Sunday, July 14, 2019

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Sova Rev 1

Name: Jericho Sova
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal Thriller
Title: The Lates Society

Percival Wolfsbane stepped out of Lates Hall for the first time in a month. He looked around, found a nice, shaded bench to sit on, and took a tattered, rolled up notebook out of his coat pocket.

"I don't know what happened," he heard another student say as he flipped the notebook to a math problem he'd been working on. "It's too early to tell if it was him." 

Having been gone so long, Percival didn’t know who they were talking about, and normally he wouldn't have cared anyway. Campus politics had never interested him, and local gossip was something he strictly ignored. But today there was a tone to the conversation that Percival didn't like. A certain kind of fear was behind that other student’s voice; a fear mixed with reverence. And looking around, Percival caught the same dreadful unease in other people as well. It was hiding in the way a woman was rushing to her car before the sun set, wearing itself on the faces of two professors standing in the courtyard, and flaring up in the cigarette of a man smoking in the library gazebo. The fear was everywhere, permeating the campus like a disease.

And yet, Percival tried to ignore it. He told himself it was just his nerves and a byproduct of dealing with his brother’s death. Since the accident, Percival had been ignoring a lot of things. He found it easier than dealing with the pain. That’s what the math problem was for. Math problems were a puzzle. They made you focus, and when Percival bit into one, he didn’t let go until it was done.

This one, however, was becoming a nightmare. He’d been working at it for three solid hours, and the only thing he had accomplished were a few smears, eraser marks, and one bat-winged smiley face with fangs drawn in the upper corner of the page. 

Now, he concentrated on the numbers and tried willing them to fall into place. His hope was that the fresh mountain air would help him concentrate. But the numbers were obstinate things and refused to listen. When he thought he made progress in one area of the equation, another one fell to pieces. When he believed he stumbled onto something rational, a different part became irrational. At one point, he put his pencil to paper, and with a spark of intuition, jotted down a series of numbers. It wasn’t until after he checked his work that he realized he had tried this same path twice before. 

Frustrated, Percival slammed the notebook closed and shoved it into his pocket. Then the clock tower boomed announcing the time as six o'clock. Percival’s stomach grumbled, and he started ambling his way toward the cafeteria. As he crossed the courtyard, a rush of cold air swept through the valley, tearing leaves off their branches. One leaf danced its way around his head and landed in his untamed black hair. He shook the leaf out and continued on, while somewhere in the distance police sirens screamed.

After the buzz going on outside, the Autumn U cafeteria had all the excitement of a well-kept mausoleum. The walls were a beaten dull gray. The floors were a coffin wood brown. The people shuffled from one food kiosk to the next like zombies while they waited for their share of sizzling mystery meats and blighted vegetables. 

Percival made himself a salad and found an isolated table in the back to sit at. While he ate, he refused to look at the math problem as a matter of principle. It had already given him enough trouble as it was and adding indigestion to the mix wasn’t going to help.

He had been content to eat alone, but when Benjamin’s tray clattered down on the table beside him, causing him to jump, he found he was glad to have some company. And Benjamin was good company. Sure, he was a bit odd, but he was a friendly face, and since the accident, those were scarce. 

"You scared the hell out of me," said Percival.

Benjamin sat down and started to examine a slice of pizza for defects. He was gangly and thin with unkempt straw-colored hair and thick framed glasses that glinted in the cafeteria lights. If he were a bit less animated, he might have made for a good-looking scarecrow. 

"Nice to see you too,” he said. “When did you get back?" 

"And you didn't call? I'm hurt."  

"I don't even have a phone. Mine was on my brother’s account."
Benjamin’s smile faded. "I’m sorry. If there was anything I could have done."

Not wanting to talk about it, Percival waved the comment off. “It’s fine. Besides, what was it your favorite author once said? ‘So it goes.’”

“Too true. Now let me be the first to welcome you back to Autumn U, or as the shirts say Au, the gold standard.”

Percival took a bite of his salad. “It’s good to be back. But maybe you can tell me what I’ve been missing.” 

Benjamin tore a burnt section of his pizza off, flicked it away, and bit into the pizza’s other side. “What do you mean,” he said around a mouthful of cheese.

“I don’t know. It’s like everyone’s on edge or something.” 

“You mean you haven't heard? The Triangle Killer's come back." 

Percival nearly choked on a grape. He had heard about the killer. Everyone in Autumn had. It was the campus ghost story, the thing seniors told freshmen to keep them up at night. There were seven original victims, if he remembered correctly. Each one had their hands chopped off and their bodies carved up in some kind of ritualistic manner. Signs and symbols were cut into the flesh, and the victim's blood was used to write cryptic messages. No one ever figured out what the messages meant, and the killings stopped after a few weeks.  

"Are they sure it's the Triangle Killer," said Percival. "I mean that was what, twenty years ago?”

"Twenty-five,” said Benjamin. “And no, the police haven't confirmed anything yet. But I was talking to someone on the force, and she says it's definitely the killer.”

“How does she know?”

“Something to do with the symbols used. She was kind of cagey on the details.” Benjamin leaned in close. “And you want to know the best part? I think this might be supernatural.”

Percival rolled his eyes. Here it went again. Benjamin’s second greatest fault. His first was his fondness for breaking into places he shouldn’t be, but followed closely behind that was his desire to make everything paranormal. In his world, Occam’s razor could be summed up in three words. Ghosts or aliens. 

“You can't be serious,” said Percival. “Oh, God, you are."

"Look, twenty-five years is a long time to go between murders. And to come back without missing a beat seems supernatural to me."

"Twenty-five years is not that long," said Percival. "If the killer started when they were twenty, they'd only be forty-five now. It’s more likely the killer’s just… come back."

“Don’t you mean come back from the dead? There is no way you’re going to convince me this isn’t supernatural.”

“Nothing is ever supernatural. There’s just things we know, and things we haven’t figured out yet.”


  1. Hi Jericho, thanks for submitting your revision. You've done lots of work and it shows!

    This is really REALLY good, in my view. I can clearly hear Percival's voice. Just from these 5 pages, I feel like I know him. Or at least, I know enough about him to care to know what happens to him next - this is a huge achievement in the opening of a novel.

    You've also done a great job of smoothing the dialogue between Percival and his friend. It reads a lot more organic and natural than the first draft. (The clever use of Occam’s razor made me raise my hand up in triumph - yes!)

    My only feedback this time is concerned with the very beginning of your book. The first two sentences you currently have at the very start just don't work for me. How about cutting these first 2 sentences and starting with Percival overhearing the creepy dialogue about the latest murder.. ("I don't know what happened..."). It could read something like this:

    "I don't know what happened exactly, but I know that they found a body," Percival Wolfsbane overheard someone say in a loud whisper. He didn't see the speaker, but the words immediately got him on high alert. Just moments ago, Pervical, eager to lose himself to a math problem he'd been working on for a while, sought out this seat on a shaded bench, far enough from the Lates Hall not to be bothered by human presence. And now he was being an unwilling witness to this creepy conversation.

    "Could this be... him?" Another voice asked. "Too early too tell..." came the response, but Percival was already slamming his math notebook closed and rushing away from the bench...

    NEXT you can add what you've already got there, starting with paragraph three ("Having been gone so long...") and then go from there... (You'll need some light edits throughout to sooth the change to the beginning, but nothing major!)

    Regarding the sentence "Campus politics had never interested him, and local gossip was something he strictly ignored." - I don't think "campus politics" is the right thing here since they're talking about a MURDER. Maybe just drop that part and go with "local gossip".

    A side note (kind of?) but... your MC overhearing something creepy and unsettling might motivate him to have a look at who it is talking, especially if he can't see the speakers directly but rather only hears their voices. This could be a great way for the MC to meet some important character, like a friend/ally he's going to need as the story progresses, perhaps a villain (?) or a love interest :)

    The pages do a great job of escalating tension, but can you make more of a point of Percival going from obliviousness to "what is going on??" as he takes first look at the campus like he's seeing it for the first time and noticing how uneasy and freaked out everyone is.

    The sentence "This one, however, was becoming a nightmare. He’d been working at it for three solid hours, and the only thing he had accomplished were a few smears, eraser marks, and one bat-winged smiley face with fangs drawn in the upper corner of the page." - you can move up earlier to the very beginning somewhere when you have Percival sitting on the bench and overhearing the creepy conversation.

    Overall, you've got yourself a very strong beginning. Well done!


  2. Hi Jericho,

    As a college writing professor, I'm often disappointed by my students' grasp of "revision"; too often, they make a few small edits and resubmit virtually the same piece. This is clearly NOT the case here! BRAVO to you for this full-on revision/re-imagining/successful reworking of your first five pages!

    Once again, Katya has beat me to it with comments, and I'm in agreement with her thoughts here. Let's see what I have to add.

    1) You've done an excellent job sticking with third person but amping up the engagement factor. The narrative is much less stilted (not stilted at all, in fact), and I get a much better sense of who both characters are. Nicely done!

    2) I like Katya's suggestion of tweaking the start to begin with the overheard dialogue. My main issue with that 1st paragraph was this bit: "stepped out of Lates Hall for the first time in a month" which made it seem like he's been holed up in Lates Hall for a full month, rather than that he's recently returned. As for the campus politics thing, I don't think you need a stronger initial reaction, b/c that first overheard bit doesn't mention murder.

    3) The description of fear permeating the campus is really nice (good specific examples), but this phrasing struck me as a little awkward: "wearing itself on the faces of two professors".

    4) You might tighten the math problem section just a bit. It slows the pace of the narrative, for me, at least.

    5) Small thing: should the clock tower "boom" to signal the hour? Should he "amble" if he's suddenly recognizing his hunger. Maybe a more energetic verb.

    6) Nice description of the cafeteria. Perhaps a little overall trimming of "unneeded" words/phrases. Example: "an isolated table in the back (to sit at)". <-- cut that last bit. Also, "Benjamin sat (down) <--cut and (started to) <-- cut examine[d] a slice of pizza for defects." "...thick framed glasses (that glinted in the cafeteria lights) <- Do you need?." Little trims like this will tighten things nicely.

    7) This stuck out to me in the last round: "‘So it goes.’” - It's a pretty generic quote from a favorite writer. Is there something more pithy?

    8) This is picky, but could he nearly choke on something other than a grape? I realize there could be one in a salad, but it seemed odd.

    9)Could some of the carved symbols be triangles, hence the killer's name?

    10) The introduction of Benjamin's supernatural obsession is handled really well! I just wondered if there could be an addition here: “You can't be serious,” said Percival. [Maybe a Benjamin reaction here] “Oh, God, you are."

    These are all very minor suggestions. Again, I'm really impressed with the level of work you've put in here--and the excellent results. This is a really engaging first five!



  3. First of all I want to congratulate you on an AWESOME revision! This is already such a huge improvement! I like Percival and want to follow his story, so well done. I also like Benjamin and how you've painted his character. You've slowed down a tad and shown us some great stuff. Here are my few nitpicks:
    1. The opening line does two things I don't like. It makes it sound as if he's been held up in a building for a month: "Percival Wolfsbane stepped out of Lates Hall for the first time in a month" AND it distances the reader from Percival again by using his last name. If we're close to his perspective you can do things like drop "He felt, he heard, he saw, and just tell us what was seen, heard, etc. as well as keep us as close to him and his thoughts as possible.
    2. I think you can put in a bit more about his emotions too. I know he's trying to ignore them, but maybe when Benjamin brings it up, instead of just saying he didn't want to talk about it, give us a gut reaction that he's specifically trying to avoid that reveals/hints at his true feelings.
    3. I love that Benjamin thinks everything is paranormal. That said, it still feels like a stretch somehow. I want his reasoning to be over something explainable, but that might make us hesitate too. Did his source reveal something that screams paranormal to him? Is there a detail you could add that won't give too much away that might make the reader go hmmm? Just a thought.
    Again, great work. Can't wait to read next week's! :D

  4. Hi Jericho! Nice work on your revision, you’ve done an excellent job! It reads so well and feels like a deeper point of view now. I like how we get a better sense of who Percival is and why he is feeling a bit isolated and disinterested in campus gossip, and how Benjamin reacts is working well too. And we see how Percival likes maths and putting himself into a problem he can control. I really like it :) Well done!!

    My comments are more line edits as I think the structure is working really well, draws me in straight away, and answers some of those questions I had before. One thing I was wondering is if the ominous mood would continue into the cafeteria? As people would probably be reacting inside as well as out.

    To make it slightly clearer right from the start where he is, I was wondering whether to clarify it is 'Lates Hall University'? And in the second paragraph, we don't know 'gone so long' means. I think it could be worth clarifying that he has just moved back to town.

    Not sure what makes him think people are scared when he sees a man smoking a cigarette?

    I also noticed some sentences that weren't as active as they could have been, and will have more impact if made shorter and sharper. I.e. could change it to 'Then the clock tower boomed six o'clock'. And change 'started ambling' to 'ambled' (started is a filler word and you can make verbs stronger by putting them in past tense rather than continuous).

    I was thinking you could connect the two sentences describing the cafeteria, as at the moment they sound repetitive and you want to vary the style and length. Then it would read 'The walls were a beaten dull gray, the floors coffin wood brown'.

    I wasn’t quite sure what you meant by Percival’s phone being on his brother’s account? Does that mean they used the same phone? And I think there needs to be a question mark after ‘Triangle Killer’.

    These are super nit-picky comments though. Overall, I loved it and really felt drawn in, well done!

  5. This is a much clearer beginning and it has a good rational flow of information and events. Percival’s brother’s death brought in early gives us an important story element that we need to know in order to have context for his thoughts and actions.
    Having Percival notice the change in atmosphere is a good set up for him to receive the news of the murder.

    A couple of suggestions about wording:
    ‘Campus politics and local gossip had never interested him and local gossip was something he strictly ignored’ would read shorter and cleaner just to say ‘Campus politics and local gossip had never interested him.’
    ‘A certain kind or fear’ What kind?
    Instead of ‘wearing fear on faces etc. you might just go with the descriptions of what he saw—a woman rushing to her car before the sun set; two professors who kept glancing over their shoulders while they squinted and talked at one another; a man furiously smoking a cigarette.

    You mention that the ‘fresh mountain air’ would help him concentrate but make no mention of where he is. Later you say he is in a valley. Perhaps you could spend a few words early giving the reader a picture of the location and that it is a university.

    Loved the colorful descriptions of the cafeteria food.

    Initially Percival told himself that the vibe of fear on the campus was ‘ just his nerves and a byproduct of dealing with his brother’s death’ Later, when he’s talking to Benjamin he says ‘everyone is on edge or something’. These appear contradictory. Maybe just me but something to think about. Wouldn’t take much to align the two thoughts.

    Good job.

  6. Awesome revision! I really like the style of this draft. I also really enjoyed the line about Au, the Gold Standard. Here are my suggestions:

    I agree that I think the math section can be tightened up in the beginning because it does seem to slow down the story.

    I also felt like the second paragraph read a bit awkwardly. Maybe he could first hear whispers and then strain to hear and catch bits of the conversation? Or perhaps it would be more smooth if we have a description of what the students looked like as they talked.

    This is picky, but how does Percival know the woman is rushing to her car before the sun sets? Maybe it could be more that she's looking around, or clicking her keys to make sure her car is locked. I'd also be interested in a description of the faces of the men and how the fear is seen in the flare of the cigarette--maybe the man's hands are jittery.

    All my comments are minor, and feel free to take or leave them, but I hope they help.