Sunday, April 5, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Harrington

Name: Sarah Harrington
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: Of Time and Blood

Some Timekeepers saw the Schedules as a rigid set of rules never to be broken, but I thought that was ridiculous. A little bit of creative interpretation never hurt anyone.

The dust was thick in the air and heavy on my tongue as I inhaled. With every breath, history took root in my lungs. My nostrils tickled with a flowery perfume that tried to hide the musty scent, but the smell of years long gone still lived on in the antique store. 

“Change of plans,” I said as my assignment partner, Trent, rounded the corner of the aisle. He jumped out of the way to avoid sending a teetering pile of old magazines crashing to the floor. 

“What was wrong with the original plan?”

“Too simple for a guy like that.” My eyes drifted over towards our target. “He needs something a little more drastic if we want to get through his thick skull.”

I ran through my mental checklist for assignments. The briefing was on point with everything, but it had failed to mention that Joseph was a real jerk.

Our target, twenty-six-year-old Joseph Bolland, stood on the far side of the store. The window he stood next to, dirtied with years worth of grime, let in very little light and casted his figure in darkness. Even with the dingy overhead lighting, the wine glass in his hands was barely visible.

Trent interrupted my thoughts when he saw the scowl souring my features. “What’d he do to piss you off?”

“Elbowed me out of the way. He was muttering about how rowdy kids don’t deserve to be in a place like this. Apparently we ‘don’t appreciate the history behind the objects’.” I dropped my voice as low as I could, feeling the vibrations in my chest, to imitate Joseph’s grating tone.

“Ah.” 

We stood at the back of the antique store, surrounded by old books and bits of secondhand kitchen equipment. Although most of my focus was on Joseph, I could just make out our secondary target in my periphery. Coraline stood behind the cash register with her back straight and arms crossed. Her eyes were trained on us and I could practically hear the words she screamed in her mind. Like Joseph, she thought that we didn’t belong in her precious store. 

I ached to tell her that nothing about me wanted to be in this dusty old store with uninteresting and poorly maintained items. My whole body leaned close to her with the longing to scream that we were only there to set Coraline up with her future husband and we would really appreciate not having to operate under the shopkeeper’s icy glare the entire time. 

Turning to relay that thought to Trent, I stopped short when I saw him cradling a clay Chinese teapot. 

“My mom had one just like this,” he said, eyes holding a depth of longing for a stolen time.

A time stolen from all Timekeeper recruits.

 “Every morning she woke me up with a cup of tea and we’d drink it together around the kitchen table. She even used to sneak it in while I was in hospital.” Trent ran his free hand over the smooth brown surface of the teapot, light sandy complexion contrasting with the deep reddish brown of the clay. 

“Careful!” The sharp sound of Coraline’s voice shot across the room. “These aren’t toys to be played with; they’re antiques,” she snarled.

“They deserve each other,” Trent muttered, setting the teapot down. “We should probably hurry up. Can’t have you being late for your own Advancement Celebration.”

The nerves that had been swimming lazily in my stomach all day burst into a frenzy at his words. I didn’t want to think about this being my last assignment; my last time engaging with the outside world. Staying on as an Agent would be a dream, but it was such a rare occurrence. It wasn’t likely for that dream to become my reality. 

Pushing the anxiety out of my mind so I could focus on the task at hand, my feet led me forward until I stood with Trent. Our eyes poured over the store, looking for all possible ways to bring Joseph and Coraline together. 

“Do you think it’s mandatory for antique stores to be dusty?” I whispered, not wanting to direct Coraline’s wrath on us again. “How hard could it be to clean the store every now and then?”
“It’s probably to weed out the weak folk. Can’t put up with dust, then you don’t deserve to have your hands on these prized antiques.” Just as Trent finished his sentence, I felt the telltale tickling of dust invading my nose. “And it looks like you’re one of the weak ones.” Trent said as I jolted forward with the force of the sneeze.

I was primed to sass him right back, but a sharp burning sensation interrupted me. I pulled my pocket watch out of my jeans and ran my fingers over the rusted surface. The hot metal singed my skin; it was a warning, but it would be suicide to initiate the interface here to read the message. There was too much of a chance that the targets would see the hologram coming out of the watch. Best to avoid that mess. “They’re telling us to get a move on.”

Trent nodded. 

“The glass display case behind him," I said, squinting in Joseph’s direction, "that wouldn't take a lot of force to shatter.”

“But it would cause a lot of damage. It doesn’t really fit in with the whole “unnoticed” part of our mantra, does it?” 

He was right. The Councillors would probably ream us out as soon as we got back to Meridian; but time was ticking down. “Do you have any better ideas? We missed the window for the original plan and the next customer will be here any minute. We need to do this now.”

Trent pressed his lips into a thin line but nodded. We broke away from where we stood, creeping down opposite sides of the store towards the target. Inching closer, I saw Joseph’s eyes dart towards Coraline. He didn’t know what the future held for himself and the young shopkeeper.

But Trent and I did.

We always did.

And it was our job to make sure it happened. 

I walked down the aisle, trying to look as natural as possible for Coraline but keeping my footfalls light to stop Joseph from noticing me. My mind wandered back to the last time I saw Joseph. Maybe he remembered the

19 comments:

  1. Hey guys! I'm so sorry, clearly there was an issue with my email provider and it cut off the last few sentences of my submission. I'll make sure that doesn't happen for the revisions next week. My apologies!

    If anyone is interested though, here are the last few lines:

    Maybe he remembered the eight-year-old girl who spilled her milk on his jacket. I felt my lips twitch at the memory. Joseph hadn’t been as awful back then. He’d even bought me another milk carton to show he wasn’t upset. What happened to that man? I should’ve looked at the database to see his full Schedule. Another Timekeeper must have been responsible for the assignment that turned him so sour.

    I stood close enough now to catch the spicy scent of Joseph’s cologne. He was so engaged in examining the wine decanter for chips in the glasswork that he hadn’t noticed us sneaking up on either side of him. Trent’s brown eyes met mine.

    Now.

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  2. Hi Sarah! I'll be writing my thoughts as I go.

    I understand what you're doing with the opening sentence, but I think the second sentence is a distraction. The first sentence is somewhat vague, which is okay because it gave me a feel as to what type of story this might be and it still made me ask questions. Adding that second thought in there kind of threw me.

    I like how you explored her current surroundings with her sense of smell. Maybe add another sense to up the feel. I would mention the 'target' as just that and then tell the reader his name and what his deal is. Otherwise, reading his name with no other info made me go back and see if I'd missed something.

    I think you have a ton of potential in here. But I kept getting the feeling that something was missing in the opening quarter to half of the piece. Be a bit more specific with what the MC sees, hears, feels, and where she is. I don't really need to know much about the other guys just yet. I want to see her and her current world. Maybe add a bit more about this 'target' idea--how it makes her who she is, what she gets from it, what she gains, how it affects her life, etc... But you also need to be careful about giving too much specific information that you'll have to explain such as titles, etc... That type of info can be sprinkled in a bit later. BTW - the matchmaking premise is way cool!!! <3

    I hope this was a little helpful. Best of luck! Looking forward to reading your revision.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions! I'll definitely keep this in mind as I look for places to add in more information about my MC!

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  3. Erin, I have a lot of good things to say about this story. It’s so hard to set up science fiction well, but I have a pretty good grasp of what’s happening here, and the pace isn’t flagging at all; that’s hard to do. You’ve also used a lot of sensory details to make the scene come alive and make me feel like I’m right there in the middle of things. And the premise is so interesting. Usually with time travel, the travelers have this big scheme that they have to accomplish or a problem they have to keep from happening. I love the idea that they’ve crossed time to play matchmaker—especially for two jerky people. Lastly, that first line tells loads about the main character while also clarifying some of the important bits of the story. Altogether, this is a strong start.

    Overall, this is a really strong start. But there are some places that can be tightened or cut to keep everything flowing smoothly:

    (“Change of plans,” I said as my assignment partner, Trent, rounded the corner of the aisle.) In this line, you don’t need to mention that Trent is her assignment partner. That comes through loud and clear throughout the rest of the passage.

    (I ran through my mental checklist for assignments. The briefing was on point with everything, but it had failed to mention that Joseph was a real jerk.) This is an awesome paragraph. I expected the next line to follow it up with something that adequately showed his jerkiness. But it just goes on to reinforce the dusty, dingy nature of the story. Because you’ve already established this, I would replace that paragraph with something small and quick that reinforces Joseph’s unpleasant nature.

    (Her eyes were trained on us and I could practically hear the words she screamed in her mind. Like Joseph, she thought that we didn’t belong in her precious store.) A tightening suggestion: Her eyes were trained on us and I could almost hear her mentally screaming at us to get out of her precious store.

    (“Careful!” The sharp sound of Coraline’s voice shot across the room. “These aren’t toys to be played with; they’re antiques,” she snarled.) Because of the explanation point and her sharp voice, there’s no need to include the ‘she snarled’ dialogue tag. That will be inferred by the reader.

    (“Do you think it’s mandatory for antique stores to be dusty?” I whispered, not wanting to direct Coraline’s wrath on us again. “How hard could it be to clean the store every now and then?”
    “It’s probably to weed out the weak folk. Can’t put up with dust, then you don’t deserve to have your hands on these prized antiques.” Just as Trent finished his sentence, I felt the telltale tickling of dust invading my nose. “And it looks like you’re one of the weak ones.” Trent said as I jolted forward with the force of the sneeze.) This exchange feels extraneous to me; again, you’ve established the state of the store; the pace flags just a tad here, since I’m eager to see how they’re going to bring these two jerkballs together. Consider cutting this.

    (There was too much of a chance that the targets would see the hologram coming out of the watch. Best to avoid that mess.) Cut that last sentence, as that overstates what has already been explained.

    Erin, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks for letting me read, and I’ll see you next week ☺.

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    1. Thanks Becca! You're totally right about the places that need to be tightened up! I'll work on that in revisions. Thanks for your feedback. It is so appreciated! :)

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  4. Hi Sarah. I love your opening paragraph. Definitely intriguing. I agree with SA Larsen that a segue into the next paragraph would be nice. (Though I disagree that you need to spend more time with what the main character sees, feels, etc. I think you covered that well, and I like that she is focusing on her “target.” I think we get the info we need in these first pages.)

    Some other thoughts I had as I read:

    A wine glass in an antique store? Seems more like something you’d see at a private museum. I’m picturing an antique store (especially with the dusty, old feel you’ve conveyed) like those little, almost forgotten corner stores in strip malls. Not really exclusive or highbrow. If it’s meant to be upper-class, maybe add some other details to convey that?

    “Complexion" is usually applied to face. Maybe just say light, sandy fingers?

    I enjoyed trying to figure out what their mission was. Being told right out in the middle of these pages seemed kind of anticlimactic. I think it would be more fun if we wonder about it until it actually happens, and then have an ah ha moment. “Oh, THAT’S why they broke the glass!”

    I love your descriptions and actions, but I thought they were a little too intense at times for what was going on. For instance, "My whole body leaned close to her with the longing to scream,” and “jolted forward with the force of the sneeze,” and “It would be suicide . . ."

    I’m really intrigued by the last paragraphs! Knowing that she had seen this man before, and when she was eight, makes me speculate. Did she see him years ago? Or was it, for her, only moments (they seem like they don’t experience time the way we do), but she looked like an eight year old?

    Overall, a very fun opening and definitely something that would make me read on.

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    1. Thanks for your feedback, Anthony. It's so interesting how antique stores vary for town to town. All the ones in my city have a very odd combination of dusty old junk and really nice stuff like wine glasses. I'll try to do some more research about what is most common in the area the story is set!
      You're right about some of the actions being too intense. Sometimes I get a little melodramatic at times!

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    2. Oh, he's looking at a wine glass for sale! Ha, the impression I got was that he was wandering around looking at things while sipping wine, as if he were at an art gallery or something. :)

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    3. Oh! That's really good to know! I'll make sure to clear up that confusion :)

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  5. Hi Sarah,
    First off, I love the opening. It completely sets up the character, and her personality so we instantly know what kind of person she is.

    The word "Target" really threw me off, especially when there was a second one and both the targets where in the same place. It was jarring at first, I wonder if there is a better word or term to refer to them by.

    I love how the information is spread out in just the first couple of pages. We already get hints of their jobs and world and kind of how they became timekeepers. My guess is that when certain people pass away or come close to it, they're given a choice or something :P

    I think it might be a bit too soon to hint at Trent's backstory with the teapot, but that just might be me. I'm more interested in the MC and her job/life, self in the very beginning. I do love their relationship so far, great chemistry :)

    One last thing- They're supposed to be sneaking around, undetected, but Coraline yelled at them, so the whole Unnoticed rule was already out the window.

    Hope this helped!

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    1. Hi Ellie, Thanks for the feedback! Those are all great things for me to keep in mind during revisions :)

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  6. Shoot. I'm sorry, Sarah. I saw Erin's name in the byline and made a mistake there. :)

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  7. I would expect stacks of magazines in an old junk store trying to pass itself off as an antique store. Real antique stores probably wouldn't carry them. Since the two targets both mention how special the store is, I think there might be something else that could be about to topple. Old photographs?

    Like a previous commenter, I don't particularly think you're use of "suicide" in the phrase "... it would be suicide to initiate the interface here..." is quite right. It wouldn't be suicide, but it would negatively impact the mission, sabotage their plans, or lead to uncomfortable questions.

    There are two places where you reference the plans. In one place, the MC is changing plans because the target is a jerk. In another place, they missed the window for the original plan. So were they changing plans to suit the circumstances or just because they missed the first opportunity?

    I don't get a good feel for the age of the two agents. Calling them "kids" seemed a bit off. They can't be too young, or they wouldn't be trusted with a mission.

    I liked the brief teapot encounter where Trent has fond memories. The references to stolen time needed a bit more explanation in order to make sense.

    I enjoyed the read; I think this will have an interesting plot!

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    1. Hi Karel, thanks for your feedback! As I said to someone else, thanks for pointing out the out of character items in the store.It's so interesting how antique stores vary for town to town. All the ones in my city have a very odd combination of dusty old junk and really nice stuff like old wine glasses. I'll try to do some more research about what is most common in the area the story is set!

      In regards to the change of plans. I was trying to convey that they missed the window because they were messing around trying to come up with a new plan. I'll try to make that clear in revisions.

      I'll for sure clarify their age. The word choice of 'kids' was supposed to be more reflective on Joseph than on Mik and Trent.

      Thanks for the help! :)

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  8. This is pretty awesome, I'm not gonna lie. :) I love the whole concept and the setting and the initial set up is very engaging. Two suggestions though.

    1. The information we need is seeded through the scene, and that's great. *thumbs up* But the order you're presenting it in feels a bit off to me. For example, the information about her knowing Joseph in the past feels like an add on and doesn't fit with the picture we already have. And it might be nice to know that this is her last assignment a little earlier as well, since it adds to her need to do it right, and gives us a bit more stakes for them solving this little problem they have.

    2. There's some good emotion here, but I think you could ramp it up just a little. If they missed their window, I'd expect them to be more frustrated and sort of scrambling, instead of calmly discussing changing the plan because he is a jerk. Trevor has a moment of longing for a time stolen from him, but your MC has very little emotional reaction to what is going on. She doesn't have be overcome with longing, it cane can be a determination not to think about it, an acknowledgement that she's different in that she doesn't miss it, or whatever fits her arc best. I just want more of a sense of what's going on in her head and what the emotional stakes are for her right now, if that makes sense.

    Hopefully this was helpful. Can't wait to see the next version!

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    1. Hi Miriam, thanks for the feedback! I'm going to take a look at rearranging some paragraphs in revisions. Hopefully the flow will be a little better next week!

      I'm going to take a look at adding some more emotional moments in there for my MC and hopefully that will help readers connect to her a little more!

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  9. Hi Sarah,
    Wow, can you describe! I can see the antique store in my mind. Full of semi out of character items, yes, but still I can picture it. Antique Inventory is an easy fix. The story is very cool and I applaud you for taking on Sci-Fi, a genre I don’t have the stomach (or skill) to attempt. Time travel is a fascinating, timeless (sorry about that) concept and I think you've got an excellent premise here.

    My only suggestions would be to take a look at your dialogue attribute. Mr. King warns us about having our characters Snarl, Mutter, Grate, Whisper, Growl… the list goes on. Especially when it’s repetitive and there are already “tone of voice” indications in the sentence.

    Also, Less description of obvious body movements can help tighten your writing (and lower bloated word counts). For example: Pushing the anxiety out of my mind so I could focus on the task at hand, my feet led me forward until I stood with Trent.

    The “My feet led me forward until I stood with Trent” could be: I stepped toward Trent, I stepped next to Trent, I stepped forward until I stood with Trent… etc. Saying “my feet led me forward” is a little like saying “I grabbed it with my hand”. What else would you grab it with? :)

    Again, awesome concept and I look forward to round 2.

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    1. Hey Patrick, thanks for the feedback! These are all great things to keep in mind during revisions! I have to trust that tone can be communicated through word choice alone instead of relying on pesky dialogue tags! :)

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  10. Hi Sarah,
    Wow, can you describe! I can see the antique store in my mind. Full of semi out of character items, yes, but still I can picture it. Antique Inventory is an easy fix. The story is very cool and I applaud you for taking on Sci-Fi, a genre I don’t have the stomach (or skill) to attempt. Time travel is a fascinating, timeless (sorry about that) concept and I think you've got an excellent premise here.

    My only suggestions would be to take a look at your dialogue attribute. Mr. King warns us about having our characters Snarl, Mutter, Grate, Whisper, Growl… the list goes on. Especially when it’s repetitive and there are already “tone of voice” indications in the sentence.

    Also, Less description of obvious body movements can help tighten your writing (and lower bloated word counts). For example: Pushing the anxiety out of my mind so I could focus on the task at hand, my feet led me forward until I stood with Trent.

    The “My feet led me forward until I stood with Trent” could be: I stepped toward Trent, I stepped next to Trent, I stepped forward until I stood with Trent… etc. Saying “my feet led me forward” is a little like saying “I grabbed it with my hand”. What else would you grab it with? :)

    Again, awesome concept and I look forward to round 2.

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