Sunday, May 10, 2015

First 5 Pages May Workshop - Sin Rev 1

Name: Tabitha Sin
Genre: New Adult Science Fiction
Title: Skin Deep

Highly recommended to avoid any exposure to sunlight!
The nighttime air will bring an unprecedented breeze, but keep the suits on if you can.

The elevator plays a whisper of a song to soothe my ascent to the 14th floor. My body tingles from my toes pushing against the leather soles of my boots to my belly twisting in knots to my shoulders stretching my Start Labs-sponsored sunsuit jacket. When the doors shudder open, the dim hallway light doesn't reach the elevator. My feet dip into the well-walked, dirty green carpet as I head to Apartment 14E. Silence follows me down the hallway as if each door is a container of muted sounds. The eye of the surveillance system is off like it has fallen asleep.

Underneath my gloved hands, the doorknob quietly twists open. It’s unlocked -- as expected. Good.

The apartment swallows me and any light that follows behind. My breath locks in my nose waiting to adjust to the darkness. There’s nothing: no other sounds, no other movements.

When I flick the light switch on, my eyes throb a little at the sudden contrast, even underneath my helmet. I take it off along with my gloves and boots, leaving them by the door, and pad slowly to the living room area. It's easier for the Cleaners to wipe away sock-clad footprints as they eliminate all traces of our operation. I dump my backpack onto the nearest countertop and pull out clear latex gloves, snapping them on. They seal against my thin, veiny hands. The apartment’s air clings against my exposed skin.

Everything is set up the way it should be: clear tarp neatly splayed out in the center, black lockcase next to it.

Except I am completely alone.

The job is simple: The Initiators dismantle the surveillance system and prep the donor for me. I open the door, see the dead donor lying on the tarp, extract the IP, seal it into the sterilized case the Initiators leave behind, and then let the Cleaners know I’m done.

Today, however, there is no body greeting me.

I step back towards the door, close to the small kitchen, and pull out my burner to call Branson.

“There’s no one here,” I tell him as soon as he picks up, raising my voice a bit as I put him on speakerphone. I’m always confused with this phone’s mic range. A warm breeze glides through the short, bristly hair on the back of my neck, and when I turn around, a corner of the thin curtain lifts gently. A few spots on the floor glisten out of reach of the kitchen’s dim light on the side of the tarp. “I see you’ve set up, but there’s nothing.”

“Hey, Shella, nice to hear from you, too.” Branson’s deep voice fills the apartment. He has always been my contact within the Initiators, but lately, our conversations have been lasting longer than they probably should. We’re not supposed to have any outside relations. “What do you mean there’s nothing?”

“Apartment is devoid of donor.” I wave my hand around the living room as if I am at a showcase presenting him a variety of prizes before remembering the phone doesn't have holo-capabilities. It’s frustrating with antiques. “Are you sure you sent me to the right place?”

“Building number 200 on 89th street, apartment 14E?”

“Still nothing here,” I repeat. Branson has never led me astray before in all of our other operations since we started this job, but I had to ask. “The balcony window is open. Did you do that or do you think --”

“That he jumped out?” Branson laughs. "No, we left him exactly how he should be so I don’t understand why you’re saying he’s not there. Are you sure you’re in the right apartment?”

“The door was unlocked, and the tarp is here.”

“That's not possible,” he mutters and pauses. “I'm going to come back and show you.”

“I can handle it, just tell me where he is.” I ignore the jibe. Initiators always think Extractors can’t do their jobs without them. I walk around the tarp to the balcony, pushing the thin burgundy curtain aside and hooking it open. Even though the sun has sunk and it’s only the moon hanging in the air, the heat is still too uncomfortable in direct contact. I press my gloved hand against the warm glass, resting my forehead against it. Take a second and think: where could the dead body possibly go?

“You don’t want to see me again?” He says, and I can hear that lopsided smile through the speaker. Heat gathers in my neck and cheeks as I roll my eyes.

“I need the donor accounted for, Branson.”

“He’s there, he’s definitely there. Don't -- don't search. Wait for me.”

I sigh, my breath fogging up a small circle on the balcony window. There are so many buildings halfway lit up like its bottom has been sucked into the ground and smeared with mud. I can even see one of those grand high-rises that look like they're scraping the underside of clouds. When I had been shadowing in-house organ donations, there was a white guy living in one of those who had the longest vestigial tail I had ever seen. He had it rolled up and taped to his back every day for as long as he could remember. When he nipped the last piece of tape off, the tail unfurled like a snake finally able to breathe.

Here I am, it hissed across the floor. Take me with you.

Before the market became dumb bloated, the easiest thing you could exchange for money was a part of yourself. Isn't that how it always is? A kidney could have gotten you far enough back then until you start wondering, What else is there? An extra finger or toe, multiple nipples? A spleen, a nub growing from the small of your back? What part of you is no longer essential to your being? How much are you worth in terms of potential cellular distribution?

“You still there?”

I nod before remembering he can’t see me. “I'm waiting,” I call out and notice my reflection scratching my hairline by my temple. I should buy a new helmet. My hand balls into a fist, and I turn around to face the rest of the living area again.

In the moonlight, the spots shine like fluorescent tattoos. I walk over to them and crouch above to waft their smell. The pungent aroma assaults and clogs my nostrils, and I cough hard trying to purge it out.

Rotting meat...with the faintest scent

I sit back on my heels. There is a midsized wooden table to my right, and a vase of dark blue flowers wilting in murky water atop it. The light flickers, on-off-on-off like an ebbing tide, before darkness settles into the apartment except for the moonlight gleaming through. These old buildings aren’t always rewired in lieu of the rapid cycles of climate change, and the electricity shutting off has happened on the job before. Another setback, although not as pressing as my missing donor. Was this part of an elaborate joke on the Initiators’ part?

I press my finger against the spot. It sticks to the glove and clumps like tacky residue as I rub it between my index finger and thumb. How strange.


  1. Hey Tabitha,

    I like the way you’ve rearranged the events in the story. It makes more senses that she suits up first, then picks up the phone. And you removed the numbers in parenthesis, which I think was a great move.
    However, I don’t know if I agree with the paragraphs you decided to eliminate. I thought they did a great job describing the setting (the apartment/the century/place/era) and helped understand who the character is.
    This piece seems much drier, more action based and less emotional. Actually, you’ve completely deprived the piece of emotions. I am not sure it works for me. I liked to see the longing of the character for something else (a new apartment), something that would make her job easier/pleasant, and the budding romance. Now, the romance is only on the side of the man and she seems bothered by him. That changes the cards. She seems more like a sleuth now.
    It’s like you’ve removed the human side of the story and turned your heroes into robots. I was really intrigued by the end though. You’ve intensified the feeling of mystery and something going on. I love the ending you’ve added.
    My advice, work the human elements back into the story and do not change anything anymore. It’s perfect.

  2. Hi Tabitha,
    Thanks for sharing this! This is a great revision. GREAT sense of suspense on the opening paragraphs. I was definitely on the edge of my seat trying to figure out where the body was. I was really drawn in by the mystery. Also, good job clarifying what the different job functions are – I totally get it now. Well done.
    Here is what I would comment on:
    (1) I’m still not getting the body donation angle. May just be me, but what is the value of the spleen, etc…and other non-essential body parts? Is it specific types of DNA? If so, state that. Similarly, I don’t understand the sentence “How much are you worth in terms of potential cellular distribution?” Perhaps a couple additional lines explaining what these people are donating?
    (2) I’m confused about the “IP” you refer to (probably related to #1 above I’m guessing). Can you clarify what the IP that is being extracted is?
    (3) I understand Shella and Branson are supposed to be flirting a bit, but I didn’t get that vibe until the end of their exchange. Maybe a more casual, warmer tone to the exchange would be beneficial – it seems too transactional (which also makes me wonder why we need it at all – he doesn’t seem to give her much helpful info). For example, maybe he could start by asking her about something non-work related, assuming it’s a personal call, then she sets him straight that they have a problem, etc…just an example of how to amp up the flirtation aspect of their exchange.
    I hope my comments are helpful, and I very much look forward to the next draft!!


  3. Hello Tabitha,

    I love the temperature/uv index/cloud disparity and weather-related info.
    The scene’s focus is much tighter.
    I miss the details about Shella (re: hello kitty sticker)- she feels a bit cold here, but that doesn’t bother me- one needs to be tough to be an extractor.
    I like the budding romance between Shella and Branson – which gives Shella some sensibility.
    Branson’s “I am going to come back and show you” doesn’t feel immediate enough. (I assume- maybe wrongly- that there is some type of monster- or at least that a lack of body should activate an emergency protocol. “I’m coming back to show you” would fit better.)
    The story is definitely unique.
    The balance between the narrative, action and dialogue is good.
    The MC is relatable and likable.
    I would continue reading and buy the book based on these pages.

  4. Hi Tabitha,

    I think you’ve done a really great job with this revision. I feel more consistent suspense and intrigue and more of a sense of mystery with that missing body and the really intriguing clues she begins to inspect near the end of the scene. I love the world-building, with the more specific information now about the sunsuits and the reference to the antique phone with no holo-capabilities.

    I was surprised to see references to moonlight in the second part of the scene. Because of the mini-intro to the chapter and the reference to the sunsuit, and maybe as a carry-over from the previous draft, I was picturing an apartment in daylight. When I saw a reference to moonlight—when the electricity went out—I began to think I’d misread (which pulled me out of the scene) or that she’d been waiting there for a long time. If this is nighttime, that should be established right away. Does it need to be nighttime? I worry that will jar with your info about the UV index and sunsuits.
    (comments continue...)

  5. (diana's comments continued -- part 2/3)
    I agree with previous comments that some character emotion seems absent. I personally don’t know that adding back things like the Hello Kitty reference would help – I didn’t miss that detail, but it also didn’t bother me in the first version. Same with the references to longing for an apartment (her thoughts turning to real estate even though she’s in a crime scene). I think that could go back in—or not. What I think is really missing here still is a sense of what’s at stake for this character as she goes about her job and then discovers a devoid of donor situation. If you think about stakes for her, I bet the emotion will come in naturally. Right now it feels like not such a high-stakes mystery in general. Branson seems to want to come check out the body more as an excuse to see her, I think—he seems annoyed but not all that concerned. I’m still not surprised the body could have gone missing at all, since the surveillance light it out (someone turned it off?) and the door is left unlocked. I still feel the operation is somewhat slipshod. So if this is an aberration, I think the character could react a lot more, even with a quietly rising sense of worry verging on panic. Is she on probation at work? Has she had botched jobs before, or recently, and this is her last chance? Does she need the money? Could she potentially be framed as suspect if there’s a missing body?? I’m just brainstorming here, but those for me would be high-stakes scenarios that would let you put emotions back in.

    Those two paragraphs about the organ donation trade might also be a place to build in stakes. Maybe weave in a couple of sentences about HER role in this trade and why her job might be on the line or why this missing body could be a huge problem. (Since she doesn’t KNOW the donor, she needs a reason to start investigating – otherwise why not get the hell out of there?) She tells Branson she “needs the donor accounted for.” That’s great. WHY? She can think her reason, or explain it to him. (“If I don’t, xxxxxx will happen.”)

  6. The phone call with Branson needs the most attention, I think. Right now it peters out—he’s on his way, apparently, but they still have a phone connection and aren’t talking—I’m not sure why. So the energy of that dialogue ebbs for me. I’m also not sure how far away Branson is. And I’m not sure why he keeps insisting that the body is right where he left it. If she says it’s not, why doesn’t he believe her? Some of his lines just feel a bit off to me. Like instead of saying “He’s there, he’s definitely there” and “I’ll show you,” maybe he’d say something like “That’s crazy. We followed protocol and left him there. I’m going to come over and check out the scene. Wait there.” It’s odd to me that he’d tell her not to search. If he DOES need to say that for some reason, maybe have her think it’s odd too.

    I’m equally puzzled by her saying “Just tell me where he is.” As if she doesn’t believe him either. So for me, the romantic tension between them didn’t really spark because there seems to be this element of mutual mistrust. But I think just adjusting the dials on that conversation and perhaps thinking deeply about what is at stake for BOTH of them with this missing body will help.

    I’m definitely intrigued by this scenario, and as with the last read, felt disappointed when there were no more pages to read! Can’t wait to see your next version!!


  7. NICE! This revision is excellent. You've ditched a lot of unnecessary info and jumped faster to the main event...the missing body. Very well done. You added excellent sensory details (my favorite is the rotting meat and flowers).

    Here are a few things that came to my attention:

    I still feel like the second sentence is too long. It takes me out of the story, and way too soon.

    Her breath waits to adjust to the darkness? Seems like sight would adjust, not breath.

    Reflection scratching at her hairline? I had to read that line a couple of times, and I still didn't get it.

    Shiny spots? This kind of came out of nowhere for me. Does she know what the spots are? Does she see them before they're mentioned? Maybe clean that up a little bit.

    Otherwise, this is a truly great revision. Nice job!

  8. Wow. You really dug into this revision. PLOT-wise, the flow is cleaner: Shella rides elevator to apt; discovers body is missing; calls Branson; we get a bit of back-story about organ donation & some flirtation; she's waiting for Branson (verboten?) and then there are sticky fluorescent spots on the floor. But I still feel a lot of "whys" in this scenario which makes me feel that what needs strengthening the most is to get a stronger sense of Shella's character to balance our clarity w/r/t the plot & world you are building.
    To strengthen Shella, here are the three things I'd consider for your second revision:
    1. Do a writing exercise in which you walk through Shella's intentions through the scene. Riding the elevator (is she bored, worried, wants to quit job, needs money, wishes she were somewhere else?); she discovers the body missing (surprised? annoyed? afraid she'll get blamed?); she sees glowing spots past the curtain (curious? decides to check it out? seen such a thing before? reminds her of...?); talks to Branson (excited? turned on? suddenly paranoid?)... You get it. Then, make sure readers understand these motivations by incorporating them into your pages.
    2. Make Shella and Branson's dialogue more discernable. Right now, we could almost switch the dialogue attributes. Consider whether Shella comes from wealth/poverty/immigrant situation and how this might affect her speech patterns, word choices-clichés-references-jokes. Do the same for Branson - might he have a drawl, a stutter, use a lot of epithets? Might the two of them make reference to some secret experience or previous flirtation? Then hone the conversation so that we can almost skip the "Shella said" and "Branson said" b/c the characters come through the dialogue so clearly.
    3. Revise PP #1. Compared to your strong, inventive imagery later on, the elevator ride feels like it might not be the best start -- the clothing/carpet/lighting descriptions are complicated and don't give us anything really powerful about Shella herself. Try looking at the starts of some of Marie Lu's LEGEND books or maybe Brandon Sanderson's ALCATRAZ. Their first lines give us both plot/setting and also a vital, emotional character connection. More than just "I'm nervous" or "I'm doing a job" but something unique to the MC, their personal predicament and their relationship to their world.
    It seems like a lot of backstory work but I think, in the end, it will serve you because these exercises will give you data for ALL THE REST of the character dialogue and a good start on their EMOTIONAL JOURNEYS as you log the pages. The result of all this work may even be fairly small changes in the text that nonetheless yield stronger dramatic moments and a tighter reader-character connection.