Sunday, August 16, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Roberts Revision 2

Name: Danielle Roberts
Genre: Young Adult XXX
Title: Without



The sputtering voice of our old radio cut through my dream, breaking apart the dark ballroom walls and dripping smiles. My eyes fluttered open and I sat upright, blinking away the dark spots in my vision. Mom and Dad’s laughter sounded from outside my door, intermingling with the sound of the radio. Whatever they were laughing about, I knew it wasn’t actually funny. I swung my feet out of bed, already preparing myself for the day ahead. It was the same as always: Wake up. Act as if the serum worked. Go to Sleep. I raised the corners of my mouth with my thumb and pointer finger, mimicking a smile that I knew I would have to make sincere in a few minutes.

The broadcast from the radio turned from noise to words as I got up and crossed the small space to my closet. “The capture of two Resisters has taken place right outside of Berwyn this morning.” I tugged off my plain white t-shirt. “AE’s who caught the two were Jeffery Dole and Andrew Brown.” I pulled the green tank top over my head before changing into a pair of jeans. “We’re thankful to these two for making the world a better place. And we’re thankful for all of you as well!” I looked up at the clock to check the time before remembering that it was broken. The minute and hour hand were stuck on 4, jerking in one place. I glanced out my window instead. “Keep sending in your tips and calling the AE hotline if you see or know a potential Resister.” The sun was up, glowing her brilliant yellow light over Chicago. I guessed that it was after nine.
That meant Crafts ‘N More should be open already. I needed to buy a new journal today since I’d filled up my previous one the night before, cramming the last of my thoughts into the corner of the page. The thing about being a Resister was that I couldn't talk to anyone about it. Ever. I couldn't talk about how I felt like I was suffocating in a world of fake smiles and vacant eyes, how tiring it was pretending to be like them. I had to keep it all in—all to myself, or else the AE’s would haul me away in a second.

The usual uneasy feeling skirted across my neck at the thought of them. The color of their uniforms—yellow— splashed across my mind. It was really my fear of them that pushed me to start writing down how I felt a year ago. Keeping my emotions under a tight lid of fear for two years had begun to take its toll, and I'd go to bed every night wanting to scream into my pillow. Sometimes, when I was sure my parents were asleep and couldn't hear me, I did. But writing down the way I felt—how badly I wanted to punch something when I was angry, or cry when I was sad—lifted the lid of fear just a little, letting out some steam. It kept me sane. Or, as sane as one could be in this world.

The last of the broadcast leaked beneath my door. “Remember, Resisters are dangerous. They’ll disrupt the peace that Alacrisotium creates.” I stuffed the clothes I’d slept in beneath my purple pillow and headed to the bathroom. The red oak wood floor creaked beneath my feet as I stepped out into the hall. Just as I shut the door, a new broadcast began. “Good morning everyone! Today is July 8th and it is forty-five minutes past the hour…”

 July 8th. I stood in the darkness of the bathroom as the date resounded in my head. Four years ago today, I’d found out that the serum didn’t work on me. My hand reached up, searching for the bathroom light to chase away the flashback that I knew was coming. The switch brushed against my fingers as I flicked it on, but it didn’t illuminate the yellow shower curtain and peach towels and detangler spray bottles cluttered around my sink. Instead, I saw the white hall of the hospital as I stepped out of the operating room, watching as the girl’s dark hair disappeared around the corner, her hands held behind her back by two AE’s. I started down the hall, ignoring the stinging cold of the floor as it jabbed at the bare soles of my feet, ignoring the sobs of the girl being taken away. The air conditioning cut through my paper thin blue hospital gown, and my teeth were slamming together by the time I finally reached the bathroom. It was only when the door was firmly closed that I gripped the white porcelain of the sink, fighting down the bile reaching its fingers up my throat. The fear I’d been holding in trembled my lip and drained the color from my skin.

I thought about my parents and the doctors back inside the operating room, waiting for me to return joyous and smiling with a permanent bounce in my step, just like them. That was the way I should have woken up. If the serum had worked. But it didn’t. This couldn’t actually be happening to me. I couldn’t be just like the girl who was just dragged away minutes ago, caught right in front of my very eyes. I was supposed to have the Serotonin and GABA and Oxycotin neurochemicals pumping through my brain right now. I was supposed to be just like Mom and Dad and everyone else. I wasn’t supposed to be dangerous, I wasn’t supposed to be the monster that I’d been taught Resisters were. Why did my brain resist the serum? What was wrong with me?

I doubled over and vomited right into the sink. My stomach lurched, and suddenly, I wasn’t leaning over the hospital sink anymore, but my own, surrounded by those familiar detanglers. The paper thin gown was gone, replaced by my tank top and shorts. I straightened up and gasped, the last of the flashback disappearing. It never failed to come back and haunt me, to seize my mind and drag it back to that terrible day. Dad’s voice carried from down the hall, and I could already hear his chirpy tone, the cheeriness permanently woven into his voice. “The world is getting safer every day with the captures. Good thing, too.”

Yes, good thing, I thought bitterly. My tired eyes stared back at me in the mirror. Not so much tired from lack of sleep as from living a lie every day. They were the shiny caramel of a candy apple, but there was nothing sweet about them. I knew that in a few minutes I’d have to make them brighter. Awake. Happy. I brushed my teeth, all the while running through the mental list in my head as I did each morning for the past four years. No frowning, no faltering in my footsteps, no getting visibly angry or sad. Always have a faint smile shadowing my lips. It was the same routine, every day for four years.

“Alli, honey?” There was a knock on the bathroom door. “I made you breakfast!”

Now the fa├žade would begin. The curtain could lift and the act could start. I ran a hand over my face and let the familiar robotic smile spread across my lips. My eyes brightened, my chin raised. And then, I opened the door.

27 comments:

  1. The date seems to oddly be cut out, but it's July 8th! :)

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  2. Danielle, I really like this one! The flashback worked well for me. I like that you put in just enough about the science and reason for the serum to be intruiging, but not too much to slow the pace. I found myself feeling for your MC as she has to fake it all the time. I think that will ring true with many young readers out there who feel like they have to pretend life is wonderful when inside they feel lost. I also like the bit of description regarding the color of the uniforms. Also, I like the part about the journals being put back into the opening because I can see how they will be a big problem for her later. One little nitpick--maybe because I am a nurse. But would she need to be in an operating room for a serum injection? That sounds like it would just be a minor procedure unless they are making an incision under anesthesia. Just a thought! Good job on the story!

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    1. Thanks Melissa!
      There is an incision under anesthesia, (the serum is injected directly into the limbuc system of the brain) but I explain the actual procedure of the serum later on in the story. Thanks for the feedback !

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  3. Hi Danielle, I'm sorry to say that this piece just frustrates me - only because I want to love it and the whole premise behind it, I think it is brilliant, but for some reason your main character just doesn't catch me. She feels flat. Too much description maybe. I'm not sold on the bathroom scene, I have seen it too many times.

    I think you could refine your language a bit too. e.g. "I doubled over and vomited right into the sink. My stomach lurched, and suddenly, I wasn’t leaning over the hospital sink anymore, but my own, surrounded by those familiar detanglers." Could be "I vomited into the sink, suddenly surrounded by those familiar detanglers." This may work for you or may not.

    I hope this doesn't sound harsh because I think your story really has sound legs and I look forward to reading your pitch to see where it is headed, I, personally am just not feeling your MC yet.

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    1. Hey Helen,
      Not sure what you mean by having seen the bathroom scene too many times: the vomiting part, or the fact that it's a flashback intermingled with present day? It's added because last time, when she just looked up into the mirror, it wasn't strong enough considering what had happened to her. If you could explain what you mean that would be great.
      I'm sorry Alli feels flat to you, but I feel as if I've been consistent with her in each submission, so is it just now that you feel as though she is flat? If not, I would have been fine with you mentioning that before this last revision ! Haha but thanks for the feedback, you don't sound harsh: just honest :) sorry you were frustrated !

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    2. Hi Danielle, my comments on the bathroom scene stem from probably about four books I have read fairly recently have flashback scenes that take place in a bathroom / bathroom mirror. I don't know why they are so popular, maybe because the bathroom is such a private place and it serves as a nice metaphor, but it was enough to throw me as a reader. As far as Alli feeling flat goes - I just don't feel as if I know enough about her. This is all absolutely subjective of course, we all relate to different characters that seem to resonate with us.

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    3. Amazed that you are only 16 Danielle! Looks like you have a writing career ahead of you - all the best for your future literary adventures. This workshop has been brutal but fun.

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  4. Hi Danielle, I think this new version is fabulous! You brought back the lyrical, haunting language from the first version and yet you were able to do a very smooth interweaving of the present day with the serum injection a couple years earlier. And it wasn't an awkward flashback in that you stopped the present day to review the exact actions and dialogue of the serum day, but wove them together with Alli's current surroundings and thoughts.

    The vomiting scene may need some more tweaking just to smooth it out. Perhaps get back to present day even faster. For instance, I'm not sure you even need the line, "I doubled over and vomited right into the sink." Delete that and begin that paragraph with the next sentence.

    Also be careful of phrases like "I thought" - it can make the character feel more distant. I struggle with that myself and have to go back through my manuscripts looking for all those phrases like, "I thought", "I see", "I think", and delete them and rewrite the sentence or paragraph. When I do it really makes my writing and my MC stronger.

    I think this first scene/chapter is definitely strong enough now to just keep drafting the rest of the novel and not worry about it until you've finished a complete draft. Then you'll be revising and tweaking and polishing your opening again at that point. Because things happen in the story as you take Alli through her entire journey - and you grow as a writer as the story grows and you'll see even more clearly what else you want to do with your opening. Coming back to it in a few weeks or months will give you a larger perspective.

    I've been impressed with the work you've done in such a short amount of time and you should be proud of yourself!

    Wishing you every good thing with this book and your writing career!

    ~Kimberley

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    1. Thanks so much Kimberley, I truly enjoyed all your feedback ! :)

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    2. Danielle, you're only 16 years old?! Then I am doubly impressed at your talent. Especially when you gave us all new material with each rewrite. Manny submissions have only been tweaked, not completely rewritten and the suggestions taken so seriously. Bravo for you!

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    3. Wow, thanks a ton Kimberley! :)) I really appreciate this !

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  6. Cool concept, but I think it needs a lot of work.

    One of the biggest agent pet peeves I have ever seen is opening a manuscript with the character waking up. You can find another way to start it. You also should not be starting your manuscript with a flashback. If it is necessary, then you aren't starting the book in the right place. And this is exactly how I feel about these pages. It is not starting in the right place at all.

    It should start with a choice or decision of some kind. Then the character is an active participant and we can learn something about her and see what the story is. Right now it seems like it is just a day in the life of someone without the serum, which isn't that interesting.

    Right now, it is only telling, no showing. I have no idea who your character is. I only know about one thing that happened to her.

    I am sorry if this is harsh. Rules can sometimes be broken, but only if it really works for the story and this time it feels like it does not.

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    1. Thanks for this feedback Caitie, I appreciate you taking the time! (very cool having a literary agent look at my work, especially at age sixteen) I will fine tune this and take what you said and apply it to the beginning. I appreciate the honesty!

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  7. Wow, you're sixteen?!? That's pretty amazing. Good for you for having the courage to get your work out there so early. At this rate, you're going to be unstoppable in your 20s and 30s!

    I want to preface this with the fact that I don't read much science fiction, but even from the little I have read, your premise overall seems a little too familiar. I'm getting strong The Giver and Divergent vibes from this, and I think you can push further into fresh territory and give your readers something completely new. Begin with highlighting what's unique about your story. You've got an intriguing mood and voice going on here, but I want to be shocked. Put me in a situation where I'm not sure what's going to happen, one that it's impossible to predict. Right now, I'm assuming she meets up with other resisters and they eventually topple the system. If that's what actually happens, it's too predictable. But if it's not what happens (and I hope your story is much more than just that) then let me know right away in this first scene. Show me something that lets me know you're not afraid to break out of the standard "outsider revolts against an oppressive dystopic future" trope. You're a strong writer, so I think you can do this.

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    1. Yes, I'm a youngster! Haha thanks Erin, I do hope to be unstoppable with writing by my 20's.
      I have heard that my story gives off a divergent vibe, especially since it's based in Chicago (which I'm going to change). I had no intention of making it so similar but it turned out that way. You're not super far off with what happens, but there's no toppling of the system. I plan on making this a trilogy, so I'm planning a lot of different things- a lot of twists and turns.
      I hear what you're saying about making the beginning unpredictable, and I'm definitely going to tweak this until it is. Thanks Erin!

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  8. Hi Danielle, I think this is coming along and in these revisions, each time you have shown that you are incorporating feedback and really thinking about how to apply it to tighten the pages. I agree with Kimberley that you have brought back the haunting language and feel from the first version and I really like that. You have some lovely writing in here. And while this is a lot of "telling"--which is long, description without action or dialogue to interrupt it, I am intrigued enough by the character and the writing that I would keep reading. That said, i really think there's a way for you to have us being in this moment where we know she's faking and has been faking for so long but have it feel fresh.

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  9. Here's a thought: playing on what someone said above about having this be an important moment: stories start on the day they do because there's an inciting incident. My story starts the day the MC wakes up on her 16th birthday with a bangle around her wrist that give her magical powers to grant wishes. It doesn't start the day before this because there's nothing special about that day. It doesn't start the day after, because we need to see her the day this big change happens. So think about your story and how you can apply that reasoning (a book I recommend often for craft is HOOKED by Les Edgerton). Great for opening pages. So for your story, I asked this before, but why does the story start today? Is it because those two resisters were caught? Does she know them? Does it kick off a chain of events? Show us why the story starts today and you'll find your opening place.

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  10. To that end, what if she weren't in her bedroom. Does she go to school? What if she's in school and hears about the resisters and for a moment, she doesn't react the way she's supposed to. And maybe someone sees. You can still give us a lot of what you have here and integrate the history but you will have be doing so "in scene". You will have other characters and dialogue and action. You can dole out information slowly. I'm just brainstorming here trying to give you other ways to think about this. Also, you could just have her at the kitchen table with her parents and maybe she sees her refection in the toaster and she's not smiling as widely as she should be. Think of ways to shake it up and show us a bit more than telling us. You are definitely a writer and I know you will get there. This is a hard genre as many of these stories are similar. However, for now, you should be writing to hone your craft and let the rest fall where it may. Best of luck with this and thank you for participating! Lori

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    1. I'll definitely work in this. Thank you for every suggestion Lori! I'm glad I was able to participate :)

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    2. Oh and also, I started it on this day because it was the day the serum didn't work on my MC, but maybe it wasn't powerful enough. Thanks !

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    3. Hi Danielle, regarding why staring on this day...this is the anniversary of the serum not working, yes, but what else? Why doesn't the book start last year on the anniversary or next year? What's specially about this year/this anniversary? What happens next in the story that kicks everything into motion? Like the Hunger Games starts on the day of the reaping because it's the day Katniss volunteers. Kicks off the story. Make sense?

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    4. Perfectly- thanks Lori! (Just seeing this)

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  11. "Suffocating in world of fake smiles and vacant eyes". YES. I love descriptions like that. I got the vibe that this was more desolate but then Crafts N' More threw me for a loop. This doesn't feel (to me) like a world that would have a convenient Hobby Lobby type store open just around the corner. I feel like you've done a good job of allowing us into her mind and sharing the struggles of hiding herself from everyone. I'm sure that something is about to happen just outside of this workshop's word constraints and I think it'll be a fun read.

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    1. Yes, haha thank you Valerie! A lot of action is to come but it looks like I have to add it much sooner. Thanks again, I've appreciated all your comments !

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