Saturday, September 5, 2015

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Adrian

Name: Dottie Adrian
Genre: Middle grade paranormal fantasy
Title: Ratman's Revenge

I raced across the dog park with Sandy, my golden retriever. We
circled around old tires and zigzagged between fake fire hydrants.
Then I darted toward a wooden ramp and called, “I’m gonna win this
time, Sandy!” She sprinted ahead and ran up the ramp first, stopping
at the top with her tail wagging.

I stopped and doubled over. “Okay,” I said, gasping. “You won again.”
Sweat dripped down my face and I wiped it with my t-shirt. I bet my
friends were swimming in that freeze-your-toes-off lake at camp right
now—lucky turds. The only water I’d get to swim in this summer was in
the bathtub.

A sudden chill zipped down my back as if a monster was about to
pounce. I spun around but no one was there.

I shaded my eyes with my hands and scanned the whole park. Empty. Not
one other kid around, just like every other boring day this week. Dang
Matt and Zach for going off to camp. And they’d be gone for a whole

Sandy trotted up with a tennis ball in her mouth and dropped it at my
feet. I knelt and hugged her. “You’d never bail on me, would you,
girl. You’re my best friend in the whole universe.” She licked my
nose. Yeah, she agreed with me.

I grabbed the slimy ball and flung it across the park. She raced after
it with her tongue hanging out.

That freaky feeling of being watched rushed over me again and I turned
in a circle. No one was there—just the creepy woods along the back of
the park. I stared at the trees. They huddled together like giant
green aliens studying me for some crazy experiment. Their leaves
flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching
out, begging me to come inside.

Ha. Matt and Zach would be stinking jealous if I went in the woods
without them. Of course Mom’s warning blared in my head. "I mean it,
Cody," she’d said a bazillion times. "It’s too dangerous. Gangs and
drug addicts hang out in there. I don’t ever want you to go in those
woods. Promise me, Cody."

Okay, so maybe I did promise, but that was ages ago. I’m almost a
teenager now. That’s different.

I glanced back at the woods. A kid about my age with straight black
hair stood at the tree line, staring at me.

Whoa. Where’d he come from?

I gave a quick wave but he turned and darted between the trees. “Hey,
wait!” I called, but he disappeared into the woods.

Sandy ran up with the ball again. I knelt beside her and ruffled her
neck. “Sandy, I bet Mom made up that stuff about killers and druggies
in the woods. How would she know? Maybe there are tons of kids in
there riding on bike trails or swimming in a pond. Or chasing Bigfoot!
C’mon. Let’s check it out.”

We raced toward the back of the park. When mowed grass turned to tall
weeds at the tree line, we stopped. We’d never been this close to the
woods before.

Sunlight streamed between the leaves and dotted the shady ground. One
ray of light pointed right at my feet, daring me to come closer.

“You’re on,” I said to the woods. “C’mon, Sandy.”

I pushed low-hanging branches out of the way as we marched in,
crunching through the dry brush. A warm breeze brushed across my face
and Sandy bobbed her nose at all the new smells. Birds squawked
overhead and hidden bugs made grinding noises like monsters waiting to

Oh man, this was gonna be awesome.

Weeds swiped my bare legs, some reaching as high as Sandy’s head, and
she’s tall. Sandy looks like a purebred golden retriever, but she’s a
mutt like me. My mom is Native American but Dad’s plain-old American.
I’ve got Mom’s tanned skin but I’ve got Dad’s floppy brown hair. I
look like a mutt.

Sandy sniffed a dozen tree trunks then stopped to pee. Her pee break
turned into a poop break and I glanced around. No bike trails, no
pond, and no kids. But I wasn’t giving up. That boy was in here
somewhere. Maybe he had lots of friends we could hang out with.

Sandy finished her stinky brown deposit (that’s what Mom calls it) and
we pushed on, dodging around a prickly bush.

Clack! Clack! Clack! A brown blur zipped down a tree and two squirrels
hit the ground running. Sandy bolted after them.

“Sandy, no!” I took off, racing between the trees. Bushes scraped my
legs. Ow! Branches smacked my face. Ow! Ow! I followed the sound of
her barking, but it was getting farther away every second. “Sandy,

The heat sucked the air right out of my chest and a sharp pain gripped
my left side. I raced on, deeper into the woods, jumping over fallen
logs and ducking under low branches. “Sandy!”

Sweat dripped down and stung my eyes. Finally, I stopped and doubled
over, panting. When the stitch in my side let up, I stood and spun in
a circle. There was no sign of Sandy, and no kids either. I was lost
in the middle of the woods while Sandy ran around playing with
squirrels. Great. My friends would crack up laughing over that.

Deep in the woods, only a few streaks of light poked through the tops
of the trees. Shadows surrounded me like zombies in a horror movie.
And this time, the birds and bugs were quiet. Spooky quiet.

This wasn’t so cool anymore. My stomach tensed and gas rose up in my
throat. I gulped it down then picked a direction and started walking.

Footsteps crunched behind me. I whipped around. “Who’s there?” I
didn’t see anyone, just a bunch of trees.

Maybe that boy was hiding. Or maybe Mom’s killer gangs were about to
jump out. I ducked behind a tree. My heart pounded in my ears. I
waited a few seconds then peeked out.

Nothing. Okay, so maybe squirrels made that noise. I shrugged and
started walking. “Saaannnndy!”

Woof, woof.

“I’m coming, girl!” I darted between the trees and found her lunging
up a tree trunk, barking. Her tail wagged so I figured she’d found the
squirrels. “Are you okay, girl?” I grabbed her leash from my pocket
and hooked it on her collar. “C’mon, Sandy.” I tugged her leash but
she wouldn’t come.

She stared up at the leaves. Woof! Woof!

I glanced up. Halfway up the tree, a group of leaves shook, but there
wasn’t any breeze. Something was up there—something much bigger than a
fuzzy little squirrel.

A giant blob wiggled in the branches, blending with the leaves like a
chameleon. But the outline of it was as big as I was. Then—it blinked
glowing green eyes at me.

I jerked back and fell on my butt. A shiver raced down my back as if
ice monsters ran their icy claws down my skin. I couldn’t take my eyes
off the blob as I scrambled to my feet. I pulled on Sandy’s leash.
“Let’s get out of here.” She wouldn’t budge. “C’mon, Sandy!”


I whipped around. “Who said that?” The trees and bushes sat perfectly
still. My heart thundered like elephants stomping in my chest.

Ten seconds passed with no sounds at all. Then I looked up. That
leafy-looking blob had scooted to a lower branch.


  1. Hi Dottie,
    Your title definitely caught my interest! I’m curious to find out what Cody’s going to run into this summer.

    No one’s more of a sucker for dogs than me, but I wouldn’t keep racing with Sandy as your very first sentence. The kid at the edge of the woods could appear out of nowhere, perhaps. Or you could begin with the warning that Cody’s mother has issued so often, something like, “My mom told me never to go into the woods.”

    Even though this isn’t a line-edit, there is a language pattern here that stood out for me. Cody thinks in both casual kid-speak (turd, dang, bazillion) and also some very non-kid words (he ruffles Sandy’s fur; he glances and darts). A kid would never say or think the verb dart. I’d suggest doing an editing pass with an eye towards those words that are keeping Cody’s voice from sounding consistently “kid.”
    Phrases “like thundered like elephants” also stop me as a reader—overuse has ruined them for us modern writers!

    I’m not sure what I’m seeing at the end with the leafy-looking blob? Did it call Cody’s name? I’m all for an open ending to the first section but I’d give a bit more concrete detail here on what we’re seeing.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments! I did want to let you know I give a few more details about the blob before the chapter ends, but we were limited to 1250 words so you don't see the end of the chapter. Thanks again for the great feedback!

  2. There are several things I like about this. You have done a great job of building tension. The scene in the forest is well-done.

    I also like how Cody thinks of himself as a mutt, too, just like his dog.

    Middle grade seems to come in all sorts of categories. This reads as lower MG. It has a easy rhythm and word choices that would seem to fit a younger, reluctant reader.

    Some of the sentences, I believe, can be a bit more descriptive. It get better as it goes along, but perhaps the opening could use some work. It feels very mundane. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I just think your opening could be a lot stronger.

    Maybe begin with: A sudden chill zipped down my back. I spun around but no one was there.

    And then maybe go into the dog stuff.

    Just a thought.

    Anyway, I like this, and it reminds me of a Goosebumps book.

    Nice work. I look forward to reading more.

    p.s. Personally, I'd just call this middle grade fantasy.

    1. Thank you for the great feedback!

      I just wanted to let you know the paranormal stuff comes later. You don't see that until Cody meets the boy he saw at the tree line a little later on.

      Thanks for the great comments on how to revise!

  3. Hi Dottie,
    This story is going to be a lot of fun!
    You do a wonderful job at world/mood building. “They huddled together like giant green aliens studying me for some crazy experiment. Their leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching out, begging me to come inside.” So cool.
    I’d like to know more about what makes Cody enter the woods. It gives him the creeps, that’s for sure, his friends would be jealous, his mother would never approve, but what about him? What will he gain from? Is he trying to prove something to himself or to everyone else? Also, I’m dying for more details about the boy with the “straight black hair!”
    At the end, after Cody has seen the green blob in the tree, someone says his name and he waits ten whole seconds. Ten seconds is a long time when you’re freaked out. Did the blob disappear during that time when all was calm?
    Sounds like Cody is going to have quite the adventure!

  4. Hi Dottie,

    Thank you so much for sharing your work. I like what you’ve got going here. I’d love to get to the creep factor/tension sooner. If you start with normal thrown off kilter, then the actions of the dog at play skirting the forest adds that “DON’T GO INTO THE WOODS, DOG!” fear factor, especially after the weird kid appears. Paint the woods as the danger zone from the get go.

    Your line, “A sudden chill zipped….” could be a fun lead and tie the unknown immediately to the woods.

    A little niggle. I’m not sure if Cody is a boy or a girl since the name is used for both these days. Could be a boy or tomboy.

    This does read around the 4-6th grade level instead of a junior high middle grade, which may be your intention.

    Love the voice in your alien, zombie, etc. comparisons. Keep them original in the vocabulary of fun you’ve created and avoid overused similes. Love the feeling of separation Cody has from his friends which makes him ripe for an adventure. Would Cody be a little bit more apprehensive, (maybe a touch of IM), given his active imagination, mom warnings, and a strange kid before barreling into the woods?

    I’d like a little more description to help me visualize the blob and get the sense if it was a threat or not.

    This feels like it will be a great ride. Happy revising.

  5. Thank you for your great feedback! I wasn't sure how to show Cody is a boy since it is first person. I'll work on that.

    As for the blob at the end, I do give more of a description right after that so the reader will see that better before the end of the chapter. But in this workshop, we were limited to 1250 words so you don't see the end of the chapter.

    Thanks again for your comments!

  6. Hi Dottie,

    This sounds like it’s going to be a fun novel. I enjoyed the interaction between Cody and Sandy; it felt true to the age group you’re going for.

    I would like to see the opening come across a little stronger. As much as I love dogs, your current opening doesn’t tell me anything about your premise and I want to be hooked by the time I finish reading the first few lines.

    I also had an issue with the amount of similes throughout the opening pages; “chill zipped down by back as if a monster was about to pounce”, “they huddled together like giant green aliens”, “leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching out”, “hidden bugs made grinding noises like monsters waiting to strike”, “shadows surrounded me like zombies in a horror movie”, blending with the leaves like a chameleon”, “a shiver raced down my back as if ice monsters ran their icy claws down my skin”.
    A few of these are great, but too many leave the story without any weight.

    I like where you are going and I look forward to reading your revisions.

  7. Hi Dottie,

    I enjoy your alliterative title! I like Cody’s voice – he seems strong and fun. (I also wasn’t sure he was a boy. A simple way to accomplish the gender identification is using the words “other boys” somewhere, perhaps about his camp friends.)

    I agree with J.J. and Chelsea that your first few sentences should be stronger. You have a lot of good spooky stuff in here to choose from, but if it were me, I’d start with the strange boy at the edge of the woods just because it’s cool imagery.

    I agree with Marie that I want to see more of what drives Cody to enter the woods. Unless Cody is a particularly reckless kid, I don’t think that being jealous of his friends’ going to summer camp is strong enough. What I’d look for is something that points to the theme of your story, or Cody’s main motivation, or Cody’s fatal flaw. Maybe Cody IS a super reckless kid, and that IS his fatal flaw? In that case, you could play that up with a little bit of back-and-forth in his internal monologue (“Mom was always telling me I had to be sensible and control myself, but my feet were just itching to explore!”). Or perhaps his issue is loneliness? Whatever it is, make sure we can tell. I also like Leslie’s idea of changing Cody’s motivation entirely to simply be chasing Sandy, and not wanting to go into the woods at all – which would give the reader a good emotional hook, worrying about the kid running into the actually dangerous woods.

    I think the major things to work on here are focus and intensity. What’s going to make your audience root for Cody? What’s going to make them actually fear for his safety?

    Other random thoughts:

    Question about the “gangs and drug addicts” bit: is that true? If it is, I’m not sure why Cody is allowed to play anywhere near that woods, ever; and also – and this may be a COMPLETE plains-girl question, because I have never lived near woods – are the woods really where gangs and drug addicts hang out, and not someplace more urban? If it isn’t true, are you trying to tell us something about Cody’s mom that will come up later – like that she is paranoid or prone to exaggeration?

    I like the line “Or chasing Bigfoot!” a lot. It gives great insight into Cody’s strong imagination.

    I am concerned that Cody doesn’t bring a bag to clean up after Sandy.

    I’d like to see Cody with a plan of some kind (not necessarily a good one) when he realizes he’s lost. Something besides just picking a direction and started walking. That’s more panicky than I think you’re intending him to be right now – or else if he is panicky, then emphasize that more.

    Fun stuff!

  8. Hi Dottie,
    I really think you’re aiming for a younger MG with this story. And as someone else pointed out, your MC playing with his dog is not the best beginning for a story and it doesn’t call a lot of attention. As a lot of things happen later, especially regarding mystery, I think it’d be awesome if you started with something more mysterious and impactating.
    Towards the beginning I feel like there’s a lot of telling as well, I don’t feel Cody’s character a lot and I don’t understand what he’s feeling. He says he’s excited to be at the park, but I don’t see all that excitement coming off the page.
    I really enjoyed the eerie setting you’ve done at the woods, congratulations! It’s really well done and I think the atmosphere is very creepy and it’s well set up. I was confused a little by Sandy chasing off and the green talking blob that appeared to talk to Cody. I really wish to know where the story is going after this!
    I really love the interaction between Sandy and Cody, you’ve nailed the boy-dog relationship. I’m curious to where the story is going and everything looks very mysterious! Good work.