Sunday, November 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Standridge Rev 2

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

Wren Baker understands tragedy and loss better than the average teenager. What she doesn’t understand is why she’s started hearing voices on the third anniversary of her mother and twin brothers’ deaths. She also doesn’t get why, later that same day, strange people kidnap her, calling her “Gemini.” After being rescued by the mysterious warriors who call themselves the Sol, Wren is led to their secret world to escape her captors. The most bizarre thing about this new world―her brother Nathan is there. Alive.

Wren soon discovers she and her brother are no normal teenagers. They have a great purpose, destined to save the world from a treacherous foe, the Phasmatis. But Wren doesn’t care about saving the world. She just wants her brother back, even if he is distant and hiding something from her. She agrees to the mission in exchange for his promise to return home with her after.

In her training, Wren finds herself in possession of a power she didn’t know existed. Just as she starts learning how to control it, the Phasmatis begin terrorizing her town, demanding the Sol hand her over. Suddenly going home may not ever be an option.

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 André Gide, her favorite philosopher, 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.

Of course it was all clear. The beach was deserted, crashing waves and harsh winds driving off the Miami beachgoers as a thunderstorm loomed on the horizon.

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.

Not yet, she reminded herself, clinging stubbornly to her last shreds of hope.

Three years today. 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 held a baby in one arm, pointing with the other 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 cut through the whistling wind.

Wren Baker

She whirled 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.

“―there are things you must know. Your brother—”

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.

Hope and fear warred within her. Had someone found Nathan, discovered his body?

She plucked random shells from the sand with shaking hands. None responded to her touch.

Startled, Wren took a deep breath to compose herself. It was just a shell. She’d imagined it, that was all. And shells didn’t speak to people. Couldn’t speak to people. Even so…

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, the relentless waves pushing her away as if for her own good.

Things you must know.

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 thought longingly for a moment of her friend Selena’s car, dry and air conditioned, before remembering why she didn’t have her own. Shattered glass and screeching tires flashed before her eyes, but she shook them away quickly.

She rounded the final corner onto her grandparents’ 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, a welcome distraction from her distressing thoughts, as she pulled into the driveway. 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 greeting. Grandma Ginger had had dementia for over two years now, doctors blaming the family tragedy for its early onset. For the past few months, she had thought Wren to be a French foreign exchange student.


  1. Casey, this is excellent. I really love your pitch. The revisions to your first five read as if they have had line edits. The overall flow is excellent. I think that the moment when she grabs the shell and hears the voice is perfect. I also like how the words keep coming back to her as she heads home. To be honest, it's hard for me to find fault in this version and your pitch makes me want to read the rest of the book!

    1. Judith, thank you so much for your kind words! They are so encouraging to me as a new writer. Your feedback has been so helpful in this process, it's been wonderful to work with you!

  2. The revisions in the story are spot on - the lines from the shell voice are more intriguing. Mentioning her car crash is a nice new teaser too. Good job with having the little girl's mother holding a baby. It's an elegant way to cut off all the questions about why isn't her mother helping find the keys or helping in some other way.
    The pitch surprised me a bit (maybe it shouldn't have because your genre says YA Fantasy) because I was imagining a contemporary/fantasy mix but it's obviously going full-on Fantasy.

    1. Pat, thank you! And not just for this week, but for your extremely helpful critiques each week. I've learned so much from this workshop and from you. Thanks for making the beginning of my story so much better!

    2. Now that I've read the beginning, I want to see how it turns out. Are you in a writers' group or anything where you will continue to share as you work on it?

  3. Oh I adore your revisions! I feel like while your pitch works, you maybe should leave more out of it? For example, leave her brother as being alive as a secret (not revealed in the query) and make the voices the inciting incident? And the secret world part should be emphasized, for example make sure its clear in your pitch your MC lives in modern day and THEN is taken to a secret world. (I'd add a few details regarding it to, is it a fantasy portal or just an underground hideout sort of world.) Otherwise I think it sounds like a great story!

    1. Sarah Jane, thank you! I was unsure about how much to reveal in the pitch, and I think you may be right about leaving Nathan being alive out of it. Thanks so much for your helpful feedback every week!

  4. Each revision has made the story more and more compelling, so well done! I like the link to her brother more, particularly now knowing he is important, it foreshadows that nicely.
    The pitch is also excellent. My two bits of feedback would be: make it clear what world's you are specifically talking about. Is she designed to save the world of the Sols, or our world. When you are crossing across it can be a little confusing if you aren't specific.
    Secondly, is there anyway to give a sense of Wren's agency in the story, and how her choices impact what happens? At the moment it feels like things happen to her, more than happening because of her. I know you don't want to give too much away, but a little more hints about what Wren must do I think would make it even more compelling.

  5. Belinda, thank you so much! I completely agree with needing to get more specific on what world she is saving, it can be a little confusing without that. Also, I've struggled a lot with trying to make Wren an active character, rather than just someone who responds to things that happen to her. Hopefully I've done that in the book, but thanks for pointing that out to me so that I can fairly represent her in the pitch as well! Thanks for giving such incredible advice every week, you've helped me so much!

    1. My pleasure Casey, it has been such a pleasure seeing a little bit of Wren's story and I look forward to seeing more one day 🙂

  6. Hi Casey,

    What a great voice you've got going here. I really love the flow of the opening. However, have you considered starting with her ankle-deep in the waves, the tube in her hand, taking a deep breath before she scatters the ashes? I didn't see a true need for the swap in lifeguards or the little girl/mother bit. I wanted to focus just on her and her situation, and then the intro of the shell and voice. This could make the tension happen that much faster and grip the reader soon.

    Kaitlyn Johnson
    Associate Literary Agent
    Corvisiero Literary Agency

  7. Hi Casey, 

    Thank you for sharing your pitch for Hope's End. It was very interesting to read, especially after reading your revised pages.

    Here are some thoughts from me which I hope will be of use. (Side note: I completely understand it's not always easy to pack everything into a short query, but the good news is, your actual query with which you approach agents can be a bit longer than this one).

    Overall, your pitch is functional; its structure makes sense and is clear. I think the next step for you would be to decorate this structure and polish it to perfection, so it's absolutely irresistible to agents and editors. 

    I think this pitch could do with some details/specifics. Firs of all, can you make it clear that the story starts off in our modern world and then moves into the fantasy world? Perhaps, you can do this by describing Wren as "Miami local" when you mention her in the pitch.

    When you get into the mechanics of the plot, there are a lot of names thrown in - Gemini, Sol, and Phasmatis. As I was reading this, I wanted more specifics - how exactly this Phasmatis person (is it a person? an army? a supernatural threat?) threatening the world? And which world? Human world or this other world where Wren was taken? I really wanted to feel the stakes here, but it was never specific enough to really make me understand Wren's struggle.

    The stakes are especially important in the end - what does Wren want and what'll happen if she doesn't get it? You say she just wants her brother back but he's changed and hiding things from her; then we learn she wants to go home but is tricked to go on some mission instead (can you be more specific here, too - what mission?). I understand what you're getting at here, but I think having more personal and powerful stakes would really elevate this pitch.  

    Re revised pages: the narrative is more smooth and dynamic now, which is great, but I'm still not convinced about opening the book with that quote by Gide... I'd suggest starting with Wren staring out into the ocean ("[Wren] gazed out at the Atlantic, wishing the seconds would tick by a bit faster...") and go from there. I liked the revision to the voice that comes out of the shell - makes a lot more sense now and is way more personal now that it mentions Wren by name. 

    Good luck with it all!

  8. Huge congratulations, Casey, you’ve done a great job on all your revisions, and your pitch really makes it clear how much adventure this story has.

    Can I make a couple of comments on the pitch paras, just to help you going forward? Can you make it clearer that the kidnappers and the rescuers are two different groups, by giving the rescue a sentence of its own, rather than passing it by with “After being rescued”? How does she know the “rescuers” are the good guys? And not just more bad guy kidnappers?

    Can we have the excitement at finding Nathan alive tempered somewhat by moving up the line from further down saying he’s distant and secretive? “Yay he’s alive, but oh no, something’s not right.”
    Can you look again at the line: “They have a great purpose, destined to save the world from a treacherous foe,” – that language doesn’t match the rest of the pitch. It sounds like you’ve taken just that one line from the back of a 1950s Arthur C Clarke book. Play with the words to put them into your own voice.

    The wording, “going home may not ever be” sticks with me – ‘not ever’ is usually written as ‘never’. That last line needs to pack a punch, not offer up a grammar query in an agent’s mind!

    Also, have you thought about any “comp titles”? Agents and editors love seeing “For readers who enjoyed XXXX and XXXX” or “MY BOOK is XXX meets XXXX.” Or you can also use authors’ names instead of titles if that makes more sense. It gives them an immediate sense of what readers you imagine your book will attract. If you don’t understand what I mean, go and look at Sarah Jane Pound’s query – she’s written the perfect comp sentence: “RIDER IN THE MIST is a Frozen meets Wintersong dark YA fantasy” See if you can do one too.

    As for the story text itself, it’s reading so well now. You’ve done a great job, and I’m sure you’ll get strong interest once you start querying for real. Thanks for letting me read it.

  9. Casey, Every revision has added wonderful improvements. Nicely done.

    I'd like to say a couple of things about the pitch as well. You have a lot of great specific details, like her hearing voices and being sent to a secret world. I would love a little more, especially about the stakes of the story. For example, what makes her and her brother abnormal? How are they supposed to save the world? What makes Phasmatis treacherous, and what happens if she doesn't save the world? What's on the line for her? For the world if Phasmatis wins?

    Thank you for sharing!

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