Sunday, July 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Parrott Rev 2

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


Strangers are dreaming about Wilder—and they’re drawn to her, everywhere she goes. The only thing worse than not knowing why it’s happening is not knowing why it suddenly stops. She can’t help but feel like it’s related somehow to her childhood recurring nightmare, which is back with a vengeance ever since her mother died three years ago. To cap it off, Wilder’s father has abandoned her to live with his sister-in-law in a small town Oregon that has a vendetta against her family. When she discovers lucid dreaming from her father’s scientific papers, she goes on a mission to control her dreams and reconnect with her mother there, only to discover that the dream world is as real as the waking one.

Instead of a dream utopia, Wilder finds a parallel universe of collective-unconscious dreaming with magical powers and all the possibilities and evils of the imagination. One that her father has helped to shape into a corporate world of manipulation, where the currency is advertising to dreamers. Wilder must decide what's most important to her: finding her mother again in the dream world, or stopping the mass dream manipulation that's about to happen.


Wilder stared at the blank line.

“All done here?” The front desk lady trilled. She was wearing an Astoria High School sweatshirt with an ironed-on decal of a hooked fish below the school font. Sticking a manicured hand out, she grasped for the clipboard Wilder was clutching.

Wilder looked again at the empty spot 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 Wilder’s form. “Emergency contact? Oh.” Mrs. Penn’s face colored. Wilder felt a twist in her gut, anger seeping from it. That meant the administration had already had a meeting about the situation.

Dead mother. Missing father.

That left the estranged aunt.

“I don’t know my aunt’s cell number off the top of my head,” Wilder said. She heard her own hollow voice as if from afar.

“Oh honey, don’t worry about that. I’ll copy it over from your brother’s form.” She sorted through the piles of paper on her messy desk. “Noah… Noah… ah! There he is. Noah Bowen.”

The twist turned into a pit in Wilder’s stomach. Noah had been out of the house by the time she was done showering that morning. Apparently he couldn’t even tolerate walking with her on their first day in a new school.

“Have a seat. Your school guide will be here in a few minutes.”

Wilder sat in one of the too-rigid chairs with a miscellany of geometric patterns splashed across it, and watched the students flow past the open office doors. The colors of the walls changed from school to school—here it was purple and a dull gold—but the kids always looked the same.

A tiny Freshman came in the office, glancing at Wilder on her way to turn in a slip of paper at the desk. Wilder flinched as the gaze passed over her, holding her breath. No reaction. No recognition.

She slumped further down in the chair, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head, and instinctively pressed the scar on her left temple. Her fingers came away with concealer on them.

It had been almost two years since a Dreamer had last recognized her, but part of Wilder still expected it to start happening again at any moment. Even after all that time, even all the way across the country. 

It hadn’t always been that way—the Dreamers only started finding her when she was twelve, and it ended in the same way that it had begun: without explanation. But for three bewildering years in the middle, it was like Wilder was a shining lighthouse beacon, drawing the Dreamers to her through choppy waves. 

It always started with a particular look. One of familiarity, tinged with confusion. “Do I know you?” they’d ask. “Have we met?” They were all ages and from every background imaginable. Like bare lightbulbs flickering on in the darkest recesses of their minds, Wilder could see the moment that the realization hit. 

The Dreamers knew Wilder from their nightmares.

The boy was the first one.

He was about five years old, and Wilder was twelve at the time. He’d abandoned his soccer ball and ran to her, beaming, across the wide courtyard.

“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 nearby fountain created a soothing shush.

A feeling passed over Wilder like someone raking nails lightly on her skin. “The dark place?” she repeated, unsure if this was a game. “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. She had to force the words past her suddenly dry throat.

He stopped shaking and tapped his finger on his forehead.

“In your head?”

“In the dream.”

“I was… in your dream?” A heat was 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. She knew what it was to dream of terrifying worlds—she’d had the same recurring nightmare since she was a little girl, always faced alone. Alone, but for the creatures. Hundreds of questions flooded her mind, but only one came out. “Are you sure? You’re sure it was me?”

The boy moved his head in a slow, solemn nod. “It looks just 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.

The boy was the first, but there were many after him. She carried the burden of their dreams like a priest confided in at confessional. After all, who could she tell? Her mother would just want to send her to a psychiatrist again, her father would want to hook her up to machines and study her. So she learned to hide from them, to run. To lie.

Mrs. Penn’s too-loud cheerfulness rose above the general din of the office. “Oh good! Wilder,” she said, gesturing 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 limp and clammy hand, and followed him into the hallway.

“The Junior lockers are in the C Hall, so you’ll be… here,” Jonathan said, with a tight smile. When he spoke, it looked like it took a supreme effort to force the words past his little front teeth, capped in braces. 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. “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 said. “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.” He grasped 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.


  1. Query:
    Suggested rephrasing of the second sentence: “She doesn’t know why unconnected people keep accosting her and she doesn’t know why it suddenly stops.” Because “the only thing worse” didn’t quite make sense to me—presumably she’d be happy if it all stopped.
    “Wilder’s father has abandoned her to live with his sister-in-law”  At first, this made me think it was her father going to live with his sister-in-law, not Wilder. I’m also not sure if the vendetta is relevant since it doesn’t come up again.
    There’s a lot going on in paragraph one, is there a way to shorten it a bit? When we get to the dream world, that’s when the story gets interesting and when the plot becomes clear. I’d like to see it sooner.
    Just a suggestion: in YA it’s often traditional to include the love interest in the query. Not a necessity, but I thought it might be good to have because there’s not much character relations in this query so it could be interesting to add another person to the mix.
    This sounds like an interesting story and a completely original plot! I’m curious where it goes.
    First 5 Pages:
    I really like how you’ve changed up the opening! Now there’s immediate conflict: Wilder’s lack of family support and estrangement from her brother. Both of these are interesting elements, which make this more than just a standard first day at a new school.
    Why is Dreamer capitalized? From the query letter, Wilder doesn’t know these people and she knows nothing about the dream world yet, so how does she know the fantasy world lingo?
    Moving the meeting to the boy into a flashback was an interesting choice. However, if you’re going to keep it, I’d suggest moving it out of the first 5 pages. It’s very odd to have a flashback that early in the story. Also, there isn’t a good reason to flashback here—for example, it would make more sense of she meets a Dreamer, then flashes back to the first time she met one. Some sort of lead-in. Personally I didn’t have a problem with you making her first encounter with a Dreamer into a prologue-type beginning, either. If you want it to happen right away I think it needs to be the beginning of the story. Otherwise you can also have it as a later flashback.
    It’s a little strange to me that she was able to hide the Dreamers from her father when they approach her at random times—maybe he’s mostly absentee?
    The descriptions are vastly improved in this draft. I also liked the insertion of “Fisherman’s Friend.” It was a cute bit of humor and also gave the school some uniqueness. I’m impressed by how much you’ve changed and improved in a short period of time—my hat is off to you!

  2. The pitch – I like your hook, but overall I’d suggest trimming a bit. Use short, plucky sentences to entice the reader. There’s a lot going on in your paragraphs. I found myself working hard to try to make connections (i.e. the father going to live with the sister-in-law). Just give us a little teaser and make us want more.

    Example of simplifying: She can’t help but feel like it’s related somehow (what is the “it” here – the nightmares or the stopping of them) to her childhood recurring nightmare, which is back with a vengeance (this is enough here, no? – childhood recurring nightmares; her mom’s death should have its own sentence) ever since her mother died three years ago. To cap it off, (what is the “it” here?)

    First 5 Pages:
    I like your new opener a lot – right from the start we get the complexity of her family (including her issues with/estrangement from the brother) as well as her starting a new school. Really nice!

    I’d love to see her present moment a bit more – in this same way. Could we see something happening in present day that maybe triggers her to think about or remember the past with the boy? Right now, we have the flashback, but I want more to prompt it. It has to be earned. Does someone in the office stare at her weird. Or maybe she thinks she sees the boy, but it isn’t him?
    Does she suspect she’s being recognized again? Does something else remind her of the boy?

    You do such a great job with the opener/bringing us in the moment, I feel this shift to the flashback is abrupt. Could it come a bit later? Or could you work it in more organically. Is it enough that she’s nervous about being recognized?

    And speaking of being recognized, I know I mentioned this before, but in some way it seems she prefers being recognized to not. Do we even need that complexity in the first five?

    You’ve done so much work on this. I hope you’re learning more and more about your story and characters along the way. Really commendable work. Keep going!

  3. Brooke,

    After reading your pitch, I see where the sci-fi possibilities might come into play. What an interesting concept—advertising to dreamers! There are so many possible conflicts.

    The incorporation into Wilder’s thoughts, while waiting in the office, of the history of her experiences with the Dreamers was more organic this time around. It seemed like a natural thing for her to think about, when the freshmen looked at her oddly. I like that change.

    I miss the opening you wrote for the first revision, however. It was dramatic in the direction it feels like the plot is likely going to go, based on your pitch.

    On another note: it sounds like the mother is still alive in the paragraph about Wilder needing to hide her freaky ability to go into people’s dreams. Is she alive or dead, as the fourth paragraph suggests?

    Either way is exciting, as it sounds like the rest of the book will be. Good luck with the project.


  4. Hi Brooke!

    Query: Very nice hook! I also really got a good sense of stake and conflicts that made me want to read. I do suggest, though, that you simplify a few things, notably collective unconscious bit. Some of the parent details don't seem super necessary either. Bet you could fix this just by sticking to shorter sentences.

    I loved your opening. I do suggest making one more reference to people being IN her dream though, just to make it completely obvious. I'd also recommend that you connect the dreaming in order to connect with family in with the central conflict, with just a short half a sentence about how they might intertwine.

    All in all, I love this query because it presents a really clear, punchy conflict, with a brilliant premise. Big fan.


    I really enjoyed these, but I think I liked your older opening best best because you jumped straight into a big, juicy conflict. If you moved up the dreaming bits, I think this one would be just as good.

    Second, I have very mixed feelings about jumping into a flashback. I'd prefer if you just opened with maybe one punchy sentence about her past and then teased the dream bits out, or if you just flat out started in the past. If I were you, I might even consider having her recognized in the present.

    All in all, what a great opening! I'd love to read this. It's got some wonderful Ready Player One Vibes, with a healthy sprinkle of Dream Weaver. If you're looking for readers post workshop, you know who to call. Good luck!

  5. From Paula:

    The Pitch: This is a good pitch, overall. But here are a few issues you should address:
    1) No word count.
    You need to tell us what the word count is right up front, e.g., 90,000-word YA fantasy….
    2) SFF or fantasy or speculative fiction? Hard to pin down without comps.
    3) You should include comps….in the tradition of X and Y (Insert Recent Successful Debut In Your Sub-Genre Here)….
    4) Dreams can be a hard sell, as they have been over used to the point of cliché. You need to say upfront what makes your dream worldbuilding unique.
    5) Be more specific in terms of stakes and consequences when you talk about “mass dream manipulation”….
    6) Ditto for your antagonist.
    The Pages: Fun to read, and entertaining. Likable heroine, and interesting situation. You write teens well, which is critical in YA.
    1) The Column does not tell us what genre this is. This title is not particularly compelling or intriguing, either. It’s too generic. Try something more specific to the content and the genre.
    2) Wilder is a weird name, and I spent half the pages wondering if that were her first name, her surname, or her only name, a la Cher. You need to give us her full name the first time you introduce her. And if it’s her first name you might consider something less on the nose.
    3) Too much gut twisting. Watch these clichés.