Sunday, July 15, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Parrott Rev 1

Name: Brooke Parrott
Genre: Young Adult // Sci-fi
Title: The Column

The dreamers knew Wilder from their nightmares. 

They were strangers. They didn’t always recognize her, but those that did either wept at her feet or ran away, terrified. Wherever she went, they found her; their eyes hollow and desperation palpable. “Do I know you?” they asked. “Have we met?” Like bare lightbulbs flickering on in the darkest recesses of their minds, Wilder could see the fuse connect, the realization land. They were meeting the guest star of their worst nightmare. Sometimes, in their dreams, she was the one helping them, other times she was the holy terror haunting them.

The boy was the first one. 

He was about six years old, and Wilder was twelve at the time. He’d run to her, beaming.

“It’s you,” he said. There was a lyrical lilt to his voice, as if he was on the edge of breaking into song.

“Me?” Wilder asked, confused. She was used to people recognizing her mother in public, but not her. She was a nobody. A nobody who was the daughter of a somebody.

“I followed you,” he said, and then—when she still looked at him blankly, “out of the dark place.” Humid sweat plastered his wispy blonde hair to his forehead.

A feeling passed over Wilder like someone raking nails lightly on her skin. “The dark place?” she repeated. “What was in the dark place?”

He started shaking, eyes so wide that his lashes pressed to his lids. “The bone house,” he whispered. “Shadows.”

Wilder crouched down next to him. She reached out a hand but left it hovering in the space between them. She’d never been good with kids, even when she was one. “Where is the bone house?” she asked finally, when he said nothing more.

He stopped shaking and tapped his finger on his forehead.

“In your head?”

“In the dream.”

“I was… in your dream?” Wilder felt a heat building in her gut, bile rising in her throat. A faint memory of a feeling was knocking somewhere on a door in the base of her skull. Hundreds of questions flooded her mind, but only one came out. “Are you sure it was me?”

The boy moved his head in a slow, solemn nod. “It looks the same in real life,” he said, reaching out his small hand towards Wilder, who fought every instinct to flinch. He pressed a finger lightly along the puckered, faded purple scar running from her temple towards her ear.

Wilder ran.

After that, each passing year drew more and more dreamers to her in a terrifying crescendo. She took to hiding in public, covering her scar with concealer, pulling up the hood of her sweatshirt. She felt helpless in the face of their confusion—she had no answers for them. No matter what she did, they still found her. It was like they were drawn to her very being. 

When it stopped, it was all at once. Despite her newfound blissful anonymity, Wilder still looked for them. Felt a hole in her life where the dreamers used to be.

She never found out why the dreamers started, but she knew why they stopped. It coincided too neatly with the moment that Wilder’s mother took her last breath. It was connected somehow. It had to be.

The dreamers became yet another thing that she’d lost, in a period of three years where she felt like she’d lost almost everything. Which was the last thing she wanted to be reminded of, especially by a stupid blank line on a form.

“All done here?” The front desk lady trilled. She was wearing an Astoria High sweatshirt with a stock photo of a fish on a reel printed under the school font. She stuck a manicured hand out for the clipboard Wilder was clutching.

Wilder looked again at the empty line on the form. “Not quite.”

“What are you stuck on?” Mrs. Penn—according to the plaque on the tall counter behind which she was plopped—leaned over to look at her form. “Emergency contact? Oh.” Mrs. Penn’s face colored. Wilder felt a twist in her gut, anger flowing from it. That meant the administration had already had a meeting about Wilder and her situation.

Dead mother. Missing father.

That left the aunt.

“I don’t know my aunt’s cell number off the top of my head,” Wilder said.

“Oh honey, don’t worry about that. We’ll get it later. Oh good—” she gestured towards a skinny boy with a frizzy halo of hair that had appeared. “This is Jonathan, he’ll be showing you around the school today.”

Wilder shook his hand, which was limp and clammy, and followed him into the hallway.

“Junior’s lockers are in the C Hall, so you’ll be… here,” Jonathan said, leading the way.
Wilder sipped her watery coffee, assessing the tour guide. When he spoke, it looked like it took a supreme effort to force the words past his little front teeth, capped in braces, the top and bottom banded together. Wilder stared at them, neon green rubber stretched tight over the metal grids. She wondered how much deliberation had gone into the choice of that particular color. 

“I’d have the same locker for senior year, too?” she asked. If she was even there next year.

Jonathan nodded. “Now, since I’ll be your Fisherman’s Friend for the day—”

“I’m sorry,” Wilder interrupted him. “My what?”

The boy turned. “Your Fisherman’s Friend. You know—” he puckered his lips into a pout and raised both of his fists in a boxer’s stance.

Wilder stared at him so hard she almost went crosseyed.

“The Fighting Fishermen!” he finished. “It’s our school mascot. That’s what we call your orientation guide.”

“Oh, of course,” Wilder said. Jonathan didn’t pick up on the sarcasm.

“Here, I’ll show you the combo for your locker.” His eyes darted between Wilder and the lock’s dial.

A group of students passed in the checkered hallways, eyes on Wilder the whole time. 

“New girl?” one of them said, not even bothering to whisper.

Wilder sighed. Small towns.

Wilder took the lock from her guide, moving the dial towards 32, mimicking his instructions.

“You look, um…” he trailed off, gulping audibly.

Wilder’s fingers jumped on the dial, overshooting their mark. Her face was a careful blank, but her heartbeat echoed in her throat. She’d know it anywhere: it was a variation of the question she had heard countless times.

Not here. Not now. It had been three years since the last stranger told her of their nightmare.

“Um,” he said again. Wilder dragged her eyes up to his face, where he was tapping his index finger against his metal-filled mouth. Had he malfunctioned?

“Just say it.” The words came out harsher than she intended. Why had Wilder thought living in Astoria would be any different? If anything, it would be worse here—after all, this town held all her family history. And secrets.

“Uh, you look… like you have something in your teeth,” he finished.

A violent heat started at Wilder’s neck and raced towards her cheeks. “Um-kay,” she mumbled, turning her head while she tried to dig out whatever was lodged there—an impossible feat with her stubby, bitten nails.


  1. Great job with the revision! It was cool getting a little more background on Wilder in this draft and why she's coming to this new school.

    In all honesty, I actually liked your original opening more. Your new first two paragraphs confused me. Two reasons: 1. We're getting information Wilder can't possibly know, which confused the POV and 2. The contradictions of it: that people were desperate, but that they also weren't even sure if they recognized Wilder, that she's the hero and the villain in different dreams. I suspect the readers aren't supposed to know yet what's going on with the dreams, so I think it's better to let that stay mysterious. Let us only know as little as Wilder knows. The POV of a girl who keeps having people come up to her claiming to know her with no idea why is very creepy and interesting.

    I still would really like to see one of Wilder's dreams, since this scene establishes that she has them, too. It doesn't have to be yet, but when the boy talks to her and she starts to remember, it would be nice to get hints of what she's remembering. the reference to her scar was cool and I liked the line "A faint memory of a feeling was knocking somewhere on a door in the base of her skull." How about a little more? A hint of what the bone house looks like in Wilder's memory? A hint of the darkness at the tip of her mind?

    I think it was a good idea you cut down the number of conversations Wilder has with dreamers, but it would still be nice to get some specific references to this happening to her. Something like, "it caught her off-guard when the ice cream man suddenly started talking about dreams" is more detailed and specific than just "the dreamers kept finding her."

    I like your descriptions of people! Sometimes I wanted a little more description of places. For example, this is a small town school. Does it look different from the big town schools Wilder is accustomed to?

    I still love the humor of the "something in your teeth" line. It's great mixed in with the creepiness of all the rest of the story. Looking forward to your next revision.

  2. Brooke,

    I love the new first line. It packs an emotional punch, and it gives insight into her powers, along with the next paragraph. Thought-provoking and helpful all at the same time. Great revision.

    I also like how you give us a few more details about her new school setting—the fish mascot, the fact that the administrative secretary knows of her tragic situation—and with just a small line (“A nobody who was the daughter of a somebody.”) into the dynamic between Wilder and the ghost of her mother. If feel like this version makes me empathize with and worry about Wilder more. With only a missing father and an aunt she likely doesn’t know well to care for her, how can I not worry?

    Based on the first five pages, it seems to me the novel is moving towards the paranormal, not sci-fi. If so, you may want to “repackage” the genre as paranormal or fantasy when you market it. It’s hard to tell based on the first five pages, though. If I’m just missing the sci-fi connection, please forgive me. I don’t normally read a lot of sci-fi.

    This version reads so much smoother. Nice job. Can’t wait to see what you do with it next week!


  3. Thanks so much for sharing your revision. As another reader mentioned, I also like your last opener a bit better, but only because it starts us with immediate scene. I want to be shown people looking her – or at least one person – rather than told “The dreamers knew Wilder from their nightmares.” Could you maybe open up right away with the boy noticing her? Or someone else (as you did in the last draft)?

    I LOVE the intrigue with the “dark place” and the bone house and definitely want to know more (but let those pieces unfold organically - don't feel the need to cram everything into your first five). I’m also so intrigued by the scar and how she got it, and how the boy recognized it.

    Regarding the dreamers stopping, I was a little confused. I thought people recognizing her was a bad thing, but then it’s described as a loss. Could you make this clearer? Also, that’s a big change – first the dreamers noticing her is negative and she tries to hide herself and then it’s a loss. So much happens in between, but it's not clear here what that is.

    Honestly, I think you’ve got so much here to work with. It’s just about when to reveal what. I love that she’s in school for real world drama (and being the new girl). I also love the humor with the fish.

    I wonder so much about her mom and the connection to why the dreamers stopped. I would keep that connection a secret however - at least for now. Seems like it’s revealed too soon here.

    Overall, I would try to let the story unfold a bit slower. Show us clearly what it looks like to have a dreamer notice her. Let’s hear the conversation and feel her authentic reaction – is she scared? Does she tell anyone? Does she think about it later? Then, let’s see how this experience affects her and how she perhaps tries to hide/conceal herself as a result. Does she feel exposed? Haunted? Self conscious?

    As I’ve said. I think you’ve got all the ingredients here and so much potential. Now, it’s just in the telling. Choosing when to reveal information. Focusing your camera angle on the scene work and what’s important to reveal in them. I hope all of this makes sense. I really do love the potential in this piece and would love to see more.

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  5. Wonderful revisions! The opening line makes everything clearer, and you kept that same sharp voice. Nice. Getting to the boy quicker was a really smart choice, but there are a few issues with POV, and you might want to add more emotion before wilder runs.

    Then there's the imagery. So much fun. I especially enjoyed the school details you gave. Which brings me to my next suggestion: details. It's really important to pick and choose which details we get at the beginning. I think you might give a few too many too soon. It's enough to just know that she's recognized from people's dreams -- I'd cut background (especially some mom stuff) or theories about this, and opt for how this makes her feel instead. We get a lot of external details, but I'd like internal details to match.

    I love how you mix the longer imagery with the short, punchy sentences. Creates a very cool effect. I also love the snarky voice in the school scene, and wonder if there's not a way to infuse maybe just a hint of that above. Lastly, you could cut a few of your said-replacements (Ie he finished, trailed off) with actions or just said.

    Really enjoying what I'm seeing. My biggest suggestions are to be chooser with the external details, give more internal details about situation, and reword some of the second paragraph. I'm a sucker for this sort of mystery, and can't wait for more! Great work.