Sunday, October 9, 2016

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Milton Rev 1

Name: Michelle B. Milton
Genre: Young Adult Gothic Dystopian
Title: Trigger Warning

<i>Killdeer, Saskatchewan<i/>


I was often visited by Leo Hart, even long after his funeral.

It was the last day before exams, and according to the clock on my cell Leo had been dead for 11 years, 344 days, 4 minutes.

A thin layer of mist had sunk down, and the last light of the sun filtered through the trunks of long dead quaking aspens, boxing in my birthday party. I stood by the lake, shivering and feeling sorry for myself. Micah said this would be ‘a year of firsts’; I had suffered enough firsts already; first broken bone, first F on a test, first dead body, and worse, first heartbreak.
Out of the corner of my eye, cherubic Leo lay on the water’s edge. Red-gold sunlight flickered on his brown arms, like I was looking at him through a slatted door.

Then the park was gone; there was only Leo and the green kitchen. His arms turned thick with blood which streamed from two cavities in his chest. He turned his head towards me and opened his mouth in silent question, his every breath a loud gurgle. He started crawling towards me, leaving a slow bloody trail on the checkered tile under him. I didn’t take my eyes off him, my heart pounding. He had never reached me before; but this time he might.
As he struggled closer, the air grew cold. I watched as his hands moved from olive to lime tile as he pushed himself towards me. I didn’t move, except when risking small,




The icy air jerked back. The green kitchen turned to pebbles and rotted park. Leo was gone; there was nothing but the disturbed water over my shoulder, and the empty bank on the other side of Copper Lake Park. I rubbed the goosebumps on my arms.

“I’m talking to you, Brooke. I’m starting to think you really are just my lame cousin.”

Beside me, Micah squinted in the dying light, clearly disappointed. He’d mastered the art of the dishevelled-but-not mess. Paired with the distressed jeans and the acoustic at his feet, Micah fit the part of working class Romeo perfectly, though he’d never worked a day in his life. In this light, his skin practically glowed, a look I certainly didn’t inherit from the family.
Back when we were five, Micah was inseparable from Leo, even more than I was. I never had the courage to ask him if he ever saw Leo too.

Micah sat on a nearby log.

“Come here,” he said, and I joined him. “Look around! I delivered. This will be the best party of the year; just make sure people remember it’s yours, not mine. Do something interesting.”

He swept his arm theatrically towards the party. My terror was replaced with shame.
Last week I’d begged him to help me out, and in exchange, I ghost wrote the now infamous A grade essay ‘Breaking the Final Chains of British Rule: Pharmakon’s Emancipation of Canada’. I had wanted this party that bad.

And Micah did deliver. The speakers on the beach were finally pumping out music from the deep archives. Illegal bonfires were erupting all over the lakeside. Ten cases of soda, twenty cases of non-alcoholic champagne, seven cases of non-alcoholic beer… and the opportunity to get Riichi Cole alone!

This party was secret, exclusive, and well worth the risk of terrorist attacks. And as for the authorities, any academy classmates who blabbed would be discarded from Micah’s social life.

But despite all this, I just wasn’t in the mood. And not just because Leo was forcing me into rigged games of red light green light: I’d recently learned that perfect, kissable Columbina Adams didn’t want me around if I didn’t put out. Nothing about our relationship was right. I ended things; then she stopped coming to school.

Micah’s ‘can do’ attitude fizzled out as we sat in silence. Maybe Columbina was right: I was impossible to please.

“I need to say something.” Micah rubbed both his hands on his face. “Things aren’t good between Bean and me. It’s our three-year anniversary–  I haven’t heard from her in two days– has she said anything to you?”

My eyes watered; Micah had zero clue that Columbina– ‘Bean’– was my first everything.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and texted Riichi, casually wiping the edges of my eyes:

<i>*Are you here yet? *<i/>

Between Leo and Columbina, the Chairman should change my name to Waterworks.

“You too? Let’s just enjoy your party, okay?” Micah said, punching my shoulder gently.

“I don’t know. Tonight’s sucking pretty hard: you promised no supervision.” I forced a smile.

Executioner Hart sat in the dark just past the furthest bonfire, illuminated by the light of her cellphone. She was a thin blonde, twenty-three years old, in a grey skirt suit that made her look boring and old. The permanent scowl she'd inherited from the Chairman was an excellent, albeit off-putting poker face, though tonight’s expression might be genuine. She wasn’t even bothering to keep an eye on us, but the police stationed around the park certainly were.

Micah rolled his eyes; “I’m not the one who told Riichi I outsourced my assignment. I bet you he’s the one who told your granny-”

“The Chairman,” I corrected, hoping that wasn’t the case. Riichi was the only person who enjoyed my company outside Micah. Riichi was cute too, and that didn’t hurt.

“Whatever- the police knew where to find us. Riichi’s a rat: he’s dead to me.”

Text Message from: RIICHI COLE

<i>*On the dock. What’s up? If its about Micah, you know how serious I am about being Valedictorian. There can only be one; hashtag sorry. *<i/>

Micah put his hands on my shoulders as he normally did when he was going to impart some piece of useless wisdom.

“Listen,” he said in an undertone, “there’s a blind spot in their surveillance at the shed. Have fun tonight. Please.”

“Ok,” I said. Micah gave me an over-enthusiastic high-five.

I quickly spotted Riichi skipping rocks on the surface of the lake. Making out with him was worth Micah’s temporary disownment. I replied:

<i>*There’s a shed on the other side of the lake. Meet me there ASAP. *<i/>

“Yeah virgin, go to the kissing shed with someone gross so you have a chance.”

It was the first time we’d heard her voice in days, and it sounded off.
Columbina stood in front of us, arms crossed over a black sequined party dress, with a smoke and ash eye shadow that left me uncomfortably aware of her hateful eyes. Her lips were, as usual, glossed and candy apple red. She was wearing black! She always wore bright colours; she said dark colours were only to be worn at funerals.

“Bean!” Micah said, getting up. “I was getting worried!”

“Don’t touch me,” Columbina pushed him away when he tried hugging her; “who were you texting?”

“I’m glad you made it.” I evaded, hopeful I could smooth things over.

“No you’re not,” she said sharply. She then gave poor Micah a slow passionate kiss, glancing up to make sure I was looking.

I really hated her.

Text Message from: RIICHI COLE

<i>*I’ll be there. *<i/>

I was officially uncomfortable. I stood up, anxious to leave.

“I’m going to take a walk. You’re not invited.”

“We’ll be here.” Micah said, lowering his mouth to Columbina’s again. She avoided him, looking back at the dock.

Eat shit, Columbina Adams.


  1. Hi Michelle,

    Love the new addition to the intro. Totally drew me in, and I had a clear picture of where the protag was and the vision that was happening.

    Also, the detail about the kitchen really makes me want to read more. Definitely want to know what happened and if the protag was actually there when Leo died. Intriguing.

    The sentence 'The green kitchen turned to pebbles and rotted park.' paints a good picture, but a slightly stronger verb would draw the reader in even more. Maybe, 'kitchen crumbled to pebbles'? Something like that.

    Cool, I like knowing the relationship between Brooke and Micah, makes me feel more connected to them.

    Nice job weaving in a 'terrorist attack', raises the tension well.

    Lots of tension and conflict with Brooke liking/dating the same girl as her cousin. Great work.

    Ooo, I'm intrigued. Curious to find out more about the Chairman, and it seems that the Chairman is possibly the one who gives names? Cool! Can feel the dystopian vibe there.

    I got a really good feel for who the characters are in this revision. Everything seemed to flow smoothly. The last line has major punch now that the reader knows a bit more about Columbina. Excellent.

    My only little nit-picky thing is that I still don't really get a strong 'gothic' vibe from the sample. Maybe it's just me though...

    1. Hey Karen!

      Interesting thought about the green kitchen turning to pebbles. I imagined it in terms of like of a powerpoint ‘merge’ transition. Now I have to decide if I want to leave it vague, or make it super clear. I like the ‘crumble’ though, it’s dramatic!

      I ran this scene by the bf, and he thought the same thing about the Chairman and name changes. Not what I intended (the Chairman is Brooke’s guardian, so I thought the Chairman only had that ‘parent’ kind of authority), but the thought is well worth considering.

      In terms of the gothic vibe, I’m going to try and defend my choices in the next paragraph- but I’d be curious to know what your thoughts on the genre are; could you clarify a bit more and let me know? Maybe there’s something I’m missing :). Here’s what I was thinking:

      In gothic lit there’s usually a gloomy setting, in this opening scene it’s misty, the sun is going down, and Brooke’s party is by a ‘bloody’ lake surrounded by white-barked aspens. The party might be taking away from the gloominess here. Second, gothic lit usually features mysterious/violent events, which are mentioned in the chapter; there’s Leo’s terrible murder implied by ghost. And finally,gothic lit usually has a general atmosphere of degeneration/decay. This last element is to be developed over the next few chapters, but as of this scene, the park is rotting and Brooke’s friendships are disintegrating.

      Please do let me know what you had in mind in terms of “gothic”! I’m sure you wont be the only one who doesn’t see what I’m imagining here :P

      Glad to know you like the changes; I really wrestled with this. I thought if I touched the scene again in a major way I’d ruin everything good about it. “Kill your darlings” really is excellent advice haha
      Thank you for your comments! :)

    2. Hi Michelle!

      You're welcome for the comments. Hope they've been helpful. :)

      I haven't read much gothic lit, so I have kind of a vague all-dressed-in-black versus a German-esque vibe sort of playing out in my mind. lol

      Thanks for clearing it up! I can definitely see the gloomy setting, violent death, and ghost forming the gothic side of things now. :)

    3. Oh! That kind of gothic! Best style there is! (But I think it conflicts with the corporate dystopia I have going on haha- maybe the genre should be renamed to 21st century gothic :P)

      Your comments were super helpful! Thanks again :)

  2. Great revision!!! You definitely brought in context of the greater world and Brooke's connection to it. Everything was much more clear--relationships, the dystopian elements, and Brooke's feelings about a lot of what had happened and was happening during this scene. And I felt much less like Brooke was just using Riichi to get back at Columbina, which made her much more relatable and sympathetic to me, like she was just trying to move on rather than get revenge. It's not a save-the-cat, but it works for me. ;-)

    My only nit-picky thing at this point is the dialogue. It felt a bit stilted to me. I think maybe if you had a little more back and forth of dialogue before interjecting with narrative, that might make it sound a little more natural? The way it's written now, it seems like there are long pauses of silence where there wouldn't be normally, or that Brooke is outright trying to ignore Micah. I think he says five paragraphs worth of stuff before Brooke ever directly responds.

    Other than that, I love it! I love how tense you've drawn Columbina and Brooke's relationship. Columbina seems like such a jerk, but there's an undercurrent of hurt to her behavior, too, which is well done. Great job!

    1. Hi M.E.!

      I'm glad you saw an improvement; this works much better for me too! In earlier drafts I was trying to make Brooke the meanest protagonist I could, but this workshop has made me realize this made her one sided. In the next scene she does have a pretty physically violent fight with Columbina, so that was my original justification for having her be so mean :D

      Thank you for pointing out the dialogue! I knew it was a bit weird but I wasn't sure why. Brooke's in her head a lot, but I don't think Micah would accept a totally one sided conversation.

      Now to figure out how to balance the word count to fit new dialogue!

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  4. Hi Michelle,

    Love the new opening. It really drives home the point that the MC can’t stop thinking of Leo Hart. It immediately drew me in and makes me want to find out who he is, what his relationship to the MC is and what exactly happened to him in that green kitchen.

    I love the placement of Micah’s new line. It’s perfect. It both reveals the MC’s name and his connection to her.

    “Micah fit the part of working class Romeo perfectly, though he’d never worked a day in his life.” Ha! Great line. Definitely paints a picture of his personality.

    I agree with Karen completely, the mention of terrorist attack, definitely got my attention.

    You did an excellent job meshing out the relationships. Columbina’s role in both Brooke and Micha’s life feels more fleshed out.

    “No you’re not,” she said sharply. She then gave poor Micah a slow passionate kiss, glancing up to make sure I was looking. I really hated her.
    I really enjoyed that new sequence. Highlights that they are both in each other’s head, not just Columbina in Brooke’s head. Sets it up well for their on-going tension. And makes the last line stand out even more.

    Great job with the revision. Really interested to see your pitch!

    1. Hi Erik! Happy you liked the opening.

      I’ve still been debating what to call the terrorist group, but thankfully I don’t need to tell the audience their name in the opening scene!

      Yeah the pitch will be interesting to figure out, won’t it?

      Thank you for your comment!

  5. Hi, Michelle,

    Wow! Those first couple of paragraphs really grab the reader!

    This is so nit-picky - perhaps don't use "park" twice in the paragraph - The icy air jerked back. The green kitchen turned to pebbles and rotted park. Leo was gone; there was nothing but the disturbed water over my shoulder, and the empty bank on the other side of Copper Lake Park.

    I'm not sure who's speaking here - “I’m talking to you, Brooke. I’m starting to think you really are just my lame cousin.”

    This is SO intriguing - Executioner Hart sat in the dark just past the furthest bonfire, illuminated by the light of her cellphone. She was a thin blonde, twenty-three years old, in a grey skirt suit that made her look boring and old. The permanent scowl she'd inherited from the Chairman was an excellent, albeit off-putting poker face, though tonight’s expression might be genuine. She wasn’t even bothering to keep an eye on us, but the police stationed around the park certainly were.
    I wonder if you should state the year this is set in.

    Nice job with your descriptions of Micah and Bean.

    Great revision!

    1. Hey there!

      Thanks for point out the repetitious word- I’ll read over it and see if there’s something better I can do.

      I’ll keep in mind your reaction to the line “I’m talking to you…”- I thought maybe because Micah’s the only other character there it was clear, but maybe not!

      As for the year, I haven’t decided if I should put one or not. The reason why I put the ’14 in the first version when giving the date was to make it vague. The idea is that it’s ‘a’ future, not ‘the’ future… Also I feel setting books in our contemporary future automatically gives the book a shelf life- like how ‘Back to the Future’ is now weirdly set in the past, despite the fact they’re in the future. Confusing haha. I still need to think about this, but I’m leaning towards just not giving the reader that info.

      Thanks for your comments!

  6. Hi again, Michelle!

    Wow, a lot's changed here -- this is a thorough revision -- reseeing -- of the novel opening. Overall, I find it more effective. Most impressive is the seeding of background information and world-building throughout the narrative, without infodumps or out-of-character overexplanation.

    The relationship between Micah and Brooke is much clearer, as is her (and his) connection to Leo. Columbina's late entrance, just in time to make a smart crack at Brooke, is much more dramatic than her former moping and huffing. Brooke's emotions and motivations are more vivid, Micah's as well. Richii appears in a more interesting light as Micah's rival for valedictorian and a (maybe) rat.

    Who the authorities are is clearer. The police are around the park -- and maybe they're there as much to protect the party as to control it, given the mention of terrorists. The Chairman is -- Brooke's grandmother?! Which gives her a familial connection to the Executioner as well?

    Brooke's place in the academy's social hierarchy is also clearer. She's not Miss Popularity, needed Mr. Popularity Micah to set up a decent birthday party for her, has only a few people she's close to. Micah, for sure. Richii, could get closer. Columbina, has been way close, but now they're sundered.

    There seem to be some formatting glitches to address.

    Some suggestions/remarks:

    "Cherubic Leo" is good, giving us a sense he's quite young.

    The flashback/recurring (waking) nightmare section is strong. I particularly like the contrast of the green (lime! olive!) flooring with his blood. Not sure about arms getting "thick" with blood, or that Leo's "pushing" rather than "pulling" or "dragging" or "hauling" himself toward Brooke. The icy air that precedes Leo makes me wonder whether he's not an actual apparition rather than a "mere" traumatic memory, which is nice. Not sure, though, if the icy air would "jerk back" rather than "recede" or "dissipate" or "ebb."

    I miss the blood-red viscous water. Maybe you could work it back in as Brooke snaps back to her surroundings. That would be a nice echo of the blood on the floor, too.

    The description of Micah, strong in concept, sounds a little off to me. Maybe something like "He'd mastered the art of looking dishevelled but not messy; in his distressed jeans, with the acoustic guitar at his feet, he fit the part of working class Romeo perfectly."

    For clarity, not "I ghostwrote the now infamous A grade essay" but "I ghostwrote his now infamous..." (And an interesting essay title, with some worldbuilding implications.)

    "And Micah did deliver." Better "And Micah had delivered"?

    For clarity, maybe not "I outsourced my assignment" but "I outsourced my essay."

    Not sure what's meant by "Micah's temporary disownment." He's disowning Brooke? She's disowning Micah? Different verb?

    Watch punctuation/format of dialogue attributions. FE: "Don't touch me," Columbina pushed him away when he tried hugging her; "who were you texting?" Rather: "Don't touch me." Columbina pushed him away when he tried hugging her. "Who were you texting, Brooke?"

    Then "I'm glad you made it." I evaded. Rather, "I'm glad you made it," I evaded

    Then "We'll be here." Micah said. Rather: "We'll be here," Micah said.

    I feel like there needs to be another action beat before the final paragraph, to bring the focus from Columbina back to Brooke. Like "I started walking, and I didn't look back.

    Eat shit, Columbina Adams."

    Intrigued anew, and much better informed!


    1. Hi Anne!

      You make a strong argument for changing some of my wonkier verb choices (I’m going to have to really consider if what’s in my head are represented by the right verbs). I didn’t even notice I omitted the viscous blood image: it was one of my favourites! I’m definitely putting that back in there!

      I’ll definitely take a look at my grammar/formatting again. That “don’t touch me” line was definitely in need of some fixing- thank you!

      I too feel like the ending is kind of abrupt, I’m going to have to figure out something with that word count. What a challenge haha

      Thank you for your comments! They are very helpful in getting me on the right track!

  7. Hi,

    SO much clearer and more tense! Great revision. You've done a wonderful job with it. I feel the complicated relationships between the characters, and you've woven in the perfect amount of description about Leo to get us intrigued without answering all the questions.

    That said, I still have a few tweaks to suggest:

    1) The inclusion of Leo still feels disjointed to me. I don't know why she is thinking of that moment at that particular time, and I feel like I don't understand whether Leo is an actual ghost or just a manifestation of her trauma. How often does she see him? I suggest connecting the memory to something, a particular emotion, or sound, or smell, or something that Micah says or that she sees as she approaches Mica. Let the memory hang on something physical. If it comes a bit later in the opening, that's fine. But depending on how important Leo is to the story and how traumatized she really is--or if he's an actual ghost--then you might need to add him later in these pages as well, just one more sighting or thought so that we don't forget about him.

    2) The Executioner and the Chairmen and the police are really confusing. Not their roles, although if you call someone who is 23 an Executioner, there really needs to be a reason for it. Also, what relationship is the Executioner to you MC. If the Chairman is your MC's grandmother, and the Execution inherited traits from the MC's grandmother, are they sisters, cousins? Is that the reason for her presence at the party? And are the police there to protect the party in general, because they protect all parties, or are they there to protect the Executioner? Or because your mc and Micah are also related to the Chairman and therefore need protection.

    3. Nitpicky detail, if Bean can see the cell screen well enough to read that your MC is asking someone to meet her at the shed, wouldn't she see the icon that says who the message is to?

    4. The reason she is texting Riichi after Micah tells her he suspects Riichi of having turner Micah (and presumably your MC!) into the Chairman---and how does Riichi have contact with the Chairman?--presumably there were intermediary people to tell somewhere along the line, teachers, principals, parents, etc., so is Riichi related to them, too?--is she going to go find out? If that's the plan, then great, but maybe give us a hint. If not, you've got a bit of a likeability problem with your MC. See next point.

    5. Your MC isn't particularly likable in this. Which may be okay, but you need to know that's what you want to start with. She broke off with Bean when Bean pressured her to put out, great! She scored likeability points. But the triangle between Micah and Bean and your MC is problematic because if your MC is close to Micah, then why go after the girl he likes--or if he liked the girl after the MC, then make that clearer. Right now, your MC seems pretty heartless. If after that she's going to go make out with a guy who may have betrayed Micah (as well as her, presumably) then that could be one too many strikes against her. Especially if there's the question of her involvement in Leo's death. It may be time for a save the cat moment to give us a reason to root for her?

    6. The setting still seems disjointed to me--largely because Bean shows up in black sequins when I'd been picturing people in beach wear. The fact that the bonfires are illegal but the Executioner and the police are there doing nothing is also confusing. We might need just a bit more information here to fill in the blanks.

    Overall, great revision. Looking forward to reading again.

    1. Hello Martina :)

      I like the idea of keeping the memory alive throughout this first scene. I think if I put together what Anne said about the connection between the blood on the ghost/water, as well as this suggestion about physical connection, I’ll have a detail that will help me make this ghost a more recurring character.

      It seems that the scowl misleads how Brooke and the Executioner are related. I think I need to introduce the backstory for her character before I go writing a line about inheriting traits, because the Executioner is an adoptive sister (she was Leo’s older sister). This line has been misinterpreted a lot, so I see now I need to change the way I introduce this character!

      In terms of the text to Riichi, I was thinking what Micah had said about the shed was what Columbina was basing her comment off of. I’ll read that part over again and keep this in mind.

      I thought maybe Riichi had access to the Chairman’s number because he’s friends with Brooke/Micah. Now that you’ve pointed out potential intermediary people, I’ve really got something to consider. Riichi’s kind of a daddy’s boy, so he’d probably go to his own father first.

      As for Brooke’s likability, this chapter is meant to be an all time low for her (in the moral way). In the next section of the chapter, Brooke mentions that Riichi is always bouncing between being allowed to sit with the group at lunch and then not. Currently she’s going against Micah, but she expects them to make up within the week. I’m wondering if I need to add that information a bit earlier to make her actions less catty.

      You have given me much to consider! Thank you for your help- now it’s time to revise!