Sunday, May 3, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Pacelli

Name: Atesa Pacelli
Genre: Young Adult
Title: The Minesweeper 


The hand hit Aden so hard it knocked him to the ground.
Aden swerved and thrust his hand out in a futile attempt at balance as the projectile slammed into him, his mac flailing wildly in the air like a flower knocked over by a strong wind. But it was no use. He went down, hard, hitting the ground with the unmistakable crunch of something shattering.
He froze. He didn’t notice the pain, but slowly, slowly, he did notice that he was still alive. He had narrowly avoided falling directly atop of a Sunn mine. Deep breath. Yes. He was still alive. He wiggled his fingers and toes. All still there, or so it seemed. He gripped his mac harder. Paused to catch his breath. He was out in the open and he would have to get out of here – fast. 
But he dare not move.
His eyes darted about, alert, analyzing the ramshackle mud and brick huts that made up this village high up on the Sunn-Karal border: the open doors, gaping like newly-blasted faces, the mounds of dirt, the rusted-down machines, the flies buzzing around the dead animals everywhere. The ground underneath this village was riddled with mines in every direction: microscopic bits of coiled death that lay just inches under the innocent-looking soil, their vibrations visible to no one but him. To Aden’s eyes, the air was different directly above each mine. It moved: darkened and swirled like an angry eddy. That’s what he looked for. The gift meant that he was alive four years after being sold by his father to the Karali rebels as a minesweeper, graduating from minefield meat to an actual soldier in the cause of the Karali Liberation Movement. 
All around him, the ground darkened and swirled, darkened and swirled. He looked around, annoyed. The first round of minesweeper boys were supposed to clear this village in advance of the soldiers. Where were all the bodies?  The exploded mines? The discarded heaps of shrapnel and mounds of body parts? They’d done a miserable job, for sure.
But he had no time to formulate a plan before the real fighting started. All around him, target-locked bullets whizzed by and high-powered lasers crisped the earth, exploding mines and Karali rebel soldiers along with them. He needed to get up and fight, but he lay there, on a heap of something, still frozen, still trying to figure out what to do.  
And then the strangest sensation. Something was moving underneath him.
He peered under himself as gingerly as he could and let out a strangled cry of surprise: it was one of the new recruits, crying and shivering in a turtle-like ball. The minesweeper boys went into the battlefield in pairs, chained to each other.
This one’s chain-mate was missing.
The kid was clutching his paradise key and crying for his mommy. Aden rolled his eyes and curled his lips in disgust. This little shit was going to get them both killed. If this kid so much as moved, they would each be in a hundred pieces spread out over the plains of southern Karal. Aden took a deep breath, grabbed a handful of the matted black hair underneath him, and locked eyes with the scrawny boy, who was no more than ten.
“Don’t move!” he screamed over the din.
The boy nodded and ducked his head back under Aden. Four years ago, Aden had been like this kid, paralyzed by fear. A twelve-year-old destined to be no more than battle meat, to walk across minefields and explode the bombs before the valuable laser guided artillery and troops advanced. But Aden had the gift. He could see the mines before they saw him. It saved him. Now, he was a master of the chief lesson of minesweeping:
Do whatever it takes to stay alive.
Aden closed his eyes for a second, running a finger along the raised tattoo of an exploding sphere on his inner elbow. Then, as always, he offered a feverish prayer to whatever it was that was going to get him the hell out of here.
As his eyes snapped open he spied the projectile that had knocked him over: a hand still attached to an arm.
A small arm.
The hand was frozen in a death grip, still clutching the paradise key. Cheap plasticene that the commander had passed out to the boys. The keys to the paradise ruled by the God of Spirits. The Karali rebels worshipped the five old prophets, who sang flowery praises to their one God and promised afterlife. Entry to this afterlife was summarily granted to any boy who died in the cause, sweeping a minefield.
“What will you do for the God of Spirits to let you into paradise?” The soldiers would chant to the boys as they lined them up, chained to each other, minutes away from death. 
The Soldier is the most beloved hand of God.
Except the boys were not soldiers. They were only boys. And there was no God. 
Aden looked up. The commander had given the order to advance despite the fact that the village had not been cleared.  He watched as mines exploded and men and boys alike screamed – out of pain, out of fear, out of a mental anguish that seared their brains as severely as any mac. Aden looked down at the kid crouched beneath him. He remembered this kid from the lineup this morning. He was the smallest one. This skirmish was the kid’s first battle as a minesweeper. Having the dumb luck to have Aden fall on him probably meant it wouldn’t be his last. The vast majority of the boys died at their first sweep, to say nothing of the second or third. The Sunn mines were just too sophisticated for the KLM’s meager rebellion.
The Karali Liberation Movement. It sounded noble. Freedom fighters that mostly wanted to liberate the lucrative Carabalt mines along the disputed border, along with the Machavell Protectorate’s tax structure that cut deeply into profits for the Union’s most precious energy source.
And now the so-called freedom fighters were all dying. Aden looked around to see the Karali battalion routed, dead soldiers in their shabby red and black in every variety of death, their uniforms flapping in the wind like warning flags. He watched the commander, the man who had bought him from his father those four years ago, sustain a round of laser fire and go down hard.   
Aden rubbed the smoke out of his eyes with a grubby hand and grabbed the severed arm that had knocked him to the ground. He threw it as hard as he could to the spot where he knew another mine sat, the tiny charge ready to strike.
The arm landed with a thud. Second later, a huge explosion blew it to bits.
The paradise key hit Aden in the face.
“Move!” He yelled. He grabbed the kid and they both scurried across the newly exploded area, making it as far as the back of another hut. They crouched down behind a pile of farm equipment. Aden peered around the edge. They were not more than thirty steps away from a tree line. Behind the trees was a thick forest that would provide cover until Aden could figure out what to do next. Aden looked closely. Something was moving. Flitting in and out of visibility behind the trees was the hindquarters of an enormous, heavily-antlered bracken deer.


  1. There is a clear sense of setting: the war-ravaged field of a village high up on the Sunn-Karal border, during the Karali rebellion in a somewhat futuristic time (lasers).
    I find the theme, child-soldier/minesweeper, unique and interesting.
    I really like the description of the MC’s gift (“microscopic bits of coiled death that lay just inches under the innocent-looking soil, their vibrations visible to no one but him. To Aden’s eyes, the air was different directly above each mine. It moved: darkened and swirled like an angry eddy.”)
    I understand that the main character (MC) is only 16 and was sold by his father –which makes me root for him, however, I find the terms ”This little shit” too aggressive (it’s a personal preference) which prevents me from feeling with the MC. I find “Aden rolled his eyes and curled his lips in disgust” sufficient to express his reaction of anger and disgust. It may help to add, right there, the line about the fact Aden had been in the boy’s exact situation before.
    I find the first pages very intense and possibly exhausting if sustained through the rest of the book.
    I would continue reading, even though I didn’t get a clear idea of the plot.
    The elements in these first 5 pages that will sell the book are: the theme of the use of children in war and how a child’s sensory sensitivity allows him to survive.

  2. Hi Atesa,

    I found myself immediately drawn in to your story. It's clear right away that we're in a futuristic, war-torn world. I love how this opening scene starts right in the middle of action and conflict. What could be more exciting than a border village, in wartime, on a minefield! Also, like Elle, I had sympathy for a young man whose father sold him. I am also very intrigued by his gift.

    I do think these opening pages feel a bit slow, or unevenly paced. despite all the exciting action. Consider keeping the sentences short and precise and the scene moving briskly, at least when he’s in danger. It's a war zone. Let's feel the tension and fear. So for example, I think you could cut some of the figurative language, like the doors "gaping like newly blasted faces," an image I found puzzling. Another example was the mac "flaring like a flower". I wondered what a mac was. Later in the scene I inferred it was a weapon. But because it hadn’t been described or defined yet (unlike “paradise key” later, which DOES get a quick explanation), I couldn't picture it. I actually wondered if it was a mackintosh jacket! Comb through for any unnecessarily distracting images / comparisons and keep the camera lens close to the scene. An exception would be a WONDERFUL metaphor"the microscopic bits of coiled death," and the way in which you describe his sense of the mines. That is simply gorgeous writing, and the comparisons there really help us understand both the danger and his gift.

    I found the opening image of the hand hitting Aden unclear. First I thought he was punched by a person. Then I thought a projectile. Later, we learn that hand and projectile are one and the same. (I love that). BUT. I thought Aden would be more curious about what had caused him to fall so hard, even looking around for his possible assailant. Even when he saw the detached arm later, he didn't seem particularly horrified. Does Aden NOT know it’s a hand at first -- but maybe the writer does? So let us experience this blow, and the ensuing confusion, more through Aden’s eyes and awareness.
    (continues in next comment....)

  3. (part 2 of Diana's comments)
    I also felt confused by his fall. We learn he hit the ground hard – so hard he probably broke a bone. (“The unmistakable crunch of something shattering.”) I had trouble picturing a punch OR a projectile causing him to hit the ground that hard, if not falling from a height. I was curious what bone he might have broken, but we don’t find out. (I realize he is numb to pain at this stage, but he seems to move with ease, and later appears uninjured). Later we learn he fell on a boy. (Interesting!) So was the crunch sound the boy?? I think more scene-blocking and clarifying would be useful throughout.

    The setting is easy to picture, but at times seemed distant and somewhat muted. I wonder if a few more sensory details would help. Is there an acrid scent in the air from the explosions? Is there dust everywhere, making you choke? Heat from the laser guns or explosions? Somehow my initial impression of the landscape was that it was barren. I had the sense of him alone, with dead animal carcasses. Later in the scene, the fighting seems to start (or resume? Not sure) and it seems that the KLM rebel soldiers are everywhere. Is the enemy visible too? Did people come out of hiding, or were they there all along? How close is he to all the people and this action? Is he in serious danger, sitting there frozen in fear, between fighting and mines? Does anyone recognize him? Urge him to pick up his mac and fight, or do something? We are told the commander gives an order to advance. We’re also told the commander is killed. (I’m intrigued by the hint of past history with the commander). Is Aden witnessing all that in the present moment of these opening pages? If so, could he have some emotional reaction? Can we hear the commander’s voice calling that final order? A cry as he goes down? How far away is Aden?

    I’d love to get into Aden’s head a bit more. At the end of five pages, I’d like more of a sense of who Aden is a person, not just his circumstances or history. He has a great gift – how does he feel about it? Is he a hardened soldier who has so far done whatever it takes to survive, or is there an element of cowardice in him? Does he feel a twinge of sympathy for this kid (since he seems to be protecting him)? A bit of relief that the commander goes down – or sadness? I don’t think he has to be an emotional wreck, but I just would like to start getting to know him and his feelings a bit better. I would actually prefer to know more about Aden than the KLM – that history, which I know we will need, slowed the pace for me. If we must have some of that backstory in these first five pages, I would advise compressing it, and elaborating on it later in the chapter or the book – maybe even letting some of this information come out in dialogue between characters.

  4. (part 3 of Diana's comments)

    Some of Aden’s reactions felt delayed or out of order. He sees the kid beneath him. His reaction to that feels a little bit muted to me. Shortly after, he notices the arm, but not with a degree of horror or surprise. He then reflects on the kid again. Maybe he could reflect on the kid, and what he knows about kids like this (and wonder where his chained partner is?) and THEN notice the arm.

    His motivation for throwing the arm at the mine perplexed me. It seems like a high-risk move, especially since earlier we learned that a motion could lead to an explosion and a fatal mistake. He yells to the boy to get out of there, but that is after the explosion has already happened. Also, the key hits him in the face. I would think that would hurt a LOT . . . but he has no reaction. Was his goal of blowing up the arm to release the key from the death grip? If so, it seems a bit forced to me. There’d be a risk of that experiment backfiring, I think (and then he’d lose the key), or a risk of them getting killed, or a risk of the enemy knowing where they are, right? If he needs to get the key for some reason, could he just wrench it from the grasp (arm is from a body not so long dead, perhaps?) OR slice it out with a knife or something?

    Finally, I wondered about perhaps ending the five pages with just “something moving” – that would feel really suspenseful to me, wondering what or who is in the woods.

    Overall, I think this is an intriguing opening, and I’m dying to learn more about this world, Aden, and the boy! My overall advice would be to 1) make the action of this scene come to life more, with more precise details, a faster pace, and a greater sense of danger and suspense, and 2) let us access Aden’s thoughts, feelings, motivations and/or objectives a bit more, so we can fully root for him.

    I can’t wait to read the next version!


  5. I agree that the pace is a little slow for an action scene. Try to remove some of the exposition and backstory and get the action moving along more quickly. When you take your time to get to things (such as the fact that it was a severed arm that hit him), you are telling the reader that it's no big deal. But you want this to be a big deal because he thinks he is/was on the brink of death here. I would expect the arm to hit him, the fall to happen, and then the moment he realizes he hasn't died falling, he'd look to see what hit him and he would be horrified because if he isn't horrified, neither am I (unless this is just so normal to him in which case I am horrified for a different reason!) Because he moves on to what he fell on instead, we lose interest in the arm.

    Diana already covered my confusion about the severed arm and what was crunching. I was also confused how the boy was nodding and crouching while under him (and why he stays on top of him since he probably didn't fall gracefully). Perhaps I am missing something, but I'm imagining him landing on this lump (probably face first) and then just remaining there lying on top of him like it's a perfectly normal place to be. I know he needs to stay still, but there should be something more than disgust for the boy running through his mind.

    Finally, the sequence of human reaction is always ACTION, EMOTION, THOUGHT. Try to remember this as he is experiencing things. He shouldn't be thinking about them before reacting emotionally and there shouldn't be much time between the three.

    I know this is not time for micro editing, but I would suggest you eliminate the acting body parts (eyes, hands) before the next version (otherwise, I am going to point it out then!)



  6. Hi Atesa,

    Thanks for submitting your pages.

    You are a talented writer. Your prose flows smoothly and is full of rich details. This world you’ve thrust us into is vivid, dark and bloody.


    This is labeled as YA. It reads like adult sci-fi or fantasy to me.

    I say this because right now, there is a lot going on and it is somewhat interior-focused. (Albeit there are great moments of action.)

    You have done a great job orienting us without a major info dump. Sure, there are a lot of names, places and events that we don’t know about yet, but we’re curious as to how they will develop within the story.

    A few small suggestions. I don’t think you really need the second paragraph, describing how Aden is hit. I think it is much more intriguing like this:

    The hand hit Aden so hard it knocked him to the ground.

    He froze. He didn’t notice the pain, but slowly, slowly, he did notice that he was still alive. He had narrowly avoided falling directly atop of a Sunn mine. Deep breath. Yes. He was still alive. He wiggled his fingers and toes. All still there, or so it seemed. He gripped his mac harder. Paused to catch his breath. He was out in the open and he would have to get out of here – fast.

    (You would have to add a small line about the projectile, though.)

    The paragraph that begins with “His eyes darted about,” could be shorter. I’d suggest “To Aden’s eyes,” to be the start of a new paragraph.

    That’s it, but for a few minor quibbles: several uses of “all around him…”

    Other than that, I think you’ve got a great story here. I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

  7. Atesa,
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    The only problem and maybe the highlight of the passage is the lack of hope, IMO. The whole passage is focused on the very well done, grueling, strong feeling of hopelessness and no way out. There’s a strong sense of drama, of feeling let down, a sense of destiny and fatality going on, especially when you mention the kids have been given statuettes as a worship object, but there is not God and all of this is just an illusion to get the kids going. You go on saying that they are fighting for energy, but there is little hope of winning.
    I realize this is from Aden’s POV, but I felt depressed just reading it. I’m not sure I want to spend more time in the head of someone like that. Maybe that’s what you are going for, but at the same time it gives the feeling that the story is going to be about a horrible place located in an unknown planet with a lot of violence and no conflict resolution. That does not really make me want to read more, although the descriptions are so well written and so evocative the entry was reeling me in.
    Put it this way: starting with a battle is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is emotionally charged and there’s something going on and the reader is engaged in the action right away, which is cool. On the other hand, the reader does not know anything about the MC, his goals, his dreams and his life and it is hard to feel compassion or to care about what is going on, which is less cool.

    I think what this entry needs is a better sense of setting and history.
    I imagine this is some kind of battle against aliens or a big power/nation with big guns, but I have problem visualizing their equipment, their guns and vehicles. You do mention “laser guided artillery” but I cannot fathom what it is and why wouldn’t they use the laser instead of kids to explode the mines? Why don’t they value the lives of the kids who can become future soldiers apparently. And I did not understand the sentence: “his mac flailing wildly in the air like a flower knocked over by a strong wind.” What’s a mac? I am not sure the comparison with a flower works here.
    I would have liked to know what the Karali Liberation Movement is about from the get-go because that’s the reason why the MC, Aden, is fighting. That would help me understand what the big picture is. IMO, it’s better to start with the big picture, then to work in the side stuff rather than starting with his situation on top of a minefield then slowly introduce the reader to the political situation. The choice you have made does grip the reader emotionally and introduced the MC’s arc, which is awesome, but it’s a little confusing and I think the reader probably would like the story more grounded. Maybe work a little more on the setting: what year, what planet, what war/era? Climate?

    I think the best part in this entry is when we learn that the hand in the first sentence is actually a hand detached from a body. It’s really gripping and closes the circle back nicely to tie up the passage. And on a more positive note, I liked that you introduced the hero’s special gift (the gas he sees on top of the mines) and his ability to make his way up the ranks. It kept him alive against all odds and it will probably play a great part in his future. He is definitely a survivor and makes me want to know what else he is going to survive.
    Also, the title suggests the story is going to be about the minesweeper, I guess the little boy the MC finds under him. Maybe suggest the MC's first instinct is to protect the boy because that's what he ends up doing, protecting a life as opposed to killing lives. I imagine this is going to be a the core of the novel, but it wasn't showing through clearly enough.

  8. Atesa,

    I enjoyed reading this beginning very much. It has so much potential and teases the audience with so many ideas that may appear later in the work. I feel like I am bursting with questions and need to know more. I wish I could have read more and was almost stunned that there wasn't anything left to read after the deer encounter! Your piece is filled with some great descriptions and a strong voice. Aden's overall fear, and weary acceptance of it, was tangible. There's a good mix of narrative and action that currently propels the story, and I am definitely feeling Aden. This seems like a survivor's tale with a kid who has a supernatural ability while living in a war-torn country (and for some reason, I'm picturing Southeast Asia).

    While these first five pages packed quite a punch, it also packed in a ton of details. Yes, I had questions fueled by intrigue, but it was almost becoming too much. My main example would be the background of the paradise key and its religious affiliation. While I would like to know more about that, it brought me out of the urgency Aden had initially felt when the battle overhead began.

    After the explanation of the paradise key, we get a very brief overture of the KLM, and I almost feel like that's an injustice! I figure you will go into greater depths over it and the current situation, but in its current place, it doesn't fit. That sort of history probably warrants for something longer. Perhaps placed later on in the chapter or in a different chapter.

    Two nit-picky things:
    1. I wish you would explain what a mac is, even just a small description.
    2. Good opening line, but I was confused by the following sentence because I assumed he had already fallen to the ground. Perhaps if you reordered the sentences in that paragraph, it would be clearer.