Sunday, January 12, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gonzales Rev 1

Name: Gina Gonzales
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Talented

It was cold behind The Teeth.
The grove of pearly white cypress trees stood bright against the tangled green of the swamp, a jagged entrance into the lair of The Narluu.
Madge shivered against them and squeezed her sister’s hand twice.
Love. You.
Three squeezes came back.
Love. You. Too.
Letting out a controlled breath, Madge carefully reached into the right pocket of her jacket (right for raspberry). She pulled out a packet of jelly that she gave to Bryce before grabbing a lemon curd one for herself (left for lemon). Quiet food.
Tearing open the packet, the citrusy curd added a bright tart smell to the stale air before disappearing into the darkness. Her inventory system was simple, yet effective, and kept her from fumbling around in the dark. She might not be Talented, but at least she was organized.
Her stomach growled loudly and she tensed. They’d gone the entire time communicating silently with squeezes, taps, pinches, and scratches, and now it was her stomach that was going to get them caught. Bryce pressed her unopened jelly packet back into Madge’s fingers and squeezed. If they weren’t in a monster’s nest, she would have insisted Bryce take it back. Her sister must be as hungry as she was. But it was Bryce who ran away. Bryce who took Daddy’s pirogue into the swamp. Bryce who wanted to steal Daddy’s Talent back from The Narluu. So even though Madge wasn’t sure about any of these things, she followed along as always in her sister’s shadow.
Madge shifted as she sucked on the raspberry packet, trying to stretch. Bones and rocks crackled beneath her, a constant reminder of where they were. But if everything went according to plan tonight, they’d soon be out of this suffocatingly dark hole for good. Back to Daddy and Coralynn and James. Back under the grey cypress that bent over like elderly grandparents gazing into a cradle. Back to the hot humid air and getting her boots stuck in the mud. Anywhere but here.
When she and Bryce were little, they used to stay awake after Daddy would turn out the lights trying to guess what The Narluu looked like. It started out fun, but always ended with Madge slipping into Bryce’s bed, clutching her flashlight.
The Teeth began to vibrate. Both girls froze, straining to listen. A buzzing sound bubbled up from deep within the nest. It grew louder and louder until it was all around them, like they were in the middle of a beehive. The sisters leaned together, holding each other tight to keep from screaming. The jelly sat on Madge’s tongue like a lump.
Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do, she chanted to herself. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Be anywhere. Anywhere but here. 
The buzzing sound changed into erratic clicks that came from all over like the dainty feet of a metal-booted spider exploring its surroundings. Madge flinched. Staring into the black, her mind stretched trying to imagine what was above her. No one knew what The Narluu looked like. The only thing they could agree on was the goosefleshy feeling they got when he was about to take a Talent.

Click. Click. Click. 
The legs, or what she pictured as legs, slid right over them and paused. Madge held her breath and squeezed Bryce’s hand with all her might. Blood rushed in her ears and she prayed that if it was going to eat them, it would be quick. Finally, blessedly, The Narluu squeezed through the gap in The Teeth, back into the swamp to check on its many territories.
Madge exhaled loudly and her body sagged. But before she could recover, Bryce was already scratching a nail against her thumb.
Let’s go.
Madge swallowed a sigh and crawled after her. For the past two nights, they’d been exploring the nest whenever The Narluu left, mapping out the fastest route to the Talent Room. Talents were the price the town paid to live and use the swamp, and The Narluu collected every month on the full moon without fail. Now they moved as quickly as their stiff bodies would allow, and turned into the outlet around the third bend to the right.
Immediately, the air freshened. There was a slightly sweet smell in the room, the result of a hole in the ceiling. Madge tilted her face up, enjoying the breeze until Bryce pulled her to the center of the room and tugged on her pinkie. Madge reached into her left hip pack (left for light) and pulled out a flashlight. Holding it to her chest, she paused, thinking twice about cracking the darkness, but they had no choice. There was no other way to find Daddy’s Talent. 
Madge gritted her teeth and clicked on the flashlight. Spots bounced before her eyes and she blinked. It took a few moments for them to adjust, and a few more to remember that she needed her glasses.
The underground room was round and covered in curling vines and roots. They jutted out from the ceiling and the walls, like giant fingers holding jars, plants, rocks and other unknown things. It reminded Madge of her friend James’ workshop. He’d be ecstatic to poke around here looking for treasures to use in his experiments. The floor was a mixture of dirt, mud, and something grey and fluffy that Madge was hoping was just animal hair. Above them tinkling like wind chimes were the Talents.
They hung down in lines, straight as soldiers. Sometimes only one Talent swung at the end of the string like a plum-sized bead, while others were laced with so many that they hung all the way down to the floor. They blanketed the ceiling, creating a mass that seemed to shimmer as it moved.
“I told you. Just like the stories,” Bryce whispered. “Hurry, look for Daddy’s.” 
Madge nodded and moved to the other side of the room. How could Bryce be excited at a time like this? She could hear it in her voice. Why couldn’t she be more like that? What was she going to do when Bryce went off to college in a couple of years?
Gently, she grasped a Talent hanging at the end of a string. It was hard and brown, about the size of a donut hole. Rubbing away the thick coating of dust revealed a word stamped into the surface — INTELLIGENCE. She grabbed a another one on the neighboring string — PERSUASION. And the ones above that — CLIMBING, RUNNING. Her heart pounded as she read others. Each was harder to release than the last. With these she could be anyone. She could be anything. She could be like her sister. She could be Talent-ed instead of Talent-less.


  1. Wow, Gina,
    I actually got goosebumps at the possibilities that lie ahead.
    I don’t have any comments for improvement. Very, very well done. Thank you.

  2. Well, I just wrote a long post and then accidentally deleted it. *Sigh*

    Here's the topline: Great job reworking this. What an improvement. We now know exactly what the Narluu is and what it does. You laid out the world very well without an info dump.

    I like how you use the Teeth as a simile for white Cypress trees.

    The legs, or what she pictured as legs, slid right over them and paused.
    (What do the legs look like? Great opportunity for more description.)

    What does the Narluu's cave smell like? Another opportunity for more sensory details.

    The description of the Talents is really well done. Why doesn't Madge have a Talent? Do only certain people in the town have them?

    Thanks for reading Hoodoo. If the story takes place in Cajun territory go ahead and go for it. Just make sure you get it right! Use slang, flora and fauna, etc, to make the world come alive. Are Madge and Bryce Cajun? If so, point it out. Again, really important to get it right if you're writing outs of your own experience/culture.

    Great job, Gina. Looking forward to reading your query.

    1. Thanks Ron. I'll do my best to add more sensory details in the next draft.

      Madge and Bryce aren't Cajun. Their made up town and the adventure they go on take place in an imaginary area in Louisiana, like Gravity Falls is in Oregon. I wanted the area to feel appropriately swampy, but maybe I shouldn't use Cajun references.

  3. Tremendous revision. For me, the pace of this scene works so Mich better. That means that, because I'm able to read along without being interrupted by too much description, I can fully identify with these characters. They now feel very relatable to me, and your setting and world are still just as intriguing as they were in the first draft.
    I would still recommend cutting some adjectives and adverbs, especially in the first couple of paragraphs. In all, this is a fantastic story and I look forward to hearing more about it once it's out there in the world.
    Very best of luck!

  4. Sorry, autocorrect - *"works so MUCH better"!

  5. Hi Gina,
    I think the flow is so much better in this revision, I felt that I was experiencing the scene along with Madge.
    I would suggest you look at breaking up some of your paragraphs to add more tension and/or emphasis on certain things. One example:
    …if it was going to eat them, it would be quick.
    Finally, blessedly….
    Going from possibly being eaten to not was a very quick transition. As a reader, I didn’t have time to process the being eaten part before it was all over. There were several instances where I felt like paragraph breaks could’ve slowed down the action and help us absorb it.
    I still don’t understand what The Teeth is. I’m guessing it is the Narluu’s lair, but I think it should just be said?
    This is a more minor point, but it stuck out to me… towards the end, I wonder if there is a way to show Bryce’s excitement about being in the Narluu lair? Aside from just mentioning Madge heard it in her voice.
    Also, the statement “Why couldn’t she be more like that?” (assuming you mean Madge more like Bryce?) comes off a little contradictory, as her original statement “How could Bryce” seemed to indicate that it was wrong to be excited. So why would Madge want to be excited too?
    Happy Revising!

    1. Thanks Star!

      The Teeth is what they call the entrance to The Narluu's lair because it is marked by white cypress trees that look like a creepy grin.

      I like your idea of adding paragraph breaks for emphasis.

      I need to think on how to show Bryce's excitement. I kinda wrote myself into a corner by having them in complete darkness but for the flashlight, but maybe I'll think of something!

    2. The teeth makes sense now, I think what it comes down to is my inexperience with cypress trees (desert girl).

  6. Hi Gina,
    This is great! The flow was much better and it gave me a clear understanding of why they were there and the danger they were putting themselves in.
    I agree with the other comment that a little more sensory details, the suffocating dark hole, what was the air like before it turned fresh, etc..
    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Kristin. I'll try to pump up the sensory details on the next draft!

  7. Hi Gina,

    I think you did a fantastic job on your revisions. I don't have much to offer in the way of suggestions on how to improve on what you currently have so I thought I'd share my impressions as a reader:

    What a good first line - and a great follow-up description of the Teeth and the reference to the lair of the Narluu. It's really effective in terms of hooking the reader.

    Like the line: "She might not be Talented, but at least she was organized."

    The paragraph with the bit about "her stomach that was going to get them caught" really works for me. Your narrative really flows. And I like the change you made with "it was Bryce who ran away, Bryce who took Daddy's pirogue, Bryce who wanted to steal Daddy's Talent back...." Definitely an improvement over the first version. Tighter, clearer, and more impactful.

    "The Teeth began to vibrate..." - love the build-up to the arrival of the Narluu. You really ratchet up the tension in a way that was missing in your first draft.

    Wondering if you might add something about the impact of losing one's Talent? Maybe not necessary, or at least this early on, but it might increase the stakes...

    I kind of liked the tension/under the surface rivalry or jealousy between Madge and Bryce that was featured more in your first draft. Not sure if there's an effective way to include that...

    Again, great job. I look forward to reading your pitch. Good luck!


  8. Hi Gina,

    Thanks for sharing your revision with us! This reads very well now and is ready for fine tuning at the sentence level. Great job removing those info-dumps and making the scene active.

    My suggestions for fine-tuning:

    - make this the first night they enter the lair. That removes a bit more backstory...let us experience what it really feels and smells and sounds like to enter the Narluu's lair for the first time. Making this a third trip really kills the suspense and makes it seem not that dangerous. I'd like to be totally scared, please!

    - careful about too much. There are a couple of paragraphs composed of repetitious phrases...once can make an impact, but too many times and it reads like a gimmick. Read this aloud to see where you really need that technique and where it is unnecessary.

    - I LOVE The Teeth. I want a little more detail. What are they seeing other than that first great opening line? Is it pitch black out? We hear a lot but don't see much...I want to understand why. I want to see the Narluu's legs, or feel them, or have a bit more of an he so tall he's like a cloud passing overhead, blotting out the moonlight???

    - I'd like to know that Bryce is older as early as possible. For some reason when I read MG I default to thinking the narrator is the older sibling and that they are taking care of a younger sibling. Madge gives a food packet to Bryce, which also reinforces the idea that Bryce is younger. Maybe reverse those roles? Make sure Madge reads like a younger sibling...or consider making Bryce the younger sibling. We want this relationship to be clear in their actions towards each other.

    Great work, and I look forward to seeing your next revision.

    My best,
    First Five Mentor

    1. Hi Melanie,

      Thank you so much for your feedback Some of your suggestions really made me think. I got a few comments about why the girls didn't see more, and I realized I wasn't clear enough about them being underground in pitch black. Hopefully, in the next draft this is clearer.

      Your other suggestions about making it their first night there and really emphasizing that Bryce was older were spot on.

      This round really gave me some insight about what changes and information to look for each round. Thank you!


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