Sunday, March 8, 2015

First 5 Pages March Workshop - Saint-Laurent

Name: Sarah Saint-Laurent

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction

Title: The Mender

Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom:

“Oh come the Hell on,” were the only words that Vivienne could really come up with. And even these she was unable to articulate aloud as her mind raced and then began to clog up like a drain full of wet cement as she considered the sheer absurdity of the situation.

It was ludicrous. A crystal necklace made from a magical star particles? Ancient mythical ancestors?  Time-travel? It had to be nonsense. No matter how quirky and batty her family was, 'This just couldn't really be happening,' Vivienne silently told herself resolutely. 

But it was. And this she reminded herself quickly as she hoisted her body up the last few rungs of the cold and slippery wrought  iron fire escape  and thought back to the night that had set this entire fiasco into motion. 

‘Why couldn't I just have been satisfied with normal? Why couldn't I have just accepted boring?’ she thought to herself in a viciously perturbed way. Her fingers stung as she gripped the freezing, wet iron rungs. She bit her lip in rage as her mind bolted back just two two short weeks ago. 'For effing-sakes what the Hell was I even thinking. How could I have been so bloody clueless?'

Dim Sum was the only part of the meal Vivienne enjoyed. Actually she also liked the fortune cookies that always appeared with the check but only because she secretly loved getting the obtuse, but strangely fun message contained within the hard, stale, tasteless treat. She never received an important or meaningful message. Nevertheless, she certainly kept hoping one day she would. Along with the cascading, multi-colored leaves and brisk temperatures, dinner with her family at Shanghai Gardens was an autumn family tradition and a routine part of Vivienne’s well-ordered life.  

Having unintentionally become an annual event, the Catesby family commenced each new school year with a mad shopping extravaganza followed by a relaxing dinner at their favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant accompanied by Vivienne’s maternal grandmother Lavender and her mother, Great-Gran Livonia. Vivienne had, over the years, managed to make strong associations between the smell of sweet and sour chicken, sharpened pencils, newly opened sheaths of college-rule paper and Gramsy Livonia’s Channel No. 5.

“Daddy, what does your fortune say?” Guinevere, who was called Gwen, inquired of her father as he handed his credit card to the waiter.

“My fortune reads, ‘You have a large capacity for love and a warm heart. Good tidings are yours,’ " Aidan Catesby replied as he gently patted the shoulder of his youngest daughter. He looked over at his eldest and noticed she was reading her own fortune. “What does yours say Vivienne?”

Vivienne appeared a bit crestfallen as she placed the small slip of paper on the table next to the bowl of yum-yum sauce. “Nothing but the usual nonsense,” she replied. “Mine reads: ‘All stages of the butterfly unfold according to plan.’ I never get anything juicy.” With this Vivienne rolled her eyes and slurped the remainder of her soda up through the straw noisily.

Morgan Catesby smiled at her husband and chuckled as she looked at her two daughters thinking to herself how much they had grown since last year’s annual shopping trip. This school year fourteen year old Vivienne would arrive as a 4th year and nine year old Gwen would continue in primary.

“What does your fortune say Gwen,” she asked the youngest daughter as she popped her nude lipstick from her purse and applied a quick touch up.

“Mummy, what do you think it means?” Gwen replied, as she handed her fortune to her mother.
“Hmmm, let’s see, Morgan said as she held the small paper closer to her eyes ‘You will meet a very unusual man who will befriend you for life.’ Well, I dare say, you are a bit young to be meeting men and befriending them. Let’s agree to just hold on to this one for a while and let you grow up a bit and then we can revisit the issue. Right, it’s getting late. Let’s be on our way home. I am completely knackered.”

“Right you are, it is getting on and we should be off ourselves,” replied Lavender as she grabbed her vintage black Chanel bag and gently poked Livonia in the shoulder. “Mother darling, it’s time to leave.”

 Gramsy Livonia blinked her sparkling eyes open realizing that she had momentarily drifted into a soft little snooze in the comfy, red plush velveteen upholstery of the massive booth. She simply smiled silently as she looked about the table at her family, her most treasured possession.

“Yes, of course you’re right sweet Lavender. Let us be on our way,” she said, stifling a yawn.

“Now Morgan,” Lavender said to her daughter as she draped a cashmere cape around Livonia’s shoulders,” I’ll just take Gramsy out to my car and let you all gather your belongings. I’ll be in touch in the next day or two.” Lavender leaned in a bit closer to Morgan's ear. "Mind what I've said about 'you-know-what'. I'll call you tomorrow to discuss further." She gave each grand-daughter a quick peck on the top of the head and blew Aidan a kiss in the air and with that she whisked Livonia out of the restaurant.

The waiter came over and cleared the table while Aiden pocketed his wallet. “Let's get a move on girls. Gwen, put that drink down at once. Any more soda and you'll both be buzzing about the house in that annoying jacked-up zombie eyed way. Don’t you agree Morgan?”

But Morgan Catesby was preoccupied with gathering all the packages from under the table and simply nodded her head in agreement hardly listening. “Yes, whatever you think darling is fine by me.”

On their way out of the restaurant, stepping into the chilly Fall air that was now wet with drizzle, Vivienne loudly gasped in two lungful’s of air, then shot quickly sideways and bolted back into the restaurant pretending to look at the takeaway menus. As she watched 'Him' walk in through the door she acted as if she had not a clue in the world that her parents or sister even existed. Vivienne held her breath as she felt Angus Stewart occupy the same physical space.

“Oh hi there Vivienne, eat here much?” she heard him say.

Vivienne had a hard time swallowing. Her throat felt as if it were closing, as if she had strep throat or some other awful condition. She even felt feverish. ‘Oh My God, I think I’m gonna’ faint,’ she thought trying to stop herself from accidentally hyper-ventilating. Then nonchalantly, summoning all her will-power, she turned around to face Angus as if she had not a care in the world.

“Oh… hi Angus.” And that was all she could manage. Her face turned crimson and a slight veil of sweat broke out across her nose and under her eyes. The rest of the failed attempt to make conversation was composed mainly of ‘Umms’ and ‘Hmms.’ Finally Vivienne stammered out a rushed “Oh I eat here loads, all the time. I highly recommend it,” as she stared at her shoes and fidgeted with her jacket zipper.

“Great then. Thanks. Have a grand night,” he said as he walked away with his family into the inner sanctum of the restaurant.

Vivienne’s knees felt just the slightest bit …


  1. Hello Sarah and welcome to first five pages! Thank you for sharing your work with us today.

    On first read, I found many things to like in your writing. Lovely textures and details, and characters with life in them. It was also fairly easy to follow your action and dialogue, which is great! So, I have few qualms with the story at a writing level.

    At a story level, I believe there is some work to do.

    First, the opening is a somewhat challenging entry into your world. You begin with dialogue, which is a little disconcerting to the reader because we do not know who is speaking. Then you proceed into a series of questions, which only serve to confuse the reader further. Remember: we do not know what has happened. That does not create suspense, but confusion. I would much rather that you established your main character, setting, and the context of the opening scene in clear terms so that we can be a part of what is happening. Allow us to see and know your character's situation in a way that makes us empathize with her and feel the questions you are asking.

    The scene quickly switches to a flashback, which is also a bit disorienting. We still do not know who the main character is, and suddenly we are jumping through time into a different setting. In my opinion, opening chapters should not consist primarily of a flashback. That may be an indication that you are starting your story too late. Or, it may be backstory that does not need to be shown to the reader at all.

    The key question regarding this opening is: When does your story start? When can you show us an active scene that will grab our attention and give your main character a clear goal that we can understand? That is the place where readers will be able to connect most readily with your story. At this point, I could not guess what your story is about, and after the opening chapter, I should have some idea. I'd take a step back and think about how to either expand that opening bit into a true, active scene, or else adjust the focus so that the opening is an easier entry into your overall story.

    My best,

  2. Sarah,
    I'm a workshop writer, too, and I love young adult so I'm excited to see how your pages develop. I have to admit I had trouble following the dialogue of the scene. I know I often worry about overusing "said" but it does make things easier for a reader. I found myself going back and forth between dialogue and descriptions trying to make sure I understood everything.
    There seemed to be some point of view shifts, as we hear an monologue from Vivienne in the beginning then fall back into a flashback with some deep insight into what other characters are thinking and feeling. For instance, "Morgan Catesby smiled at her husband and chuckled as she looked at her two daughters thinking to herself how much they had grown since last year’s annual shopping trip." How can we know those things if we are observing the scene through Vivienne's eyes? I'm not a fan of flashbacks in most stories. I don't mind characters telling another character about things that happened in the past, but I find flashbacks very hard to read and even harder to write.
    Finally, who is Vivienne? If I had to describe her to a friend, would you want me to say she's funny and feisty? Dreamy and careless? I'd use the opening scene to give us a sense of who she is and what she wants, and a little taste of what obstacles she will be facing.
    Looking forward to reading more!

  3. Hi Sarah,

    Time travel, and stardust, and mythical ancestors, oh my. You make me very curious about the concept of your story. And I do love the names: Livonia, Vivienne.

    However, I have a confession. This part of comments rely on personal preference, and that means it’s going to vary from reader to reader, so please take it for what it is. On to the opening… I like that she is doing something (climbing a fire escape, as I understand it, and cursing her fate), but I do have a pet peeve – heroes who want normal boring lives when an adventure falls into their lap. I sort of want to be mixed in with time travel, and an amulet made of star particles, and whatnot. I always have trouble relating to characters who don’t want to be special, you know? Again, this is just me, and someone else might read it differently.

    The good part, is I’m willing to overlook it, because I DO want to find out what she is talking about, there is a mystery here that I want to uncover.

    Other things to consider:

    I feel a little bit overwhelmed by the number of characters in the introductory pages. I don’t know who to focus on, and there are too many names to sort though. For example, I think it’s okay to leave dad as dad, and mom as mom. I also wonder if you need to weed some of them out altogether. I don’t mean from the manuscript, I mean from the introductory pages. Maybe it’s just Grandma and the grandkids? Not sure, but I do know that I’m struggling to make sense of all of them. I have a clear picture of Gwen, Vivienne, and Gramsy Livonia at this point. Would you lose anything, if you didn’t have mom and dad in the first two pages?

    Hope that’s helpful,


    1. Hello :) A Hero isn't a hero until they accept the call to action and undergoes a metamorphosis :) Joseph Campbell expertly details the process of the Hero's Saga in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. There is a process, Call to action, reluctance/refusal of the call, Supernatural aid etc. He refers to it as the process of the Monomyth :) After living through the quest and coming out on the other side the hero is changed and unlikely to be reluctant when faced with a new set of circumstances in the future. :)

  4. Dear Sarah,
    Congratulations for taking the huge leap to write a book and send it out for feedback. I feel honored to be a part of this process.
    Please know that my feedback is subjective, so if you hear something that feels right, use it. If you don’t, don’t use it. I’m always a little hesitant to put too much emphasis on openings of early drafts because often they are cut anyway. However, they can help the writer figure out what her story is and whose story is it.

    I think the idea of your opening can work. If you are trying to start the book at the place of no return, the moment when the character realizes that the world as she knows it will never again be the same, that can be a compelling way to start. However, in this draft I don’t get anything concrete that I can hold onto and see, i.e., “as she considered the sheer absurdity of the situation.” What is absurd? Telling me something is absurd is not enough to grab my attention. Showing me what she is experiencing as absurd; that would bring me into her story and this world that you are creating.

    I know in the second paragraph you talk about a crystal necklace made from magical star particles and ancient mythical ancestors and time travel, but this list is out of context and I feel like the writer is trying to drop information on me, when it would serve the story better for these elements to come up in context as the story unfolds.

    It’s important to show us the ordinary world, the world where the main character lives, so when the inciting incident happens or the event or action that makes the world Vivienne lives in change in such a way that her life can never be the same. This is why the story is able to occur.

    I think you do this when you put us in the restaurant with the family. This is good. My biggest question is whose story is this? The reader is set up for it to be Vivienne’s story but when we are in the restaurant we move away from her point of view to the point of view of the father, and then later to the mother’s, and then later to Gramsy, and then back to Vivienne.
    If it is Vivienne’s story and told from her point of view, then stay with her. We should see the world as if were a camera on Vivienne’s shoulder. We can see Gramsy drifting off for a moment, but we shouldn’t be told that she opens her eyes when she realizes this.
    Point of view is tricky for all of us, but I think if when you revise, if you keep the story in third person close, which means we see and hear everything and the world from Vivienne’s point of view, it will make for a richer story that is clear.

    When revising I would also consider telling the reader what these people look like. Right now there are no physical descriptions of this family. I want to see what they look like from Vivienne’s perspective. How does she see her mother? What are the features she shares or doesn’t share with her mother? The same is true for the father and grandmother and sister...And Angus Stewart—why is she attracted to him? I’m assuming she is, but at first I wasn’t sure. “Vivienne held her breath as she felt Angus Stewart occupy the same physical space.” This sentence made me think that there was something otherworldly about his connection to her. Maybe there is or will be. But if right now, it’s just about her having a crush on him, then show me what she sees. What is it about him, his smell, the way he moves, the scar on his face shaped like a pineapple...You get the point.

    I think I’ve said enough for now, but please know that because you do have so much possibility here that I was able to say so much.

    I look forward to reading your next draft.


    1. Dear Patricia - I can't thank you and the other mentors enough for the time and thoughtfulness that went in to your comments, suggestions and advice. Taking everything into consideration I have decided to revise by starting with what was originally at a scene break around page 9. I sense (I hope) that it will address the concerns with POV, who is Vivienne, what is really going on etc. as well as reduce the confusion with the 'jumping heads' POV problem. I will keep the restaurant scene but tighten it up a lot and bring it in later in the story. Again thank you for everything.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hi Sarah. Cheryl here, a workshop participate.

    The beginning of your story is intriguing, but I'm left wondering if a bit more detail would bring this more to life. It's a bit confusing when in one paragraph I'm on the fire escape and then in the restaurant. Try bridging these together.

    Not really sure where you are going with your story, but definitely sticking around to find out!

    One thing that had me re-reading was when you said, "she asked the youngest daughter as she popped her nude lipstick from her purse and applied a quick touch up." While many readers will understand this descriptive passage points back to the mother, many more will stop and wonder if it is referring to the daughter. Maybe use: "she asked. Waiting for her younger daughter to answer, Morgan popped her nude lipstick from her purse and applied a quick touch up." Just a suggestion.

    After Gwen made her appearance, I had trouble keeping up with who was who. Maybe either spend more time on each character, or keep some until later.

    Happy Writing.

  6. Hi Sarah,

    Welcome to the workshop! There is much to like in these pages – your characters are interesting and distinctive – no easy feat – and you do a wonderful job describing the setting. The dialogue flows well and is natural, too. So bravo on that!

    My main comment has been echoed here – but in revision I think you should focus on nailing down whose story this is. Jumping around in pov shift from character to character is confusing to the reader, and it makes it hard to become attached to and root for a character. If it is Viviane’s story, as I suspect, stick with her. You can show her parents and others reactions through dialogue and action.

    Also, you are relying too heavily on adjectives, which distracts from the writing – “viciously perturbed”, “hard, stale, tasteless treat, “Gramsy Livonia blinked her sparkling eyes open realizing that she had momentarily drifted into a soft little snooze in the comfy, red plush velveteen upholstery of the massive booth.” – there are several adjectives in that one sentence! My early drafts are riddled with adjectives, so I understand, believe me.

    Lastly, think about where you want the story to start. What are the stakes for your main character? In the first 5 pages we should have at least a hint of that. The intriguing bit in the beginning about the necklace seems thrown in there – and then dropped.

    Good luck with this revision – I’m looking forward to reading what you come up with next week!

  7. Hi Sarah!

    A lot of great points have already been covered. I also feel that the beginning was slightly backstory and character heavy, and moving some of these descriptions later may help us sink into the story faster.

    I noticed a couple places where at least one adverb/adjective could be deleted. Example "Vivienne silently told herself resolutely." Having both "resolutely" and "silently" changes the rhythm of the sentence, and I think cutting one will help. Another example: "viciously perturbed." "Slurp" already implies a noise so the word "noisily" is redundant. Etc.

    I like that we get a sense of the family quickly and I like many of your descriptions.

    Hope this was helpful!

  8. Hello and thank you so much for your kind remarks and suggestions. I understand what you are saying. My instinct is telling me to start further in chapter 1 at a scene break at page 8. I will start from there and hopefully this will address the many issues raised and will work better.