Sunday, January 3, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Goren

Name:  Jessica L. Goren
Genre:  Middle Grade; fantasy
Title:  Pollin Pals: The Power of Flowers

It started just like any other day. The night creatures tucked themselves away in cozy dens and warm nests. The birds stretched their wings and sang their songs. The daytime animals shook off their dreams as they came out of their snug burrows. The bees buzzed, the ants marched and the butterflies flitted. As the dew-covered flowers opened their petals to welcome the sun, every drop of dew was full of rainbows from the first rays of sunlight. All was as it should be on a beautiful summer’s day. Or so everyone thought. 

Just like the day before the animals played, the ants dug tunnels and the sun climbed higher and higher in the clear blue sky. But just as the sun reached its highest point in the sky a sharp cold wind blew in dark clouds. The clouds flew across the sky until they hid the sun from the world below. Harsh crashes of thunder cracked overhead, lightning sizzled across the sky and the rain poured down. The branches of the trees bent under heavy pools of rain collecting on their leaves. Water ran down the hills into the streams, streams turned into rivers and rivers overflowed into ponds. Water flooded all the low lying places. The flowers turned into tiny teacups as their petals filled with rain.  And then, just before the sun was supposed to be marching off to bed, she burst through the clouds splashing purples and pinks and blues across the sky, chasing away the clouds before she fell below the horizon making room for the moon to rise. 

Up came the moon, full and bright, bathing the world in a soft silvery light. And then something happened that made this day NOT like every other day. When the moonlight hit the rainwater in the tiny teacups of flowers, the water began to bubble. Not a big rolling boil, but just tiny little blips of bubbles here and there. Then the bubbles floated out of the teacups. Above each flower a bundle of bubbles swirled around collecting the moon’s light. It was weird that these bubbles were hanging above each flower, as if they belonged there. These bubbles didn’t belong there. But there they were. Who can say why? Maybe it was because it was the longest day of the year. Maybe it was because the flowers filled with rainwater couldn’t close for sleep like every other night.  Maybe it was because the world was coated with the soft silvery light of the full moon. Maybe it was all of those things. Maybe it was none of them. But for whatever reason, there the bubbles were swirling above each flower, exactly where they didn’t belong. Then the bubbles did the oddest thing of all, even odder than just being there. Each group of swirling bubbles disappeared with a distinct pop and in their place was a tiny creature, with the body of a human, the wings of a dragon fly and the beauty of the flower from which they came. Each of the creatures gave a great big yawn and sank down into the flower from which they came, wrapped themselves with the petals and fell instantly to sleep.

When the sun came back the next day, her warm golden rays woke the creatures sleeping in the flowers. The creatures looked around, a bit confused. They looked at each other with their gossamer wings sparkling in the sunlight. One of the creatures looked down at herself.  She saw that her body was long and lean. Her arms, legs and body were a deep shade of purple. She reached behind her head and pulled her long thick hair over one shoulder and saw it was a bright yellow. Then she looked left and right and saw the other creatures were similar to her but as different from as each other as one flower is from another. She was surprised to see the others. She was not sure what to do. She coughed a little and thought maybe I should say something. So she said, Hello” in her most grown up voice pretending to be much braver than she felt, “my name is Erisa”. She wasn’t sure how she knew her name 
but it felt right.

The creature to Erisa’s right clasped her hands in front of herself, said, “My name is Sammy”. She quickly glanced down, her short black hair falling in front of her heart shaped face, hiding her large green eyes. Sammy was a tiny little thing. Her waist was narrow and she had long slender arms and legs. They were so thin they looked like little more than the stamen of the flower she came from. Her legs were deep green and her top half was a delicate pink that shone like the inside of a pearly shell. 

Before Erisa could look at the creature on her left he blurted out, “Pieter, that’s my name, if you want to know.” Compared with Sammy, Pieter was huge. His thick legs and arms were the woody brown of a maple tree’s bark. His chest and back were a bright red. Across his nose was a sprinkle of freckles and on top of his head was a shock of bright orange hair that almost glowed.

The last creature was iridescent blue everywhere. He seemed to sparkle wherever the sunlight hit him. Finally he said, “My name’s Zeki. Does anyone know where we are?”

The others shook their heads. “I was just floating in a flower full of water, waiting to blow away in the wind, when I woke up here,” Erisa said. “Me too,” squeaked Sammy.

“Well what should we do?” Zeki asked. 

They were quiet for a little while. Then Erisa perked up. “I think we should go explore.”

“Yeah, maybe we will find someone who knows what’s going on.” Zeki said. And with that, he started walking away. 

“Wait! Where are you going?” Sammy squealed “Shouldn’t we stick together?”

Zeki laughed. “That’s just silly. We’ll cover more ground if we each go alone. We’ll meet here when the sun is at its highest point and report what we’ve found.”

No one else seemed sure if this was the right thing to do but slowly each one wandered off in a different direction

Erisa was annoyed. Here she was, brand new in the world and already alone. How did she know what she was looking for or even where to look? She didn’t know anything about this place. “What am I going to do now, and just who does he think he is taking over like that?” Erisa shouted as she kicked at an innocent stone that went arcing above the field.




“Taking charge and telling us what to do,” Erisa pouted.

“Good heavens child, what are you talking about?”

Erisa looked up with a start. Was the tree talking to her? “Who said that?” she demanded. She was very proud that her voice only quivered a little bit. It was then that she noticed two large golden eyes staring at her through the leaves of the tree.

Erisa flew up to the odd looking creature with huge eyes and soft gray feathers and said, “I’m Erisa a.”

“You may call me Owl.”

“Oh right, I knew that. Not to call you Owl, but that you are an owl. But wait, how did I know that? 


  1. Jessica, welcome to the workshop!

    You have such a gift for beautiful language. Your well-chosen words have such a soft, pretty lilt to them. Your opening line of "at the beginning" intrigued me. It's almost Biblical, in a way.

    The opening paragraph was pretty, and it ended with a good teaser line. By paragraph 2, I was expecting more, though. Language--you've nailed it. Let's see if we can get to the main story quicker. The first paragraph should lead to something more happening in the 2nd paragraph. Then that should lead to something more happening in the 3rd. Each of your paragraphs is beautiful, but we really don't get to the story until Erisa shows up. We need more action up front--not guns blazing, but something happening, someone to care for. Erisa needs to arrive on scene earlier.

    My other concern is that we go from no character to care about to four, all in a short burst. My advice would be to spread out the introduction of each character in order to give the reader the opportunity to care about each one.

    I also wonder about the "we woke up here, and now let's go explore" story line. Let's get into something meatier. I'm not sure where your story goes, so I can't really offer specific advice, but I can suggest that wherever it is that Erisa encounters trouble, get to that quicker.

    A picky thing to mention is that both Erisa and Sammy have dialog in the same paragraph. Just remember that when each character speaks, there should be a new paragraph, even if it's just the one line.

    My advice is to look through your pages to find when Erisa first encounters change, or danger, or something unique besides just appearing, and begin your story there--or just before that.

    Looking forward to your revision! Good luck.

    1. Thanks this is very helpful feedback. I spend too much time imaging everything I forget to move on with the story. Your comments on each paragraph leading to the next really reminded me of this.

  2. Hi Jessica!

    The description of the flowers and the surrounding animals is beautiful. However, I agree with Julie. There is a lot of description to get to before we get to any characters. Then we suddenly have four of them, and no reason to really care about any of them. Though I will say that Zeki immediately rubbed me the wrong way as soon as he started speaking.

    I found the part where you called the tiny bubbles weird to be a little redundant. Given that the first two paragraphs described the normal world, we can already tell that the bubbles are strange and out of the norm. I think that even starting at the bubbles would have been more intriguing. Maybe a shorter description of the normal world (without telling the reader that it is indeed normal), then jumping into that disruption and bringing Erisa onstage.

    1. Thanks this is very helpful, I want Zeki to be annoying but not unlike able. This was a good eye opener about softening my language and character development.

  3. I agree that your language is beautiful. I love the way it reads like a myth. It's always fun to read about how things began. It's a wonderful way to get the reader to understand the world you're plopping them into.

    That being said, readers also want to connect with the characters they're reading about. I agree with what Adana and Julie said. It takes a while for us to get to Erisa. I have the feeling I'm going to like her, but this excerpt doesn't get me there--yet. I agree with Adana though, in that Zeki rubbed me the wrong way immediately. I'd like to see Erisa evoke that much of a response with her dialogue.

    The tiny bubbles paragraph was a bid wordy for me. There are bits that are redundant or unnecessary that I think could be cut. I also like Adana's advice about starting with the bubbles. While the language in the opening paragraphs is lovely, the bubbles are where the story truly begins. I think you could weave the normal in to counter the abnormality of the bubbles. It would get us to the action quicker.

    I look forward to seeing your revisions!

    1. Hi Gabby, thanks for the input. I have a lot to think about in terms of character development which will get me off the world development and into the actin faster,

  4. Just wanted to echo the comments about your beautiful prose style. The imagery is so evocative — I could really see the landscape in my mind’s eye, and loved the sounds too. Definitely got the sense of an entirely new world that you’re creating.

    I also like the idea of starting with the bubbles. I know it might not work chronologically, but I wondered if you could introduce Erisa waking up before getting into the bubbles. Like she wakes up first, and then we get her perspective as she watches what’s going on with the bubbles going around her?

    I was intrigued by the contrast between Erisa seeming to preternaturally “know” things (her name, what an owl is), vs. her feeling like she’s alone (“didn’t know anything about this place.”) I wondered if we could get some of that perspective as she’s waking up, observing the bubbles popping around her. I think you could build up this paradox/tension a bit — her frustration with simultaneously being aware and in the dark. I wondered what the equivalent feeling would be for us in the non-fantasy world (what emotions you could evoke in the reader that would feel similar).

    Is the relationship between Erisa and Zeki going to be a main conflict in the story? Him always taking over? Elisa is the one that suggested that they first explore. If she thought he was wrong to decide they should all go off by themselves, couldn’t she have just partnered with Sammy and Pieter and let Zeki go off on his own? We learn that she’s upset, but I was curious as to why — whether she thought he was wrong, or he just rubbed her the wrong way due to his tone, or he took over her idea, etc.

    Looking forward to your revisions!

    1. Thanks, this is really useful to help me think about time line and how to over things along to the characters and action faster,

      I am curious if y had other thoughts on how Erisa knows somethings but not others. Kind of like amnesia, you know how to do everything but your memory for experiences is gone. I like that but I'm not sure if it comes off as contrived or hard to swallow.

  5. Hi Jessica,

    I totally agree with the others’ comments. You write so beautifully, your story starts like a mythical fairy-tale, reminded me of Andersen’s Little Mermaid.

    I like the first paragraph very much; it gently places the reader into your fairy-tale world and creates the mood. But the second paragraph is unnecessary, slows down the story before it’s even begun. I think you should use the line “Or so everyone thought” as a trampoline into the real story. I don’t have much experience with MG, but I can imagine such young audiences will have even less patience than grown-ups to get in the thick of things.

    The consecutive introduction of the four characters didn’t bother me. What did was that just after we’ve met them they split up. I was somehow expecting the beginning of a joint adventure.

    I don’t think I could add anything more than what was already commented above. Seeing how masterfully you work with words, I’m looking forward to reading your revision!


    1. Thanks Lily it is very helpful to be reminded of the age of the audience and moving the story along at a pace appealing to them. I think i need to leave myself a note that I see when I am writing to remind me of this.

  6. Hey there, Jessica!

    I am such a sucker for lyrical writing, and you wrote some beautiful words and images here! I really enjoyed the fairy tale quality of this, and how you started the book like a very traditional fairy tale, setting up the idyllic, hidden, non-human world where fairy-like things can happen. Things happening where I can’t see has always piqued my imagination!

    That said, I wonder about the beginning, especially in consideration of your audience. I consider Middle Grade to be basically 9-12 years and kids that age, while still loving the imaginative, also like to imagine that they’re already grown up. So even while they’re loving fairies and talking owls, they’re also smart-mouthed and in middle school (I can say this with sympathy, having raised a brood of them). So anything remotely “young” (like Erisa trying to speak in a “grown-up voice”) is going to be a red flag. Their attention span is also quite short. (Like, three sentences, and then more action, please. Ha!) They need to be sucked in immediately, and kept going with short, snappy, action-packed sentences. Which, believe it or not, can absolutely be done lyrically and in a beautiful, fairy tale-like way! However, if you’re thinking slightly younger than Middle Grade, or even on the very young end of that range, you might have to consider toning down your reading level to match that audience. I’m going to give comments based on the idea that this is for a 9-12 year old.

    So I wonder if you could set up this beginning scene by shortening and tightening the description (i.e. the simpler sentences I mentioned above), and by giving that description from someone else’s perspective, like maybe the owl’s? (Ignore this if you hate the idea!) That would give you an opportunity to describe the scene from an unusual perspective, introduce that character sooner, and give us a character’s personality sooner. I would keep reading a story told by an owl! Especially one with a quirky personality. It also might give you a chance for more dialogue and action sooner (what does the owl do during the storm?), which also helps speed up a middle-grader’s reading.

    I also wonder if you could bring in more about the significance of the storm. That hints that Erisa and the others were maybe NOT supposed to happen. That something dark or magical has happened, or gone wrong. This is a great opportunity for tension that might be worth exploring!

    As far as other thoughts, I had a concern (and I think you got some comment on this already) about what Erisa and the other characters know and don’t know about themselves when they do wake up. How is their setting different from what they thought was going to happen to them? What did they think they were going to become? They don’t seem that surprised to have arms and legs, though maybe surprised by the colors of them. They seem to know what a forest is, though maybe not this one. Waking up with no idea who or where you are (or maybe what you are) is a frightful, traumatic experience, so I think a bit more explanation is due here, so we can understand their reactions to waking up and to each other. It also might be good to give a bit more sensory description that explains their size. They’re tiny if they’re sleeping in flowers. How do they get down from the flowers? Do they slide, do they fly? And if they’re that small, the objects on the forest floor would be huge obstacles. When it says Erisa kicks an innocent stone, that sounds like she's a full-size human, when actually, a pebble would be like a boulder to her. Getting some of these details in will really solidify the story, I think.

    Have you read The Tales of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo? That’s a young MG that is very much a fairy tale. Might be an interesting comparison for you!

    Thank you so much for letting me read your work, Jessica. And as always, please ask questions as needed. Can’t wait to read your revision!

  7. Hello Jessica,

    Thank you for sharing your work with us today!

    I found your setting enchanting, and the language easy to follow, but overall I am still looking for the story here. If you were to give me a concise, one sentence summary of your story, what would it be? That central concept should in some way be represented in these opening pages. Now, that may well be the case. But if so, the reader can't quite pick up on it yet.

    As you revise, I urge you to consider these questions:

    1. Who is the main character? How can we meet them more quickly, and experience this setting through their eyes?

    2. What problem is the main character facing? Why is this a problem? How has their "normal" changed at the opening of the story?

    You obviously have talent with words, now let's rearrange things a bit to get the story front and center, so that we can hook your readers and keep them reading!

    My best,
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor