Sunday, February 3, 2019

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Crisci

Name: Kim Crisci
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Sci-fi
Title: Southpaw

Chapter One  

There’s a strong, repetitive knock against the door. My name, spoken in haste, carries over several hallway footfalls, slithering beneath the gap in my bedroom like a subtle invader.

“Lydia! I know you’re in there! Open the door!”

I hear desperation in the visitor’s voice, her words mingled into the rout of others running by, also seeking escape. She wants me to go with her, to join the others in paradise, but I can’t be bothered with promises of salvation right now.

“Don’t do this, Lidie! Not today! She’s going to leave without us!”

Silly voice. What she fails to mention is that they all leave without us eventually. The chosen go to the surface, while the rest of us stay behind to wander this underground cage we call an existence. Why should I be afraid of missing out on another farewell?

It’s funny, really. She thinks that because I’m quiet, I’m not doing anything important. But I am. I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor, lost in meditation, daydreaming of a freedom that’s closer now than it’ll ever be in the real world.

I am a Southpaw. My friends and fellow citizens are Southpaws, which means they too are trapped in the city. And yet, we were all surface children once, born free from parents who were also Southpaws. But they were good people, did good things, showed exemplary character. Our government rewarded them with a home on the surface. A paradise we call Nevaeh. Now, it’s our turn to prove ourselves worthy. The government says everyone has a chance to reach Nevaeh. All we have to do is be good—whatever that means.

A strong pound jolts me from my meditation. I look up at the wall clock. Damn it, girl! You’re late!

“Lydia!” It’s Sarai’s muddled voice at my door. No surprise there. When I don’t answer, Sarai pounds again. “She’s leaving! We have to go!”

It occurs to me then who “she” is, and I realize I can’t say goodbye without her blessing.

I spring to my feet, scrambling over the unmade bed in search of a treasure, one I thought I kept in the tiny desk drawer. Last year, my neighbor Briseis and I heard stories about how girls from the old world made something called friendship bracelets. So, we went to a craft shop in the Joy District and tried it out. She made hers with blue seeded beads, a tribute to the Southpaws who serve in the Health District. I made mine from yellow and ivory pieces, colors that symbolize an indecision about my future, a problem which apparently is exclusive to me.

And I can’t find my bracelet anywhere.

I yank the dresser drawers and rummage through my weekly uniforms of white, white and white. Nothing. I pull out the side tables, becoming more desperate as Sarai grows impatient. I rip apart my bed sheets, tossing them into the corner. Where the hell is it? Then, as I push the mattress aside, I see a sparkle of yellow nestled behind the frame.

“That’s it!” Sarai shouts. “I’m giving you to the count of five.”

Bracelet in hand, I strap the school bag over my shoulder, opening my door just as Sarai reaches three.

“I’m ready,” I say. “Let’s go.”

Sarai eyes me carefully, disapprovingly. She steps forward, blocking me from passing. “Um.” She then gestures to her cravat bow, tied flawlessly around her neck. “You’re missing something.”

My hand reaches for the blouse collar and right away, I feel the bow-less space. Proper physical appearance is important to government officials. They say it shows maturity, an appreciation of the rules, which is something a good Nevaeh candidate not only understands, but respects.

Groaning, I snatch the white bow from its hanger and rush out, letting my door lock behind me. I adjust the strap on my messenger bag and join Sarai and the stampede of other young women from my class, all in a mad rush to get the best spot downstairs for what many believe is a miracle in the making.

Children of Southpaw live in the Delta dormitory, a behemoth of a building nestled in the curl of the Residential District. Today is a big day for Delta. The elevators will be crowded. But since my class lives on the fourth floor, it doesn’t matter.

I speed walk down the stairwell with Sarai, mindlessly twisting the bow ends into a butterfly knot. I worry little about my appearance. If something’s out of place, my best friend will tell me. A few others pass us on their way up, but the majority of us are rushing down, the chatter and zeal echoing like thunder across the walls.

“I didn’t sleep a wink last night,” Sarai says, completely giddy. “This might be the second best farewell all year.”

“Second best? Are you expecting another divine intervention?” I ask.

“Absolutely. One of our own was chosen for Nevaeh. And best of all, it was Briseis! Don’t tell me the thought of another Delta on the surface doesn’t excite you?”

Of course it did. Children under eighteen were rarely considered viable candidates. According to the doctors, the brain isn’t fully developed until our mid-twenties, so the government can’t be sure who’s worthy of Nevaeh until then—or so I thought.

“I hear surface candidates can have anything they want on their last day,” I say. “Anything.”

Sarai nods. “As they should. They earned it. If a beautiful Nevaeh candidate asked to spend her last hours in my bed, I don’t think I’d say no.”

“I know you wouldn’t say no.”

The Delta lobby is a river of students, carefully divided by barriers which lead from one of the elevators to the glass entrance. Everyone is standing behind them, bouncing on the heels, waiting for the woman of the day to arrive and make that triumphant walk to the rest of her life.

Sarai and I scramble to find a free space in the front, a place that comes with a lot of crowd snaking. I recognize a few faces sprinkled into the fray but the rest are strangers to me. Everyone comes to say goodbye, whether you know the candidate or not.

The middle elevator door dings, opening and there, Briseis steps out to a roaring ovation. She’s flanked by two government escorts, both wearing the all-intimidating black with gold trim uniform. Briseis beams at the welcoming crowd, giving a wave before tightening her yellow bow. She’s radiant, poised in her walk, charming with her smile. A young boy offers his hand and she shakes it, thanking him for seeing her off. I shouldn’t be surprised Briseis was chosen for the surface. She’s a good person. This is what good looks like.

Slowly, she moves down the line, offering hugs and appreciation for the kind words. I twirl the friendship beads between my fingers, readying myself for the sleight of hand. Candidates aren’t usually allowed to take gifts with them to the surface, but if I’m clever, her escorts won’t notice me.

We make eye contact and Briseis’ smile blooms into a grin. She hugs Sarai first, the pair promising to see each other in Nevaeh. When she leans in to hug me, I take her by the hand, coyly sliding my bracelet onto her wrist before leaning into her embrace. She laughs, covering the bracelet with her sleeve.

“Don’t forget about us,” I say into her ear.


  1. Hi Kim! Nice job with this, I really enjoyed the excerpt.

    There was a lot to like here, and its clear you are a good writer. First, the voice is believable. Lydia reads like a teenage girl (from someone who has two teenage sisters) and I definitely feel connected to her from her inner monologues. Sarai and even Briseis are also well done, which brings me to the second point, dialogue. Through a few lines of dialogue, I am engrossed in the novel right away. There is a well-written subtlety that friends would share, such as in the scene with Lydia forgetting her bow. Finally, your opening line is really strong. Had me hooked from the beginning.

    There are also some points to address and improve upon:

    1) Sequence of events in the first few paragraphs: Lydia describes herself as being "lost in meditation", but how is this possible when there is what seems to be a constant knocking at the door? Only after that, you write that she snaps out of her meditation, yet it does not seem she was ever meditating given where her focus was, being Sarai.

    2) In the third paragraph, you indicate that Lydia hears the desperation in Sarai's voice. Be a bit more descriptive, what does desperation sound like? Rushed words, heavy breathing?

    3) Friendship between Sarai and Lydia: Lydia ignores Sarai for the longest time before finally opening the door, and not for Sarai, but their other friend who is leaving. I thought Sarai was a random Southpaw prior to that, but after their exchanges together, it seems that they are friends, which makes me wonder why she would ignore her friend, especially when her friend had "desperation in her voice". That made me think of Lydia as uncaring, which may not have been your intention.

    3) Initial Infodump: This is a little confusing. The way it reads makes it seem like Lydia's actual parents were up in Nevaeh, but then it seems like you are, in fact, referring to those in her community rather than any family. I would re-write a sentence or two here for clarity. Also, describe the contrast between Southpaw and Nevaeh briefly (maybe one sentence) so we get a sense of the contrast.

    4) Character descriptions: How old is Lydia? Sarai? We are told they are under eighteen, but given no clue as to their exact ages, which makes us wonder since 15 and 17 are completely different. Also, describe appearances a bit more, as we don't get a sense for how the characters really look like, in my opinion. You can use the plot to help you here. For example, when she forgets her bow, you can note the way it contrasts her skin tone, hair color, the size of her neck.

    All in all, I LOVE this worldbuilding, and truly would read more had there been more. Also, I love the way that this excerpt ended.

    1. Thank you for your critique! You've touched on some things I was initially concerned about. I appreciate your keen eyes. :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Kim, George covered many good points. This is a good story. Yes, the dialogue is very believable. The story takes place in a very interesting setting, at the end of the story, I learn that the main character cares about friends and wants her friends to care about her. You built an interesting world here. I'd like to keep reading.
    I'd say go over the manuscript and catch those tenses. You begin in present tense and somewhere in the middle it briefly shifted to past tense, then back to present. Minor details.
    Great job!

    1. Thank you! Tenses are an occasional stumbling block for me. I appreciate you catching my missteps! :)

  4. Hi Kim!

    I love how start your story. Those first few paragraphs serve well to draw me in. So much so that when you started to go into what it means to be a Southpaw, I found myself wanting more. It seems like there is history here, a history more involved than just a paragraph can contain. That would be an area where I would enjoy more build of detail—if you think it doesn't give away too much of the later story.

    Also, lovely use of sarcasm to build your character. One of my favorite lines in particular was "All we have to do is be good—whatever that means. I feel like I am getting a strong sense of how Lydia's mind works in all its wry ways.

    A small thing but per the colors and the beads, I found myself wondering if blue was just the color for Southpaws in the Health District or if had any additional "value" sort of meaning, such as maybe wellness or vitality?

    A similar note to my first one, when you mention that the day is a big one for Delta, I find myself immediately wanting to know why that is. Again here is where a little explanation might be something you consider adding. In that same paragraph, how many floors are in the dormitory? A bit more lay of the land might be good here as well.

    Another thing you might want to include would be a transition between the conversation the girls are having and when they enter the Delta lobby. It was a little jarring the first time I read it. Maybe add in a line about Lydia's steps slowing as she gets to the doorway or what she sees as the space opens up ahead of them?

    Per where you end your first five pages, beautifully done. Leaves me wanting more!

    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you for your notes! I'll do my best to clear up some of these concerns. :)

  5. Hi Kim!
    This first draft has a lot to recommend it. Strong writing and good teen voice. That said, it does want revision. I'll skip over the helpful comments above and add a few other thoughts/suggestions.
    1-MACRO: Is this the place to start the story? Is it really one moment in time? Instead of a flashback to the bracelet story, is that the first place to help us understand Lydia and her friendships?
    2-THEME: It seems like you want to explore the notion of "good" as a motif in the story. If so, I think we need more show-don't-tell instances of how Lydia is/is not good. Is beautiful good, per the reference to the friend who's been selected? Is GOOD a word used by authorities, teachers, others? If not, how is this one word so key to Lydia's sense of self?
    3-MICRO: Dense sentence construction, repetition of motifs. In first PP you have a concept that includes “name, carries, slithering, invader” that slow me down and take me away from the MC. And then, you revisit the conventions of disembodied names, and knocking (also a clock so loud it thumps?!) through several paragraphs without it moving us closer to our MC.
    4-WORLD-BUILDING: While this is obviously a key component of spec. fic. (and it's clear you've done great work on this for your story), PACING of the world-building reveal is critical. Right now, these pages feel like a bit of an info-dump. Southpaw, Delta, Surface, Nevaeh, Joy District, Health District, Residential District, Sarai, Briseas -- I'd be inclined to narrow the focus of the first pages. Pick a smaller moment and get us closer to the MC so we're ready to learn the rules of your world. We don't need to learn them all by p. 5.
    IN SUM: You have such a cool concept and vision for your story. I can't wait to get to know Lydia better, and to read your revision.
    Happy Writing! - S

    1. Ah, thank you for your time and notes! You've given me a lot to think about in revision. I greatly appreciate your advice! :)

  6. Hi! I really loved the voice-y, fast-paced feel of this opening five pages.
    1. You have a really great command of the YA tone and voice, so well done there!
    2. I do feel there's a little too much Capitalized Words in the starting pages. Consider highlighting all of them and figuring out which ones you absolutely need
    3. The comment about spending a day in someone's bed feels a little too blunt for the tone. Not saying that YA can't have sexual content, but I would adjust some of your other word choices to kind of go for a more "adult" side of YA
    4.That ending dialogue exhcange is really perfect and I hope you don't change it
    Thanks for letting me read!

    1. Thank you for your suggestions! (I write YA and adult, and sometimes, things cross over >___> )