Sunday, January 5, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gallant

Name: Kristin Gallant
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Title: Running Waters

Late June

Razor like scratches, in my throat, cut up as I inhaled and down with the exhale, each time deepening as I raced along.

If I wasted time filling the water bottle before I left, I risked waking Mom. Then there would have been no chance of slipping away without a hundred questions. Though, as I continued on, all nearby wildlife fled, my heaving sounded more like a cat gagging up a hairball. Maybe I should have chanced it.

In the last mile I sped up, my hips jetting out side-to-side in a clumsy fast walk, then increased to a snail paced jog. All while concentrating on filling my lungs with morning dew air rather than taking in painful shallow breaths. A technique Coach Davis added to his torture list of skills for me to practice over the summer, since it would be my first time competing in the fall.

My feet crushed against the gravel, every stride landing heavier than the last. Potholes, scattered throughout the muddy road, made it almost impossible for me to run straight, and I figured I must have added an additional half mile onto my course just by weaving around them. These maneuvers gave the metal screws inside my kneecap an extra workout, enabling them to scrape along the bone.

Up ahead a group of holes stretched across the length of the road. Hopping over the small crater I grit my teeth as I landed. Suck it up Becca. I could do this, but if I didn’t stop soon the metal holding my knee together would most likely start tearing through flesh, or wear down the bone I still had left. I decided to slow before my knee buckled.

Beads of sweat dripped down my cheek, and I brushed them away with the bottom of my sweat soaked shirt. I hugged along the side of the road, under the shade that the tall pine trees provided in the early morning. Even though it wasn't hard to find cover so deep in the woods of New Hampshire, the heat already started to seep in.

School finished for summer vacation, and I had yet to break my internal body clock of its early-morning wake up habit. That, plus the fact that I had another nightmare, I decided to crawl out of bed, trudging outside to work on my cross country timing.

If it wasn’t for the smirk on that junior’s face, leering at me, while her friends all giggled, I wouldn’t have been put in this position. Who would have thought me a runner? Not me, for one. Mom’s panicked calls to the surgeons and doctors clearing me, didn’t help my confidence either.

My watch flashed three miles.

The heaviness of steam rising from the ground and the taste of pine filled my lungs. Unable to close my gaping mouth, needing to take in as much air as it could handle, I continued at my slower pace. At least I no longer sounded like a dying animal, and my swelled knee subsided just enough so that the pulsating no longer threatened to rip a hole through my skin.

My path options were limited, being on the only road that led to my grandfather's house on Juniper Lake. As a matter of fact, it was the only road that led to that corner of the lake. At one time, walking alone, with no one in sight, I had looked over my shoulder at every little noise, allowing thoughts of bears and cougars to take over. But today the songbirds sang to me, echoing throughout the trees.

I reached the part of the road that curved, right before it opened up to views of the lake and Grandpa’s house. For most people it wasn't easy to find the lake. To say that it was hidden was an understatement. It sat in solitude surrounded mostly by undeveloped private land with only a few homes on it and a small campground at one end. I wouldn't have even consider some of them homes but instead summer cabins. Grandpa’s house, tucked away in a corner of the lake, at an inlet, could only be seen by driving your boat down and around, near his end of the lake. Though not too many people would do that as the weeds grew thicker in that corner. It made his home more private than any of the others in the area.

Unlike other lakes, Juniper Lake never became crowded even though the highways, shops, and other lakes would fill up soon enough with vacationers as July approached.

 It had been years since I had been to my grandfather’s, and had missed spending summer days swimming, boating, and being greeted with warm mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows after a cold day of skating during the winter, but even still I had mixed feelings about visiting. When Mom announced we would be spending our summer at Grandpa's the insides of my stomach dropped and twisted. I knew I should want to be there to help Mom after Grandpa died, but the thought of seeing his house made me want to curl up. He wouldn’t be there today or any day after. No father, and now no grandfather.

It would have been easier not to think about losing him and to just stay home to practice my sprinting, or get started on my driver’s ed, which I was more than ready for.

Mom, and Cooper, my younger brother, and I arrived the night before, without the need to give Grandpa a heads up, as we usually had. We were clearly invading his privacy with the plan to sort through all of this things. Mom stalled as long as she could, announcing that over vacation break would be “The best time to visit”. How we could enjoy the lake over the summer, and so on.

I saw through her quivering smile. She just started sleeping through the night weeks ago, her pacing downstairs, clicking on the TV, its voices echoed through the vents in my room. At first the bags under my eyes were as purple as hers, but as the weeks went on the droning of the infomercials became a soothing hum I missed once they had stopped.

When I took the corner I saw Grandpa’s home, for a moment I expected to see him outside working in the yard or near his boat, ready to greet me. In that instant my stomach turned from butterflies to bricks. Without slowing I came to a stop, but my sneaker slid on the loose gravel beneath it, causing my knee to buckle while my foot continued to move. My arms flailed until I grabbed hold of a pine tree’s low hanging, sap dripping branch. Pulling in close I leaned against the tree, squeezed my eyes shut as a tear threatened to push through. A small breeze caressed my face, and instinctively I took a deep breath. The air burned against my dry lungs, and with the exhale a moan slipped out.

I wiped at my eyes and looked up. Ahead, hanging from chains that had become rusted and decayed, swung the old wooden sign that Grandpa had made so many years ago. His last name carved into it; Saltz. I moved towards the sign, tapped it, the chains creaked as it rubbed against its hooks. No surprise that the most recent storm didn't tear it down, it had hung there ever since I could remember.

16 comments:

  1. Dear Kristin,

    I liked your writing and flow from the first sentence, but had to read the sentence twice to see what you were getting at.
    Could I suggest punctuating the sentence differently?

    This sentence felt like it was happening now, so when she continues and is outside, it feels disjointed.
    If I wasted time filling the water bottle before I left, I risked waking Mom.

    In the second part of this sentence, I wondered what “subsided” until seeing “the pulsating no longer …”. If you inserted “the pulsating” before swelled knee, then I think it would make more sense.
    At least I no longer sounded like a dying animal, and my swelled knee subsided just enough so that the pulsating no longer threatened to rip a hole through my skin.

    Did you perhaps mean “considered” instead of “consider” here?:
    I wouldn't have even consider some of them homes but instead summer cabins.

    If you split the following sentences into shorter sentences, the content may be easier to read:
    It had been years since I had been to my grandfather’s, and had missed spending summer days swimming, boating, and being greeted with warm mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows after a cold day of skating during the winter, but even still I had mixed feelings about visiting.

    In this sentence, did you perhaps mean “these” or “his”, instead of “this”?
    We were clearly invading his privacy with the plan to sort through all of this things.

    I think here, the word instinctively detracted from the power of the sentence:
    A small breeze caressed my face, and instinctively I took a deep breath.

    Thanks very much. I enjoyed that.

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    1. Hi Carryn,
      Thanks for your comments & critique :)

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  2. Hi Kristin! Thank you for letting me read your work.

    You are a descriptive writer. (Me, too!) I love that and I love reading works from writers when the description flows like it's another character. The only thing I should caution you on is being too descriptive. I know you want to tell the reader everything. (Again - me, too!) But we need to allow the reader space to imagine and figure out some things on their own. *Don't worry about this. I always have to cut description after my first draft. This actually helps me deepen my characters and world, and figure out what I really want to tell or hint to the reader.*

    I like the way you began, but there is too much going on in the sentence. Simplified - Razor-like scratches cut up my throat as I breathe. - This is just an example, and I know it's simple, but there is no question what's going on. You could even add a teeny sentence after showing how that tasted; this could give a peek into the world you're creating or insight into how your MC is feeling/attitude.

    The other thing that struck me is the lead into your first technical paragraph. Mentioning Mom felt abrupt and out of place. As I read on, I understood what you were doing. Maybe add something before about the water or swallowing, some element that pertains to your MC, or even the part about it being early morning and that her internal clock hadn't adjusted to no school yet (because that paragraph felt out of place) and then mention Mom. I would look over the order of information and see if you can't rearrange it to flow a little more easily.

    Your introduction of the lake and following description (not just what it looks like, but how it entwines with your MC) is a great way to talk about story and character together. I can tell the words were flowing for you when you wrote this part. Nice! :) And I really liked your last paragraph. The only thing is the part about it hanging there since she could remember. It felt like it should be towards the beginning of the paragraph. Might just be me, though.

    Good luck with this. Looking forward to reading your revision!

    Sheri~

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    1. Thanks Sheri! Yes you're right too much might be a bad thing. Like the bottomless bowl of chocolates then I check the scale. In this case you're my scale, lol!

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  3. Hi Kristin,

    Your writing is very descriptive and I'm interested in what is going to happen to the MC at Grandpa's cabin.

    However, you so intricately described the pain your MC was going through that I would have liked a little insight as to why she's walking/running at all - maybe give us some indication to these other than the thoughts but the agony going on in her body.

    Not sure if you intended this, but the description of the screws in her knee made me wonder if she had had a lot of knee surgeries or had an artificial leg.

    Also, had she been walking the first two miles? I was confused when she "sped up" to a walk and then started to jog. Just trying to visualize what she is doing and what kind of shape she is in.

    This sentence tripped me up: "At one time, walking alone, with no one in sight, I had looked over my shoulder at every little noise, allowing thoughts of bears and cougars to take over. But today the songbirds sang to me, echoing throughout the trees." I think it's because I can't tell if you are trying to say that in the past, the MC used to jump at every little noise thinking it was a wild animal, but now that she knows better, everything is fine. OR are you trying to say things are better because TODAY the birds are singing.


    Looking forward to the revision!

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  4. Hi Kristin!

    Your writing is very vivid. From the get-go, I could feel the pain and ouch!

    One thing I felt that was missing was getting a real sense of who Becca is. I get little hints of it, the fact that she is running on a bad knee (double ouch!) and decided to join track just because a junior smirked at her (as far as I understood), tell me that this is a very determined girl. But I almost wanted a little more of that in these first few pages.

    I wonder if you could hold off on giving us all the information about Grandpa etc and get more into her running. Or even the opposite, if Grandpa's house is most important then focus on that and leave off some of the running stuff.

    It was hard to get to know Becca just because I was trying to figure out why/where she was running and then what was happening with Grandpa’s house. If that makes sense? Maybe sticking with one initially and letting the reader linger a little longer with Becca in one place would help.

    Best of luck!
    Star

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  5. Hi Kristin,

    Thanks for sharing your story. Some thoughts and impressions so far:

    • Some great description of running. You really immerse the reader into the experience.

    • Same with the setting details (the lake, the road with potholes, the cabins).

    • You have a lot of intriguing bait hooks thrown in: that junior, the laughing friends, why we'd be surprised Becca is running, why the mom doesn't want her to, why she has metal screws in her knee. I get that you want to have the story unfold gradually but they almost feel too vague. It might be compelling to give us more about who that junior is (name? does she have a past history with Becca?), why her friends are laughing, etc...

    • Speaking of compelling: I felt like the story instantly became more intriguing once you went into Becca's reflections of her Grandpa. I found myself wanting to read more about that situation (his passing, why Becca and her family are staying at this cabin, etc). Perhaps it would be better served showing up sooner in your narrative?

    Good luck with your revisions. Can't want to read more!

    Michael

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  6. Hi Kristin! Thanks for sharing your work. It's an interesting start and I think the comments above (such as work on your sentence structure and conventions) will be helpful as you revise. Here are a few other considerations that might be of use:
    1-YA Sci-Fi: I'm not entirely sure why you've identified this as your genre. While I get the vibe that the MC is a young adult with possibly some metal in her knee (?), I'm really not feeling elements of sci-fi in here (e.g., technology, futurism, AI, space-extraterrestrial setting, medical/experimental language or imagery) NOR am I getting a strong sense of YA beyond the narrator (e.g., other YA characters, a school or developmental setting, issues relevant to teen/20somethings, particularly YA language or concepts).
    THIS leads (in a roundabout way) to 2-"Info Dump" - per some of the previous comments, you've got a lot of hints, threads, ideas, one-off notions that indicate to me that this is your "writing in" draft -- the one in which you kind of lay all of your ideas about a story and/or character on the table to feel your way toward the most important. It's an important draft but must be honed to create compelling first pages (the kind agents, editors AND readers won't be able to stop turning).
    3-My challenge to you is to choose, from this draft, the MOST important setting and character elements (maybe merely one of each), then rewrite following one essential plot thread: WHAT DOES YOUR MC WANT in these first moments of the story? To be clear, while the Overarching Want (plot) may be something like "saving the world" -- what you need for this is a clear view of the WANT for this scene, which could be something like to GET A MESSAGE to grandpa OR to escape/hide/connect from//to/with something or someone.
    A good trick is to look at a few books you admire in this genre and see how other authors have created strong opening structures. For YA SCI FI, try Marie Lu, Veronica Roth, or Lois McMaster Bujold.
    Good luck. Be brave. And happy writing! -- Stasia

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  7. Hi Stasia,
    Thanks for this! I had a whole different 1st chapter recently and gave my MS/MC a whole different turn. Taking in yours, and the other's comments I'm going edit to bring up a scene sooner that doesn't happen until later in the chapter, and clean up the info dump.

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  8. Hi Kristin
    I very much enjoyed this opening scene and felt very identified with the character. I thought the first-person narrative voice was really strong.
    You are also working up to a good sense of place, though I think this can be delivered a bit more clearly and simply. As your narrator runs around the lake, there is a good deal of landscape description which is intended to fill in the world. Basically, I think this needs editing at paragraph level. Paragraphs can be reordered for a better 'flow' and most importantly simplified by deleting some detail. The paragraph beginning "My path options were limited . . . " is one such. The opening sentence is overly complex and the whole paragraph and the one following can be reduced and simplified. Basically, don't let your language get in the way. Perhaps it might help to think less about your reader (I don't normally say that!), by which I mean simply have a visual picture in your head and mention only what you character would naturally notice or remark on. Leaving gaps for your reader to fill in invites more investment and engagement. In one sense, every incidental piece of information you give us is a door you're shutting on our imagination. Give us just enough but not one word more.
    The paragraph beginning "It had been years since" could again be edited down. (Also note the missing pronoun in that sentence, which should read "and I had missed"). There is a big piece of information here, regarding the grandfather's death. Think about how you're delivering this? My own instinct would be to save and deliver it as a final stroke alongside that wonderful image of the hanging sign in the final paragraph. Whereever you put it, it is your big foundational plot point for this scene, so give it room and thoughtful delivery.
    Having said all that, I felt this was a story that would easily carry me along. I liked your character and identified with her through that strong sense of voice and the clarity and poignancy of her situation. You have delivered character-based science fiction, which is so important and so rare for submissions in this genre.
    Fingers crossed for you and keep going!
    All the best.

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    1. p.s. It's Meredith. I've just realised my name isn't showing here!
      :-)

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    ReplyDelete