Monday, April 20, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Hadacek Rev 2

Name: Karel Hadacek
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Wayward Path, Rev 2

Alyssa watched the raven watching her. She’d heard they were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message. Stepping toward the bird, she glanced over her shoulder at the blanket on the grass with her family’s picnic remains. Her exhausted parents had pushed the leftovers to the side so they could doze. She promised herself she’d be back before they woke and walked closer to the raven. Why is it watching me so much? Am I’m special? Could it have a message for me?  

Sometimes she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. It was more like sharing feelings and pictures in their minds. Could I do the same thing with this bird that I don’t even know?

The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye. Is it a boy or girl? She pushed her question to him but didn’t receive an answer.  The raven perched a few trees away and Alyssa hesitated before hurrying down a game trail to catch up. She thought it felt like a boy, even though she had no way of knowing.

She kicked at a pinecone; winter was coming, so this was their last trip to the park this year. She zipped her windbreaker against the breeze and tried to catch up with the raven, which she found perching on a rock a few yards ahead. Raven, do you have a message for me? Can you tell me how to fit in with the others? Why am I so different?  The bird looked back at her and gave a gruff call. 

Stopping, Alyssa stared at him until her vision blurred. Blinking didn’t help, so she shut her eyes. As she focused and opened her mind to receive his pictures or feelings, she saw colors swirling behind her eyelids. In her mind’s eye, she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl in a red windbreaker and blue shorts. There was a haze of light surrounding the girl as she stood with her head tipped back and eyes closed.  Alyssa blinked, and the scene cleared. She’d done it! She’d didn’t communicate with him -- she’d merged with him and looked with his eyes! She never would have thought that was even possible, but she’d done it! She twirled and fist-pumped the air, wishing she had a friend with her to tell.

She hurried to keep up with the raven as he fluttered to the left of the trail. He perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked before gliding to a dead branch below. She continued as 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 rain sprinkled in her hair; storm clouds gathered overhead. Pulling up her jacket hood, she wondered how long she’d been gone. The raven flew over the trees, crossed the valley to her left, and angled up, ending their game. Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to her family. Alyssa looked around for the trail, frowning. Retracing her steps over a field of rocks, she reached the place where the rocks faded out and grass grew again but saw no trail.

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

Dark descended as she searched for the trail, finding only trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts grew louder and more frantic. Determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a child, she cringed as lightning cracked. Won’t the lightening like the tallest trees? Not a short thing like me?

She left the meadow for the relative safety of the trees where she found a place under the broad branches of an evergreen tree that was almost dry. The musty smell made her sneeze. Her stomach clenched and she tried not to think about her thirst or darkness. Tears pressed at her eyelids as she thought about how anxious her parents would be now. Man, I’ll be grounded for years when they find me.

Could I look through the raven’s eyes to find my parents? Her heart sank as she realized that wouldn’t work. She didn’t know where he was and had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it just kept running as her tears soaked her face. She rested her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.

She jerked awake, instantly attuned to the darkness. What’s out there? Holding her breath, she listened. The rain had eased and she heard something moving among the trees. Is that a bear? A mountain lion? Heavy footsteps came from behind, and then paused. No one had a flashlight or called her name, so it wasn’t human. Surely I’m too small and scrawny to be a good meal. Or would being young make me tender and tasty?

She couldn’t remember the Ranger’s instructions on their last trip. Do I 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 knows I’m here.

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, but clouds blocked the moonlight. She was one of the fastest kids in her class, but she couldn't run all-out here. There were roots and rocks that she couldn’t see poking up everywhere. She fell, skinning her knees and hands. Jumping up, she looked over her shoulder. Did the creature stop or was I too noisy to hear it? There it is 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, but landed hard and hit her face on the ground. Pain stabbed up her arms and 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 several cuts and scrapes. For some reason, whenever she tried to move her hands, they seemed to go the wrong way and pain shot from her fingertips to elbow. She tried to lift them to her eyes, but the pain made her quit half way to her face. Something’s broken, she thought.

“Help! Help me!” She called over and over until her voice was a whisper. No response. Tears loosened the muck around her eyelids though, which she wiped gently on each shoulder. It hurt, but fear of unending darkness was far worse. The right eye opened a little; she sat on a long narrow rock platform. The cliff at her back loomed straight up; climbing up was impossible. Below her ledge was nothing for a long way.

17 comments:

  1. Hi again, Karel. I like that you’ve added some good insight into Alyssa’s character; her not fitting in with others, and her desire to do so, is not only a great motivator, but it makes her seem a little more real. I will say, though, that that way it was introduced, it was a little abrupt. I’m wondering if there’s a way we can see this before she comes right out and says it. Maybe there are other people at the park, and she can hear the noise of kids playing—kids playing a game that she tried to join with earlier but was rebuffed. Or maybe she really wanted to introduce herself but she never tried due to past failures making friends or getting along with others. If we can see something of this before it’s stated, it will feel a little more natural. Seeing it for ourselves will also help build empathy for the character.

    I also feel like there’s a tad too much direct thought. Some of this is definitely necessary, as it breaks up the narrative. But there’s more of it than you typically see in a passage this long. Changing some of it to indirect thoughts, without the italics, would mix it up a bit. For instance, this line: < Could I look through the raven’s eyes to find my parents?> becomes

    Also, I think the line where she’s thinking directly to the raven (Do you have a message for me?) would work better as gently-spoken dialogue. She wants desperately to communicate with the bird; I can see her trying verbalized speech for her first attempt. And again, even changing this one line to direct dialogue would add variety to the narrative.

    Thank you for sharing your opening with us. Kudos, for your dedication and hard work making it the best it can possibly be. Best of luck with your writing!

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    1. Thank you for taking so much time providing such insightful comments!

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  2. Hi Karel. I love that you're experimenting with ways to open you story. That said, while "watched the raven watching her" has a cool resonance, it doesn't feel like a first line to me. It's pretty but passive for MC. Then we get into a great deal of self-reflection, e.g., "Am I special?" and I kind of feel like we need to know more WHAT/WHO Alyssa IS instead of what she wonders. Generally, while the writing remains strong, the chapter still feels a bit ungrounded to me. I'd step back and ask myself whether this is really where the story starts. Do we need to see her get lost or could she just wake up caked in mud? Do we need to see her somewhere besides the woods before, to get a sense of the life she is about to be swept away from? Try writing down a 1-2 sentence plot summary for the novel and make sure that the first chapter is ESSENTIAL to this summary. You're doing great--still maybe kind of writing in--so my advice to you at this point is maybe to just keep writing for a couple hundred pages. Then, when you really see the core of the story, you can go back and decide if this is the beginning. Great luck and keep us posted! -Stasia

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    1. Thanks. I've decided to move the story forward and start elsewhere, as you've suggested several times. I appreciate the feedback.

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  3. Hi Karel,

    I'm wondering if you could open with "Alyssa had heard Ravens were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world." And continue from there?

    I agree with Stasia about the self reflection, especially the "Am I special?"remark, it kind of made me pull out, wondering why she would suddenly think such a thing.
    There is still a lot of inner dialogue and telling, rather than showing her feelings.
    like this part: “Mom? Dad?” She called periodically, hoping to hear her parents in return.
    could be something like "Mom? Dad?" She called periodically, but heard nothing in return.
    I think if you cut out a chunk of the inner dialogue, thoughts and feelings, it would quicken the pace and catch the reader in more easily. Trust the reader to know when Alyssa is worried or hopeful.
    Great job in editing so far though, its really coming along! :)

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    1. Thanks for the feedback; much appreciated .

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  4. Hi Karel,

    I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said. I like what you’re trying to do, the mood you’re trying to build. But I do think it moves a little too slowly, and there’s a little too much telling. Maybe if you gave us more of a mystery around the raven and kept that mystery front and center, it would pull the reader along better? Don’t tell us right out that ravens are mystical messengers, for instance, or that Alyssa can communicate with animals without words (and unless Sparky is an important character in this story, I’d drop the mention of her communication with him to make what she has with the bird feel more appropriately special and interesting). Maybe have some behavior or mystery around the raven draw Alyssa into following it, rather than her simple curiosity as to whether or not she can communicate with it. And then keep that mystery of the raven in our minds through what follows, maybe by having it appear briefly again?

    I’d also drop Alyssa’s wondering if she could communicate with the bird before it happens. In real life, we don’t usually think, “Hey, I wonder if I can do this crazy, impossible thing,” and then just do it. So that comes off as a little too convenient when it happens in a story. Maybe have that flash of communication or sight-sharing happen first, when she’s watching the raven, and make that the reason she starts to wonder about it.

    Thanks for letting us read your opening, and I hope we get to see the whole story in published form someday!

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  5. Hi Karel, Thanks so much for sharing your work, which I found intriguing. I really like the way you succeed in instilling Alyssa's panic in the reader but would like to ask a few questions and make a few suggestions for tightening and clarifying your opening pages:

    I agree with Becca - the way you introduce the fact that Alyssa does not fit in is too abrupt/too blunt. Maybe you can build to this without hitting your readers over the head by showing your readers her failed interactions with others or maybe she could be having a conversation with herself about being at the park with her parents while others her age are there with friends?

    I was completely taken with and drawn in by your opening – “Alyssa watched the raven watching her. She’d heard they were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message.” But the rest of the paragraph is a little awkward. First, I think the question should read, “Why is it watching me so closely?” not “so much.” The second question should read “Am I special?” not “Am I’m.” But more importantly, can you pare down the descriptive sentences to cut repetition (we hear about the leftovers 2x) and make clear her urge to follow the raven. Then this might be a place to introduce A’s isolation more subtly.

    Some lines/ideas that I think need clarification:

    “The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye.” – I would drop “one eye,” unless this raven only has 1?

    “She thought it felt like a boy, even though she had no way of knowing.” –This line is awkward and I don’t think it adds anything. If she really has no way of knowing, why does it matter what she thought? Is the raven’s gender relevant to story?

    “winter was coming, so this was their last trip to the park this year.” – Maybe “this would likely be their last trip to the park this year (you never know!)

    “Stopping, Alyssa stared at him until her vision blurred. Blinking didn’t help, so she shut her eyes.” I think these lines are stronger if you cut “Stopping” and “Blinking didn’t help, so”

    (see next box...)

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    1. Thanks for your comments.mu just what to explain that birds do not see the same thing through both eyes. If one is pointed down, the other is on the other side of his head and looking up. They do not have their eyes faced forward seeing the same thing like we do. But if you have this thoughts, there would too, so it's a valid point. Thank you for your constructive comments!

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    2. thanks for the explanation, Karel - you'll need to make this clear in your text. But, in my opinion, this sounds a little overly complicated -- is it critical to your story that the bird sees different things from different eyes?

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  6. (...cont)

    “As she focused and opened her mind to receive his pictures or feelings, she saw colors swirling behind her eyelids. In her mind’s eye, she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl” – You might consider “thoughts” instead of “pictures or feelings” and “and saw” instead of “seeing”

    “She twirled and fist-pumped the air, wishing she had a friend with her to tell.” -- Here’s an opportunity to make clear she doesn’t have friends – the way you’ve written it sounds like she doesn’t have a friend with her at that moment. Can you rephrase to highlight her permanent solitude?

    “She hurried to keep up with the raven as he fluttered to the left of the trail. He perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked before gliding to a dead branch below. She continued as he fluttered in a constant string of little hops from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree.” -- I would consider cutting and merging the 2 halves of these sentences to make: “She hurried to keep up with the raven as he fluttered in a constant string of little hops from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree. Will cut down on repetition – we’ve already read several times she hurrying to keep up with him.”

    “The wind kicked up and rain sprinkled in her hair; storm clouds gathered overhead.” -- Why would she and her parents be in park on rainy day? Or did weather change suddenly?

    “Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to her family.” – She doesn’t seem to have gone very far? How can she be lost? Make clear above if she’s traveled significant distance away from parents. Only unit of distance you referenced is “a few yards” – not far enough for her to be lost.

    “She left the meadow for the relative safety of the trees where she found a place under the broad branches of an evergreen tree that was almost dry.” – If it’s lightening, isn’t meadow safer? Lightening can strike tree and knock it over. Also I would consider “and took shelter under…” instead of “where she found a place under….”

    “Man, I’ll be grounded for years when they find me.” – This thought reflects her parents’ anger, not anxiety. Maybe you can reference both in previous sentence.

    Is that a bear? A mountain lion?” – Is she somewhere where this is a possibility? I assumed she was in a park in a city somewhere. Maybe we a little more scene setting.

    “No one had a flashlight or called her name, so it wasn’t human.” – Doesn’t seem like this has to be the case – could be someone who doesn’t know her, etc.

    “She couldn’t remember the Ranger’s instructions on their last trip.” – Why wasn’t she given instructions on this trip?

    I hope you find these comments/suggestions as you move forward with The Wayward Path. Please feel free to respond if you have any questions! Best of luck!

    Amaryah

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    1. Thank you. It's interesting to see how differently others see things. The story is set deep in a national forest. I'm not sure how to get all that across while not explaining I things. I'll keep at it; thank you!

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  7. Karel,

    What a quick three weeks it's been. Your story has come a long way and your paragraphs are much tighter. The descriptive subtractions have helped a lot. I think the internal dialogue helps break up the paragraphs, but I agree that there's a little too much. The fact that most of them are questions makes it more noticeable. It's an easy fix and you got some great suggestions above: Make her speak some of her internal communication with the raven out loud, reduce the amount of internal dialogue in general, shift some of the questions to actions etc.

    I agree with possibly removing the entire paragraph about sparky. Keeps the reader caught in the suspense:

    Could it have a message for me?
    The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye.

    Without that paragraph, it's almost like "The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye." is the raven responding to Could it have a message for me?". It adds weight to the mystery of can they communicate or not?

    Small and silly point. I would avoid the expression "Winter was coming". Winter is Coming is the slogan for Game of Thrones - A story where of one the main characters (a small child) communicates with a Raven. Hey, I said it was small and silly.

    I thought you did a great job of including some characteristics about the character. With a little tweaking, these could be subtle suggestions about some of Alyssa's life issues: "Can you tell me how to fit in with the others?" and "wishing she had a friend with her to tell." Great opportunities to explain how she feels like an outsider and has no friends.

    It's been fun Karel and I've enjoyed being part of the workshop with you. Best of luck and keep writing!


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  8. Hi Karel,

    First of all, your pages have improved so much over the past month! Good job on being so willing to put in the hard work.

    I really like that you've varied the length and structure of your paragraphs. It's much easier to read now.

    The comments the others have made about the internal dialogue seem spot on to me. As a reader, I like to know some of the protagonist's thought process, but too much can pull me out of the story.

    I agree with what Patrick said about "Winter is coming", because of the popularity of that show and book series, many people would immediately draw comparisons.

    There isn't much to add to what the others have said already. I think with some tightening, the pace will speed up and you'll really draw the reader in!

    Thanks for sharing. I've loved seeing how this piece has evolved over the past month. Keep up the great revisions!

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    1. Thanks for explaining the Game of Thrones reference; I'm not familiar with any of that. It was setting up something to come and can come out. Thanks for your insightful comments.

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  9. Hi Karel –

    You’ve done such a great job with your revisions, I know this story is going to keep getting shinier and shinier.

    Here are some thoughts/suggestions:

    Craft a stronger lead. I think there is gold to mine in your second sentence.

    Less non-essential IM especially when it doesn’t move the story forward. Use action and physical response of the MC instead.

    Focus on the powerful moment of connection between Alyssa and the raven to open.

    Choose a simpler question for the initial contact with the raven – Can you hear me?

    Clarify:
    Why she follows the raven
    The time/location shift
    States of exhaustion/losing consciousness in or out of the “merged” state
    The revelation when she realizes she is not where she is supposed to be
    The significance of whatever is following her

    Sending pixie dust and good vibes your way as you revise your story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

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  10. Thank you. I've got work to do! I appreciate the time you took to provide comments.

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