Monday, June 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Whetter Rev 1

Name: Carly Whetter
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Title: The Forest Song

Although it’s been ten years since I first heard the story I always repeat it myself like a mantra.

I’ve never been able to find the story anywhere in print, but my father’s voice gave life to it before I was taken by sleep as a child, and a day hasn’t past without it being with me.

I paint Lady Earth lying on the forest floor in the grove where she takes shelter. She’s curled on her side with her head cradled in the crook of her arm, and her hair loops with the dirt beneath her, giving way to strong cedar trees. Her branch-like fingers turn into the ivy that cocoons around her in a net of safety. If I can do the story justice, I want to paint her eyes that are said to be the origin of starlight.

My painting daze is broken when the front door slams downstairs and I know I’ve run out of time. I knew when my family left the house early this morning I wouldn’t be able to finish the mural, but I tried anyway. I didn’t want my family’s first view of my new room to be like this.

Aidan’s stomps echo through the house as he makes his way through the living room to the stairwell, and I hear <i> thunks </i> on the hardwood as he drops a piece of sports equipment every couple of feet or so.

I’m frozen on my tarp-covered bed, my paintbrush hovering just above my head, still dripping with the brown paint I’m using to paint the tree branches that reach the ceiling. My heart thrums against my ribcage, throttling up to my ears. I don’t know what to do first.

When Aidan drops what sounds like his helmet on the top of the stairs, my father’s shouts ricochet up from the foyer and I snap into action.

The tarp crackles underneath my weight and I vault off the bed, catching a brief glimpse of myself in the mirror above my vanity table: my fire-red hair is a storm about my head, and Dylan’s old scrubs I’m wearing are caked with a kaleidoscope of pigment.

Paint gushes from between my toes when I land on the floor.

After spending all day so close to the piece it’s nice to see it further away: the mural reaches from the floorboards to the sloping ceiling and the smell of acrylic permeates the air and everything in the room, even though I’ve opened the window to let in the winter breeze. Exhilaration shoots through me, and I carve a path through the paint supplies with my foot in case someone wants to come and see it.

“Zola?” Dad’s voice is just outside my room, and he raps his knuckles three times against my door. “How is it going?”

I’d asked my parents yesterday if they’d be okay if I painted something on my wall. My Dad gave up painting years ago, and he’d looked excited when I suggested the project. “It’s not done yet!”

He ignores my protests and steps into the room anyway. A confusing mix of emotions goes over his face all at once: wonder, sadness, and anger. His eyebrows rise as if almost skeptical at what I’ve done.

“What? Do you think it’s too big?” I panic, wondering if he’ll regret letting me do this to his house.

“It’s beautiful,” he breathes.

The tightness in my chest releases, and I relax. “You really like it?”

He steps forward into the room, unable to take his eyes off of the mural. “You’re definitely my daughter.” His smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

His words coax me forward, and I creep towards him until we’re standing side by side. I didn’t even realize it was a testament to him, artist and storyteller, until he stands in front of it.

“That means a lot coming from you,” I say. I’m about to call Aidan to come look at it when my father speaks again.

“I’m sorry Zola, but it can’t stay here.”

My entire body goes cold and I stiffen. “What?”

“When I said you could paint a mural I didn’t know you would paint this.” He’s speaking faster now, as if trying to keep himself calm but failing to do so. “I told you those stories to help you sleep, I didn’t mean for you to go and start painting them on your bedroom wall for everyone to see. I’m sorry.”

“Dad, come on, they’re just stories, they’re not hurting anyone.” I’m angry because he’s speaking to me as if I’ve done something worse than I have.

“You don’t know that.” His voice is ice, and he’s already reaching for one of the buckets of paint we kept after the remodel a couple years ago.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is. You said I could do this.”

He grabs a paint roller and forces the paint lid up with a metal ruler. “I promise I’ll explain it all to you when it’s gone.”

“Dad – wait, no, please.” I’m on the verge of tears because it doesn’t make any sense to me and everything is moving so fast.

He pauses and places a hand on my shoulder. “They aren’t stories, Zola. You’re putting everyone we know and love in danger by having it on your wall for everyone to see. For –” he cuts himself short. “It’s too risky.”

The door downstairs slams again and the voices of the rest of my family’s voices rise through the old house but I can’t take my eyes off Dad. “Please,” I beg once more. If he paints over it now I won’t even be able to take pictures of it for my portfolio for art school in the fall.

“Shit,” Aidan says from behind us in the doorway, half joking and oblivious to the mood of the room. “Why do you always paint Lady Earth? Give the evil guy some airtime once in a while.”

“You were an artist once,” I say to Dad, ignoring Aidan. “What changed? Why does this make you so angry?”

I remember the gallery openings, the long days we’d spent going back and forth down aisles in art stores as he picked just the right colour to match the sunset on a particular day. The memory is so vivid because I spend hours on my own in those aisles now, often wondering what had happened to make him turn away from a life he’d worked so hard for. I thought his permission to do this would mean he’d go back to how it was.

But now the man who spent so many of my formative years fostering and cultivating the passion for creation that burns through me wants to take it all away. Nothing will betray me like this will.

“It doesn’t make me angry. It makes me wish I didn’t have to do this.” His words sound so true but he’s dipping the paint roller into the tin, and he’s threatening to swallow up the world I’ve created.


  1. Hi Carly. So, first of all, this is a BIG step in the right direction! Very nice job with these revisions. This draft feels much tighter and more focused than the last. You've done a good job of concentrating just on the characters and situation that will provide the instigation for the main conflict in the book. This time around, it's much more clear that Zola's painting is really critical and that there are serious, high stakes somehow involved with it.

    Bottom line: I think structurally your pages are working so much better!

    Here's what I'd suggest focusing on for the next revision:

    • Dial up the tension and drama in the scene. I feel like Zola's dad is too in control here. Rather than having him tell Zola that the painting is beautiful and that she's definitely his daughter, I think it would be much more striking to have him enter the room, see the mural and then act like someone Zola's never met before -- someone who is fearful and angry, not sweet. Wouldn't it be interesting if, when he saw the painting, he froze, snapped at Zola (e.g., "How could you do this?!?"), then simply dash a bucketful of paint onto the mural. I almost feel like we're hearing him say too much as it stands.

    • Dial up the emotion in the scene. In particular, Zola should have a more confused/nuanced emotional reaction to what's happening. Think about the flood of emotions you'd likely have in that situation. Anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, frustration. She can go through a range of emotional reactions as the scene unfolds. I'd feel pretty angry if my father, without any explanation, destroyed something I worked so hard on.

    • Think about whether you need Aidan in the scene at all. As it stands, he just seems to interrupt the flow by interjecting something that's kind of out of the blue. If you want to keep him in the scene, should he try to defend Zola? Or take the dad's side? Or become more involved in the conflict in some other way? I'd either make him integral to the scene or take him out.

    • Think about ending the scene in a more powerful way. While, I like the phrase "he's threatening to swallow up the world I've created," I'd recommend something that's going to grab the reader by the throat and make her want to continue reading right away. For example: if you make the scene more dramatic overall, with less dialogue, you could have the dad destroy the painting; Zola is hurt and angry and lashes out at him for ruining all her hard work; Dad turns to her, his eyes burning and asks "what have you done?"; Zola protests that all she did was paint a mural; Dad says something like, "You didn't just paint a mural! You may have killed everyone you care about!" Then you close the scene on that bombshell. It would be a good way to establish the stakes, set up the conflict and leave the reader with a mystery she wants to solve.

    I hope that all makes sense to you. I look forward to seeing the next round!

    All best,
    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor

    1. Hi Rob,

      Thanks so much for this feedback. I was thinking of making Dad just be angry but then I was worried if it would seem to out of the blue and make him not as emotionally accessible in the way that he needs to be later. Your reasoning makes a lot of sense though, and I think I'm going to give it a try!

  2. I think this revision is more tense, while maintaining the clear and evocative language that you had in the first version. Nicely done. It does give the story a darker tone than the first scene, and it's up to you whether you want your book overall to be lighter or darker in tone.

    Here we have a more concrete picture of how Zola interacts with her father, and emotions about their relationship both present and past. I like that we're focusing on one relationship. I feel that the tension here is a lot higher, probably due to the conflict between Zola and her father, and the reader's curiosity - what's so bad about a painting?

    The one thing I have about this revision is the pacing. Something with the pacing isn't working for me. I wish I could be more specific but there's something in the buildup that I feel needs to take more time.

    I have a question that may or may not have any relevance to the pages. Is there something in the painting that causes the inciting incident in the book? Zola's dad clearly paints over the mural not because he wants to, but because he thinks it is best for his family. Is something drawn to the painting? Does this have to do with the subject matter, or with Zola's ability to paint? This is just stuff that popped into my mind, it's not stuff that necessarily needs to be spelled out in these pages.

    I look forward to seeing what comes next!

    1. Hi Claire,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I know what you mean about pacing (but I also have no idea what it is either), so I'll try to work on that for later. I'm glad you liked how much more tense it was, though.

      In regards to your questions, the answer (in short form) is very much yes. The attack you saw from the previous draft is in direct correlation with the subject matter of the painting and Zola herself.

      I really appreciate the comments!

  3. There's definitely more focus and tension in this revision. Rather than focusing on the "mess" Zola's made of her room, you've emphasized the fact that there's something about the subject matter that really freaks out her father.

    I agree that the tension could be increased by showing him behaving less calmly when he sees the mural. Maybe he and Zola could argue a bit about it and as their fight escalates, he picks up a can of paint and dashes it across the mural? Or if you want to keep Aidan, give him something to do: maybe *he's* the one who throws the paint at the mural and says something like, "There, Dad! Happy now?" indicating some tension in the family (just a thought! I don't want to rewrite your work.)

    I think the pace also may seem off because of the amount of text you gave to the description of the mural. It's really beautiful writing but you may need to trim to keep the story moving. It's something to look at, anyway.

    All in all, this was definitely a whole bunch of moves in the right direction. Good work! Onward!


    1. Hi Nancy,

      I agree - it might be too much description for so early on in the novel!

      Thanks so much for your feedback, and I'll keep it in mind moving forward.

  4. Hey Carly!

    Nice work so far! I really like the descriptions in the beginning. And I'm intrigured by the concept of Lady Earth and what this means for your mc.

    Some things that could be revised:

    1. I think the story lacks grounding. It screams to me urban fantasy because it takes place in the real world with fantasy elements but there is nothing spectacular about Lady Earth. She doesn't seem like something that could spark danger or something to be afraid of. I think what would really set the piece in a good place is to have the story your mc hears be placed somewhere in the beginning. And while your mc is painting and describing Lady Earth, you can have it sort of come to life in front of her or like wink at her. It'd be an interesting conversation starter. And it could really add huge suspense to the story.

    2. I agree with the others that there isn't much tension. I don't feel that afraid of your mc's parents finding out about her mural. I think the story loses a bit of steam when the dad walks in and starts talking. Maybe spice up the dialogue and do something unexpected like have the dad trash the mural. It'd add a lot of tension.

    Otherwise, your piece is really good! Good luck! Looking forward to your next revision.

  5. Hi Teresa,

    I like your first point a lot. Although Zola doesn't know about anything at all (yet) that classifies this story as urban fantasy, I could hide easter eggs earlier.

    Thanks for your comments!!

  6. Hi Carly-

    I really like the changes you've made here. I feel like even with the description of mother earth, we get a much faster and tighter sense of something being off about the world.

    I actually don't have a problem with the description of the painting, but only if her paining is going to come back and play an important role in the story later. That is, if the way she portrays the scene will be mirrored or echoed later, then awesome, because you foreshadow for your reader. If she's way off, or if this portrayal of mother earth isn't going to come back later, then you *may* want to cut back a bit.

    I think the one place you could work on this to really draw the reader into the story is to give us more of Zola's motivation. The opening line "though it’s been ten years since I first heard the story I always repeat it myself like a mantra" is okay, but it doesn't go far enough to explain why she's painting it and why she needs the mantra. What about the story is important to her? Does she understand why she feels this particular connection or even compulsion to keep coming back to the story? Does she think about it?

    There is this interesting tension between the "daze" she feels like she's in and has to shake herself out of and the way she dismisses her dad's worry as "they're just stories."

    And I do agree that you may want to revisit the father's reaction. There should be some moment when he switches abruptly from wonder to dismay or regret.

    Overall, I think you've really done a great job here of getting us to the essential heart of this scene faster. Much less stalling and much more intrigue in this version :O)

    1. Thanks for your feedback Lisa! The story does come back in a significant way later, so I'm glad that you liked it.

      I will be revisiting the father's reaction for sure.

      Thanks again!

  7. Carly,

    I’m instantly wowed by the new description of Lady Earth. I dig it! I love this revision so much more. You use strong verbs to describe what our MC is doing and it sucks me right in. And oh man I was as bummed out and angry as Zola when her dad wanted to cover up the mural! I definitely liked how you zoomed in to one scene and focused on fewer characters. It felt more realistic—it immersed me into the narration.

    I would double check whether or not you really need to have Aidan. If you cut him out, you give yourself a couple more words to really show the reader just how strongly her dad feels about this mural. If you increase his reaction then the reader is immediately on high alert. We want to feel just like Zola, just like “Wtf? Why is a Lady Earth painting so bad? I gotta keep reading!”

    Good job!

  8. I love this!!! This is an excellent revision! Ah! The tension is so much better here, and I love that we're getting a good sense of Zola's relationship with her family. I also love that we understand her and her father's relationship with art in general so much better.

    I think this could become even more effective with more intensity from Zola and her father. If her father's reactions could be more immediate and emotional, I think the scene would benefit. I want to feel his fear and wonder right away. Same with Zola--I want to *feel* her distress. How upset is she? Upset enough to try to take the paint roller from her dad? Upset enough to raise her voice?

    I think part of the reason I'm having trouble connecting to the emotion of this powerful scene is a combination of filter words and telling. For example, you list several emotions that the father is feeling (wonder, sadness, anger) but I don't see evidence of them. In addition to this, how do Zola's emotions affect her physically? How is she feeling? Confused? Upset? Is her stomach flipping/throat clogging/eyes burning/etc.? I want to feel what she's feeling.

    Filter words are words that are distancing the reader from the scene. For example, know, hear, see, etc. Here are a couple lines:

    My painting daze is broken when the front door slams downstairs and I know I’ve run out of time. [You could remove "know" and say, "My painting daze is broken when the front door slams downstairs. I'm out of time." or something, yeah?]

    Aidan’s stomps echo through the house as he makes his way through the living room to the stairwell, and I hear thunks on the hardwood as he drops a piece of sports equipment every couple of feet or so. [You could remove "hear" here as well and say something like "... as he makes his way through the living room to the stairwell. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. He drops pieces of sports equipment." or something. Totally doesn't have to be that. But let *us* hear the sounds instead of telling us that Zola is hearing them.]

    Anyway, I adore this revision and I think it's *so* much stronger. I'm excited to read the next version!

    1. Hi Jessie,

      Thanks so much - I'm glad you like it! AH I've been trying to work on my sneaking habit of filler words, so I'm glad you caught these ones!