Monday, May 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Burton Rev 1

Name: Rebecca Burton
Genre: Young Adult urban fantasy
Title: Shadows Rising

Sean ducked his head against the rain and walked faster. He was late for the gig and he didn't want to miss the warm-up band, with the sexy rock-chick on bass. 

The rain had driven everyone else inside. Even from a block away, Sean could see that the bouncer wasn't at his usual post outside the door and the ever-present queue was missing. He grimaced. Only two more months until he was eighteen, until there were no more embarrassing under-age hand stamps and he could drink – well, legally anyway.

As he passed the alley which ran down the side of The Pit, he paused. Was that just a piece of rubbish blowing in the wind? Only an idiot would be hanging out in an alley in this weather.

The sound didn't repeat. He had just started walking again when a scream rang out and was cut short. 'Hello? Who's there? Are you ok?', he shouted, spinning to face the dark mouth of the alley.

Sean inched forward into the darkness. What was he doing? This was stupid! But he couldn’t just walk away.  What if someone was hurt?

Leaving the lights of the road behind, his eyes started to adjust to the shadows. Was that a shape slumped against the wall at the alley's end? Creeping forward, he called out again, but there was no response.

His arms were grabbed from behind. What the hell? He twisted, trying to see who was there.  It had better not be another one of Alex’s stupid pranks.

He struggled, getting one arm free, his messenger-bag falling from his shoulder and lost under his feet. He tried to shout for help, but his voice was drowned out by the loud rock music now pouring out of the warehouse's open windows. 

His captors dragged him backwards, lifting him into a van that had pulled up at the mouth of the alley.  They threw him hard against the wall and Sean fell to the floor. Two masked men loomed over him in the semi-darkness. He shivered. Maybe this wasn’t a prank. But what could they possibly want with a kid like him?

He wanted to run, but his body was frozen. He couldn’t escape. There was no point even trying. He could hear a quiet voice urging him to fight, but it was muffled by the fear that engulfed him.

One of the men crouched down, clamping a cloth over his nose and mouth. It smelt sweet and medicinal, the chemicals replacing the ice in his veins with a warm, welcoming fog. 

The second man picked up some kind of machine. All tubes and wires, it looked like the twisted offspring of a trumpet and a blender. Sean couldn’t bear to look at it so he focused on the man's face instead; he looked familiar somehow but Sean couldn't place him.

'I'm sorry, Sean. This is going to hurt,’ he said, placing the open mouth of the device against Sean's stomach.

Sean screamed as invisible knives tore into his gut, ripping him apart from the inside. A thin trickle of smoke poured out of him through the machine. It hung in the air, looking almost human, as Sean stretched his hand out towards it. Then, it was blown out of the door, torn to shreds by the wind that whistled through the alley. 

Sean’s gaze returned to the man torturing him and he realised why the man's black hair and the blue eyes that seemed to glow in the dim light were so familiar.

But this man couldn't be his older brother. Marcus had disappeared years ago, was presumed to be dead, and, anyway, he would never hurt his little brother like this, would he?

Sean tried to call out to his brother to stop, to save him, but he was claimed by the darkness before his lips could form the words.

Chapter 1

Alex pushed herself faster, her cheeks flushing in the sharp wind, as the bicycle swept down the hill towards her best friend Sean’s house.  Her heart ached with the thrill of speed, the joy of escape from college. 

Part of her wished that she was driving, like her friends.  She was seventeen already. She had her provisional licence but they couldn’t afford lessons, let alone a car, on her dad’s wages. Still, on a day like this, this feeling of almost flying was enough.

She pulled up outside Sean’s house and chained her bike to the railings. The pleasure of moving faded leaving her sober.  Sean had stood her up before school even though he had promised faithfully that he would fill her in on the gig she had missed the night before.  Stupid biology test! But getting a scholarship to university had to come first, even over her beloved music.  Otherwise, she’d be stuck in this town for the rest of her life.

Being late for school wasn’t that unusual for Sean, but he hadn’t turned up all day or answered any of the messages she’d sent him.  That was just odd.

She glanced up at white pebble-dashed house, with its lush beds of lavender under each window, busy with bees now that the rain had stopped.  The blinds at Sean’s window were closed.

Walking up the steps to the door, Alex heard raised voices, which were silenced by her knock. Heavy footsteps moved towards the door. It opened to reveal Mrs Peters. She was a tall, handsome woman, the female image of her younger son. They both had the same laughing blue eyes under a shock of jet black hair, the colour heightened by the contrast.

‘Hi, Mrs Peters. Sean wasn’t at school today and he hasn’t replied to my texts. I got worried. Is he ok?’ Alex asked, pushing her short brown hair out of her eyes.

‘Oh, Alex. How are you? Yes, Sean is fine. Just a little under the weather.’ Her gaze skated over Alex, never settling on anything. Alex noticed her knuckles whiten where she gripped the half-open door. ‘I’m sure he’ll be much better soon. I’m afraid I can’t let you up to see him. He’s just fallen asleep and he needs to rest.’

‘Uh, sure thing, Mrs Peters. Just tell him I stopped by and to let me know when he’s feeling better? I can always pop over to play some video games if he wants company.’

‘I’ll let him know. Goodbye, Alex.’

‘Bye, Mrs P…’ Alex’s voice faded as the door closed in her face. Something was definitely wrong. Normally, she’d be invited in and plied with cookies, but Mrs Peters had seemed tired and tense, her eyes red. Sean should have been in touch by now, even if he was ill. He was wedded to his phone; even in his sleep it was in his hands. Maybe he really was very sick? That might explain everything, but she really hoped not.

As she moved away, the voices started up again. She heard a man saying, ‘We will find him. I promise we will get him back, Marie!’, followed by a woman sobbing.

Alex lost her footing, stumbling down the steps. What on earth could the man mean? It sounded so dramatic, like some kind of movie. It couldn’t be real, could it? They couldn’t be talking about Sean? He was just ill or had drunk too much at The Pit and was pretending so as not to get in trouble, again, for drinking. That was all it was.


  1. Great job on the revision! I'm going to focus on some more detailed things this time:
    -When you say, "He tried to shout for help, but his voice was drowned out" you need to remove the "tried" because he obviously DID shout (it just wasn't heard).
    -Dialogue tags should always go at first break in speech. For example, "‘Hi, Mrs Peters. Sean wasn’t at school today and he hasn’t replied to my texts. I got worried. Is he ok?' Alex asked, pushing her short brown hair out of her eyes." should be "'Hi, Mrs Peters,' Alex said, pushing her short brown hair out of her eyes. 'Sean wasn’t at school today and he hasn’t replied to my texts. I got worried. Is he ok?'"
    -When you say, "her best friend Sean" you are telling. She knows who Sean is so she would just think of him as "Sean" not "My best friend Sean."
    -Try to use contractions in speech unless you have a really good reason not to. When you say "We will find him" instead of "We'll find him" it sounds stilted.
    -Watch where you have compound sentences joined by "and" that don't have a comma before the "and". They are clunky to read.
    -Be careful that you don't describe things your POV character can't see. For example, "lifting him into a van that had pulled up at the mouth of the alley. " If this van had just pulled up behind him, he couldn't have seen it.
    -For the scene with Sean, I still think you should try to get closer in the POV. For example, when you say, "His arms were grabbed from behind" you are describing this as if you (the narrator) are watching from above. If you described it from his POV, you might say something like he felt two hands wrap around his forearms and wrench them behind his back. Okay, maybe use better words than that. The point is to imagine exactly what he feels here and not what happens.
    -I think American readers are going to be confused by the college comment since (I think) she's in high school which is not usually called a college.

    Good luck with the next revision!

  2. Hi Becky,

    I think your first 5 is still compelling. It makes me want to know what's next, so it's successful in that regard. The pacing feels improved in this draft and there isn't a lag in the tension.

    I think the third paragraph in chapter one is an interesting moment. It discusses reasons for her to be mad at Sean, and I wonder if that should be played up a little more and maybe she realizes something is odd later as she is talking to his mom. Readers love to know something the character does not, so if Alex is mad at Sean, not realizing he's in a dire situation, I think that takes the moment up a notch.

    One other minor thing, if I were still two months away from drinking age and noticed there was no bouncer at the door, my first thought would be that I'm getting in without a hand stamp. I'd see it as an opportunity, but he seems unhappy about it.

    Good luck on draft three!

  3. Hi Becky!

    The pacing is so much smoother this round! Amazing job!

    Holly has nailed all the technical things I was going to bring up, especially with the whole 'describing things your POV character can't see' thing. Really, my main suggestion is to deepen the characters. I didn't get much of an idea who Sean and Alex were. The dialogue was a tad stilted & expository.

    Also, although this is more of a stylistic choice, I felt a bit jarred by the amount of rhetorical questions.
    'What was he doing? This was stupid! But he couldn’t just walk away. What if someone was hurt? Leaving the lights of the road behind, his eyes started to adjust to the shadows. Was that a shape slumped against the wall at the alley's end?'
    ^^^ is an example. The questions are generic and part of a normal thought process. Could you perhaps tweak them to include more voice? For the above passage, maybe show him hesitating, show his uncertainty through his body language, etc.

    Also also, a touch nitpicky, but I thought the "We will find him" line was a bit too convenient. Maybe when she's in the house, she sees something suggesting Sean is missing rather than sick?

    But it's a compelling piece, and I'm excited to see where you take it! Great job!

    ~Mary :)

  4. Becky:

    Great job, I can tell you put a lot of work into this! The pacing in the beginning is much better, and I really like the way you transformed general descriptions and statements into perspective-driven observations. Also appreciate that you introduce Sean thinking about Alex -- helps position the relation between the two characters.

    One thing that I missed in Sean's opening is the effect of the drug he's dosed with. Originally you showed how it was changing his perception as he grew bleary, but as written now, he gets dosed with it and then seems to remain almost completely alert through the procedure (though maybe this is your intent).

    Then for Alex's part: WOW! Fantastic job. I enjoyed this so much more, and you kept up the pacing both by having Alex in swift motion doing something, and then juicing up the drama when she finds out Sean's mom is hiding that something bad has happened to Sean.

    I agree that there is a lot of questioning happening in the text. These are all right one at a time, but they can get repetitive in sequence. My guess is that it's a stand-in for internal dialogue, so I'd suggest changing them into more declarative statements that give us insight into the character's internal process.

    Technically, this draft could also benefit from a review for passive voice and, as others mentioned, contractions and tone. Really, I think what this revision calls for is a close line-edit, to make sure you keep in voice for both characters.

    E.g., from Mary's example excerpt above, you could try:

    Sean left the lights of the road behind him. It was stupid to wander into a dark alley alone, but he couldn't just walk away. Someone could be hurt. As his eyes adjusted to the shadows, he shivered. Something -- or someone -- was slumped against the wall at the end of the alley.

    Best wishes, and can't wait to see what you come up with on the next round!


    PS: Maybe it's telling, but I agree with Adam: If I were almost drinking age and saw there was no bouncer, I'd be like: Yes! Drinking tonight!

  5. Rebecca,

    You've got a lot of great comments to work with here. The writing feels a lot cleaner and flows much better. But lets make that shine even more.

    The first way I believe you can improve the flow is by cutting out some internal dialogues/questions. Examples include:
    "What the hell?"
    "This is stupid!"
    things of that nature, that he may be able to say out loud, which also might not work. Maybe you cut cut them entirely just to make room for better, stronger prose. You write action well. I would like to see more of that instead of feeling a bit stunted by or slowed down by what I believe is an attempt to increase tension.

    I want to see that machine described a lot more. Linger on that. It's probably pretty creepy. I bet you can make it creepier.

    Could you show that Sean recognizes the man by having him say his name as a question? When you say, "he knew him but couldn't place from where" it just doesn't carry as much weight. Instead, maybe he could say, "[insert name]?" cut to the end of the prologue.

    Just my personal preference, but I think prologues should have very little internal POV and voice. The reason is I feel like most prologues are supposed to be teasers, hooks of action that will make sense later that get the reader excited and curious before they transition into something slower and more voice driven.

    Which brings me to my next point: if you're going to write a prologue, I believe it has to have a very, strong, visceral hook. The first line just doesn't do it for me. That being said, I know you can come up with something better, something that really wants me to keep reading without a second thought.

    All things considered, the most important thing I think I can leave you with is that I do want to know what's going on, what this story is about and where it's going. Looking forward to reading that query.

    Good luck,


  6. Your revision is great! It shows that you’re willing to take risks and make big changes. I think Alex’s part is much more exciting in this version than before. I love that you made it so we’re picking up with her going to check on Sean. That’s a perfect place to start with her.

    You have so many helpful comments already that I agree with about your story. I would like to suggest that you maybe open with when Sean gets grabbed by the wrists. If you start with the attack, you’ll be able to hook the reader in even more quickly and you can always use Alex to give that context. Like she could mention that Sean was supposed to tell her all about the concert at The Pit last night, etc.

    Perhaps Alex could overheat the “we will find him” and the crying before she knocks on the door. It would make more sense to me for her to hear that first rather than wait around and overhear it. Just a small thing but it might add to the intrigue of the situation.

    I’m impressed with your changed for this revision and I am eager to read another one and see you pitch!