Sunday, July 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Parrott

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

It always started with a particular look.

The first time a stranger approached her, Wilder was as confused as they were. She was out with her mother, who was—at that moment—distracted by the contents of a glowing case at the New York department store.

“You seem so familiar,” the woman said to six-year-old Wilder, her eyes narrowed. She was middle-aged, Midwestern, with kind, crinkly eyes and a soft twangy drawl you could curl up and take a nap in.

Bored by her mother’s shopping, Wilder’s eyes lit up. She sensed a game afoot. “Are you from New York, too?” She asked.

The woman shook her head.

“Have you ever been to Disneyland?”

Her mother had spotted Wilder then, the confusion on her face giving way to alarm.

“Hello,” she said, approaching. “I’m Tessa.”

They shook hands and exchanged some generic pleasantries, Tessa already half-dragging Wilder away. The mystery was left unsolved, the game unfinished—interrupted by a heated lecture about stranger-danger. That night, there was a thinly veiled attempt to cover up a yelling match in the kitchen after the lights went out.

But it kept happening. Each time thereafter sparked a crescendoing panic in Tessa, terror wearing down new lines on her face. She hardly let Wilder out of her sight anymore, but still, the strangers found Wilder in the cracks of time when she wasn’t there. “Do I know you?” They asked. “Have we met?”

The first person who figured it out recoiled from Wilder like she’d bitten them.

“It’s not possible,” the man said, his liver-spotted hand resting on his plastic cane.

“What’s not possible?” she called after him as he beat as hasty a retreat as he could muster. She felt the deep, sediment layer of guilt that collects in your gut when you don’t know what you’ve done wrong.

After dozens of similar incidents over the years, it was the little boy who finally told her. 

He’d run to Wilder, beaming at her. Wilder, in her now lanky teenage body, wasn’t sure whether to hide or hug him.

“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.

“I followed you,” he said, and then—when she still looked at him blankly, “out of the dark place.”

A feeling passed over Wilder like someone raking nails on her skin. After this long, she was so close to the answer to her riddle. She crouched next to the boy. Humid sweat plastered his wispy hair to his forehead. “What was in the dark place?”

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

“It’s okay.” Wilder reached out a hand but left it hovering in the space between them. “Where is the bone house?” She asked finally, when he said nothing more.

He stopped shaking, which was somehow even more unnerving, and tapped his temple.

“In your head?”

“In my dream.”

“I was… in your dream?” Wilder felt a heat building in her gut, bile rising in her throat. Her own recurring nightmare was spilling into her mind. “You’re sure it wasn’t someone who looked like me?”

The boy moved his head in a slow, solemn shake. He reached out his small hand to Wilder, who fought every instinct to flinch as he touched the scar running along her temple towards her ear, still a puckered, faded purple.

She jerked away, and ran.

Wilder hid from them after that, burying her face in the hood of a sweatshirt and fleeing whenever someone gave her that side-eyed look.

Then—as quickly as it began—it stopped.


“Your locker’s going to be here.”

Wilder assessed her tour guide, whose name she’d already forgotten. She plumbed the depths of her brain for the very recent introduction. What had the vice-principal said? 

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 bands stretched tight over the metal grids. She wondered how much deliberation had gone into the choice of that particular color. 

“Here, I’ll show you the combo.” His eyes darted between Wilder and the lock’s dial, his flitting hands rattling the metal with a low hum.

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

“New girl?” one of them said.

Wilder sighed. Small towns.

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

“You look, um…” he gulped audibly.

Wilder’s fingers jumped on the dial, overshooting their mark. Her face was a careful blank, but her heartbeat echoed in her throat. Not here. Not again.

“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 with barbs on them. Why had Wilder thought Astoria was any different? If anything, it would be worse here.

“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.

“How about I show you the cafeteria before the morning bell goes,” the nameless guide said, kindly ignoring Wilder’s fruitless efforts to extract her breakfast from her teeth.

The hallways were still sparse with students trickling in, but the cafeteria was already jam-packed.

“A lot of people eat breakfast here,” he said. “It’s kind of a thing.”

They stood to the side of the entrance, and a ripple of attention started at one side of the room, moving to the other in bursts of too-loud whispers.

“Who’s your new girlfriend, Jonathan?” A petite girl detached herself from where she’d been sitting atop a long cafeteria table amongst the masses, hips swaying and platforms 5 inches high. She grinned at Wilder, the slightest bit of orange-red lipstick showing on her right canine tooth—the only chink in otherwise impeccable armor.

Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan, Wilder repeated to herself, trying to commit her guide’s name to memory.

“Oh, not… uh, this is Wilder,” Jonathan said.

A flicker of recognition in the girl’s eyes. “Jasmine,” she said. “Charmed.”

She did not look charmed.

“Nice to meet you,” Wilder muttered.

Two other girls approached, with the languid movement of lions in a pride moving in on a sure kill. One was north of 6 feet tall and clearly aware of it, the other had dark brown skin and a very expensive-looking purse looped through the crook of her elbow. These girls looked like they were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, not going to class.

“You must be Wilder Bowen.” She spit out Wilder’s last name as if it tasted sour. “You’ve got quite the reputation. Well,” she gave a short, barking laugh. “Your family does, anyways.”

Wilder was determined not to give them anything. “That’s what I hear.”


  1. Brooke,

    First, I want to say I adore your protagonist’s name. Great choice. You also did a good job of subtly introducing future conflicts. Because of that, I want to know what special ability Wilder has and how her family might be involved, or at least what history they have in the town of Astoria. Nice job, hooking me.

    I did feel, though, that scene with Wilder as a teenager had more interesting details and dialogue than that of her as a child. Would you consider giving some of her ability backstory in the teenage setting instead?

    Clearly there is something unnerving about young Wilder, but the first thought she had that really made me want to empathize or connect with her was when (as a teen) she contemplated the neon-green band choice of the boy who was showing her around. “She wondered how much deliberation had gone into the choice of that particular color.” I loved that little nugget of thought. It revealed a side of her personality that intrigued me, over and above her reactions to the mystery/mystical ability she seems to be dealing with having. Then, the “[h]ad he malfunctioned” question put the cherry on top. Very funny, and such an interesting beginning. Thanks for sharing.

    Best wishes,


  2. Brooke,

    I’m in love with the mystery in your work! You leave me with just enough questions to make me hungry for more pages. I’m thoroughly hooked, which is incredibly important for opening pages, especially YA. You also use language like a pro, punchy short sentences mixed with longer ones making the piece feel smooth and intense.

    I really don’t have much to critique, so I’ve prepared some nit picks: Your second chunk is smoother than the first. Inject some more of that voice and punchiness into the opening paragraphs. What are young Wilder’s opinions? Also, your second paragraph is a tad long and awkward compared to your smooth-as-silk other paragraphs. Maybe reword that one.

    Great hook and even greater language. Can’t wait to see more.

    1. Oh, and on reading some of the other comments, I'd agree that you could tweak the first sentence. Maybe "It always started with an odd look."

      Also, I agree that we could get some more context for the beginning of the school scene. Just a sentence to ground us. This would be a good spot to throw in some voice, and maybe a bit about how Wilder feels about school, and what her goals are. She seems eager to fit in and make new friends.

  3. Thanks for sharing your first pages! I’m definitely intrigued. The story opens with a great line: “It always started with a particular look” though the way the woman looks at Wilder is not described, other than narrowing eyes. I think you’d want to provide more detail on the look and add Wilder’s reaction to it. All that said, I agree with Heather’s comment that starting with childhood didn’t seem quite so necessary since it doesn’t give us details of what makes Wilder unique, why she’s in a new school, etc. However, if you are really wanting that prologue/flashback feel, I think it can work if it’s focused on the interaction with the boy. You can cut the lady in the department store.

    Perhaps something like, It always started with a look. All of Wilder’s life, people looked at her strangely, as if [fill in details]. (then perhaps moving up these lines: The first person who figured [it out= Wilder’s secret] didn’t look at her strangely at all. He’d run to Wilder, beaming at her… Then this encounter alone sets the stage for you. If you can provide a little more detail about what it feels like for people to recognize her, how she never seems to get answers, or how her mother/parents refuse to give details, you could add these as lines here and there among the conversation with the boy.

    To keep this a little closer point of view, I would suggest removing the phrase “Wilder, in her now lanky teenage body…” which reads as distanced. It may be true, but feels more like an adult looking back over her life than the character narrating. You could go a little deeper in her discomfort with her own body (if that fits), showing her tugging her sleeves down, shifting uncomfortably, bracing for confrontation.

    After the first few lines of the new scene at school, it would help to add a little detail for grounding – this is her first day at a new school because… how does she feel at this new school, with a guide. Is she starting over after many moves or has she been in one place her whole life and this move totally uprooted her life? That sort of context can be brief and sprinkled in. Three moves in two years, this was getting old > that sort of thing The good thing is you have lots of current action and this so far isn’t bogged down by too much explanation.

    There’s plenty of tension with the other students so that’s great too. I love how she expects to be told she’s familiar, and the comment veers a different direction about stuff in her teeth. I also liked the detail about the guy’s braces and the bands.

    With a little more context on Wilder’s background and reason for being at the new school, I think this will be even stronger. Adding those details with a connected emotion that shows how Wilder feels is even better. Best wishes!

  4. Fun read! I was intrigued and fascinated by the premise. All the people who recognize her from somewhere...nicely creepy.

    I had trouble telling how old Wilder was. I think it's because the first incident clearly starts when she's young, but then by the time she's talking to the boy she's clearly much older than him, but I didn't have a clear sense of how much time has passed, so that was confusing at first.

    Also, I didn't realize at first that Wilder had dreams which connected to the strangers, because she seemed to have no idea why they were talking to her. Then when it linked back to those dreams, I wondered why this hadn't come up before. Perhaps you could embellish more on the dreams? They seem creepy and interesting.

    Your dialogue is very strong--great job! I did notice that most of the story was dialogue rather than action or description, so that balance might be something to keep an eye on.

    Like some of the others, I found the transition from the past to the present with her new school to be a little jarring, as if it wasn't clear why the story was starting in this mundane place after being so surreal, if that makes sense.

    My favorite part of the pages was the humor. I absolutely loved the bit with something in her teeth. It was such a hilarious reversal of what both the reader and Wilder were expecting.

    This was very enjoyable to read and I'm really interested in where you're going with this! You did a great job hooking me with the mystery right away. I would definitely read more.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your work! Really intriguing start – I was hooked right from the beginning with that first line! Since it all starts with a look – I want to see the look. Could you describe it a bit more as well as Wilder’s reaction to it? Does it cause her fear? Anxiety? How about when she gets more looks? Does she question why and what’s different about her?
    After that initial look, you might comment on how more looks followed – from the woman in the bakery and the man at the post office (something like that), over time. Might you consider showing us those “cracks of time” when Mom isn’t around to protect her? Show us her growing up with the looks and not quite understanding them. Or, how much does she understand?

    Also, her mom’s response to the looks – what did her mom think? She must’ve questioned something about Wilder at some point, right? Unless she does know the rationale behind the stares… Does she? So interesting and so much potential here.

    You mention that there was a yelling match in the kitchen, but it wasn’t clear what it was about. Are we to assume it’s about talking to strangers? Is Mom mad at Wilder? Or just mad over the situation because she knows the secret?

    The introduction of the boy was so interesting, but I wanted to see the scene more concretely. Where do they meet? What is their exchange like? What does he look like? He’s described as a little boy, but how little? How old is he compared to her? So intriguing that he runs to her. What makes him different from the others? Is it the dreams? How? Or why? How much does he know? Again, how much does Wilder know about herself?

    Watch use of the pronoun “it,” i.e. “It kept happening.” “The first person who figured “it” out. Like the fight in the kitchen, I was left to assume and I wanted things a bit more concrete.

    The scene in the school is also intriguing, but I want it developed a bit more. More scene work, more grounding. This is a huge moment. Do people at the school give her the look? Is she always waiting for someone to notice her in that way? Does she have anxiety as a result? Also, why is she starting a new school? The guide is great because it makes her feel even more alienated.

    So much potential here. Great tension, pacing and conflict. Keep going!!!