Saturday, March 4, 2017

1st 5 Pages March Workshop- Constantine

Name: Cal Constantine
Genre: Young Adult Science Fantasy
Title: Keeper's Source

“Chloe! Slow down!” 

Nick couldn’t contain his laughter as inertia pushed his body back into his seat. The growl of the engine and the wind through the cabin drowned his voice out as his sister floored it. She fixated on the road ahead, but Nick saw a smirk creep onto her face in response. Chloe’s long black hair tossed wildly in the draft, but she paid it no mind. Her dark eyes were locked on the road and she gripped the wheel with one hand, the other on the shifter.

“Hang on!” Chloe shouted. 

He didn’t have time to react before the force pushed him back further into the seat. Cars and trucks blurred past them at dizzying speeds, Chloe weaving in and out of the lanes with narrow precision. He couldn’t control himself, letting out another peal of laughter as he held onto the door’s handle for dear life.  His own dark curls whipped his face, but Nick didn’t care: he got his wish.

Twelve. He was twelve today and his birthday had gone exactly as he hoped. A party with his friends and parents and Chloe following up on her promise: she came home. Living an hour away, it made it hard for Nick to see his older sister. She moved when he was nine to start her own life, but she did try to come visit him. At first, she returned every weekend, but as years went by, the visits became fewer and farther apart. Work, his parents explained, kept Chloe away. 

Nick was used to a scattered family: Uncle Norm had missed his last five birthdays, and his gifts stopped for the last three. Mom and Dad took work trips often as well, leaving him with their long time friend Dr. Halley. Family absences were a thing Nick had grown to know and expect, but it didn’t make Chloe’s move any easier. 

When the party died and the last of his friends shuffled home, Chloe grabbed his arm and dragged him out the door, shouting to their parents they were going for a drive. Their permission, granted or not, fell on deaf ears as Chloe and Nick tore off into the night, chasing the fast fading sun.

Chloe pulled off at an exit and turned onto a winding mountain pass. Nick watched as the city below faded away into a haze of gold-yellow lights and a tint of blue hue as twilight settled upon the valley. Chloe carefully guided the car from pavement to gravel, and then finally dirt. The car slowed to a crawl up the mountain as the path narrowed. One wrong move and they would tumble over the steep edge.

Reaching the top of the mountain, Chloe pulled into a deserted observation park. Brother and sister climbed out of the car, their laughter and slamming of doors interrupted the shrill chorus of cicadas. Nick hauled himself onto the hood of the white Challenger as Chloe leaned against the bumper.

“We’ll head back in a little bit,” Chloe said as she looked up to heavens. “Want ya to see something and give you your last gift.”

“So you did actually get me something?” Nick laughed.

Chloe let out a snort of disbelief, shaking her head. She turned to toss her keys to him.

Nick bolted upright, fumbling to catch them. He looked them over but realized there were only two: a small round one and a larger key with a star emblem. 

“What’s this?” He asked.

“Keys to my car. When you turn sixteen, it’s yours.” Chloe said, a wide smile growing across her face. “I asked Pappa, and he was cool with it.”

Her new car? Sure, it would be about four years old by the time he got it, but still, it would be his. 

“Are you for real? It’s mine?” He paused, giving his sister a doubtful stare, “You’re sure?”

Chloe laughed at his untrusting gaze, nodding, “Yep, all yours. Besides, twelve is an important age. After all--” Chloe stopped, the smile on her face quickly fading as she focused on something behind him. Nick tried to turn and look, distracted for only a moment as he tried to see what caught her attention.

“What are you looking--”

Chloe lashed out an arm and wrapped it around his neck. Pulling him towards her, she attacked the top of his head with her knuckles; rubbing them roughly against his scalp and thoroughly making a mess of his dark hair. He struggled for a minute before ducking out of her grasp. He wasn’t much shorter than Chloe, but she was faster. Transitioning from his round and childish features into a more stocky build from the sports he played made it much easier for her to get a grasp on him. What he did not have for speed, he certainly making up in strength against his sister. That didn’t faze Chloe or stop her from picking on him still. 

She cackled, finishing her thought: “I was twelve when this screamin’ little brat came into my life. Really ruined my gig as an only kid.”

Huffing under his breath as he tried to straighten his hair, Nick looked towards his sister and stuck his tongue out her. “Whatever! You’re one to call me a brat, Cee-Cee.” 

Chloe scrunched her nose at the nickname, but she reached out and gently ruffled his hair one more time.

Nick laughed, pulling his head away from her hand. His cheeks hurt from how wide of a smile he wore all day, but he didn’t care. A glint of silver caught his eye and he looked past his sister’s hand. 

“Look!” He gasped, pointing towards the horizon.

The Sun had sunk into the ocean in the west, just beyond the twinkling lights of Los Angeles at their feet. The glow of the city obscured the stars, but silver streaks raced across the sky - from the sea to the mountains at their back. Chloe turned, watching as more streaks appeared, growing bigger as they cut the skies. 

“We got here just in time,” she muttered, leaning back against the car, staring up. A grin crossed her face as the heavenly show began. 

Soon, the entire sky was awash with shooting stars, glittering against the black depths of space. They stood in silence, watching, but Nick noticed that they were becoming darker, nearly invisible if not for the flicker of silver that followed them. 

Chloe hissed then swore under her breath. She snagged the keys out of his hands.
“We’ve got to go.”

“What? Why? This is so cool!” Nick protested, looking up at the sky again.

“Nick, we need to go! NOW!” 

There was an urgency in her voice that he didn’t recognize. Chloe grabbed him by the arm, pulling him off the hood and back around the car. Nick kept looking from her to the skies, not understanding why the meteor shower had suddenly spooked his sister.

Then he saw it. One of the streaks started as a tiny blur then grew exponentially before--

“Chloe!” He screamed, his voice cracking an octave higher. A meteor flew at them, illuminating the mountainside as it descended. Nick didn’t hear his sister’s words as she pushed him to the ground, covering him with herself.

The sound deafened Nick. His ears rang as the meteor flew over their heads, crashing trees and cracking stone as it collided into the mountainside above.


  1. Hello Cal.

    This is a great beginning. The characters are introduced nicely and I feel that continue to develop as I read along these first pages. Their world is coming into view and the pacing is good.

    The dialogue is good between brother and sister as are their behaviors toward one another.

    If I'm to offer a few suggestions for revising, I guess the first would be to consider if you need to start with dialogue. I have done this in the past and been told not to, but it took a while before I heard a good explanation for why I shouldn't. I was told that we are painting a picture for the reader as they begin our story: character comes first,setting and scene follow. Dialogue first is like a shout on the dark, a disembodied voice. We don't know this character yet so we don't care. Often a writer tries to get the readers attention up front but there are other ways that may not set off a red flag.

    The only other thing I can really offer here is to consider the structure of the sections when you flashback. There is a section right after the beginning when we go from the present back to the party, then to some brief family history, then further back at the party, and return to the present to mostly stay there for the remainder. I think these flashback elements are important for your characters and need to be in these early pages, but you may spread them apart more and find a way to pepper them throughout.

    Really great work.Looking forward to seeing more.


    1. Hi there!

      Thanks for the feed back, I really appreciate it! I've been told that too without a solid answer for a while. Some cases it works, sometimes it doesn't. I may need to consider changing it but I've found 50/50 results on it so far. I might throw out an alternate version for my revision I have that goes around that.

      Glad you liked their behaviors! Their dynamic is something I wanted to make sure I captured just right for them.

      I'll look into the history bit and see if I can break it up a bit more and spread it out.

      Thanks again!

  2. Hi Cal!
    First I want to congratulate you on a very tight and clean entry! Great job!
    And I really like the premise you've set up. I honestly can't wait to find out what's going on with that meteor. You're writing is clean and tight and you have a LOT of promise!!!

    Having said that, I believe this section reads a bit too much like a prologue. Nick is 12 here, which is obviously way too young for him to be the main character in a YA novel. (I assume he--and not Chloe--is the MC, right? Which means this is happening in Nick's past.)

    I get that the meteor is the inciting incident. But we're getting way too much backstory right here in the beginning. All that info about the Uncle not showing up at the party, and Chloe moving away when he's little...and his parents...we can learn that later on.

    What I think would work much better with this, is to get us into the main story right away.
    Later on, you'll have plenty of time to weave in how this event caused whatever is going on in Nick's present.
    I think I would consider starting instead with Nick as a teen, and show us what's happening with his world now, AFTER the meteor hits and AFTER he grows up a bit.

    Again, I REALLY like your writing!! I think you definitely have a GREAT shot here, and if you'll consider re-writing a bit to include us in Nick's present world, it could be AMAZING!!!

    1. PS- Sorry for repeating myself in that first paragraph! That last sentence should say: "You show a LOT of talent!"

    2. Hi Janet!

      AHHH! Thank you! That means a lot to me, it really does! Glad you really liked it.

      Funny story: This was INDEED the original prologue, but after sharing it, I got suggested by others to bump it up to chapter one. It seems to show through pretty easily with its set up and execution.

      My main fear with starting with the chapter two as chapter one was the weight of the event getting lost as it was something I really want to make sure people see. You're dead on the money that he does grow up and we meet up again with him when he is 18, and the events of chapter one seem to come back around. I jokingly titled the ch1 "Happy birthday" and ch2 "And many more returns"

      Thank you so much for your kind words, I look forward to working with you further and refining!


  3. Hi Cal

    I love the brother-sister relationship you’ve built between Nick and Chloe; I think you’ve been very effective in showing, rather than telling, as you create this connection between them.

    Your opening few paragraphs portray Chloe as quite reckless and wild. I was surprised to learn later on that she’s 24. I don’t know if this immaturity is part of her character (in which case, great) – but it made me pause when I read her age and re-assess what I’d surmised.

    The ‘scattered family’ paragraph is information that I think could be filtered in later in the story. Also, is Uncle Norm particularly important? I wondered why he came before Nick’s parents.

    You built tension really well, with the descriptions of a beautiful sunset, a darkening day, and then faked the reader out with Chloe looking worriedly beyond Nick, before grabbing him for a head-knuckling. I loved the surprise of the meteor storm – which had been distant, passive, awe-inspiring – suddenly becoming dangerously close and active, threatening.

    I have a sad feeling this might be the last we see of Chloe and that next chapter is Nick a few years’ later.

    One minor thing: I know we aren’t supposed to be doing line edits, but I really paused on the word ‘inertia’ in your opening line. My knowledge of physics is very limited, but wouldn’t it be G-forces that would pin him back in his seat? If inertia is the correct physical term, then apologies - but bear in mind it may be a distraction for readers wondering if ‘inertia’ is correct. (Plus it carries connotations of being motionless – whereas you’re describing a wild ride.)

    I really enjoyed reading this though. Great stuff!
    Best regards

    1. Hi Caroline!

      Thank you so much for your review and kind words!

      I'm glad you liked how their relationship was set up, also Chloe's age and attitude. You're exactly right, she is wild and reckless as who she is. My goal was indeed for a realization of their unique bond and age gap, so saying you paused and question her character made me smile as that was exactly what I was going for. Not all adults are exactly "grown-up".

      The scattered family I agree I may need to break up more and work on. Good eye on Uncle Norm being mentioned first. He does play a bigger role later on.

      The shift of a brother and sister enjoying an evening side by side who don't get to see each other much was probably my favorite part to write on this. Their relationship shines in a few lines, and something I adore. I had to mess with them some how.

      I can confirm, yes, this is the last we see of Chloe for a long time. Glad to see that sense of dread coming in already.

      As for the line edit: Hmm, I see what you mean and may have to edit it again - I had another set of eyes suggest it, but I'll certainly dig deeper and double check. Thanks!

      Again thank you for your feed back! I'm thrilled you enjoyed it! Look forward to talking more!


  4. Hi Cal!

    I loved the sibling relationship between Nick and Chloe. There's teasing, there's some resentment, but also a lot of affection between the two. I don't know if we'll be seeing Chloe again (since this feels like a prologue, probably a prominent tragic event in Nick's life), and I felt both sad and moved to see her cover Nick's body from the meteor shower.

    At the same time, while I felt the relationship was realistic, I was really surprised to learn Chloe was 24 later in the scene. She and Nick acted very much as if they didn't have that big an age gap, so I assumed she'd be sixteen at most. Unless it's absolutely important that Chloe remain 24, I'd try to lower her age a little. And I'd mention her age earlier, if possible, so we're not second-guessing ourselves.

    And while I was touched to see Chloe's affection for Nick, I thought it was a bit weird that she'd be giving Nick her car four years in advance (and literally handing him the key--won't she just be taking it back, later?). For one, that's actually kind of a sucky birthday present (I didn't get why Nick was so happy, ha). Second, it felt a little too choreographed, if you get what I mean? It was almost as if Chloe knew she was going to die and she wanted to pass on her car to her little brother, so he can drive her car around in the present and think of her. If what I'm predicting is what happens, then I'd suggest her giving him a different birthday present (perhaps another valuable totem object), though Nick can clearly eye her car, maybe even say he'd rather have that.

    I also agree on cutting back on the backstory, like the party, the uncle, etc. since it doesn't feel too pertinent to what's happening.

    Can't wait to see what happens after the meteor shower!


    1. Hi there Silvia!

      Thanks so much for the feedback! Glad you enjoyed it and want to see what happens next to the Ramos kids!

      Seeing folks making note and liking on their relationship is fantastic. I really wanted to make sure I got that right.

      I'm actually happy that Chloe's age surprised you and others! I mentioned in another feedback reply that was exactly what I was aiming for. Siblings with large gaps I've noticed have one of two settings: Very close and adoring of each other, or distant and isolated. Chloe and Nick are certainly the first. With that, it brings a lot of unique challenges to their relationship, specially when one "grows-up". While I would have normally gone for a smaller age gap, the fact Chloe is 24 is something I wanted to point out in this story in particular of that family dynamic and the whole "Looking up to big brother/sister" mentality. Family, is a huge theme in this story as you can tell. Also, it gave me room to play with her role in the bigger picture and how she balances being with her family and the face she has to wear for everyone else.

      The car gift -- now that was actually taken from real life for me! I had the same thing happen to me, but that was from another family member. I was personally really touched by it, but I was a bit of a gear head as a kid.

      As for the choreographed, I do 100% see what you mean, and you're not exactly wrong either. Chloe's always away for work, which I may need to mention what work she does... or at least what his parents "tells" him she does. Chloe disappears for long periods of time. I don't see it as exactly she knows she's going to die, at least, she hopes as hell not. In the original version of this Nick had begged to help on the car but they could just never find time. He adored it, so I may need to revive it.

      Noted on the backstory -- will look into cutting and adjusting some of the info!

      Thanks for the feedback! Hopefully I can give you a bit more than just a teaser to what is going to go down for the two!


  5. Hi Cal,

    This is an exciting beginning with an undercurrent of menace that I enjoyed. I could visualize the surroundings up off Mulholland Drive, though I hesitated since the genre doesn't guarantee I'd still be familiar with a science/fantasy LA.

    That hesitation also crept into my reading in the first scene. I wasn't sure they were in a car, so later when they are going for a drive after the party, I didn't automatically think that part was a continuation of the first scene. Maybe the part between is backstory that could just as easily work its way in later.

    Like several other readers, I find myself thinking the event on the mountain is the end of Chloe. From the start, it seems to me that Chloe has some kind of secret. I am not convinced, for instance, that she actually gave him car keys. Maybe they are keys to something else. She says she is giving him his "last gift," and while we could assume that that means it's the last hours of his birthday, we can't be sure. The keys don't look familiar to him and it is strange she's giving him a car for four years in the future. Anyway, I'm hooked!



    1. Hi Kathi!

      Glad you enjoyed! Thank you so much for the feedback!

      First things first: Do not hesitate! I was hoping someone from California / LA area would recognize something similar! Mulholland is a great example! There's a look out up there that I visited when out there with family years ago. Keeper's Source is based, at least in the first few chapters, in real life Los Angeles. Nick even later attends UCLA and lives in the Santa Monica area! So let your mind run wild there - you sound like you have a good vivid image of the area to picture what is happening. One of the original locations I was thinking of was off the Pacific Coast Highway or up by the Observatory.

      I'll definitely see if I can tighten up the car scene to make sure there's no confusion there and the jump with info - going to certainly have to look into breaking it up based on feed back.

      The last gift I do like is having a mix of reactions to what I was intending. You're indeed right, Chloe, and by extension, Nick's whole family have a secret. The giving up the keys is more symbolic, a promise of the future, and I bet given how Chloe's reputation for being reckless is showing, I'm sure she may have let him drive down the mountain if things didn't hit the fan! The double meaning made me laugh considering what happens to them next.

      Glad you're hooked! Makes me really happy to see that! Thanks again for your feed back and look forward to talking more!


  6. I think you do a good job of setting us in the scene. You have a distinct voice and a style of writing that I really like. I enjoyed reading the scene.

    I can see from the scene that you have a larger plot in mind.
    My biggest concern with the scene is that the Nick doesn’t feel like a character that is 12-years-old. Some of the internal thoughts Nick has and his dialogue seem far older than his supposed age. For instance:

    Her new car? Sure, it would be about four years old by the time he got it, but still, it would be his.

    I don’t know that a 12-year-old would have this type of grown up thought.

    “Are you for real? It’s mine?” He paused, giving his sister a doubtful stare, “You’re sure?”

    The first part of this dialogue I think works great for his age, but the, “You’re sure?” is more of a grown-up concern.

    Also, I do think you have some disjointed detail in the scene—the uncle is something that doesn’t really pertain to the scene and is more of a throwback memory.

    I do think you created the beginning of a great relationship between the two siblings and the ending is very suspense and draws you in, but I couldn’t help but feel that maybe you are starting the book in the wrong spot. I’m imagining in the next scene we see Nick more grown up and it’s the world after the meteor has hit. That might be a better place to start the book.

    Saying that I don’t think any scene you write that is backstory about your characters is a wasted scene. You might not use it in the book, but it helps you, the writer, create a 3 dimensional walking and talking character in your own head. The more real the character becomes to you, the more real you are able to make that character for the reader.

    Hope you find something useful in my thoughts about your piece.
    The one thing I’ve learned along the way is that critiques are tricky things. It’s great to get opinions about your writing, especially if you are going to grow as a writer, but any opinions you get are just that—opinions. It’s up to you the writer to wade through all the critiques and decided what you think works best for your piece. I can’t remember which Author said it, but I read a quote once about critiques that really stuck in my head. It went something like this:

    If one person says it, consider it.
    If two people say the same thing, really think about it.
    If three people are all telling you the same thing, give it some serious, serious thought.

    But in the end it’s up to you to decide what is right for your story.

    Okay this thing is being temperamental and only letting me use my google email which I never use to comment. I will try to remember to check it. If anyone needs to get a hold of me please use my cat at

  7. Hi Cal,
    You are a very strong writer, and do a great job of showing not telling, so you’ve got the hard part down! I do wonder if this is the right place to start, as Janet pointed out. (And something I always struggle with myself!) It does not feel like a YA – Nick’s voice is too MG and Chloe is 24 and always working. I understand this was a prologue. I’m sure you know they are not in vogue right now, although I do love a good prologue. I think you could go one of two ways and make it work:

    1. Start where you are now, but age up Nick. Is there any reason he can’t be 14 when the meteor hits? Make his voice a bit older, show us his personality a bit more. If he’s rebellious, have him convince his sister to bring him out on a drive. (This would also give him guilt, later, perhaps). If he’s a rule follower, have him hesitate, be more conflicted. I love the close relationship you show us between Nick and Chloe. I also do like how you’ve set the stage for the “normal family” before the inciting incident (although I do think there are too many unnecessary details – the family Nick doesn’t see that much, etc., which, as others pointed out, could come later). I would focus on the important characters.

    2. Do what Janet suggested, and start after the meteor. You could pare this opening to its essentials and insert it in the form of flashbacks, or Nick’s narrative.

    Either way, I think you have the writing chops to pull off a great opening! (And I’m sorry I’m late, it was a crazy week at work!)