Saturday, October 5, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Simon

Name: Kelsey Simon
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Title: The Guilt of Healing


When Nicco slammed my locker shut and told me we had plans tonight, I said what I always say―I’m in―because the best way to make sure Nicco doesn’t do something too crazy is to be with him. Usually it works. Every now and then though, he gets an idea in his head and nothing will break him free from it until he does what he wants.

This evening’s party is starting to look like one of those times.

Nicco leans out over the second-story balcony as far as he can. The gray of late evening spans out before us, only the faint light from neighboring houses glowing in the distance. The bay sits to the right, with an expensive speedboat rocking next to a small dock. The waves are inaudible, even as I spot them rolling into the reedy shore. The boom of the music and the chatter of the kids as they shuffle around the pool in the yard below us are far louder.

“I could make it into the water,” Nicco says, eyeing the drop from the balcony to the pool. “It’s not a big jump.”

The kids below us have started turning to stare, to watch, and each set of eyes on Nicco is one more reason he won’t back down. But I’ll still try.

“Come on,” I say, a few feet behind him. “It won’t be fun.” The two girls he’d been flirting with earlier stand beside me. They whisper to each other before one lifts her phone high, making sure Nicco is framed perfectly by her camera. He gives her a casual thumbs up, his grin wide.

I refrain from rolling my eyes.

“Why don’t you get down and have another drink,” I say, bargaining. That’s always the first step when Nicco gets a hunger like this one. Bargain first, argue second, get physical third, if the situation is desperate enough to warrant it.

“It’ll be easy.” His eyes widen as he turns to stare down at the pool and the challenge I know he’s contemplating. He’s probably imagining it―the drop down and all the eyes that would be on him as he fell.

“And if you get hurt?” I say. That’s what I’m really worried about anyway. Nicco can drag me to a party two hours from home. He can leave me feeling awkward as I stumble through a conversation with a pretty girl I’ve never met before. He can even drink himself into a buzz while I stand sober, the designated driver. But him jumping from a second-story balcony for a few seconds of adrenaline and fame? That’s likely to leave him with a broken bone or worse? I won’t stand idly by.

“Well, at least there’s a healer here,” Nicco answers, pointing.

“What?” I step forward, joining him at the railing, following his finger to a girl standing at the front of the pool, waiting in line to get herself a drink. “Is that Lacey Stephens?”

She’s tall, her hair the same rich brown, just a few shades lighter than her skin. She looks the same as I remember when she still went to our school at the beginning of the year. We even used to have algebra together before she discovered she had the rare ability to heal and left to attend Kisper High, a school just for healers.

“I’m sure if I get too hurt, she’ll heal me,” Nicco says, shrugging.

“That’s a stupid assumption,” I hissed. We didn’t know Lacey, and she didn’t know us. Besides, who knew what she could heal, or how much or how fast. There were rules about those sorts of things, rules neither Nicco or I knew.

“I’m doing it,” Nicco whispers under his breath before he leans forward and shouts, “Do you dare me to jump?!”

“Nicco, Don’t,” I say again with more emphasis, but Nicco is already climbing the railing. He throws one of his legs over and then the other. He’s probably reading Lacey being here as a sign. “She’s not going to heal you if you get hurt. They’ll just call an ambulance.”

“It’ll be fine.” He glances at me over his shoulder, the muscle in his left cheek twitching and his eyes shifting side to side. He’s already feeling the adrenaline pump through his veins. He won’t back down. Not now.

Any whisper of the ocean in the distance is completely drowned out in the chant of everyone below. Their words soar around us. “Do it! Do it!” It grows louder and louder as more and more kids pick up the words. Everyone’s watching Nicco now, some even raising their drinks to the sky, cheering him on.

This is what he lives for. The attention, the rush. It’s probably not even worth me trying to stop him, but I’ll give it one more try. It’s my job, after all.

“That’s the shallow end,” I say, pointing over the railing to the pool just below us, centered in the yard. The deep end is the one farthest from us. He’s got three feet of water to stop his fall. “You’ll break your leg. Nicco, seriously, this is a bad idea.”

I’m judging the distance between us now, judging how hard it would be to grab his arm and yank him back. He’ll be mad. He’ll be roaring with the loss of the rush he didn’t get. He might even shove me down and do it anyway, his determination so solid not even I can break through it.

Let him jump and be there to pick him up and take him to the hospital? Or fight him only to get hurt myself and still see him jump?

He’s done worse than this and survived it.

I hesitate. Just a moment, a stretch, where I can’t decide what would be better.

Nicco jumps.

The crowd inhales like a single giant beast.

“Shit,” I hiss, scrambling to the spot he just vacated, leaning over to see. He pulls up his legs, cannon-balling down, plummeting toward the water. He smashes into it, spraying everyone brave enough not to back away. I release the breath I’d been holding. He made it. Time to get down there and make sure he made it in one piece. I shove past the two girls and back into the house. I take the stairs down two at a time, pushing anyone in my way out of my path. I need to get to Nicco as fast as possible. I need to make sure he’s okay, and if he’s not, I need to get him help.

It’s hard not to see him in my mind, on the ground of his brothers room, a pool of blood seeping from under his chest. I grit my teeth and wipe the memory away. That was three years ago. That was my fault. This isn’t the same. People shout and laugh as I squeeze past them―a good sign. Surely they’d be screaming if Nicco was injured. I jog down the stone path that winds around the house to the back yard, the salty, musty scent of the bay barely distinguishable over the smell of spilled beer, making my knotted stomach flip and bile rise up my throat.

Finally, through the crowd, I catch sight of him.


  1. Okay, holy cats, that third paragraph is amazing. In my novel workshop, we always talk about a "banging" first like and paragraph and I have a hard time not wanting NICCO LEANS OUT OVER THE SECOND-STORY BALCONY... to take the lead. I imagine standing in a bookstore, opening to the first page and reading that. Oh, yeah, I'm in. Immediately. Do I care that our narrator always says I'm in when Nicco says they have plans? I do. Do I care about the reason? Sort of when it lands in the first paragraph. If it came after Nicco leaning out over the second-story balcony, you're damn right I care. Nicco, we see right up front, is a danger. I even think your opening paragraph and the line after could tuck in immediately after the Nicco leaning paragraph. Nicco leaning fires out enough energy to keep things going for a beat or two of contextualization and characterization of the narrator.

    The tension in the rest is just wonderful. I really love the steadiness of the narrator. I feel like readers will immediately feel him, too and will feel the situation in their guts. Excellent. The only thing I'd like -- if it's reasonable, if Lacey is going to be something more in the book beyond the introduction of the notion of a healer in this world -- is for Lacey to do a little more work for you. She could turn and look. She could distract our narrator and Nicco a bit more. If you're introducing a character of import (and I assume you are, given the attention to her description), let us pause on her for a beat.

    Great tension, nice drop of a world building detail in the midst of action, love that we're holding our breath with the narrator at the end. Just good, expert fun here!

  2. Hi Kelsey!

    First of all, I'd like to say that I really love the fact that you begin with an event that presents the element of danger or fear. It keeps me, as a reader, wanting to find out more!

    Secondly, the dialogue between the characters flows smoothly and keeps the story driving along.

    For me, the opening was bit of a struggle, and I think it is specifically the first sentence. Maybe there is a way to break that up or rewrite it in a way that flows more naturally. Another idea could be to leave that out completely and start at a later point in your story.

    Overall, I really enjoyed reading this and I can't wait to see what it becomes!

    Best wishes,

  3. Dear Kelsey, my back is is starting to twinge here on the edge of my seat.

    You have some serious scene-building skills. From the description of the ocean to the chanting crowd I was so on the edge of my own balcony.

    If there was anything I would critique it's that by the end of this sample we still dont know the name of your MC. Not huge but it would be nice. Also, I think your MC should maybe try to physically intervene. They think it over a couple times, which is believable, but it might come off a little unbelievable if they don't try to to stop Nicco.

    The only other thing is I'm not sure you need the flash back to Nicco's brother's bedroom at the end. It could just go from ...I need to get him help" to "...people shout and laugh..." That way you could maybe squeeze in Nicco's fate.

    But admittedly I can't decide if that's because it's really needed or just my selfish need to know what happened because your build up is AMAZING!

    I purposely didn't read the other comments before writing my own because I didnt want to be influenced. Afterwards I read the comments and, while i know what you were going for, and struggle with leaving out similar information in my work, I do agree with Geoff. Start this with Nicco leaning over the balcony. The reader is already there with him anyway!

  4. This is a great first page. Lots of conflict and stacks. Just a touch of world building and back story.

    I'm hanging on the line "It's my job after all" and I'm dying to know more about that. And then the brief picture of him in a pool of blood. I'm wondering what happened and want to read on to find out. This is what you want in your first pages! The readers wanting more!

    I agree with others. Lose the first paragraph and get right into the action and the great tension you built in the rest.

    Great job!

  5. Hi Kelsey, I'm a fellow mentee and I enjoyed reading this opening scene a lot! I loved the way you did this -- you started with the narrator's concern for their friend, Nicco. There's just a touch of protectiveness coupled with the rashness of a teen not realizing they can't possibly stop or protect someone who's determined to do something. They're clearly older teens, probably seniors if they're driving and going to parties and mentioning Algebra three years ago, and they're testing their limits (Nicco, literally). But as I got further into the piece, and definitely by the end, I realized that as a reader, I assumed in the first line that the narrator thought Nicco would do something harmless, like a prank or an attention-seeking stunt, but not something potentially deadly.
    However, once I read the line about Nicco in a pool of blood and how the narrator thought that was their fault, it gave new weight to narrator's line, "it's my job after all," and I realized the narrator's opening statement must've been in deadly earnest. They feel responsible for Nicco's physical well-being, out of guilt from something terrible that happened in the past, and they are concerned Nicco's going to do something rash and really hurt himself (out of acting stupid) from the very beginning. They've even come up with a plan to intervene. I loved the progression from steps 1, to 2, to 3, getting physical, and how that part of the plan doesn’t go as planned. It's excellently done.
    The only thing I would say is, the narrator is so focused on Nicco, we never learn anything about them. We do see that they're very conscientious regarding their friend Nicco, and they want to protect him. That's the driving force for the narrator. The presence of the healer, despite them not knowing whether she'd heal Nicco, eases that bit of tension for the MC and the reader somewhat.
    I figured the last line is not a reference to Nicco -- it's someone else? Nicco would still be in the water, and perhaps through this other person we'll learn more about the narrator.
    I loved the bits of fantasy that come through (the healer) as natural parts of your world, and how you establish some of the world rules (healers don't heal under every circumstance, but we don't know which ones yet). I would totally be sucked in to reading this.

  6. Hi Kelsey! Thanks for an exciting submission. This is a great start - well-paced, immediate, exciting, with a fantasy element that's both intriguing and relatable. There are some grammatical errors -- punctuation, capitalization -- but no need to drill down here, just be sure to give a thorough proof. The one thing I think that could take this up another level would be to connect readers a little more to the narrator. We know s/he is longtime friends with Nicco and, at the end of this entry, we discover that there's some painful sort of history BUT I think you could make this even richer by giving us a touch more insight into the narrator -- presumably the person with whom we will journey through this novel. Is this person male or female? Is their relationship with Nicco one of equals or otherwise? WHY does the narrator feel compelled to protect Nicco (we get a hint at the end but a few more nods to this component of their relationship might be good)? And, finally, just a little bit of insight into the narrator outside of his/her relationship with Nicco -- what is s/he good at, in need of, missing to attend the party? (unless the whole story will be from POV of narrator depicting Nicco's actions). Secondarily, it might be good to give a little more setting context -- I'm assuming high school, but mostly because you've labeled this YA. Consider perhaps a reference to driver's license/college looming/homecoming last weekend -- something like that could anchor us in the characters' situation a little more completely. Also, this feels like a contemporary, realistic setting except with some kind of healers. Maybe just another hint as to the difference(s) between our world and this fantasy world might be helpful.
    Really strong writing and, especially, pacing. It feels like we're in good hands and I'd DEFINITELY turn the page. Happy revising! - Stasia

  7. Thanks for a great first week of critiques! I have a tendency to info dump at times and not even really know that I'm doing it. Your comments were helpful because you gave me specific examples of where the info dump was obvious so I could rework that scene. I'm looking forward to what's next for The Guilt of Healing!