Sunday, January 12, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gallant Rev 1

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

There weren’t many things I hated, but not being home during my summer break was one of them. Racing along, I started thinking running might make the list. Each breath I took turned the air from soft to sharp, scraping inside my throat, while short bursts of air exited tasting like stale bread. I didn’t think there was enough water in the nearby lake to sooth my thirst.

Maybe I should have filled the water bottle before I left the house, but if I had, I risked waking Mom. Then there would have been no chance of slipping away without a hundred questions. Though, as I continued jogging, I sounded more like a cat gagging up a hairball. Maybe I should have chanced it.

Mom, my younger brother Cooper, and I arrived at the lake house the night before. I hadn’t been to my grandfather’s since I was younger, the result of Mom and him having a “falling out” . Mom stalled as long as she could, after he died, announcing that over vacation break would be "the best time to visit". With no cell service or friends nearby, I figured at least I could practice running.

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. A technique Coach Davis added to his torture list of skills to practice over the summer.

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.

Who would have thought me a runner? Not me, for one. Mom’s panicked calls to the surgeons clearing me, didn’t help my confidence either.

My watch flashed three miles.

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. Jogging by, I 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. Beyond that was his 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. I took a deep breath and looked back at the cottage size home. It appeared quiet, with no evidence that Mom or Cooper were awake. I decided to make my way down to the lake.

The view of the lake was one the ugliest I’ve seen. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would have a house here. I wouldn’t be seeing bright colored photos of the view in any visit New Hampshire advertisements.

Past the yard, covered in tree stumps, a set of steep, splintered stairs lead down to the water. It overlooked the inlet and a large, tall, rock formation we called the “Beast”. Soupy green algae hung off the large, jagged rocks. My skin crawled at the thought of my bare feet touching the lake’s deep bottom and its slime slipping between my toes. It was a good enough reason not to swim out too far.

On top, a few dead trees surrounded an electrical transformer the size of a small shed. Burnt splotches from past electric flares traced along its corners. Weeds and old charred vines crept up and around the large metal box. Surrounding it, a wire fence hung off drooping into the water.

About fifty feet out, a second metal fence surrounded the rock island, rising nearly six feet above the surface. The mouth of the Beast was an opening that faced the house, where the metal fence corroded, bent, and broke apart. The opening, large enough to be dangerous and welcome visitors, but not large enough for most boats to fit through. Under my grandfather’s watch, he eventually put a rope across it. Anyone who dared to venture close enough couldn't ignore the red electric voltage signs warning to keep back.

At the stairs, I stroked a notch in the railing, my name, then Cooper’s, a dedication of sorts that Grandpa made.

He took Cooper, and I out at night, the full moon hovered overhead. No flashlight needed that evening. At the first landing he began to whittle away at the wood. Effortlessly, chips fell off and our names appeared. Once completed he pointed out, to the transformer. We watched as a small green light flickered on and off. Then as if on cue a small spark flashed from the top of it. We stood there with our eyes wide, my fingers clutching Grandpa ’s sleeve.

He then crouched down to our level and whispered, Remember the fire of the Beast. He can get angry and can devour anything or anyone that gets too close. So you need to always stay away.” He waited for both of us to nod before walking us back inside.

Of course it was just the transformer overloading. But he made his point clear. That was one of the last time’s I visited.

Holding onto the loose wooden railing, I made my way down, ending up on a small patch of sand. Still hot from my run, I kicked off my sneakers and stepped into the calm shallow sandy water. Warmer than I thought it would be, I decided to go in a little deeper, running shorts and all.

Only after a few steps, I floated waist deep, letting the water churn around me. My knee sank under, and I felt the water cool the pulsating blood running through it. I closed my eyes listening to the hooting of a nearby loon and the slurring of the water as it pushed up against the shore. Hypnotic. Mom knew I wasn't excited that we'd be spending the summer here, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Spending my waking moments running the trails might make it bearable.

A patch of icy water shocked my back. More cool down than I wanted.

Still on my back, I gently swung my arms toward the shore, and to shallower water, until the sound of water slapping, and a low electric hum grabbed my attention. I twisted off my back, treading the depths, I turned to notice I drifted close to the Beast. Water agitated up against its fence and rocks.

I had no intention of drifting that far out. Spotting the shore over my shoulder, I began kicking in its direction. With my arms fully stretched, I scooped large amounts of water to my side, but instead of moving forward a swirl of water pulled at my legs, as if they were stuck in a funnel, dragging me closer to the outer fence.

What was happening?

Whirling my head about, I searched for anyone to help. But only the loon fluttered nearby, watching me.


  1. Hi Kristin,
    Your imagery is much clearer now.
    I think I preferred your opening paragraph in the first round. Perhaps by splitting the sentence, where you mentioned her throat, would have made it more readable.
    Otherwise great.

    1. Thanks Carryn! Yes I'm revisiting the opening again. :)

  2. This opening version is definitely much clearer. Nice job! I know right from the start that she's a runner, that she's in the midst of a run in her current moment, and how she's feeling about it. My only pause is the first sentence. Its structure reads a little wonky, but more over is that the mention and idea of 'home' isn't carried throughout the paragraph or following paragraphs. It makes me wonder if it's an important detail to share at this point.

    Yeah, in your third paragraph you mention the lake house and then get into spending the summer there. The information about her not liking being away from home might feel more natural here. Just noting this: When you talk about 'the best time to visit', it makes it feel (only for a second) that her grandfather is alive. Could be just me.

    I really like your description of the scum on the bottom of the lake. I totally relate to that. It's concise and reads easy. I also like the way this piece ended, making me so curious about what's really going on.


  3. Hi Kristin,
    I like your first sentence. It tells us several things, including the MC is away from home and not someplace fun (like a vacation) and that it’s summer break. I would consider making it a paragraph by itself.
    My overall critique would be similar to last week: I still think we are being drawn in two directions here… Cassidy and running, and then everything going on at the lake house and especially in the lake near the end. Perhaps cut back on the running and start with her injuring her knee at the lake house? It’s hard to say since I don’t know the details of the plot. I just get the feeling that all the back story about running is because you want us to get to that part near the end, while she’s in the lake.
    Some other thoughts I had while reading:
    I wonder if you could move down the bit about Mom, Cooper… arriving at the lake house. It seems to interrupt the flow. And you could easily weave in that info further down.
    I understand why you didn’t want to get into too many details about why she is running on a bad knee, but the paragraph you do have (Who would have thought me a runner…) does leave the question, why is she running? Since I know a little (from that FB post) I wonder if you could just add one sentence to give the reader a little hint. Maybe something like: But all it took was Jacob’s eyes smiling at me. Something along those lines. Which tells the reader a lot without getting into too many details.
    There is a lot of description of the lake house and its surroundings. It’s a lot to take in right now.
    I also wasn’t sure what the part in italics was meant to be. Was that a memory? The transition was a little awkward and I almost wondered if it was something carved into the stair railing.
    There were a few instances where you switch from past tense to present.
    I would also suggest breaking up a few of the longer paragraphs. Just for ease of reading.
    Happy Revising!

  4. Hi Kristin! Nice work. Definitely a straighter, clearer flow. That said, I still feel like you're over-indexing on setting/description/backstory and not giving us enough character. This pp, for example, still feels like infodumping: "Mom, my younger brother Cooper, and I arrived at the lake house the night before. I hadn’t been to my grandfather’s since I was younger, the result of Mom and him having a “falling out” . Mom stalled as long as she could, after he died, announcing that over vacation break would be "the best time to visit". With no cell service or friends nearby, I figured at least I could practice running."
    Watch out that your telling when you could be showing (no cell service -- couldn't you just show that by her taking out phone and being frustrated?); and don't the flashbacks show Grandpa is gone -- w/out having to announce that he died in the above pp? Get the idea?
    You're definitely getting closer to a strong opening. Keep narrowing your lens and working to help readers feel more connected to MC via her emotions, personality, not just a dry throat or awkward gait. Also, pay close attention to tense, conventions, paragraph breaks.
    You can do this! Keep up the hard work! All best, Stasia

  5. Hi Kristin,

    Like some of the others, I like this less painful opening better.

    I'm not sure you need the Grandpa flashback. It took me out of the setting and I think you could get the same thing across with sentences here and there.

    The new information you have at the end is intriguing and I'm wondering what will happen to our MC in the water!

    1. Thanks Gina! Yes I think I'm removing that flashback.

  6. Hi Kristin,

    Nice work on your revisions. It feels like you have more going on in this draft (in a good way) and I get a better sense of where you story might be going.

    I like your first sentence. And your second one, too, although I'm thinking a little more context might strengthen it. For example, "racing along" seems vague. Maybe a little description of the house/lake/setting might help?

    I'm wondering if the third paragraph, the bit about their arrival at the lake house, might benefit from having a lead-in description? Like the line about tapping the wooden sign that appears a little bit later. I think it's a nice touch (no pun intended :-) and might give some context to being at the house/the lake/etc.

    I like the part about "who would have thought me a runner." I think it's much clearer and more effective than how you presented the similar backstory in the first draft.

    The Grandpa flashback: I like the idea of it, but not sure it works in its present form. Might be a way to rephrase it? Just a thought.

    I really like the last part that you added. It gives your beginning an element that was missing in the first draft. Really compels the reader to want to keep reading.

    Again, nice work on the revisions. Can't wait to read your pitch. Good luck!


  7. Hi Kristin

    I liked this redraft in particular because I felt a better sense of the character voice. I feel I can relate to this character more now, and care more about her thoughts and her situation.
    I do think you can still get out of your own way with the narration a bit more. Lengthy overcomplicated sentences like, "With my arms fully stretched, I scooped large amounts of water to my side, but instead of moving forward a swirl of water pulled at my legs, as if they were stuck in a funnel, dragging me closer to the outer fence." throw your reader out of their suspension in your dramatic story, because we have to sift through the causes to order the action in our heads. Simpler, more punctuated sentences would make your dramatic action more effective, I think.
    This sentence from paragraph one contains multiple images and several descriptors: "Each breath I took turned the air from soft to sharp, scraping inside my throat, while short bursts of air exited tasting like stale bread." Paring back the descriptive imagery would allow more room for your reader's imagination, I think.
    In all, I really liked this character and felt I would happily invest in her story. Good luck!

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