Sunday, March 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Barnes Rev 1

Name:  Joel Barnes
Title:  The Zipper
Genre:  Middle Grade Fantasy
The pre-dawn blackness quickly swallowed Kelly.  The night loomed dark and scary, far scarier than she’d expected.  A few widely scattered stars dotted the dark sky; the sliver of a quarter moon hung low in the horizon.   Menacing silhouettes—trees, bushes, a chain link fence—closed in around her.
A shiver of fright shot through her stomach.  Kelly hesitated, glancing back at the house where a faint light glowed through the kitchen window.  Why did I ever leave my bedroom?  She fumbled with the camera slung around her neck.  The photography contest.  Capturing a portfolio of pre-dawn pictures might give her a shot at the first place prize, a to-die-for Nikon camera. 
She’d better get going.  She pulled a piece of watermelon bubblegum out of the back pocket of her shorts, shoved it into her mouth and hurried away from the house.
Kelly’s pencil-thin shadow stretched out beside her as she covered the hundred feet of patchy grass separating the shadowy house from a white storage barn.  Her ears found the sounds of the Florida night—the shrill chirping of crickets, the eerie screech of a wood owl, the distant croaking of a frog—creepy.  She passed the storage barn, and her feet met the narrow path leading into the dense woods that surrounded the house.
She had traveled this same path hundreds of times, but never before alone in the dark.  Her heart raced as a canopy of leaves closed over her and the sky faded from view.  She wished she had her flashlight.
Her fears multiplied as she ventured deeper into the thick darkness.  Dried leaves crunched beneath each tentative step.  Low hanging branches whipped across her face, stinging her cheeks.  She wrinkled her nose at the pungent odor of decaying leaves.
She reached a temporary break in the tunnel of darkness when the path curved into a small grove of short trees.  When her gaze shifted upward to welcome the glimmer of moonlight that penetrated onto the path, her sneakers caught on the rough edges of an exposed root.  Her hands shot out as she tumbled onto the path.
Her anger boiling up, she kicked the root.  She jerked the black Marlins baseball cap off her head and slammed it against the ground.
She could have been asleep in her bed, safe and comfortable like any normal thirteen-year-old.  But no, normal wasn’t good enough for her, not for Kelly Thomas.  She had to crawl out of bed at the insane hour of 5:15.  And why?  To be scared out of her socks?  To fall flat on her face? 
Hands shaking, she ran her fingers through her hair.  Could she go on, this frustrated and this scared, with the woods ahead looming so dark?  But, the contest.  Without the pictures she could kiss any hope of winning that camera good-bye.  No, she couldn’t leave the woods empty-handed.  She had no other choice but to suck it up and go get the shots.  This was no time for a pity party.
She walked on, resolved that neither fear nor darkness would stop her from taking those pictures.
Her fears walked with her as the path twisted beneath a canopy of interlacing limbs.  When her gaze darted toward the dense jumble of dark shapes and shadows on both sides of the path, her mind envisioned a dreaded something silently stalking beside her.  Without warning, it could explode onto the path, all dagger-sharp teeth and flesh-slashing claws.
To her relief, the unnamed something never materialized and a couple hundred yards into the woods, she reached her destination, a dense clump of short bushes. 
Ahead of her, on the other side of the bushes, stretched a sizeable clearing filled with low-growing grasses, the grazing grounds of the white-tailed deer.  She sank onto her knees and tucked herself in tightly behind the bushes, making certain she had an unobstructed view of the clearing.  Settled in, she crammed another wad of watermelon gum into her mouth and readied her camera.
Then she waited in the silence of the clearing and the darkness of the woods for dawn to arrive.
Soon Kelly noticed a tiny red glimmer hanging just over the tree-tops.  Its jagged edges gradually expanded until the sun’s first light began to penetrate the woods, sending shimmering rays reflecting off the gathered dew.  The sunlight revealed six or seven white-tailed deer grazing in the clearing.  Kelly quaked with excitement and her fingers shook as she raised the camera to snap her first photograph.
First she zoomed in on a large buck with light brown fur, surprised at the size of its antlers.  Next her focus shifted to a doe. Beautiful.  She was careful to capture the white patches of fur on its throat and underbelly.  A thrill shot through her when a fawn scrambled up on spindly legs from its hiding place in the grass.  She focused her camera on its huge, soft eyes and the white spots that dotted the reddish brown fur.
The buck shattered the tranquility of the moment when it whipped its head around and snorted, shaking its antlers and stomping its hooves.  Then, raising its pointed tail, the white underside flashing in the dim light, it bolted into the woods and out of sight, the rest of the herd streaking close behind.  She snapped frantically, realizing she’d probably get nothing for her trouble but blurry backsides.  Great!  Her prime-time photo op had just evaporated like the morning mist.
Kelly lowered her camera, her hopes of capturing any more deer dashed.  As she began previewing her pictures, a rustling in the foliage caught her attention.  She peered across the clearing in the direction of the noise.  Tree limbs were bending and then splintering with loud snaps and with cracks that sounded like rifle shots.
A blast of wind surged across the clearing.  A split second later a huge shape exploded out of the trees.  Kelly gasped as an immense creature materialized near the edge of the clearing, shaking the ground and stealing her breath.             
Kelly found herself staring at a beast that stood taller than a house and stretched out half as long.  The behemoth crouched on two powerful legs as thick as tree trunks.  Her gaze locked in on the huge teeth and the flesh-ripping claws.  Her shocked mind reeled in disbelief, reluctant to accept what her eyes clearly saw.  Across the clearing stood a T. rex.  As in Tyrannosaurus rex. The most feared predator to ever walk the earth.


  1. Hi Joel,
    I think this starts in a much stronger place. I really feel the way that Kelly is torn between her fear of going out in the dark and wanting to get a great shot.

    I think now you can work on the details to make sure every sentence is working for your story. My comments are going to sound really picky, so as always, take them or leave them.

    In the section with her reaching the clearing I wanted some extra detail about setting up her shots. Photography is an art form and I feel that if Kelly was a serious photographer she'd have a deep knowledge of cameras, lighting, shot angles etc. In that paragraph you have the chance to give some snippets of information that your reader might not already know, but that show Kelly to be knowledgeable. She could for instance look to see where the light is, you could talk about her changing some settings. I don't know - I'm a point and click person - but Kelly shouldn't be.

    Stags are huge and I like the way you kind of hint at something monstrous when you're describing him, but I wanted more. These are big muscular things, and I think you should be foreshadowing your 'monster' vibe right there. I want to be thinking that Kelly has just faced off with something intimidating, but then the real monster crashes onto the scene and all of a sudden Kelly's understanding of scary is cranked up a notch.

    The paragraph where she's walking with her fears and also worries that something is stalking her is probably too much. I'd choose either one or the other to focus on.

    For my taste, I'd remove the adverbs, but obviously we might disagree on that.

    My final comment is about the deer. The deer offer you the chance to set your scene without saying it's cold/warm etc. Deer anatomy and social structure change with the season. Male deer lose their antlers in the winter (every winter), while they grow back they are covered in velvet that they rub off against trees. This gives you some pretty vivid imagery to use as a way to tell the reader what season you're in. They also change groupings at different times of the year. I guess what I'm saying is that this is a pretty rich source of getting info to your reader.

    Congrats, good luck with the pitch this week.

  2. I thought your previous opening was pretty good, but this one is tons better!

    I thought the beginning, especially, with Kelly dithering between wanting the photos and being scared was SO good.

    And the last paragraph, your introduction of the T-Rex here is stupendous. Great job!

    I think (and this sounds contrary to last time, I know, but I struggle with this too!) that now you might want to add more description - of the setting, at least, and the deer. Just to really bring it to life.

    I think you could perhaps show better as well that Kelly is serious about her photography. You have her wanting a new camera, but perhaps include a little technical jargon (not too much!) about lighting/contrast/etc. It makes Kelly more interesting and also shows WHY she'd want this awesome new camera.

    Great job!

  3. I thought your previous opening was pretty good, but this one is tons better!

    I thought the beginning, especially, with Kelly dithering between wanting the photos and being scared was SO good.

    And the last paragraph, your introduction of the T-Rex here is stupendous. Great job!

    I think (and this sounds contrary to last time, I know, but I struggle with this too!) that now you might want to add more description - of the setting, at least, and the deer. Just to really bring it to life.

    I think you could perhaps show better as well that Kelly is serious about her photography. You have her wanting a new camera, but perhaps include a little technical jargon (not too much!) about lighting/contrast/etc. It makes Kelly more interesting and also shows WHY she'd want this awesome new camera.

    Great job!

  4. Hi Joel,

    This is coming along nicely. It gets better as it moves forward. I don't miss Kelly's morning routine at all in this version. I do feel, however, that the first paragraph doesn't have the nice rhythm and pacing that the rest of the excerpt does.

    The short first sentence followed by two instances of the word "dark," and also the overused "dark and scary" took me out of the moment.

    I know this is an easy fix so don't let it worry you!

    The rest of the passage is good, and I really like where it's going. As she is taking pictures, I wanted to read an italicized "click" in there, to bring that scene to life. Some may disagree with this, though. I like doing that kind of thing as long as you don't overdo it. Talk about the shutter clicking, the way the camera feels in her hands, etc. That might help the scene come to life even more.

    So good job.

  5. This opening is much stronger! I also feel more grounded knowing why she's going through all of this: the camera! I also like the watermelon gum to show us her youth.

    I thought your descriptions of the wildlife were well-done, and for me, it was as technical as it needed to be. In fact, my only comments on your entry are that I'd like to know more about Kelly and her world in these five pages than about photography or the woods.

    For instance, meeting T-Rex at the end is awesomely shocking, yet, it's so unusual that part of me would like to a.) know how she responds to this as I'll learn a lot more about Kelly's personality; and b.) I'd like to know what sort of world I'm in. For example, is this a Florida where weird things happen? Does Kelly have a history of run-ins with monsters? Does she tell tall tales? Is she lonely and invents things? Who is she?

    I know she's a pretty determined kid to get up so early to get a chance of winning this camera, but obviously she already has one. This might be a good chance to let us know more about her. Is she just borrowing the camera she's using? Did she sneak it from her parents? Is she just using an old point-and-shoot? Is this Nikon something she knows her parents would never buy her? I guess I would just like to know more about Kelly. I think it would hook me more if I had more feelings about her, and if I felt more grounded in this world.

    This being said, I think your writing and the premise is really interesting! My personal preference is on connecting with character. Otherwise: great!

  6. Hi Joel,

    A great opening, I’m getting the tension and the peeks of spooky right from the bat. I think you addressed the previous comments on it very, very well.

    Again, since I don’t read MG, take this with a grain of salt, but I felt like some of the words would be better suited to YA or older readers, like ‘resolved,’ ‘insane hour,’ etc. But I could be totally wrong! Overall from the flow of the writing it still felt MG to me (or as best as I know), but those random pops of words kind of drew my eye.

    I really, really think cutting out some excessive words in the beginning, as stated by the other workshop participants, will free up space for you to go into how Kelly feels when she’s encountered by a T-REX. I joke that sometimes I let my inner velociraptor loose when I’m mad (or around seafood), and it’s such a great punch of a scene to realize there’s a dinosaur in front of her, I’m left hanging without experiencing what Kelly feels – excitement, terror, shock, etc.


  7. Well, take my feedback with a grain of salt, because I'm a YA writer, but I wanted a *hint* of her family life and peer relationships in this first five. Right now she's a girl with a camera, and what's here is really good, but I want to be grounded a little more in her world. There was obviously more of that in the first iteration, but I feel like it's missing entirely here. It wouldn't take much at all, just a musing that if only so-and-so could see her now, he would be so jealous! Or something about how she'd left a note so her parents wouldn't freak (or how she would have left a note if she thought they'd care). Just hints of her interpersonal life that I assume we'll see more thoroughly as the story unfolds. It will also give you a chance to reveal a bit more of Kelly's personality, because right now she seems determined enough to push through some fear, but we're not seeing much that's truly distinctive about her even though I assume it's there.

    I think you're probably starting in the right place in this story, but I do think that because you've chosen to have your first chapter be your character alone and not interacting, it's more of a challenge to really show who the protagonist is (without telling). And I think it's worth exploring ways of doing that--nothing that requires a massive overhaul, but just experiment with brief references and see how far it gets you. best of luck!

  8. Hi Joel,

    Thanks for sharing your revision with us!

    I agree that this opening gets us started in the right scene, but now I'd like to look a bit more closely at how you lead us into the story. A good way to evaluate this is by reading the passage aloud. Imagine you are sitting in front of a group of readers, sharing your opening. How can you make it more clear what this story is about? How can you introduce them to the world in a way that shows the world's scary qualities, instead of telling them that it's scary?

    Because this is in third person, we have a bit of distance between the reader and the protagonist. I would like to be in her head a bit more, and not just in physical cues about her fear. I'd like to understand her goal from early on so that I can cheer for her. This will require some telling, but the kind of internal, voice-driven telling that can be very captivating in MG.

    What is she thinking while all of this is happening? She's not just existing in that moment. She's thinking about connotations that come to mind. About what happened in class that day. About what she has to do tomorrow. We will need to fully exist in her mind to be hooked as to the central story question. I know her scene goal is photos, but why does this matter so much? That's the central story question we need to feel here, which usually arises from the character's wound and want.

    Keep finessing!

    My best