Sunday, November 16, 2014

First 5 Pages November Workshop - Minsky Rev 2

Name:  Connie Minsky
Genre:  Young Adult Contemporary

I had never seen a dead body, but I suspected the one I was staring at would be my first.
Sam, my boyfriend, and I, went 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 a creaky iron wrought gate. We stood on a damp cement road about to turn and wander down a small grassy hill with tall trees when I spotted the body.
It was Sunday morning, and the July fog was thick. Wisps of white ghosts lingered about as the foghorn blared in the distance. It was windy and chilly. 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 with a black backpack by her side. Miles, my dog, began barking. I pulled his leash not wanting to be dragged down the slope blanketed with grass, dried leaves and fallen branches. We stood frozen, fixated on the girl.
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. 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.
“Do you thing she’s dead?” I asked. I took two steps when Sam grabbed my arm.
“Lexi, don’t go down there,” he said. “She’s definitely dead.”
I stopped and glanced at him. “But what if she isn’t and needs help?” I asked. It felt wrong to stare and do nothing.
Sam stepped forward and shouted, “Hey! Are you all right?”
The only sound was a whine from Penny, Sam’s dog. 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.
“She could be unconscious,” I announced even though I believed it was only a hope.
“I don’t think so, Lexi. She looks kinda stiff even from here. Really creepy,” Sam said. “I wonder how long she’s been here.”
“What do you think happened?” I questioned.
“Don’t know. Can’t be good.” 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? Still, all we could do was wait for the police.

With our dogs on leashes we made our way down the hill. Thin branches crackled under our feet while we descended. I slipped and then panicked as we neared the site. I changed my mind. I agreed with Sam, she was gone and getting close to death suddenly scared the hell out of me. I wanted us to turn back, so we did.
I shuddered and said, “Should we go? The police will find her without us.”
“Okay,” Sam said. “I’m a bit spooked.”
As we turned away, I gave it some thought. My curiosity got the best of me. What would the police say? I wanted to know what happened to her. Also, abandoning her felt cruel. We stayed. It wasn’t long when two male 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. When one of the officers asked about the body, Sam pointed toward its direction. The woman introduced herself as Detective Rosales and asked the small crowd 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,” he replied.
Carefully, they navigated the grassy hill to the girl. The detective and police wore light colored purple gloves and knelt down next to the body while the paramedics waited with the gurney they wheeled along. They also examined the tree and surveyed the area. It all intrigued me. While that was taking place a man wearing a gray coat walked through the gate. He walked with determination and looked official. He held a camera in his hand. He joined the crew near the body. They were all quite chatty.
Seeing the camera inspired Sam. He handed me Penny’s leash and lifted the camera that hung from his neck. He brought his camera wherever we went. I called it his fifth limb. Photography was more than a hobby for Sam; it was his passion. He snapped away. He took photos of the girl and the police. At one point he zoomed in on the girl.
“Lexi, look at this!” He removed the camera from his neck and handed it to me. I gave him the leashes. 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 strands streaked with blood. I saw drops splattered on her jacket. Dried, caked, dull red blood. Nausea rose up in me.
Carrying the girl’s backpack, Detective Rosales made her way up. 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 contrasted with 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 said.
“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 it in. I’m sure this was scary for you to see.” She then asked for both our phone numbers, our home, not cell numbers.
“Do you know what happened?” I hesitantly asked.
“It appears to be a suicide,” Detective Rosales stated.
“Oh.” My voice was a murmur. Murder was bad enough, but choosing to take her own life really disturbed me. Why did she say it appeared to be suicide? Was there uncertainty? Was it possible something else occurred? I wanted to know.
“Suicide?” Sam repeated.
“Sadly, yes. We found a note in her backpack.”
“Why aren’t you certain?” I asked.
“Further investigation will determine,” Detective Rosales responded.
“How old was she?” Sam asked.
“According to her driver’s license she was twenty-three,” the detective said. “Thanks for your help. If we have any more questions we’ll call.”

“Okay.” Sam spoke for the both of us.
The dead girl was placed on the gurney, completely 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 remained alone.


  1. Hi Connie!

    The opening is much clearer and flows more quickly, which pulls the reader in to want more. Ooh, that paragraph where 'heart picked up pace' is nicely done. There's an ease about your writing here. The cleaning up of the dialog is wonderful. It flows, moves the scene forward, and feels much more natural. The adverbs you've chosen to show their movement toward to girl is a big improvement, too. I can 'see' what they see. :) I also like the inner thoughts of you lead female, especially the part about leaving this poor girl feeling cruel. That says a lot about this character. I'd be interesting to find out that really happened with this girl. But I'm sure you have that all planned out.

    Best of luck with the rest of the story, and thank you for sharing your work with us!

  2. Hi Connie,

    I hope you're enjoying the workshop so far. I can really see how far these pages have come each round. I second SA Larsen's comments about the opening pulling the reader in much quicker. Great job with that. Here's some feedback for your next round of revisions:

    This paragraph still bothers me: “With our dogs on leashes we made our way down the hill. Thin branches crackled under our feet while we descended. I slipped and then panicked as we neared the site. I changed my mind. I agreed with Sam, she was gone and getting close to death suddenly scared the hell out of me. I wanted us to turn back, so we did.”

    It feels distanced. I want to follow the train of thought myself, rather than be told it’d happened. There are other moments when you slip into summarizing what's happening instead of having it happen, and I'm not sure, as a reader, why. If there's a reason, maybe just work on smoothing them a bit more?

    There are some places I’d modify for flow, where the sentences are similar in length and thus, it comes off sounding odd. (I’m thinking of the paragraph, “Carefully, they navigated…”.)

    You need some commas between clauses throughout, which will also help the flow. Keep a lookout for that when you revise again.

    Best of luck!

  3. Hi Connie,

    I enjoyed reading your first pages, and I think this story has potential. What an eerie first line! There’s nothing like the phrase “dead body” to grab your reader’s attention; you certainly piqued my interest. I also enjoyed the visuals you created for your reader, from the wispy fog to the couple’s first encounter with the dead body to the interrogation with Detective Rosales. This submission is quietly cinematic.

    However, there are a few things you should watch out for. First, while your attention to detail is what created the wonderfully spooky mood in this piece, too many details will stall the pace. Try to find the best way to describe something, then move on. This isn’t a thriller, and the pace doesn’t have to give your reader whiplash, but you do want to maintain a teen reader’s interest.

    On a related note, I didn’t get the best sense of Alexis’s personality, primarily because her narration was so factual. In fact, she seemed a bit removed from the number of emotions that she’d be feeling after what she’d just seen. Your protagonist doesn’t have to be a larger-than-life extrovert; she can be reticent and scared, especially after coming across a dead body. But let her personality affect how she sees the world. Give us more feeling. You’re getting there in the section between Sam’s phone call and the arrival of the police, but at the same time that section feels slow. See what you can do to trim the scene and arrive more quickly at her decision (“abandoning her felt cruel”).

    On a related note, beware of becoming so carried away with your plot that you fall victim to sloppy writing. Make every sentence as impactful as possible, because every sentence should matter. Try to eliminate clichés. The second through fourth paragraphs could use some attention.

    I wish you the best of luck with this novel, Connie!


  4. Hi Connie,

    Your first line is much clearer now! :) This shows a lot of improvement and so (brace yourself) I'm going to get a little more detailed on my critique now. Hopefully it will help you!

    I still think you could probably change it to something that has more punch and shows more voice. "I'd thought I might find ____, _____ and ____ in the Presidio on a Sunday afternoon...a dead body definitely wasn't on my list." Or just anything that will let you add in more voice. Then I would honestly recommend cutting the first three paragraphs after the first line. Go right into the dialogue and then intersperse the relevant information from the first three paragraphs into the dialogue. As is, it kind of feels stilted and a bit more like an info dump to me.

    I can see that you worked on blending in your dialogue with your description and stuff better in this version, but I would do even more. As an exercise, maybe try hitting a dialogue and description, then action and emotion, then dialogue and emotion, then action and description. Obviously your end product should be MUCH more organic than that to have flow, but just make sure you mix them in a bit better. As it is, you can still clearly see how the dialogue is separated and then several big paragraphs of description in a row. Just continue to try to break those up.

    I'd also work on cleaning up your prose and making each sentence count. There are some things in here that you repeat a few times in different ways. Watch out for that.

    I think you're definitely making some progress here! Keep at it. :)

  5. Hi! I agree, the dialogue is much smoother and good job with that! The question for me is 1) where's the first page break and is there a mini-cliffhanger there? We know they are shocked but what's the BIG problem you'll want to hint at?

  6. Awesome revision, Connie. Bravo! These pages have really moved along. The descriptions are great – I can really see the scene now – and the action moves much faster and more organically than in previous versions. And I’m enjoying your use of dialogue to move the story forward and help us to understand your characters.

    Like the others, however, I continue to feel a disconnect between the Alexis who’s speaking versus the Alexis who’s narrating.

    As an example: 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? Still, all we could do was wait for the police.

    In this passage, Alexis is narrating her feelings while in others we’re seeing them through her dialogue and actions. The latter works better. These narrated bits slow me down. You probably can do without some of them, just to provide short bits of glue. But I think if you swap these longer passages of internal narration with more dialogue and action the story will get even more gripping.

    Good Luck!