Sunday, May 15, 2016

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Konyak - Rev 1

Name: Sharyn Konyak
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: These Pieces of Me


CHAPTER ONE


The bottom of a lushravine envelops me, dense and suffocating, like a wave crashing over me, pinning me to the ocean bottom. For that moment of intense panic, I have no idea whichway is up. I thrash at the air hoping to find something to grab on to, that maygive me purchase on solid ground. A heaviness in my chest weighs me down,trapped and helpless. I am suspended, a puppet on a string tethered to someinvisible anchor, arms pinwheeling free, unable to rid myself of the harness.

Trees obscure my vision, a heavy velvet curtain blocking out the light. For what must be greenappears black swallowing the light, collapsing into the void. Is it day ornight? My eyes struggle to focus, tomake sense of the blackness. They search for a glint of light, catching flashes, fleeting and inconsistent. Perhaps a trick of the mind; an attempt tosee what can't be seen. I wait for the flashes to deliver me, save me from theconfusion. There are never enough to make sense. A panic continues to rise in me, threatening, to collapse onto me.

The smell of earth hassettled in my nostrils, damp and musty. It mingles with a chill that has, likewise,taken hold of my bones. My body perpetually aches. I feel nothing yeteverything. A sharp twinge of pain at my temple, a phantom ache in my kneeresonate in my consciousness.

I have the strange sensation I am not alone. Though I pray I am. A feeling of isolation coupledwith a sense of familiarity. The thought gives me comfort, a momentary sense ofpeace. I try to turn my head to locate someone, anyone. It's no use. All I seeis more blackness.

I hear a voice calling out across the distance. A sound both familiar and foreign. Its origin unclear.For a moment, I think the voice may be my own. I can't be sure. My lips aredry. My throat thick. My tongue sits heavy in my mouth, leathery and parched. Iswallow hard trying to rid myself of the acrid metallic taste. I doubt I can make a sound. I am powerless, a prisoner of some invisible force. The voicemust belong to another. Someone other than me. Someone in control. For although it searches, it does so with purpose, with authority. In a moment of clarity, Irealize it's my name I hear, because, for a brief moment, there is a sense ofrecognition, a comforting anchor in the chaos. I can't make out the voicethough an intense urgency pushes me toward it. I struggle to utter a sound, towill this mute tongue to issue more than a grunt. A word.

Here!

I'm here!

How long have I been here? Why am I here at all? Time seems to stand still and spin out of control,simultaneously.

Have they heard me?

Will they find me?

Can I be saved?

An intense panic washesover me yet there is an odd serenity in it. I feel someone reach out and grab my hand, attempting to pull me back from the edge just before I careen overinto the blackness. But the anchor is temporary. I feel myself slipping away.

And then, it all goesblack and it's over.

Until the next time.

CHAPTER TWO

I feel my heart racing,trying to escape my chest. Opening my eyes, I realize the experience, I've been living over and over again, with no resolution, is only a dream.

I can't remember the first time I had it, or how often, but I know it like my heartbeat, grounded inevery fiber of my being. The one thing familiar in all of this.

I am Olivia Callahan.That I know for certain. But, here. This place. This is not that tortured dream.

My mind comes into focus shortly after my eyes, surveying the scene around me, trying desperatelyto make sense of the images. Heart-shaped "Sweet 16" balloons fillthe room; swollen globes of purple and white bobbing around, adrift on a silentsea, their strings dancing just above the floor. Did I have a birthday? I can't recall. How could I have missed it? It's only August, after all. I've got a full month to go. Wait? 16? But I'm 13. I have to be. School just started. Freshman orientation. Locker set up with Joss and Maura.

My mind struggles to make a connection. This is my bedroom, familiar yet different to me now. Everywhere vases are bursting with big yellow sunflowers, my favorite, and the reason I painted my room this sunny never-turned-off color.

"Geez, Liv," my best friend, Maura, had joked. "It looks like a highlighter exploded all over your walls."

Our first attempt at painting left us both covered in the stuff but I couldn't have cared less. Though everyone's reaction was the same slightly uncomfortable 'WOW?!', I remember thinking no matter what happened, I could never have a bad day waking up in this room.

Get well soon cards line the ledge around the windowseat. Someone has taken the time to line them upby size, just as I would, their encouraging words and cheerful pictures creating their own little cheering section. I love that windowseat. It's my favorite place to curl up with a book or just stare out into the backyard and daydream. There have been days I never wanted to leave that windowseat.

I turn my focus inward. For the first time, I realize I feel safe. Secure in the moment and idea that I am neither tethered nor suspended, but stable and secure, comfortably perched on a soft mattress enveloped in blankets.

The chill has left me. Ifeel better. If this fogginess is what you can call feeling better. I've had this feeling before, just not quite this way. This hazy half-consciousness, like when Dad wakes me up, super early in the morning, and tells me some crazy thing he just read on the Internet. I've gotten good at faking interest. He thinks I'm awake, mumbles on about this or that and, satisfied he's imparted some knowledge I just couldn't survive without, finally gives up and goes back to his computer to search some more.

This time is different though. No dad.

As the fogginess continues to lift, there's a tightness at my temple. My hand reaches toward it, unconsciously, feeling scratchy nylon strings. The same ones that poke you when you've forgotten to carefully snip the tag off your new shirt. They’re vaguely familiar, reminding me of the five stitches I got in my shin once in 3rd grade. Forgot to use my brakes going down Canyon Road. Swore I'd never make that mistake again.

The clock on my nightstand reads 2:16 PM. Strange. I should be in school. But I'm here, in bed, wearing cuffed sweatpants and a hoodie marked with a giant neongreen X? You’ve got to be kidding me. I wouldn’t be caught dead in these mallstore clothes. I never dress to impress anyone but me. That's what Poppie says she loves best about me. 'You don't give a fig what they think. Do you, Magpie? That's what makes you a Callahan' he always says. Maybe he knows what is going on?

A stifled snore from behind me gets my attention. Kaydon? What is he doing here? Shouldn't he be at practice?

10 comments:

  1. I like your writing style and the information flows nicely. However, I have no idea what is going on. I am guessing that Olivia either suffered a traumatic brain injury or is ill in a way that affects her memory. Either way, I would love to read more to know what is happening in your story. You have pulled me in with this rewrite so well done!

    That said though, I wonder if you could get to it a bit quicker so the reader isn’t left not knowing what is going on well into the second chapter. By the end of this rewrite you are introducing new characters but I still don’t have a sense for Olivia other than her favorite color. The imagery is great and I can picture, at least somewhat, what is described in Chapter 1 but by several paragraphs into Chapter 2 I am still lost. It may just be me missing it but I would like more clarification or character development.

    Also, is Poppy a man or woman? You have she and he in that paragraph, just a typo but your eyes might be missing it.

    I am looking forward to your next rewrite. This is interesting and I hope to learn more about Olivia and her life.

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  2. Hello Sharyn,

    Your writing style is so evocative! I love how you use all of your senses, especially in the first chapter. With that said, a few things:

    — By taking out the mention that it’s a dream in the first chapter, I think you’ll leave readers feeling a bit more cheated at the start of chapter 2, when you say it was all just a dream. Then, the reader realizes everything they’ve just read isn’t actually real. If you really want to start the story with the dream, you should probably let the reader know up front what they’re getting into. I liked your first line from last week, I thought it was really good. I still think you should consider cutting down chapter one’s length - I’m not sure if the details in Ch 1 are really that important for the reader to know right now. The specific details of the dream might be way more useful later, when we learn that Liz is actually convalescing from an accident that she doesn’t remember. Then, the reader might be interested in seeing the dream’s details as to piece together what really happened. Right now, while we’re trying to get a foothold in the story, it just is a little confusing.

    — Chapter 2 still confused me. I’m not sure what information you are trying to convey about Liz, about what happened, about her dad. Is her dad is dead, or gone, or what? I think there just needs to be more direct explanations of what’s going on. For example, rather than:

    “As the fogginess continues to lift, there's a tightness at my temple. My hand reaches toward it, unconsciously, feeling scratchy nylon strings. The same ones that poke you when you've forgotten to carefully snip the tag off your new shirt. They’re vaguely familiar, reminding me of the five stitches I got in my shin once in 3rd grade. Forgot to use my brakes going down Canyon Road. Swore I'd never make that mistake again.”

    Maybe you could let us know that she touches her temple and feels a shaved head and a ragged line of stitches. Maybe there’s a scary amount of them. Maybe her head throbs when she moves, touches them — that way, we know the accident was recent and very serious. I think adding in the memory of the bike crash adds to the general sense of confusion. I’d much rather know what’s actually going on than learn about this Canyon Road memory, which feels like it’s there for characterization/backstory, but is actually unimportant to the forward thrust of the story.

    — The last two paragraphs threw me a bit. Who is Poppie? Who is Kaydon? In my mental image, she’s in bed, and usually a bed has a headboard against a wall. How can someone be snoring *behind* her? What do you mean by “mallstore” clothes? Is Poppie a grandfather or a grandmother? I’m assuming the she/he is a typo, but I’m not sure what his/her importance is, or why she/he needs to be introduced right now. Is Poppie just there as a characterizing detail? Because if so, again, I’d rather know more concrete details about Liz’s predicament that will inform me where the story might go moving forward.

    I really am curious more than every to know where the story is going. It would be really great if you took out some of the longer, more confusing backstory details and added in concrete bits that helped guide the reader towards a better understanding of what is actually happening in the scene. You’ve got such a wonderful way with words that I have a feeling that once there’s more clarity, it will be really, really excellent. I can’t wait for the next revision!

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  3. Hi Sharyn
    Tighter chapter one is definitely an improvement. We get to Olivia and some concrete specifics as well as action a bit more quickly, and once we’re with Olivia in chapter two, we feel more grounded and concerned. More interesting questions are raised which make us want to keep reading. What’s wrong with her? Why is she having these dreams and why is she in bed thinking she’s 13? So that’s great!

    However, I’m still worried about using her amnesia to start the story. I do understand that’s what this story is all about, and that you feel strongly about starting with this. And that’s totally your call. I also suspect that if the reader knows what the story is about, and they will from your pitch, the first chapter will be more intriguing and less confusing.

    But my fear is that in sending this out to agents and editors, 530 words (over a full two pages) of a dream-like beginning is still too long. That you will lose some of your readers in that all-important first page or two. If you are going to do this, I’m wanting you to at least get to “Here! I’m here,” faster. Like by page two, so somewhere between 250 and 350 words.

    I think you can still tighten what you have. Make each word work really hard. You use “panic” three times throughout, for example, and “voice” three times in the last paragraph (before “Here!”).

    The first paragraph is strong. But cut repetitive phrases that restate what you’ve already said in the following paragraphs.

    The following cuts are ONLY suggestions. But when I read the cut version, the paragraphs still gives me the same worried, confused feeling, but more efficiently. Take a look at these and then consider making your own choices.

    Trees obscure my vision, a heavy velvet curtain blocking out the light. For what must be green appears black swallowing the light, collapsing into the void. Is it day or night? My eyes struggle to focus, to make sense of the blackness. They search for a glint of light, catching (only) flashes, fleeting and inconsistent. Perhaps a trick of the mind; an attempt to see what can't be seen. I wait for the flashes to deliver me, save me from the confusion. There are never enough to make sense. A panic (Fear) continues to rise in me, threaten(s)ing, to collapse onto me.

    In the paragraph that starts with “I have the strange sensation I’m not alone,” I’d cut everything else after that.
    In the next paragraph, trim as well.

    Tighten the “dream” sequence ruthlessly and Olivia’s story has a better chance of grabbing the reader and holding them! And then of using the next pages to clarify the mystery of what has happened to Olivia.

    Yours,
    Ann

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  4. Here!
    Hi Sharyn
    I love the way you've developed chapter 2. Lots of things to perk my curiosity - the stitches at the temple, the neongreen sweatpants with the X sign . . .I really want to know what has happened to Olivia! Moreover, I can also get a better feel of her personality as shown through the color choice, dress sense, 'I don't give a damn' attitude, her liking for the window seat - these details flow effortlessly within the narrative.

    That said, I feel you need to do more to pull the reader in with Chapter 1. It's just a suggestion, but I'd start with:

    "Here!

    I'm here!

    How long have I been here? Why am I here at all? Time seems to stand still and spin out of control,simultaneously.

    Have they heard me?

    Will they find me?

    Can I be saved?

    An intense panic washesover me yet there is an odd serenity in it. I feel someone reach out and grab my hand, attempting to pull me back from the edge just before I careen overinto the blackness. But the anchor is temporary. I feel myself slipping away."

    You could add a trimmed version of the first 5 paras after this to explain Olivia's situation. This would get the reader right into the middle of all the tension and keep him/her guessing as to what is happening to the protagonist (they still don't know who he/she is - which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing).

    Also, I'd make it clear that this is a dream (like you did in the earlier version) if only because the story now reads like a literal, real time experience of the protagonist in the middle of a jungle adventure.

    Waiting to see more of what happens to Olivia!
    Regards
    Priya

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  5. Just a note: As you might guess, Chapter 2 is only the beginning of the chapter which I added to increase the word count.
    There also seems to be some strange formatting demon that took over my submission. It read fine in the email but now spaces have moved and words mixed together.
    Poppi, her grandfather, is most definitely a he.

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  6. I like the first chapter being a dream and the second chapter explaining that. It would encourage me to turn the page but I agree it is a little long. Maybe the dream can reveal a part of the trauma that happened to her. For example, maybe she feels her forehead and the stiches aren't there or smething like that.

    You say windowseat a lot in the one paragraph. It is quite repetitive.

    The comment the MC makes about not being caught dead in mall bought clothes is a little offensive. What is wrong with mall clothes? I feel like a lot of people would close the book assuming she is a rich snob. I was turned off by this. Maybe there is another way to comment on the clothes.

    I am very intrigued by this excerpt so you are definitely doing something right. I would read on.

    Sarah

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  7. Sharyn, just realized that the strike-outs I used to indicate sample cuts in the paragraph from chapter one, didn't make it into the comments!! I've been traveling all day today and was only able to check in now. Here's the tightened paragraph to show you what I mean:
    Trees obscure my vision, a heavy velvet curtain blocking out the light. What must be green appears black, swallowing the light. Is it day or night? My eyes struggle to focus, catching (only) flashes, fleeting and inconsistent. Perhaps a trick of the mind; (Fear) threaten(s), to collapse onto me.

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  8. Hi Sharyn,

    I appreciate the revisions that you made. The concrete imagery makes it feel more like a true scene, but I have to say that I truly still feel that you are starting in the wrong place. The purpose of your first chapter--and especially the first five pages--is to connect your reader to your characters and to the story question. As it is currently written, I am too busy trying to figure out wha t is going on to *care* about what is going on. That means that, by starting here, you risk doing two additional things that you don't want to do.

    1) You are losing the opportunity to share something unique and *inviting* enough about you character to make me want to keep reading.

    2) You are leaving the reader disoriented and feeling as though reading on is going to be hard work--and perhaps not worth the effort.

    3) You are at risk of having readers feel betrayed when they realize this is a dream and their own perceptions were manipulated by the author. (Giving them a twist later in the story is great--faking them out at the beginning can alienate some people.)

    Sorry to be so blunt, but your writing is good and I think there is a story idea here that deserves to be explored and shared with readers. I hate to see you spend time agonizing over something that will ultimately work against you.

    As for the rest, try pulling out the filter words that tell us about the emotion and experiences that she is feeling and bring us closer to your mc by deepening your POV.

    For example:

    I feel my heart racing,trying to escape my chest. Opening my eyes, I realize the experience, I've been living over and over again, with no resolution, is only a dream.

    I can't remember the first time I had it, or how often, but I know it like my heartbeat, grounded inevery fiber of my being. The one thing familiar in all of this.

    I am Olivia Callahan.That I know for certain. But, here. This place. This is not that tortured dream.

    Could become something like ---

    The dream again. The same dream. I know it as well as I know the frantic, racing rhythm of my heart, but I can't remember the first time I dreamt it, or how often it comes. I can't remember much of anything.

    I am Olivia Callahan. That I know for certain. But, everything else is hazy, as though now that I have managed to break free of the dream, I have woken to an unfamiliar landscape.

    That's a start that would orient the reader, but you could add a bit of her struggle to wake and break free in there. GROUND us within your character and make us feel with her instead of telling us about her feelings!

    I still love the greeting cards and the party material that you use to tell us about the time she has lost. I think you could shorten the second chapter a bit as well--bottom line, get to the story faster. : )

    There are a lot of great moments in this piece, but remember that you not only have to get past your critique partners, you have to get through the readers at an agent, the agent, the editor, the publisher's acquisition panel, reviewers, and ultimately the book-buying public in order to get your work out to people--at least in traditional publishing. I TRULY feel that you can accomplish your goals without risking having your work dismissed because too many other YA novels have already begun with a dream.

    Looking forward to reading more.

    ReplyDelete