Sunday, May 8, 2016

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Konyak

Name: Sharyn Konyak
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Title: These Pieces of Me


It's the same dream every time.

The bottom of a lush ravine envelops me, dense and suffocating like a wave crashing over me pinning me to the ocean bottom. For that split second, that moment of intense panic, I have no idea which way is up. I thrash at the air hoping to find something to grab on to, something that may give 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 some invisible anchor, arms pinwheeling free, unable to rid myself of the harness.

There are trees but they obscure my vision, a heavy velvet curtain blocking out the light. It is impossible to know whether it is day or night, for what must be green appears black swallowing the light, collapsing into the void. My eyes struggle to focus, to catch a glimpse, to make sense of the blackness. They search for a glint of light, catching 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, safe from the confusion but there's never enough to make sense of things. A panic continues to rise in me, threatening to choke me out, to collapse onto me.

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

I have the strange sensation that I am not alone in this dream, though I pray that I am. The feeling of isolation coupled with a sense of familiarity. The thought gives me comfort, a momentary sense of peace. I try to turn my head to locate my silent partner but it's no use. All I see is more blackness, an unfilled void.

I can hear someone calling out, a voice across the distance. It is a sound both familiar and foreign. It's origin unclear. For a moment, I think the voice may be my own. I can't be sure. I doubt I can make a sound. My lips are dry, my throat thick. My tongue sits heavy in my mouth, leathery and parched. I swallow hard trying to rid myself of the acrid metallic taste, the feeling I have been sucking on a paper clip.

I feel powerless, a prisoner of some invisible force. This place I'm trapped in threatens to cave in on me, bury me alive. I feel the voice must belong to another. Someone other than me. Someone in control. For it searches, with purpose, with authority.

In a moment of clarity, I realize it's my name I hear, because, for a brief moment, there is a sense of recognition, a comforting anchor in the chaos. I can't make out the voice yet an intense urgency pushes me toward it. I struggle to utter a sound, to will this mute tongue to issue more than a grunt. A word.


I'm here!

I can't tell how long I've been here or why I'm 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 sense of panic comes over 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 over into the blackness. But the anchor is temporary for I feel myself slipping away.

And then, it all goes black and it's over.

Until the next time.


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

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

I am Olivia Callahan. That I know for certain.

But, here. This place I find myself in. This is not the tortured dream. This is something else, somewhere else.

My mind comes into focus shortly after my eyes, surveying the scene around me trying desperately to make sense of the images. Heart-shaped "Sweet 16" balloons fill the room. Swollen globes of purple and white bobbing all around, adrift on a silent sea. Their strings dancing just above the floor. Oh, my God! Did I have a birthday? I can't recall. Did I miss it? But how? It's only August. I've got a full month to go. Wait, that can't be right either. 16. I'm only 13. School just started. Freshman orientation. Locker set up with Joss and Maura. That weird chat with Kirsty.

My mind struggles to make a connection. This is a bedroom. My bedroom. Yes, the room is mine, familiar yet somehow different. Everywhere vases are bursting with flowers, big yellow sunflowers. They are 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 had left us both covered in the stuff but I couldn't have cared less. Even 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 of the sill around the window seat. Someone has taken the time to line them up by size, just like I would have. Their encouraging words and cheerful pictures create their own little cheering section. I love that window seat. It's my favorite place to curl up with a book or just stare out onto the backyard and daydream. There have been days I never wanted to leave that window seat.

Having taken inventory of my surroundings, I turn my focus inward. Secure in the moment and the idea that I am neither tethered nor suspended, but rather stable and secure, comfortably perched on a soft mattress enveloped in blankets.

The chill has left me and I feel better. If this fogginess is what you can call feeling better. I've felt it before, the fogginess, but not quite this way. A hazy half-consciousness. Like the way Dad seems to have this uncanny knack for waking me up right in the middle of a dream and telling 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 that he's just imparted some important knowledge I just couldn't survive without, finally gives up and goes back to his computer.

This time is different though. No dad.


  1. Beware the dream sequence as your opening. I wonder how it would work if you flip chapters 1 and 2, or woven pieces of chapter 1 into chapter 2 (flashes of the dream as she is waking up into full consciousness). It is my understanding that it is a huge red flag for agents/publishers. The descriptions are good but I don’t know what is happening in the first chapter. I don’t know who the mc is, what the arc is, and I am left feeling confused. By the end of the 1250 words, I still do not know what is going on, which is okay, but I don’t have any sense of the arc or the mc.

    I like your writing style and feel pulled in by your prose, which is clear and compelling. So far, it is very heavy narration without much action or dialogue which affects the pacing. I don’t know the mc enough to root for her but I am not wanting to find out more about her. What are her motives? What is wrong with her, if anything? I would definitely continue reading. What you have written in these first 1250 words is certainly interesting.

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  3. Hello Sharyn,

    I love the first line! It’s an excellent hook. I’m immediately curious and pulled in. But then... you lose me a little. It feels like the dream goes on for too long, and I lose interest. It’s just a dream, so as the reader I know the stakes aren’t actually *real.* Even though the details of this dream might be important later on, which is what I’m guessing, I would cut it down now, because the reader isn’t yet attached to your character, has no idea why this is important, and a little voice is telling me, “it’s just a dream, so none of this really matters, right?” I’d cut the description of the dream sequence down from ~630 to about 250, max, if you want to start with the dream. Also, as an aside, the first chapter felt a little sci-fi to me. I don’t know if that was intentional or not.

    I do feel quickly connected to your protagonist, which I think is an important thing to establish right away, which you do. So nice work there.

    I got a little confused in Chapter 2 and had to read it a few times to make sense of it. Are the “sweet 16” balloons real? Or not real? And wait — she’s 13? Or 16? Are they just regular balloons? Huh? I had to read the whole thing a few times to realize that the character is in her bedroom, convalescing after an accident that killed her father (right?). I would spend more of the words thinking about her dad... maybe rather than mention her best friend’s comment about her highlighter-yellow room, mention a memory she has about her dad helping her paint it — and since she’s struggling with her memory, maybe while she’s thinking about her dad helping her paint her room, she’s trying to remember why the thought of her dad is making her feel so sad/anxious… and then at the end of it, maybe she remembers that her dream is actually not just a dream, it’s something that actually happened to her, and now her dad is no longer alive. Or something like that? I’m not sure where you are going from here, but some more clarity would definitely help the reader. I like your narrative style very much, so with a little more clarity this could be an excellent beginning.

    1. Kate,
      The word count forced the story to end with the line about the dad but he's not dead.

  4. So I actually like the dream sequence but the one suggestion I have is to take the word dream out of it. Usually when you are in a dream you don't know it's a dream. She seems to be too aware of it which throws me off.

    I love the yellow room. It instantly resonated with me. My grandma did the same thing and I was instantly connected. I feel like we all know someone like this and I think its a great way to connect people with your main character. The only problem is she is clearly waking up and experiencing a bad day. Maybe add until now or something stating that things have changed.

    However, I am really confused as to what is going on. I think her dad died? Was she in the accident too? Is this a drug induced fogginess or sadness? The balloon thing is really throwing me off. I felt this muddled my mind a bit. If you aren't going to explain the balloons quickly then I would use something else to add to her show her confusion. Unless of course she is a time traveler. If that is the case then right on!

    I am so connected with this main character and I got there really fast so I think that is a great achievement. I can't wait to see the rest.


  5. Hi Sharyn,
    I love the way you have described the dream - its very poetic. However, it goes on in the same tone for too long, leading to a loss of interest. I'd suggest that you introduce some action after the first paragraph that happens not in the dream but in Olivia's real life. I would also go with Julie's suggestion of interweaving chapters 1 and 2, the reason being that as it stands now, chapter 1 doesn't take the reader forward or even pique interest. Or maybe the dream part could be revised to just a couple of paragraphs - but ones that are powerful enough to convey Olivia's distress. From what I know, the faster the reader gets sucked into the action, the more he/she would want to read on.

    Other than this one, albeit major, detail I love your style of writing. The fact that there is confusion in Olivia's present situation even outside of her dream makes it an interesting read. There are many whys that need to be answered and that's sure to keep the reader hooked.

    All the best with the revision

  6. Dear Sharyn,

    Your writing in These Pieces of Me is sensual and evocative. The reader feels the oppressiveness and scariness of Olivia’s dream-- the frustration of the unknown voice calling out to her and her own muteness. Once she wakes up and we slowly focus on her world with her, you use wonderful concrete details to anchor her and us both. “Swollen globes of purple and white” Sweet 16 balloons, sunflowers, and walls painted a color that her best friend says looks like a “highlighter exploded” Fabulous. These images and details do double duty, grounding us in the story world and also revealing a lot about Olivia. The fact that she is confused about her age and the month is intriguing! So are the many get-well cards lined up on the window-ledge.
    I feel sympathy for Olivia and want to know more about both what has happened and what’s going to happen to her. I’m not sure what she wants (Dad?), but I want to find out.

    Here are my questions:
    -Do we need to know all the details about Olivia’s dream up front? And do we need as much of it as you have? Chapter one is so important and I wonder if you started with chapter two, and revealed bits of her dream over the next chapters or even in its entirety in another whole chapter elsewhere, you may grab us better. As it is now, even though the dream is interesting and beautifully written, and we do have some physical details (the musty and damp earth, her aches), it’s more abstract. Also, we don’t know where we are or who is dreaming, so it doesn’t mean much to us. She may be confused but you don’t want us to be, at least in chapter one. Dreams are tricky, anyway, and a little goes a long way.

    -When Olivia sees the get-well cards, is she still confused or does she know why they’re there? Can we know yet? At what point does her memory snap into place and her confusion dispel? Can we know that? I suspect it’s at the moment at the end of chapter two where she says, “This time is different, though. No dad,” but I’m not sure.

    -Can we know a little more about Dad sooner? Something has clearly happened to Dad and it seems like Olivia’s relationship with him is going to be an important part of this story. For me, it felt like he came into the story a little suddenly and late, but if this were chapter one, and then we learned more about Dad (and even the dream) in chapter two, that may work better.

    Happy revising!


    1. Ann,
      I appreciate your kind words but, more over, I appreciate that you get Olivia.
      I find myself in a quandry though. A number of reviewers have latched on to the Dad character with questions. The word limit forced me to end the passage with "No Dad". I didn't think it would be an issue at the time by reading the passage over I see how it can be confusing.Spoiler alert: Dad is alive and well and present for the remainder of the book. I simply was trying to use that passage to communicate her confusion as something she had experienced before but not on this level.

      My dilemma with the dream is its importance throughout the book. Olivia hasn't merely bumped her head and forgotten, she's experiencing dissociative amnesia and the dream sequence is pivotal and complicated.
      I can certainly tighten things up. I would love some suggestions about how to address the dream issue without losing the power of the story.

    2. This is good to know. And cool. My instinct is that getting to know Olivia a little better first, and THEN seeing her disassociative amnesia may work better and be less confusing for us, unless you start with something very brief. No question that trying to show us how Olivia feels when she's having a dream/episode is definitely worth doing. Maybe decide what is or are the most important thing(s) the reader needs to know/understand up front about how Olivia feels when she's like that, and keep it brief so that chapter one also contains all this other opening info about her. You can reveal other aspects of the episodes later, too. It's fascinating, and just a question of not letting it slow down the narrative action too much. Especially if she'll be experiencing them throughout the story. Does this make sense? Glad to hear Dad's okay :)

    3. I think that Ann's suggestion is a good one. We,have to connect to the character and relate to her before we go with her into that "dream" state before we can truly feel the power of it. Furthermore, we need to understand what we are seeing at least enough to be able to appreciate how difficult it is for her. As it is, it feels like an odd dream, but not so very different for a lot of other fictional dreams. It does go on s bit too long even if you laid the groundwork first. Pick and choose your details. :)

  7. Hi Sharyn,

    There are certainly some lovely moments here, but I'm going to be perfectly honest and tell you that I think you're starting in the wrong place. Agents see hundreds of "dream" openings, and they're not likely to read through past that first sentence. Beyond that, very little happens in the dream that gives us your main character in a way that is going to engage a reader enough to buy your book instead of a different book.

    The second chapter is much more interesting, but also somewhat confusing. On the one hand, she is clearly confused and foggy, yet she has very vivid memories of her past. Those memories are, however, very unique and that's great. Focus on that. Differentiate your character from all the others that are out there and get your story question into the first paragraph, or at minimum, on the first page. Let us know WHY we want to buy this book. Give us the promise of your idea. And give us a hook in the first sentence that sets up what's coming.

    Based on your writing, I know you can do this.

    I know that hearing this is very hard because you clearly labored on this opening, and this has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. It is simply a question of market forces. So many people have begun with openings similar to this that you are not letting your own unique imagination out to shine. Yet. I'm sure it's coming!

    Looking forward to reading the revision!


  8. Is 16 still considered a young child or more adult?
    Programs for young adults