Sunday, March 20, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workhop - Viner-Daniels Rev 2

Name: Sarah Viner-Daniels
Genre: Young adult, dystopia
Title: Landfall

16 year old Esther knows she has to look out for herself. She was born on the Arcadia, a shanty town grown from the rusting hull of a cruise ship. Life aboard can be dangerous. Resources are scarce, gangs fight for power and no one can leave without permission. At least Esther has a chance at escape. If she works hard and stays out of trouble she’ll win a place at medical school on shore, and leave the dangers and privations of her childhood behind.

Her dreams of a different life are threatened when Esther is kidnapped and forced to save the life of a teenage boy. She survives, but the repercussions of that night can’t be left behind. A gang leader puts a price on her head. She learns that her sister is determined to join an illegal rebel group. The Coalies, a brutal armed unit sent aboard by the government, have her in their sights. And the person she trusts the most is following her every move.

As government forces close in on the ship and her dreams slip further away, Esther must choose: fight for herself, or fight for her people.  


Sunday 19.00 Federal Standard Time

Gentle-moderate westerly wind


Expect small wavelets

A gust lifts the edges of my homework and threatens to blow the sheets over the rail and into the sea. That’s the last thing I need. I don't want to pull an all-nighter, and I definitely don’t want to explain to Harry why I can’t turn in my assignment. This close to graduation I can’t afford to let my grades slip.

I weigh the loose pages down with what remains of my dinner: a pile of teardrop mussel shells that rattle against each other, topped off with a crust of stale bread. Goose flesh puckers the skin on my arms so I shake out the blanket from the back of my chair and wrap it around my shoulders. It itches like it’s crawling with bugs.

The Lookout draws people in like moths whenever the wind brings icy fingers from the Atlantic. It’s the only place on board you can go for sit down food or a hot drink. The cafe is held up on a wide disc of planks, open to the sky and hanging over the water like a balcony. The coffee stinks, I’m sure they reuse the grounds. But it's the view I come for. Every butt-chilling metal chair faces the city. Tonight the sun is slung low behind the skyscrapers, creating a jagged silhouette dotted with hundreds of home fires burning. The government’s eyes, humming white drones sewn onto the sky, keep watch to see that no one swims ashore. Up here, I can forget the waves that separate me from the city.

At least I’ve got a shot. Other people are trapped here for life. My test scores were adequate. My family showed their loyalty. And the government judged me promising enough to educate. Of course I’ll never be a full citizen. Wherever I go they’ll keep track of me with a GPS implant, legged and spider-like under my skin. But it’s got to be better than spending my days here, in this shanty town that grew up from the carcass of a cruise ship.

A ping tells me I have a message waiting. A joyful noise for bad tidings. It’ll be Mum wanting to know my location. A glance at the scuffed plastic comband around my wrist confirms it. “Esther, it’s almost dark. Are you in?”     

I’ve stayed too long. Again. Sighing (louder than I’d dare if Mum was here), I wipe my buttery fingers on a napkin and tap out a lie: “With Alex, home soon.” I pull the strap of my medical bag onto my shoulder and stuff the pages of homework inside, trying hard to stamp on the irritation that’s already picking at me. Mum will moan the second I walk through the door, saying I need to be more careful. Tread quietly. Lower my eyes. And never stay out once it gets dark. Mum wraps her worries around me and May until we can barely breathe. I want to say that I already button my waxed jacket up under my chin, and that I never wear my hair loose, but it wouldn’t do any good.

I weave a path between the sticky plastic covered table tops, heading for the exit. There’s a yell from the walkway on the next level so I look up, just in time to see a pale hand clutching a small white rectangle. The rectangle swings through the air, shattering into a hundred sheets of paper that drift out and down towards the Lookout. The sheets catch the last dregs of the day’s light as they fall, making them glow.

Hands are already grabbing at the white leaves before their arcs meet the ground. Paper litters the floor and tabletops, a black and white snowdrift lined with text.

I anchor my feet to the deck. I should leave now. I shouldn’t even think about reading the message. Getting busted for possession of propaganda would blow any chance I have of getting into med school. But then, all the other customers are taking the chance. A quick glance can’t do any harm.

Crouching, I snatch a leaflet that’s laying against the toe of my boot. My hand trembles. I face the sea and hunch my shoulders, shielding the forbidden rectangle of paper from the view of anyone aboard. With a shake in my fingers I uncurl the leaflet and flatten it against my palm. It’s a photocopy of a newspaper report. There’s a blurred photo of a cruise ship underneath words in blocks of black: OASIS OF THE SEA CLEARED.

“Coalies!” someone shouts behind me.

The leaflet I’m clutching could be a cinder straight from the stove, I drop it as fast.
A whimper rises from the cafe’s patrons. People let leaflets fall from their hands. Steel chairs screech against the metal deck. Still steaming drinks are abandoned. Half eaten sandwiches are left to the yellow-eyed gulls. A crowd bottlenecks at the exit, people push each other back in their need to get away from the reams of evidence strewn over the cafe. No one wants to be caught near all that.  

A girl thuds to the ground next to me. I hear her groan and turn to help her up, but a team of Coalies hustles into the Lookout. Armoured and visored with guns the length of my arm. Panic stretches the girl’s eyes.

I’ve seen that collision of fear and resignation before. Our neighbour didn’t fight when the Coalies searched his cabin for contraband. He stood by his front door, arms loose by his sides and body slack like he was filled with sand. His eyes clamoured from face to face, looking for a clue that something would save him. He never came back.

The girl looks at me through strands of dampened hair that stick to her lips and move in time with her breath.

Don’t get caught up. Look after yourself. Let her escape, or not, on her own. 
I ball my fists and force myself to leave her behind.   

When there are three decks between me and the Lookout I slow down. I keep checking over my shoulder but there’s no sign of the Coalies. They’ll be too busy rounding people up in the Lookout to chase after the ones that scattered.

A bitter film of guilt and adrenaline coats the back of my tongue. The blurred grayscale image of the cruise ship; the wide eyes of that girl lying on the floor; the surge of the Coalies. I shake my head to dislodge the thoughts and break into a jog for the long stretch to the back of the ship. I’m almost home.

My hobnailed boots are too heavy for running, and the muscles in my calves scream in complaint after a few steps. I ignore the burning in my legs, and concentrate on the clack-clack of the nail studded boot soles against the deck. My great-grandparents wouldn’t recognise the Arcadia. Since they dropped anchor here the ship has been expanded. Barges and floating shacks carpet the sea around the rusting hull. The upper decks heave with balconies and new floors lashed together from scavenged wood. Only a few stretches survive that are long enough to sprint down, and during the day I’d have to dodge around people and the animals they let out to sun.


  1. Pitch first:

    I like the beginning, but then the obstacles seem more like a random list of things that happen. We need to see how each obstacle stands in the way of her goal. How is saving (or not saving) the boy standing in her way? Same thing with her sister. Each obstacle needs to be a thing she must overcome in order to go to medical school. Finally, I think it needs to be more clear who the antagonist is and why he or they are trying to stop her.


  2. I'm still intrigued by your opening! It reads very similarly to last week's. You do a good job of setting the scene. I still wonder what getting into med school means for the MC. I know it's important from a factual basis, but does she want that? Does she want off the boat too? It seems she's annoyed about her mom's overprotective ways.... Is she in fact being overprotective? The stakes seem very high and the place sounds dangerous. Those are my only notes. It sounds interesting!!

    Regarding the pitch, I got caught up on why she'd be she important? Just wondering as she seems like an "every person" in the opening.

    Good luck!

  3. Pitch: I like it, but I think you need to show how all the issues mentioned in it affect your main character and why they're important. Very interesting, though!

    Revision: I thought all your little changes made for a much stronger opening. The atmosphere was great. But I'd like to know more about what Esther thinks about being a med student - is this what she wants, or does she just want to get off the ship? How does she feel about the restrictions of the government?

    Also, I agree with the comment above: is her mum really being overprotective, or is Esther just being a typical teenager and thinking so?

    Great job!

  4. It's awesome how every revision gets stronger. You're definitely finding your footing with the beginning and I really love it. Especially the description of the shantytown. That's awesome, thank you. :)

    My biggest suggestion at this point is just that you read your work out loud to catch any rough spots and smooth everything out. To be honest, I'm not really bothered by the whole overprotective mom question, or why she wants off the boat. A sentence or two of expounding on those would probably work, but honestly, (for me anyway,) this first five pages does pretty much what it needs to do. Great job!

    Your pitch is intriguing, but I do think you could pare it down a little. Who is Esther, what does she want, and what is getting in her way? You don't need to expound on all the subplots really. Being specific, yet vague is sort of a weird balance in pitches and it takes practice. For example, (and this is just an example, obviously, since I haven't read your full story), your second paragraph could read like this:

    "But Esther's dreams of a different life begin to unravel when she's pressed into saving the life of a teenage boy, something that sets her at odds with both the government and the gangs. Dragged into a rebellion she didn't choose, and unsure who to trust, Esther must make a decision: fight for herself, or fight for her people."

    Here you have the inciting incident, the major players and what is standing in Esther's way, a fomenting rebellion and being forced to get involved against her will, and her big choice, which is to save herself or try and save everyone else. You could get even more specific, by specifying what the rebels want, as long as you don't give so much detail that we are confused.

    (Incidentally, I really like that her choice as presented in the pitch is the same one she makes in miniature when she doesn't help the girl up in the start of the book. It's a great way to present that fundamental pull between self-preservation and helping that Esther already feels.)

    Hopefully this doesn't read as too disjointed. I really like your pages and your pitch and I think you are definitely on the right track. Good luck!

  5. On to the smaller things:
    -I'm not sure I understand why she would put muscle shells on her homework. Wouldn't that make it wet and smelly?
    -Is Harry her teacher? This doesn't sound like something she'd call a teacher.
    -It confuses me when you call the ship a town. Maybe something like community would be better, unless it is actually considered a town?
    -Watch the placements of your similes. There are two in a row ("It itches like it’s crawling with bugs. The Lookout draws people in like moths...")
    -Watch for the times when you are giving the action to a noise or action. You do so twice in this paragraph. "A ping tells me I have a message waiting... A glance at the scuffed plastic comb..."
    -It takes a long time for her to get moving after someone yells Coalies. I think we would feel the panic more if she at least tried to move right away, but somehow couldn't. Also, it doesn't quite make sense why she leaves the girl behind when she isn't even moving yet. The guilt that follows would be stronger if it actually felt like she was trying to save her rather than just giving her a quick glance.
    -In the final paragraph, you say she's concentrating on the sound of her boots, but then go on to describe the look of the Arcadia. If she's concentrating on the sound of her boots, then you should show that and not contradict it.

    Best of luck!

  6. Hi Sarah,

    I think you have the bones of your pitch written really well, i.e. the MC, her brief background, the danger, stakes, etc. They just need to be connected together, maybe in a different way, so they flow.

    I like this new revision, because now I’m getting a sense of how dangerous the Coalies can be, which I think was missing in the first drafts. I think the ending paragraph could have a better hook to it. Perhaps it would be as easy as switching “My hobnailed boots are too heavy for running, and the muscles in my calves scream in complaint after a few steps. I ignore the burning in my legs, and concentrate on the clack-clack of the nail studded boot soles against the deck” to the end.

    Great job!

  7. Hi Sarah,

    You offer us lots and lots of details that help the reader visualize the scene on the ship. Excellent job with that.

    I'd like more of a tight focus within the scene. Right now it seems to jerk from one thought to another: med school, dinner, the city view, wanting to leave the ship a lifetime of being tracked. I can't quite get what her most important goal is right now. Going to med school? Getting off the ship? Helping others get off the ship? Relaxing and staying safe while she can?

    Whatever that goal is probably her thoughts and actions should be more focused on that goal. That would likely ramp up the engagement.

    Keep up the great writing.


  8. Wow--the improvements in these revisions have been so dramatic, and it's great to see! I love how you cut the info dump about the Coalies and just put one very effective paragraph in that SHOWS the Coalies are oppressive, scary law enforcement (I would specify that the Coalies dragged the neighbor away and he never came back).

    Miriam's guidance to read the pages aloud to catch awkwardness or repetition is wise. I think there are still a few places that could be trimmed for excess (e.g., legged and spider-like<--by definition, spiders have eight legs, so is "legged" really necessary? Would the phrase have more impact if you deleted it?). Overall, though, I think this is a pretty strong beginning that gives a good sense of the set up.

    Regarding the pitch, my first reaction was that there was a lot going on--and that the contrast you describe in that final sentence came out of nowhere. In rereading, I think it's because you are trying to cover so many things, and you might want to revise with a focus on that prioritizing self vs. others conflict in the context of her world. Right now, I don't see how she's torn between protecting others vs saving herself, because the only real mention of a group of others ("her people") is this rebel group her sister has joined, but it's literally one mention and hard to see how anything else that's happening is connected to it. If you want that final sentence to make sense and have impact, you must build up to it!

    I see some extremely lovely writing in these pages, Sarah. If you work on focusing and trimming in general, it's going to let your talent really shine through. Best of luck!

  9. The shanty-town-on-a-cruise-ship setting is original and evocative and immediately drew me in, but I had trouble visualizing it. Is it on the water? On land? If the town grew out of the ship, are there other structures attached to the ship? How far from land? How did people get there and why do they live there?

    “Esther is kidnapped and forced to save the life of a teenage boy” This detail is confusing without more context and/or specifics. Is there another way to express this?

    “Her dreams of a different life are threatened when Esther is kidnapped and forced to save the life of a teenage boy. She survives, but the repercussions of that night can’t be left behind. A gang leader puts a price on her head. She learns that her sister is determined to join an illegal rebel group. The Coalies, a brutal armed unit sent aboard by the government, have her in their sights. And the person she trusts the most is following her every move.”

    Too much is happening in this second paragraph and it’s confusing. Still having trouble visualizing if this is a town on a ship. If much of our understanding of the plot (even in synopsis) is dependent on having a strong visual of this world, we need a clear picture, and also some minimal context on why this world exists. What were the circumstances?

    Additionally, why is she being pursued by a government group? Who is the person she trusts most? Why is he/she disloyal? When you string plot details together without the background on each detail, it becomes confusing quickly.

    As an agent, the number one reason I stop reading a query is confusion. So I would recommend making sure that the pitch is clear, if nothing else.

    “As government forces close in on the ship”: I thought the ship was the place she was trying to escape? And that the armed force had already taken over the ship? It’s hard to understand the drama if we don’t understand the set-up.

    “As her dreams slip further away”: What dreams? Of escape? Of medical school? Does she want to be a doctor? As readers, we don’t know what she wants yet.

    “Fight for herself or fight for her people”: Set this up or don’t include it. Why does fighting for her people mean giving up herself? Where was this dichotomy established?

    I had trouble visualizing these scenes. When she’s looking out from the ship to land, there are drones? Where? Floating in the sky? Attached to buildings? You mention house fires…But how is she seeing the home fires burning? In fireplaces? Or are the homes on fire?

    “A joyful noise for bad tidings”: I liked this line!

    “I want to say that I already button my waxed jacket up under my chin, and that I never wear my hair loose, but it wouldn’t do any good”: Explain why these things matter.