Sunday, October 13, 2019

1st 5 Pages Oct Workshop - Simon Rev 1

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


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.

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. It’s a good thing I’m here, because this evening’s party is starting to look like one of those times.

“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.

She pushes past a dancing couple, and just when she’s about to disappear beneath the balcony where we won’t be able to see her, her eyes flash up and lock onto us.

I jerk back. “That’s a stupid assumption,” I hiss. 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. Hey Kelsey,

    Wow! This start leaves me wanting more! Your imagery and details are spot on and your ability to create tension from the get go drew me in from the very beginning.

    Here are a few things I noticed:

    I read the sentence “The kids below us started turning to stare, to watch…” several times and I get caught on the “to watch.” If you delete that part, it will read more smoothly.

    In the “It’ll be easy” paragraph, there is a switch in verb tense at the end. It should be “all the eyes would be on him as he falls.”
    In paragraph 9, the question mark at the end of “That’s likely to leave him with a broken bone or worse?” should be a period. I read it as more of a contemplation rather than a question. But, I guess that depends on how you meant it!

    There is another verb tense issue in the “I jerk back” paragraph. You have “I hiss” which is present and “she didn’t know” and “we didn’t know” which are both past tense.

    Overall, minor things!
    Looking forward to what’s next!

    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks! I rushed things this week (it was a week of insanity), so I will be sure to do a closer read for next and catch all these mistakes!

  2. Hi Kelsey! First of all, thank you for all of last week's comments. You were spot-on. I'm writing yours first, because last week I wrote your feedback last.

    I like this. It doesn't have quite the same impact the other starting sentences did, and I really liked that one, so…not sure what to recommend. You start off with a great deal of tension, Nicco leaning over the balcony, but then follow it with three sentences of setting. I was wondering if maybe cutting one or two might bring in the action more immediately, just in that first paragraph? You mention the waves in paragraph 19, so they're there in another spot, and you won't lose anything if you cut or moved a sentence (the one with the waves in particular).

    The rest is really picky stuff.

    I stumbled on the quote, "It won't be fun." I (personally) think it would be fun to jump off a balcony or roof into the pool, so…call me juvenile, but that didn’t quite ring true, particularly for a teen who's been drinking.

    I know it's my second pass, but I finally got the name of the high school -- like CRISPR, right? Loved that!

    I also stumbled on the quote, "We didn't know Lacey, and she didn't know us." I think, because you establish in paragraph 11 that they do know her. Not well, they're certainly not friends, they can't count on her, especially not to break any rules for them, when they've had no contact with her for three years. But they do know her. Kinda, sorta? I wondered if you meant something a bit different here.

    The reference to Nicco's muscle in his cheek twitching I interpreted as a "tell," like in poker, that he's lying, but that's not right, right? Unless he's lying to himself, to give himself more courage to do this? I wasn't sure.

    You kept the phrase, "It's my job, after all." so this must be very important, and now I'm wondering about it. It's specific wording, "job." This is more than feeling guilty for what's happened before, for the puddle of blood that is the narrator's fault; is the narrator a hired … bodyguard? Snitch? Magician? All to keep Nicco safe from …"him"?

    Paragraphs 24-27 are absolutely fantastic! I love the tension. Others may disagree, but I wondered if you could draw it out even a bit longer, a super-short line or two more, before paragraph 26, "Nico jumps."?

    That's all I've got this time around. It looks really strong!

  3. Kelsey!

    I'm still so obsessed in finding out what happened to Nicco. It's torture, absolute torture not knowing--so good job with that.

    I think you could cut the second paragraph. It tends to pull me out of the action. The fact that the party is looking like 'one of those times' is implied with your prior masterful setup.

    Do you think giving Lacey some sort of reaction to the boys staring at her might increase tention in the scene and in your MC. Like if she gives a disgusted eyeroll or some other indication that she doesnt care, do you think your MC might have even more cause to worry?

    The story just sucks me in so much. The friendship feels authentic and you havent spent a whole lot of time on backstory, which is great!

  4. Hey Kelsey, I adore this open. It starts with a bang, sets up the context of their friendship, sets up a mystery -- our MC cannot protect Nicco, but it might not be this particular circumstance that does it, intros Lacey, who is clearly important. I'm so in. I don't know what else to say. Others might have some line edits (I'm not great with specific wordings, so I'm glad others are). I'm looking forward to reading this through one more time as clean and as close to what you believe might be the actual open to this book (of course, finishing a book often makes you change the first few pages a bit, but making this open as pro as possible would be a good exercise never-the-less). Congrats. This is good stuff.

  5. Great revision, Kelsey -- and an exciting first chapter. The contemporary-fantasy blend is beautifully balanced and super intriguing. The comments above have a lot of good feedback, so I'll try not to restate anything in mine. 1-It's clear you're honing these pages and being thoughtful about it. This is terrific. Keep your mind open (and energy up) for a couple more passes to elevate this from compelling to un-put-downable. 2-I think your first couple of pp could still be tightened. Considering matching the style of the sentences to the tension of the plot. (e.g., "... as far as he can" elongates that first sentence, whereas a blunter, more noire sentence might be dramatically effective). 3-Unless it's intentional, I still feel like I want to know the narrator's name and maybe a hint or two more about his (?) character, perhaps in compare/contrast to Nicco (shy v. bold; scrawny v. muscular). I think it'd help readers to feel as connected to the narrator as they are intrigued by the action. 4-Wowza! That last section is soooo compelling. Still definitely wanting to turn the page and looking forward to your pitch! Happy Revising! - Stasia

  6. Really great stuff. Only thing is at the beginning you say the waves are inaudible over the party sounds and then again you say the whisper of the ocean can't be heard over the chanting. This seems a little contradictory to me. Maybe the first time you can hear a whisper of the ocean and the second time it can't be heard. Other than that great job.