Sunday, March 15, 2015

First 5 Pages March Workshop - Saint-Laurent Revision 1

Name: Sarah Saint-Laurent

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction

Title: The Mender

Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

I understand rules. In fact I have kept a running list of rules since I was three. The process started out slow at first. I only managed 23 rules in my first six years of life. They are officially known as The Rules according to Vivienne. They would be everyone’s rules if I ran the Universe. Most of the rules are general rules of life… good things to know or at least note, and practically helpful to anyone.

 At age 14 I currently have 247 rules. For instance – I came up with Rule 19 when I was five and my sister Guinevere was two. Rule 19 simply states: Never attempt to secretly give a 2 year old a total make-over using permanent ink markers. This means literally Never. It’s useful information that anyone can benefit from.

And Rule 27: Never attempt to hide the evidence after you have covertly snuck the remainder of your Mum’s ice-cream birthday cake from Harrods’s under your bed so you could enjoy it late at night all to yourself – and then forget about it. That was a mess. In fact the whole year turned out to be a mess – just a blatantly bad year all together.

‘The Rules’ sprang to mind just now only because I am busy concocting a plan which clearly brakes several house rules. My curiosity is running amok and I have lost all sense. But I can’t help it. I am determined to find out what secret my parents are keeping from my little sister Gwen and me. 

Last night I overheard them speaking in low, hushed tones in their bedroom. The door was cracked so naturally I peeked in (don’t judge me.) My father was holding a small wooden box in his hands. It looked extremely ancient and seemed to be causing some friction between him and mum. I overheard my mum ask him to put it back in its hiding place. What hiding place? My parents are hiding something from me? 

My mind began to splinter at the thought of all the possibilities this held. What was so important about this box? What else might they be hiding from me? I felt a strange sensation surge through me. It felt like… excitement. This really is strange considering nothing exciting ever happens to me.

You see, around here I am the odd man out. Why? I am the Goddess of Typical living in a family of quirky-exceptionals. The only thing above-average about me is my curiosity.

The worst part is they all have loads more fun and excitement than I do precisely because of this quirky-gene they possess and I do not.  I’m entirely blah: average height, average weight, average intellect, athletically average, average friends… the list is endless. 

The only thing about me that is remotely unique is the color of my eyes, and even that trait I share with the other females in my family. You see we all have green eyes, but each has a variant of green, either emerald or mossy or Kelly. Of course I have the most average shade of green eyes in existence. I would call it pine. Other than that there is not one thing about me that is notable. I am, in fact, quite unnoticeable. 

I manage to fit in at school because there ‘blahness’ is sort of revered. I attend St. Polycarp, established in 1647 and while not nearly as posh as King’s Cathedral, what it lacks in poshness it more than makes up for in strictness. 

The St. Polycarp school uniform and code of conduct are hallmarks of the schools legendary attachment to tradition and neither has been updated since 1947. Being ‘non-compliant’ with dress code is considered practically on the same level as plotting with terrorists. Each student wears the same ancient uniform of cardinal blazer with badge, crisp white shirts, sensible and exceedingly plain black shoes and grey bottoms, pants for the boys, skirts for the girls. Any other form of adornment or individuality is strictly prohibited and includes: no make-up whatsoever, no nail varnish, no lipstick or gloss (even clear mind you), no jewelry and no extreme hairstyles. ‘Unnatural’ hair color is forbidden. Individuality is altogether frowned upon.

I flew home after school knowing I would need as much time as possible to locate that box. I can’t risk botching this up. If I’m caught snooping in my parent’s bedroom I’m doomed. Luckily Mum and Gwen were at the orthodontist and dad was still at his office. I would be alone for just a bit, no longer than thirty minutes. I zoomed up the staircase straight into my parent’s room. I had already ruled out the attic this morning before going to school. That box must be in my parents’ bedroom.

We live in a three story Georgian on a lovely little street in the extremely quiet (and dull) part of our village in county Cambridgeshire, about 10 kilometers from the University and a bit over an hour from London. My parents’ bedroom was one of my favorite rooms, large and airy with beautiful picture windows that overlooked the massive gardens. I hurriedly began my search, looking under the bed, through the chest of drawers and even the dark mahogany wardrobe. No luck.

I’ll admit small, dull daggers of guilt were beginning to poke at my conscience. But, I just didn’t care. I intended to find that secret box. That annoying little guilt thing kept popping into my mind but I kept pushing it right back out. 
I made my way over to the enormous chest at the end of their bed. It had to be in there. I heaved open the heavy lid with the tarnished brass fitting and laid it backwards over the end of the bed. It was jam-packed with an assorted array of what I would consider mostly garbage; photo albums of all sizes, some seemed incredibly old… like from the 1970’s, a small collection of velvet jewelry bags, some containing rocks and pebbles, others containing coins, one containing what appeared to be dust. What in the world was all this junk? 

My instinct told me the box must be here. I groped further into the deep chest. At the very bottom was a large leather satchel buried under some odds and ends. But where was the secret box? I decided to look in the satchel. I spread my knees apart on the tapestry rug and began to pull on the satchel, which was much heavier than I expected. I looked at my watch. Holy Hell, I knew I was about to get busted if I didn’t get moving. As I tugged on the satchel with all of my strength it became dislodged and I feel back on my rump, hard.

 I winced in pain. And then I heard the most terrifying thing I have ever heard in my life. 

“Just what do you think you are doing Vivienne Louise Catesby?”

My stomach felt like it hit the kitchen on the floor below me. I looked up into my mother’s face staring at me, her green eyes piercing into mine and her face a bit contorted and crimson red with a small vein on her forehead sticking out a little. It was the worst face I had ever seen my mother make. My mum literally looked like a volcano about to explode. Then the volcano turned purple and then, it started moving toward me. 


  1. Hi Sarah,

    I like the changes you’ve made and starting out with a distinct trait that gives us a window into your MC. I did feel the word “rule” was a little heavy in the first two paragraphs, and I found myself pausing a few times because of the repetition. Maybe consider giving “The Rules” a different name, or swapping out a few of the “rule” words for “them” or “regulation,” “law,” “act,” “resolution,” etc.

    I like rule 19!

    I personally would cut rule 27 because it would help to get to the action slightly quicker, and rule 19 already gave us a great sense of the character and what these rules are like. We also don’t get to know the details of the mess that year, so mentioning it now doesn’t seem essential.

    Personally, the “rules sprang to mind just now…” paragraph took me out of the story a little, and I think it may help to cut that and go straight into “I’m determined to find out…” and specifically connect that to the rules. Right now, the transition feels a little clunky and connecting the two would help the reader ease into the current action.

    Another suggestion is to tighten up the writing a little. For example, when you describe the box, you can say “The small, ancient wooden box in my father’s hands was causing friction between him and my mom” in place of the two sentences there.

    I had a little bit of trouble sinking into the story because of the switches between current action (with the box) and flashbacks/backstory/talking to the reader (for example, the “You see, around here,” paragraph and on). I thought the pages were backstory heavy, and it might help to focus on the box and try to drop the backstory in smaller pieces, amid the action, instead of in large chunks.

    I love the phrase “quirky-gene.”

    I hope this was helpful!

  2. HI Sarah,
    It is really clear you have worked hard on this revision, and frankly instead of one new opening I believe you have TWO new openings. I think the first opening is the "rule" opening while the second is the "Queen of Typical" opening. While I like learning about the mischief young Viv has caused, I much prefer the Queen of Typical opening. I would start there and incorporate the marker-make-up and ice cream cake catastrophe as elements of her insatiable curiosity rather than rules. I think I would put the box mystery in line chronologically instead of as a flashback bit. I hope this make sense! I love the name Polycarp. And I do like the character Vivienne you're creating!

  3. Hi Sarah,

    Wow – you really worked hard on this revision. It’s great that you were willing to go with a brand new beginning, which is so hard to do. (I’m on my 4th beginning for my WIP!) So, you are probably going to kill me, but I have a suggestion. I think you should start with Vivienne searching for the box. That’s where your story starts. That’s what’s hooking the reader.

    For example, start with an abbreviated version of the rules (I think they go on a bit too long), and then you could say, I can’t believe I’m breaking #s x, y and z right now, ditching school and searching my parents bedroom. And then weave in more of the story – how ordinary she is compared to her family, etc - from there as she searches, or after she’s caught.

    You have a great voice and I’m dying to read more – but you need to hook the reader in these important first pages.

    Good luck with your revision – and remember, you can throw out a new first few lines or paragraph in the fb page and ask for suggestions!

    1. Hi Erin. Thank you for your comments and reminding me about the FB page. I completely forgot!

  4. Hi Sarah.

    Overall, this read is more interesting that the previous one. Like Elizabeth, I was hooked when your MC said she was the Goddess of Typical. That has good possibilities. Have to confess that I scanned the rules; too involved.

    Shifting back and forth between present and past tense is confusing and threw me out of the story each time. Choose one and stick with it.

    Is the box something your MC has encountered before? Is this is first time she has thought her parents are hiding something from them?

    Lots of background here with little action.

    Watch those homonyms: 'brakes' should be 'breaks'

    Your story appears to start with "I'll admit small, dull daggers...." and continues to the end of this selection.

    Hope this helps. Good luck with your writing.


  5. I agree with others that the opening five paragraphs are an invitation to skim-read. We need to be in an active scene quite quickly, and this is taking too long as it currently reads.

    I would shift focus to the Queen of Typical section, and more importantly, focus on a single plot point that you really want to convey in the opening overall. What has just happened to upend your main character's life? What choice or challenge is she facing? How does she feel about it, and what does she hope or fear? We need to know these things as readers to connect emotionally.

    Right now, this selection is mainly telling, as in, the character telling us things about her identity and her life. Opening with a line like that (typical) is nice, but we must drop into an active scene ASAP. Show us what your character is like by having her interact with other characters. Give her a goal in the scene, and let us cheer for her as she struggles to achieve it, but in an active way. She's looking for the box. Well, that could be a very short scene if we chopped out all of the telling in this selection. there anyone else in her life that she's in conflict with about the box? Her mother? Then make her mother an active part of the scene. Have her and the MC in a setting together, where the mother wants one thing, and the MC wants another. Send the MC off to get what she wants, adding tension because we KNOW the mother is coming after her. That's not a champion idea, but it is an active scene, with dialogue and action. That's what I would aim for.

    Best of luck!

  6. Hi Sarah,

    I like this version so much more than the first one! I get a sense of the character on a whole different level. I agree with the rest - the tenses get confusing a bit, and the rules are too long, but you are definitely getting warmer to finding that perfect spot to start. I'd open with the queen of typical, and then jump into discovering the box, and mum the volcano. That's where it all begins. :)

    The only thing is, I don't think that the end-of-the-bed chest is a good spot to hide something like this. It needs to be better hidden. If my parents had a chest in their room (MY favorite room in the house), I don't think at 17(ish?) would be my first time to make these discoveries of strange items.

    It's getting there!

    1. HI! Thank you for your comments. Vivienne is 14 not 17 :) Until she saw her father holding a secret mysterious box she's had no reason to snoop around in her parents private bedroom as it is breaking a 'house rule.' But I'll think about this and see what I come up with :)


  7. Tell us rules one and two maybe? They are the first rules she learned. I think it would add more to this opening.
    I think second person works well with the rules. I would be consistent and stay in second person when telling us a rule.

    ‘The Rules’ sprang to mind…I don’t think the rules should spring into her mind. I think the rules could work if you use them consistently throughout the book.

    For example, you could give us a rule about when you should or shouldn’t spy on your parents and then go into that scene.

    When she says, “…it seemed to be causing friction between them,” I am pulled out of the scene. Describe what was happening. Were they arguing? What made her see or feel the friction?

    “The only thing above-average about me is my curiosity.” Great line. Here is another place where you could incorporate a rule.
    “The only thing about me that is remotely unique is the color of my eyes, and even that trait I share with the other females in my family.” Yes, green is the most rare eye color, but a lot of people probably don’t know this, which is why writers so often give their characters green eyes. I love the way you are using green eyes here, but maybe you should mention that it is one of the most unique eye colors in the world. I am sure there is even a statistic you could use of the percentage of green-eyed people in the world.

    “I decided to look in the satchel. I spread my knees apart on the tapestry rug and began to pull on the satchel, which was much heavier than I expected. I looked at my watch.” Let something or someone from the outside make her jump and realize that she is going to get busted. I would think if she’s so caught up in this satchel the last thing she is going to pay attention to is the time.

    “Holy Hell, I knew I was about to get busted if I didn’t get moving.” I don’t think you need this. Maybe have-- As I tugged on the satchel with all of my strength it became dislodged and I fell back on my rump, hard. Right after this go to, “Just what do you think you are doing Vivienne Louise Catesby?” Let us be surprised with her. We want to be caught up in what’s in that satchel along with her, and when she’s caught we want to be caught with her.

    “I winced in pain. And then I heard the most terrifying thing I have ever heard in my life.” I don’t think you need this line.

    “I looked up into my mother’s face staring at me, her green eyes… Remind us of the kind of green.

    My Mum literally. I don’t think you need “literally.”

    “…it started moving toward me.” Stay with the volcano metaphor. Describe what happens when a volcano erupts. Tell us about the lava….

    I like the changes you’ve made here. I do think the rules could really work well if they were incorporated into the whole story. Or maybe they are what you use to head your chapters. Like, give us a rule about making sure you set your watch alarm when sneaking in your parents’ bedroom.
    I look forward to reading your next revision.