Sunday, November 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Jiordano Rev 1

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

I was twelve 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 as I stood there not setting the table, mentally cussing the stupid dress my mom forced me to wear. Out of nowhere the man started clawing behind his ear. His burning flesh sizzled and smelled just like steak. He fell to his knees, tears and spit running down his face. And that face! It didn’t even look human anymore. The agony masked 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 a low growl erupted from his contorted mouth. I watched, frozen, as he dragged himself over to a small wooden table in the corner. The fingers on his left hand dug into the hardwood floor, nails crunching as they broke. His right hand scraped at the back of his ear the whole time. Still I stood rigid, mouth gaping, wanting to flee. Never once thinking to help.

As his fingers found the table leg he pulled himself upright. The growls turned to pitiful moans. So unnerving. Kneeling unsteadily, the man hunched over as if to vomit. No sooner had I wondered why he crawled all the way over there to puke, he bashed his head on the table.

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

His legs buckled, threatening to drop him to the floor. Yet he persevered. Charred sizzling chunks of skin slid down his neck 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. His finger disappeared knuckle deep down the hole he made.  

Within seconds, or years from my estimate, he 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.  His face softened with relief. He tugged at the chip still hanging from his head. A final sigh escaped the man’s lips as he flopped to the floor. Doilies and magazines raining down.

My mother screamed and glass shattered behind me. The commotion snapped me out of my daze as she rushed to his side. She cradled his mutilated head in her arms, kissed his forehead and chanted his name. Through my fingers I watched the chip-to-chip mind meld between my parents as they mentally became one. Breathing ragged and shallow with him - in full transmission sync - my mother escorted my father through his journey out of this world. 

Never did I run to help my father or cry out for my mom. I just held my breath and watched. In my defense, I was twelve. But still, to stand idly by and allow your flesh and blood to be reduced to a pile of, well, flesh and blood. Disgraceful.

“Sam… Sam… Sam…” My mom’s tears erupted hard and fast over the carnage on his face.

Her mournful wailing harmonized with his last gurgles creating the most gut-wrenching tones. Her head flung back, dark locks of wavy hair soaking up his coagulated blood. Only the whites of her eyes were visible now as they rolled deep into her head. Her grief song died as his lungs emptied.

Complete silence blared as my father’s body expelled the last of itself onto the floor of our dining room. The floor that a week ago he’d sworn to finally get around to polishing. The floor where my mom had just yelled at me for leaving coloring books all over. 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 eyes toward me she whispered, “Synta, go find your brother.”

Chapter 2
Post Glitch: Day 1

The next morning the world outside Synta’s house was too quiet. Even the birds knew not to breathe. No sound came through the walls, only a random red or blue light peeked in. Synta’s mother languished on the couch one hand over her head like the fainting actresses in the old movies they used to watch together. Shock still had a firm grip on Synta as she sat at the foot of the couch, cradling her four-year-old brother Brooks. Her mother moaned and whimpered above them, still weak from the chip meld with her father on his death floor in that room. Every thought that flew through her mind always found its way back to that room.

Synta’s senses were held hostage by the agony on her parents’ faces, the scent of her father’s charred flesh and that horrible thwump of his skull on the table. Synta shook her head hard and flipped the switch on the holopad to distract Brooks with some TV time. Unfortunately, for three hours already President Sturn’s speech played on a constant loop in their heads and on every channel. Even the cartoon ones. Citizen Network Updates piped directly to every chip and all public broadcasts. There was no escape. So they watched the speech, on repeat, until they could recite it themselves.


  1. So here's where I am: I aged her up in this chapter to flow better with the rest of the timeline, since I'm not doing a flashback. It seems to help fix some of the issues I was having later. So that's good.
    What I'm worried about is the POV change. I tried to write this first chapter in 3rd person to keep with the POV of the rest of the book but I hated it. It wasn't emotional. SO I came back to 1st person. But then I'm stuck with the transition to Chapter 2. Right now I have the Post Glitch: Day 1 buffer to kind of nudge the reader into a different mindset. Just not sure if it will fly.

  2. TJ, I like the changes you made. You cut out your filter words like, “I could smell ... [could] hear,” etc., you cut back on the ambiguity and kept us more in the immediate action.

    I know you’re worried about the POV switch. For me going from first to third doesn’t work. I knew it was coming (I had looked at your comment before I ever read the pages), but I still found myself wondering when do we get back to first person, when do we follow that girl again?

    I can understand why you might find it emotionless to read your opening in third—especially when your POVC is immobilized by shock—but I think POV needs to be consistent. Either inject the emotion you want in your opening while writing in third, or switch the entire MS to first person.

    I still love your first line. I don’t think you need your second sentence, though. You show us in a far more visceral way than the second sentence can summarize. I think your MC’s true reaction to seeing her father die, at her feet, in that manner, while she only watched would be far stronger than it being simply “the scariest damn thing I’d ever seen.”

    In your second chapter you suddenly have a few telling sentences pop up. I notice it only because the action in the Prologue/Ch 1 is so visceral. For example:
    “Shock still had a firm grip on Synta”
    “Synta’s senses were held hostage”
    In both of those, you can show us that information so much more effectively.

    The man – If you’re going to keep this in first person, Synta should not refer to her father as “the man”. Use “he” without ever giving it a proper antecedent until you get to your big reveal that it’s her father.

    I felt like Synta is too aware of herself/too rational during the opening scene. She is immobilized by shock, but she notices the peanut butter and jelly inching up her throat. If she is that immobilized, I don’t think she’d notice she was going to vomit until it was on its way out. Same thing with your reference to time. Seconds that felt years is something you might say after the fact, but this is written in a style like your MC is reliving the actions before her. You’re already stretching out time by giving us the details one by one. You don’t need to tell us as well. For me that feels too rational/like she has too much normal brain capacity to be frozen by shock. Another example is “No sooner had I …” No one fleeing from a school shooting would tell a reporter or policeman, “No sooner had I…” Likewise with “So unnerving.” These pulled me out of the scene.

    By the way, I still find that the first line gets my attention. Nice improvements, I’m excited to see what you have next week.

  3. TJ! YAY!!! You've done a fabulous job cleaning this one up. I do love most of the changes. I can tell you've done a lot of cutting and adding you MC's emotional experience. This is much better by far. Let's talk about my thoughts.

    POV: I will agree with Kyle that I liked first person over third person...and actually...this is second person too because of this line. "If you’ve never heard a human skull smack against a wooden table - the dull thud of a splitting watermelon -  I suggest you keep it that way. Every thwump sent shivers across my spine and bile to my throat."

    Personally, I'm not a huge fan of involving the reader into the story. BUT...that's my personal opinion so don't make changes based on that alone. I will say this though, I feel like if you're going to say "you" including the reader into the story, it's better executed entirely with the first person perspective. It's okay to have that "I" and "you" conversation, but when you jump out of it into a distant or even close third, it really reads sort of messy. I'd pick one: either first person with the second POV slip or entirely third POV.

    Characters: I do like that Synta finally as some visceral reaction to what she's seen. I'm going to challenge you to push it further. This is her dad! Not some average Joe-Shmo walking down the street. She's twelve and her dad is decomposing in front of her. Hunny, she's going to have a very physical reaction. Her knees might get weak, she might cry or scream, maybe she herself feels bile. I get what you're going for...that you don't want to give away that this is dad, but it's her daddy and any daughter or even stranger is going to react.

    I'm going to respond on Kyle's comment on the "telling". I agree with his comment but I think it's because you've transitioned POVs. With first person it's easy to describe internal thoughts or feelings, but sometimes third can be very tricky. You have to remember that even though you are telling the story as a narrator, you still can grip those internal sensations, feelings, and thoughts. What does shock feel like? What physical reactions does Synta have the day after or even during the opening scene? The peanut butter is good, but when food comes up it burns and makes your eyes sting. You swallow, trying not to vomit. That sensation is very visceral and require in YA writing because teens are acutely aware of their changing bodies and emotions. It's so much more three dimensional than just saying the peanut butter threatened to come up and it brings a concrete sense of mood to scene.

    You do mention that she's twelve twice. I'd cut one of them.

    The story is coming along. Great job on the revisions. I'm still intrigued and eager to read more.

  4. This still feels like backstory to me. Maybe it's because it's YA and you're starting by saying she was 12 in the past which tells us this isn't present time. If it IS present time, you need to re-write this so it sounds like it is and make her at least 14. Also, I completely agree that she cannot refer to her father like she doesn't know who he is and doesn't even care. She needs some kind of emotional reaction to watching him die unless she's a robot. If she is a robot, you need to find a way to tell us this. If she isn't, comparing her father's skull cracking to a watermelon makes her extremely unlikable.

    As for the POVs, the transition is clunky but it's hard to tell how it flows for the rest of the book. If there's a reason you need to alternate with third, it can work, but it's typically not done when the character is the same. For example, you could tell her story in first and another character's in third, but I wouldn't suggest telling hers in both.

    Good luck with the revisions!

  5. I'm stuck. I don't like this chapter in 3rd, but the whole book in 1st doesn't feel right either.

  6. Good improvement. The story is not as gory for me and I was able to read it all. You mentioned she's 12, but you also say her mom told her to take up her colouring books, most 12 year olds are over colouring books.

    Also in one of the paragraph's you say "my mother escorted my father through his journey out of this world." which gives me the impression he's dead/gone - then 2 paragraphs down you say "Her mournful wailing harmonized with his last gurgles." Is he still dying at this point then?

    Your 2nd Chapter paints a picture of what Synta's world is like. I like the info about getting public broadcasts directly through their chips.

    In terms of P.O.V. I'm usually partial towards 3rd person but not sure it works in this instance. I don't know if writers switch from 1st person to 3rd person in one book.

    Excited to see what you will decide on.

  7. I wrote the coloring book thing when she was still 10. I might change it. But my 12yr old loves coloring still. We'll see.
    Yeah that POV switch is really bugging me.
    I kinda DON'T like that you could read the gore now... I miss it.

  8. I don't mind the POV switch, but I write in third person so maybe I'm just more used to it.

    I'm confused a bit about setting. He's kneeling when he bashes his head against the table and the doilies and magazines rain down, both of which made me think it was a living room with a low table, but then you say it's the dining room. Not a huge issue, but something that threw me off a bit.

    I'm also very confused about the chip. I'm guessing you'll explain that later, but I don't get the connection you reference and how she's escorting him out of this world.

    I do like the toned down a bit gore; the gore is just right now. The nails on the floor make me shiver in a good way.

  9. Hi, T.J.! Your edits are great!

    Re POV: Have you considered writing in close third? I am a huge fan of close third; it's like getting all the benefits of first without being in first, allowing the writer to be inside the character's head very intimately while maintaining an objective narrator's purview. For example with your second paragraph (and I'm taking huge, wild liberties here, throwing in my own lame words and details just to make my point about close third):

    Synta stood there not setting the table, mentally cussing the dress her mom had forced her to wear, scratching at her collar. Stupid, itchy fabric. Then the door banged open and he barged into the room, clawing and tearing behind his ear.

    Her hand dropped, knocking a glass off the table. She barely heard it shatter against the hard floor. What in Sturn’s name was happening? The room filled with his awful burning flesh smell--like meat, like steak. He fell to his knees, tears and spit running down his face. And that face! It didn’t even look human anymore. The agony masked his features completely; he was a monster, a beast.

    Synta's body was like stone. She couldn't find her breath. I have to do something, I have to do something, I have to do something. But still, she couldn't move.

    (The "I have to do something" 3x should be in italics.)

    Just a suggestion. I totally get that you need to love whatever POV you choose.

    Re the when/where/etc.: The first sentence, while incredibly gripping, is a bit confusing still. It implies that she's looking back in time ("the first time"). But this chapter isn't a prologue, and we flow right into the next day in the next chapter. You might consider eliminating the “first time" device and throwing the reader right into the action? You could think about weaving in the awesome, awesome detail about glitching out and dying a few paragraphs in, while being inside her head:

    Was he glitching out? Was he going to die? Oh, God, he's going to die.

    Re age: I think fourteen would be great and make this solidly YA.

    Great work! I'm really looking forward to the next installment.

  10. Thanks for the feedback. I've always loved the first line and that's been my downfall I think. I'm trying to make the whole book work just so I can keep it. I think it's because that line was the first thing that came to me. And I brainstormed the rest of the book from there.
    Right now this chapter is 1st but the rest of the book is 3rd, and pretty closed 3rd although I don't go inside her head as much as I probably can with closed 3rd.
    I do still really love the line and hope I can change it around to not sound like a flashback, but still be gripping. I'll think about aging her up again. She was 10 when I started, so it's not a big deal. It would get us to the 17-18 'present' time faster.
    Thanks again!