Sunday, July 3, 2016

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Smith

Name: Gavyn Christian Smith [Christian Smith]
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: I Am Unbroken

I choked against the thick smoke filling the air.

Desperately glancing left and right, the only thing I noticed was the sheer panic from the other seven passengers in the tiny plane.

I was going to die. I wasn’t even sixteen and I was going to die.

I willed my eyelids shut, aware of a horrible noise filling the air. The smell of gasoline and burnt steel made a pungent combination in my nose. My stomach lurched from the chicken sandwich I had eaten earlier.

Muffled sobs came from a couple nearby who had been holding hands a second ago. One of the businessmen yelled fiercely at a shaking flight attendant, shouting profanities and demands to see the pilot. An old granny sat in front of me, quietly humming to herself as she worked on some knitting, oblivious to the plight at hand.

It was as if someone had taken the fastest roller coaster in the world and placed it on top of Mount Everest. My stomach was sitting on the ceiling by now. The plunging motion was sickening and exhilarating at the same time.

In my last moments before I would completely black out, a million questions formed in my mind…

Why had I agreed to go on this stupid tiny plane my stepdad had arranged?

What would it be like to die? Would I even notice it? Or was there nothing after?

Where was the pilot - if he was even still alive? I should’ve known he would kill us, acting so weird before the flight.

And what in the world was that stupid noise?

And then it hit me, right before I succumbed to the engulfing darkness. That noise was me. Unaware I was screaming at the top of my lungs, my disembodied self finally came to the realization. Fear had taken hold.

I looked down at my Ramones t-shirt and stopped screaming. At least I would go out wearing my favorite shirt.

I felt a wrinkled old hand wrap itself around me, a dry, creaky voice speaking into my ear. It was the old woman who had been sitting in the seat in front of mine, now muttering prayers or chants or something.

“Don’t worry my boy,” the woman said, though I kept my eyes fiercely shut. “It’ll all be over soon, and then the peace will come. Peace…”

She trailed off.

Something about her – the voice, the texture of her wrinkles, the smell of spice cake and flowers - had reminded me of my own nana, for whom I had boarded this death trap of a plane ride to go visit over at Tahoe.

I gripped her hand tight and whispered back. “Thanks.”

“What’s your name young man?” She asked dryly.

This didn’t seem like a moment for small talk but I indulged. “Gavin. Gavin Ashmore.”

“Well Gavin Ashmore, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name’s –“

Another loud crash as something mechanical failed and stole my nerves away.

More screaming.

More crying.

More shouting.          

The choking had become unbearable. The steep motion was overwhelming now. 

A wave of something like relief and fear of the unknown washed over me as the shouting, crying, and screaming suddenly died down.

I would die soon also.

I tried to gasp one last breath out, but it was stifled. Rolling my eyes back into my skull, darkness swallowed me whole.

The last thing I could hear was one more deafening crash.




 A faint light danced in front of my face. I would’ve reached out and grabbed it if I even had an arm. It felt like my consciousness had somehow continued living somewhere between life and death. I just was. Time had no meaning – I could’ve been staring at this thing for the past century and I would’ve had no idea.

Though the light was dim at first, it was almost blinding now, even though I had no eyes to actually see the thing. 

The light exploded in the darkness where I now existed, only to be replaced suddenly by a figure - a girl in fact.

She must have been an angel, because she was singly the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on. In stark contrast to the chaotic rush before the darkness, she stood calmly looking down at me. Her skin was porcelain white, while her hair sat in tight, jet-black ringlets on her head. Her eyes were the purest blue that could have been created. Flowing white wisps surrounded her as her dress enveloped her body.  On her face, she wore an expression of pity.

I tried to reach her, but it felt at the moment like I was just an observer, not an actor in the play. She spoke, almost singing as she did so. Though she looked in my direction, it didn’t seem like she was speaking to me, but to some invisible force.

It sounded like some kind of Latin to me. “Sanetus.”

She repeated it over again, as she reached out her gentle fingers. A glowing ball of light appeared at the tip of her index finger, and she placed it where my forehead should have been.

She spoke again, “You must not die Gavin Ashmore…you are the one…I know it.”

I bolted up in what must have been a body bag.


I jerked my elbow off the desk where I sat. I had been dozing off again in class, another daydream reminding me of the crash. If only they would stop. Needless to say, I hadn’t been sleeping well these days, that is, until we started learning about animal phyla and plant species. A sudden wafting of that burning smell filled my nostrils again, and I almost gagged myself.

If only it were a daydream but this was my reality now.

Today was March 7th, technically my sixteenth birthday, though I hadn’t really given it much thought truth be told. One week ago I had survived a plane crash - yet as I looked around, everything had pretty much gone back to its tedium. The same giggling girls sitting in the corner playing into their selfie addiction, the egotistical jocks - which included my stepbrother Conner – that looked around for victims. Oh and to top it all off, getting yelled at incessantly by my overbearing step dad was always a great reminder that life was back to normal.

I had one birthday wish.

I wish today would be different.

I know it was strange, but the accident had left me with an empty craving for a different life.

Even though I was sitting in the middle of Biology at Shady Oaks High, mentally I was someplace else.

My mind kept returning to that moment when everything changed. When she brought me back. Ever since that girl had done whatever she did to me, my senses were more on edge. Like at night for example, when I couldn’t sleep, I swear I could hear voices and people shuffling around outside, but every time I crept up to the window, there was absolutely nothing there. It was almost like there were ghosts or something. It was crazy, I know.


  1. Christian,

    Loved the first line! My critique, this round, is going use the questions that Martina has posted in the “How to Read the 1st 5” tab to give specific feedback, but I’ll also provide a general/overall take on what I’ve read.

    Specific feedback:

    Your real-life setting is realistic enough. Gavin’s school seemed realistic. The airplane scene was unique – rollercoaster on Everest was perfect.

    I liked the characterization you gave Gavin – his voice was realistic and unique. The angel and back-to-life scene was good but I was a little confused. It’s difficult to imagine the afterlife I guess. I loved the last line though – waking up in a body bag. I wanted to read that scene so badly!

    Waking from a daydream a week later felt unnecessary and a little cliché, but that could just be me. You know your story and what works best, so do what feels right. Take or leave any feedback.

    I’m not sure where this story is going, but that is not a bad thing. Gavin must be important to be brought back from the dead, but he seems surprisingly calm for someone that survived a plane crash and saw an angel? Were there any other survivors? Was the old lady important? Why was the pilot acting weird?

    I assume that Gavin has some ability to see dead people or ghosts or angel now?

    You have a good balance between action, dialogue, and description. I almost wanted the plane scene to be longer or build to the crash, but I love that you started your MS mid-plane crash. Bold!

    General feedback:

    I want to read more and find out what’s going on with Gavin. The first five pages hooked me, but each section is short, and as a reader, I wanted more explanation of what was going on in the angel part. Maybe I’m just an impatient reader! I like the birthday as well…seems like that will be important?

    1. Dan,

      Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you want to read more. I will go through and see if I can't expound more on the plane crash, but especially the part with the Angel. You're right! It is hard to say what it's like when you die, but I'll see if I can't clarify how that works more. Anyway, thanks!

  2. Christian,

    You start with a very exciting opening scene! You use sensory language to help us experience what your MC is feeling physically in the first few moments. I did think some of your sentences could be made more active to create more immediacy. For example, “I willed my eyelids shut,” could be tightened to “I shut my eyes.” I noticed a few places where you used words that padded your sentences and distanced us from what your MC was seeing or doing.

    In the first chapter, there are some spots where what your character says and thinks conflicts with what is happening around him or thoughts he’s had earlier. For example, he is choking on smoke and feels he is going to die in the opening, but a few moments later has an almost normal exchange with an old woman who is oddly unaffected by the smoke and dropping plane.

    I had a lot of questions that went unanswered from the first chapter to the second. Why was the MC on the plane and who were the other passengers? What happened to them (you indicated that the plane did crash)? Did everyone survive or just your MC? Who was the old woman and what was her role?

    I also wondered why everything would be back to normal in the second chapter. He is bored and falling asleep in class after surviving a plane crash, but also mentions that at night he is hearing voices and feels as if he had a near-death experience. In general, I would like to know more about your character’s goals and conflicts. I think a lot has happened to him, but we don’t really know him well enough yet to understand how it is important.

    I think you have a great start, but I feel that the transition from the first chapter to the second should give us a sense that things have already changed for your MC rather than him longing for change to happen. It seems like that change has already has begun. I look forward to learning more about your MC and where this story is heading!

    1. Lisa,

      Thank you for your comments! I agree with you that things have started to change, and I do need to convey that a little more clearly. I will also run through and find those sentences where I can create more immediacy. Totally agree! Thanks!

  3. Christian,

    You pulled me in right away starting with the plane crash! It’s an exciting action sequence sprinkled in with strong characterization. I love the line about the Ramones t-shirt. Brilliant! As the story develops, you continued to include intriguing elements that kept me wanting to know more. I loved the vivid descriptions of the girl. When she tells Gavin he is the one, I want to know what that means and what makes him so special (in a good way).

    While I like the three different sections, I’d love to seem them fleshed out a bit more. It’s a lot to pack into five pages. Can you build the imagery on the plane crash? I love that Gavin looks around at how other people are reacting. The old woman, for example – great details that explain who she is so quickly. Perhaps adding details about what’s happening to the plane might help build the tension even more. Is the plane rattling? Is it dark? Are the passengers’ faces illuminated by blinking lights inside the cabin? Telling me about what’s happening to the plane might root me in the action (which is scary and exciting). Right before the rollercoaster on Mt. Everest comment (which I loved), perhaps add that the plane lurches and begins to nose-dive throwing Gavin back against his vinyl seat.

    Someone mentioned switching some of your sentences out of the passive voice – that might also help keep it fast paced and moving. “My stomach was sitting on the ceiling by now” change to “My stomach flipped, landing on the ceiling” (or something much better) ;)

    I had a hard time imagining Gavin without a body in the afterlife scene. That confused me. Consider ditching it? Focus instead on the girl – LOVED that part. Your visuals were clear and compelling. Loved the Latin. Loved the body bag ending. I would also like to see that part developed a bit more – it’s so intriguing!

    For the third part, if he just survived the plane crash, I wonder if he’d feel a bit more skittish and broken. I get really excited about his new “abilities” that he’s trying to figure out. Is there a way to work that into this scene instead of telling us about it? Again – root us in the action here. Is the teacher droning in front of the class? Do kids snicker at him when he jerks in his desk?

    Overall – your premise and ideas are exciting!! I definitely want to know more and keep reading! I also love that your MC is a boy. I’m a teacher and am constantly looking for exciting books to give to boys. I look forward to reading again next week!

    1. Thanks Kimberly! I wholeheartedly agree and will completely focus on that this week:) thank you so much!

  4. Hi Christian. Wow, talk about starting off with a bang. I don't think I've read any stories that start en media res with a plane crash. As someone who doesn't particularly enjoy flying, I think it's an interesting and compelling idea. In fact, there's a lot of interesting and compelling things in your first five pages. I really like the old woman comforting Gavin, as well as the strange vision of the angel and waking up in the body bag. All of those moments have potential to evoke a big emotional reaction in your reader. Good stuff.

    Here are some things to consider as you revise your pages:

    In the opening sequence, I would use active verbs (avoiding "was" as much as possible) as well as short, snappy sentences, to amp up the pacing and tension. For example, rather than saying, "The plunging motion was sickening...", show the plane plunging, then describe the effect it has on Gavin. Think of what happens when a plane plummets (the angle of motion, the increase of momentum, the change in sound of the engine, etc.). Put the focus on the setting and the physical sensations of being in that plane, using specific, telling details, to give the reader a sense of being there in the seat beside Gavin. Doing this will keep your reader engaged in the moment (rather than outside looking in) and get their heart pounding.

    Likewise, in the angel section, stick with the physical as long as possible before having Gavin comment or analyze what's happening. What a strange thing to experience. Let him (and the reader) just experience all its strangeness without trying to make sense of it. For example, "It felt like my consciousness had somehow continued living somewhere between life and death" feels too on -the-nose to me. Like Gavin already understands what's happening to him. That kind of commentary or analysis takes the reader out of the experience. I think it would be more interesting to just stay with the mysteriousness of the moment and not offer answers. Then, when he wakes up in a body bag, spend a moment there. Ask yourself what it would be like to wake up in a body bag. Rather than telling the reader it must have been a body bag, show what that's like. Does it crinkle when he moves? Does he feel the cold zipper against his face? Convey the shock and horror of that moment.

    In chapter 2, I like the contrast of him being in the classroom a week later. However, I would think a daydream/dozing off dream of the plane crash would give Gavin a sense of panic. To have him be so relaxed about having almost died a week prior didn't feel authentic to me. Having had a brush with death (not in a plane crash but a crushing crowd), I can tell you that a week later, I had a mix of both exhilaration at being alive and crushing panic attacks that came out of nowhere. For that second chapter, I wonder if it might work better to have him experiencing that mundane situation (with the great details about the selfie girls, etc.), then suddenly hearing the screaming plane engine, or maybe someone drops a book and Gaving bolts out of his chair. Keeping it physical and in the setting, rather than summary, will help the reader track Gavin's emotional journey in the aftermath of the near-crash. It will also give you the space to move through the different ideas you're presenting in the chapter (overbearing stepfather, wanting a different birthday, wondering about the moment with the angel). Keep him grounded in the setting as you let his mind move organically through these ideas. That way the reader is grounded, too, and can follow along.

    It's a really fascinating situation you've set up in just the first five pages. It definitely has my interest, and has me wanting to read more.

    Well done!

    1. Wow, thank you so much for the comments! They are absolutely perfect. I can't wait to get started on the revision. Loving this workshop already thanks to you awesome people!

  5. Hi Gavyn! The urgency you create at the opening is fantastic. Love to see that! As a reader, I can see, feel, and almost smell this character's fear. I think I like this character already.

    Here are things I noticed that could be tightened or that pulled me out of the story: The businessman demanding to see the pilot - I feel as though he might be yelling, but too busy freaking out to think about 'talking' to the pilot. The woman knitting - I understand what you're trying to get at here, but she seems too calm. Maybe she could sit quietly, but stop knitting. The part about his thoughts about his T-shirt - Looking at the T-shirt worked, but his thought really didn't fit the chaos you're going with. Read through this first scene. See if you can find places that pull out of that chaos. Try to stay in the same tone, that level of urgency. (Honestly, after he looked at his shirt, I thought he was going to say something about why it's important to him or something more personal that would feel like a loss.)

    There are places where your language could be more direct action. It's not wrong, but sometimes simply stating the action is more direct and effective to keep the reader engaged. I also don't think you need to warn the reader that he's going to black out. Questioning that while reading his thoughts adds to the suspense. The experience he has with the angel is very cool. I'd love to be more 'in' this brief scene, sensory elements. Also, be direct like instead of saying it seemed like a body bag say it was a body bag. Connects with that urgent feel you created in the opening scene. Lastly, the one thing I'm left hungry for is in the school scene where Gavin observes the life he's returned to. Did he wonder about the other people on the plane. Did he remember the angel (or is that what you're referring to with the strange feeling he has?) A little more reaction of how others just go on and how he feels strange, like he doesn't fit here anymore. That sort of thing.

    Not sure if any of this helps. Hope it does. There's tons of potential in this story. Looking forward to reading your revision!

    1. Thank you so much for the feedback!! I think it is wonderful:) I am super excited to go through and put this into action. It helps a ton.

  6. Sorry so last minute, but here we go! I'm very intrigued by the setup so far! I think some simple things could really streamline this and make it feel immediate and desperate - especially the plane crash.
    1. Go through and search out adjectives, adverbs, and overly detailed sentences. Chances are you won't need them to get the point across. Example: "One of the businessmen yelled fiercely at a shaking flight attendant, shouting profanities and demands to see the pilot" could be A businessman shouted profanities at a shaking flight attendant.
    2. The old woman. She'd be a mess too. Maybe accepting, but not knitting and ignoring the chaos. I would even wait to introduce her until she approaches him. He wouldn't necessarily be thinking about her yet anyway.
    3. Back in school it feels a bit too cliche the way he groups people and almost feels like he's broken through to talk directly to the reader. Describe with all the senses, show us his feelings and heightened senses with things happening and be sure to go back and make sentences as direct as possible. You don't have to say, "I sensed" or anything like just say what happened.
    Finally, make every sentence feel immediate despite past tense. Don't tell us he's going to black out let him experience the snippets of dialogue then start to black out... it'll be more suspenseful!
    I really do like it and I know it sounds overwhelming, but these are easy fixes and great things to learn to do as you continue forward.

  7. Hey Gavin! I really enjoyed reading your five pages, and I would like to second what everyone else said! You have a very interesting opening, especially the MC waking in a body bag. You have played on one of the fears that many people have, and I think this will keep readers gripping the edge of their seats while reading the opening scene. Your first five pages raise a lot of story questions and makes me want to keep reading.

    I have put my suggestions below (feel free to take or keep wha you like!):
    1. I noticed in a few instances the action reaction were reversed. We saw Gavyn's reaction before the action. For instance, "It was as if someone had taken the fastest roller coaster in the world and placed it on top of Mount Everest. My stomach was sitting on the ceiling by now. The plunging motion was sickening and exhilarating at the same time." I had to read that a few times. I think if you flopped the last sentence with the second sentence, the action reaction would make more sense.

    2. I agree that the knitting is bit farcical given the circumstances, unless you are going for a dark comedy young adult fantasy.

    3. I would definitely like to see a description of the body bag, and even what happens when he leaves it (though this may unfold later). What do the people at the morgue do/say? Does everything really go back to normal for Gavin? He dies in a plane crash and wakes in a body bag. Everyone thinks he is dead. Then, suddenly he wakes up in the morgue. Does his family not think he is a freak or treat him weirdly? Have the rumors not spread around school from his stepbrother that Gavin died and came back to life? Would all the other kids avoid him? These are just some thoughts to think about.

    I look forward to reading your revisions! Thanks for sharing!