Sunday, November 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Standridge Rev 1

Name: Casey Standridge
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Hope's End

You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Wren Baker thought that was a ridiculous statement.

In her sixteen years of living, she had crossed many “oceans” without any courage or even desire to do so, yet life took her on its unfortunate path anyway.

She pondered these words from one of her favorite books as she gazed out at the Atlantic, wishing the seconds would tick by a bit faster. She fidgeted with the uncomfortable red straps of her lifeguard suit, then shifted impatiently on the hard wood of the guard stand. Finally, her phone vibrated, signaling the end of her shift.

About time, Wren thought. Now she just had to wait on Mason to come replace her, a task that took most of her fellow lifeguards only a few seconds. Mason, on the other hand, preferred to stroll agonizingly slow down the beach first. Surveying, he called it. More like wasting everyone’s time.

Wren fished in the pocket of her shorts for the little vial, assuring herself it was still there. She brushed her fingers against the smooth glass as Mason completed his survey and approached her stand.

“All clear,” he squeaked up at her.

“Great,” Wren replied unenthusiastically.

The beach was deserted, crashing waves and harsh winds driving off the Miami beachgoers as a thunderstorm loomed on the horizon. Of course it was all clear. She clambered down the wooden ladder of the stand and shoved the rescue tube into Mason’s waiting arms.

“Enjoy the rain,” she called up to him as he took his spot on the stand.

He ignored her, gazing intently out at the water so as not to miss any invisible swimmers.

Wren rolled her eyes and headed towards a more private strip of the shore with determined steps. She needed to be home soon, she’d have to hurry. But this couldn’t wait. The vial clicked against her keys in her pocket as she trotted over the uneven sand, reminding her it was there. As if she could forget.

She pulled it out and sprinkled some of her mother’s ashes in the water, as she had done each year before.

She thought of Nathan, her twin, and wished she could do the same for him. But it had been three years of searching the ocean, and they still hadn’t found his body.

Three years today, she thought. It felt like both a lifetime ago and just yesterday. She had to strain to remember the exact shade of her mom’s eyes. The sound of her brother’s laugh. 

The sound of crying pulled Wren from her dark thoughts. She glanced behind her and saw a girl, no more than eight, red-face and shrieking in the sand. A woman, presumably the girl’s mom, stood over her, scolding her about something. She pointed down to the water where Wren stood.

Wren turned away, but the girl had already started walking towards her.

“S’cuse me, I…Can you…,” she stammered. “I lost my mommy’s keys trying to catch a fish, can you find them for me? I-I don’t wanna be in troub—” her voice cut out as she burst into more tears.

Wren pushed aside her frustration at being interrupted as she looked down at the distressed little girl. She felt for her. She’d had her fair share of lectures over her mother’s things being lost or broken due to the schemes she and Nathan used to pull. She smiled down at the girl.

“Hey now, don’t cry. I bet we’ll find them in no time, I’m an expert treasure hunter,” she said with a wink.

The girl relaxed a bit and gave her the smallest of smiles. She shuffled off in the sand, leading Wren to where she thought she’d dropped them.

Wren waded out into the warm water until it reached just above her waist, toes sinking into the thick, coarse sand. Her eyes scoured the murky floor of the ocean, searching for a glint of metal. After only a few minutes, she caught a glimpse of something shiny through the rolling waters. She kicked at it in the sand but was disappointed.

It wasn’t a set of keys. Just a flat shell, rough and scaly on one side and slick and shiny like a pearl on the other.

Shrugging in defeat, she bent to retrieve it anyway. Her grandmother would love to add it to her bathroom decor.

As her fingers closed around it, her skin prickled with goosebumps. A man’s sharp voice called out her name.  She glanced around to see who’d yelled for her, but the waters were empty. The shore was as well besides the little girl and her mother, who didn’t appear to have heard anything.

The voice continued. “There are things you must know, things—”

A rough wave crashed into Wren’s side. The voice instantly cut out as the impact knocked the shell from her hand. She searched frantically for it in the water, but the waves were only getting stronger, making the ocean floor beneath her a chaotic mess. Sand and thick globs of seaweed swirled around her feet, but the strange shell was nowhere to be found.

Startled, Wren took a deep breath to compose herself. She didn’t need to find it again, it was just a shell. She’d imagined it, that was all. Shells didn’t speak to people. Couldn’t speak to people.

Things you must know.

The words haunted her as she struggled to convince herself they hadn’t been real.

She turned back towards the shore and spotted the little girl. She was ankles deep in the water, victoriously waving a sparkling mass of keys in air.

Wren smiled lightly as the girl skipped off in the sand towards her mom, her meltdown completely forgotten. She waded back to the shore as well, carefully avoiding the shells.

In her short bike ride home, the sun began its slow descent toward the horizon. Thunder rumbled in the distance. She wiped off the sweat coating her forehead and pedaled faster, hoping to beat the rain.

She rounded the final corner onto her grandparent’s street and saw their old sheepdog, Pooka, galloping across the perfectly trimmed yard. Wren’s grandmother chased him half-heartedly away from her freshly planted flowers. Wren smiled at them as she pulled into the driveway, and her grandmother gave up her fruitless chase and came to greet her.

“Oh, my dear, you’re back so late. I don’t know how things are done in France, but here you should really get home earlier,” she said sweetly, then led the way into the garage.

Wren followed, paying no mind to her grandmother’s unusual greeting. Grandma Ginger had had dementia for over two years now, doctors blaming the family tragedy for the early onset of the disease. For the past few months, she had thought Wren to be a foreign exchange student from France.

How she came to this conclusion, Wren had no idea. She didn’t speak the language and had never even visited the place.

Wren parked her bike in the garage, careful to avoid her grandfather’s ancient but prized Ford pickup, and continued on into the house. She changed quickly out of her lifeguard suit, swapping it for a simple t-shirt and shorts. Her one unique accessory was the golden locket she secured around her neck, the only valuable thing she’d inherited from her mother. She deftly braided her long pale hair and headed back out.


  1. The changes are good - I like the initial dialogue with her lifeguard replacement, which gives you a bit of a feel for her personality (and that she won't suffer fools like him graciously). The wave thrashing the shell away is a good logical change too. I whizzed past the quote at the beginning this time without a distracting thought, and I still love the grandmother thinking Wren is a French exchange student. I expect there are a lot of little side chuckles in the pages to come, which is always enjoyable in a novel.
    I noticed a misplaced apostrophe. "her grandparent’s street" should be "her grandparents' street".

  2. I like the changes. The beginning flows better and its clear from the onset that she is a lifeguard and makes sense as to why the girl would has her for help. I don't remember the dog before, but maybe he was there. For some reason, more memorable this time, as well as the image of freshly planted flowers.

  3. Hi Casey, 
    Good job on the revision - this is much better paced and more engaging while it also retained the voice (practical, yet melancholic) I really liked in your original pages. Well done. 
    I was glad to see the mysterious shell getting more action, too. It's much clearer to me now what the fantasy element would be and that it's connected with the sea (twin brother missing at sea, this shell thingie, etc). The only think that kind of lost me was what Wren actually hears from this shell (“There are things you must know, things—”). Not sure if that was your intent, but it sounds a bit too mundane of a phrase to come out of a mysterious object? Can you think of something a bit more... well, mysterious or maybe something a bit more meaningful and personal to Wren?

  4. I love, love, love the changes you’ve made. I felt much more grounded in the setting, the interaction with Wren’s work-mate really helped me understand her personality, and I love the scene with the shell. I particularly liked the searching for it, it gives her an agency that warms her to me as a character.
    I don’t know if the line of three years of searching works, because they would have stopped searching pretty quickly, they don’t tend to spend resources on long searches. In three years, they had never found his body might be better?
    I wonder if she needs to think a bit more about the shell as she heads home? Or soon after this scene. If she is curious then the readers will be curious too. I actually wonder if the repeat of the line “things you must know” and the paragraph follows might be better after the little girl finds the keys. That even after the distraction the line is still there, shows its importance for the future story.
    And it may not fit into the first five pages, but I’d love a sense of absence when she goes home. I don’t know if she is living in the same house as before her Mum and Brother died/disappeared, but I still want to get the sense of what it means to her day to day life to not have her parents or brother there.
    But I was engaged the first time and this time is even better, well done.

  5. Wow, this is much improved! I really can feel Wren's teenage personality more and the first few paragraphs ground me in her world. And while the pacing feels great early on, the one part I'd slow a bit is when she leaves. This is the first time we've experienced a day with her, so maybe add a little more detail. Does she change? Does she clock out? and why does she have a bike instead of a car? etc. Even though this will slow your pace a touch, I think its quick enough earlier to keep a reader invested AND after her experiencing hearing the voices, this will force the reader to stay invested a little longer (keep the mystery teased a little) and then "In her short bike ride home..." have Wren internalize what the voice was/ does she recognize it? Is she tired? Hungry? etc. But overall, bravo!

  6. A lot of great changes in this round! I would still love to see this go deeper into her point of view--giving us a better sense of her emotions and feelings and motivations. I still don't know anything yet about her motivations. For example, why does she frantically look for the shell and then avoid all the shells? What are her feelings about her Grandma; does she miss how it used to be? What is it that she's yearning for.

    And a final note about the shell itself. I feel like the voice--that she seems to have no connection to--saying there are things you must know, is a place wherein a lot of story tension could be added if we could get a little less vague and more specific. Either a voice she sort of thinks she knows or a phrase that's oddly specific to her somehow.

  7. Well done, Casey! Such a difference! You really took on all the suggestions and strengthened your pages as a result. In particular, the additions around the sea-shell are just right. Enough info to draw us in, but not enough to make us feel we know enough. Also, the inclusion of the other life-guard to settle us clearly in THIS world before you suggest that there’s ANOTHER world tugging at her is perfect.

    I know other people didn’t know who AndrĂ© Gide was, but I do think you need to credit him, so perhaps “words from AndrĂ© Gide, her favorite philosopher” might suffice (and save people like me running to to see who said it! It also makes us aware that this is a girl who is intelligent and well-read, so adds to her character profile in our heads.

    Could you move, “Of course it was all clear” up to the top of that paragraph, so it sounds more sarcastic against Mason’s bland statement!

    You don’t need “she thought” after “Three years today.” We are clearly in close 1st person POV – deep inside only Wren’s head – so we can take it as a given that she’s thinking that. You don’t need to tell us.

    Can you make it clearer where and why the mother leaves? If it was MY lost car keys, I’d be diving in there looking too! So why does the mother walk away and leave the kid and lifeguard to look. Does she have other younger kids further up the beach perhaps?

    I’d love you to add something like “Even so…” before you requote the shell’s words, so that the haunting words flow more smoothly on in her mind. So:

    “… Couldn’t speak to people. Even so…

    Things you must know.

    The words haunted her…”

    Is her grandmother’s greeting “unusual” or usual? Yes, it’s unusual in that she’s not French, but actually, this is actually her grandmother’s USUAL, ie regular, greeting to Wren. It just jumped out at me as odd to use ‘unusual’.

    Given that the five pages are all that the agent reader will see, can you use that last sentence to add some punch to the final sentence? Where is she going out to? Who with? To shake off her grief or to drown her sorrows? With an old friend or a boyfriend? Or is she going to another job because money is tight for the grandparents? Give us one more beat after “headed back out” so we yearn to follow her (ie turn to page 6!).

    Well done all round. See you next week!