Sunday, May 7, 2017

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Stryker

Name: Elisa Stryker
Genre: Young Adult Dark Fantasy
Title: IMMUNITY HUNTER

I must've been following this guy through these deserted streets for a mile—at least it feels that way. His face has been glued to that phone this entire time. This will be an easy hunt. Forget sneaking. Short of yelling his name, he's not going to notice me.

A cool wind blows between the buildings of downtown, swirling my hair around my head. Everything is silent and still. I take a slow, deep breath and hold it. A hint of regret crosses my heart, but I erase it. Without much thought, I jog up behind him and jab the spikes of my brass-knuckle-shaped stun gun into his ribs, the power up as high as it'll go. His phone drops to the ground as his body stiffens. Now he knows I'm here.

Maybe his brain will fry before his eyes bulge out. On second thought, The Organization wouldn't appreciate me tampering with their new “blood donor”.

A swift kick into the jagged-brick wall and he's knocked out cold leaving a small blood stain behind. Hopefully, the impact of his head slamming into the concrete doesn't kill him. He's still breathing—for now.

“Idiot. Pay attention to where you're going.”

The distant rumble of a truck engine gets closer and a few blocks in front of me headlights turn onto the street. Using both hands and every ounce of my strength, I grab my prey by the foot and drag his limp body into the alley next to us before we can be spotted. I sit on the dirt-covered concrete beside him, stun gun at the ready in case he wakes up.

The Organization is now one step closer to finding a stronger antidote to the Konadai virus. They better be happy. I've been with them for two years now and they always seem to need more donors. It's starting to wear me down, but I can't stop now. The antidote is more important that my mental state of mind. The immune are put to better use this way.

I take my phone from my backpack and lean against a stack of water-stained crates. I then dial the three-digit code for The Organization's extraction team. It consists of three to four men dressed in whatever disguise they decide to take on that day. Tonight, they're paramedics. I spotted them picking up another donor while I was following the incapacitated fool next to me. As I wait, I stare up at the metal fire escape trying to convince myself that of all this is for the better. The pungent smell of rotting garbage drags me back to reality. At least it covers the constant stench of rotting flesh from the Konadai outside the wall.

Right on schedule, the extraction team shows up in an ambulance to collect the immune. Two men, dressed as paramedics, climb out of the front seat and rush over to me and the unconscious guy. The third one must be back at headquarters. Within seconds, they're gone. Another name crossed out of my notebook.

“You did well, Sasame.”

I spin around to see an Insider, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, standing behind me.

“I know, thank you.”

There's no need for her to watch me. I did my job. I remove my backpack, unzipping it to put my stun gun inside. She vanishes before I look up. Freaking snitch.

Insiders make sure all of us Hunters do our job and don’t do anything to blow our covers, but I seem to be their favorite at the moment.

I sling the backpack over my shoulder and walk out of the alley. Tonight's mission has gone even easier than I expected.

* * *

It's only another mission, I tell myself as I try to sleep. I stare at the ceiling fan spinning on low. There really isn't a need for the fan as the air is cool for late summer, but normally its sound comforts me. Tonight is different. The blades of the fan turn to knives. Blood rains down on my face and the screams of my victims pierce my ears. My eyes shut and then open them again. No blood or sharp blades, only the whirl of the fan. Tomorrow will just be another mission.

The sound of Lynn talking to her husband, Brock—my replacement parents—reaches me through the wall from the hallway bathroom. They’re in the research division of The Organization which basically means they have enough time between filing test results to raise a teenager.

“I pulled some strings and got the perfect mission for Sasame,” Lynn says over the sound of water running in the sink. “She's going to Summer Fest to meet teenagers her age for some much-needed interaction.”

Lynn's squeaky, high-pitched voice is like nails on a chalkboard. It sounds like she has had the same cold for years.

“Your mission sounds more like a scheme,” Brock says. He's right; this is a scheme to get me to act “normal” around other people. I'm seventeen, not twelve. I don't need to make friends. Besides, the people in this city don't need to know who I am. My job works better when I spy on a smaller group instead of trying to mingle with serval thousand.

Ever since my parents died, The Organization—the agency I devote my loyalty to and that basically runs this town under the mayor—was kind enough to give me replacements. They wanted a reason to make sure I did my job by giving me something I miss the most. Not that I need them, I can take care of myself. They’ll never replace my real parents.

Since I doubt I'll get to sleep anytime soon, I toss the purple, diamond-patterned comforter to the other side of my bed and walk to my laptop on the desk. The bright screen burns my eyes but I power through it. I have no idea what I'm searching for, maybe a way to avoid this so-called assignment to go to the festival. I check my email hoping some new names came through for me to hunt. Tracking down the immune is a better use of time than the festival. Nothing. I click on my calendar checking for any other event with fewer people. Nope.

Nothing comes up in my mindless internet surfing. I slam my laptop shut, climb into bed, and throw the covers over my head.

The walls are so thin in this townhouse; I'm surprised they've never heard me scream into my pillow at night from the nightmares of my missions. Tonight, I put the pillow over my face to block out the sound of them talking.

* * *

Caara Island Summer Fest, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the day our city went to hell and back. From human to Okamikiin, everyone is laughing and stuffing their faces with fried food. The bright sun makes the early evening warmer than usual. I had spent most of the day trying to decide if I want to go to the festival or pass on this ridiculous ploy. After a little persuasion from Lynn, I end up caught in the middle of a crowd of happy people.

Everywhere I turn, the faces of strangers bombard my vision. As I try to push my way through, they all become a blur. Those random people couldn't care less about me being here. My head starts to spin like I'm trapped. All I can see is a kaleidoscope of colorful clothing.

15 comments:

  1. This story sounds quite interesting. However, I almost feel the pacing is too fast. I want to get to know Sasame better, who I honestly wasn't sure was male or female until after the first break in the story. Love the name, but that happens when you use unique names.

    I think the fact that you have two breaks in these first five pages is what speeds it up. In one breath we're with her on a mission, the next she overhears her new guardians talking about her going to a festival, and then she's there. It's just too fast.

    I would have liked for Sasame to return home and instead of eavesdropping on that conversation, actually had it with them so I could gather some insight into her character and become attached to her. Does this make sense?

    I was also a bit confused because you describe what she does in the beginning as a mission, plus then talk about this festival as a mission as well. The festival sounds more like an opportunity for her to make friends rather than a mission. Your way of introducing us to more characters. Perhaps her sidekick and the protagonist.

    Again, I think you just need to slow it down. Sounds weird for YA, but I want to know more about this mission she is on in the beginning. I want more action and conflict there. It was too easy. Perhaps a conversation with the guys who pick up the victim that provides us more details, but not everything of course.

    I would be interested in reading more. :)

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    1. Thanks for the comments. They were more than helpful :)

      The festival isn't a mission, it's joked to be a "mission". Brock even says, "your 'mission' sounds more like a scheme".

      I see about slowing it down a bit.

      Thanks again

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  2. What a strong start! I feel like I'm right there on the chase, with a strong mental image, right off the bat. Maybe it's the first person, maybe your choice of words, I wish I could put a finger on it more specifically. But then, you pull me out of the action too quickly and start telling me the background information. I think this dilutes the awesome power of the first couple paragraphs. It would be a somewhat significant change, but maybe the chase and capture could be more detailed and take up the whole first chapter?
    Bouncing back and forth between the action and the backstory on the Organization gets a little confusing. I'm trying to change gears with you, but I feel like I'm falling behind, needing to reread sentences a couple times.
    Also, Sasame sounds conflicted. I gather that her missions are stressful and taxing, but she has a strong sense of duty to carry them out for the sake of the community. That could be made more clear. It seems like it is a matter of fact that she should spend her time hunting rather than socializing. This internal tension should be made clearer, amplified maybe. How much does she question this duty? How badly are the missions tearing her apart? Will she be able to hold up? These questions may be too much to answer in the first 5 pages, particularly if the opening action scene is expanded. Or, maybe she could show us that she has some of these conflicts going on in her head during the chase scene?
    Zack

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    2. Thanks for the suggestions. I could make the kidnapping its own chapter but I'd have to move things around and basically rewrite the first two chapters. By chapter three it switches POV to another character (one she meets at the festival).

      I added details from people asking for more info on her agency and why she's doing what she's doing. I'll try to scale it back a bit.

      You are right about he being conflicted. She believes she's helping the city, but kidnapping people is tearing her down. I have an issue with "showing" but I'll try my best to make it work.

      Thanks again

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  3. Elisa,
    Your story concept is interesting and intriguing. After reading all of it, I think you should state with the festival scene- make this the first paragraph:

    "Caara Island Summer Fest, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the day our city went to hell and back. From human to Okamikiin, everyone is laughing and stuffing their faces with fried food. The bright sun makes the early evening warmer than usual. I had spent most of the day trying to decide if I want to go to the festival or pass on this ridiculous ploy. After a little persuasion from Lynn, I end up caught in the middle of a crowd of happy people." [Stalking my prey].

    Sasame seems conflicted for sure, so why is this person a hunter? Plus, is this a male or female? I didn't get that this was a teenager until I read it. Maybe elaborate on why Sasame is conflicted. I feel like I am getting too much info too soon- there's a virus, the Organization almost has the cure, they need a few more immune. I would like to know why this isn't going to happen. I am not feeling the dark fantasy aspect of horror and being scared. Maybe that comes later. Also, I had a question about the extraction team. Would it make more sense to have the team with than to capture someone and call an ambulance? Just a question. Plus, if Sasame had to hunt with the team that brings opportunity for conflict and additional ways to unfold details. I just had a lot of questions after reading this- not that that is bad.
    I am excited to read your revision. Julie

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    1. Thanks for the comments.

      The festival is the next day AFTER the first scene. So if I start with the festival, then I'll either have to backtrack through an entire day or delete it all.

      Sasame is a female, I'll add a line to make that more clear.

      I'm not sure what you mean about the extraction team. Are you asking "would it make more sense to work with the team instead of calling them later?" The way you phrased the question confused me.

      The extraction team poses as paramedics so they can grab the target without being noticed. Hunters (like Sasame) work alone, not on teams. Although, there is a team of 3 hunters that work together but they show up later and aren't a major part of the plot.

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  5. Hello! You show great unfolding action in the first scene. There are a few places where a little more insight on what your character is thinking or feeling will give more context. I'm thinking over the comments about starting in a different place. I agree, the pacing here feels rushed as we're moved between two scenes and the start of another all in five pages. It can be tough to determine where to start a story. I think you have choices here. You can start where you do and then perhaps progress to her going home and interacting with her parents. I would suggest spending more time on both of those scenes and not moving on to a third so quickly. You can then give more time for reflection and conflicting thoughts within the action you're presenting. Here are a few examples of places to add more insight:


    For the line> A hint of regret crosses my heart, but I erase it.

    I’d love to see a quick follow-up statement about why she erases the regret. I can’t afford regret or else… [and if you can drop a hint on why your MC is doing this].


    This phrase I think could use a tweak> Without much thought,
    I’m wondering if you actually mean Instinctively, because of training. 'Without much thought' makes me think the MC does not care about attacking someone, that they are careless about doing so. Based on the rest of the pages, she seems to care a great deal and is conflicted. This wording is very minor, but the intent behind it will shape readers’ expectations.

    This line> Hopefully, the impact of his head slamming into the concrete doesn't kill him.
    'Hopefully' because she needs to bring him in alive? Or because she doesn’t want to kill and feels regret? You don’t have to go into extensive detail, but a hint of her conflicting feelings and motivation will help.

    >The antidote is more important that my mental state of mind. The immune are put to better use this way.
    Seeing a hint of this earlier would be great: the mission, the importance. Knowing she is doing this for a reason.

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    1. Thank you for the help!

      I do agree that I'm rushing it a bit. It actually started on the second scene where she's laying in bed listening to her foster parents in the next room. Readers said it was sort of boring so I started with action instead. But I did rush things.

      I did some editing already for the 2nd revision to show her leaving the alley, walking home, and then climbing into bed so there's no scene break. I'll also try to give a little more insight on how she feels/thinks while completing the mission.

      "Without much thought" means she didn't want to let the regret come back and hesitate. I'll reword it to make it sound a little better.

      And yes, she hopes she didn't kill him because he's no good to the Organization dead...and because she doesn't believe in senseless killing. So I guess it's both?

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  7. Intriguing! I like the immediate conflict and tension, and Sasame's voice comes through very strongly. I also love the idea of people with immunity being kidnapped for the purpose of medical experimentation. What a devilish concept!

    I agree with other comments that this could be slowed down significantly. I think you do a great job of giving your reader information slowly, without info dumping, but now is your chance to really add style to your writing. Go into detail about the street she's hiding on and people who inhabit the buildings. Tell us about the trash, the graffiti, the headline on yesterday's crumpled newspaper, the scent from the restaurants. Build your world, and it will serve the dual purpose of slowing the scene and helping suck your reader in.

    Great job!

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)
      I'll try adding more detail about her surroundings

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  8. Hi Elisa,

    Wow, these 5 pages are in great shape! Take it from someone who always struggles with where to start, I know how hard that is! I really like this beginning, the stalking immediately gabbed me, I think the voice is great and you have a terrific hook!

    But, I do agree with the other comments – it feels rushed. I think her following the guy could be the whole first chapter, or her following him through the scene ending with block out the sound of them talking. We get a sense of the stakes (which are great and very unique!) but we need to know Sasame more. Take your time and share a bit more of her interior thoughts. She seems rather blasé about attacking that guy, I’d like to see you revise this entire section, showing her struggle with the mission she believes in verses this act of violence:

    Without much thought, I jog up behind him and jab the spikes of my brass-knuckle-shaped stun gun into his ribs, the power up as high as it'll go. His phone drops to the ground as his body stiffens. Now he knows I'm here.

    Maybe his brain will fry before his eyes bulge out. On second thought, The Organization wouldn't appreciate me tampering with their new “blood donor”.

    A swift kick into the jagged-brick wall and he's knocked out cold leaving a small blood stain behind. Hopefully, the impact of his head slamming into the concrete doesn't kill him. He's still breathing—for now.

    As it is now, I don’t really like Sasame as I read this. It’s fine to create unlikeable characters, but I don’t think that’s your intention. If you show her struggle more, through her thoughts and some physical actions, (for the first time, she didn’t hesitate, or her hand trembled slightly or some such) she’ll be more likeable.

    And I agree with Kit – this is a cool world, I want to see it!

    Good luck – I can’t wait to read next week!


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    1. Thank you so much :)
      I'm debating if I should make the hunt a full chapter, but Sasame is pretty quick with her hunts so I'll have to think over that. I am working on adding more internal thoughts, though. Hopefully this next revision will show I'm heading in the right direction.

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