Sunday, May 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages May Workshop- Burton

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 girl bass player. 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 normally ever-present queue was missing.

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, or had he heard someone?

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

Nervously, Sean stepped into the darkness. He really didn't want to be there, but if someone was in trouble, he figure that he should at least try to help.

Leaving the lights of the road behind, his eyes started to adjust to the shadows. He thought he could see a shape slumped against the wall at the alley's end. Moving forwards gingerly, he called out again, but there was no response.

Suddenly, the world went dark and he felt his arms being grabbed from behind. Fabric brushed his face from the bag had been forced over his head.

He tried to struggle and got one arm free, his own messenger-bag falling from his shoulder and lost under his feet. He was quickly immobilised again, and he shouted in vain, knowing that no one would hear him over the loud rock music now pouring out of the warehouse's open windows. 

The bag was ripped off again and he blinked at the sudden change in light as a cloth was clamped over his nose and mouth. It was soaked in something sweet and medicinal, and he could feel his head growing foggy and his limbs start to weaken. Through eyes growing blurry, he saw a man approaching holding some kind of machine. All tubes and wires, it looked like the twisted offspring of a trumpet and a blender. The sight of it repelled him and Sean tried to focus on the man's face instead; he looked so familiar but Sean couldn't place him.

'I'm sorry, Sean, but this is going to hurt', the man said as he placed the open mouth of the device against Sean's stomach and pulled a lever. 

Sean screamed as agony ripped through him, but it was muffled by the cloth and by the drugs already coursing through his bloodstream. It felt like every nerve in his body was on fire, and he wasn't sure how long he could live through the pain. His eyes locked with those of the man torturing him, as he felt consciousness slipping away, and Sean suddenly realised why the man's black hair and 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?

The shock of recognition momentarily pushed back the darkness and Sean tried to call out to his brother to stop, to save him, but he was claimed by unconsciousness before his lips could form the words.

Chapter 1

Alex glanced at her watch again. Five to nine. Sean was late and he was going to miss class if he didn't turn up soon.

She shivered in the cold, brushing her short brown hair back out of her face when it fell forward. She'd been waiting for nearly half an hour for Sean on the front steps of Oakwood School's Sixth Form Centre. Sean had promised to meet her before school to tell her all about the new punk band who had played The Pit last night. Alex had been forced to miss the gig to study for a Biology test, which started in less than five minutes, and now her best friend was standing her up with the details!

Reluctantly, she headed towards the lab, nodding to a couple of guys she knew who were messing about on skateboards by the railings. It wasn't that unusual for Sean to be late for school, or even to miss the whole day on occasion, but not when he'd promised to meet Alex. He could at least have sent a message if he wasn't going to show up.

Glancing at her silent phone for the tenth time, Alex slid into her usual seat at the back of the Biology lab, Marnie smiling in welcome across the lab bench. With effort she turned her attention from her thoughtless friend to her notes on cellular division. Maybe she could memorise a bit more before the test started.

Sean still hadn't turned up by lunch. Worried, Alex thought she'd better check with Mrs Owen in the teacher's office. Maybe Sean, or his mum, had contacted the school directly, instead of her.

Mrs Owen was Alex's favourite teacher. She was Head Librarian and taught A-level English. Alex had been helping her out for years, checking books in and out and restacking shelves. Mrs Owen introduced her to all of her favourite authors, and she would have loved the librarian for that, even if she hadn't given her a haven. The library had become Alex's safe place after her mum left and her dad was forced to take on night shifts at work, which meant he was never around after school.

'Hey, Mrs O.' Alex called as she entered the library, the smell of the books bringing a smile to her face. The room was nearly deserted at lunchtime as hungry students raided the cafeteria.

'Oh, hello there, Alex. New t-shirt today? What is this one?'

Alex glanced down at her outfit - her normal baggy jeans, slogan tee and hoody tied round her hips - to check what she'd put on that morning. 'Oh, no, this is an old one. It's from 'Firefly'. Have you heard from Sean this morning?'

'Yes, Mrs Peters called this morning. It seems that our poor Sean has a nasty stomach bug, so she's kept him home today. I'm sure we'll have him back very soon - causing mischief no doubt!'

Alex grinned. Mrs O and Sean had never seen eye to eye; the librarian and the joker having very different ideas on the importance of reading and how to treat books with care! 

'Thanks Mrs O. I was getting worried. It's not like Sean not to be online and I hadn't heard from him today.'

'He must be feeling very ill then. Not much will keep you youngsters away from those phones of yours. But hopefully you'll grow out of it. I need eyes in the back of my head to deal with several hundred of you every day. You'll never believe what people will try to do to a library book.'

'Oh no. Not rude drawings again? Do you need me to swing by after class and help with repairs tonight?'

'Only if you have time, dear. But I'm sure you'd rather be checking in with that scamp of a friend of yours. I can spare you for one night. But make sure you're there Monday. I have plans for non-fiction!'


  1. Hey, Rebecca!

    First of all, I'm LOVING your writing style. Your words have a beautiful flow to them, and I felt utterly sucked into the story from the first moment. It's tricky to pull off a prologue (it'll be interesting to see what everyone else thinks) but I think you managed it. It's mysterious, yet it didn't leave me feeling lost.

    From a purely technical standpoint, just watch cliches. Phrases like "Suddenly, the world went dark" and "every nerve in his body was on fire" and even Sean's dialogue are quite familiar, which lessens the emotional punch.

    Another thing to watch is showing vs telling. On the whole, you do a good job, but you lapsed into telling with emotions. -ly endings like 'reluctantly' and 'gingerly' are fine (I use them all the time lol) but for the first few pages, I wanted to FEEL these emotions in the characters rather than just be told about them.

    Content wise, I felt you struck a great balance between mystery and concrete detail in the prologue, but I wanted just a few more details about Sean (age and whatnot).

    For Alex's chapter, the passing of time seemed a bit wonky. We get such a specific time, then WHOOSH we're skipping ahead to lunchtime. Consider starting in the library and having Alex note Sean's absence, rather than hurrying us through the day.

    But overall, great job! I'm dying to

    ~Mary :)

  2. I think the idea behind the prologue is good. What happens is a good hook, but I think the delivery needs some work. The famous adage, "show, don't tell" comes to mind. I feel like you would do well to condense and make the events really pop. The character is shocked. So should the reader feel.

    I would also really like more details, especially info about the punk rock clubs. As someone who loves punk rock clubs, I want to know more and get in that familiar, or better yet, not so familiar atmosphere. I feel like there's a lot of good stuff at work here and potential, but in order to shine a little more, the form needs some thought. How can you make those details pop out? I feel as though instead of being pulled in, I become distant because I'm lost in some of the details that are told to me instead of shown over time.

    You'll get there. You know what they say, writing is rewriting.

  3. Great work, overall! I really like your writing style and what you have here. The prologue is gripping, and the mystery carries through chapter one. This may sound silly, but I struggled with the age of the main characters. I assumed a bouncer at the door meant Sean is 21 or so because that’s normal in the US and I didn't know the location at that point. You'd think "Sixth Form Centre" would straighten me out, but I thought that meant Alex was equivalent to a sixth grader, which would mean about 12 years old here. I googled sixth form centre to understand how old they are. If you could find a subtle way to mention Sean's age, that might help. Sorry for the most trivial of suggestions! I’m building your US fan base!

  4. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for sharing - great prologue with some cool atmosphere and a DUN DUN DUNNNN moment at the end.

    That said, I'd really love to see that tension carry through into chapter 1. Although Alex is worried about Sean, the tension gets lost because she's going through her day. Understandably, in the real world, she probably wouldn't leave school in the morning because she was worried... however, we don't have to walk the reader through everything that happens during that time. I feel like everything that happens in Alex's school section slows the pace down and I forget why she's worried and what happened to Sean -- the urgency is lost in the mundane details of being in school, talking to a teacher, etc.

    From a technical standpoint, I think this draft could benefit from a close line-edit. Break apart your sentences when they don't feel like they're working for you. It's fine to write short and to the point. It will also keep the pacing up. Use fewer, powerful words when possible -- let your vocabulary do the heavy lifting!

    Once you tighten up the pacing and line cadence, you'll find the story moves much faster and will -- hopefully -- get us into the drama faster. Like when we find out what happened to Sean!

    Finally, I see this manuscript is urban fantasy. That said, I would have liked to see a little more of the fantasy aspect. Probably in the prologue. Give me something a little mysterious and out of this world -- make me want to know even more about how the Earth of this story is different from ours.

    Looking forward to reading the next round!


  5. Hello Rebecca!
    I too enjoy punk rock bands and Firefly, so you definitely have a relatable MC! I also really like your writing style and how you teased the reader with the prologue. It definitely works because we need it to build tension in the first chapter when Alex realizes something is wrong with Sean.

    I HAVE to know more details about Sean, which means you should get back to him sooner. As Mr. Lee suggested, skip the more mundane, everyday parts of Alex's routine and have her stop by Sean's house after school. I love seeing how concerned she is about her friend. It definitely endears her to the reader, but it just leaves me with wanting to see them interact with one another.

    One small technical thing I noticed, and something I am also VERY guilty of, is you used "he felt/it felt like" a few times. It can get tricky in close third person POV because using "felt" a lot can take the reader away from the character. For example, instead of "It felt like every nerve in his body was on fire" you could change it to "every nerve ending in his body was on fire." It makes it much more dramatic and puts us into the character's head without sacrificing the comparison you're making here. Changing similes to metaphors can make the piece shine and also add a depth to the character's voice, especially in extreme situations.

    This is a really intriguing story and I can't wait to see your next revision! Thanks for representing the punk rock kids!

  6. So I'm going to start with some overall comments for this round:
    -don't use ly adverbs outside of dialogue. You have to show these things by using stronger verbs and more setting cues.
    -you need a lot more feelings and reactions here, especially in the prologue. Use internal monologue to show us how he/she is feeling and thinking. Don't rely on emotive words.
    -your two POVs sound too similar. We should be able to tell that you've changed characters by the voice
    -your dialogue is a little stilted. Try to make the speech sound more realistic. Also make sure different people talk differently.

    Good luck!

  7. Sorry for popping in late. Had a family medical emergency.

    I think you have a great concept here, from what I can gather. You give the reader enough information that we have no choice to be hooked and wondering about poor Sean and why his brother would do such a thing.

    I'm going to agree with the other comments above. There is a lot of passive writing here with the use of adverbs, "had been", inactive verbs, "and". What happens when you write like this is that you've got a suspenseful scene, but it drags because of flowery writing. These sentences should be short and precise. Cut unnecessary phrases. Especially the cliches.

    Alex feels very flat to me. I don't get a sense of who she is or what drives her. She's worried about Sean, but bummed because he was going to give her tips for the test, but other than that...she lacks that three dimensional personality that you want to see from a MC. Is she snarky? Shy? Is she failing classes and if so why? Or is she uber smart but doesn't want to study?

    Sean gets a bag over his head and then its taken off. Which plays out weird because what was the purpose of putting it on him anyway? Was he thrown in a car? Dragged into another building? Nothing seems to happen between putting the bag on his head and taking it off.

    The dialogue needs work. Especially with Alex and the librarian. It feels very forced and unnatural. And why would the librarian know that Sean was sick? Usually only attendance office and teachers would be aware of the absence.

    You've got a good start and lots of great feedback from the others. Don't get discouraged. I look forward to seeing round 2.