Saturday, October 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages October Workshop- Nelson

Kaylynn Nelson
Young Adult Fantasy
In Sheep’s Skin

Silas stared into a pair of hazel eyes identical to his own. Flecks of green in orbs of warm brown gazed back at him. He let his focus fall to his long nose, slightly hooked at the end. It suddenly twitched as though preparing to sneeze, but Silas didn’t feel the urge to. Turning his head slowly to the side, he watched his jawline flex. Silas quickly turned back to the front and met his sparkling eyes with a smile.

They had been seated at separate ends of a glossy, pearl table and instructed not to speak. The white walled room was barren, so they passed the time waiting for their assigned clerk by mirroring one another’s movements. The game ended when the doorknob twisted and a large woman wearing heavy make-up shuffled in. Her white pant suit swished as she walked toward them. Her perfectly manicured hand gripped a tablet as thin as a sheet of paper. She held it up to her face before peering over it.

“Dustin and Silas Grey,” she droned.

“Present,” Silas said.

“You got Dusty,” Dustin chirped.

The clerk lowered the tablet and began typing with her free hand. Her chubby fingers moved deftly over the screen, but her gaze remained disinterested. “Alright, so here’s what we’re going to do,” she trailed off. The twins looked at her attentively as she continued her typing.

Silas glanced over at Dustin who was waiting for his attention. Dustin stuck his tongue out and poked it into his right nostril. Silas countered with his own gruesome gesture of pinching his face, so that the red sockets of his eyes and pink gums of his teeth were exposed.

The clerk suddenly continued talking as though she had never stopped. “Thank you for coming in today, and happy sixteenth birthday. My name is Miriam, and I’m thrilled to be apart of these next steps on your journey,” she began in a monotone voice.

“As you know, we here at Pathways wish to place you in the best territory that will benefit your overall happiness and comfort over your lifespan. It is our mission to accommodate both types of people and provide fulfillment. So, without further ado, let us reveal the pathway to your new, destined life. And remember, there can’t be any good in this world without evil,” the clerk finished.

She set the tablet on the table and placed her hands on either side of it protectively. She leaned forward and blew her wispy bangs out of her face. “Alright boys,” she said, eyeing Silas first and then Dustin. “A screen is going to pop up in between you two. A series of images will then appear on the screen. These images are meant to instill a psychological reaction, so try and relax and let your mind wander freely. When the examination reaches its end, the screen will disappear and a diagnostic report of your goodness levels will be sent to this,” she tapped the tablet with an acrylic nail. “Pretty straightforward stuff. Any questions?”

Silas watched Dustin shake his head in unison with himself. His brother didn’t appear to be nervous at all, but Silas felt his stomach churn when he heard the words ‘goodness levels’.

“Great,” the clerk said apathetically, pushing herself into a standing position. “When you’re both ready, place the provided helmet on your head and look forward.”

Silas was just about to ask where the helmets were when he noticed his had mysteriously appeared beside his elbow. He thought it looked a lot like the ivory salad bowl his mom used at dinner time. Silas glanced up at the clerk to make sure she wasn’t kidding, but her stern gaze met his as if to say, “just test me.” Silas averted his eyes back to his helmet. Warily, he reached for it and placed it on his head. The helmet was too large, and tipped forward over his eyes. Silas was still adjusting it when a cold wave of nerves washed over him. The helmet had begun to move on it’s own, tightening itself to the grooves of his skull. His hands shot up to remove the headgear, but a new layer of helmet was now stretching down over his cheekbones. He tried to burrow his fingers underneath, but the helmet was too tightly fixated to the nape of his neck.

“Relax,” Miriam advised. Silas peered at her bitterly through the two eye slits of the helmet. The clerk’s matte pink lips had spread into a smug smile. This was clearly the most enjoyable part of her job. Silas took a deep breath. The helmet had stopped tightening and now sat comfortably conformed to his head. He tried to look at Dustin, but the screen between them had already appeared.

“You boys ready?” the clerk asked as the room’s lights dimmed. She had already waddled to the door and had her hand pressed against the handle. “Remember, just relax,” she repeated, before swishing noisily out of sight.

Silas stared at the blank screen. He wondered for not the first time what he was; good or bad. Their parents had begun to ask them as they grew older what they believed they each were, but neither he nor Dustin knew for sure. Silas hadn’t given much thought to it. He didn’t like to think of being separated from Dustin. Besides, he would have to do what the results said either way, so what was the use of wishing for a particular outcome?

The screen before him suddenly flickered to life, and a colorful image appeared. Silas tried to identify it, but he had never seen anything like it before. Silas blinked and the image changed to another unidentifiable picture. This process continued for ten more minutes, until the screen went lifeless grey and then disappeared. Dustin sat on the other side, grinning.

Silas felt his helmet’s grip on his head begin to slacken. He breathed a sigh of relief, happy to be nearly done with the process. The twins took off their helmets and set them on the table in front of them. Silas looked at his contemptuously, and slid it further away.

The clerk pushed her way through the door, tablet still in hand. She stared at it for a few minutes, tapping her fingers quickly over it. “Hmph,” she grunted.

The twins shared a confused glance before turning their attention back to the clerk.

“Something seems to be off with the machine. Your reports are inconclusive.”

“What does that mean?” Dustin asked.

“It means I need to call Raymond from maintenance,” the clerk responded curtly.

“But what does that mean for us?” Silas asked.

The fat clerk raised her thinly drawn on eyebrows. “You two will have to come back here and retake the test. I’ll have our people call your people when the machine is fixed,” she said.

“Great. Thanks, Miriam,” Silas huffed, rising from his chair. “C’mon, Dusty.”

“Can I keep this?” Dustin asked, placing a hand on the helmet. The clerk glared at Dustin through squinted eyes. “Where are my manners? Please?” Dustin added.

The clerk shook her puffy gullet and pressed a button of her tablet. “Yowch!” Dustin yelped, pulling his hand off the helmet it had been resting it on. “What the—”

“Buh-bye now,” the clerk said with a smile and a wave.

“You have a little lipstick on your chiclet,” Dustin informed her, pointing to his front tooth.


  1. Dear Kaylynn,

    I like how you began your story with a physical description of Silas (and his twin!), so I could clearly visualize them both. You cleverly avoided the cliche of a mirror staredown revealing the MC's looks, because Silas and his twin are like walking mirrors of each other. Throughout your whole excerpt, I could visualize everything perfectly--from the helmets resembling ivory salad bowls to the fat clerk.

    The clerk is clearly meant to be unlikeable, but constantly calling her fat and alluding to her fatness ("a large woman", "the fat clerk", "chubby fingers", "puffy gullet") within the first five pages could be a bit much for some readers.

    Although there's nothing wrong with describing her as fat, and the clerk is implied to deserve our sneers and disdain because, among other actions, she sadistically enjoys seeing Dustin and Silas squirm before their examination, I feel you could do more with her than merely making her the punchline of your first five pages.

    Best of luck!

    1. Hi Mayee,

      I agree with your comments about the clerk. Reading my pages again, I can tone down the fat remarks and still keep the disdain my characters have for her evident. Thank you for your thoughtful insight!

  2. Hi there-

    Really interesting set-up. I love whole idea of the twins being tested in the futuristic setting. I also like that we got the impression that though they are twins, Silas seems to be the more serious one, and Dustin the more impulsive.

    As for improvements, in the first paragraph, you’re describing eyes. The whole eye could be described as an “orb” because it is a sphere. But the green/brown iris part can’t be because it is just circular. I would just say “iris” instead.

    I thought testing for “goodness” sounded kind of awkward. What about other words like kindness, benevolence, or the more generalized morality or virtue?

    In one paragraph it says Silas “wondered for not the first time,” and then that he “hadn’t given much thought to it.” While the two statements aren’t total contradictions, I think they could be changed to make things clearer.

    It’s clear that the idea of being tested for goodness is a known concept to them. I would like a hint about what that means. I’m sure you were going to explain it later, but I’d like to know right away! Haha. Is it only twins who are tested or everyone on their sixteenth birthday? Are they sent to a good work camp and a bad one based on the results?

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you so much for your comments!

      I didn't notice the two contradicting statements you found, and I'm definitely going to change it to be more congruent. I also agree that goodness does sound a bit awkward, but that IS what they're testing for (not kindness or virtue, etc.) and it's hard to explain more with just the first five pages.

      I'm going to read my work again and try and find a place to give more of a hint to what goodness means without giving too much away. I can definitely make my world more clear, so thank you for your questions!

  3. Hi Kaylynn,

    I think this is a great set-up for your story! You did a good job of revealing the appearance and personality of the twins in a natural way. I'm really interested to know what the implications of this diagnostic test are for each of the boys.

    It seems like this is a pretty big deal and the results will determine the course of the rest of their lives. Silas seemed a little nervous, but otherwise it didn't seem like the twins were all that concerned about it. This didn't seem very realistic to me. I would like more of a sense of how they are dealing with this situation emotionally.

    Also, this is a minor thing, but I kept getting caught up in the lady who was administering the test being called a "clerk". It seems like a test like this would be preformed by a researcher or doctor.

  4. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks a lot for your valuable insight! I can definitely add more detail into Silas's thoughts about this exam because he's the nervous one, and his twin, Dustin, rarely takes many things seriously, hence his goofy behavior.

    As for the clerk, I hear what you're saying completely, but I'm trying to convey that anyone can perform this test with the Pathways tablet. It doesn't take a medical person, more just someone who likes watching people feel uncomfortable. Hence, the bland name clerk. Sort of demeans her a bit.

  5. Hi Kaylynn!

    So first all, I saw the genre (fantasy) and was all like, whoo! But then it read far more sci-fi to me. There's a hint of fairy tale in the goodness/badness scale, but all the extraneous details point more toward science fiction right now, or possibly dystopian, given that the boys are being tested for one of two outcomes via future tech.

    I like Dusty's more "charming" personality, but I admit, Silas read much younger than sixteen. I think part of it was that they were pulling faces at each other (not something I recall doing much of in high school personally!) and his reactions in general. It's hard to pinpoint exactly, but I think part of it was the helmet-looks-like-a-salad-bowl comment. He also mentions not wanting to be separated from Dusty, which read more like a younger brother devoted to his big brother. I'd try to add more of Silas's inner thoughts as to what this test means to him (beyond being good or bad), and what he fears will happen if he does get separated from his brother.

    Also, I know it's hard to cram into five pages, but we as readers don't know if one "territory" assignment is better than another. Yes, we inherently understood good versus bad, but what does that mean in the context of your world? Villains versus heroes? Or is it more psychological, like separating average family man Dusty from repressed serial killer Silas? I think the concept of "goodness levels" might be contributing to the feeling that Silas is younger than 16. Is there another phrase you could use to make it sound less fairytale, as that doesn't fit the scene or the setting you've provided?

    Minor note, but you've described your "villain" in the scene with a lot of physical attributes: large, heavy make-up, chubby, fat... Her disinterest and boredom convey her demeanor already, so it kind of feels like you're using her weight and appearance as negative character traits to remind us she's the "bad guy" here.

    The goodness levels idea is interesting, and I'd want to know more about what that means.

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thank you for your genre clarification! I thought that it might be more fantasy weighted given this kind of technology doesn't exist (nor do I think it could), but I think you're right that science fiction is a better fit.

      Dustin is definitely intended to be the more charming/goofy one, and I agree with you, it doesn't fit for Silas to be making faces back. He's supposed to be the more cynical twin, and I'll do a better job of showing his inner thoughts as you suggested in my next edit.

      I can also do a better job of describing the territories - even giving the reader the names of them - in my first five pages. I agree, the reader needs a bit more context. I also wasn't a fan of the words 'goodness levels' and will cut it out.

      As for the clerk, I didn't mean to overly describe her in such a way, so I'm taking out some descriptive words like chubby and fat to let her actions do the describe her character for me.

      Thank you very much for your insightful comments! I'm excited for you to review my revised version.

  6. Hi Kaylynn,

    A thousand apologies for the late comment! Things have been crazy these last two days; I couldn't sit down and properly read your pages until now. Very sorry.

    The good: I absolutely love the idea of twins - especially twins who have such different personality. Silas reads to me as the more nervous type, yes, but, more than that, he seems to be deferential to Dusty. I see some potential issue there and I would love to see where it leads!

    Now, some potential improvements:
    First, I agree with Mary (Taranta) that this reads more like a sci-fi than fantasy. In fact, the whole scenario reminds me very much of Divergent. I am writing sci-fi myself and my manuscript definitely has technology that doesn't exist today. But, if I am not mistaken, as long as it does not have any supernatural element to it, it falls under sci-fi and not fantasy. Obviously, you will know your complete story better than I do so you'll be the judge of that.

    Secondly, I will just briefly mentioned that I agree with the consensus about the weight of the clerk, especially for a story centering on psychological 'good' and 'bad', I think.

    Also, regarding the test, the point you made about clerks can administer the test... Completely nit-picking on my part but I think you can mention this straight-off, gives us an insight towards this world where this classification is a norm. (If it is meant to be a norm. Again, I'm not sure. Just assuming base on your previous comments.) When I first read your pages, I assume that these boys are advanced and are going through some tests to place them in some kind of advanced program. Then I notice the bit about their parents asking them about the 'good' and 'bad' issue when they grow up, which is the only thing which clue me in that this might possibly be a norm in the world you create.

    Looking forward to your revision! This sounds like a very interesting story.

    Best regards,

    1. Hi Shirlyn,

      No worries at all! Thank you for all your comments!

      I definitely agree that it's sci-fi and I'm switching it to that now. I also don't want people focusing too much on the clerk's weight so I'm going to take out some physical descriptions of her too.

      I think after reading your last comments (and our peers) I'm going to reveal more about the norms of the world I created by adding more of Silas's thoughts. It might be a bit too vague right now, and I want my readers to be intrigued to keep reading and not confused.

      Thank you Shirlyn!

  7. Kaylynn! I am late with my comment, and I am SO sorry! I hope you get it in time for it to be helpful to you!

    I love the idea of this. It's very intriguing, and I want to know more. So well done! I have a couple of critiques that seem a little abstract maybe? So bear with me as I try to show examples and explain.

    One is the vagueness. Some is great. And a lot of the vagueness you have is great. Like why are the boys here? Why do they have to come back? What's the purpose of this test? GREAT story questions.

    The ones I want to zero in on are the ones that I think a little more careful wording and a deeper POV (more thoughts and reactions) could really fix.

    For example, in the first paragraph, I think I'm being introduced to twins in the first line BUT these two things "his nose" "his jawline" throws me to the fact that it might not be. Because of pronoun confusion. ;) I personally might be the only one being pulled out of the story by wondering if they're twins at that point, but I think the pronoun confusion could easily be cleaned up to avoid the mix-up with other readers. You want them sinking in to the story. :)

    The second paragraph starts "They had been." Who is "they"? Just he and his twin. More people? Who is all at the table? Where is the table? Is this a familiar room to them, etc. I think a few setting hits and less of that pronoun confusion (again *winces* I know. I'm sorry.) could clear that up.

    Until we get to this line "Silas watched Dustin shake his head in unison with himself. His brother didn’t appear to be nervous at all, but Silas felt his stomach churn when he heard the words ‘goodness levels’." I have no indication of what Simon is thinking or feeling. I get what he's seeing. But no other senses, no emotional reactions, no internal thoughts are really brought into play yet at this point. And I would love a little more upfront to connect to him as a character in these first few pages. And then when we do get his emotional response here, I don't know why he feels that way. So perhaps invest a little more in letting the readers connect with Simon in that way.

    I almost feel as if I am being kept at arms length from the POV character, and I would rather be closer since so much of what's going on in the beginning of this is new and different and unfamiliar. I want that familiar to cling to. So I want inside his thoughts more. Does that even make sense?

    "He tried to look at Dustin, but the screen between them had already appeared." oooh! How does this make him feel? (you know. Stuff like that to deepen the reader connection.)

    If you have questions about my thoughts, feel free to ask me. As I said, these are more abstract than concrete, and I don't know how well I did to explain them. :)

    Either way, this is off to a great start! And as an aside, I totally agree with the others in that it's totally a sci-fi feel. Good luck!!

    1. Hi Sarah,

      No worries at all! Thank you SO much for your feedback. I can't begin to tell you how helpful it is and I'm so excited to make the edits you suggested.

      I agree with the pronoun confusion in the beginning and I'll definitely adjust so that it's clear they're twins. I can also see how you felt at arm's length from my main character so I'll provide a lot more of his inner thoughts and feelings. Like you said, I need more emotional responses! :) Everything you said made total sense and I appreciate how developmental your comments were!

      Thank you so much and I can't wait for you to see the revised version!