Sunday, April 12, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Hadacek Rev 1

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

Alyssa watched the raven watching her. Her grandma said they were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message for her. Stepping toward the bird, 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. I won't be long or go far, she promised herself. I wonder if it would tell me its message.  

Sometimes she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. Whenever she imagined how fun their walks were, Sparky rand to the door and jumped at his leash on the hook beside it. But when she was sad and didn't want to play, he'd settle in her lap and snuggle, ignoring the leash altogether. She didn't think they communicated with words; it was more like sharing feelings and pictures in their minds. Could she do the same thing 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. She spotted a game trail through the woods and hurried to catch up with the bird. She felt safe knowing that the trail leading her a few steps away would also take her back, and she wanted to try to merge with the bird again. What else could I see?

Focusing on the raven again, her vision blurred. Blinking 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.  Blinking, the scene cleared. She’d done it! Somehow, she’d didn’t communicate with him -- they’d merged, and she could look through his eyes! She never would have thought that was even possible, but she’d done it! She twirled and first pumped the air, wishing she’d had a friend with her to tell.

He fluttered to the left of the trail, and she increased her pace to keep up. She was eager to experience his vision again. The raven perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked. Following, she focused and tried to remember what she’d done to see through his eyes. More than anything, she wanted to do it again. He fluttered in a constant string of little hops from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree.

The wind kicked up and big drops pelted her face before she looked around and saw the storm clouds overhead. Zipping her windbreaker and pulling up the hood, she 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, ending their game.

Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to her family’s picnic. She wasn’t worried, knowing she could return to the game trail. Alyssa looked around for the trail, frowning. Retracing her trail over a field of rocks, she couldn’t find the trail at the bottom where the grass grew again. She clutched her windbreaker, already beginning to chill.

“Mom? Dad?” She called periodically, hoping to hear her parents call in return.

Dark descended as she searched for the trail, finding only trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts for her help grew louder and more frantic. Although determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a child, she had to admit she was scared. Lightning cracked, making her cringe. She hoped the tall trees would attract the lightning first, rather than a small thing like her.

Stomach clenching, she left the long narrow meadow and moved into the trees. Soon she found a place that was almost dry under the thick branches of a prickly evergreen tree. 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. Tears pressed at her eyelids. She thought her parents would be anxious by now, looking for her. Man, I’ll be grounded for years when they find me.

Wanting to look down through the raven’s eyes to hunt for her parents, she closed her eyes but couldn't do it. Not really knowing how she did it the first time, she had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it just kept running as tears soaked her face. She slumped, resting her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.

What was that? She raised her head. Stretching, she swiped at the dried snot on her nose and upper lip. She must have fallen asleep, but what woke her up? Holding her breath, she listened to the night. The rain had eased and she heard another sound. Something was moving among the trees. Could it be a bear? A mountain lion? She thought she heard furtive, heavy footsteps, then a pause. It didn’t sound like her parents or a search party. No one had a flashlight or called her name. Certain she heard something close, she wondered if she was too small and nice to frighten a hungry animal. Part of her hoped she was too scrawny and stringy to look appetizing while another part of her thought she could be tender and tasty.

She couldn’t remember what the rangers had said on their last trip. Am I supposed to make myself look big or small? Make noise or look dead? There were different rules for different predators. Big or small? Loud or dead? She searched for a weapon and grabbed a branch on the ground, only to discover that it was really a tree root, with the end buried deep in the ground. Oh my God, it’s coming closer! It can hear me moving around.

Abandoning the root, she leaped toward a shiny rock partially hidden in the murky shadows beneath the tree. She scrabbled at the rock, but it wouldn't budge. She heard the thing move closer. Loud or dead? Big and dead? Good as dead? Unable to see much in the dark, every instinct told her to run. She bolted, running as fast as she could through the trees.

The rain had slowed, and clouds absorbed the moonlight, leaving sullen darkness. She was one of the fastest kids in her class, but she couldn't run all-out here. There were hidden roots, and rocks everywhere that she couldn’t see. She fell, skinning her knees and hands. Jumping up, she looked over her shoulder. Has the animal stopped or am I too loud to hear it? There it was again! She ran through the woods, never seeing the rock that tripped her. One moment she was running, and the next she was sailing through the air. She threw her hands out to catch herself, finally landing hard and hitting her face. Pain stabbed up her arms, barely registering before she lost consciousness. 

She woke to birdsong. Her head felt like she'd been clubbed, and panic rose as she realized she couldn’t see. She cried and her face stung as her tears found cuts and scrapes on her face.

9 comments:

  1. Hi, Karel! Alyssa’s motivation is much clearer here; now we know why she’s following the raven. However, I think it may have been overstated a bit. I think a bit of rejigging can make the opening flow a little more naturally. First, I think she needs some time before jumping to the idea that the bird might have a message for her. Before mentioning that, or before she follows it, I would have her think about Sparky and how she can communicate with him. Then, let that line of thought flow into the idea that maybe this bird IS a messenger and maybe he has a message for her. Then, her following will feel a little more natural and less abrupt.

    *He fluttered to the left of the trail, and she increased her pace to keep up. She was eager to experience his vision again. * No need to say what she’s eager for; thanks to the excellent set-up, the reader knows why Alyssa is following the bird. I would cut this bit of telling.

    * Following, she focused and tried to remember what she’d done to see through his eyes. More than anything, she wanted to do it again.* That second sentence isn’t needed; you’ve shown very well what she wants right now. No need to state it outright ☺

    There are a few other places that read a little abruptly. Here are some suggestions on how you can smooth those bits out:

    * 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.* This also felt a little abrupt; communicating with a bird is so unusual that it requires some explanation. You do a good job of explaining it later when she shares the bird’s perspective. Here, instead of actually communicating, I would have her just imagine that it’s a boy, like she has a feeling or intuition, but it’s nothing being communicated by the bird itself. Then, later, when she shares his perspective, that’s the first big moment of the story.

    * The wind kicked up and big drops pelted her face before she looked around and saw the storm clouds overhead.* Here’s another line that feels a little too abrupt. With a mention of the weather earlier, you can hint at bad weather to come so this won’t feel so out-of-the-blue. Maybe it’s an overcast day, or the wind is already picking up earlier that morning.

    * What was that? She raised her head. Stretching, she swiped at the dried snot on her nose and upper lip.* I think you need to show her waking up, so it’s immediately evident that she had been sleeping. Starting with something like “She jerked upright, blinking sleep out of her eyes,” or “She jerked awake” will inform the reader right away of what’s happening and smooth this paragraph out.

    You’re on the right track, Karel. Keep up the good work! I’ll talk to you next week.

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  2. Much tighter. I still don't know why we're starting with a picnic (is this common for family, a reward, a surprise? why when the weather turns out bad?) but the scene moves more quickly. The pages got a little messy in the revision (e.g., watch for repeated use of word "again; in final line you use word "face" twice, etc.") but that's no big deal. There's still some fleshing out to do. For example, when a little kid sees snuggling parents, they have some kind of take on it (embarrassed, annoyed, or noting they'd been working so hard they were exhausted) - alternatively, you could tweak the word snuggle and just say dozed off in sunlight or something, making less of a need for A's reaction. Take a look at "The colors were brighter and somehow different than the way the colors usually looked to her" and try to replace "somehow different" (which is a phrase that could be found in any pp in any book) with something strong, specific to your story and character. For me, while I understand the bit about why A's Sparky relationship matters, the pp feels a bit forced, maybe tighten to be a simple line like, "When she wanted to play, Sparky ran to the door" instead of a whole pp--some things are okay to sketch lightly here in service of the flow of the chapter, with more detail later. You also begin a lot of paragraphs with sentences that have a sort of opening aside ("Focusing on the raven," "Dark descended," "stomach clenching") which I'd try to cut to make the sentences more active and less expositional. All of this is more tightening, less major realigning so...good! Watch out for too many adjectives and adverbs as you tidy up, too. Finally, the one major thing I'm still looking for as a reader is that I still have no idea of what Alyssa really wants/needs/dreams beyond following the bird--the "bigger want" for your MC. She still feels a bit flat (parents will be mad she got lost, she likes her dog, etc.) - we need her to be somehow exceptional from the get-go so we CARE that her parents will be angry or that she is lost b/c she WON'T be able to get X or Y. One thought might be to give a small hint about how her ability to communicate with creatures has backfired in real life (e.g., a kid at school caught her playing with/talking to an animal and teased her so really, she'd rather befriend a raven than anyone in the X grade (whatever that is) - and maybe this could go in place of some of the Sparky stuff. This is a well done, thoughtful revision. Congratulations on great work! - Stasia

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  3. Hi Karel,

    I agree with Stasia about the repeating words and how it became a bit clunky with revisions. But it moves more quickly and is more interesting, so that works out well. If you re-read, maybe out loud, I'm sure you'd catch all the repeats.

    There is quite a bit of telling , especially with her feelings, Like 'she was eager' and 'she wasn't worried'. And I think you could smooth out parts where she hears things. Instead of saying "She heard..." you could say "the sound of crashing boots".

    One last thins is I think there is a lot of stating of facts. "She did this" "she did that" "She though this." Maybe have her stop and smell the breeze, weave in what she's doing with showing us how she feels.

    Good job with cutting down on how slow and dreamy it felt before. This is a lot more upbeat :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Karel,

    I don’t have much to add to what’s been said already. I do still feel like there needs to be a better reason for Alyssa to follow the raven. As it is, it seems almost arbitrary. She sees a raven, wonders if she can communicate with it, and, just like that, “merges” with it. It’s a little too pat. I wonder if the merging could first happen “accidentally” when she’s just looking at the bird? Then we could see her startled reaction, and she would have a reason to follow the bird and to try to communicate again.

    I like the details about the chase, especially pulling the stick and realizing it’s a tree root, then leaping to a rock and failing to uproot it. Those actions pull me in and make me feel her desperation. It’s when your writing is immediate like this that I’m the most engaged.

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  5. Hi Karel,

    First of all, this has come a long way since last week. Great job on all the hard work!
    Here's a few things I noticed while reading:

    There's a lot of words that are repeated a lot quite close together, which tends to make the writing a little clunky. I suggest reading your work out loud to identify when you're used the same word too many times and rework based on that.

    I think the bit about her dog is clearer now. It's evident how it is connected to the bird. I did feel the detail was a bit unnecessary though. I would have been content with just knowing that she thinks she can connect with her dog without going into the specifics.

    The reason she follows the bird is quite overstated. If it has been said one or two times, that's enough. It becomes too repetitive for the reader if it is more than that.

    I became absorbed in the story far more easily than I did last week, so kudos! I did find that there was quite a lot of telling sprinkled throughout the piece. I would have like to have seen her feelings shown by her actions or body language instead of just being told.

    That's all I've got. Great job on the revisions and thanks for the read! Can't wait to see how it comes along next week!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Karel,

    First of all, this has come a long way since last week. Great job on all the hard work!
    Here's a few things I noticed while reading:

    There's a lot of words that are repeated a lot quite close together, which tends to make the writing a little clunky. I suggest reading your work out loud to identify when you're used the same word too many times and rework based on that.

    I think the bit about her dog is clearer now. It's evident how it is connected to the bird. I did feel the detail was a bit unnecessary though. I would have been content with just knowing that she thinks she can connect with her dog without going into the specifics.

    The reason she follows the bird is quite overstated. If it has been said one or two times, that's enough. It becomes too repetitive for the reader if it is more than that.

    I became absorbed in the story far more easily than I did last week, so kudos! I did find that there was quite a lot of telling sprinkled throughout the piece. I would have like to have seen her feelings shown by her actions or body language instead of just being told.

    That's all I've got. Great job on the revisions and thanks for the read! Can't wait to see how it comes along next week!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey Karel,

    I see alot of positive improvements from the first draft so well done. For me, and it is a personal preference, the italics helped alot. I know when she's thinking something now and it provides a bit of dialogue, even if it's just with herself. You might even need a little more of it as there is very little, to no dialogue in the first five pages. I think the only "out loud" words through the entire five pages is "Mom? Dad?". Two words of dialogue versus 1248 of description. Something to think about.

    One question: Is the Grandmother some sort of mystic or someone who's fascinated with the supernatural world? Or was using Grandma in the second sentence just a vehicle to explain that: "they (Ravens) were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message for her." If there's more to her relationship with her grandmother, that could be an interesting dynamic. If she's got this cool gypsy, mystic, fortune telling grandma showing her the ropes of this supernatural, beast-master type skill then I want to hear about that lady! She sounds more interesting than a picnic. And if she's not and it was just a convenient way to deliver the information then maybe "regular grandma" doesn't deserve real estate as prime as the second sentence. Where did Alyssa learn this skill?

    This is a great concept and your descriptions are fantastic, even better now that you've scaled back. It's getting there - keep going!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hey Karel,

    I see alot of positive improvements from the first draft so well done. For me, and it is a personal preference, the italics helped alot. I know when she's thinking something now and it provides a bit of dialogue, even if it's just with herself. You might even need a little more of it as there is very little, to no dialogue in the first five pages. I think the only "out loud" words through the entire five pages is "Mom? Dad?". Two words of dialogue versus 1248 of description. Something to think about.

    One question: Is the Grandmother some sort of mystic or someone who's fascinated with the supernatural world? Or was using Grandma in the second sentence just a vehicle to explain that: "they (Ravens) were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message for her." If there's more to her relationship with her grandmother, that could be an interesting dynamic. If she's got this cool gypsy, mystic, fortune telling grandma showing her the ropes of this supernatural, beast-master type skill then I want to hear about that lady! She sounds more interesting than a picnic. And if she's not and it was just a convenient way to deliver the information then maybe "regular grandma" doesn't deserve real estate as prime as the second sentence. Where did Alyssa learn this skill?

    This is a great concept and your descriptions are fantastic, even better now that you've scaled back. It's getting there - keep going!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Heya Karel -

    Much more exciting ride with this revision. I was pulled in sooner and much more invested.

    You've loaded us up with a lot of information here at the get go. Is there anything you can feather in (see what I did there?) later. I'm thinking about Grandma's connection to the mystical world perhaps.

    If Alyssa has had this experience before would she be more aware of how to grasp it and control it - or has it only been a fleeting connection ala Sparky? Do we need so much detail about the Sparky connection if her "merging" ability is in its infancy?

    I agree with the comments about repeated words and telling. Pump up the merging - let us get more viscerally inside it.

    I'm also not feeling the moment of waking up in another time as strongly as I did in the first version and I thought that was really cool.

    Really super job with this revision. I was completely amped to keep reading on at the end.

    Anxiously awaiting your next incarnation.

    ReplyDelete