Sunday, January 5, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Kerr

Name: Carryn W Kerr
Genre: Young Adult romantic, light science-fiction, adventure.
Title: Petriville

“By the tender age of five, I had outlived my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In fact, by this age, I had outlived almost Earth’s entire population.”

Encased in an invisible and indestructible compound, the town of Petriville had a safe launch into Earth’s orbit. Those days, though, were little more to me than broken threads of memory.

Today was my sixteenth birthday — my Age of Understanding. Today I’d come face to face with, not the stories that filtered through school halls, nor the facts recorded in history books, but the raw, uncensored truth. Although I had yearned for this moment, now that it was here, my heart wouldn’t stop thumping against my rib cage.

This morning at breakfast, Mom and Dad had given me sixteen silver sparkle bangles. Now, I stood outside our Virtual Experience Room, trying to summon the courage to enter. I shook my wrist and watched the bangles twinkle while jangling like wind chimes against my antique, white gold wrap-around bracelet pen.

When footsteps approached, I looked up. Liam strode the dark wood hallway towards me. Leaning against the door frame and crossing his feet, he spoke, as always, in rapid-fire, “You ready, Cassidy?” All morning, he had traced my movements, clenching his dense blonde brows.

I bit my lip, not exactly answering him, “Li, the first time you entered the VE, did you ask Mom and Dad to go with you?”

He shook his head and shrugged, “They offered. Call it pride, or whatever, but I hardly wanted them to see me break.”

“And did you?” I met his bright green eyes, “…break, I mean?”

“Not to scare you, Cassidy, but everyone does.”

My eyes dipped for a moment, “I wanted to do this alone, but...” I broke off.

Liam lay a venous hand over my shoulder, “You don’t have to, Sis. Mom and Dad would go with you if you asked.”

“Not Mom and Dad, Li.” I fixed on my leather sandals, adding softly, “I’d rather you were there.”

He puffed a smile, “I‘d definitely prefer that.”

Without hesitation, as though I’d change my mind if he waited, he pulled the door open and held his hand out, palm up, towards the center of the room. Maybe he was right. I would perhaps have back-peddled, had I had a second thought. Instead, I gritted my teeth and stepped inside. Liam followed me, and the door sealed behind us. The ceiling-mounted VE cube threw a triangular light to the floor. The light expanded, sliding over our feet, up our legs, bodies, heads. A gravitational pull sucked Liam and me toward the center of the room, into another time.

I drew in the fragrance of spring flowers and freshly cut lawn. The soft early evening breeze brushed my skin. And tiny recording drones floated around spectators like silent flies, recording moments that would become Petriville’s history. As sunset’s orange glow deepened, a much younger three-dimensional version of Dad exited our home. The drones took in every facade of Dad’s tall, fair, sculpted physique. My eyes dropped to the young version of Mom — stretched out on our front lawn. An incredulous expression lit her olive-toned face, her dark hair haloing around her head; jeans never quite long enough to reach her ankles.

The breeze fluttered seven-year-old Liam’s blonde curls, as he clasped my five-year-old hand in his and pointed to the sky. I recalled none of it but noted how, even then, we were tall for our ages. Even then, my deep blue eyes contrasted my olive skin and straight, dark hair while the knobby knees, Liam so often teased me about, protruded below the hem of a pale blue dress, I could almost remember.
“Hey, now, Emily. So, here we are.” Dad hummed in his smooth baritone as he paced back and forth.

Mom fluttered her long fingers as though to push a recording drone away. Her smiling, elite English accent flowed through the speakers in warm harmony. “Oh, stop fidgeting, Peter. Come lie here with us.” Without tearing her gaze from the sky, she held her hand out to Dad.

“Give me a minute, hey Ems. I’ll join you in just a bit.”

The scene was so lifelike I found myself tiptoeing through the scenery, afraid to step on anyone. I turned and looked up our block, then in the other direction, spanning the gentle arc of the walkway fronting our homes. Neighbors stood or lay on their lawns, on the pavement, or in the park over the walkway. Quite still, mouths agape. No eyes left the darkening sky, and no one smiled at the myriad of tiny recording drones floating around each family. Slowly, I followed their focused gazes.

It had not been visible that day: the day of the launch. But as Petriville had rotated, the most magnificent scene had materialized, laced in tones of the softest blues to the deepest greens. And draped over Earth, clouds floated in languid majesty, crisp white to deep, dark grey.

Considering how bleak Earth had looked for a long time, I turned my sixteen-year-old head to my eighteen-year-old brother, “This is not new. Earth isn’t much different now to how it was then.”

“Wait, Cassidy. This is so that you can see how it was for everybody when we first arrived in Earth’s orbit. Set the mood, so to speak.”

Almost as soon as Liam had spoken, the scene faded, and we were back in our home VE Room. Then, a new Visual Experience descended from the cube, spreading its light out and up over us.

Again, Mom and Dad were outside our home, this time in the park across the walkway. No children were out on this dark night. No adults lay on the grass. Drones skimmed the crowds, though everyone ignored them. All eyes locked on the night sky, and all mouths stood agape. Whimpers escaped both men and women. I followed their stares, drifting skywards.

My chest tightened. An enormous flaming ball and tail descended toward Earth. As the mass drew nearer and nearer the beautiful planet, a deathly silence fell.

Recording drones took in spectators’ faces. I stopped on the angular features of an attractive, brown-skinned man. The younger Joshua Carter’s thick-rimmed glasses tipped to one side above his prominent nose, his electric shock of salt and pepper hair and beard, wilder than ever. A burden bore down on none, I was sure, like the astrophysicist who had identified the massive asteroid, diverted into a collision course with Earth. Horror contorted his features, while Caroline, his wife, clung to him, keening mournfully into his neck, her glossy black hair braids obscuring her high cheekbones and beautiful face.

Even though I knew the outcome, I found myself wishing things would work out differently: the meteorite would incinerate in Earth’s atmosphere; the asteroid would glide past — miss Earth entirely. Impossible, of course.

As Dad pulled Mom back against him, she dropped her face, swatting away drones. But she was not quick enough to hide the tears flooding her deep blue eyes and cascading down her cheeks.

Then, as ethereal brightening seared the dark sky, a shimmering explosion rose from Earth in a mushroom of debris!


  1. Hi Carryn,
    I love your opening and immediately I am pulled in.

    Only a few comments.
    I had to read "But as Petriville had rotated" a few times and realized it was the location scenery rotating around them. Then I got stumped again as you mention earth. I had to go back to the beginning to re-read. It just may be me though but you might want to make this clearer, when you mention the two locations. Are you looking up at earth in the sky, as we see the moon, or some other way?
    It becomes clearer later on, but at this point I was a little confused.

    They way you mention their ages, felt a little awkward. Maybe you could bring in her age and mention how her brother is a few years older.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much, Kristin,
      They're in Earth's orbit, looking down on Earth. I'll make the location of Petriville clearer.
      I'll work on their age introduction too.

  2. Hi Carryn,

    I like your first paragraph a lot, it's very intriguing. I would consider removing "by this age" from the second line as it's repetitive and takes away some of the power of that line.

    I liked the relationship between the siblings that developed, but when Liam was introduced, I got a potentially romantic vibe and was surprised he was her brother. I think it's because the line "All morning, he had traced my movements, clenching his dense blonde brows." is right before "I bit my lip..." It gets sorted out right after that, but I wonder if you could alter the tracing of movements to something more brotherly around the breakfast table.

    “Not to scare you, Cassidy, but everyone does.” This was a very hooky line!

    You do an excellent job of describing the environment on Earth with the air and the grass, but it made me want more sounds and smells from wherever they were (ship?) originally.

    Like Kristin, my biggest thing is that I'm not completely sure what is happening. Are they on Petriville watching the Earth watch them arrive? But they are also on Earth at the same time? Or were they actually on Earth when Petriville landed? I re-read it a couple of times but am still not exactly sure.

    Looking forward to reading the revision. Thank you!

    1. Thanks a mil, Gina,
      I'll remove the repetition in the first paragraph.
      I'll insert something before to make it clear that Liam is Cassidy's brother. And I like the breakfast table idea.
      I'll introduce sounds and smells.
      They're in Petriville, and Petriville is in Earth's orbit, looking down on Earth. I'll make it clearer. Thank you again.

  3. Hi Carryn!

    I am very intrigued by what happened to Petriville!

    I will say it took a little rereading for me to completely understand what was going on. The first part was hard to grasp until I got further into the VE simulation. It could've just been me, but I almost feel like a little more of a blatant explanation of exactly what Cassidy is walking into is required.

    I also wonder if maybe the reader could feel more tension with Cassidy before she enters this VE room. Perhaps linger a moment on how momentous this is for her (especially since they give this a term... Age of Understanding).

    At first, I will a say that I thought perhaps Liam was a love interest, but of course as we went further on I got brother vibes (and am assuming that is what he is). I was also picturing much younger versions of her parents when she started the simulation. But then realized the kids (Liam and Cassidy) were there along with them so it couldn't have been that long ago.

    I love where it left off... that mushroom cloud of debris! I wanted to know what happened next.

    Hope this helps,

  4. Hi Star,
    It seems Kristin and Gina share your confusion, as well as thinking Liam is a love interest, so will work on those issues. I will make the VE Clearer and spend more time building the tension.
    I'll adjust the view of their parents to correctly age them.
    Thanks so much for your input.

  5. Hi Carryn,

    Thanks for sharing your story and letting us critique them. Here are my thoughts:
    • I think you have a very cool and unique concept in Petriville, and I am intriguing by the Age of Understanding and VE room and the idea that all of this is taking place after a meteor hit Earth. These elements alone make me want to read more!
    • I felt that the first page or so was a little clunky and confusing. It might be a case of not enough details explaining what's happening and where we are. Similarly, the introduction of Liam was confusing.
    • Having said that, I thought the story really flows smoothly once Cassidy and Liam are in the VE room. Maybe more could be done to set the stage for this experience for Cassidy? A little more build-up, perhaps.
    • I, too, liked the line: "Not to scare you, Cassidy, but everyone does."
    • It might be beneficial if you spent a little more time showing us who Cassidy is from the onset. Maybe some more details about her character?

    Overall, nice job! Not only looking forward to reading the revisions but also what comes next after page 5.


  6. Thank you so much, Michael,
    I will work on Cassidy’s character and the environment in the first pages.
    Chat next week,

  7. Thanks for sharing this, Carryn. You have an intriguing and clearly well imagined world here. I think when this is complete, we will find it easy to identify with your character, who seems both interesting and engagingly vulnerable.
    I think this needs a bit more flesh. I want to feel your characters a bit more fully, and to feel the texture of your world in a bit more detail. I think the reason this may rind just a bit hollow as is, may be that it is trying to do too much at once. You could slow down and spin these scenes out a bit, giving more depth of feeling.
    You might try opening with a fully set scene involving a minor incident which would clearly pin our interest to your characters, their stories and their relationships before taking your narrator to the VE.
    The other way to increase interest might be to begin a bit further in, with “Without hesitation, as though I’d change my mind if he waited . . .” That way we are straight into your dramatic scene and story, identified with the emotions at work, but the character information is deferred in a way that makes us want to read on.
    Whatever you do, get into these characters and feel their emotions, get into this world, feel it and smell it and see it. This doesn’t mean over-description; it means imagining in such detail that your incidental comments ring true and evoke feelings for your reader.
    A couple of other minor points:
    Do we need the quotation at the outset? Perhaps defer some of this information?
    “Today was my sixteenth birthday . . . Today I’d come face to face with . . .” This use of verb tense is perfectly correct, but you may find a more immediate effect by simplifying it – i.e. using simple present or simple past tense.
    Very best of luck with this really intriguing story!

    1. Dear Meredith,
      Thank you so very much for the amazingly helpful feedback. I’ve already started working on the changes and am looking forward to the progression.
      All my best,

  8. Hi Carryn,

    Wow! This is an immensely intriguing idea, although I'm particularly eager to see the pitch because I'm not sure how you're going to sustain the payoff after revealing such a dramatic event so early. You've set us up for a HUGE twist or revelation! : )

    Okay, so big picture. You are starting at an exciting point, and your writing is great with some beautiful turns of phrase. It does sometimes feel like you are working a bit too hard on the writing, and it holds me back as a reader, making me too aware of the writing instead of the story. At the beginning, it's critical that there is nothing to make the reader pause or keep from sinking into the forward momentum. I'll give you some examples in a second, but overall I want to suggest that you make certain that every sentence is easily understood and that you are sure of how it will be read by someone unfamiliar with the story. In addition, check your dialogue punctuation. There are several places where I noticed you had commas after complete sentences leading into dialogue, and that is incorrect. The comma is used only with said and variants such as repeated, stated, asked, etc. But those are small picture things. T

    For the bigger picture, take a moment to consider what the reader needs to know at this moment in the story. One of the things that was missing for me was the sense of who your MC is before this huge moment in her life--experiencing the destruction of earth via VR--will inevitably change her and the story leads her into becoming someone else. Without that establishing starting point for your character arc, you are diminishing the arc trajectory and impact.

    Showing who she is doesn't have to be a big scene. It could just be a paragraph or two added on to her interaction with her brother, or perhaps a glimpse of her parents or a best friend or a glimpse of her room--something that gives us a sense of her likes and quirks and who she is in a way that allows people to start to understand what matters to her. We need a reason to care about her as she experiences the trauma. I'd also like to see a little bit more of her relationship with Liam--are they not every close, is there rivalry between them, or are they close so that it is not surprising that he would go into the VR with he -- or perhaps it IS surprising given how traumatized he was by his own experience, or maybe she is surprised to find out how traumatizing he thought it was because he's kept that hidden. It felt like you glossed over this a bit and it's an opportunity for you to dig deeper and give us something meaningful.

    Part One (see below for Part Two)


  9. This brings me to the first sentence. I'm not sure why that's in quotes, but at first glance it is an excellent sentence. When I stop and think about it, though, it actually made me stop reading to parse it out, and that's not a good thing for the opening in the story. Breaking it down, I realized it was because I didn't know who was speaking during that opening, and because the way I initially read it was that she had lived more years than her cousins, etc., which would have been an impossibility, so then I had to go back and rethink and reinterpret. If you want to start with this sentence, I suggest you rephrase for clarity. But I also think that you need to give us some context for this sentence as well. Why is she saying this and to whom does she say it? Would she really use the phrase "tender age of 5"? Really think about her POV and character and make sure you stay true to those. The other problem is that it creates a time shift within a time shift. You are taking us back to the past--to the moment when she was five--then immediately bringing us forward to when she is sixteen, then taking us (via the VR) back to the moment when she is five again. It also seems odd to start with that sentence since then she dismisses the relevance of it in the next sentence.

    I wonder if it might work better--since she so quickly focuses on it being her birthday--if you consider putting the line in context of how old she is turning. Today, she is more than three times as old as she was on the day she outlived her cousins ... and most of earth's population. . . Or something that immediately starts us off with the focus on why today is special. If you do that, then, too, the sentence can be a direct thought related to an action that she is performing as she goes through the preparation for her birthday or the VR. Or she can say that to Liam. There are a million ways to do accomplish it, just make sure that whatever you choose doesn't leave the reader confused.

    Which brings me to the next sentence:

    Encased in an invisible and indestructible compound.

    That line is very hard to visualize because the way you are using "compound" isn't a typical meaning. We need to visualize the mechanics. Sphere, biome, force field, ship. Something specific. Technically, compound might be correct, but try to find a way to ease the reader into the story.

    Apart from the time and character development issue, this is the main note that I have for you. Read each sentence and make sure that you are being clear. One final example:

    "not the stories that filtered through school halls"

    Do you really mean "filtered"? Or would something more like whispered, floated, etc. convey the meaning more clearly. Again, the context in which you use the word is just unusual enough to make me pause, which keeps me from being immersed in the story.

    Clearly, this is an intriguing story. It's fresh and unique, and I love the angle. I can already see a hundred possibilities for where you are going, and i'm excited to keep reading. Just ground the reader, keep things clear, and you will have an amazing first five pages!

    Very well done!



    1. Dear Martina,
      Thank you a million for your detailed feedback. I am very excited to begin working through all the points you made.
      All my best,

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  11. Hey there! First of all, I want to apologize for being so slow to post here. For the past week or so, my daughter had the flu and just when she started feeling better, I got it. I've felt like the undead for the past few days.

    So here is my feedback. It comes with the usual caveats of feel free to take anything that resonates with you and disregard anything that does not.

    First of all, I think the opening line here is absolutely killer. Personally, I loved it!! It completely interests me and makes me want to read on. For me, I would not use the italics and I'd cut the word "tender." But that's a voice issue for you as a storyteller.

    I also loved the setup of the next few paragraphs. It's kind of a fascinating idea to have what I assume is a town floating around in space and this age where you get to experience the truth about what happened to the planet.

    I think you've actually given yourself kind of a tough job here in this opening section because essentially are writing a scene within a scene. We just meet our main character and then we are put into a flashback - and a unique kind of flashback because it's not a character's memory, it's more like a technological replay. Which is interesting - I 'm curious as to why the characters are reliving this moment, what's being achieved through this ritual. And that's great because it means I would keep reading.

    But it winds up being a little odd because I had questions when I was reading. Like does the Petriville where Cassidy is currently living look the same as the virtual environment? How are they different?

    My knee jerk reaction is that we need a paragraph or maybe two that establish the basics of Cassidy's normal life. Like you hooked the reader with your opener and could take a beat to let us get oriented in Cassidy's world before moving on.

    There were a few sentences that read a bit clunky to me. Like the repeated use of "scene" and "scenery." Or the sentence that has both Cassidy and Liam's ages in it. Like I know we need that info but there are more organic ways to work it in (by pointing out for instance that Liam came of age 2 years ago or something).

    Overall, though, I felt like this is so intriguing and I would keep reading!! Really nice work and good luck :)