Sunday, April 19, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Norton Rev 2

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 were starting to take their toll.

Where the hell is he?

A creak from the bedroom door answered him as Tiberius tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of Ryder’s bed. Tiberius crouched and leapt over the footboard, belly-flopping 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?" Tiberius asked, his bushy face half buried in a feather pillow. He rolled off the bed, and 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.

Tiberius lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but Tiberius backhanded him, 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, beckoning Tiberius to attack.

“Im not the hero right now, remember?” Tiberius 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 Tiberius was close enough for Ryder to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him with the poker as he passed. Tiberius spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and halfway into the back wall. 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 Tiberius’s neck. "Had enough?"

Tiberius blew the sleeve of a striped turtleneck out of his eye. "From you? Please."

Ryder flicked the sword at his 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 Tiberius. "It was a lot closer this time."

"Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind 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. Ryder grabbed the wrinkled hand and dug in his heels, but his socks just skated across the wood floor. Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes.

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

"It’s your fault. You’re a good teacher."

Tiberius dusted wooden shards off his pant leg. "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."

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 looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off. "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 silence or a story about some monster he slayed.

"Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder smacked his palm with the fire poker. "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 you said-"

"It’s not safe anymore.”

“What about school? You said I could try again.”

“I know, and we’ll try in the next town.”

Ryder threw the fire poker into his nightstand knocking a small globe to the ground. “It’s always the next town! How am I supposed to make friends? I’m 14 now, I don’t want to stay up all night fighting or learn how to blind sand harpies. Normal kids don’t do this.”

“I’m sorry Fox, 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. He booted the suitcase across the floor and sat on the edge of his ruffled bed.

He was used to moving, but Tiberius had promised that this town was different and he could try school again. 7th grade was his last expulsion but that was two years and three towns ago. His previous attempts at school always ended the same with either Tiberius pulling him out to move or Ryder getting kicked out, which happened often. Schools just didn't make sense, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.

Ryder picked up the globe that had rolled off his nightstand. It was split at the equator and he pulled the two halves apart. Inside, Tiberius had drawn a map of the Hollow which he used for his lessons with Ryder.

Ryder had brought it to school once to settle an argument with his 6th grade teacher, who was convinced the earth was 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 that school’s full of something. Tell her about aliens tomorrow.” 

He did and she wasn’t amused.

Ryder never knew who to believe. The confusion started years ago in elementary school where he earned his first expulsion. His 3rd grade teacher swore the North Pole was full of elves and a fat wizard, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Boreade ice giants and Draconian devilworms.

Tiberius claimed to have met elves, and he wasn't fond of them. “Nasty little buggers,” he said. “Man-eaters.”

Ryder got off with a warning but that only lasted until the Easter Bunny incident…

10 comments:

  1. Hi Patrick,

    This is a really fun, very solid opening, and an intriguing premise.

    Some thoughts:

    You do a great job interspersing actions with the dialogue to keep me rooted in the scene.

    This is the best version yet for the interactions between the characters. Removing mention of Tiberius’ tendency to tearfulness helps, I think. If it’s an important character trait it can always be brought it later.

    *. . . but Tiberius had promised that this town was different and he could try school again.* We already know this from the dialogue that came before. Maybe something like, “He had started to allow himself to hope that he might be able to try school again.”

    *A baffled Tiberius would correct . . .* I think the tense here should match the description of the incident of the globe at school just before. So, “A baffled Tiberius had corrected . . .”

    I love the new details about the Hollow you give us at the end, especially the man-eating elves! But I wonder if that’s too much here. We’ve just been told about one incident of expulsion and we know it happens a lot; I don’t think we need to go any deeper into Ryder’s school history here. Maybe you can integrate the other incidents more smoothly elsewhere in the story? I do hope you can keep Tiberius’ line about the elves. :)

    This is revision is very smooth overall, and does a great job setting up the two characters, the world, and the immediate conflict (unknown danger forcing a move). I’d definitely keep reading if I could. I hope someday I get to!

    P.S. Your website is great, and it sent me down a rabbit hole about hollow earth conspiracy theories. I’ll never get that afternoon back, so, thanks a lot. ;)

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    1. Thanks Anthony for the feedback. Best of luck with your story!

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  2. Hi, Patrick. I’m seeing strong improvement with each of your revisions, so your hard work is paying off!

    I noticed two places where some of the details didn’t sound quite right; you might want to tweak them a bit:

    * Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.* If he’s expecting an attack, he would already be prepped and holding his weapon; it doesn’t read as quite realistic that he waits until he’s attacked before grabbing the poker.

    In the paragraph where Tiberius charges and ends up going through the wall, there are a few details that don’t ring true. Once Tiberius is close enough for Ryder to smell his aftershave, there’s not going to room to roll, since Tiberius will literally be right on top of him. Instead, maybe he can simply sidestep, or slide to the side. When he does move out of the way, Tiberius isn’t going to have room or time to turn around, since he’ll immediately hit the closet door. I would just remove that turn and have him crash into it face-first.

    The other thing I wanted to address was the last portion, where Ryder is ruminating over school and expulsions, etc. I like what you’ve done, including the globe and the map as props that can be fiddled with during the internal dialogue. But it still feels like that section is running a bit long; the pace is flagging. You’ve established quite well the problem that Ryder has at school, and why. We know that he was expelled in 7th grade and had similar problems in both 6th and 3rd. I would stop the explanation there and move on. You should have ample opportunities later to sprinkle in interesting anecdotes from Tiberius’s revisionist history :).

    To tighten this section a bit, I also suggest removing the paragraph that starts with “full of lava”. Part of the pacing issue is that the story goes back and forth between Ryder’s interaction with his teacher, then back to what Tiberius says, then back to the teacher. It reads a little jerky. To smooth that out: * Ryder had brought the map to school once to settle an argument with his 6th grade teacher, who was convinced the earth was full of lava. She hadn’t been amused. (new paragraph) Ryder sighed and twisted the globe back together. He never knew who to believe…*

    Well, those are my thoughts. Thanks so much for sharing your story opening with us. Keep up the good work!

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  3. Hi Patrick,
    I love the addition about his age and the hallow and the last grade he was in. I think you could cut out a bit of the stories and keep it more crisp, you don't need too much remembrances and details just yet, you just need enough to keep the reading reading.
    It still feels pretty middle grade, but right on the line of Low YA and high MG. The added tantrum pushes it more towards the High end of MG for me at least.

    I wonder why Ryder wouldn't have learned to keep quiet about what his uncle taught if he didn't want to get expelled? The first instances in elementary school make sense, but after that, I would imagine him catching on that if he tried correcting the teacher then he'd get into trouble again.

    There's been a lot of great improvement in these pages, and I wish you the best of luck getting your book out there! :)

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  4. I think this has improved again. It feels a little more like an upper MG now. It helps that the uncle is just being called Tiberius from the beginning, and not Uncle, or the Man, etc.

    This sounds kind of odd:
    Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes.
    *Wouldn't the clothes fall off of him as soon as he stands up?

    Why does Tiberius suddenly call Ryder Fox near the end of the excerpt?
    Is that Ryder’s first name? A pet name?

    I do love the concept of the Hollow.

    Ahhh...I just scrolled up to see your title because I forgot, and saw the Fox and the Dragon.

    Keep writing. Keep revising. Find some critique partners you click with.

    Good stuff. I wish you success with this.

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  6. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the opportunity to read your work, which I found to be quite entertaining. One thing that was a little jarring for me, though, was the discovery that Tiberius is much older than Ryder. Your line about the gray beard – “Ryder flicked the sword at his chin, lopping off a chunk of gray beard” – really threw me for a loop. Everything you had described and their dialogue up to that point suggested to me that these were two boys, likely young teens. Maybe you can make clear earlier on that there is a significant age difference between the two.

    It’s also not clear to me why they speak with a drawl (runnin’/ya/woulda/etc). This just doesn’t seem to jive with the image of them as swordsmen.

    Finally, I’d agree with the comments about Ryder’s past schooling experience dragging on a little too long – I’d much rather know about the Hollow itself than about Ryder’s interactions with his teachers/administrators. And, on that note, your description of the Hollow as “the world inside the world” leaves me hungry for more…. I’m guessing that’s your intention there so kudos!


    Some smaller points:
    “The late night sparing sessions were starting to take their toll.” – “sparring”

    “Tiberius crouched and leapt over the footboard, belly-flopping onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a sleeping Ryder.” – a little wordy – can you pair down or make 2 sentences?

    “Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.” – “stepped out”

    “Since when do heroes slap?" Ryder said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet, beckoning Tiberius to attack. “Im not the hero right now, remember?” → I’m not sure I understand this exchange. Why the debate over who’s the hero? Also, why don’t heroes slap their opponents?

    “Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him with the poker as he passed.” – I’d suggest cutting “as he passed.”

    “Tiberius spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and halfway into the back wall.” – the word “halfway” confuses me here. I’d drop it.

    “His uncle was not a lean man, being at least twice Ryder's height….” -- This would mean that either Ruder is a midget or uncle is a giant?

    “Ryder inspected the shattered closet, remembering a story his uncle had told him about the ancient hero Samson.” → “Biblical hero” (maybe this is nitpicking, but I’m a historian – I can’t help it.)

    "Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder smacked his palm with the fire poker. "And if it's danger, don't worry -- I'll protect you." – I find the second statement to be a little corny, takes away from the confidence of the first one. I think it’s much stronger to leave it at. “Whatever it is, I’ll be ready.”

    “7th grade was his last expulsion but that was two years and three towns ago.” This sentence is superfluous. The one that follows (“His previous attempts at school always ended the same with either Tiberius pulling him out to move or Ryder getting kicked out, which happened often.”) gives us the necessary info and is much clearer.

    “Schools just didn't make sense, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.” – I would suggest “given what he learned” to show it’s not in the past.

    “Full of lava?“ A baffled Tiberius would correct when Ryder got home. → There’s a word missing here.

    “He did and she wasn’t amused.” – does “he” refer to Ryder or Tiberius?

    I hope you find these comments/suggestions useful as you continue to revise. Please feel free to respond if you have any questions! Best of luck!

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  7. Hi Patrick,

    A few random thoughts:

    1. I agree that this works much better with Tiberius being called by his name throughout.

    2. Be careful giving actions to non-human/animal things. For example, "A creak from the bedroom door answered him..." A creak cannot actually answer someone.

    3. I'd suggest you try to vary the beginnings of your paragraphs. A lot of them are starting with + . For example, Ryder pulled, Ryder shook, Ryder picked, Ryder flicked, Ryder flipped, Ryder stared, Ryder inspected, Ryder pulled, Ryder threw, Ryder picked, Ryder kicked...(there are 7 more if I count Tiberius).

    4. For the ending, the flashback scenes can't be in past tense since we are already in past tense. So:

    "The confusion started" > The confusion had started
    "Nasty little buggers,” he said" > he had said
    "He did and she wasn’t amused." > He had

    5. Finally, I think this would be a stronger if you stayed entirely in Ryder's point-of-view for this entire scene. It feels a little like we are watching what happens rather than experiencing it as him. For MG, you really want the reader to BE the main character, not to watch him.

    Best of luck!
    Holly

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  8. Hi Patrick,

    First of all, your opening has come so far since the first week. You've done very well with your revisions and taking the feedback. Great job!

    Most of the other commentators beat me to the places that could be tightened up a little, and I don't want to rehash what they already said, so for the sake of brevity - I agree with what has been previously said!

    Even though you've added his grade in there, the tone still feels like MG to me. I'm not sure if it'll mature after the first five pages, but that is something to be aware of as these will be the pages an agent will see. It reads like an upper MG to me instead of lower YA.

    I struggled with liking Ryder in your first opening, but I definitely don't have that issue now. You've brought his character a long way. Good job!

    In addition to what the others have said, I suggest reading your work out loud. You'll find some places that are a little repetitive (like a lot of your paragraphs starting with 'Ryder') and it'll help you identify places that are a bit clunky.

    Great job on the revisions and best of luck with your publishing journey!

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  9. I liked the reaction Ryder had to the news of moving again. Good fix. I don't see the destruction of a flimsy closet as the same as the Samoson move which brought down the temple and killed the hero. Not a big deal, just a stretch. Good luck with this; I've enjoyed watching the development.

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