Sunday, June 2, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Mitchell

Name: Prentis Mitchell
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fantasy 
Title: The Hidden   

Chapter 1: The Opening Move

Jess Emem.  1.

The thin sliver of the moon grinned down on Jess as she hurried through the darkened street.  The day at school had been long; made even harder by missing the bus and having to walk all the way home.  The chill breeze blew the inky clouds towards the river and rustled the few remaining leaves on the trees above.  A soft, silver halo surrounded the moon for a moment  before the clouds once again drifted across like smoke and the sky fell back into pitch.  

Curtains were drawing the eyes of the buildings shut as the city slipped into early evening.  Before long this street would emerge as a very different creature: a street draped in its evening wear, jewelled in lights and filled with the bird-song chatter of people and throbbing music.  However, for now, the street was sleepy and the only sound was the occasional car driving past.  Jess moved from pool to pool of yellow light which fell from the street lamps above.  She strolled through the evening unaware of the eyes which eagerly  watched the doorway  to her building- a darker shade looming in the shadows of the alley beyond.   

In the bakery, hidden away at the basement of her building, the last of the staff closed up for the evening.  They cleared the chairs onto the tables as they swept the remains of the day away.  Jess’ fingers danced over the keypad of the door code as the watcher memorised the position of each digit she pressed.  The door buzzed and Jess slipped into the warm glow of her building.  Before the door had even closed behind her, the unseen observer was moving forward with heavy feet splashing through the puddles.  

Jess paused in the hallway to check her phone before taking the stairs upwards.  She took the steps two at a time passing through glimpses of the various other residents lives: the wail of a baby fighting the need for sleep; the rich smells drifting from neighbour’s dinners; a neighbour's white cat curled up on a forgotten shopping bag barely managing to force an eye open to view her pass by.  

At her door lay a parcel. The sight of the small brown box brought a tingle of excitement.  She picked it up however  the feeling slipped away as quickly as it had appeared when she saw the name ‘Mr Maughan’ printed on the label.  They had left her neighbour’s parcel at the wrong address again.  She dropped it back to the floor,  slipped her key into the lock and pushed open the door. 

Her school bag was abandoned onto the floor, followed closely by her coat.  It only took a couple of shouts to figure out that the flat was empty.  She wandered into the kitchen, presuming her mum must be late in from work.  However, when flicking on the light, she found a plate of food wrapped in cling film and a scribbled note left on the kitchen worktop.  She scanned the note quickly before tossing it aside where it landed on the cold leftovers.  So much for still being at work she thought to herself.  Her mum had gone out.  Again.  

The phone was in her hand and the number dialled before she even knew what she was going to say.  It rang and rang until eventually she heard her mum’s voice.

‘Hi.  I can’t take your call right now.  Please leave me a message.  Bye.’

The beep pierced Jess’ ears and pricked her anger even further. 

‘Mum, I can’t actually believe you’ve gone out again.  Did you not even think for a minute that I might actually want to see someone after being at school all day?  You’re so selfish sometimes.  I can’t even believe that you call yourself my mum.’

The rant continued.  For the most of it, Jess could not even remember what she said.  She just knew she finished with the words ‘hate you’ which she knew would hit her mum hard.  

She threw the phone down onto the table.  The initial flood of anger was receding, as was the smug feeling of satisfaction at letting her mum know exactly how she felt.  But now guilt was now slipping inside.  She shouldn’t have said those things to her mum.  Fighting back against the guilt, her anger tried its hardest to push those feelings out of her mind.  It was too late for that now, Jess thought as she shoved  the plate of food aside.  If her mum had gone out partying with her friend, there was no way Jess was going to feel guilty or eat cold left overs from yesterday.  She thundered out of the kitchen in search of the takeaway menus.  

Chapter 2: A Stranger Calls

Mr Trick.  ✖️


It took Mr Trick several attempts to enter the code, each time clumsily hitting the wrong button with his thick set of fingers. A growl of frustration rose with each effort until he almost smashed through the door with his bare hands.  Then, unexpectedly, the lock buzzed excitedly with the correct code.  Mr Trick shoved open the door and squeezed himself into the hallway.  Like entering codes into tiny keypads, his heavy hands and wide frame made any stealthy task difficult to complete.  They did help, however, in the tasks he was usually required to undertake: those involving breaking, snapping and beating.  He checked the object was still secured in his coat and made his way to the stairs.  The black girl he’d copied the code from was nowhere to be seen but the place reeked of humans.  The stench of sweat, grease and filth left him nauseous and grateful he did not venture into human cities very often.    

From his pocket, he dragged out the crumpled note he had shoved in there earlier.  He grunted in frustration as he struggled to read the note.  The words were written in an unfamiliar language which looked like a jumble of circles and lines.  He recognised numbers easier than the words and so figured out from the strange script that the target was on the fourth floor.  Looking up, he saw that the stairs wound their way back and forth all the way to the top of the apartment.  

Mr Trick began his slow ascent.  Each floorboard creaked under his heavy, leather boots.  The boards bowed under his immense weight.  He was thankful that the howl from a child covered most of the noise he was making.  The repeated thud of his boots and creak of the steps carried him up the stairs; past the noise and clatter from the residents behind their closed doors.  As he moved through each hallway, he kept an eye on every door, ready to react if anyone was unlucky enough to open one.   He approached a white cat, curled up tightly in its own dreams.  Sensing him coming, the cat awoke and reacted immediately at the sight of the approaching stranger.  Leaping to its feet, it darted through the corridor and up towards the higher floors effortlessly twisting past any obstacle which lay in its path.  Mr Trick watched the small animal disappear before following him up the last few remaining stairs.  

Finally, he reached the top landing. On the floor, he saw a brown parcel.  Stooping to look at the small printed label, he recognised the same name that was scribbled on his note.  He reached into his coat and removed the object wrapped in an old, oily cloth.  He handled it as carefully as he could, wary not to make contact with it.  

Gods forbid he should set it on himself.  


  1. Hi Prentis, a great start on your writing. Is Jess going to be your main character? I struggle a bit to get in to her character and I wonder if you've considered a different POV for this story? It currently seems to be third person omniscient and a tighter point of view might help connect to Jess more. I want to see her anger already simmering at the beginning so when she gets home to an empty house we are with her in her annoyed disbelief at her mother being out.

    Without reading more it's hard to comment on Mr Trick but are you 100% sure describing what he does enhances the story? Just when we're getting used to following Jess, we get torn away and I feel like it could be more powerful to stick with her.

    I'm interested to find out what is in the cloth though! Looks like a case of wrong person in the wrong place brewing.

    1. Hi KD. Thanks for your feedback. Jess is the main character and I have worked on trying to develop her emotional journey following on from others' feedback. Later chapters get a sense of that but I agree there can be more in the opening. I shall add it to my list of things to revise!

      Obviously, its hard to know from just 5 pages, but the whole story is structured around several characters' POVs, Mr Trick's being just one, however, I want to make sure that Jess' is a strong voice throughout and that each character does bring something.

  2. This is an intriguing beginning, but I wonder if opening with so much description of the night and the buildings is the right way to start. Yes, it creates atmosphere, but it also takes focus off Jess at the point where we are really supposed to be getting to know her. Perhaps try to get closer to her POV and show the night and the street through her eyes and her experience of it. I found it difficult to connect to her here and the anger at her mother seemed to come out of nowhere. If she was already frustrated from missing the bus, walking a long way in the dark and then coming home to an empty house, it would be more organic. Especially if she had something she was burning to tell her mother.

    This is a very short chapter, so I think you have some room to flesh things out a little, really get us into Jess's head so her motivations are clear.

    In terms of Mr. Trick, it's difficult to understand from this small section exactly what his purpose is and whether this is the best time to introduce him. We've had such a short period with Jess, if he's a threat to her, we haven't had the time to get to know and care about her yet.

    But I'm certainly intrigued... I feel like that mis-addressed parcel is going to create a world of trouble.

    1. Hi Kate,

      Good point and thank you for the feedback. Less description can wait and more about Jess in this initial chapter seems to be my way forward. I can see how the anger seems to come from nowhere.

  3. I love the use of personification in the descriptions in the opening paragraphs. I agree with the previous post that it was unclear as to whether Mr. Trick is a threat to Jess or not. Also, it's unclear why she is so angry at her mother but maybe that will be made clear later. I am curious as to what is in Mr. Trick's coat.

    1. Thanks Susan. I definitely want to unpick Jess' emotion more walking home and pad that out. Great having people read this and giving feedback!

  4. Hi Prentis! It’s a pleasure to be working with you!

    Based on the sample alone, I’m amazed at how rich and descriptive your world is. You’ve written with such care and focus. However, I think you’re over-describing the scene, when a few adjectives would do. “thin sliver of the moon” and “darkened street”, for example. If the moon is out, it’s fair to say the street will be dark. “inky clouds” is another description that isn’t really needed. There are also examples where the adjectives don’t really work in describing what’s happening. Ex: “Then, unexpectedly, the lock buzzed excitedly with the correct code.” I’m not sure how a lock buzzes excitedly. Mr. Trick could be excited instead.

    I’m not sure what Mr. Trick offers, so it’s hard to critique his passage on merit alone. There are times when things are told, as opposed to shown. Ex: “Like entering codes into tiny keypads, his heavy hands and wide frame made any stealthy task difficult to complete.” I’d suggest showing this with action: he pushes the pad, his fingers hit multiple numbers at once, and the door denying him admittance. I also worry you’re giving away too much of Trick’s identity right off the bat, especially when it feels like he’s supposed to be an obscure figure. Ex: “those involving breaking, snapping and beating.” We learn he’s a bad guy. “The black girl he’d copied the code from was nowhere to be seen but the place reeked of humans.” We learn he’s not human. As a reader, my suspense is gone by the first paragraph. Despite this, I’m interested in seeing where Mr. Trick’s passage goes.

    This is a small critique. For someone who’s supposed to be “unseen”, I feel like we’re being made to see him. Ex: “Before the door had even closed behind her, the unseen observer was moving forward with heavy feet splashing through the puddles.” If you want to describe someone watching, you can probably do that without mentioning someone is watching. Mention the heavy feet, the splashing puddles, but not the “observer” himself. This should add more intensity to the read.

    While Jess is on the phone, I think this would be a great time to get a sense of how Jess looks physically. Does she glare when she’s ranting? Does she run a hand through her hair, catch the sight of her rage in a mirror, etc?

    The line: “The words were written in an unfamiliar language which looked like a jumble of circles and lines.” I don’t think this properly describes the message. My first thought was, “Aren’t all words made up of circles and lines?” I’d suggest rewriting or cutting if possible.

    Overall, very interesting set up. I have a feeling this story is going to turn out fantastic by the end of the month. If I could, I’d read more.

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks a lot for the feedback. All really useful. I completely agree and looking forward to revising it with all these ideas. I do go to far with descriptions (this is cut down!) but need to pad out Jess more.

      Thank you!

  5. The POV for the first chapter is not working for me. You are flipping between close 3rd with Jess and either omniscient or the person watching (Mr. Trick, I think). I would advise that you stick with Jess if your plan is to flip between the two of them.

    I love the way you do description, but agree that it's a little heavy. Would Jess actually notice these things (assuming we're in her POV)? You (the author) can't describe things she wouldn't logically notice if you're in her POV.

    Finally, I am confused by the timing in the first chapter. It sounds like it's the middle of the night with the way you describe the moon and the sleepy street, but then you say it's early evening and she's just leaving school and going home to eat dinner so that doesn't make sense. Even if she stayed after school for an activity and missed "the late bus", it can't be past maybe 5:30 or 6:00, so the moon shouldn't be grinning down already and the street might be tired, but it shouldn't be sleepy yet.


    1. Hi Holly,

      Thanks for that. Lots to have a think about and great to have those ideas to think about.

      Timing wise, its set early evening in late autumn/ early winter and so definitely need to look at that to clarify it- without too much description!

      Thank you for the comments.

  6. Hi Prentiss!

    Thank you so much for sharing your pages with us! I really enjoyed reading this. But off the bat, the first few paragraphs - though filled with lovely descriptions - really convey nothing. There is nothing to draw the reader in. Also, that many descriptions in a row is a bit overwritten and distracting from the story. Descriptions are like seasoning, pepper them in with unique phrases and imagery to enhance, not overshadow, your story. I also was confused as to the time of day. It seemed like twilight at first, but then you say words like inky, making me think nighttime, then you say soon it will be night, then you say the streets are sleepy - making me think it's pre-dawn. Then after this beginning, I felt that there wasn't enough description to ground me. What is the apartment building like? Is it dark and rundown? What about her apartment?

    There is also a lot of telling instead of showing. For example, instead of telling us the bakery is in the basement, you could say Jess inhaled the yeasty smell from the basement bakery, her mouth watering, or her empty stomach grumbling.

    The voice is not consistent, which is confusing and a bit jarring. Since it isn't an active voice, it is going to be much harder for you to establish tension. For example, when the watcher is first introduced. This should be a bit frightening, and definitely a source of tension, but it isn't.

    When you tell us about Jess walking up the stairs - she doesn't actually see all that (I mean, she has no idea why the baby is crying). I'd suggest making it clear she's supposing, or condense or cut - it meanders a bit and I'm guessing doesn't really have much to do with the story. The first 5 pages are prime real estate - use them wisely to hook your reader! For example, I know nothing at all about Jess. When you have a line like this - The sight of the small brown box brought a tingle of excitement - give us some interiority, let us know what she was hoping it was. That will let the reader get to know Jess.

    I'd also suggest condensing much of the scene when Jess walks into the kitchen. Jess's tirade into the phone also doesn't make her very likeable - since we don't know much about her, it's hard to have empathy for her. She could simply crumple the note and then think - I should have known better than to believe her when she promised she'd be home tonight and not out partying or some such. Before you switch to any other character, make sure the reader knows Jess - has a sense of her personality, her goal, her wound. I'd suggest rewriting the first few pages from Jess's pov in either first or third, eliminating the omniscient voice, and eliminating the telling, using more active verbs and a more active voice, and adding interiority. Then, when we learn later about the mysterious package, we will be invested in Jess and what's about to happen! I'm looking forward to reading the revision!

    Erin, 1st 5 Pages Mentor

    1. Hi Erin,

      Thank you so much for the feedback and advice. It has been so helpful and what has made the whole first week so useful is having so many people's views. Its really helped shape a way forward.

      I agree with all your ideas and so look forward to submitting the second revision.

      Thanks once again,

    2. My pleasure! Feedback is so invaluable - I'd be lost without my CPs and writing group. I look forward to reading what you come up with!

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  8. Erin,

    Thank you for submitting! I am writing without reading the other comments so hopefully this isn't too much of a repeat. I struggled with Jess's chapter.

    Specific points:

    There were a lot of great descriptions, but they seemed very disparate from her more modern voice.

    It took a while to get into the plot. I actually am not really sure what's going on with her at all.

    I was confused that it was night time but she was just getting home from school? Is this a normal school? Why is she just coming home?

    I would like to actually read the entire message she left for her mom, unless it's intentional that she not remember.

    I was confused how she would know what's going on in the bakery and behind closed doors - unless she has abilities that allow her to see them? And if so, perhaps that needs to be explained more?

    I liked Mr. Trick's chapter. He had a very clear personality. My only concern is having an adult POV in a YA book unless he only has a a couple of chapters.

    I hope this helps and I'm looking forward to seeing the revision!
    Nikki Katz

    1. Hi Nikki,

      That is really helpful. What I have found most useful this week is that the comments are all very similar- glaringly obviously now with the power of hindsight- but each one has really helped.

      The Jess chapter I have started to get more into her POV and thinking about what she can and can’t see etc.

      Mr Trick is only a small character in the story- only appearing in 3 chapters.

      Thank you so much for the comments.


    2. I'm glad it helped and I look forward to seeing the changes and learning more about Jess!