Sunday, September 15, 2019

1st 5 Pages Sept Workshop - Werner Rev 1

Name:  Sharon Werner
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: BEYOND MY WINDOW

PITCH:
Twelve-year-old Nora O’Sullivan’s home life is crumbling between her hatred of her stepdad and her sister’s coma from a hit-and-run accident. Timid Nora loses herself in make-believe stories where she is the hero and in chess where her strategic mind dominates. The discovery of a chess set her Granda made and whispers from her Dad (both dead from a car accident) lead her to the parallel world of Cosaint her Irish ancestors helped create; a fairy tale come true, full of endangered and mythical creatures. It was created to protect these beings when enemy Conand tried to eliminate them for power and revenge. Nora discovers Conand was defeated seven years ago and was the actual cause of Dad and Granda’s deaths. Conand’s soul was kept alive by the magical Black Soul Gem. Now he’s back in an unknown bodily form and threatening Cosaint’s existence.

Nora’s discovery that Conand caused her sister’s accident and her suspicion of her stepdad’s involvement with the enemy make her determined to find the elusive Black Soul Gem to save her family and Cosaint from destruction. Nora uses her tactical mind and overcomes low self-confidence to brave the ultimate quest to vanquish Conand for good.

FIRST 1250 WORDS:
A whisper rustled through the room, causing goosebumps to pop to full attention on my arms. The semi-darkness and the unfamiliar space didn’t help the disturbing feeling. I shrunk into the bed covers, trying to figure out the sound, when the crack of the door opening bolted me upright. Aidan rushed headlong onto the bed before I could defend myself.

“Hi! Can we play a game? Can we?”

The nervousness went away with my laugh and I moved him off my chest so I could sit.

“Morning, Aidan. Sure, we can play a game.”

“Can Claire play too?”

“Um…Claire isn’t here.”

Aidan tilted his head. “Where is she?”

I hesitated. He was asleep last night when Nana picked us up from home and carried him to bed here so Mom and Bill could go to the hospital. A four-year-old wouldn’t understand what happened. Inhaling deeply, I tried to force the next words out without choking on them.

“She was in a car accident. She has to stay in the hospital where the doctors can make sure she’s resting.”

“Oh. She’ll be okay, though? Is that why we’re here at Nana’s?”

I nodded, turning away so Aidan couldn’t see the tears and worry on my face. Of course, our sister would be fine. How could I think otherwise?

“Okay, good. Wait, I forgot Finley.” He sprang off the bed and ran out of the room to get his sheep with the shamrock dimples.

The morning stillness returned for a moment. Then, whispers glided through the room again. My concentration on the sound wasn’t quick enough before it faded away to silence.

There! Again. Definite whispering! Was it coming from the open closet? I couldn’t make out words. Mess? Chess? That couldn’t be right. The hissing sound brought the goosebumps back. What was that? I’m imagining things. It was probably wind from a crack in the wall or a car running outside. I shuddered. Weak excuses. Thinking of cars brought memories of the accident, Claire and the hospital rushing back, and I swallowed the bile rising in my throat. What would happen to Claire? I pictured her lying helpless and bruised in the hospital. If only Bill had let me see my sister; Mom was too upset to make any decisions. At least my stepdad didn’t get his way in keeping me away from Nana. There was nowhere else to send me.

A fantasy game with Aidan might keep my mind off my sister. Though Claire would tell me twelve was too old for my imaginary stories and make-believe with stuffed animals. Whatever. She was sixteen and into boys and clothes. A sigh escaped, thinking of the times when we were little and made up stories of dragons and knights with Dad. Ever since he passed away and Mom remarried, nothing was the same. Well, except for my obsession with the fantasy world.

Mom’s childhood posters of fairies and a castle painting covered the walls and sloped ceiling. The room’s decorations would bring a story idea. A cut-out of the wall enclosed a window surrounded by harp and shamrock stickers. The sunlight coming through the window cast morning shadows, changing into shapes of scary creatures.

Aidan rushed back in the room and bounced on the bed, clutching Finley.

“Can we play a game now?”

I swiped away my tears and couldn’t help smiling at his excitement. A story formed itself in my head. Aidan adored dragons. I would be the knight, coming to battle the dragons and rescue the castle.

Mom’s old bathrobe made a good cape. An old twirling baton in the corner stand made a mighty sword. Draping a blanket over Aidan’s shoulders, I sunk low in a bow before him.

“Good King, I am here to reclaim the castle for your countryfolk once and for all from the fire-breathing unicorns.”

Aidan giggled and made a face. “Don’t you mean fire-breathing dwagons?”

“Oh yes, of course,” I smiled. Hopping on the bed, I jabbed the sword at a stuffed monkey. “Take that, you old dragon! You won’t breathe any more fire in this town! And you wicked vultures, fly away before I slash your wings!”  I jumped off the bed and swished around the room, battling the demons. Finley became a handsome prince, waiting to be rescued by the famous knight. Aidan squealed and clapped his hands. He grabbed a plastic baseball bat and followed me around the room, swinging his own sword at the invisible monsters. My war-whoop ended in a startled choke as the door whipped open.

“Have you battled the dragons into submission yet?” asked Nana, smiling.

My face flushed, and I dropped onto the bed, panting at my efforts. Aidan plopped down beside me, a mini-me of strawberry-colored face a shade lighter than our hair. I shrugged.

 “You don’t have to be embarrassed, child! I love your great imagination.”

The baton suddenly became very interesting as I fidgeted from Nana’s comment. “Bill tells me make-believe is a waste of time, and Claire makes fun of me,” I mumbled. I peeked at her. “How did you know they were dragons?”

“Oh, just a hunch, not to mention you yelled loud enough for the neighbors to hear. I for one am glad to have such strong, brave kids staying here with me to help get rid of those pesky dragons. They just won’t stay out of this room,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. “What do you think, Aidan?”

“It’s SO cool, Nana!” Aidan bounced on the bed. I smiled again. Nana is pretty cool.

“How’s Claire?” I asked.

“I haven’t gotten an update. It’s early and you got in late last night. We’ll check soon. Come down for breakfast. You too, Aidan.” Nana pushed the closet door shut and walked out of the room, Aidan running after her. That kid always put a smile on my face. It wasn’t his fault he had Bill as a dad. He was still my cute half-brother.  

Taking a brush off the dresser, I combed out my waves and tied my hair in a quick ponytail. Pushing on my face still didn’t make my freckles disappear. A movement behind me in the mirror caused me to whip around. The closet door stood open. Cringing, I bumped into the dresser behind me, causing me to jolt forward at the impact. I wielded the brush as a weapon. Opening the closet door all the way revealed nothing. I shoved aside the clothes and leaped back. Nothing. It must be the stress over Claire. I walked to the bedroom door and heard a click behind me. The closet door had fully closed itself. My feet couldn’t get to the kitchen fast enough, stumbling over one another.

“What is wrong with you?” asked Nana.

“Yea, you’re all panting and white-faced,” said Aidan.

“Noth…nothing,” I said, glimpsing at Aidan. It’s all in my head. It’s all in my head. A deep breath calmed me, making me feel silly now defending myself with a hairbrush. I mean really, can you bristle someone to death?

“Look!” said Aidan. “Nana made Irish Freckle Bread!”

I smiled and the three of us sat together to have breakfast. Nana read the paper, and I tried reading the comics to Aidan, but my thoughts kept drifting back to creepy closets and Claire. A headline I’m sure referred to Claire’s accident seized my attention, but Nana turned the page quickly. My food got poked around but not much was eaten.

17 comments:

  1. I like how you start your pitch showing Nora’s current situation and how she copes. What I don’t see right up front is what she wants. For example, does she want her home life to return to normal, or to understand why members of her family keep getting involved in car accidents, or to have a more active mother (who is not mentioned at all – maybe mention her)? I suggest putting Nora’s want up front and then starting a new paragraph with the discovery of the chess set. There is quite a bit of backstory in the first paragraph. Can you reduce that (maybe take out real names like Cosaint) and focus more on your main character and what she is doing once she finds the chess set?

    The second paragraph does a great job focusing on the hard situation Nora is facing. Can you add the stakes at the end – what will happen if she doesn’t vanquish Conand for good?

    In your first 5 pages: I love the way you start with the whispers and weave them throughout the section in this revision. It raises questions in my mind as a reader as to what they are. Nice job also on letting the reader know why the mother is not making decisions.

    I like that Aidan is now her half-brother. Wouldn’t he be asking questions about why he went to sleep at home and woke up at Nana’s? Maybe add in a question about that before he moves on to playing a game?

    I’m intrigued by your story and would definitely want to read more. Good luck!

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    1. Thank you Julie! Very helpful comments on the pitch. Definitely something I struggle with.

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  2. I agree with Julie with the pitch. I think we need a clearer picture of what the stakes are? What does she want most and what does she stand to lose if she fails? I think you summarize it okay-

    I really like that first sentence so much better and your opening paragraph is much stronger! I think you did a nice job of adding more of a sense of the fantasy to the first pages with the opening line and the creepy closet

    the only critique if you will- is the last sentence. Instead of outright telling us she didn't eat you could show her playing with her food for example.

    Thanks for sharing and best of luck to you!

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    1. Thank you Amy and thanks for helping me get that first sentence better. I will fix that last sentence too.

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  3. Sharon,

    Thank you for sharing your work with us. Your pitch contains an interesting tale. I was intrigued by Nora when I read your initial submission.

    I suggest combining the first two sentences of the pitch to tighten it up. Example, "Twelve-year-old Nora O'Sullivan prefers to lose herself in make-believe stories and a good game of chess than deal with her step-dad and the loss of her sister."

    You have a good summary of what happens, but I agree with what others are stating; show me the stakes. Also, I suggest using "gem" in the last paragraph instead of repeating its name.

    For your pages, I love how you changed the opening paragraph. It shows Nora's anxiety right off the bat.

    You create an interesting twist now that Aidan is Nora's half brother. I'm curious to know what kind of conflict will arise with his father's possible involvement in the accidents?

    I liked how you reworked the hairbrush section. Having the humorous thought of bristling someone to death fits nicely as a calming effect as opposed to smack in the middle of a mysterious moment. It also shows how she instinctively used the brush as a weapon as if all that make-believe is training. Great job.

    It's a shame I only have five pages to review. I would love to read more.

    Best of luck with your manuscript.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments A.T. Since I only just worked in Aidan being the half-brother, I'm interested to see how that develops/changes the rest of the story too! ;-) Thanks again.

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  4. My comments on the pitch are in brackets:

    Twelve-year-old Nora O’Sullivan’s home life is crumbling between her hatred of her stepdad and her sister’s coma from a hit-and-run accident. [This is a long sentence. Consider: Twelve-year-old Nora O’Sullivan’s home life is crumbling. Her step dad is ____, and a hit-and run accident has left her sister in a coma]. Timid Nora loses herself in make-believe stories where she is the hero and in chess where her strategic mind dominates. The discovery of a chess set her Granda made and whispers from her Dad (both dead from a car accident) [this felt a little confusing. Three pieces of information are jammed in. Can you find a way to more succinctly say how she ends up in the world]lead her to the parallel world of Cosaint her Irish ancestors helped create; a fairy tale come true, full of endangered and mythical creatures. It was created to protect these beings when enemy Conand tried to eliminate them for power and revenge. Nora discovers Conand was defeated seven years ago and was the actual cause [but caused] Dad and Granda’s deaths. Conand’s soul was kept alive by the magical Black Soul Gem [I think the introduction of the Black Soul Gem starts to make the pitch confusing. I believe it’s good enough to go straight from “deaths” to “Now he’s back. . .]. Now he’s back in an unknown bodily form and threatening Cosaint’s existence.

    Nora’s discovery that Conand caused her sister’s accident and her suspicion of her stepdad’s involvement with the enemy make her determined to find the elusive Black Soul Gem [if you choose to take out the mention of the Black Soul Gem, this could just be “determined to defeat him” or similar] to save her family and Cosaint from destruction. Nora uses her tactical mind and overcomes low self-confidence to brave the ultimate quest to vanquish Conand for good.

    SAMPLE:

    I think you’ve made a lot of strong changes in this new version. I think it is more powerful and builds a deeper connection to have Aidan be her half-brother. You’ve also put more focus on the strange things happening around her and I thought that was well done.

    In terms of grounding with these character, I couldn’t get a good handle on how old Aidan was, because sometimes he seemed older, like when he says “white faced and panting” but then he also said “dwagon.” More significantly, Nora’s name is not used in these first pages. Without a name, and without anyone explicitly saying so, it can be hard to know our narrator's gender. It can be as simple as Aidan saying her name.

    I would also consider adding some dialogue tags or action beats. It is sometimes hard to tell who is speaking.

    This has a lot of potential; best of luck with your story!

    Happy writing,
    Beth

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  5. Thank you Beth! I have some work to do on my query-I really appreciate your comments.

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  6. From Lina:

    Hi Sharon,

    Great pitch, I like your story and especially the connection you drew between Irish mythology and the regular world! I’m not entirely sure what is common practice in a pitch, but maybe you could find a way to incorporate the info that her dad and grandfather are dead into the sentence, so that it reads more fluently.

    I like what you with the beginning, your revision is so much more on point and sets the mood with your first sentence. However, if she is bolting upright at the door opening I could technically see her being able to fend Aidan off, that doesn’t quite make sense to me now.

    You made the family relations a lot clearer, also why everyone is where they are, thank you for that! The paragraphs about the whispering have more depth too, and now I can see in connection to your pitch that you made the effort to early establish Noras affinity with fantasy worlds, well done!

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  7. Pitch: I like the sound of your story a lot—especially if you plan to weave in actual Irish mythology. There’s a lot of potential for great storytelling there. The pitch itself could use a little work. They’re always tough to write, but are super-important. I think Beth Turley’s comments here are spot on.

    Pages: Very nice job on the revisions! I’m much more drawn in with this version. The mystery of the closet is right there from the beginning. I also like how you made Aiden Nora’s half-brother. Not only is it easier to understand their relationship, but it can create some great conflict later when Nora learns his father, Bill, might be working for the bad guy. If she exposes (or fights) Bill, how will that affect the half-brother she loves? Good stuff.

    I’m still not 100% behind how much attention is given to the imaginary play. I understand it’s going to be central to the plot, but nearly a third of your 1250 words in this sample is devoted to it. Maybe it can be pared down a bit? I think the most important part of the imaginary play is Nora’s revelation that Bill and Claire give Nora a hard time about it. Maybe Aiden can ask Nora to play “dwagons” and Nora puts him off, thinking about how her sister and stepfather criticize her for indulging in it. That can be a struggle within Nora—her enjoyment of that type of play vs. her perceptions of how “mature” she’s supposed to be as a 12-year-old. (My 12-year-old girl literally told me last night how ashamed she feels now for having enjoyed imaginary play when she was younger). I think that kind of internal conflict could really resonate with your readers who, at 12, often have unrealistic expectations placed on them by adults.

    Keep at it! And best of luck with your writing!

    Best,
    Rob

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    1. Thank you, Rob. I'll work on cutting down the imaginary play portion while keeping the essence of Nora's struggle (interesting about your daughter!). Thank you for the insight.

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  8. I like the changes you've made here--Nora's voice seems more consistent to me, and I like the clarification on her relationship with Aidan and her other family members. I also like how the story opens immediately with a spooky mood.

    I have a couple of suggestions: the whispering part is still a little off for me, I think because Nora hears the whispers, then the whispers stop, and then she tries to figure out the sounds. It might make a little more sense if the whispers glide across the room, Nora tries to make out the words, and then the whispers stop.

    You may also want to break up the long chunk of Nora's internal thoughts (starting with the whispering and going until Aidan comes back), as it slows down the pacing a little. For instance, you could move the stuff about Claire (Nora's worries for her, the fact that Claire doesn't play with her anymore, the idea that a make-believe game might take her mind of Claire) up earlier in the pages, to just after Aidan's question about Claire and Nora's answer that Claire isn't there. That seems like a logical place for her to be thinking about Claire, and it might speed up the pacing a bit. It would also let the whispering scene stand out a little more, in between bits of action.

    As far as the pitch: you have such an intriguing story idea, but I struggled a little to follow the pitch, I think because there were so many details to piece through. I'd suggest keeping the pitch as simple as you can: what does Nora want? What's keeping her from what she wants (the obstacle) and what's at stake if she doesn't get what she wants?

    For example:

    All twelve-year-old Nora O'Sullivan wants is to have her family back--but that's impossible after losing her dad and Granda (a few years ago), and now nearly losing her sister to a car accident. Rather than deal with her stepdad or her grief, Nora loses herself in make-believe worlds and chess games. But the discovery of her Granda's chess game and whispers from her father's ghost plunges Nora into a world that rivals her make-believe: Cosaint, a fairy tale world created by her ancestors to protect endangered mythical creatures.

    Nora soon learns that not only Cosaint, but her remaining family members, are in danger from an evil man--the same man responsible for her dad and granda's death and her sister's accident. If Nora can't find the Black Soul Gem before Conand does, [something terrible happens].

    I don't think we need to know here that Conand was nearly defeated and is back in bodily form--we just need to know that he threatens Nora. We also don't necessarily need to know the lessons Nora will learn as she faces him--we just need the basics of the story, just enough to pull us in to read more and learn the rest of these details.

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  9. First off, thank you for sharing your work. It’s always brave to open yourself up to critique, but this is how a manuscript gets better. Just remember that each person’s critique is so subjective.

    On your pitch – As I think others have said, your pitch needs to be trimmed down to only what is necessary and also show us a direct connection to clearer stakes. This is still rough, but it’s closer:
    Between her [nasty or mean] stepdad and her sister’s coma from a hit-and-run accident, twelve-year-old Nora O’Sullivan’s home life is crumbling. Timid Nora loses herself in make-believe stories and games of chess. With the help of whispers from her dead Granda, Nora discovers a chess set he made that leads her to Cosaint—a parallel world her Irish ancestors helped create and a fairy tale come true, full of endangered and mythical creatures. This secret place was created to protect these beings from enemy Conand who tried to eliminate them for power and revenge. Nora discovers Conand was defeated seven years ago and caused the death of her father and Granda. Now Conand’s back in an unknown bodily form and threatening Cosaint’s existence.
    When Nora learns that Conand also caused her sister’s accident and her stepdad may be involved, she is determined to save her family and Cosaint from destruction.
    A few additional comments –
    Hatred is such a strong word, and if she doesn’t know of her stepfather’s involvement right away, it’s probably too strong.
    Can the whispers come from just her Granda? Too many cooks in the kitchen with the dad and it’s really hard to clearly explain that. Maybe the dad helps her later in some other way. I also feel like by mentioning the whispers in the blurb/pitch, you may be taking all the air out of the mysterious whispers when we encounter them in the story. Perhaps just say: When Nora discovers a chess set her dead Granda made, it leads her to Cosaint—a parallel world her Irish ancestors helped create and a fairy tale come true, full of endangered and mythical creatures. It’s a case of less is more. Leave more to be discovered as the story unfolds.
    The stepfather’s involvement worries me because of the attachment to her little stepbrother. If she has to vanquish her stepfather, how will that affect the four year old?

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    1. On your pages – For the most part I like the voice in these pages, but I’m not a fan of starting a story with characters waking up. I also feel like because the four year old was asleep when he was brought to the grandmother’s wouldn’t his first question be, what are we doing here? Where’s mom and dad? rather than, wanna play a game? So backing this story up to the evening before might be more effective. Show the parents getting a phone call from police (Nora hears a one-sided version but she’s old enough to know her sister’s been in an accident and it’s serious), the grandma rushing over to pick up the kids, then maybe the grandmother (who btw, should be more visibly upset even if it’s morning) suggests that Nora take Aidan upstairs to play, then they play a short pretend game, Nora tucks Aidan into bed, then hears some whispers as she settles into bed. Night time is a much better time to hear whispers  Also, then Nora’s tears make more sense (it’s just happened and she could tell it was serious, but she’s trying to put on a brave face and not scare Aidan), the grandmother can come up and say it’s time for bed, Nora can ask on the status of Claire to which the Grandma can look concerned and reply, “Nothing yet. I’m sure we’ll know more by the morning.” (Or something along those lines.) And maybe the next morning begins with them at breakfast, but then Nora goes upstairs noticing that she was sure she left the closet door open and now it’s closed, and then watch it open as she brushes her hair. So nearly all the same elements but it avoids the clichéd scene beginning. Also, the way the scene plays out now seemed a bit of a contradiction – it was semi-dark which made it seem like really early morning, yet both kids were up, and very shortly thereafter bright sunlight cast shadows on the wall (I also didn’t really buy that flat stickers would cast shadows). So that was one more reason the morning timeframe wasn’t working for me. Considering what happened the night before, the grandma also seemed a bit too chipper and matter of fact about not hearing anything yet. There would be some concern. Also, watch for incorrect tense switches – Aidan bounced…, I smiled…, Nana is. (past, past, present). I did like the pretend play between Nora and Aidan and thought those elements were spot on.
      This has potential. Good luck!

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  10. Thank you for your comments. This is great insight. I appreciate your time on this!

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