Sunday, July 14, 2019

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Lowrey Rev 1

Name: Nicole Lowrey
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Beneath the Abyss

Dark clouds slithered across the sky and Laina flinched as the thunder rumbled the walls around her. Rain tapped against the windows louvers in the kitchen and she flicked them shut, clicking reload on her phone. Again. Come on, come on.

Why wouldn’t the internet load? Maybe the storm was making it worse.

A text from Veronica appeared.

Got the text from school? Results are up.

Laina’s stomach rolled with the beans and rice she’d eaten that morning. She moved the phone around near the window, hoping to get a better connection. She’d been trying for ten minutes, but it felt like an hour.

She squealed when her inbox finally appeared. Second email from the top were her mid-term biology results. She clicked it and scanned the page, looking for the result she’d been dreading all morning.

There it was.

Eighty-eight per cent.


Her chest sagged. Not the A she’d hoped for. She’d need ninety per cent to get into senior year bio. Higher to get into climate science at an Australian university, like her dad had done. A knot formed at the back of her throat. How would she break it to him? He’d been so thrilled when she’d told him her plans, to take her little sister Fiona to Melbourne and live and study there. That hinged on if she could make the marks for a scholarship. Unlikely, now.

She clicked back to her messages.

B+, you?

The phone pinged.


Three squiggled lines jumped on screen as Veronica typed something. Then it vibrated again.

Can I come over?

Gritting her teeth, she tapped back.

Maybe later.

Laina pinched her eyes closed and wiped away the sweat brewing on her forehead. The summer heat in Mexico felt stifling. More humid than countries she’d lived in across the Pacific, or even South America. It’d be so nice to live in the dry heat of Australia again, settle down in their home country and just stay there, not moving every year or so for their Dad’s climate research. The traveling was fun, but making friends and starting school all over again sucked, every time.

She shivered as thunder crashed. If only she could hurl the ache in her heart into the clouds, watch it combust in an electrical flash. The storm was moving on, but there’d be another one later. There’d been nothing but rain all week. Right in the middle of dry season too. It was unheard of. They’d had to cancel the school fundraiser for the drought relief efforts when rain washed the stalls out. Totally ironic.

Laina’s phone vibrated again. Fiona had messaged her from her bedroom down the hall.

Something’s burning.

Laina turned and swore. Thick smoke billowed in plumes as she opened the oven door, dragging out the sunken black carcass of her sourdough. A blast of heat smacked her in the face, like she hadn’t been sweating enough already. Smoke filled her nose and she sneezed and flapped her hand to fan the smoke away.

Martha, their in-house nurse, appeared out of nowhere, slammed the oven door shut, and scolded Laina in a flurry.

“Que haces niƱa? I told you to be careful when you left the stove on two days ago. You’ll smoke the house out. What about your poor father?”

Laina tensed, flicking her head towards his bedroom door. With it closed shut, no smoke would creep in. Thank god. The cancer was drawing the last of his energy. If she’d aggravated his lungs…

She didn’t dare think what could’ve happened.

“Let me clean up,” Laina said and followed Martha as she bustled to each window, opening the shutters wide.

Martha swatted her away with a flick of her wrist. “I’ll fix it. Just make yourself useful somewhere else.”

Laina bit the inside of her cheek, blinking twice to stem angry tears from forming. She couldn’t even handle the smallest things anymore, not even a damn loaf of bread. Her grades had slipped over the past couple of months. And to top it off, Fiona still wouldn’t talk to her. It was all too much. School had given her time off to help around the house, but how was she meant to keep up, missing all her lessons? There was no way she could look after Fiona, the house, and be everything her dad needed her to be. Not with a foster home looming ahead of them.

She chucked the smoking heap of charred dough in the bin. A new wave of anxiety kicked its way up her throat and she fought to keep it down. She’d cried enough this week.

All she wanted to do was burst into her dad’s bedroom, wrap him up in her arms and tell him she had it all figured out. She’d look after Fiona, study hard and make it work, when he was gone. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t bear the disappointment in his eyes, knowing it wasn’t true.

The door to his room was splintering near the hinges, and needed a coat of paint. She’d meant to buy paint last week, but then got caught up when the water tank bust a leak again. It was hard enough keeping on top of the urgent jobs. Before he…

No, don’t think about it.

Laina chewed on her lip until the tang of blood hit her tongue. He slept most days, waking to eat in the mornings and afternoons. Energy sapped from his body like a leaky tap. Nothing she could do would help.

Martha swept up again like a belligerent sparrow and thrust a basket into her chest.

“You’ve been hanging around doing nothing all day. We need water and groceries. How can I make your dad’s dinner when we have no water?”

Laina dropped the basket to her feet. “I’m more useful here than out there! And seriously, what if something happens to him while I’m out?”

“That’s why I’m here. Now go.” Martha bustled her to the door with a jab of the broom’s sharp bristles before she could protest. The door to Fiona’s room stood ajar and Laina stuck her fingers around the wooden frame, digging her nails in before Martha swept her outside.

Fiona sat against the wall, her knees curled into her chest, nose deep in a fantasy book. “Come with me,” Laina said, swallowing as her voice wavered. Fiona’s eyes lifted from her pages then dropped back. Laina pulled back, an ache swelling in her chest. So Fiona was still giving her the silent treatment. The worst part? She had no idea why.

Laina slammed the front door behind her and ran. She needed to get away, get far away from it all. Their cottage by the coast in Tulum was a short walk from everything. The market, the forest, the beach. Pelting down the dirt track, she slipped between timber posts and into the woods behind the line of bright homes. A soft breeze flicked at the tendrils of her hair, tickling against her flushed cheeks. She stopped when she reached her favourite spot, pressing her palm against the rough bark of a flame tree.

A patch of sunlight broke through the clouds and hit the leaves of the flame tree, setting them ablaze like crimson fire. Her heart swelled, looking at the way they glittered, catching the light. 

A blue-crowned motmot flitted into the clearing, blue and green plumage shining bright. They were her favourite birds, with long tail feathers that extended into dazzling blue ornaments.


  1. Name: Nicole Lowrey
    Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
    Title: Beneath the Abyss

    Got us set us in the kitchen with just a word or two. Great. Might also want to let the reader know that we’re in Mexico. Could do that with a word or two, maybe a complaint about the Mexican internet providers.

    She got a text but still isn’t getting a signal. Might want to make it clear that a text is not what she’s looking for. Maybe following ‘Results are up’: Great got text but still no connection to get the email from school. Could even add to her tension when she gets the text that the results are up but she can’t get them.

    Little thing, no reason to waste words on the email from the school being second from the top.

    It would read better to differentiate the text messages from the narrative. Putting the text messages in italics would work. When inside elements of the story like texts, emails or inner thoughts don’t stand out from the narrative the reader has to stop and reevaluate what they just read instead of staying immersed in the story.

    I think adding the bit about Dad’s climate research and his cancer made things fall in place better.

    Another small thing: I think a thunder clap might make one jump or cringe but not shiver.

    Not sure how she could be in the kitchen and not know something is burning until little sis sends her a text. No doubt she’s distracted about the grades and the sketchy internet but something burning in the room you are in would be hard to miss.

    You could skip telling us that the nurse/housekeeper scolded Liana. Just show it.

    You’ve done a lot of good stuff here. I hope something I offer is helpful.

  2. Hey, Nicole! Strong work here. You've added some nice bits of specificity throughout (especially making it clear Australia is their homeland and the clarification of Dad's illness). I also really like the changes at the end (the bird, etc) that help solidify setting.

    My suggestions are mostly picky things like word choice and small detail stuff.

    1) Right at the start, is there a better verb for the clouds? Slither seems off to me. And the storm would be more dramatic if the rain did more than "tap".

    2) There are several small bits that could be tightened by trimming excess phrases. Example: Three squiggled lines jumped on screen as Veronica typed something. Then it vibrated again. TIGHTER: Onscreen, squiggles jumped as Veronica typed; then the phone vibrated. Look for other fine-tuning spots like that. Little tweaks can make a big difference.

    3) I really prefer that Fiona texts, but I agree it's odd Laina's in the kitchen and doesn't notice the burning bread. Does she need to be in the kitchen at the start? What if she were in another room--or even on the porch--then she could run into kitchen when Fiona texts (more active).

    4) While the splintered door/paint/water tank are good details, they distract me from her situation and slow down your pace. Maybe cut that paragraph.

    5) “I’m more useful here (than out there)! And (seriously,)...what if something happens to him while I’m out?” <-cutting the parentheticals will make this more urgent, I think.

    6) "stuck her fingers around the wooden frame, digging her nails in" How about just "clung to the wooden frame"?

    7) Watch repetitive word choices Fiona's eyes drop back; then Laina pulls back. Small fix.

    8) I love the motmot, but I think you could tighten: A blue-crowned motmot, her favourite, flitted into the clearing, plumage shining. Its long tail feathers extended into dazzling blue ornaments.

    9) Finally, if submitting these 5 pages to an agent, it would be good to end on more dramatic/cliffhanger moment-could someone burst into the clearing (perhaps creating a threatening feel)? Just a thought.

    Great voice and details here. I hope my ideas are useful!

    All best,


  3. So, this is a good story. You've done well revising, fixing up the minor conflicts, and generally making things smoother. I like that Fiona only talks to her sister through texts, and like Laina, I want to know why.

    My minor suggestions are simple. I too would consider changing the opening lines. Slither might be the wrong word and the sentence sounds a bit like a run-on given it's context. I'd consider just chopping the bit about the clouds and leaving the part about Laina flinching as the walls rumbled.

    It is a bit odd that someone nowhere near the kitchen would smell the food burning but Laina wouldn't.

    The part about Laina digging her fingers into the wooden frame is kind of confusing to me.I had to read it twice. I think Martha is shoving Laina with a broom, and Laina appears to be fighting it. But then it seems like she's getting hit with a broom while trying to talk with her sister. Maybe that's what you were going for. Maybe it wasn't. Either way, it reads like something is missing, and I'd consider clearing it up.

    It's been raining, and I know you mention that the rain is moving on. But when she goes outside, you don't mention it, and the track is dirt. It seems like it should at least be muddy or have puddles to run through.

    A few bits could use edits and different words to avoid any close repetitions. I might consider adding a sentence or two describing the house decor.

    Its a good story though, and the family dynamics are immediately understood. A lot of the descriptions are nice. The ones about the bird and tree were very good. Birds are nice, and I like the small theme you have going with them. The belligerent sparrow simile, the motmot, etc. It's interesting.

  4. You've done a great job with incorporating the suggestions. I get a better sense of dad's illness, why they've traveled, and why Australia is important. I'm still not sure how they ended up stuck in Mexico. With a terminal illness diagnosis you'd think the family would head home. Especially with such young girls and no other family around.

    Let's talk about sentence structure. You still have some areas that could be tightened up. There's a lot of flowery exposition that I'm not sure is necessary. With only five pages, every single word counts. Especially since many agents will only read your first five before it's a make or break it for them. There are a few places that have echo words within the same paragraphs. Look for those repeaters and cut them. Finally, the storm. You mention the thunder in a few places. And while I know that you're using it to set the mood, it's laid on a bit thick. When incorporating setting to establish mood, it's got to be done subtly. Otherwise, it drags those first pages on.

    Regarding mood, I mentioned this last time, but I didn't see that much change was made. As a reader, I get it. Fiona and Laina have a really crappy life. It's bad news on top of bad news on top of more bad news. But you're still missing that ray of hope. I'll give you two examples to help you understand what I'm getting at. Have you ever had that really negative friend that is "whoa is me" and his/her life is one big cesspool? They are wallowing in self-pity so badly that they can't see the sun through the rain. That is how this is reading. No one wants to be around a Mopey Molly. How can you change this? Here's my other example. Let's take Hunger Games. Katniss's life sucks beans. Like really sucks. Dad is dead, mom is checked out, she's struggling to provide for the family when she's just a kid herself, the Hunger Games ceremony is about to happen which is dreadful at best. Yet, there are things that give her hope and joy in spite of the crap. Her love for hunting, her sister Prim, and her affection for Gale are those rays of sunshine in her life. If she didn't have them, then why bother living? With Laina, I just don't sense that. She finds joy in nothing. Not in school, or family, or her hometown. Laina desperately needs at least one thing that makes her want to get up in the morning and face the day.

    I hope this doesn't come off too harsh. I don't mean it to be. I think you have a great beginning here and I want it to be as strong as possible so when you're ready to submit, it grabs an agent's eye. Good luck on round two!

    1. Hi Wendy! Thanks for your comments :) Super appreciate them, and I figured I'd better reply here so it makes sense why I made the revisions I did and let you know that I'm not purposely ignoring this feedback. I do agree whole-heartedly with you.

      My first chapter is actually ten pages long, so the ray of hope comes pages 6-8. I cut some paragraphs down so I could hint at the pages where she goes out in nature, the places she really loves, and her connection with animals which is the key part of my story.

      I can try and make this clearer, it's just quite difficult trying to condense a ten page chapter into five pages.

      Thanks again


  5. Hi Nicole! Enjoyed reading your work again :) Below are my suggestions.

    It occurred to me that if she has a father who is studying climate science and wants to pursue it herself, that she may actually have a bit more of a scholarly thought about the storm at the beginning, which could add to her characterization right away. She could identify the storm cloud, and maybe that could tell her how long the storm would hang over head? Or check something about wind patterns. Just a thought.

    I also think the first paragraph can be cleaned up. I agree with the thought about slither not being the right word. You could try "Dark clouds uncurled across the sky." I also think we should have the thunder first and then have the flinch. So, "Thunder rumbled the walls. Laina flinched."

    I also think you could have her do something else besides squeal when the inbox appears--it seems like an over the top reaction. If it were me, I'd actually just get even more nervous once it loaded and I saw that the email I'd been awaiting had arrived, so maybe she forces herself to breathe or almost closes out of the inbox because she realizes ignorance might be bliss.

    Another thought was about the travel due to her father's job. I'm curious if there is a specific reason they are in Mexico, and also, are they now stuck in Mexico because he's fallen ill? If so, that could be made clearer. It seems like they probably aren't moving as much now that her dad is so sick.

    One more thing that's super small. Since you already said the bird is blue it feels redundant to have the word blue again in the same sentence.

    I hope my comments are helpful!