Sunday, November 6, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Jiordano

Name: Toasha Jiordano
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Title: Epoch Earth; The Great Glitch

I was ten the first time I saw someone glitch out and die. It was the scariest damn thing I’d ever seen. He barged in the room from behind me as I stood there in front of the television minding my own business, mentally cussing the stupid dress my mom had forced me to wear that day.

All of a sudden a blood-curdling scream shattered the quiet around me and he started clawing behind his ear. I could smell his burning flesh, hear it sizzling like a steak. Within seconds he fell to his knees, tears and spit pouring out of his face. And that face! It didn’t even look human anymore. The agony concealed his features so much that I feared him as I would a monster or beast. Still I stood there, motionless.

Both of his hands covered his ears and this guttural roar erupted from his contorted mouth. I watched in horror as he managed to drag himself over to a small table in the corner. The fingers on his left hand dug into the hardwood floor. One by one his nails popped like tiny twigs. It took him forever to drag his body a few inches. His right hand scraped at the back of his ear the whole time. During this entire process I stood there with my mouth gaping in horror wanting to flee and never once thinking to help.

As his fingers felt the hard edge of the table leg, he worked his way into an upright position. The screams turned to pitiful moans by this point, but they were no less unnerving. Half kneeling on the table, steadying himself on his knees, the man hunched over as if to vomit. No sooner had I wondered why he crawled all the way over there to puke, he began bashing his head on the table.

If you’ve never heard a human skull smack against a wooden table - the dull thud that’s eerily like the final split of a sliced watermelon -  I suggest you keep it that way. Every thwump sent shivers across my spine and bile to my throat.

His legs buckled repeatedly, threatening to drop him to the cold hard floor, yet he persevered. Charred sizzling chunks of meat slipped off his head and onto the table. The sight churned the peanut butter and jelly climbing its way up my throat. His bloodied hands still tore at the flesh behind his ear between thuds, desperate. I swear I could see half his finger disappear down the hole he made as he rooted around in there.

Within seconds, or years from my estimate, he had retrieved his prize! The chip was larger than most, half an inch square. Congealed blood hung from the corner, ready to drop in the already darkening puddle of him on the table at any second. The inhuman mask his face had become softened in relief. A final sigh escaped the man’s lips as he flopped over onto the floor, pulling the doilies and magazines from the table on top of him.

At some point my mom screamed from behind me and something crashed to the ground. The commotion snapped me out of my daze as she rushed to his side. She cradled his mutilated head in her arms, kissed his crimson forehead and chanted his name. Through fingers that now covered my eyes, I watched her mind meld with him, becoming one.

The entire time these events unfolded, I never ran to my father. I never yelled for him in horror or cried out for my mom. I just held my breath and watched. In my defense, I was ten. But still, to stand idly by and allow your flesh and blood to be reduced to a pile of, well, flesh and blood. I felt like a disgrace.

“Sam… Sam… Sam…” Mom’s tears erupted hard and fast, commingling with the carnage on his face as she wept her comfort over him.

Her mournful wailing harmonized with his death rattle creating the most gut-wrenching low sorrowful tones. She matched his breaths, ragged as they were, and tuned her wails to his moans. In complete sync, my mother escorted my father through his journey out of this world. Her head flung back, dark locks of wavy hair soaking up dad’s coagulated blood on the table behind her. Only the whites of her eyes were visible now as they rolled deep into her head. Her grief song died as soon dad had no air left in his.

Complete silence blared through the room as my father’s body expelled the last of itself onto the floor of our living room. The floor that a week ago he’d told us for the tenth time he’d finally get around to polishing. The floor that mom had just yelled at me for leaving coloring books all over this morning. This is the floor where my father glitched and died, taking that innocent little girl inside me with him.

After my father’s last breath, my mom’s cheeks returned to near pink. Her eyes, black and barely open, settled back into their normal positions. She straightened herself, smoothing damp matted hair down her blood-stained apron. Turning those empty black eyes toward me she whispered, “Synta, go find your brother.”


  1. Opening sentence took me right there. Your writing is very descriptive, I felt as if I was watching this man 'glitch out and die.' However, I'm a bit squeamish so some parts really did have me looking away just a little bit. But I can see readers loving the intensity.

    Nice how you waited until a few paragraphs after to reveal the dying man is actually her father.

    I didn't get a clear picture of how her mom's mind melded with her dying father's. What did she see?

    Liked the fact the last paragraph wasn't predictable, after all the wailing the mom returned to normal.

  2. Thanks for the input. I'm working on that section with the meld. I want to kind of inform the reader about the chips and thought transmissions, but since this chapter is in 1st person I'm having some difficulty getting that across.

  3. Wow.

    This was intense. And repulsive. I can definitely see a lot of people getting into it. Like T.K., I thought it was nice how you made us wait for the reveal that the man was MC’s father. And it was nice how her mother calmed herself at the end. “Go find your brother.” Very incongruous and eye-catching.

    The question I have, though, is whether this scene went on too long? This guy seems super-human in his ability to prolong death. I thought it was over when he bashed his head against the coffee table. You said it sounded like a watermelon splitting open. Then he has chunks of meat slipping off of his head. There’s not much meat to go around there. It’s brain, which you can’t really lose much of, and scalp in the area behind the ear. And when he roots around in his own skull to tug out a microchip, well that probably has to be a finger and an opposable thumb, but jabbing half your finger into your head? That’s a pretty serious hole. And this guy’s still conscious?

    I guess your MC shouldn’t vomit (since she’s currently detached watching this unfold), but I don’t know how she didn’t or pass out. I almost did both reading it! Your descriptions were great. I could see it—even if I didn’t want to.

    And by the way, should anyone ever offer me amazing benefits to having a teensy, tiny little microchip inserted into my skull, you just convinced me. I’ll pass.

  4. Is this a prologue? You're not supposed to start a story entirely in backstory, so if it's not, I think you need to re-think this opening. It's intense but it's too soon in the story. We don't even know who this is yet.

    Also, watch your POV. She can't know what his fingers felt and if these are her parents, she would think of them as "Mom" and "Dad" not my mom/my dad. She's not supposed to be talking to the reader; she's thinking to herself. She also can't know what's happening behind her without turning around first. Make sure she can actually see/hear/smell what she's describing in all cases.

    Good luck!

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  6. I'm intrigued, which is good. I agree that it got a little gory for me, but I'm kind of a wimp in that area.

    I like the POV. I like how you didn't have her refer to her dad as dad until the very end, it made the separation she felt from the scene that much more vivid.

    I feel like some of it could be cut a little. Maybe a tiny bit less struggle. I'm also confused about what the mom is cradling if he's burned up/ melted.

  7. Hi, Toasha!

    Wow! I was drawn in immediately. Great voice, great action, great suspense. Also, great first line!

    A few things:

    *I agree with the other comments above; the details are super-gory! But I, too, am a wimp, and I'm sure there are readers who will love this level of yuck.

    *I also agree that the scene might be shortened and tightened. Have him expire more quickly, introduce the mother character more quickly.

    *A small thing related to the above: Why doesn’t the mom hear all this commotion sooner?

    *I, too, wanted more details about the mom and dad’s mind meld. How does your character know that a mind meld is happening? What does it look like, sound like, etc.?

    *Also, context. Assuming that your character is a teen, at what point do we jump into the present (so to speak)? Your first line would suggest that your character is currently experiencing (or about to experience) someone else glitching, or at least thinking about glitching or talking about it with someone or overhearing other people talking about it or whatever … ? If so, is there some way to insert this information, or at least hint at it, in these pages?

    Happy revising!

  8. Hey, Toasha! Very intriguing and dark concept. I'm really curious what the glitch is. Initially, I was thinking more of a computer type glitch, but the flesh and blood surprised me. I'd be interested in seeing more of this.

    Let's talk about my thoughts on ways I think you can improve this story.

    The beginning: I'd cut the entire first paragraph and start with "A blood curdling scream". That is where the action starts and I think would give you that first line punch you're looking for.

    Scene: I think it's lengthy. There's a lot of detail about the father decomposing and going onto the next life. I wonder if he could already be almost gone, she witnesses him pulling the chip out then he's gone. I'm not all that sure that the mother adds much to the scene, unless this is important later in the story. I get that there's a mind meld, but it's just said quickly in passing and I don't understand the purpose of it. I'd almost rather see him give the chip to Synta.

    Sentence structure/grammar: This section could use a good edit to cut passive writing. Cutting words and phrases that seem ambiguous or wavering or even quiet might give this section a bigger punch.

    POV: I definitely like your chosen POV. However, there is a lot of describing what she sees instead of her internal sensations and thoughts. If my father came screaming into my room like that, I'd feel frightened, paralyzed, sick to my stomach, I'd scream, etc. Not necessarily in those terms, but at least convey the sensations she's feeling. Without them, the writing feels very flat. Because you do such a great job with description in other area, I think you could do an awesome job with her internal perspective. One more thing about POV, there are a few times that you describe other characters feeling something. Remember to keep your eyes, ears, and mind always in Synta's.

    Great job! I can't wait to see your revision!