Sunday, April 5, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Hadacek

Name: Karel Hadacek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wayward Path

The large black bird watched the young girl sitting on the rock, turning her face to the sun and an ear to the sounds of the forest around her. Alyssa heard the breeze whispering through the leaves, squirrels chattering, insects buzzing, and occasional bird squeaks, rasps and trumpets. She loved this meadow nestled in the mountains and wanted to stay forever. For a moment, she thought the wind whispered its secrets to her, and then the words were lost. She pulled her knees to her chest and scanned the sky, pausing at the raven watching her. She read about them in school, where the teacher said they ate carrion as a part of nature’s recycling team. But her grandma said they’re also mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world. She craned her head to her feet to get a better look. What kind of tail? Besides being bigger than crows, ravens had a tail that came to a point in the middle, not straight like crows, so she had to see the bird’s tail. When she saw the chevron tail, she jumped to her feet and clambered toward the black flash.

She stepped toward the bird, hesitating as she glanced over her shoulder at the blanket on the grass with her family’s picnic remains. Her parents had pushed the leftovers to the side and were snuggled together, dozing. She wouldn't be long and wouldn't go far, she promised herself. If I’m lucky, I’ll see its nest.

She shaded her eyes against the sunlight slicing through the trees and clouds. It might rain later, but for now, the clouds looked lazy and nonthreatening. She crept toward the raven perched on a branch at the meadow’s edge. Sometimes she thought she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. Whenever she imagined how fun their walks were, Sparky wagged his tail and jump at his leash on the hook beside the door. But when she was sad and didn't want to play, he'd settle in her lap and snuggle. He didn't even look at the leash on those days. She didn't think they communicated with words; it was more like they shared feelings and pictures in their minds. Could she communicate the same way with this bird?

The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye. Is it a boy or girl? Hmmm, a boy, she thought he told her. Just when she felt a thread of communication with him, she lost it. The raven flew to a perch a few trees away, and Alyssa hesitated, considering. Her parents were still blurs of color through the trees and meadow grasses. She was supposed to stay within sight of the picnic blanket, so she was still in the safety zone. The pine woods were dusty and dense, and she’d get lost if she followed him too far. She spotted a game trail through the woods and hurried to catch up to the bird. She felt safe knowing that the trail leading her a few steps away would also take her back.

She focused on the raven again, and her vision blurred. She blinked, which didn’t help, so she shut her eyes. In her mind’s eye, Alyssa thought she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl in a red windbreaker and blue shorts. The colors were brighter and somehow different than the way the colors usually looked to her.  She blinked, and the scene cleared. What was that? She looked at the raven and knew that he had something to do with it. “Is that what I look like to you, Sir Raven?” Disappointed when the image faded, she increased her pace to keep up with him as he fluttered to the left of the trail. She was eager to experience his vision again. 

The raven perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked. She wondered what he saw. Was he looking for food? Was he watching her? Why wasn’t he flying to his nest? Did he have a mate? Eggs? Certain that she’d seen herself through his eyes, she tried to do it again. Would he make a good pet? Could she take him home with her?

When the rain started, she’d followed him a fair distance down the trail. She shivered as the wind kicked up, and big drops pelted her face. She zipped her windbreaker, pulled up the hood, and wondered how long she’d been gone. The raven flew over the trees, crossed the valley to her left, and angled up and away with strong beats of his wings. Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to the meadow. She’d followed him as he’d fluttered from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree, in a constant string of little hops. She’d followed one small step at a time, not noticing how far they'd gone. 

Focusing on the trail now, rather than the bird, she looked around, startled. She couldn't see the meadow with their picnic blanket. She looked for the game trail that would lead back to the meadow and saw just a field of rocks, no trail. She started back the way she'd come, hoping to find the trail at the bottom where the grass grew again. She clutched her windbreaker around her, cold and hungry. The light was fading, and she wanted to reach her parents before dark. She called out to her parents periodically, hoping to hear them call in return.

Dark descended as she continued searching for the trail, but all she saw was trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts for her parents became louder and more frantic. She swallowed a sob, promising herself that she wouldn’t cry. Although determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a little girl, she had to admit she was scared. Lightning cracked and she cringed. She hoped the tall trees framing the rocky area would attract the lightning rather than a small thing like her.


The long narrow meadow she found herself in wasn’t the one where they’d picnicked. Stomach clenching, she moved into the trees to find shelter from the rain. She found a place under the thick branches of a prickly evergreen tree that was almost dry. It smelled dank and musty, making her sneeze. Her stomach growled and she tried not to think about her hunger, thirst, or the growing darkness.
Hopeless, tears trickled down her cheeks. Where could her parents be? They would be worried by now, and she'd be grounded for years when they found her. Panic drove her crying to a frenzy of sobs and a runny nose that wouldn’t quit. How could she have gotten so lost? She wished she could communicate with them like she could with Sparky. But even if she could, what would she say? The trees all looked alike; she could only show them that she was in the trees. Even the raven had left her.

She wanted to look down with the raven’s eyes to hunt for her parents, but when she shut her eyes, she couldn't do it. She didn't remember doing anything special the first time and had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it didn’t matter; her nose just kept running. She slumped, resting her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.

What was that? She raised her head.

13 comments:

  1. I like the story start that you have here. As a kid, I remember trying to communicate with the goats on my grandfather’s farm; being able to talk to animals is a common fantasy among children, especially girls, so I believe it will intrigue readers. You’ve also revealed a lot about Alyssa: she’s curious, loves nature, values knowledge, and is intelligent. That’s a lot to get across in a story opening, and you’ve managed to reveal it all through thoughts and actions instead of explaining it outright. So well done!

    I do have a few thoughts for how you could strengthen your opening.

    First, you start with the crow’s point of view, then change to Alyssa’s. The switch is a little jarring, especially considering there’s nothing else from the crow’s point of view in this opening. To remedy this, I would cut that first line and leave the entire opening clearly in Alyssa’s viewpoint. Start with Alyssa watching the bird instead of the other way around, wondering if it was a crow or a raven and remembering the difference between the two.

    Her motivation is also a little muddled. Is she following the bird because she wants to know if it’s a raven or a crow, or because she wants to communicate with it, or because she wants answers to all of those questions in paragraph 6? Narrow it down and make it clear why she’s following it. Personally, I think her desire to communicate with it makes a lot of sense. Maybe, before she moves after it, she gets a glimmer of that communication—even if it’s just her imagination. Having this happen before she follows will give her a clear motivation for following him, because she wants to communicate with him like she tries to do with Sparky.

    Lastly, I’m a little concerned about the pace. So much internal dialogue and scene setting is making the opening drag. It’s my belief that you can cut much of it without losing anything pivotal to the story.

    The story really picked up for me when her vision blurred and she shared the raven’s perspective, so I would try to get to that point more quickly. Examine every bit of internal dialogue and cut anything that the reader doesn’t need to know right now. Much of it is reinforcing her environment, and while I’m a huge fan of scene setting, I think it’s a bit overdone here. So remove as much of that as you can while still being able to ground readers in the scene.

    I think that will do for now. Thanks for letting me read! I’ll talk to you next week ☺.

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I'll address them in the revision!

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  2. Hi Karel. I like your descriptions of the forest and the bird, especially the way the bird moves. I also like Alyssa’s character — thoughtful, interested in the nature around her — though she seems a little more MG than YA to me.

    That said, I didn’t feel pulled through this opening. Your descriptions are really great, but there might be a little too much so early. I like that you’re building an atmosphere, but I think it would be more effective if you balanced it with a greater focus on Alyssa’s actions and the mystery of the bird, at least in these first pages.

    You do have a lot of nice descriptions and actions, but you also tell us a lot of things. For instance, “She was eager to experience his vision again.” SHOW us that eagerness!

    Or take “. . . not noticing how far they’d gone.” I think stating that outright actually robs the next paragraph, in which Alyssa discovers and reacts to being out of sight of her parents, of its impact.

    I wonder if you’re worried if the reader will understand what’s going on, so you’re making doubly sure? I do that ALL the time. My writing is always stronger when I give the reader the benefit of the doubt and don’t over-explain, but somehow I still find myself over-explaining anyway. :)

    Finally, I wanted Alyssa to react with more astonishment to seeing out of the bird’s eyes, but she seemed to take it in stride with only mild curiosity.

    I wonder if the opening would be more powerful if you start with Alyssa getting some kind of flash or connection with the bird, and reacting to it? That would give us (and Alyssa) with something interesting to wonder about right off the bat, and give Alyssa a good reason to follow the bird out of sight of her parents. And if you weaved your excellent descriptions into a more energetic version of Alyssa following the bird, that would bring the setting to life in an interesting way.

    Just my inexpert thoughts. :) I look forward to reading your revision!

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    1. I understand the concern that it is more MG. The first few chapters take place when Alyssa is 11 years old. The remainder of the book picks up when she is 17 through her early 20s. I'm willing to entertain MG, but am worried about a sexual discussion later in the book that isn't MG-appropriate. Thank you for your time and help getting the right revision!

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  3. Hi Karel,
    My first thought was that this sounded like a prologue because this is YA, yet the character is a child. So maybe a memory, or dream? If not, then I agree with Anthony in this sounding more MG than YA.

    This has a very dreamlike feel to it, there is a lot of inner thoughts and dialogue that keeps the pacing very slow. I think you could cut out a good amount and still keep the feel, but also get to the point and remove repetitive things, which would make it more grabbing for the reader.

    The vision from the bird was very cool and I think that was the most interesting point, but I wish there was a bit more of a reaction from Alyssa.

    Whats good about the pace is that we really know everything about Alyssa and what kind of person she is, but I think that can still be done with less.

    Hope that helps :)

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    1. Thank you, it does help. It looks like solid comments of the same kind from many of you. I appreciate the feedback.

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  5. Hey Karel,
    Congratulations on making it this far in the process. Finishing a draft is no easy feat so I hope you celebrated!

    As the others noted, your strength is your description which you may be leaning on a little heavy. I can see everything in my mind that you described so bravo! I'm also a big fan of GRRM and A Song of Ice and Fire. Alyssa reminds me a little bit of Bran. Warg possibly?

    I know this is the first submission so i'll avoid any typo corrections - Easy fixes. Here's a few thoughts that might help with the flow.

    The paragraph lengths felt thick. I've always been advised to avoid big, chunky paragraph blocks, especially in todays “nano-bite” attention span world. Trying breaking them up into easier to digest sections. Adding more narrative could also help with this.

    It was difficult knowing when she was having an internal thought versus a narrative line such as the questions. Ex. Was he looking for food? – could be her internal thought. But the next sentence - Was he watching her? – would have to be the third person narrator. Try using italics for internal monologue.

    There were a lot of questions. One paragraph I counted seven questions. I know it’s a convenient device to show the reader what she’s wondering, but maybe scale it back a few.

    I noticed a lot of sentences that started with “She”. One paragraph had five out of seven sentences start with “She” including four in a row. You can break that up by substituting her name.

    Great first round and I look forward to reading your revisions.

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  6. Hey Karel!

    Wow, you have such beautiful descriptions! I felt like I could image the scenes very clearly.

    A few suggestions:

    While I love your descriptive style, I did feel it was a little heavy at times. I would have liked to have heard more of Alyssa's personality and voice in place of some of the descriptions.

    I didn't feel overly engaged by the opening. The first line confused me because it was in the crow's perspective, and then the rest of the piece was from Alyssa's view. The heaviness of the description in the first paragraph didn't make me feel like I absolutely needed to keep reading in order to find out what happens next. I would have liked to have seen some of Alyssa's personality sprinkled in there or some action.

    The piece about communicating with her dog seemed out of place. I would suggest moving the line about her wondering if she could communicate the same way with the bird up a little bit so the reader understands the connection sooner.

    I felt a little bogged down by the long paragraphs and would suggest using a variety of structures. Sometimes short paragraphs can add the punch you're looking for!

    I was engaged in the story when she experienced the vision. This seemed like the beginning of the action and from there forth, the pace picked up. I wonder if this could be done sooner in the piece to engage your reader earlier?

    I look forward to seeing this piece again next week! Thanks for the great read! :)

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  7. Hey Karel!

    Wow, you have such beautiful descriptions! I felt like I could image the scenes very clearly.

    A few suggestions:

    While I love your descriptive style, I did feel it was a little heavy at times. I would have liked to have heard more of Alyssa's personality and voice in place of some of the descriptions.

    I didn't feel overly engaged by the opening. The first line confused me because it was in the crow's perspective, and then the rest of the piece was from Alyssa's view. The heaviness of the description in the first paragraph didn't make me feel like I absolutely needed to keep reading in order to find out what happens next. I would have liked to have seen some of Alyssa's personality sprinkled in there or some action.

    The piece about communicating with her dog seemed out of place. I would suggest moving the line about her wondering if she could communicate the same way with the bird up a little bit so the reader understands the connection sooner.

    I felt a little bogged down by the long paragraphs and would suggest using a variety of structures. Sometimes short paragraphs can add the punch you're looking for!

    I was engaged in the story when she experienced the vision. This seemed like the beginning of the action and from there forth, the pace picked up. I wonder if this could be done sooner in the piece to engage your reader earlier?

    I look forward to seeing this piece again next week! Thanks for the great read! :)

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  8. Hello Karel,

    Thank you for sharing your work. Your story reminds me of moments I love in Eragon when he sees through Saphira’s eyes, or Bran and the raven in Game of Thrones. Great rush when we realize Alyssa is not where she started. Lots of yummy sensory detail here as well.

    I ditto comments above about paragraph length. The best advice I ever got was the rule of 3rds. Per page: 1/3 dialogue, 1/3 moving story forward-action, 1/3 inner thoughts. You might try storyboarding the action to streamline. Look for economy in some phrasing as well. Example: Instead of “For a moment, she thought the wind whispered its secrets to her, and then the words were lost", try – The wind whispered its secrets, but then they were lost. OR "...ravens had a tail that.." – ravens’ tails.

    I also got the middle grade vibe which makes sense since that’s the age at which we meet your MC, but you do want to pull in your YA readers from the getgo.

    Agree you need to hit us with Alyssa’s POV from sentence one. I’d also like an earth shattering/magical jolt when she’s able to assume the raven’s POV. Peek at Eragon and Game of Thrones to analyze how they make those transitions pop.

    In paragraph 3 – try leading with her wondering about communicating with the raven and then use her experience with Sparky to motivate that wondering.

    A few questions:
    What’s her motivation for wanting the raven as a pet?
    Didn’t the clouds suggest no rain earlier?

    Happy revising! Can’t wait to see your next pass.

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  9. So much good feedback above, Karel. With apologies for my late addition, here are four observations and few more thoughts. 1-You write beautifully. Your language is romantic and descriptive with a sort of ethereal quality which, I suspect, is something you want to give to your mc. 2-Your beautiful writing is pushing against your plot, which we need very much for novels in the fantasy genre, where world-building is an essential touchstone. 3-I don't know how old Alyssa is or what she looks like in terms of special attributes. 4-Getting lost in the woods is a classic fairy tale trope. I knew the instant she began to follow the raven that she would get lost so I honestly didn't need that much text to get me there. So, WHAT TO DO with the tensions between these observations? I saw in one of your replies to feedback above that this is some sort of flashback and most of the story takes place when MC is 17. My instinct would be to attempt to reframe this experience which, per the feedback above, could be done in fewer pages, as a present-time experience of 17yo Alyssa. The main reason for this is that most YA fantasy readers are not going to keep turning pages for the story of a little girl if they don't understand this is a flashback. They're looking for higher content and it seems like, ultimately, that's what you want to write. Flashbacks/memories/childhood experiences must also be handled with great care as editors often see them as flags of inexperienced writing and infodumping. Flashbacks are fundamentally exposition so you've got to be very careful with that. I think this information is probably all essential to the story but maybe not right for the first five pages. My gut for revision would be to go to the first essential PLOT scene (not character/relationship/backstory scene), making sure reader is set clearly in the world and vintage of your fantasy, showing us some of the rules of the world you have built, establishing A's age and role in this world, and then trickling out the recollection of the raven experience in the context of exciting plot incidents. Again, don't despair. I've written about 20 first fives for my current WIP and I'm pretty sure the one I just sent to my agent will also wind up on the chopping block. This is the angsty process of how writing gets done. And your writing is beautiful. Now's where the hard "math and science" of plot and structure have to meet up with you flair for prose. YOU CAN DO THIS. Be brave and write on. Can't wait to see more! - Stasia

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  10. I had this scene later in the book as a flashback and then moved it back to the beginning where it belonged chronologically due to a beta reader's comments. It flowed better and I thought the overall story was more understandable and complete. Let me think about this. Thank you for your comments.

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