Sunday, April 7, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Feltham

Name: Abi Feltham
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The Spring Years
Chapter One
The day before I left my year zone had been somewhat unconventional. Gazing out the window as the scenery sped by, I counted how many times I’d been in a police shuttle. Five this year, six the last and three the year before. I was well on the way to breaking my personal record and I couldn’t help but congratulate myself. Mum wouldn’t be happy, I knew that, but perhaps she’d recognise my achievement. A medal maybe? At least a cookie.
Officer Aldana climbed out of the shuttle and hovered round to my side, his balance boots making that annoying whirrr sound. I checked the time—we’d arrived at my house before I could think of an excuse why, once again, I’d been so lucky to deserve a police escort. He swung the door open and stood there silently, waiting for me to move. I caught my reflection in his helmet visor as he lifted it and gave me one of those I’m-not-mad-just-disappointed looks. Smiling sweetly, I sunk into the backseat. Perhaps he’d let me off this time.
“Out you get,” he said, not at all impressed. “I need to talk to your mum.”
“I’ve got a better idea, Martin,” I said, my index finger pointed in the air. “How about thi—”
“Officer Aldana,” he corrected me. “Spending so much time in my vehicle doesn’t make us friends, you know.”
“Sorry, Officer Aldana. What if—and this is just a suggestion—you give me a free pass? I’m springing tomorrow… there’s zero chance of me doing it again.”
“You know that’s not how it works, Billie. Let’s go.”
He signalled me out of the shuttle as if he were my chauffeur, then marched me up the garden path to certain doom. It’s not like I’d skipped school deliberately. It was more of a coincidental thing. Like, somehow I turned left at the end of my street instead of right, and before I knew it, I’d spent all afternoon in the VR arcade shooting zombie beauty queens with a giant pink machine gun. Totally not my fault.
I scanned my holowatch and the front door slid open, whereupon I found my mother sat on the stairs, shoulders hunched, tapping her foot. She’d been in the exact same position the day I returned from running away. I’d been missing for an entire week before she called Jodie’s parents to check I was there. I got in a lot of trouble that day, but at least it was Mum who caved first.
“What’s she done now?” asked Mum. She was talking to Aldana but looking at me.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Embers,” he said, holding out a hand to shake hers.
She ignored it. “Miss.”
“Sorry, Miss Embers. Can we have a chat?”
“Look Officer, we’ve been through this. I’ll speak to her but there’s not much else I can do. She’s a lost cause.”
Mum spoke as if I wasn’t standing directly in front of her. How rude! I barged past and headed upstairs, stomping heavily to make my presence known. “You shouldn’t talk about someone in the third person when they are present,” I said, my face burning up. “You should refer to them by their name. It’s basic good manners.”
She didn’t hesitate before loudly telling me to go to my room, but by then I was already outside my door. I flung it open and without turning round, asked her—at a similarly deafening volume—where else she thought I was going. I didn’t wait for a reply. I just slammed the door and kicked the pile of dirty clothes that perpetually lived on my bedroom floor.
My temper was rising by the second. Soon I’d burst open like one of those shaken cans of soda I hand to my sister when she needs her ego reduced. Who was Mum to call me a lost cause? At least I have my whole life ahead of me. She’s so old, she probably remembers the energy crisis. In an attempt to calm down, I held the pendant of my necklace, a silver lightning bolt, between my thumb and forefinger, and rubbed it. The smooth metal, the straight edges, the pointy corners—they all lent a hand in cooling me off.
No one came to get me that evening, not even for dinner. Mum was, presumably, still mad at me, and my big sister, Saskia, would’ve been too busy either (a) studying like a maniac for her spacetime engineering degree, (b) “volunteering” at the animal hospital but really just chatting up recently bereaved pet owners, or (c) kissing Mum’s behind with her perfectly lined lips. Sometimes I wonder if we’re even related. Were it not for our freckles, above average height and gangly limbs that are more akin to tentacles, you’d never guess.
Instead of enjoying my final night of freedom, hanging out with friends or sitting round a silent dinner table with my moody family, I turned off my light and crawled into bed—fully clothed, make-up intact. Sadly, this ritual was all too familiar. Dragging two fingers through the air, I booted up my holowatch’s display screen, then with stressful thoughts of springing the next day, fell asleep watching twentieth century sitcoms.
The next morning, my routine played out as usual. I woke up late, spilt coffee down my front, and instead of eating a well balanced meal, ended up shovelling cereal into my mouth as I raced toward the car. The only deviation from the norm was the nagging thought in the back of my mind that knew my entire existence was about to change. Thoughts like these—vague and unsettling—made my heart beat dangerously fast.
Saskia called shotgun before I had a chance to swallow the last of my breakfast, flying passed me as a soggy cornflake hit the floor. I thought that maybe since it was my special day, she’d grant me the honour of riding up front. No, silly me. I took my customary spot in the back next to an empty cereal bowl, wondering if I’d been this annoying when she’d left on her Spring Years.
Saskia kicked off her shoes and put her feet up on the dashboard, wriggling her toes. “How you doing back there?” she asked. “Nervous?”
My leg jiggled incessantly. “No, not in the slightest.”
I’ve never been very good at lying.
“Well, you should be,” added Mum, ignoring Saskia’s feet entirely. If it were me in that position, she’d have slapped them away, foot-shamed me. “It’s dangerous out there, and you know what you’re like.”
I sighed, as quietly as I could. 


  1. I really like the voice here! A few comments:
    1) The first sentence really confused me. You might need to capitalize "Year Zone" so we know it's something in your world instead of just a typo. I read it several times because I assumed it was the latter.
    2) Your main character is suffering from "teen with attitude who hates everyone and everything" which makes it hard to like her. It's okay if she's a little miserable, but you need to give us at least one positive thing, even if it's just a plant.
    3) I'm finding the world-building a little weak. It's almost as if this is a regular contemporary novel with some tiny sci-fi elements (the balance boots, the holowatch) thrown in. If I removed those two things, everything about this would say normal world. You don't want to drown us in world-building in the beginning, but maybe just a tad more. Like would she really still drink coffee and eat cornflakes out of a regular cereal bowl? These things yell NORMAL to me. So does calling shotgun and going to a VR arcade. These are things that happen here and now, but I'm guessing your sci-fi is not here and now because of the other elements? Honestly, I shouldn't have to guess by page 5. I should just know. I hope that makes sense!

    Good luck!

  2. I agree with Holly about the voice. I was definitely chuckling at a few lines! Especially the part about skipping school being an accident!

    I like the way you give us a feel for your MC. I think you could change this a little to make it more action packed. The opening scene is cool. She's in the back of a cop car, her mom and sister don't really get along with her--all good ways to establish character. But I'm not sure the opening scene does anything more than that. I think you could cut it or combine it with the bottom scene somehow to give more action. Characters show their personality by how they respond to conflict. What's the conflict? Obviously something HUGE is going to happen if she has to leave her Year Zone. What does that mean? What does that look like? Why is she scared? I think you could definitely accomplish the "devil may care" attitude in the scene where her mom is driving her to wherever with her sister. Maybe they could mention her skipping school and then go back to the leaving the Year Zone part. That's what I really want to read more about!

    You definitely have a cool voice going here. I think there are likable elements to this MC, but I haven't seen them all yet. I'm excited to see what you do with this because I LOVE sci-fi, so I hope to see more of that in the next draft.

    Best of luck!

  3. Hey. I love the premise of this opening. I think it sounds really cool and I'm totally intrigued. I like the voice and that you give up little tips and clues about the characters is such a wonderful way.
    I wonder if it would be stronger if you took out the first paragraph entirely. It's explaining this that we don't really understand, yet. But getting dropped off at home by a cop-that is something we understand (not that I've have the personal experience. lol). But I would slow down the scene with the police officer. It is really great action and we are learning so much about her, but she was up in her room too fast. How does she feel about what she did. I want a little more explanation as to why she would skip school and on the day before her whole life was going to change (also maybe a couple more words about what this big change is just to hook us more?). I think expanding that opening part would draw us deeper into you story and character, and might help us getting emotionally invested in the MC.
    But great opening. I'm already hooked.

  4. Hi Abi, Our guest author mentor is having trouble posting comments to the blog, so I've cut and pasted them here. ELD

    Comments by L.E. Sterling

    Abi: I love the imaginative interplay in this opening scene, and the complexity of the relationships, which you set up in a very short space of time. It’s really difficult to convey future technology in a story, and you do a very admirable job with this here.

    One strategy that I think you can employ here is to ask yourself what the main point of the opening scene is. Is it to set up the character as a rule breaker? If so, maybe it would work even better if you start it just as the cop drops her off in front of her mother. That will add to the already built-in tension of the scene, and also give you time to explain a bit more of the relationship dynamic to the reader.

    I love the concept of the spring year (?) but as a reader, I’m going to want to know more right off the bat. What is it, why is it important? Can you describe it in a sentence or two? That will help orient the reader as to what they should be thinking and feeling as they enter this scene. You can always go back to your explanation later and fill in the gaps later, but if the novel revolves around it, a quick explanation from the start will really help anchor your readers.

    Another thing to consider is what to reveal about the tense relationship between the narrator and her mother. What is behind the narrator’s anger, and her mother’s seeming lack of care? At times I wondered if anger was a fall back characteristic of the narrator – can you clarify this? There seems to be something special about this particular cop, too. Is he a friend? Can you drop a line or a hint about this, as well?

    I’m so looking forward to seeing what you do with this complex scenario!

  5. I love the cockiness of your MC as well as how vulnerable she seems beneath it all when she interacts with her mom-sister team. You really have hit well on the voice of a disenfranchised teen--one who can skip school by accident!

    The balance boots, spring year and year zone all intrigue me, and I'm eager to learn more about this futuristic world and what this spring year entails. A bit more information would help inform what Billie is expecting to happen when she begins this new phase of her life.

    The banter with the police officer was entertaining, and I sense that he may become an important ally to Billie in the future. Could he become a foil between her and her family? Can you give us a hint as to why the mother thinks Billie is a "lost cause" and how she came to favor the sister.

    This opening was very rich with difficult emotions between the characters, and I look forward to learning more about them and the world in which they live.

  6. We're getting a really good sense of your main character's voice by the end of this opening paragraph! Nicely done. The personality seems really likable as far as main characters go.

    One thing I will point out right away is that the opening paragraph for a sci-fi really needs to set the tone for the world as well as some details about the world that will really ground your readers. I think a couple opportunities for that are missed here, and/or misplaced. For example, the police shuttle comes in at the end of the first sentence. Readers are trying to understand what in the setting the character is in, and it only comes together at the end of that sentence. So my suggestion would be to bring really cool story elements like that into crisp detail first--it's as easy as mentioning that the character is in a police shuttle looking out the window, then backloading the sentence with counting the times that's happened. Because the year zone also gave me pause at first. I had to stop and make that make sense. Simply adding another detail to make that make fluid sense is a great way to introduce your amazing world right away.

    When the officer steps out of the shuttle, there was nothing before that to transition that it had come to a stop. That could be another great opportunity to say where they are and what the MC sees.

    This part: ? I’m springing tomorrow… there’s zero chance of me doing it again.” What exactly is "it"? Cool details, again, to help ground the readers is a great idea.

    And again, we want to be able to see the cool things about your world, so be careful to really lay out the groundwork for your world's rule. For example, the officer is on balance boots, and described as hovering (COOL!) but then later he's marching up steps. So I'd really like a clearer picture of how those boots work. The seemingly conflicting information confuses me a bit.

    You have great story tension right off the bat. The tension between her mom, the hints of backstory that are subtly woven in, all of that is very well done. I am intrigued by the time the MC ends up in her room by the tension as well as what's happened in the past. I would like more in the way of her emotional response though. There is a mention of her face burning. Other than that, I think that whole scene with the officer would incite a lot more emotion. So I'd love to see that.

    By the end of the last paragraph before the scene break, I really want to get a sense of how Billie thinks her life will change after the last night of freedom, and how she feels about that. It's the sense of where the story is going that I am missing. And something simple added there (and maybe even hinted at when it comes up earlier) will REALLY add to the already fabulous tension. Plus give readers that long-haul story hook they need. I think you have laid the groundwork for it nicely!

    Really nice start. I look forward to reading the revision.

  7. Hi Abi!

    I loved the scene opening with the MC in a police car, excellent voice and tension, however, it fizzled out a little too quickly and the MC lost some of her badass points as the scene progressed. She flattened out into a teenager who feels misunderstood and yells at her mother, and seems generally angry at the world. Not that she can't be misunderstood or yell or be upset, but the why was missing for me to give it that depth to make me care about her situation. She doesn't have to be likable, but I do need to understand her view.

    The vague hints about what tomorrow will bring for her were more confusing than intriguing. I don't know what she wants or is afraid of concerning tomorrow. I'm okay with waiting for all the details, but I needed something to help ground me with how the MC feels about it so that I know how to root for her.

    The sci-fi hints in the beginning were great, adding more of those things in will strengthen the scene. Currently, they start to fade out and the sci-fi vibe gets lost.

    Wonderful work overall! I'm excited to see the next draft :)