Sunday, August 9, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Roberts Revision 1

Name: Danielle Roberts
Genre: Young Adult XXX
Grade: 12
Title: Without

“Alli, you did it. It’s over.” A hand touched my shoulder, shaking gently. “Dr. Evans told us that’s what you like to go by. I can’t see why, though. Alice is a pretty name.” Kids used to say that I was Alice in Wonderland, I thought. They wrote ‘off with her head’ on my desk and drew rabbits on my papers. “Anyway, everything went well. Your parents are coming in to see you soon.” There was the sound of footsteps fading away, the shuffling of a curtain.

I didn’t open my eyes. Not because it felt as if they’d been glued shut, or because my head felt like it was filled with bricks, but because I didn’t feel any different. I was supposed to wake up happier than ever, with the neurochemicals Serotonin and GABA and Oxycotin pumping through my brain. That was what Alacrisotium did, after all. The scientists in the videos had said that it could take a few minutes upon waking up for the serum to kick in. So I waited. Come on, I thought. Please please please.

“Alli!” Mom’s voice.

Work, please work.

“Her vital signs are great, she just needs to open her eyes now.”

“Alli, it’s us.”  Dad’s cheery tone.

Dr. Fielder’s words suddenly pushed their way into my foggy mind. He was the scientist I remembered most from the videos shown in class. “Resisters are those whose brains resist the serum. Now, those are the dangerous ones.” Sweat prickled at my neck. No no no no. Flames of panic began to lick through my body. “Oh honey,” Mom called. “Open your eyes.”

It felt as if my lungs had turned into a narrow tube, and each breath squeezed its way out. They knew I was awake. If I didn’t open my eyes now, they’d suspect something was wrong. And then they would get the AE’s and I’d be taken away. I opened my eyes, mimicking the wide-eyed look I’d seen in the videos. My heart was slamming against my ribs, and I was afraid they would shatter. Mom and Dad and two doctors were staring at me, six pairs of eager eyes.

Act like it worked, a voice in the back of my mind urged. I felt a smile spread across my face, and sat up slowly. “How do you feel?” Dad asked. He was nodding, as if I’d already given an answer. I met each of their eyes, a burning feeling beginning to spread through my cheeks.

“I feel absolutely fantastic.” Each word had grown claws, and they scratched at my throat on the way out. I thought about my birthday last week, about the flickering flames of the twelve candles, how wisps of smoke curled delicately into the air after I blew them out, wishing for the serum to work. I would never make a birthday wish again.

Just then, a loud, “Stop!” sounded from outside the door. All heads swiveled in the direction of the noise. With the attention off of me, I turned my head, letting the smile drop. I couldn’t be a Resister. No, not me. Not when I’d sat through every video and class lecture, hanging on to every word and looking forward to the day my time would come. Not when I’d seen where the AE’s took Resisters, hoping that I would never have to go there. Resisters were monsters that would rise up and swallow the peace. That was what I’d been told all my life. What did that say about me?  Everything felt wrong all of a sudden, like I didn’t belong there, or anywhere. Like I was some kind of blot or stain that needed to be scrubbed clean.

“Stay right where you are!” I finally looked towards the door, struggling to keep a neutral expression. I shoved my shaking hands beneath my thighs, feeling as if everything were a lucid nightmare. In the hall, an AE was holding on to a girl. She looked a few years older than me. Her hair was coming loose from her ponytail, and I could see that she was trying to twist out of his grasp. Her movements slowed, as though she was giving up.

Another AE came and snapped a pair of silver handcuffs around the girl’s wrist. Click. The sound was louder than anything I’d ever heard. Her shoulders shook, sobs bubbling up from her throat. I knew where she was going. All Resisters were taken to Castigo. I’d never seen it in person, but our teachers had shown pictures of Castigo on the projector. The tall, dark stone building would be enlarged on the screen for all of us to see. It was a four-story facility surrounded by a twelve foot tall barbed wire electric fence, guarded inside and out by AE’s. Once you went in, you didn’t come out. Simple.

The air pressed down on me like a living, breathing thing. I couldn’t breathe. Really, truly couldn’t breathe. “Bathroom?” I managed. The word was a high-pitched puff of air, but I held my smile. All eyes turned back to me, and one of the doctors pointed past the girl being dragged away, as if she wasn’t even there.

“Right around the corner. Take your time,” she smiled. The fluorescent light gleamed off her glasses, and I couldn’t see her eyes.

“Thanks!” I gingerly eased my way off the table, the cries of the girl echoing throughout the hall. Mom and Dad began speaking with the doctors as I slowly made my way towards the door, slightly dizzy.

“I’m so happy it worked! She’s just like us now.”

“Wonderful job, doctors. We can’t thank you enough.”

I stepped out into the immaculate white hall, looking to the left. The girl’s dark hair disappeared around the corner, and her sobs grew faint. I hurried to the bathroom, dragging my hand against the wall to steady myself. When my fist closed around the metal door handle, I yanked it open, stepping inside and shutting the door behind me. I stumbled to the sink, shivering in my paper-thin blue hospital gown. My hands gripped the cold porcelain, and I slowly raised my head to the mirror.

My skin was waxy, and my bottom lip was trembling. Cold sweat beaded along my forehead. Me, a Resister. The girl they dragged away could easily be me now. My stomach lurched, and I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing myself to breathe. It was crazy how fear could make the body forget something it had been doing all your life. When my lungs remembered how to expand and contract, I forced myself to think logically. The serum didn’t work. I wasn’t one of them. I never would be. My hands tightened around the edges of the sink, and I stared at the purple Band-Aid on the back of my hand, where the IV had been. Just like a Band-Aid covered a cut, I realized that I would have to cover who I was. Things had to be different now. The shivering worsened until my teeth began chattering.

A word rose up in the back of my mind, growing like a weed as I stood there in the bathroom, gripping the sink for dear life. It was a word that would encircle my life and squeeze and squeeze until that was all there was. A word that would always be with me, always tucked in the corner of my mind along with the emotions I wasn't supposed to be feeling.



  1. Yay! I'm excited to read your revision. I liked your story last week, but this is so much better. I get a clear sense now of what it means to be a resister, and how badly she wanted to conform to the normal. It gives the story so much possibility for her to eventually be grateful that the serum didn't work for her, or it could go in several other directions. But this beginning just has so much potential for becoming a fascinating story. I'm so glad you took the advice to begin the story when she received the serum because it truly works. Your writing did a good job of creating the sense of panic that your MC was feeling as well. Just enough background was given for the reader to understand what was going on, but not too much to bog down the flow of the narrative. Great job.


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  4. Hi Danielle, First, Priscilla Raji obviously understands how stressful this workshop is!

    I agree that this makes things a lot clearer for me - I still don't get why the resisters are such a threat and we may need a little more on that. I suspect the mentors may say there is still too much telling here (I am expecting the same comment to be honest!). I find this version a lot more sinister and our MC a lot more engaging. One point I will make is that there was a tweet from a publisher just a couple of days ago about hearts hammering in chests (you used ribs) and it was quite scathing along the lines of where else is your heart going to hammer - it just seemed topical to pass this on to you. I think you have an excellent start here and I would really like to read more.

    1. Hahaha exactly! I'm glad Priscilla understands. And thank you for this feedback :) just wondering, should I hold back on some of the information ?

  5. I think you've got a good starting place here. Now you'll just need to ramp up the tension. I agree that not knowing why Resisters are bad keeps this scene from being as engaging as it could be. I also think there's quite a bit of backstory here that could maybe be saved for later. In the very first paragraph you go into the whole thing with her name and Alice and Wonderland, which is stalling the action in the scene, for instance.

    The pacing also seems a little off to me. In this paragraph there's a huge amount of micro detail and action:
    I stepped out into the immaculate white hall, looking to the left. The girl’s dark hair disappeared around the corner, and her sobs grew faint. I hurried to the bathroom, dragging my hand against the wall to steady myself. When my fist closed around the metal door handle, I yanked it open, stepping inside and shutting the door behind me. I stumbled to the sink, shivering in my paper-thin blue hospital gown. My hands gripped the cold porcelain, and I slowly raised my head to the mirror.

    You could sum this up one sentence, really. When you break each movement down and slow the action down like this, I expect a huge payoff. A monster at the end of the hallway. A big revelation. But she just looks at herself in the mirror.

    1. Ah okay, I understand what you mean. When I put that much detail it's just because I want to put the reader in the hospital with Alli, and have them see what she sees and feel what she feels. Also, I can be overly descriptive sometimes without meaning to, and I'll try to reduce some. I'll work on what you said for the next revision. Thanks!

  6. Hi Danielle,
    I’m going to start this off by reiterating something I said to Helen: when you receive feedback, you often feel compelled to incorporate what every single person is saying. When you get comments from 5-7 people, you are always going to have differing opinions and you’ll never please everyone. In the end, it’s your story and you have to trust your gut. Not ignore comments but see what’s in them that resonates with you and take the pieces that speak to you.

    I’m saying that because I’m in the minority here. I’m not sure I like this version better than your other one. To me, your previous version is more intriguing. Meeting a character who has been covering something up for years — something that could get her killed? — is interesting in that it has created this person who lives with a secret and lies to everyone around her. That’s setting her up to be a very isolated character and there’s something that draws me into that.

    I’m not saying you can’t start here, but I suspect if you do, this would then jump ahead three years in Chapter 2? If you do that, I’d suggest trimming this scene down. I think you can achieve this in maybe half the space.

  7. Right now, I’m not drawn in by your first paragraph. I would suggest starting all the way down with “Act like it worked.” Your first line and paragraph should really entice a reader and starting with dialogue with characters we don’t yet know and can’t care about is tricky. If you are going to do that, the dialogue has to be something that is extraordinary or throw’s you for a loop. A book that doest that well is THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, which starts with the line “Dad’s dead.” Now that makes you pay attention!

    I love your description in the paragraph that starts with her saying she feels fantastic. There’s a lot of terrific writing in there. For some of the other paragraphs, description is great and does put us in the scene, but always think “less is more”. Be as efficient as you can and if you say one line that gives us a sense of the place or how she is feeling, that’s enough and you likely don’t need two. Also, you can skip over things that are “normal” like opening and closing of doors. Those routine things generally don’t warrant full description unless something in the act itself is key to the scene.

    For instance, consider how the pacing increases if you change your paragraph to something like this:

    “The girl’s sobs grew faint, and I stepped out into the hall just in time to see her dark hair disappear around the corner. A shiver trickled up from my bare feet the moment they hit the cold, immaculate white tiles, and I fought the instinct to race to the bathroom at the end of the hall. I had to act normal. It was only when I was inside, alone, that I gripped the porcelain sink and let the fear that was inflating inside me like a balloon out.”

    Always try to infused your character’s internal feelings with the action.

    I think you can make either opening—or a new one—work. Once you settle on what you like best, then it’s time to really go over your words with a fine-tooth comb and trim and trim. You can leave the reader wondering about a lot of things—you don’t have to explain everything all at once. So long as what you are presenting isn’t confusing and the information comes soon enough, readers will go with you. And often it’s an extra word or two here or there that’s enough to satisfy us until we learn more. See how you can do that with the pieces you need to convey to the reader. It’s tricky to tell enough but not “info dump”—a hard part about fantasy and dystopians. I’d suggest reading the opening chapters of a bunch and seeing how they handle it. think about the pieces of your story and figure out what you need to give and what you can hold back on.

    You are already doing that to a good extent so now it’s just honing it.

    Excited to see what you do next week!

    1. Thanks a ton, Lori. I always do feel as if I have to incorporate every piece of feedback and suggestions, but you're right- in the end it's what I think will be beneficial. I agree with you in terms of liking the beginning of my first submission better, but it was suggested that I put readers in the moment where the serum didn't work, and that prompted this hospital idea. But I'll definitely work on this piece, and take what you said into account. I appreciate this feedback. Also, I loved the example paragraph you suggested!

  8. I really like where you started. I think it gives a foundation to your work. It was nice to be in her head at the moment that she realized that something isn't right, she's not feeling what she should be. I did feel like there was a lot of telling in this passage but you also have a lot to describe and set the scene. It might have bogged the writing down a little for me but I really enjoyed your changes. Excited for next week!

  9. Hi Danielle, great new chapter, girl! I felt like there was a lot of tension and it was fun to see the actual scene when Alli is given the serum.

    I'm not sure if I like beginning immediately with a line of dialogue though. I'd like to see the setting first, maybe the hospital room, the smell of it, the doctor/nurse's face bending over hers, etc. (I also think that the mention of her name and Alice in Wonderland fits in the second sentence. The narrative takes a sudden left turn when we're barely getting our bearings on this world and the immediacy of the action. I'd save it for later. I'm sure it's a metaphor for when Alli feels like she actually HAS gone down the rabbit hole, but I think it can wait until Chapter 2 or 3).

    Her panic is so high about realizing that the serum didn't work, the frantic race to the bathroom, the sweaty fear, I wonder if she'd collapse to the floor, throw up in the toilet, or something like that. Just a thought.

    I'm also wondering about this now as a first chapter, as Lori suggested, and whether it's as strong as the evocative, haunting mood your original chapter was. We lose some of that beautiful, lyrical writing. It might be jarring to jump ahead the 2-3 years, too. Perhaps you could keep some of the opening of your original beginning and then ease in and out of a flashback. I realize that can be difficult to do as well and may not work, but perhaps play around with it a bit?

    Isn't writing hard?! But I have confidence you can do this. Can't wait to see the next installment. Wishing you much luck!


    1. That should read: I DON'T think that the mention of Alice in Wonderland and other kids making fun of her fits in the second sentence. Sorry about the confusion!

    2. That's fine Kimberley! And yes, writing is hard haha. But I really appreciate this feedback and I have a lot of work to do this next revision. Also, the reason I mentioned the whole Alice In Wonderland lines was to show her initial thoughts after the serum weren't happy ones as they should have been, but I understand what you mean and will save that for later. Thanks!

    3. Aaah . . . if it helps to know . . . the Alice in Wonderland thoughts didn't connect that it was showing that her initial thoughts weren't happy after the serum - since the reader doesn't know anything, at that point, about what the serum does/doesn't do and what it means to have happy/unhappy thoughts. So adding it right there only slowed down getting into the scene and the story. :-)