Monday, May 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Burton Rev 2

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

Alex Evans, pop-punk diva and video game warrior, relies on her best friend Sean Peters, a mischievous troublemaker and slacker, to keep her sane at school. So, when he disappears, she is determined to track him down.

Instead, she finds S’Zarak, Sean’s Geist – a symbiote made of shadows that can’t survive for long without its host. Alex had never suspected that Geist existed, but now she must decide what she is willing to risk to save S’Zarak and reunite it with Sean, who has been taken by the Geist’s sworn enemies.

S’Zarak leads her to Melissa, a Guardian of the Geist and carrier of her own symbiote, who reluctantly takes Alex under her wing. Alex is firmly in the closet, but she can’t help her reactions to Melissa, who moves and fights like a dancer. Can she admit to herself, and to Melissa, what she really wants?

Meanwhile, Sean wakes to find that he has been kidnapped by his own long-lost brother, who tells him the ‘truth’ about the Geist.  Sean must decide which is the ‘right’ side, but how can he choose between his brother’s story and everything he’s ever known to be true.

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 the normal crowd inside. Even from a block away, Sean could see that the bouncer wasn't at his usual post outside the door. He grinned. If there was no bouncer, there’d be no embarrassing under-age hand stamps tonight. Only another two months and he’d be eighteen. Then there’d never be any ever again. He couldn’t wait.

As he passed the alley by the side of The Pit, he paused. The noise he’d heard must have been a piece of rubbish blowing in the wind. Only an idiot would be hanging out in an alley in this weather.

It 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. It was stupid to leave the main road. This wasn’t exactly the safest neighbourhood, but someone could be hurt. He couldn’t just walk away.

Leaving the lights of the road behind, his eyes adjusted to the shadows. A shape – something, someone - seemed to slump against the wall at the alley's end. Creeping forward, he called out again, but there was no response.

Rough hands seized his wrists, pulling his arms behind his back. He twisted, trying to see who was there.  This had better not be another one of Alex’s stupid pranks.

Struggling, he got one arm free, his messenger-bag falling from his shoulder and lost under his feet. He shouted for help, but his voice was drowned out by the rock music now pouring out of the warehouse's open windows. 

His captors dragged him backwards, lifting him into some kind of vehicle. He could hear the engine running, a bass vibration below the music.  They threw him hard against the inside 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. There was no point even trying to escape. He heard a quiet voice urging him to fight, but it was muffled by the fear that swamped 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 struggled to focus on it, his vision blurring as the effects of the chemicals spread. He sagged against the wall as he lost control of his weakening limbs.

'I'm sorry, Sean, this is going to hurt,’ the man 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. The man’s black hair and his blue eyes that seemed to glow in the dim light were so familiar.

‘Marcus?’ Sean forced the word out past his drug-thickened tongue. ‘Brother? But… I thought you were dead?’

He wanted to beg his brother to stop, to save him, but the darkness claimed him 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 Sean’s house.  Her heart ached with the thrill of speed, the joy of escape from school. 

Part of her wished 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 last night.  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 odd, but it didn’t mean she wasn’t going to yell at him when she saw him. She couldn’t believe he’d stood her up.

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 open.

Walking up the front path, Alex heard raised voices coming from inside the house. A man shouted, ‘We will find him! I promise we’ll get him back, Marie’, followed by a woman’s sobs. Maybe someone was watching the tv. It sounded too dramatic to be real, but no lights flickered in the Peters’ lounge window.

She slowed her pace, trying to hear more, but only the muffled sound of the voices reached her. When she knocked, the voices fell silent; maybe not the tv then.

Heavy footsteps moved towards the door and it opened to reveal Mrs Peters. She was a tall, handsome woman, the female image of her younger son. They both had the same blue eyes under a shock of jet black hair, the colour heightened by the contrast.

‘Hi, Mrs Peters,’ Alex said, pushing her short brown hair out of her eyes. ‘Is Sean ok? He didn’t turn up today and I haven’t heard from him.’

‘Oh, Alex.’ Her gaze skated over Alex, never settling on anything. Alex noticed her knuckles whiten where she gripped the half-open door. ‘Yes, Sean’s fine. A little under the weather. I’m sure he’ll be 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’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 from crying. 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. Her gut tensed; something was wrong.

As she moved away, the voices started up again.  She lingered, unlocking her bike, trying to hear more. The occasional word drifted to her; ‘missing’, ‘police’. They couldn’t be talking about Sean. It must be something else, anything else.


  1. Hi, Rebecca!

    This plot looks so kick-ass!! So awesome!!
    I love how the pitch characterizes Alex. The suggestion of romance is unexpected and wonderful, and I'm already dying to find out how it ends. I wonder if you could be a touch more specific about how Sean keeps Alex "sane at school"? Is she bullied, a misfit, or just bored? If he's a troublemaker and slacker, how is this beneficial to her? I love 'unlikeable' pairings in friendship, but the query leaves me a bit uncertain about their dynamic.
    For the second paragraph, I'd just watch wordiness. The second sentence is quite a mouthful.
    The third paragraph adds an great new dimension to the story, and my nitpicky suggestion would be to use another word instead of "reactions." Honestly, "feelings" might be simpler and more effective.
    The 'meanwhile' paragraph feels a bit tacked on. I think because the fourth and third paragraphs suggest different focuses for the story, especially since Alex has been the 'main' character for the rest of the pitch. Perhaps work on blending Sean's thread better?

    As for the chapter itself, you've done an amazing job of adding more voice since the last revision :) I still think there's room to deepen this, especially to distinguish Alex and Sean. I want to hear & see the "pop-punk diva" part of Alex! At the moment, she still comes across as rather flat.

    Small thing, but why does Sean think it's useless to try and escape? Shouldn't he attempt to fight?

    You've definitely made it less authorial in this revision, but I'm still not sold on the "We'll get him back, Marie!" line. Alex is right, it is a touch overdramatic.

    Finally, you might want to consider playing about with the dialogue a bit more. There's nothing necessarily wrong with it, but it lacks voice, and the conversations are quite banal. I know Mrs P is trying to maintain the face of normality, but her dialogue is very familiar and dull. Even Sean's exclamation could be tweaked to be less /ordinary/: "Hey, is someone there?" is a small change, but I think it sounds more natural than "Hello? Who's there?"

    But overall, I've loved reading this one. Best of luck on revisions :)


  2. Hey Rebecca,

    I like your pitch and the story sounds interesting. I was glad to see what it was about because I had no idea just from the pages. I think the pitch might be a tad long. Better too long and to have to cut than too short.

    The last thing I'll leave you with is to carefully go through each paragraph, each sentence and ask yourself, am I telling or showing. If you're telling, think of ways to show. You've done a better job of drawing out the tension, but the info seems dumped along, especially in the first chapter versus the prologue and that distracts from the action. Some telling is good. All stories have it. But too much at a time gets hard to keep track of.

    Best of luck in your revisions and working on the rest of the novel.


  3. Hi, Rebecca. Your submission has come a long way since the first draft. You've brought more voice and given us a sense of who Sean and Alex are. I'm glad you cut some of the internal thoughts, especially the questions.

    I'm going to agree with the others that there is still a lot of telling and not enough of showing. I'd suggest cutting anything that says your characters "saw",
    "heard", "felt", "smelled", or "tasted". For example, "
    Sean could see that the bouncer was not in his usual..." should be "The bouncer was not in his..." "The noise he'd heard must've been..." could be "The rustle of rubbish caught in the wind quickened his pulse."

    Also watch words like started, had, could, etc. "Had driven" should be "drove". "Could see" should be "
    saw". "As he passed" should be "Passing". "He had started walking" should be "He walked" or "Walking". You want your scene to remain active rather than passive.

    There a few descriptor words that are repeated. Try to find more unique words. For example, "dark" is used often".

    Your pitch is quite good and I have very few suggestions. However, the way you describe Alex in your pitch doesn't seem to hold true in your pages. I'd never have guessed she was a pop-punk diva. You may want to give us a hint of that. I do want to say I like your sentence about the bike and not being able to buy a car on her dad's wages. It immediately gives us a glimpse of her social-economic class. She's clearly not the rich girl on the block.

    Again, you have the start of a great story here. Keep up the good work and good luck.

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    I really like the pace of this. The first bits of both the prologue and chapter one seems to have been smoothed out, and I feel like I can settle right into the story.

    The plot sounds interesting in the pitch, but I struggled with the second paragraph. There's a lot going on there, so I'd see if you can break some of the more complicated concepts up into shorter sentences and make them more bite-sized. Maybe other elements in the pitch can be cut to accommodate this. For example, is it important for the pitch that Melissa is carrier of her own symbiote? I don't really know the implications without the rest of the plot, and "a Guardian of the Geist" seems to give her enough heft on its own.

    Great improvements on this! Best of luck as you move forward!

  5. Hello Rebecca!

    I like how you've added variety to your sentence structure and naturalized the internal dialogue since your last draft. You've also done a great job cleaning up the text and eliminating passive constructions.

    The other comments already point out most of the feedback I have for you. What I have left on the draft is all dinky stuff. It stuck out to me when Sean says "Brother?" I like that you put that clue in dialogue, but I don't know teen who calls their brother "Brother." So although the delivery is nicer in theory, it felt unnatural and thus expositiony there.

    As for your pitch: I think it's too long and focuses too much on the plot and not enough on the concept. Your pitch should be a way to sell someone on the idea of the story -- not explain the events that take place. When working on a pitch, try to give a stranger the fastest, most immediate reasons that this book is exciting. Imagine you're trying to explain why you love your favorite television show to someone: You wouldn't give them a blow by blow summary of the plots of the first episode, right? You have limited time to catch someone's attention with a pitch, so focus on the same details: What makes your story special and why it's an exciting read that someone won't be able to put down. They will find out the plot when they read it, but you have to get them to read it, first.

    Good luck! It's been a pleasure reading you these past few weeks!


  6. Hi Rebecca!

    Obviously I love Alex. You described her so well and she seems like she’s going to really be dynamic throughout the story. I like that this seems as though it’s going to be told from two POVs throughout the whole story. You do a fabulous job explaining the stories in your pitch.

    One suggestion I have for the pitch is maybe to be more explicit on how Alex and Sean’s adventures will relate to one another. They seem like they have two separate storylines that are loosely related, so make that connection a little stronger.

    You have pushed yourself as a writer throughout these revisions and I can definitely see the improvement in just this short time. I really love seeing how you’ve implemented character development in this draft. You could take that one step even further. Maybe this might sound crazy, but have you considered drafting just these pages in first person POV? Even if you want to stay in close third, drafting in first might help you find those little nuances that make Sean and Alex’s voices unique. It also might help you get into their head a bit more. I second Wendy’s comment about taking out all the instances of “felt, saw, heard” to help us get closer to the characters. I think if you tried first person as just an exercise it would help you get rid of some of that.

    Also, I feel like you might be able to cut the first four paragraphs. Things really get exciting when Sean leaves the main road to check out the noise. You can sprinkle in the part about where he was going later when Alex contemplated why she couldn’t be with him that night. You can hook us even faster if you move the action up.

    Excellent job with your revisions and your pitch is really great. I would read this in a heartbeat and I truly hope I get to see it out in the world soon.

    Best of luck!

  7. Hello, Rebecca,

    Interesting concept!

    I was a bit thrown by your second paragraph in your pitch. That was not where I was expecting your story to go. Look tot he copy of well known urban fantasy series (like CITY OF BONES) to see how they introduce those elements.

    Most editors and agents are very picky about prologues, so I would advise cutting the Sean section. I'd like you to make Alex and Sean's voices different. Paige suggested a first person POV, and I actually think that might help you out.

    Anywho, that is just my take.

    Best of luck.

  8. Pitch Comments:

    First of all, this is WAY too long! You get one paragraoh to pitch your book and that's it. You can use longer descriptions for a synopsis but not for a pitch. There are no actual word limits but 100 is usually more than enough. 75 is even better.

    Next, pitches should never ask questions.

    Finally, you need to focus on the goal and the obstacles and decisions about what to do are neither. Tell us what Alex wants, why she needs it and who/what is going to get in her way. That's all you need.

    Good luck!

  9. Pages:

    I still think you need to work on doing a lot more showing and a lot less telling. I also still find the POV too removed which is one of the main reasons it feels telly. I'm not inside these characters' heads here. I'm in your narrator's.

    You might find it helpful to try this exercise: take these pages and rewrite them from first POV. This often helps people identify areas in 3rd POV that are too removed. If you do this, try to really consider what the character would be thinking in the situation. It shouldn't sound like narration ever. Once you're done, you can switch the pronouns back for 3rd. There shouldn't be many differences other than this.