Sunday, April 12, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Norton Rev 1

Name: Patrick Norton
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Hollow - The Fox and The Dragon

Sunup. He’s late.

Ryder pulled up his sleeve to check his watch, and then peeked around the musty lace curtain into the dim room. His eyelids were heavy, and he swallowed a yawn. The late night sparing sessions with his uncle were starting to take their toll.

Where the hell is he?

A creak from the bedroom door answered him as an immense shadow tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of Ryder’s bed. The man crouched and leapt over the footboard, splashing onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a sleeping Ryder. The lumpy mattress smooshed to the ground, the box spring screaming from the massive weight pressing it to the floor. Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.

"And what are you going to do with that?" the man asked, his bushy face half buried in a feather pillow. He rolled and grunted until he wobbled to his feet, then pulled a dull brown sword from his belt. "All right, boy, let's see what kind of poker player you are."

Ryder shook his head.

The man lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but the man backhanded him across the room, splitting his bottom lip. Ryder stumbled, but regained his footing.

"Since when do heroes slap?" Ryder said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet and waved at his assailant, beckoning him to attack.

“Im not the hero right now, remember?” Tiberius said. He lowered his head and charged. Thunderous footsteps shook the room, the floorboards creaking under each booted footfall. Ryder stood his ground, pressing his back against the closet door. When his uncle was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him on the rear with the poker as he passed. Tiberius spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and wall, and halfway into the next room. The closet caved in, raining clothes and hangers onto the defeated swordsman.

Ryder picked up the fallen sword, and crossed it with the poker against his uncle’s neck. "Had enough?"

Tiberius blew the sleeve of a striped purple turtleneck out of his eye. "From a scrawny little chicken like you? I don’t think so."

Ryder flicked the sword at his uncle's chin, lopping off a chunk of gray beard. The blade was sharper than it looked.

Tiberius raised his hands in the air. "All right boy, you win, I surrender."

Ryder flipped the sword around, offering the hilt to his uncle. "It was a lot closer this time," he said.

"Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind that I warned you an ambush was coming -- a courtesy few enemies will ever give you. All right then, let's get me up."

Ryder stared at the outstretched hand. His uncle was not a lean man, being at least twice Ryder's height and who knows how many times his girth. Nevertheless, Ryder grabbed the wrinkled hand and dug in his heels, but his socks just skated across the wood floor.

"Who woulda thought," Tiberius said, panting. "The great Tiberius bested by his puny little nephew. I'd be the laughingstock of the Hollow."

"I've had a good teacher."

Tiberius sat up and looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off. "Yeah maybe, but I'm runnin' out of tricks. You know everything I know, and you've heard every tale I can tell ya. I noticed you used the Samson move." Tiberius dusted wooden shards off his pant leg. "How you remember every little thing I say is beyond me. I got nothing left."

Ryder inspected the shattered closet, remembering a story his uncle had told him about the ancient hero Samson. Outnumbered and out-muscled, he caved in a great temple to defeat his enemies, sacrificing himself in the process. Tiberius always prattled on about heroes: who they were, the battles they fought, the villains and creatures they hunted. Ryder's ears drank in every word. Tales about faraway places like Lyra, Atlantis, and Raleon. Stories of the wars he'd fought in the Dread Lands and the Valley of Giants -- fantastic places hidden deep in the Hollow, the world inside the world.

"A good teacher and a good storyteller," Ryder said.

"Well, I hope you listen good to those stories. I won't always be here for you, and when the time comes... I just hope you're ready."

"Ready for what?"

Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes. "Nothing. Another story for another time."

Ryder was used to his uncle's riddles, and didn't press the issue. He could dig for answers, but the usual response was a quiet and sometimes sad uncle. For such a jolly guy, the wrong questions brought tears surprisingly often.

"Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder stuffed the fire poker in his belt. "And if it's danger, don't worry -- I'll protect you."

Tiberius peeled a staticky sweater off his chest and flung it at Ryder's head. "You're a special kind of brat, you know that? Rematch later; but for now, pack up. We're leaving."

Ryder pulled the sweater off his face, replacing it with a frown. "Again? But I like it here!"

"Sorry, Fox, It’s not safe anymore. Someday you'll understand." Tiberius dug through the rubble of the closet and wrestled out a beat up suitcase. "But hopefully not too soon." He gave Ryder a half smile and limped out the door.

Ryder kicked the lid of his suitcase open and tossed the sweater in. The rest of his clothes were a scattered mess mixed in with broken closet parts and chalky bits of drywall. Frustrated, he booted the suitcase across the floor and plopped down on his ruffled bed. He doubted he'd ever understand. He was used to moving, but they'd been at this farm for going on two years. He'd hoped their traveling was over, and he could try school again. Sixth grade was his last expulsion but he was old enough to try high school this year. The first few attempts at school had ended poorly, and always led to them migrating to a new town. The classes just didn't make sense; none of it did, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.

His teacher laughed about the old days when people were dumb enough to believe the world was flat. “Some even feared you could sail right off the edge.” Ms. Bilsby instructed. “Can you imagine?”

But now they know better, convinced by science that the earth is round and full of lava.

“Full of lava?“ A baffled Tiberius would correct when Ryder got home. “A little in the Dread Lands sure but full of it? Sounds like this Bilsby lady’s full of something if you ask me.” 

Ryder never knew who to believe. First it was elementary school, where his teacher could go on and on about leprechauns, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms. He got off with a warning but that only lasted until the Easter Bunny incident. When he insisted that the Wild Hares of Ashtar, as it’s actually pronounced, had hooked fangs and drank centaur blood that had been that.

After his fourth expulsion for "insubordination," Tiberius decided to keep Ryder out of schools for good…


  1. Hi, Patrick. Really good job reworking this opening. You’ve strengthened it by downplaying all of the description about his uncle’s weight without removing that detail altogether. It all reads much more fluidly now.

    * Frustrated, he booted the suitcase across the floor and plopped down on his ruffled bed.* You can remove the “frustrated”; no need to tell it when you show it so nicely with his actions.

    I was a little confused at the end, when Ms. Bilsby made an appearance; the mentions of “teacher” made me confused as to who was being referenced, his school teacher or his uncle. Consider clarifying this.

    Toward the end of the passage, the telling becomes more frequent. It would help if you could break this up a bit. One thought I had was instead of explaining to the reader about the Hares of Ashtar, have him look to a picture on the wall of the rabbits with hooked fangs drinking centaur blood. You should be able to go from “the Easter Bunny incident” to the picture of the bloodthirsty bunnies to “That had been that.” The reader should be able to follow the line of thinking, and using some showing will break up the telling and keep the reader more firmly entrenched in the story.

    You may even be able to track his expulsions through his childhood artwork on the walls. Play with it; see what you can do to show what’s being told at the end instead of using a long ruminative passage to relay the info.

    Great work! I’ll talk to you next week!

  2. Hi Patrick,

    This works much better. The dialogue and interactions between the two characters is more natural. The pace seems smoother. A few thoughts:

    I still don’t like “splashing” applied to the uncle. Seems too cartoonish.

    "Thunderous footsteps shook the room, the floorboards creaking under each booted footfall.” I don’t know that we’d notice creaking if he’s thundering.

    "When his uncle was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder . . .” This sounds like the uncle is smelling Ryder’s aftershave. :)

    "Tiberius sat up and looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off.” Since we just saw Ryder engaged in trying to pull his uncle up, Tiberius sitting up seems oddly placed. Did they decide to rest for a bit?

    A history major’s pet peeve: very few people ever believed the earth was flat. See: Also, “instructed” is kind of awkward here.

    Other than that, good job tightening it up. I still like the idea of the Hollow. And I like the hints we get of something Tiberius and Ryder are (or will be) involved in, especially when Tiberius tells Ryder he’ll understand the precautions someday, but hopefully not soon. Makes me interested in finding out what’s going on.

  3. Hi Patrick,

    I like the changes you made with the uncle's weight and calling him a blob. The opening part is a lot more clear now. But now he's first introduced as Uncle, and then "the man' and then by his name, and then the man again. I think you need to stick with his name/ title of uncle.

    The fight part was very quick and easily over, so it makes me question how the uncle could have possibly trained Ryder to fight if he's so big and rolly. I don't think he could have just verbally taught him fighting techniques?

    I'm still confused with how old Ryder is, especially when he talks about school and the Easter bunny, so it still sounds MG to me.

  4. This is definitely better and I like the way you've been more subtle about describing his uncle without labelling him.

    I do still think you need to be consistent in what you call him. He's still the man, his uncle, the assailant and Tiberius. Ryder would only have one name for him.

    The age has me a little thrown too. If he was just expelled from sixth grade, how is he ready for high school? Shouldn't middle school (or what we call junior high) be next)?

  5. Ah, nice job Patrick! I liked this before and you have made it tighter. As I mentioned before, I think you have a great rhythm with your prose, which is the toughest thing about writing. The sentences flowed very well for me.

    I like that you got rid of the word "blob" throughout.

    I think that the man Ryder is fighting should be revealed as his uncle after the fight is over:

    "Ryder stared at the outstretched hand. His uncle was not a lean man, being at least twice Ryder's height and who knows how many times his girth..."

    That keeps the mystery going a little longer as to who this man is who has burst into Ryder's room. Maybe until then, just refer to him as the man. Not Tiberius. Not his uncle, etc. This is just a thought and you can totally disregard. I just think it adds a touch of mystery.

    The Easter Bunny Incident:

    This is coming along nicely.

  6. Hi Patrick,

    This piece is coming along nicely. Great job with all the work you've done.

    Like someone else, I'm not sure about the use of the word 'splashing'. It took away from the tone of the piece.

    The fight is really great with showing. I can see it pretty clearly in my mind. After the fight, you slip into a lot of telling. I would have liked to have seen a bit more showing here. Make me understand the characters and feel for them instead of just telling me exactly what I should feel.

    I really like that you minimized the references to the uncle's weight!

    Good job! I look forward to reading it next week!

  7. I liked the various changes you made. I guess I'm running at odds with the other comments. I liked the way you fixed the shape of the "child" in the bed, but still had trouble with the fight scene. How, exactly, did he manage to fall through the closet dry-wall? It seemed far-fetched, as did the backhanded slap that threw him across the room. I usually skim fight scenes, finding them tedious, but I had to re-read yours several times to be sure that I understood what happened.

    If Ryder really liked the farm and didn't want to go, I think his resistance might have spanned more than one sentence.

    I also liked the "Easter bunny" reference as foreshadowing of things to come. Ryder's age and school class didn't make sense until you mentioned that he'd been truant for at least two years. Not sure I could buy it, but not sure it mattered. It made me wonder how isolated they had to be for no one to notice he wasn't in school.