Sunday, April 5, 2015

First 5 Pages April Workshop - Norton

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

Alright fat man, Let’s do this.

Ryder pulled up his sleeve to check his watch, then peeked around the musty lace curtain into the dim room. His eyelids were heavy, and his head drooped until he snorted awake suddenly. The early rise and long wait were starting to take their toll.

Where the hell is he?

A creak from the bedroom door answered him as a shadowy blob tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of a small bed. It crouched and leapt over the footboard, splashing onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a child. The lumpy mattress crunched to the ground, the box spring screaming from the massive weight smashing it to the floor. Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.

"And what’re you gonna do with that?" the blob asked, his fat 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. "Really?"

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

"You slap like a girl, old man," the boy said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet and waved at the assailant, beckoning him to attack.

The fat man 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 the other was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him on the rear with the poker as he passed. The blob 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 the man's neck. "Beg for mercy, or I'll be short one uncle."

The old man blew the sleeve of a striped purple turtleneck out of his eye. "But I'm the only one you got."

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

His uncle raised his hands in the air. "All right, you win, I surrender."

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

The fat man raised his bushy gray eyebrows. "Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind that I warned you I was coming this week -- 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. "Maybe if you were a little slimmer, you wouldn't be so slow," he suggested.

The old man's jaw dropped. "Calling me fat, are ya? Well, I could eat a scrawny little chicken like you right about now. Get over here."

He dragged Ryder to the ground and tickled him into submission. The fight didn't last long, and Ryder's plump uncle was soon out of breath. "Who woulda thought," the old man 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. "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, boy."

"I really doubt that."

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 plump, 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, 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 the boy a half smile and waddled out the door.

Ryder kicked the lid of his suitcase open and tossed the sweater in. 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. The first few attempts had ended poorly, and always led to them fleeing to a new town. The schools just didn't make sense; none of it did, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.

His history teacher would laugh about the old days when people were dumb enough to believe the world was flat and you could sail right off the edge. But now they think 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 that schools full of something if you ask me.” 

Ryder never knew who to believe between his lessons from school and his uncle’s stories. His teachers could go on and on about leprechauns every March, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms. The Easter bunny was real, apparently... but when he insisted that the Ashtar Bunny, as it’s actually pronounced, had hooked fangs and drank centaur blood that had been that.


  1. You’ve got an interesting premise here. I love the idea of a world within our world, and everyone in the world being clueless about it. I also love that you’ve avoided the typical mentor cliché by making him overweight, and that he’s not bumbling and incompetent, as large characters are usually written. Great job thinking outside of the box and coming up with something new and interesting.

    As for suggestions for improvement…

    My first thought is that the opening fight scene felt a little contrived because the reader is made to believe it’s a real fight when it’s actually not. It feels a bit like opening a story with a dream, where the reader thinks one thing is really happening, but it’s not. You can rectify this by making it clearer in the first paragraph that this is a training session and not a legitimate attack. It can still be exciting and active, but the reader won’t be confused or feel like they’ve been led to believe something that isn’t true. It’s a tough line to walk, because you’ll have to show it instead of explaining it outright, but a clue that this is a test of some kind would help.

    Another thing that didn’t seem quite right was Ryder nodding off so quickly. Obviously he hasn’t gotten much sleep, but if his uncle’s arrival is imminent, he wouldn’t be falling asleep. I suggest rewording that, having him rubs his eyes or swallow a yawn instead.

    Next: the first line made me think he was looking for a man, but when it says “shadowy blob”, I started to think he was being attacked by something supernatural. It would clarify things if it said …as an immense shadow tiptoed across the floor…or something like this.

    I’m also unclear as to how old Ryder is. The child-shaped lump of pillows combined with the tickling match make him sound quite young, but Ryder’s thoughts and dialogue had me picturing a tween or young teen. A good way to clarify this is with some clues from his setting. Bedrooms are very personal, so we should see some clues here to his age. Does his uncle crush a cherished stuffed animal? Or does he crash into the wall and crumple a poster of a rock band? If you use some cues from the boy’s bedroom, we’ll be better able to picture his age. Then just make sure that his dialogue matches.

    Ryder also seems to give in quite quickly when his uncle announces another move. It’s like one minute they’re talking, and the next, Ryder is packing. I’d like to see a little more resistance. Maybe he throws a sweater in but then he flops down on the bed instead of finishing. Or instead of opening the suitcase, he kicks it across the floor. Just remember that whatever his form of resistance, it should match his age and his personality.

    And that leads me to my final point: I don’t have a strong feel for who Ryder is as a character. This scene doesn’t reveal much of his personality. I’d like to see a defining trait or possibly a weakness—ideally, a trait that’s going to play into the overall story. Think about who he is, what kind of person he is. His traits are going to define his decisions and reactions and be revealed in the way he responds to things. Seeing more of who he is, right off the bat, will really help in building reader interest and drawing the reader in.

    Thanks for letting me read. See you next week!

  2. Hi Patrick. I like the hints we get of the world of The Hollow. “The world inside the world’ is a cool phrase, and the offhand reference to the Dread Lands being the one place filled with lava was fun. It gave me a sense that there’s a whole, diverse world inside the earth. I like that you didn’t just dump this info on us, but gave it to us gradually in the midst of a scene that lets us know things about the main characters — they are practicing for something bad happening, they have knowledge most people don’t about this Hollow, etc.

    I had some trouble orienting myself early in the scene. The first sentence makes me think of someone steeling himself do something right now, but in the next paragraph Ryder is literally falling asleep. Apparently he’s waiting for someone else to act, not about to act himself, as I’d thought.

    This early in the story, knowing nothing about it except that it’s fantasy, I took “blob” and “splashed” literally. I imagined some kind of dark shapeless thing launching itself over the edge of the bed and splattering on the pillows. To have it suddenly become a fat man was jarring.

    Also, I think you tell us a little too often that he’s fat. For instance, "Ryder's plump uncle was soon out of breath.” We already know he’s fat, so if you just say he’s out of breath I think we’ll link it to his weight.

    Finally, I wasn’t sure about the age of the main character. He thinks and talks like a teen, but you describe a “small” bed and child-shaped pillows. And his uncle tickles him — I don’t know of any teen who’d allow that.

    I’m intrigued by the idea of a Hollow land, and characters — one who apparently used to live there, another who never has — who know about it and are hiding from something. I think if you made the opening a little smoother and more oriented I’d want to read on to find out more!

  3. Thanks for submitting your work, Patrick.

    I read this through twice, and upon first reading I was a little confused because I thought "the blob" was actually, well, a blob. Remember, your reader knows nothing of your world yet. If you say blob, well, we are going to think this is a story about giant blobs creeping in and killing people. lol.

    The good news is that you have great rhythm and voice. Your style flows easily, and hits the elusive peaks and valleys you need to entice a reader and put them under your spell. That is the most important aspect.

    I liked the reference to a watch in the opening because it grounds us in the real world.

    Whenever you use the word "suddenly," see if you can replace it with a more active word or lose it altogether:

    His eyelids were heavy, and his head drooped until he snorted awake.

    *That works just as well without using suddenly*

    I think we get the picture that Tiberius is plump, and could probably do without a few of those descriptors: waddling, etc.

    The tickling feels middle grade to me.

    Overall, I really love the idea of this world inside a world concept. I think you're onto something!

    Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Hello Patrick!
    What a cute story you have so far.
    My first thought after reading this was that this was written more like a Middle grade more than a young adult. And maybe it gets more dark and violent later on, but from these first pages, Ryder and his relationship with his uncle come off as very young.

    I agree with Ronald, about calling the uncle a blob. At first I thought it was an actual blob monster, like from an RPG video game. This also hints at it being more MG than YA, as the words used sound more childish, and the uncle tickles him like a younger child. I'm not sure how old Ryder is, but I would guess middle school since he apparently learns about the Easter bunny. And how often Ryder tells the reader that his uncle is fat, just adds more onto the childishness of his character.

    The uncle also said that he was 'coming this week'. But it seems that Ryder has been raised by his uncle and travels with him. so was he gone? Or did he mean he told Ryder he was coming to test him sometime that week? Just a question I had.

    I like the relationship Ryder seems to have with his uncle, and it makes me curious of their backstory/ relationship. What happened to his parents and what-not. I'm very curious about the world as well. It seems like a fun read!

  5. I'm going to build on what everyone else said about the "fat" comments and take it a little bit further. Not only do you tell us his uncle his fat/plump/blob-like, you do it in a negative way which is known as "fat shaming" and really made me dislike your main character right from the start. I would seriously rethink this unless it is a major part of his character ARC.

    A couple smaller things:
    -He’s very active in first paragraph for someone nodding off to sleep. I think he needs to either be bored or be half asleep. Not both.
    -It doesn’t make sense for him to shake his head and then ask “Really?” The latter is like asking for a confirmation, but you wouldn't do that if you'd already declined.
    -It’s odd to refer to Ryder as “the boy”. I had to read a few times to be sure there wasn’t another boy. This happens again when the “fat man” becomes the old man and the assailant in the same paragraph. You need to call him the same thing. I understand why you want to reveal who he is (uncle) later but it becomes more confusing when he suddenly starts to think of him as his uncle and then as Tiberius. A character’s thoughts do not change this way. If he's expecting a man who he calls Tiberius or Uncle Tiberius to show up, then he would be thinking of him that way from the very start.
    -The verb tense in not consistent in this line: “His teachers could go on and on about leprechauns every March, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms.” I think you need to say "His teachers went on and on.."

  6. I thought about your story all day; there were some aspects that pulled me in after I got over the initial confusion. Using the term "the blob" has a little different connotation than calling it a shadow, and that confused me (not in a good way) at first.

    I had a hard time believing that his uncle would flatten his bed in an attack. They don't sound wealthy, and the attack isn't a fight for their lives -- it is practice. So I didn't understand why he'd deliberately break the bed when a savvy parent/uncle would know that the difference between a child and pillows under the covers. And the pillows looked child-sized, but Ryder sounds like a teen. That was a disconnect that made it sound unrealistic and a bit over-done.

    The sword play doesn't exactly fit in modern times, so I had difficulty placing the time period in which the story was set.

    The last three paragraphs were my favorites. It sounds like something interesting is on the way!

  7. Hi Patrick,
    First of all - I really love the concept of your story. I'm fascinated by the "world within our world" premise. You've done a great job at scattering hints throughout the piece. I especially loved the piece about the Ashtar Bunny!

    Some suggestions:

    Give the immediacy of the first line, I was surprised that Ryder fell asleep, even if it was only for a second. It took me out of the flow of the story.

    Like the others, I was also thrown off by the word 'blob'. Overweight people still have a human shape, so I immediately thought this was an actual blob monster that was coming to eat him or something. It threw me off when I realized the blob was his uncle. It also seemed that there were a few too many references to the uncle's weight. Hoe else can he be described other than just by his weight? By the sheer amount of comments, I got kind of a "fat-shaming" vibe from it. Couple that with the "You slap like a girl" comment and it made me really dislike Ryder.

    I love the line "let's see what kind of poker player you are." I laughed out loud.

    I felt kind of tricked when I realized it was just a practice fight scene. It took any sense of urgency away from the story for me.

    It surprised me how easily Ryder gave in to the move. I would have liked to have seen some resistance there. That could also be a good opportunity to inject some of Ryder's personality into the piece

    I struggled to get a sense of age because YA means he should be a teenager, but the choice of words "strategically shaped like a child" and that his uncle tickled him made me think younger. I actually got more of a MG feel from the piece. Especially given that his teachers are still talking about the Easter Bunny and Leprechauns.

    Overall, I think this is a really good foundation. I am so intrigued by the premise. Great job and thanks for the read! :)

  8. That map is so cool, Patrick! The detail is amazing!