Sunday, September 13, 2015

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Archer Revision 1

Chelsea Archer
Young Adult
An Ugly Beauty 

Dean Westford sat back and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking of Kali. His phone vibrated, the screen lighting up with a local news blurb. “Another Hiker Missing in the Northwest Woods.” His eyes scanned the meager details. A single female hiker missing since Thursday afternoon; moderately skilled in outdoor survival; the authorities are hopeful. Kali would be all over this.

A steaming cup of coffee and a high-rise of pancakes were set gracefully onto his table.

“You looked in desperate need of your usual, love,” Marjorie said.

Dean smiled despite his mood. “Perfect timing as always.” Marjorie was his favorite waitress at Brails, had been since he’d starting coming here when he was five.

She glanced at the paper, now half hidden by Dean’s breakfast. “Best to leave the worrying to the professionals, eh?” She smiled and turned to another table.

She was right, as usual, but he knew Kali would never leave this one alone. He thought back to all the other hikers who had gone missing over the past several years, all the ones that were never found, or worse, the ones whose bodies eventually showed up. Twelve deaths and seventeen missing hikers over the past ten years. Odds were that they were accidental, at least that’s what the park rangers and police said. Dean believed them, if not entirely, at least enough to let it go, but not Kali.

He leaned in, savoring the buttery aroma of fresh pancakes. He took a big bite of the fluffy wonder followed by a sip of coffee, then looked up as the bell over the door jingled. Kali walked towards him, today’s paper clutched in her hand.

“It’s a girl this time,” Kali said, and slapped the paper on the table.

“So I saw.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? The forest service is mounting up a search party and we’re going to be late.”

Since her brother Eric had died four years before, all Kali had thought about was finding the truth. Each missing hiker was a clue, a link to the brother who’d disappeared for six weeks before his body had been found. Cause of death a supposed heart attack, dead less than twenty-four hours–where had he been all that time? A mystery for sure, but Kali just couldn’t let it go, couldn’t move on with her life until justice had been served—or at least as much justice that could be had for a dead man.

Dean pushed his breakfast to the side, giving her room to sit down.

She sat, but she did not relax. He took the paper from her and turned it over so the headline was hidden. He took in her disheveled blonde hair, the dark circles rimming her green eyes, her frayed sweatshirt resting loosely on thin shoulders. He worried she hadn’t been taking care of herself, and wished, for the thousandth time, that she would let go of this mystery and come back to him.

“Seriously, Dean. Let’s go.”

He pulled his plate back and took another bite of his pancakes, his eyes never leaving her. “It’s Saturday, I have work, remember?.”

“Isn’t the search for a missing girl more important than doing inventory at the dive shop?”

Dean leaned back, putting distance between them. He resisted the urge to shake his head at her, knowing it would only start a fight.

“I work for a living, Kali. There’s no one else to pay my way, you know this. We can’t just put our lives on hold every time some hiker gets lost in the woods. They’re not Eric.”

Kali’s face flushed. “You think I don’t know that? Of course they’re not Eric, but they’re still missing and they still need our help.”

Dean’s gaze was drawn to the door as it swung open and a familiar figure stepped into the diner. Shit, he thought. This day was getting better and better.

Kali turned to follow his gaze. “Lucas,” she exclaimed, jumping up and pulling him into a hug.

The relief and happiness in her voice was like a dagger in Dean’s gut.
Lucas smiled and planted a kiss on her lips. “Hey good looking.”

Her resulting grin made Dean push the rest of his breakfast away, his appetite gone. “Lucas,” he said, nodding.

Lucas glanced up, his smile slipping. “Dean.” He pulled Kali onto his lap as he sat down, keeping eye contact with Dean.

Kali seemed oblivious to the pissing contest going on in front of her.

“So, Dean, are you going to help me find this woman or not?” 

Dean looked down and leaned forward, bringing his eyes up to meet hers, his anger boiling over.  “Let’s be honest here. You’re not going out into those woods to help find her, you’re going out there to find answers that you’re never going to find. It’s been four years, Kali. Four years of me watching you kill yourself and I can’t do it anymore.”

“Then don’t,” Kali said. “Lucas is more than capable of helping me.” She stood and practically bolted for the door.

Dean clenched his teeth so hard his jaw creaked. He couldn’t believe she was deploying the infamous guilt trip on him. He picked up his mug and threw back the rest of his rapidly cooling coffee.

Lucas slid his chair back and stood. “She’s not going to abandon her brother.”

“He’s dead, Lucas. There’s nothing left to abandon.”

“You and I might know that, Dean, but Kali’s never going to stop until she finds some answers. You of all people should know that.”

“Me of all people? What exactly is that supposed to mean?”

“Let’s just say that Kali has been quite forthcoming about her childhood, especially the bits involving her father.” Lucas sneered and followed after Kali.

Dean’s mind seized up, panic threatening to overtake him. She wouldn’t have told him that, wouldn’t have told anyone that, least of all Lucas. He felt some small comfort in this thought. He took a deep breath, then another. It was only when he reached for his wallet that he realized his hands were shaking.

He exited the building half hoping Kali would still be there and half hoping she’d left with Lucas. She was leaning against the bumper of his SUV, arms crossed, head bowed. He walked up to her, and placed the toes of his boots against the toes of her shoes.

“You’re an ass,” she said.

Dean sighed. “I know. I’m sorry.”

 She peeked out at him from beneath her eyelashes. “Does that mean you’re coming along?”

“Yeah, but you owe me.”

“Two cases of beer and a pizza coming up.”

“Make it three.” It was an old joke, and Dean felt relieved to see a genuine smile cross her face.

“Thank you,” she said, leaning up and placing a chaste kiss on his cheek. She pulled away and crossed the lot to her car.

Dean watched her pull a hiking pack out of the back, all the while his cheek burning like fire. He looked around for Lucas, finally spotting him on the South side of the building smoking a cigarette. He shook his head at the disgusting habit, glad that Lucas at least had the decency to do it away from Kali.

“You’re driving,” she said, walking toward Dean’s green Ford Bronco. “Lucas, let’s go.”

Lucas flicked the remaining ash from his cigarette onto the asphalt and grabbed a daypack off the ground. “I call shotgun,” he yelled.

Kali rolled her eyes and pushed the front seat up, ushering Lucas into the back with a wave of her hand. “In your dreams.”

Dean smiled as he climbed nimbly into the SUV and slammed the door.


  1. Chelsea, this is still a strong opening. However, you're not going to like me when I say this: I think it's weaker than the first version. I know that it was suggested to add Lucas in person to the opening, but I think it's a distraction from the main thrust of this opening between two engaging characters. In this version, Kali seems bratty and self-centered. Yes, she wants to search for the hiker, but asking Dean in this way made me like her much less than the first version. She sounds a bit bratty here, and I did NOT get that feeling in v1.

    If you're for sure going to keep the Lucas thing in the opening, I'd change Kali's reaction from clueless to very much aware of the pissing contest. She's not a good friend to Dean if she's not considerate of how the Lucas thing would make him feel. Know what I mean?

    And if Lucas is going, why does she bug Dean to go? Maybe Lucas won't take the time to go, and that's why she relies on Mr. Steady...Dean. Just a thought.

    I do like the addition "...come back to him." Also, the new opening line makes it clear that Kali is not his sister. But the whole Lucas, and the lap, and all that doesn't work as well (imho).

    On another note, cops WOULD think there's something connecting several lost hikers. That is not a normal thing! If I were you, I'd just delete that line about the cops not thinking there's a connection.

    I kind of got whiplash with the line about Kali's father. I think there's enough going on in this opening without that. My opinion :)

    Picky thing: I think "forthcoming" coming from Lucas is way out of character and way too grown up. "Honest" would work. But again, I think that whole section should be saved for later. Perhaps chapter two or three.

    In the first version, some commenters mentioned that Dean seemed older. I agree, actually, and it still seems that way. Perhaps you can add something he doesn't have enough for the tip, so he's worried. Of if he plays sports, Kali still wears his baseball jersey. Something subtle like that.

    Believe me, this opening was so strong before that I remembered details about it. I want it to become stronger!

    Good luck with the next revision.

  2. Hi Chelsea,

    Nice changes in this draft!

    I really like the change of Dean’s paper to his phone – good signifier of a younger generation! (Make sure it carries all the way through in the text.) I think Kali would have alerts on her phone too, right?

    I'd like to see the language around the missing hikers clarified a bit more. For example, it seems to me that the major mystery with Eric wouldn’t have been where he was when he was lost for 24 hours, because that’s not a huge amount of time to be lost in the woods; but rather why a young man in good shape would have died of a heart attack after only a short amount of time.

    I really like “let go of this mystery and come back to him.” I want even more emotional details here – is he longing to put his arms around her, maybe in a way she wouldn’t welcome or is not allowed?

    I love that Dean’s jealousy is now the reason he loses his temper at Kali. It makes him much more relatable. And I like the tease of the new mystery with Kali’s father! It lets us see that not all the mystery is Kali's.

    It’s unclear where Lucas is when Dean leaves the diner, and my impression was that Kali would go with Lucas. Help the reader keep track of where everyone is.

    The car scene between Kali and Dean is pretty intimate, and does not read to me as the sort of scene either would feel comfortable having with Lucas watching. It absolutely feels like the kind of scene they’d have without him there.

    This is a personal note: I think Kali’s behavior toward Dean is age-appropriate, but in this draft, I read her as not very likeable. There’s not a whole lot of chance that she doesn’t know Dean is in love with her; and sitting on Lucas’ lap in front of him, and then kissing Dean on the cheek, are behaviors that speak of a lack of empathy. Again, that lack of empathy and the not really knowing what to do when your friend is in love with you are totally age-appropriate, and neither actually makes her a bad person; I just have a personal dislike for that exact thing. I’d be interested to know how others read it.

    I might watch out for making Dean seem too parental toward Kali. That he worries about her appearance in the diner is all good; but then later when he’s glad Lucas smokes away from her – that pushes it into Dad territory for me.

    Good work! Looking forward to seeing what's next!

  3. This is a cool rework (watch the adverbs & adjectives, though, since IMO there are a few unnecessary ones you could cut). Dean feels more solid and there's a lot of great meet. I still feel like this opening is rather dense. So much plot laid out and maybe too soon. I know you want a strong opening but I feel like I'd rather know one or two things really well about each character so I have something to hold onto as the ms moves forward. What does DEAN want most of all (to graduate, to kiss Kali despite everything, a job)???? How does KALI really feel about Dean (honestly friends, attracted but suspects he knows something more about murders so keeping her distance) that explains her fickle, seemingly insensitive behavior toward him? Finally, I still don't know why we're starting from Dean's POV and I think this is really important to hook the reader. Still really excited about this mystery and would keep reading. Can't wait to see where this goes!

  4. I like that the news is on the phone, but in the next bit, you say the paper and his breakfast is covering it, etc. watch out for those. the paper was fine for me in the first draft. just be consistent. otherwise, an interesting opening but I still feel like these are much older adults without getting a sense of them being late teens. very cool story, though.

  5. Hi Chelsea,

    I actually really like the addition of Lucas to this scene -- it's really interesting, and shows off Dean's motives a lot more, especially when he loses his temper. But as someone pointed out in the above comments, Kali being unawares complicates things, and she definetly wouldn't be a good friend if she didn't defend Dean at least a little bit. It definetly changes the way we see her character from the first version - before, we had Dean's lovestruck version, and this new one she seems a little self-absorbed. It's not exactly bad (allow your characters to have flaws!) but I'm not sure what your intentions were.
    And you might try tweaking the scene a little - the territorial boyfriend is a little stereotypical for all YA, so it might throw some readers off the book almost immediately.

    I really enjoyed this reworked and got a better feeling of the mystery and the story you're trying to set up. Good work!

  6. Hi Chelsea,

    I really like this new opening. “Dean Westford sat back and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking of Kali. His phone vibrated, the screen lighting up with a local news blurb.”
    I get a better sense of Dean’s age and his feelings for Kali all at once. Plus, it seems like, despite his resistance to play along with her obsession, he still has his phone set to give him alerts when another hiker goes missing.
    I feel like there’s a part of him that is invested in these disappearances. Maybe it’s for Kali, maybe for another reason, but I like that the interest is there.
    It brings up a question, though. Kali’s still obsessed, Dean’s let it go, but he still caves and goes with her. So, if she’s getting what she wants from him, why did they break up? Or, if she has Lucas, why does she keep asking Dean? Does he have skills in this area that we should know about? I feel like there’s a bigger reason that they aren’t together, and I’m not seeing it yet. And because I’m rooting for them, I have to know! ;)
    “He worried she hadn’t been taking care of herself, and wished, for the thousandth time, that she would let go of this mystery and come back to him.” Yup, more of this please!
    I like the intimate moment between Dean and Kali outside the diner. Does Lucas see this? I’m curious as to his reaction at his girlfriend being sweet with her ex. Or, if his back is turned, maybe indicate that.
    Also, the last segment was much lighter in tone than the rest of the story, making it seem like the three of them were old friends. If they are, and their relationships with Kali changed everything, maybe clarify that more.
    Great changes in this draft!

  7. Hi Chelsea,
    Some great revisions this round! Adding Lucas in person ups your “show” factor over the “tell.” I do agree with Laura, though, that Kali’s obliviousness towards Dean’s feelings decreases her likability. She’s already willfully blind (although likely with very good reason) about giving up the search for her brother. To add her being clueless about what’s going on with the two men in her life doesn’t give the impression that she’s a smart young girl, which I think we all instinctively want her to be.

    I like the hint of something in their past, and having Lucas deliver the hint via dialogue is stronger than internal monologue. I do still think the first line or two would be a great place to focus for the third revision. I think they can be even stronger. What about starting out with the line: “Kali would be all over this”?
    You could follow up with some of the exposition about her long-missing brother and Dean’s desire to keep her safe in the face of her obsession. Right away we’d know that Kali is obsessed and Dean’s trying to save her. Instant stakes, and our interest even more piqued right out of the gate. An idea to try at any rate!

    I’m still reading Dean as a grown man. I think the phrase, “I work for a living, Kali” still throws the reader off. It’s a small detail, but given that you want to establish clear character details here at the start, what if you opened with something about how he has to work for his college money. That way we know out of the gate that he’s younger, and that he wasn’t born with the proverbial silver spoon.

    Plot-wise, I too am not sure I understand why Dean’s a better choice to go with Kali than Lucas. And now that Dean is going, is Lucas just going to stay there and smoke—or are all three of them going?
    This draft is overall much tighter in my opinion, gels better—great work!