Sunday, September 13, 2015

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Adrian Rev 1

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

I shaded my eyes with my hands and stared across the dog park. Empty
again today. Nothing but the creepy woods along the back of the park.
Those freaky trees 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

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 those woods. I don’t care what the other boys do, I don’t ever want
you to go in there. Promise me, Cody.

Okay, so maybe I did promise, but that was ages ago. I’m almost a
teenager now. That’s different. Besides, my friends would be stinking
jealous if I went into the woods without them.

Sandy, my golden retriever, raced past me and I took off after her,
chasing her around old tires and zigzagging between fake fire
hydrants. “I’m gonna win, Sandy!” We ran toward a wooden ramp but she
sprinted up first, stopping at the top and wagging her tail.

I dropped to the grass. “Okay,” I said, gasping. “You won again.”
Sweat dripped down my face and I wiped it with my t-shirt. Oh man, 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. Dang Matt and Zach for going off to camp¾and for a
whole month.

Sandy ran up with a tennis ball in her mouth and dropped it at my
feet. I 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 ears flapping.

Suddenly the hair on my arms stood straight up as if a monster was
about to pounce. I whipped around. A boy with long black hair stood at
the edge of the woods staring at me.

Whoa. Where’d he come from?

I waved but he turned and disappeared between the trees. “Hey, wait!”
He was long gone. But what was he doing in there? Were there kids in
the woods riding on bike trails or swimming in a pond or something?

Sandy ran back with the ball and I petted her head. “Sandy, I bet Mom
made up that stuff about killers and druggies. Beside, how would she
know what’s in there? That boy looked normal to me. C’mon. Let’s go
find him.”

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. When her pee
break turned into a poop break I glanced around. No bike trails, no
pond, and no kids. But I wasn’t giving up. That boy was in here

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 my side cramped
with a sharp pain. 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 and I whipped around. “Who’s there?” No
one. Just the freaky trees.

Maybe that boy was hiding from me. Or maybe Mom’s killer gangs were
about to jump out. My stomach jumped and my hair stood up. I took off
running. “Saaannnndy!”

Woof, woof.

“I’m coming, girl!” I raced up and found her lunging up a tree trunk,
barking. Her tail wagged so I figured she’d found the squirrels. I
grabbed her leash from my pocket and hooked it on her collar. “C’mon,
Sandy. Let’s get out of here!”

She stayed with her front paws on the tree trunk staring up at the leaves.

I looked 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

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.


Whoa. I jerked back and fell on my butt. Did that thing just say my
name? A shiver raced down my back as if an ice monster ran its icy
claws down my skin. I couldn’t take my eyes off the blob as I
scrambled to my feet and pulled on Sandy’s leash. “C’mon, let’s go.”
She didn’t move. “Please, Sandy!”

Sandy stared up at that thing as if she was in a trance. Was that
freaky monster melting her brain? Would it turn us into tree monsters,
too? Jittery waves of panic raced through me. “Sandy, let’s get out of

Thump! The leafy blob landed on the ground next to the tree. It looked
like a tree branch standing there with brown wooden legs and arms, and
flickering leaves all over.

Okay, maybe the sun fried my brain or the heat melted my eyes. This
had to be just my imagination, right? I gulped hard.

Then that tree branch shuffled toward me.


  1. Hi Dottie,

    Good stuff in this revision!

    The beginning is really getting there - it's much stronger in this draft - but see if you can pack a punch into the very first sentence. You start with Cody weighing the potential danger of the woods against his yearning to go in. How can you put THAT into your first sentence? Or how about starting with the second paragraph – “Mom’s warning blared in my head” is pretty exciting?

    Truthfully, you could cut the entire scene with Cody and Sandy in the park without losing a thing, and I recommend you do so. There's no reason you can't weave in the important bits later (his description of himself, his relationship with Sandy, his thoughts about his friends, etc.). Cutting it would give you the chance to get the reader into the exciting action right away.

    I really feel like Cody needs a stronger motivation to disobey his mom than boredom. Boredom isn't a great emotional hook for the audience to relate to your main character, whereas something more potent like loneliness or an idiosyncratic zest for adventure would give us more opportunity to invest. And the fact that he disobeys his mom over basically nothing makes him seem like a brat.

    I like that we get more of the blob in this draft! It's starting to get good!

  2. Much better opening. I like that I see the character start away and learn about more about them. Nice work on bringing the blob to life more as well.

    The biggest thing I’m struggling with is you MC’s motivation to enter the woods. There’s not a big enough pull to get him there. He’s bored and sees a boy run into the trees. Fair enough, but for that to be all it takes to get him to ignore his mother’s warning makes him feel unlikable and I want to like this boy.

    The wording here is age appropriate but some sections leaving me feeling almost like you’re trying too hard. “bazillion”, “stinking jealous”, “to camp and for a whole month”. It makes him seem more illiterate than childish. I think if you give him more motivation and strengthen his vocab this story will really start picking up speed.

    Looking forward to your next revision.

  3. Not sure why my post is such a tiny font. I tried resending it. I apologize to all who strain to read it!

  4. Hi Dottie,

    I think this is coming along. There are a lot of metaphors and similes I think you can edit down. For example, your opening paragraph reads like this:

    I shaded my eyes with my hands and stared across the dog park. Empty
    again today. Nothing but the creepy woods along the back of the park.
    Those freaky trees 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
    You've got "huddled together like giant green aliens," and also, "leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers..."
    Why not just pick the strongest one? Example:
    I shaded my eyes with my hands and stared across the dog park.
    Nothing but the creepy trees along the back of the park. Their leaves flickered in the breeze as if a million green fingers were reaching out, begging me to come inside.
    I think this reads much more smoothly. See if you can come up with a way to make that opening tighter.

    I agree with a few of the others who have said that I don't understand Cody's motivation for going into the woods. He sees a strange kid and then imagines that there are other kids in there in swimming holes and on bike paths? Maybe it's just his curiosity that lures him in, without imagining some kind of Disney Land in the woods.

    I feel that your prose gets better throughout. I think you can tighten the play stuff between Cody and Sandy.

    Suddenly the hair on my arms stood straight up as if a monster was
    about to pounce.
    This feels off to me. Perhaps just: Suddenly the hair on my arms stood straight up.

    Once Cody enters the woods you do a nice job of creating tension and providing a sense of place.

    So, I think overall, this revision is better. Make every word count, though. Less is more. Read this aloud and edit every time you stumble or something sounds awkward.

    Good job, Dottie!

  5. Hi Dottie,

    This is a much better draft, and as Christa pointed out, the beginning got a lot stronger.I think you can definetly make it more compelling, especially in regards to motivations. Cody's descriptions are very genuine, so it's getting better. The creepy factor is still there, and the beginning got a lot eerier.

    On another note completely - the first time Cody compared himself to a mutt, I let it pass. I wonder if we can get a bigger feeling out of it? Why does he think that? Also, I don't know about positive impact on readers. We're at a time where representation is super important (and valid!) so I'm not entirely sure his comparison to a mutt can be taken into a good light, especially when diversity is supposed to convey how different stories can be, and have a positive light on a different heritage. As biracial myself, I was a little thrown off by this - I get that he likes Sandy so he's comparing himself to her, but at the same time I'm a little uncomfortable, and other younger readers might also be thrown off.

    Anyway, good work!

  6. Hi Dottie,
This opening is much stronger. It really conveys the sinister mood of your story and creates a great setting to build upon.
    I wonder if Sandy would notice the boy with the black hair before Cody does. So when Cody throws the ball, it goes unchased, because Sandy starts growling in a way that Cody’s never heard before. And that makes his hair stand on end, and then he turns to see the strange boy at the edge of the creepy woods. My dog’s way more intuitive than I am, so...just a thought.
    That could also be the impetus as to how they wind up in the woods. The boy disappears, Sandy chases after him, Cody follows. You could still leave in the details about Sandy stopping to do his business. Like the first chase was a teaser, because they can still see the safety of the park. But then Sandy runs after the squirrel and that’s when they really get lost and now they’re in trouble.
    I really love the blob monster, btw.
    Looking forward to your next revision!

  7. Hi Dottie,

    Great revisions here! I think the opening feels tighter overall, and your hook is stronger. I'd continue to focus on that first paragraph, as Ronald mentioned, for the next pass. There are clearly going to be some very cool and creepy things happening here...I think your best bet is to open with a strong image in that vein, rather than the MC shading his eyes and looking out across the dog park.
    Language-wise, there is a lot more consistency here, but I do still think you can fine tune. Those individual word choices, especially in the first few pages, will really help you to establish voice. Chelsea mentioned that words like "stinking" and "bazillion" may not be ringing true for her, and they are stopping me as well. For me there is still too much contrast between those parts of the internal monologue, and some of the descriptors such as "flung," "whipped," and "lurching." These are great strong verbs, but since this is first person central, Cody is sharing everything with us, and for me the voice is still not cohering as tween boy. Consistent, strong voice is so important in the first few pages.
    The mutt comment also needs to gel more with the rest of the chapter. It's a great character detail, but it's still feeling tacked on. Why is Cody sharing this fact with us right now? How does it connect to how he's feeling with his friends gone for the summer?
    I agree as well that as a reader I want a bit more compelling reason that Cody is so psyched to run off into these woods.
    Also, great note Marie about the dog! They definitely notice everything first!

  8. Hey Dottie,

    This revision has some nice snap to it. Well done. I especially like the character reveals in the third paragraph.

    Here are a few thoughts:
    Lead with the woods from the first sentence. Something like: The freaky trees at the back of the dog park huddled like giant green aliens…

    Less dog play, get to, “We’d never been this close to the woods before” sooner. What about cutting the whole dog doing its “business” as well. It doesn’t move the story forward. Keep your tension ratcheting.

    When Cody tells the woods “You’re on,” maybe a quick mention that he’s ignoring mom’s warning.

    Wouldn’t he be thinking of the strange boy in connection with the woods constantly once he’s seen him? Cash in on that tension.

    Can you try feathering in description of the blob/tree creature instead of starting with nothing but eyes and then giving us full details once it lands.

    I got chills with your last line. The story has me pulled in. Hooray for you.