Sunday, October 4, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Bryan

Name: Patrick Bryan
Genre: Middle Grade
Title: The Brothers Kincaid and the Quantum Crystal

“Do you see a ghost out there?” asked Hank, Nathan’s younger brother. Nathan didn’t turn to look at him, he continued to lock his gaze somewhere toward the middle of the field.

“There are people. At least I think they’re people,” Nathan replied.

“Nate?” Hank’s voice trailed off to a whisper. “When you look out there, do you ever see mom?” Nathan dropped his head before he spoke. He tried not to snap at Hank as he pictured tears welling up in his little brother’s eyes.

“I told you Hank, they're not ghosts.”

Nathan lifted his head, his body rigid and his stare fixed. He stood at the edge of the dirt lot that was the Kincaid family backyard. Weeds of varying heights spotted the landscape. But Nathan wasn’t here to look at the weeds, he was staring far out into the treeless landscape that was once farmland where there was nothing to see. No houses, no trees, no hills, no features at all save one. The land was so flat that five miles in the distance you could just see the outline of a decrepit barn on the horizon. There was nothing else to interrupt the barren view for five full miles. Yet here Nathan stood, spellbound, staring into empty space.

“So the people, what are they doing?  Do you think they can see you? Tell me everything, I’m ready to start sketching,” said Hank.

Nathan let out a deep breath and ran his fingers through his wild brown hair.  He remained transfixed on the specters in front of him. About twenty feet from where he stood was a sphere of blue light cutting through his field of vision. It hovered just above the ground; a hole about as large as a movie screen. The edges were so bright that he couldn’t look directly at them, but in the center of the hole in space were people.  They appeared human at first, or at least similar in form.  Their long robes obscured most of their features. Yet as they moved, flashes of a leg or arm became visible. Nathan recoiled at first, unprepared to see the bare scaly legs that bent in the wrong direction. And then a full arm became visible, an arm covered in short colorful feathers. They weren’t people at all, but some humanoid bird-like creatures. Oddly enough they wore straw hats as wide as umbrellas that screened their heads and faces.

“You better get out some colorful pens Hank. These guys are like human sized birds, wearing colorful cloaks. They’re gardening I think,” said Nathan.  “They have cutting tools and are shaping these tall bushes, like sculptures.  The shapes are amazing.”

“What kind of shapes? What are they for? Do any look like animals? I want them to make one that looks like a whale.” Hank screwed up his face for a moment in thought and continued. “But not the ones with teeth, they seem mean. The ones with those big filters for catching shrimp.”

“You mean the baleen whales?” asked Nathan.

“Yeah, baleen. What a weird word. Are they making baleen whale shapes?”

“No. The sculptures curve and spiral, they point in weird directions. You know what they remind me of? Bowers. Do you remember that nature show we watched with the birds building intricate little houses to attract mates? They decorated them with colored flower petals, shells and trash. That’s what these guys could be. But sort of strange human-like alien bird men instead of actual birds.”

“Cool,” said Hank as he scribbled feverishly in his vision journal. Whenever Nathan would let him in on what he saw during a vision, Hank would turn it into art and record every detail Nathan would narrate.

"You have to tell me more about the Bowerbird-men. All the particulars,” said Hank. He liked saying particulars and mimicked a British accent whenever he spoke the word.  Nathan fixated on the image that only he could see. His eyes darted around, tracking the activity. Hank watched Nathan and glanced to the empty field between scribbles, hoping for something interesting to appear.

“Whoa. There’s something new. Animals,” said Nathan.

“Animal sculptures?” asked Hank.

“No, these are actual animals. Their bodies are like tigers but they have pointed tails, pointed like spears. And they’re massive. Bigger than the bowerbird-men. I’m not sure if they’re pets or guards. They seem different than the Bowers, darker, threatening.”

“I wish I could see them too,” said Hank.  Nathan’s face contorted.  His expression soured and he shut his eyes.  He slouched forward and shook his head from side to side.

“No you don’t Hank. What I see isn’t always something good. And you know you’re the only one who believes me, or at least doesn’t make fun of me.”

“It’s ok Nate, I know you see the ghosts.”

“I keep telling you Hank, they’re not ghosts,” said Nathan with a rising voice.

“Then what are they?” asked Hank.

Nathan shrugged. “They seem like people. Though not from here, from somewhere far away, like these bird guys. I usually don’t tell you about the awful ones, but I see them too. Sometimes it’s not people, it’s just weird places, empty rooms, buildings, hallways. The worst part is I can’t control it. I can’t choose what I see, where I see it, or when it happens. It just starts happening, good or bad, it happens and I can’t do anything about it. I’m a freak. I start forgetting what’s real and what’s part of the vision.  Some people even think I’m faking just to get attention. Why would I want people to think I’m insane? Ingis fatuus is what I heard one doctor say.”

“Dr. Iggy said what?” asked Hank.

“No, Ignus fatuus. It’s Latin, for foolish fire. It’s a delusion like a will o’ the wisp or a ghost light. But it’s not swamp gas, and I don’t think I’m crazy. At least not most of the time.”

Nathan turned to Hank.  His expression was serious. While he appeared to be an average if slightly undernourished twelve-year-old boy, when you looked directly into his eyes there was a depth; a light in his eyes that cast a hypnotic effect.  Not an actual light mind you, but an intensity that was overwhelming to most and a bit sorrowful.  There was something much more complex in him than anyone would expect to see in a young boy and it tended to make most people in Townsvilleburg feel uneasy.

Nathan sat down in the dirt with his legs crossed. He put his head in his hands and sat there quietly.  Hank scooted next to him, placed his sketch pad on the ground and put a hand on Nathan’s knee.

“I’m sorry I don’t understand. You just tell me how to draw these weird creatures and spooky landscapes, but you never say what you think.” Hank stared at Nathan, who was still focusing his attention somewhere in front of them. “So if it’s all so horrible to you, why are you out here looking into the field?” asked Hank.  Nathan sat there quietly for a while before responding.  He turned to Hank and stared at his wide-eyed expression.

“It’s so boring here that I want to see somewhere else. I want to be somewhere else so bad that I don’t care what I see, as long as it’s not here, not Townsvilleburg.  Even the awful stuff is at least interesting.”


  1. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for your great feedback on my entry.
    Your book sounds very intriguing. It makes me wonder what the genre is.
    I may be wrong, but I've heard it's better to not start with dialogue so you can ground your reader. The dialogue is interesting and gives backstory (about their mom), but I think it would be better to start your book a few paragraphs down with "Nathan lifted his head..." That's a really great sentence, and right off it makes us wonder what he's looking at. I think you could insert the dialogue after that paragraph and it would be more powerful.
    It does seem a little strange that Nathan's explaining everything about the visions to Hank (i.e. that he can't control them, etc.) It seems like Hank would already know this information if Nathan's let him draw for him before. I'm wondering if you can have that information come out a little more naturally? I'm also curious as to how long these visions have been happening, etc, but maybe that comes out later.
    Can you give us an idea of how old Hank is?
    Your descriptions are really good. I can see what he is describing. And you do a good job at describing the setting.
    Good ending, makes me want to find out what's so bad about their town.
    Nice job, Patrick!

    1. Hi Emily. Thanks for the comments and suggestions. Some of your concerns are ones I have had myself but felt I just needed someone else to read it validate my paranoia. Sorry I forgot to include the genre. This is an upper-middle-grade novel in the science fiction/fantasy realm. It is grounded in the real world, a small mountain town in WA state, but the story follows Nathan's "rabbit hole" and ends up in some far out places.

  2. Hi Patrick,

    Great start to your story. I like that you mention ghosts right off the bat. That gave me the impression that's what the story is about. However, further down, Nathan mentions they aren't ghosts. So that may be a little misleading to some readers. I do feel you could get rid of "Nathan's younger brother" in the first line and mention it a few lines down. That first line is so crucial and, for me at least, it didn't seem to flow. I did like that you immediately threw in the fact their mother isn't alive. That makes me want to know more about how she died and if Nathan will in fact see her later in the book. I would read on to see.
    You described the setting beautifully. I could really see it. It wasn't overly descriptive, which often loses my attention, especially when describing another world and other creatures. I find a lot of times it's overdone and then I can't see it in my head and I lose interest. I could really see the bird-like people, and the pointy-tailed-tigers. Great job!
    I get the sense that Hank is pretty young by the way he talks, but how young? The fact that he sketches seems like he would be older. That is just one thing I was thinking while reading. Maybe it's the word "sketches". It seems an older character would sketch and a younger character would, I don't know, draw, doodle? And it could be that Hank tries to be older then he is and likes to say bigger words, like the way he likes to say "particulars" so he's mature for his age and I just haven't read enough to determine that yet.
    As I read further, I found myself wanting to know more about what Nathan was seeing and not his torment overing seeing those things and being ridiculed. I feel that could be explained, or better, shown to us in another scene, at school maybe, and we see the kids making fun of him. Something like that. I just wasn't ready for a heart to heart right away. I just wanted to know what he was seeing right then, and why, or where it was.
    And lastly, I was caught off guard with Nathan wanting to see somewhere else just because he was bored. I had the impression he would rather be somewhere else because he felt like a freak, and is made fun of by the other kids in town, not just boredom.
    Overall, it spiked my interest and I want to know more. I'm really interested why other people know about his visions and why he hasn't been able to keep it a secret. I hope I have helped. Great job!

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  4. Hi Patrick!

    I think the premise sounds unique and intriguing. It leaves me wanting to know more about Nathan and exactly what he's able to see and how he's able to see it (i.e. does he have a gift that allows him to see the supernatural, how did he get this gift, etc.)

    I think you've done an excellent job with the descriptions and the setting. I love the description of the family backyard - it really sets the tone for the story - I immediately get a spooky image in my mind, which I think is great. I also really liked the closing paragraph about the town being boring - it does a good job of giving insight into where the boys live and how Nathan feels about his hometown. You also did a great job of introducing the backstory about the mother being dead - it's very powerful and leaves me wanting to know more about what happened to her, how she died, etc.

    And I agree with what Emily said about starting the story with dialogue - I think the story could benefit with starting with something a little more action-based, like maybe a description of Nathan seeing the creatures, how Nathan feels when he sees them, or maybe something about Nathan's gift in general (i.e. how it makes him feel like a freak, or how what he sees isn't always good, etc. - I really liked those lines of the story).

    I also haven't read too much MG lately, but at times I think the tone might be a little too sophisticated for MG - portions of the story read a little bit like YA to me (the paragraph where you describe the "undernourished twelve-year-old boy" comes to mind).

    But overall, I think you've done a great job here. I really like the supernatural premise and the eerie setting. It definitely leaves me wanting to read more!


  5. Thanks for sharing your work, Bryan. There's a lot to like here. Can we get a little more grounded in the real world? I realize this is present day, but I feel as if I need a reference to a car or bike or something modern just so it's clear.

    Watch your dialogue tags: Nathan said, Hank said, etc. Sometimes it's obvious who's speaking, and you don't need it.

    Townsvilleburg is such a funny name. Every syllable is a synonym for a place. Did you make up this word?

    I'd like to know more about Nathan's ability. Where did it come from? What happened to their parents? I imagine all this will come soon enough.

    There are a few moments that felt more YA to me. Whose story is this? The younger brother? Make sure we see the world through his eyes.

    Nice job so far. Your prose is clear and easy to read. Looking forward to seeing more.

  6. Hello Ronald.
    Thank you for the comments and questions. I will work on devising a way to reference something that can address the issue you brought up of the 'time' when this is taking place.

    I did just make up Townsvilleburg. Originally I had three or four chapters of this town, the school, and all the ridiculous people who were so unimaginative and uninspired they never came up with a better name for the settlement. I eventually ditched all of it, as it was just too much backstory and there was too much more to tell of their new town, after they move (which is the complete opposite of Townsvilleburg).

    I struggle with the assignment of genre (Middle Grade vs Young Adult) with this story. Middle grade seems incredibly broad. From Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Sisters Grim, The Graveyard Book and Coraline, to Wimpy Kid, Timmy Failure and Big Nate. I settled on the content, tone, and characters defining the story as more middle-grade than young adult: the main characters are ten and twelve years old, there are no sexual overtones (just some puppy love), and thre is no real violence (though some intense action throughout).

    As a third person omniscient narrator, I am also trying to develop my voice as not being too formal, yet not too childish and simplistic. Ideally the reader would be an advance 9-year-old to 12. I had a group of 11 year old girls beta read a recent draft and while they had some great questions, they seemed to find the language appropriate. But I'm constantly looking to improve here. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks again.


  7. Hi Patrick!

    First I want to say that I really like the uniqueness of what I've read so far. It's kind of spooky (creatures that only Nathan can see) but also kind of normal in the way the characters just accept it.

    Your descriptions are great. I can really get a feel for what it going on around the boys and I can "see" the creatures that Nathan sees.

    I'd love to see this start with this line:

    “I wish I could see them too,” said Hank. Nathan’s face contorted. His expression soured and he shut his eyes. He slouched forward and shook his head from side to side.

    And then weave in a bit of the beginning after that. I did feel bogged toward the beginning a bit, so I think if you intermixed dialog above that line with description above that line, it would break up the long paragraphs and keep the reader engaged. It would also be a way to eliminate a lot of the dialog tags if you had the speaker speak and then had action or thought after.

    Here is just an example for clarification:

    “Do you see a ghost out there?” Hank glanced at his brother then at the empty field.

    Nathan lifted his head, his body rigid and his stare fixed. They stood at the edge of the dirt lot that was the Kincaid family backyard. Weeds of varying heights spotted the landscape. But Nathan wasn’t here to look at the weeds, he was staring far out into the treeless landscape that was once farmland where there was nothing to see.

    “You better get out some colorful pens, Hank. These guys are like human sized birds, wearing colorful cloaks. They’re gardening I think.” Nathan squinted and tilted his head. “They have cutting tools and are shaping these tall bushes, like sculptures. The shapes are amazing.”

    Not necessarily that exactly, but it shows how a mixing of action and dialog really helps the story move along.

    I think you have a great start and I think the voice is good for MG! Can't wait to see what you do with this!

    1. Thank you Lee.
      This is excellent. I am going to follow this style in the revision to better mix the dialog and exposition.

  8. That's the funny thing about middle grade, Bryan. It can be sweet and innocent or dark and creepy. I think you're finding a good balance. Just keep at it, and I'm sure in subsequent drafts it'll be sorted.

  9. Hi Patrick,

    I really like the interaction between the brothers here, and how different they are. I especially like Hank hoping he gets to draw a whale.

    Good job with giving some backstory a natural way, like the fact that the boy’s mother is dead. That’s never told, just inferred because Hank thinks Nathan sees ghosts and asks if he ever sees their mom. That’s a great example of information being worked into the story organically.

    Some of the other information here is less organic, though, like Nathan talking about how different he is and his history with doctors, etc. I think that information would be better left to later in the story. Right now I’d like to know more about what he’s looking at. And I’d like to see Nathan and Hank doing something other than looking. Some of the descriptions of what Nathan sees seem a little too clinical and adult, and just standing and observing is also a pretty adult thing to do. I’d like to see him act more, maybe try to get closer, maybe try to interact.

    I’m also a little confused about POV in some places. You’re taking an omniscient POV, which seems to include both an invisible narrator’s POV and jumping in and out of different characters’ heads. Sometimes I wasn’t clear whose eyes I was seeing out of, so to speak. For instance, the description of Nathan staring at nothing seems to be from his own POV, but he is seeing something other than emptiness, as we learn a couple paragraphs later. Maybe that scene should be from Hank’s perspective, wondering what his brother is seeing, since Hank is the one who sees nothing.

    I like the premise and the characters, and I’m interested in knowing more about Nathan’s strange sights.


  10. Thanks Anthony. This is exactly what I need. I have written and re-written some of this story so much that when I come back to parts like this, it's tough to for me to see it with fresh eyes. I will focus in on the point of view and try making it more consistent.


  11. Patrick, welcome to First Five Pages!

    Nathan and Hank sounds like adorable boys who look out for each other. And I liked how they're a team--one sees, the other sketches. I also like how Nathan wants to be anywhere but where they are. Very middle grade!

    I have a few thoughts:

    I'd change the opening paragraph to something that grabs the reader. I wasn't sure until deeper into that first page who the pov was. I realized later it was Nathan, but in that opening, it's hard to guess. I'd also recommend not opening with dialog. Perhaps open with something that makes the reader want to move to the next line. Just playing here, but something like Was that a ghost? Nathan wasn't sure. He felt the familiar ____ in his body when he saw shadows. Know what I mean? Open with something that makes the reader curious.

    There are some words within these pages that sound much too old for a young narrator. "Intricate" comes to mind.

    In the "Nathan shrugged" paragraph, there's a whole lot of description about his ability. If I were you, I'd thread that in naturally as the story progresses. Already, it's cool that he can see things that others can't. And the things he sees are interesting. I'd save the "rules of what he sees" for later.

    In the "Nathan turned to Hank" paragraph, there's a bit too much physical description. And I couldn't tell if Nathan was describing himself or Hank. I'd weave that in naturally as well, if at all. The reader should gather that information by seeing it in the character's actions.

    I get the impression that the boys do not fear these visions. If these visions in this scene are different in some way, which would explain why your story starts here, then there should be something that sets that feeling off. Does one of the creatures do something that other visions haven't done? Does it look directly at him? Does it walk toward him?

    I wavered back and forth about whether the opening is a good place to add the detail about their mom. I'm still on the fence about it. Perhaps because it stood out, and because I'm wavering, that could be a sign that it's too soon in the manuscript. Other commenters might have an opinion about that.

    Overall a strong opening with two likable characters and cool visions. Good job!

    1. Thank you Julie. This is very helpful.
      In answer to a few of your questions... This vision is and does become different than previous ones. At the end of the chapter (about 3 more pages away) a person turns and looks directly at Nathan. He feels the connection. While his visions and the mystery around them are not the actual story being told, they are essential to that story.

      I have a question related to your inquiry.
      Initially, I tried to weave in bits of this vision through the chapter, between the conversation with Nathan and Hank. I saved the more shocking imagery and mysterious interaction with the spectral visitor to the end of the chapter. Now as I really understand the importantce of these "first 5 pages" and have seen the initial comments from readers, I'm wondering if I should rearrange some of the material and bring this 'new' interaction further forward in teh chapter. Let me know what you think if you can.