Sunday, May 5, 2019

1st Five Pages May Workshop - Hill

Name: Laurel Hill
Genre: Young Adult Supernatural Thriller
Title: The In-Between

Ashton weaved his way through the crowded squads of students reeking from overly sprayed perfume and cologne. His dark messy hair gave the appearance of both carelessness and confidence. He was extremely good-looking, and the most popular person to hate. Mouths fell open from all that openly judged his ability to show up after what went down with Harley yesterday. Music came over the hallway speakers to let everyone know they had two minutes to get to first-period or be marked tardy.
"Oh my god, Ashton!" Livi shouted at him as she ran by. "Why are you even freaking here? Go home!"
His stomach twisted violently from hunger. A high-pitched ring in his ears became the only sound he could hear as dehydration caused the hallway to spin around him. He wobbled over to the wall of lockers and leaned helplessly against them for support, praying he wouldn't pass out in front of the remaining students scurrying to class, or worse, cause a scene by dry-heaving. His eyesight fell dim and out of focus. Feeling his way over to the drinking fountain at the end of the hall, he slowly walked his hands down the row of metal doors. His hands trembled as he pushed the button to release the powerful stream of cold, stale water. It hit his lips and splashed up his nose. He hoped no one saw. His surroundings gradually came back into view. The ringing inside his head subsided, and he headed for the bathrooms. He was going to get his very first tardy of the year even though it was just about to end. Two senior girls not caring about being late either stood at the communal sinks putting mascara on. They glared at him as he strolled by, not knowing he intended to eavesdrop behind the wall dividing the two genders.
"No. Way."
“Seriously. Harley’s dead and Emma has completely flipped out. It was all over the news. I can't believe your parents didn't even tell you."
“Oh. My. God… How come I don’t feel sad for her?”
“Uh, because she’s a bitch.”
“Right? What goes around comes around. You try to make everyone else's life miserable only to end up much worse."
"Seriously! And why would that kid even come today? I would totally take that situation as an opportunity to skip a whole week of school."
"Hell, I'd take the rest of the year off!"
"I know! It's like, hello? We only have a month left! Duh!"
"I know! Oh my god, guess where I'm going this summer?"
"Don't gloat."
"You don't even know where I'm going to say?"
"Cuz I don't wanna hear it, okay? My mom just told me we don't have enough money to go anywhere, and I'm tired of hearing about everyone else's plans!"
"Fine. Whatever."
He stopped listening and went over to the toilets. The strong smell of urine from no one taking the time to flush disgusted him. It was the last place he wanted to vomit, so he had to get out of there quick. Keeping one hand over his stomach, he headed to class and knocked on the door to be let inside. A substitute teacher opened it, then scurried back over to her desk to read a tabloid magazine. Gasps from every student negatively greeted him as he took his seat. He stared down at the student graffiti covering his desk, listening closely to what everyone had to say about Harley dying in his house. It sounded like they were talking more about the jock being a perv since the news reported he attacked Ashton's mom in the shower, but no one had the guts to approach him for details. He was grateful for that because he didn't want to admit to stealing Harley's things, explaining why the jerk was even at his house in the first place. It would only prove he was on the same level as the bully himself.
He looked up to see who was on the cover of the sub's magazine. Sure enough, a full-page photo of his dad and Destiny looking all lovey-dovey stared back at him. He squinted to see the headline. Jason Stellar engaged to the mother of his child! He couldn't help but roll his eyes knowing his mom would flip out over the announcement. He knew his dad didn’t have the guts to actually follow through with marriage. Commitment wasn’t in the man's vocabulary. He realized that after accidentally walking in on him showering with an attractive woman hired to clean his New York City penthouse. It happened about a year ago while Destiny and Star were out of the country. The two adults were so caught up in the act they didn’t even notice Ashton standing there. Just remembering the embarrassment made the boy blush again. He felt bad for Destiny even though he had never personally met her. She seemed completely the opposite of his mom: confident, never trying to be someone else, hardly wore any makeup, and obviously didn't need any Botox since she was the actual age his mom was trying to achieve with needles.
He snorted out a quiet laugh of contempt as the sub became more immersed in the story. Little did she know she was sitting in the same room as the celebrity's son. It frustrated him that no one knew. He'd be shown a lot more respect if they did.
He looked over at his ex-best friend, Jake, flirting with Livi. She was the girl who gave Ashton his very first kiss when they were both in the seventh grade. She used to be so sweet. He even considered telling her who his dad was. It's a good thing he didn't. He never thought she would betray him after Jake ended their friendship and ruined his popularity. How could she ever fall in love with such a traitor?
He raised his hand to be excused. The sub had no clue and kept her eyes glued to the gossip. He cleared his throat with a loud, deliberate gurgle, but it didn't change a thing. She was completely unaware of his need for dismissal. Jake noticed and laughed, then cleared his throat even louder, just to mock him. Other students started to chime in until she finally looked up from her glorious pages. Her face flushed red with embarrassment as everyone stared back at her. Ashton raised his hand higher to let her know he needed to leave. She nodded and pointed to the door as if she could care less about his presence - the story of his life.
The unique aromatic blend of wet earth and pine crept inside Ashton's bedroom as the late Spring showers of the Sunday morning rain gently tapped at the large sliding-glass door separating his bedroom from the back deck of his house. He hoped the pitter patter of mother nature cleansing herself would finally stop so he could flee the mother responsible for his own nature. The storm she created was torrential. Her tongue lashed out at him whenever she saw fit, causing him to strike back just as hard, triggering an unbearably loud thunder within his already shattered heart. Dark grey clouds floated above their seclusion in the Pocono Mountains, teasing the time of day to look closer to that of night. The filtered light produced an eerie feeling, so he twisted the tiny knob underneath his small metal lampshade to brighten things up a bit. Still, it failed to lift the overall atmosphere.
A loud and strong wind announced itself outside, causing him to look up from his drawing desk. He watched the towering aspens surrounding his home sway back and forth, fluttering their leaves to shake off all the clouds water. The large oaks creaked loudly in return, but stood their ground, promising never to fall from such grace. He put down his pencil and leaned back in his chair, pushing it out from his desk, giving him enough space to open the top drawer. His neon-green bouncy ball rolled forward to greet him. He grabbed it from its dark stowage and went to lay down on his bed. Fully aware that he was feeling sorry for himself, he rolled the rubber around in his hands, allowing boredom and loneliness to consume him. He wished he could hang out with Jake, but those days were long gone thanks to a stupid kitchen cutting-board they had found last year in the charred remains of an old country house. Rumor had it the place was haunted after a man killed his own son, buried him in the backyard, then fled the scene with his wife. The new family that moved in afterward managed to live there for a few months before the home mysteriously went down in flames. The board survived the fire despite its wooden origins that should have burned along with everything else. A blend of fear and excitement overcame him when he saw that someone had turned it into a homemade Ouija board. Jake freaked out when Ashton started playing with it all the time and told everyone at school that he chose the devil over their friendship, ultimately destroying his once enviable popularity. Soon after, Ashton buried it in the woods near his house, not because he believed it to be evil, but as a ceremonial act in grieving over the death of a friendship he'd cherished since pre-school.


  1. Great job getting us right into the action. The pacing of the first section moved along well. The dialogue was concise and the voice felt right. In the second section, there is a different tone entirely. I like the personification (the ball rolled forward to greet him) and the descriptions of the setting. However, it felt like some of the spot on teen voice is lost. For instance, "...but as a ceremonial act in grieving over the death of a friendship he'd cherished since pre-school." It's beautiful language, but it feels so different in tone from the voice we hear when he's at school. I love the line about the Botox injections. There is a good bit of wit and edge to the language that I like. You've set up the suspense with the deaths/fire right from the start.

  2. Laurel,
    I enjoyed reading your first pages. You have a great beginning and certainly draw the reader in. I can't wait to find out what happened at his house.
    I had a little trouble keeping all the characters straight. Maybe you could space their introduction out a bit to give us time to get to know them. Also, since Livi talks to Ashton in the beginning, I wonder if there could be a little more dialogue be sprinkled in.
    Can't wait to find out what is going on with Ashton! Great suspense.

  3. Hi Laurel,

    I like the setup of the celebrity's son and a death with suspicious circumstances. I think your dialog feels very real. Also, the thirsty scene pulled me in.

    I have a POV note. In the first paragraph, we're watching him, but we aren't in his body, it's a narrator outside of him, someone else watching him, and then suddenly we're inside him and we're getting his experience. So, either choose to see the world through his eyes, or through someone else's.

    I like the thirsty scene, but I didn't understand it. Is he in shock? It seems like he's having a breakdown of some sort, and then, he's back to strolling and sneering. This confused me.

    My biggest note for you is to embody Ashton. Imagine yourself sliding into his skin. Walk around your house like him. How does he walk? What does he fear? What does he need? What does he want? What is his primary crisis right at this moment? Stay focused on that. What is the mystery or question that he needs to answer? What is the lie he tells himself?

    Also, think of that first scene. What will pull in a reader? Maybe you can start with him witnessing the murder? That way, the next scene in which he's very thirsty, he could be in shock. Whatever it is, stay with his emotional journey and with his sensory experience. Cut anything that's a explanation or flashback. Write only action, his multi-sensory description of what he's seeing and doing. Add in direct thought and opinions for voice. But stick in one scene/location for a while - split scenes into chapters so you can see what you have, whether its worth keeping or not, or if you need to expand it to make it a complete scene.

    For your next submission, could you attempt to double space it? This formatting was hard to read. Also, break the big paragraphs into smaller paragraphs.

    Your last two paragraphs had some wonderful voicy lines, and it would really help to break them up into smaller paragraphs so that these stand out more - put strong lines either first or last.

    I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

    Kim Purcell

  4. Thanks so much for you input, Kim. Sorry about the single space, I thought the workshop rules said to do that. Oops! There are four scenes leading up to the murder. I have tried several revisions for agent submission but no request for pages. The original manuscript opens in Ashton's bedroom, and the school scene happens much later. Not sure what to do since every scene before the murder ties into the overall dilemma. Would you like me to briefly describe each scene to you to see if a better revision could work?

    1. You’re right about single space! Yours is very crammed in compared to the others, though. Not sure why. Maybe font size? Also more paragraphs will help with readability. Technical

      Okay, so, about the opening scene...first off, when does his life change? Begin the narrative right before that. I have a writing exercise for you....start over your chapter from scratch. Write in first person. No thoughts. No flashbacks. See the world through his eyes. Start with what he’s doing just before the murder and take us through his entire multi-sensory experience.

  5. Hi Laurel!

    Like Kim said, I LOVED the paragraph about Ashton being thirsty and starving. However, it feels completely different from the opening one, almost like it's from a different story. The pace is completely different. In the beginning, I was picturing Ashton walking calmly, cool, and collected. Now in this paragraph, I'm picturing him starving, thirsty, maybe like he had been lost somewhere, struggling to survive before finding the school. This paragraph definitely draws the reader in and is beautifully written. It makes the reader connect with and care about what's happening with Ashton. Maybe start the story with this paragraph?

    Otherwise, my biggest critique would be the amount of telling done rather than showing. "He was extremely good-looking and the most popular person to hate" for example. Maybe if you flesh out some more interactions with dialogue throughout the scenes here, you will have a better understanding of where and when the story should start?

    There's lots of back story here, which I would try to avoid in the opening chapter.

    Also, try to keep the voice more consistent throughout. There's lots of good description, which I like but some of the language seems too mature. Make it more "teen."

    I really like this line: "He hoped the pitter patter of mother nature cleansing herself would finally stop so he could flee the mother responsible for his own nature." Seems like he's being trapped in the house with his mother- maybe a supernatural being, which in turn caused him to be a supernatural being?. Can he not leave because he can't be outside in the rain?

    I'd like to see more interaction between him and his mother rather than just stating that her tongue lashed out at him whenever she saw fit. Again, I think more interaction, dialogue, and showing rather than telling will really help you to flesh out the beginning of this story better and decide what information needs to get across to the reader right away and what can wait til later.

    I'm very intrigued about Harvey's death and the wooden cutting board surviving the fire and I want to know more about the two things and maybe how they're connected! And the celebrity father and complicated family dynamics are intriguing as well. I think you have the basis for a really good story!

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  7. Hi Laurel,

    Thank you for sharing your pages with me! I think you are off to a great start. One of the things that stands out to me right away is that you have an enormous cast of characters in these opening pages and that can make it hard for the reader to focus.

    Since Ashton is obviously a main character, I'd like to see you flesh out his actions on this morning. He's thirsty, but why? Is he still in shock from something that happened last night? What is HE focused on now? The fall-out? Criminal charges? Administrators at the school finding out what happened? I guess what I'm saying is that we need to have more concrete details in order to draw us in to Ashton's predicament. Did he witness the death? Was it a murder? Does he know who is responsible/did he witness the death? And who is Harley to Ashton? The girls in the bathroom seem to dismiss her death easily because she was "a bitch" but was she important to Ashton? Grounding us in some of these details immediately will help to build conflict, tone and plot--as well as deepen your characters. I hope this helps. I definitely want to know more and that's always a good sign!

    Again, thank you for allowing me to read your work. I truly look forward to reading your revised pages.


  8. Hi Laurel!

    I really enjoyed your pages. You've tossed the reader directly into Ashton's current world and obvious plight, which is good. Your first paragraphs have left lots of questions, which can also be good. But sometimes leaving the reader with too many questions so soon without securing them in your story can overwhelm them and make them stop reading. I can't help but wonder if I need to know more about him and a few clues as to how he's connected to 'whatever happened last night'.

    Although I like the opening, your choice of Ashton's initial distress (hunger pains) didn't seem to fit for me. I felt as thought his thirst might be somehow related to whatever happened 'last night', though. Maybe he was thirsty because he was so upset last night that he hadn't had a drink of water since. Whether I'm correct or not, I think you need to make this a little more clear; something to snag the reader with promise of a deeper secret or danger and something that makes the reader empathize with him. His hunger, at what felt like an inappropriate time seeing how something tragic had recently happened, made me feel like he didn't care about whatever that was. I have a feeling that's not true, either. Maybe he mistakes hunger pains for and emotionally upset stomach?

    The dialog between those girls is really good, but is it necessary? Could you use a little dialog to reveal Ashton on a more personal level to the reader? Like instead of calling him 'that kid', maybe these girls know him or know of him, have a history with him like a lab partner, or always pass him on their way to lunch, or whatever. The next paragraphs were a little confusing. Who did something to Ashton's mother? What perv? Or jock? And then suddenly he's okay to notice the image on the magazine a substitute is reading? That bothered him, but why should the reader care yet? They don't know him enough. Try rereading these parts out loud. Listen to the parts you don't read out loud, but are important to understanding what went on and what makes him who he is right now. You need to add those details and probably take out unnecessary ones that you can add in later. My other main note is about the point of view you're writing from. At one point, you're outside showing what's happening, and then you step inside Ashton. Which way feels more comfortable to you? Try writing the entire piece that way and see what you come up with. You might end up fixing any confusion without much fuss.

    Thank you so much for sharing your pages with us and for letting me read. I'm excited to read your revision!