got there, what happened to it, and all your character's reactions to it.

    Your entry into the dialog works much, much better this time. I feel the character's inner confusion and hesitation. I like how you used the dog this time, too. Nicely done. There is something about their conversation that gave me pause, though. How would Sam know she's dead? Even a severely injured person could be unconscious yet still alive. If you really want her to look dead, then make it so. Maybe her body position being way too unnatural to be alive or something. As I keep reading, I definitely find more emotional tension/confusion for these two which is nice and real. I like the camera aspect as well. Makes me, as the reader, think this is a very important detail for later on.

    Looking forward to reading next week!

  4. I loved your revision. It feels easier to read. I loved how you described Lexi's fear. But I feels repetitive to me when Sam and Lexi just keep on debating on whether or not the girl is dead. I definitely enjoy the story more when the cops finally show up. Maybe you can expand more on that part.

    I also felt that it was odd how Sam just took a picture of the dead girl. Right out of the blue.

    But the dialogue is really well put out and feels like it's a real Detective speaking.

  5. Oh my gosh, you've done a GREAT job revising!! I'm so impressed. Also, this line--> "with its head dangling forward like her neck couldn’t sustain its weight." I LOVE THAT! What a great (and horrible at the same time!) visual. :D

    Overall, I definitely agree with the other commenters. Moving to the action as fast as possible and also getting through the scene more quickly (i.e. accelerating the pacing and bringing the cops in sooner) will definitely give this scene a bit more oomph. :)

    I also think that you can still take the "show don't tell" up another notch--specifically by deepening the POV and drawing us into your MC's world view.

    Remember that your MC has a filter--a lens--through which she sees everything. That lens not only forms her voice but also contextualizes how she reacts to the world. We don't just need to see what she sees, but we need to know what she THINKS about it too.

    For example, you could take this line: "While all this was taking place an official looking man walked through the gate and joined the crew by the body. They were all quite chatty."

    Now you could rewrite it through your MC's lens. Perhaps she has a tough relationship with her dad, for example, so that same phrase could turn into: "As we stood there hand in hand--me trying to keep my breakfast in my stomach and Sam grinding his teeth like he does when he's nervous--a lanky guy walked through the gate. His hair was just a little too perfectly greased and his suit a bit too crisp. He looked like the kind of guy who sat behind a desk all day and thought that somehow made him qualified to boss people around. the kind of guy who thought he was a better than he really was because he had some fancy degree and an even fancier badge. Basically, he looked just like my dad...which meant I hated him immediately."

    Obviously this is JUST an example, but my point is that you can show us SO much about who your heroine is by giving us her lens. When she looks at things, how does she contextualize them? And what's her personality--abrasive? Timid? Kind? Outspoken? Filter what she sees through that lens, and we'll not only feel more deeply drawn into the scene, but we'll learn a lot about our heroine. :)

  6. This is much better! There's a lot more tension and anticipation here now. I was thinking about this excerpt over the week and I'm wondering how you feel about this main character. Many teenagers are not very level headed, and while they might consider the ramifications of their actions often they ignore them. If you're too close and protective of your main character you can't get them into the bad decisions and big trouble that makes for the best plot.

  7. Hi Connie- Wow! Great revision here! The descriptions of her emotional reactions and thoughts are much better!

    Here are some thoughts to work on: First line is redundant...stated as dead body and then followed up by lifeless, I'd rework that. I agree with the others that we need to get into the action faster and you can use that to teach us more about her. Does she agree not to go down in dialogue and then starts moving closer and closer anyway? When she does that, does Sam react like this is something he should've expected her to do or is this out of character for her. Use the action and other characters to educate us on what SHE is like. Another thing I'd recommend for you to work on is that right now you have very clear divisions between narration, thought and dialogue. I'd recommend trying to blend them together a little better. Like: narration (setting, blocking), then how she feels or thinks about it, then a line or two of dialogue with tags of blocking and back to narration. Just more flow to the story.

    Excited to see what you have next week!