Sunday, September 8, 2019

1st 5 Pages Sept Workshop - Seifert

Name: Lina Seifert
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The B-Side Fidelity

It was night, but a warm summer night in the Rome of 1981 when I first met Aidan. He didn’t look like any man I’d ever known when I first saw him standing in the shadow of the center Obelisk in Piazza Navona, watching the crowd streaming around the Palazzo in small groups on this night of possibility. He wore tight, black shiny pants and a ragged dark leather jacket over a dark red shirt, his blackish-brown wild mess of hair held back by a dotted grey bandana. Another bandana was lazily fastened around one of his medium-heeled cowboy boots, enough of a heel to make him stand out from the crowd of tourists and late-night wanderers around him. His face was bold and rough but with a hidden attractiveness that seemed to come from his bright blue eyes, in contrast to his otherwise rather dark appearance, and his mouth, thin-lipped but speaking of attitude and expression. His lips moved as if he was talking to someone next to him, someone who clearly wasn’t there for the rest of us to see. In spite of his outward appearance which suggested something bad, maybe even dangerous to me he was the brightest person I had seen in my entire life.

It had taken me just a second to get to this conclusion, and I couldn’t stop myself from moving closer towards him, pretending to admire the work of one of the street artists next to the fountain. As I was approaching, a sound different from the other sounds of the nightly palazzo sparked my ears, it was a subtle soundtrack to the scenery unfolding all around me. A soundtrack indeed, because it was him, singing softly but distinctly to himself, and now to me as I listened. In an instant my subconscious mind told me that I knew this tune, loved it and cherished it, and that it was the melody that right here, right now, needed to be sung. His voice was mesmerizing, like a warm blanket woven from every heartfelt emotion a human had to give, and I felt the resonance like a rope that would pull me back into myself, into who I was and who I wanted to be, would I only have the courage to reach out and touch. And right in this moment of time I did. He sang a song that spoke of the metaphoric conscience within love, and this language was the one of my heart. Feeling the words, the parts of me that usually felt doubt, shyness, insecurity, fear and envying melt away under the lapping of tone and note, I was not who I had been for all my life. And so I joined in, slowly and with my voice so much less significant, but with the same sincerity, not hearing my voice, knowing that I could and would never be out of tune, not with that voice winding through my ears, down my throat and amid the hollowing in my chest that was humming and buzzing with summerly harmonic vibrations.

He didn’t show any sings that he’d heard me, or even knew I was here, but when I sang the verse for the second time, everything in me stretching out towards him, almost painfully aware of his presence next to me, he joined in at the exactly right moment, in a higher pitch than me which added a whole new layer to the feelings the song conveyed. It didn’t even surprise me that he found the high notes so effortlessly, with more sensitivity but the same earnestness. When our voices had faded I wasn’t sure what to do, whether to look at him or say something, anything, or just turn around and walk away, but as he stood tall as he had done before, I took in the moment, the echo with him. The scene on Piazza Navona had changed, so subtle that we must have been the only ones who could notice it. Where there had been a place full of individuals, going about in their uni-colored bubbles of their current experience of living, there was now a shimmering thread connecting all of them with us, with this place, with this moment in time, like it being captured in the pages of a book or through the lens of a movie camera. I took it all in, and embraced the happiness that was suddenly coursing through my veins, when he turned towards me, his eyes gleaming and a smile on his lips, almost appearing to be sheepish before I saw it broaden. “Thank you. That was beautiful.“, he said simply with a slight Irish accent, and I couldn’t help but love the way he emphasized the word “beautiful“, made it his and mine. I smiled back. Being so close to him now I started to notice he was maybe just a boy yet, he seemed younger than from afar and his dress less intimidating and bulky. His stature was more slim than I’d assumed, although his arms and shoulders might still be muscular. My throat felt soar and my voice strange when I answered: "It felt like the thing to do- your voice is…. unique.“ I was grasping for words, strangely aware of my own insecurity welling up, now talking to his chin instead of his eyes. "There is such emotion in it- I can’t put my finger on it, but…“, I took a breath, gathered my strength and let my eyes return back up to his, “but… it made me feel as if it would kill me to never hear it again.“ Where this expression came from I wasn’t sure, but the instant I said it I knew it might just have been the most truthful thing I had said in a long time. He was still smiling, now so wide that I could see his teeth, and chuckled a little at my words. “Well, I don’t even know you, do I?“ - “I don’t think so.“ I felt confused, but a little like I’d just told my mother a white lie- I didn’t know him, or did I? He cocked his head a bit and, staring into my eyes, appeared to be considering something before he suddenly took a step forward and extended his hand. “I’m“, he paused for a beat, so short I might have imagined it, “…Aidan, and if you’d care to get to know me- I guess I’m here to find something, so maybe you could help me?“ He sounded playful, but his eyes were honest. I felt doubt, a hidden warning and a glimpse of insecurity, but for reasons my awareness couldn’t explain I trusted him, the singing stranger on the streets of Rome, and therefore I took his hand. His skin was rough in places, and his handshake strong and warm, gentle. “I guess I’m here for the same reason.“ He laughed at my copying his words, but didn’t let go of my hand, still slowly shaking. “So I’ll do what I can to help you, Aidan. I’m Emma.“ - “A pleasure, Emma.“ He let go of my hand, leaving an invisible imprint on my skin as if he hadn’t.


  1. Hello-

    I like that you open in place like Italy! Lovely.

    I think an overall edit for telling vs showing would make a great impact through here.

    I enjoyed that singing brought the two strangers together!

    Best of luck with it! Can't wait to read next week.

  2. Your descriptions are lovely- very poetic language. You have it listed as a contemporary but it reads like a romance. I have no jist of what this story is about so far. It seems a little far-fetched for a YA novel to have these two strangers singing to each other in the middle of a town square, like it’s going to be a musical. Add in some idea of what this story is going to be about. Run through and add in show vs tell and work on some line editing, including paragraph breaks. There are plenty of free resources on the web on formatting and plot structure to help you. You have beautiful voice-looking forward to the revision. Good luck!

    1. Hi Sharon,

      Thank you for your notes! Yes, it is definitely romance, initially I had the story in mind as a contemporary but it didn't quite turn out that way.
      It's easier for me to write fluently when I don't worry much about line editing, so I've been neglecting that. Good point!

    2. Totally fine to not worry about line editing initially-most of us don't. But you should make sure it's as polished as possible before submitting it anywhere where other people will be reading/critiquing. Just a little friendly advice in moving forward. :-)

  3. The way you paint a picture of the scene is compelling, and it's lovely that the two characters come together through song in this crowded setting.

    You do have a lot of description that tells the reader what they are seeing, and I think you could move this around a bit to have the story start with them meeting/singing/talking, then add in the pieces of description as appropriate. For example, how can she see the color of his eyes and the details you put in the first paragraph if she is across the plaza from him? This could be added instead of dialog tags when they talk to each other.

    I look forward to see your pitch for this. I definitely get a feeling Aidan is not quite what he seems :)

    All the best.

    1. Thank you Julie! I'll keep your suggestions in mind while editing. :)

  4. Lina,

    This reads more like a romance than your listed contemporary. I do like the MC’s voice, very lyrical. But I would like to know more about the MC. How old is she? Why is she in Rome? Any stakes?

    Watch your tenses, and I suggest you practice more show vs tell. You could describe Aidan as he interacts in the story. For example, “He adjusted his ragged dark leather jacket, and as he did, I caught a glimpse of the pocket studs on his tight, black shiny pants.” We do paint pictures when we write, but these should be moving pictures that grab hold and draw us in.

    I’m interested in the singing between the two characters. It reads like a spell. I also like the shimmering thread connecting the people. Is this metaphorical, or does Emma really see this? Is there a hint of fantasy in this book? Work on your exposition, and I can easily see this story unfolding into something captivating.

  5. Hi Lina! You're writing in first person here, so I am very interested in knowing the MC/narrator better. I can only make assumptions about the character's age, gender, reason for being in Rome, background in singing b/c all of the description is about the character being observed. To me this feels like you are "writing in" to the story -- getting to know your characters, your relationships, but still uncertain about what should be on that first page, that second page, of the text. So much description, mostly physical, although I do like the musical contexts. So much "he looked X but maybe he was Y" and then, suddenly, an Irish accent? In Rome? As you work on a revision, I challenge you to try writing about an action for your MC/narrator that is more than just OBSERVING and then singing. BRING her to the PIAZZA for a REASON, have her stay and listen FOR A PURPOSE, have us understand something about the WHY behind her joining the song beyond attraction. If this is a YA contemporary (even a contemporary romance), we need to be grounded in a teenage NOW with plot and character development to accompany reaction and description. You've got some great material to work with in this draft -- now let yourself pick, choose and mold it. Good luck and happy writing.

  6. A few things:
    -I find the description a little too heavy . Try to focus on only describing one thing in each paragraph. Otherwise, the reader will get dizzy.
    -I'd suggest you vary your sentence length. A lot of your sentences are really long which is a bit exhausting.
    -Your paragraphs are also really long and need to be broken up, especially when you change characters or add dialogue.
    -This is entirely backstory. It's okay to have a couple sentence of backstory but not 5 pages.


  7. The language here is lovely--lyrical and evocative ("subtle soundtrack to the scenery unfolding"). The writing was a pleasure to read. You also do a nice job grounding us in place--the descriptions helped me to visualize the scene as it unfolds.

    In the first five pages, I typically read looking for some sense of the character and for what kind of story I'm getting. Here, even after five pages, I don't feel like I know much about Emma or the kind of story we're reading. I don't know her age, I don't know why she's in Rome, I'm not sure what's driving her--what does she want? What brings her to the square where she meets Aidan? The story feels like a romance, but given the smooth way the characters connected, I don't feel much sense of conflict that threatens to make their journey difficult. When I revise my first chapters, I find it helpful to think about where the story is going to go, and what kinds of expectations I want to set up for readers at the beginning.

    If the entry wasn't labelled YA contemporary, I would have thought I was reading women's fiction. It reads older than YA to me, and most authors/publishers would agree that anything set before 2000 isn't contemporary anymore--it's historical (I think a helpful rule of thumb is, if it happened before today's teens were born, it probably isn't contemporary).

    There are a few reasons this feels older to me--part of it is the language. It IS lovely, but some of the phrases feel more philosophical or experienced than I would expect from a teen: "metaphoric conscience within love" and "uni-colored bubbles of their current experience of living." It's true there are some YA authors who get away with very articulate teens (John Green comes to mind), but that tends to be more of an exception than the rule. Also, when Emma first sees Aidan, she describes him as a man, and she clearly finds him attractive, which made me mentally age her up.

    The fact that we're getting pretty dense chunks of text and lots of long sentences also contributes to the writing feeling older than YA. As you revise, look for ways to vary the sentence lengths, and to break up the description with action. Break the longer paragraphs into shorter ones, particularly when you're dealing with dialogue. (Each time a different character speaks should signal the start of a new paragraph). YA novels often read faster than adult novels, and while the faster pace is partly a function of plot, it also comes from having more action, more dialogue, and more easily digested bits of text and description.

    You have a lot of interesting material to work with--an interesting setting, a potential love interest who isn't as he appears (an Irish singer in Italy?), and a lovely moment of connection. I look forward to seeing what you do with this in your revision!