Monday, May 21, 2018

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Prenatt Rev 2

Name: James Prenatt
Genre: YA Horror Fantasy
Title What We Do Is Secret


On her seventeenth birthday, Scarlet inherits a mirror from her mother.

When she looks into it, it speaks to her, telling her everything she wants to hear, and giving her the confidence to stand up to her bullies. She decides to share the mirror with in order to make friends, leading to the discovery that they are all being haunted by a ghost that takes on the form of their deepest insecurities.

Scarlet finds out the mirror is one of seven unholy icons created by her mother and her friends when they were teenagers. What began as a fun game turned out to be much darker and dangerous than they expected, for each icon stems from a deadly sin and the most powerful of these is greed. It turns out that the wielder of greed was Peter Stump, the horror author she’s obsessed and by using Greed, he manipulated someone into murdering her parents. In order to prevent anyone else from falling under the icons’ corruption like he did, she will turn them into something more sustainable: the seven heavenly virtues.

But she can’t do it alone. First she must bring her newfound friends together by using the mirror as a tool of empowerment in order to form a coven that can lay the ghost to rest.

WHAT WE DO IS SECRET is the first work in a series best described as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER meets FULL METAL ALCHEMIST. Complete at  97,000 words it is ready for your consideration.

First Five Pages:

It was the same early fall in Muddy Creek and a child had already died. They found his body tangled in the vines as though it had come alive and strangled him. Mud vine got’em, as they always said.
Scarlet thought about his face, purple and swollen, his eyes frozen, clinging to his last desperate thought. A look she was all too familiar with. Even worse than that, she imagined the look on his parents’ face when they saw the body.

She sat on the swing in her backyard, reading as her feet brushed the scuffed brown patch where grass never grew. The mud vine was shedding the last of its purple and white petals. Pretty soon, kids would collect them to decorate the bottoms of their Halloween baskets. She brushed the pesky, pretty little things off her book for the umpteenth time and mumbled to herself:

It. Tommy Lee Wallace. 1990.

A hot wave of heartburn hit the top of her throat as she wondered what his last words were, if he had any. At least her mother, before she had been stabbed for the last time had kept her dignity. You don’t have to do this.

Enough reading. 1,100 pages was far too long anyway. Gran would scold her for reading by flashlight. Don’t want to be a blind old lady like me, she’d say.

She went inside and put on her red penny coat, brushing aside several multicolored balloons with the number 17 on them. A flock of blackbirds swarmed out of the trees, revealing the path to the Fallout. She thought of her mother’s words: Everywhere else the birds fly south for the winter, but here in Lethe County the blackbirds stay year round, isn’t that cool, pumkin?
She stepped onto the path.
A cold sweat shivered its way from her armpits down to her ribs.

“The Cell. Tarsem Singh. 1990.”
With each step the vines seemed to get thicker, wrapped about the trees like hundreds of motionless snakes, waiting the chance to ensnare her legs and pull her into the ground. The light, leave-rustling sound of deer bounding through the forest made her stop in her tracks. They were far away and not coming after her.
She followed the path to a hill overlooking a valley. At the top of the hill stood a portico from which a rusty red and white cross hung, its right arm missing like some contorted hanging man.

Beside the portico stood the remains of a chapel. She went inside and found a crowd of teenagers gathered around several rocks sticking out from the ground, all bigger than the average person. Brown moss dried on the rocks as they jutted out, pointing diagonally to the night sky. Inside the circle of kids laid a rusty square hatch nearly sunken into the ground like an old tombstone. The mud vine appeared as though it had both eaten the chapel and repaired it, leaving a basket weave like shape in the roof.

Randall Webber, the senior leading the group shined a light directly into Scarlet’s eyes, blinding her, “Where’s your escort, Scarlet?”

Scarlet’s mouth was too dry to respond and she was still out of breath from walking up the hill. “I don’t have—”

“Right here,” said someone, putting an arm around her shoulder. It was Louise Loving, who Scarlet recognized from her English class.

“Liars,” said Randall. “There’s one every time.”

He opened the hatch to the Fallout. Wet dirt dripped from the sides of the door as the turf around it ripped off. “Let’s go, Sleepers. It’s already midnight and the cops will head up soon.”

One by one, they climbed down the shaky ladder.

As far as Scarlet could tell, most of them appeared unimpressed and above it all. She tried to keep up the same fa├žade by twiddling her jeans through her fingers, relieving some of the nerves. 

Randall occasionally shined his light into their eyes so that they’d have to dilate again in order to adjust to the dark. Henry Hatem, a particularly large kid got stuck in the middle, not being able to climb back up and too frightened to climb down.

“Liar! Liar! Liar!” the kids cried.

When Henry finally made it down, the kids cheered for him, more mockery than pride. That’s not funny, she thought, but did not say.

“Are you okay?” asked Scarlet.

He brushed dirt off himself. “I’m fine. Leave me alone.”

“You didn’t have to,” said Scarlet to Louise as they walked through the tunnel.

Louise barely heard her. Or ignored her, either one.

It reeked of worms and wet dirt, of old basements and raking leaves after rain. The line of kids crammed into the room the hallway lead to, covering their noses. Scarlet didn’t want to look soft, so she didn’t bother.

“Here is the spot where Katelyn Caster was left to die on prom night,” said Randall. “They say her ghost still haunts the pit. Who fucking knows. “Whadya say we find out if this song works?”

Each kid held hands with another, forming several groups of pairs. Scarlet wiped a wet hand on her coat before taking Louise’s. She looked closer at the hatch and saw that there was a blue “z” spray painted into it, resting within a circle, like the “z” on the buttons of her coat.

She tried her best to sing the song with everybody else, but barely knew the words and settled for an attempt at lip-syncing instead. The crowd recited the song like a prayer and following along was her only concern until she saw the hatch move like potful of lobsters banging on the top.

“Don’t leave me down here!” someone yelled.

“Wait, stop!” said Scarlet, letting go of Louise’s hand and rushing to the hatch. She tried to pull it up but was too weak. “There’s someone down there!”

“Sure there is,” said one of the kids.

“Think you’re hearing things, love,” said Louise, helping her open the hatch nonetheless.

“I’m going in,” said Scarlet.

“Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind seeing this,” said Randall. The crowd followed him.

“Seeing things again?” said another kid. “Not your parents, is it?”

“Must be the man in the wolf mask,” said another.

Scarlet looked down the hole. It was hard to tell just how far below the surface it went.

“Someone call the cops,” said Scarlet, climbing down the ladder.

“Oh yeah, we’ll call the cops,” said Randall’s voice right before he slammed the hatch shut.

She took out her phone and turned it on, illuminating the walls in blue light then chipped away at some dirt built up in the tunnel, hoping to find some kind of switch to open the hatch. Instead this revealed a series of thin pipes that reminded her of a diagram of arteries.

The light on Scarlet’s phone faded. All she had to do was press a button and she’d be—

“Don’t leave me down here.”

The phone fell from Scarlet’s hands. She heard someone up above say they couldn’t get the hatch open. I am going to die here, become another urban legend. The Girl Who Got Stuck In the Fallout. A sound like a snake sliding across a concrete floor echoed through the room. She could make out some small sliver of light at the bottom of the hole. But someone else needs help.

She took a blind step down the ladder, missed the rung entirely and fell down the hole.


  1. Hi James,

    I think the beginning flows a lot better in this draft. The things that felt like loose pieces before are packaged together. The intensity is up in this draft, too. The hatch slamming shut on her is a nice touch, and a reader can't help but getting claustrophobic.

    The pitch reads well, but I was surprised at the summary of the story. It seems like the material in the first 5 pages isn't referenced in the plot summary. These feel almost like these are two different events in Scarlet's life, the story about the mirror and the story about the mud vine/hatch. In the pitch, the mirror is in inciting event, so how does all of this action in the first 5 fit in? I don't think that's a question you want to leave an agent or editor with. Hopefully, there's an easy way to tie it all together.

    Good job and best of luck with your writing!

  2. Hi James!

    This looks deliciously messed up, and that pitch had me hooked!

    However, I do agree with Adam. It didn't seem to connect with the first five pages.

    A couple of clarity issues:
    "She decides to share the mirror with in order to..." Is there a word missing? With who?

    "the horror author she's obsessed" WITH is missing.

    There's also a tense shift somewhere in that paragraph. I do wonder if you've told us a BIT too much of the plot; there's a lot of info here (the mirror, its powers, who the wielder of greed was, what he did to her parents, their plan to stop the icons, her new friends). Since suspense is key to horror, you might want to lean a little towards the side of subtlety.

    Also, for query's sake, you should specify how many books are in your series and whether or not this book can stand alone.

    For the pages:

    I wasn't sure why the fall was described as the "same?" Same as what?

    I love how you've added more voice, however, it comes across as a touch jarring. Perhaps italicise her thoughts?

    I wasn't totally sure what Randall was referring to with his "One ever time" line? I'm assuming it's someone coming alone, but I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't read your previous drafts. Might just want to clarify :)

    But overall, beautiful descriptions, great atmosphere, and perfect final line. The characterisation is much better (although I'd still suggest adding MORE!) and I'm excited to see where it goes. Best of luck with revisions :)


  3. Hi James

    One your pitch, you might want to try reading this out loud. It feels like there is the occasional word missing to me (mainly prepositions) and it might be more noticeable out loud.

    I was also surprised that the pitch and the first 5 pages seem completely separate? There seems to be no overlap here. From the pitch, I sort of expect the story to start with Scarlet's birthday and the mirror?

    I would also suggest trying to tighten the pitch. You could lose some of the introductory / linking clauses that don't add much and enhance the effect of the pitch by replacing some of the verbs with more active ones. It just feels a little flat to me at the moment.

    What is the choice that Scarlet makes that will drive the story? At the moment, the story sounds interesting, but I'm not really getting that strong hook yet.

    Turning to your pages:

    I like the reference you have added to her mum being killed. That ties in a bit more with the pitch and is good foreshadowing or something we will hopefully learn more about later.

    When Scarlet says to Louise she didn't have to do that - this feels like it's in slightly the wrong place. Perhaps this should be earlier? Closer to Louise's actions? Or at least separated a little more from Scarlet's conversation with Henry as it is easy to get these muddled up.

    You might want to rework the singing slightly. The reference to lipsyncing feels joke-y and, for me, reduces the tension.

    Overall, it's much tighter than the initial draft, just a few things to possibly tweak a little more. Best of luck with it.


  4. Hello James!

    Nice job. I like some of the keys and clues you've added to the opening of the story to help settle the reader into the world. I also like how you demonstrated (showed) some of the things that were previously only talked about in the narration (like the scene where Randall asks where Scarlet's escort is)

    Overall, I agree with the comments already poste, in particular that your pitch has some surprising hooks that I wished we had seen in your first five pages!

    I also really like Rebecca's suggestion to read your pitch aloud -- and I think your draft could benefit from this, too. There are a number of technical items that needs to be smoothed out to really get this to the best place it can be. Reading out loud is an excellent way to identify these constructions.

    Your pitch is also too long. Remember that a pitch is to sell the concept of a book, not outline the events of the plot. Also keep in mind that in the rules for this portion of the workshop, the wordcount limit was 200 words -- yours is 250. Even if all yours words are phenomenal, it's EXTREMELY important when querying that you follow the rules. In many circumstances, not following the rules can be grounds for instant dismissal -- not a place you want to be!

    Best wishes and thanks for the opportunity to read you these past few weeks!


  5. Hi James!

    Holy moly this is an amazing story. It has so many awesome parts to it and I am in LOVE with your concept. I really like the opening line to your pitch. It gets me hooked and I want to read more.

    One tiny thing: when querying, say the book stands alone but has series potential. I’ve read this tip numerous times and I think it’s sound advice. If you end up selling this book, your sequels and other books may change dramatically, so show your flexibility by using the “with series potential” line. Also awesome comp titles. I love both of those shows. You might want to consider comping a recent YA book as well to show you’re well read in your genre.

    You’re a master at description. This line actually made me stop and gasp: It reeked of worms and wet dirt, of old basements and raking leaves after rain. What a beautifully descriptive line. I know EXACTLY how it smells because you’ve described it so well. I want to see more of that throughout. It’s so well done!

    Great job of showing how Scarlet is a bit of an outcast and craves acceptance. I also like how the other kids sort of tease her about her family because it makes me feel bad for her and like her a little more.

    Based on your pitch, I want to see Scarlet receiving the mirror. I want it earlier on as well. It’s just so cool that I think it could be powerful to include in the beginning, even if it’s a cryptic teaser from granny about a gift she has for Scarlet.

    Your story sounds so cool and I wish you nothing but the best of luck with it.

    Thank you!

  6. Hello, James!

    I agree with pretty much everything everyone has already said.

    For my own weird notes, the pitch is too long and I'd like to see it tightened. I also noted this line "It turns out that the wielder of greed was Peter Stump, the horror author she’s obsessed and by using Greed, he manipulated someone into murdering her parents." This was the moment I kind of drifted since it felt like too much.

    As for the pages, the first section is very well done. I started to feel ungrounded int he heavy dialogue and would recommend you have Scarlet reflect on the actions. What is happening? Give me more details in your narration.

    Anywho, that's just my take.

    Best of luck,

  7. I think this is a wonderful draft you've reached, James. You've obviously worked hard at it and it's paid off. I think the query pitch begins with the character and their inciting incident, but I think that as long as we see that within the first ten pages it would be fine. Ten pages is what most agents ask for. I think this beginning is amazing and when reading queries, most agents will wait a bit for the inciting incident to happen.

    Best of luck with querying!

  8. Great job, James! I don't have anything to add to what everyone else has said. I did get a little thrown off about the mirror. Like what Heather said, I'd hope that it comes into play sooner than later in the story. Like in the next few pages after these. I can't wait to see how you do in the next round. Good luck!