Sunday, February 9, 2020

1st 5 Pages Feb Workshop - Li Rev 1

Name: Sophie Li
Genre: Young Adult Mystery and Sci-Fi
Title: Children of the Sun

It seemed like her homemade radio didn’t work after all. Sprawled on the open lawn, Meredith pressed the telephone receiver to her ear, static crackling through the cord like bacon in a frying pan. She frowned and laid the receiver back down onto the grass beside the tangle of wires and circuits. Two huge metal antennae reached high into the sky, though they weren’t fetching any information.

She flopped onto her back on the grass beside a backpack twice her size. Blowing a frizzy red strand out of her face, she stared into the blue sky. Think, think.

Her ingenious teenaged mind had never failed her before. She rolled over and rummaged in her backpack to take out a half-eaten sustainable beeswax-wrapped sandwich carefully labelled “Tuesday lunch.” She unravelled the sticky sandwich paper and took a bite, chewing with her mouth open.

An open space. Check.

Short distance to the nearest radio station. Check.

The longest radio antennae she could find, borrowed from an old TV in their storage. Check.

She inhaled the rest of her sandwich, balling up the beeswax wrap and tossed it aside. She fiddled with her homespun contraption, checking the connections between the wires and the phone cord and the diodes.

Ah!

A piece of loose tape where the alligator lead connected to the coil. She searched her backpack again, dumping out a workbook, sandpaper, pliers, an extra glue stick, a weather-worn and dog-eared copy of Othello. There it was- the blue electrical tape. Tearing a small sliver of tape with her teeth, she stuck it over the alligator lead.

The crackle of radio static streamed from the phone receiver, this time much louder.

Ecstatic, Meredith picked up the landline receiver and placed it to her ear. Words interspersed between the hiss of static.

“… code five… foot five… ten…”

Her heart leaped as she gathered the circuit board under her arm and darted onto her feet. Leaving the rest of her things behind, she paced around the park in search for a location with better signal. Her footsteps stopped underneath the maple tree. Interwoven between static, the rustle of autumn leaves, the chatter of neighbourhood kids on a sunny day, were the threads of a stern conversation. Gruff voices exchanged words with military-like efficiency.

“… confirmed Deviant activity reported… fire-user.”

“Go ahead.”

“… One-oh-five Oak street.”

Oak street. That was just two blocks away. Meredith looked around the park to reorient herself, trying to remember if it was behind the swings where children played, or in the direction of the soccer goal posts. But before she could dwell on the idea further, shadows swirled in her peripheral vision. She turned and squinted in the bright afternoon sun.

Above the tree line of the residential neighbourhood rose a plume of smoke. A regular old house fire. Or the more exciting alternative, Deviant activity.

The corners of her mouth flicked up into a grin at the thought of seeing Deviants in action. Life was going to get so much more interesting. She dashed towards the scene of the crime.

Adrenaline surged through her veins as she ran past the old Kensington neighbourhood. She leaped over a big dog lounging on the lawn. She shouted an apology as she flew through a street hockey game. Cars honked as she sprinted past intersections.

A small crowd had begun to gather around the property on the edge of Chinatown. A grey haze obscured her vision. Beyond the screen of smoke was an outline of an old home. Flashes of flame burst from within charred black walls. Smoke entered her mouth and her nostrils and she broke into a cough, her eyes burning. A broken tree branch sailed towards her and she threw herself onto the ground behind a bush. It scraped past her mane of curls, missing her skull by a narrow margin.

Meredith clutched her makeshift radio under her arm, the coil of wires pinching tight into her palm. The radio signal had gone dead, a steady stream of static. In the distance were the sound of sirens. Red lights flashed through the grey smoke. Shapes of police and fire department vehicles came into view.

Firefighters in reflective clothing charged in with hoses, dousing the house with jets of water. Vapour and mist splattered onto Meredith’s cheeks. Shouts erupted as the first responder personnel fended off smoke and flames. Paramedics disappeared into the building to search for survivors. The police vehicle remained parked at the side of the road. Through the dim haze, Meredith crouched forward to see what they were doing, staying low to avoid the smoke.

Her heart pounding fast in her head, her breaths laboured and short, Meredith peeked over the hedge to see shadows of a family scurrying through the front entrance, two firefighters herding a child outside. The mother raced back inside the house before the first responder personnel dragged her back.

In the whoosh of flames, Meredith picked up another sound. A soft whimper, a hacking cough. She twisted her body to peer in the other direction. At the back of the house and on the second floor balcony, a boy squeezed himself to the very edge of the railings, his body veiled in smoke. He was huddled in a tight ball, scared and crying. He was eleven or twelve, only several years younger than her.

Fire was all around him, about to chew him up. Yet when she looked closely, the flames appeared to hover just centimetres away from his skin, as if repelled by an invisible shield.

Fire-users were immune to the flames that they create, but they were not immune to smoke, nor were they immune to a collapsing house.

Meredith glanced back at the front of the house where the first responder personnels were gathered. No one made an effort to rescue the boy. She wasn’t sure if they couldn’t see him, or they just chose to not help him.

She had to help him. But how? The back entrance was sealed by a wall of fire and smoke. Her eyes traveled from the balcony to a tree branch that extended from beyond the metal fence of the backyard. It hovered just above the balcony, high enough that it hadn’t yet caught in flames, thick enough to support her weight.

She ditched her radio on the dirt ground and ran towards the fence. Her fingers and the toes of her sneakers hooked into the metal links. She scrambled up to the top, then grabbed the branch where it bifurcated from the trunk. Swinging a leg over the branch, she hauled herself up.

Straddling the tree trunk, Meredith eased herself down the length of the branch and towards the balcony and the boy. Her heart dropped to her stomach when the branch bent downward with her weight.

“Hey-“ With the smoke, Meredith broke out in a coughing fit that threw her balance on the tree branch. She clung tight with her hands to stabilize herself.

The boy turned to look at her with wide, tearful eyes. Despite being surrounded by fire, his skin caked by dust and debris, there were no hints of burns on his exposed arms.

“Get onto the railing, then grab onto my hand.” She reached out towards him. 

8 comments:

  1. On your first revision, I appreciate the additional clarity that you bring around Meredith and what she is doing. You provide a lot more context around the radio she built and how (which makes me think she is smart and crafty), and around her motivation for building it. Looking for Deviant activity. However, I do think the additional information does slow the pace down a bit unfortunately. During the first draft, I felt as if I was right there with Meredith, picking up the signal, rushing to the scene, just to be met with a lot of flying objects. Also, I did feel a lot more compel to read on during the first draft (not to say that I wasn’t compelled this time around as well) because I was really curious to find out what would happen when she arrived on the scene of the smoking house. During the first draft, the reader doesn’t know about Deviants with power, so it almost was a pleasant surprise to discover that while on the scene. This second revision kind of took that surprise away from me because we are educated about Deviants prior to arrival. This is just my opinion.

    Secondly, I felt there were a lot of instances where the phrasing you used seemed a bit contradictory and made it hard for me to follow the story. For example, “She flopped onto her back on the grass beside a backpack twice her size.” That’s a pretty big backpack and I wasn’t sure when she rushes to the scene, if she had left her belongings in the park or if she had the backpack with her as well. If it was the latter, then I’d find it hard for her to run that fast with such a big backpack. Unless of course she has some type of powers too. Another example, “He was eleven or twelve, only several years younger than her.” The “only” makes it seem as if the boy is close to Meredith’s age, but then you use the word “several” as well. Their juxtaposition makes it hard to picture what age Meredith really is. Is she a teen or a young adult?

    Lastly, this revision, doesn’t include much dialogue, specifically the scene with Rio, which is fine. I will say that the inclusion of dialogue before did help in painting Meredith’s personality as well as her relationship with the police, which gave a good indicator of how other characters viewed her (or at list her reputation within the community). I mention this because I’m not sure if still wanted to maintain that effect within your first five pages.

    Overall, I think the story is still great and intriguing. I think it comes down to striking the balance between information and action/pace which I am confident that you will continue to improve upon.

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  2. Wow, this is a real rewrite, not just a touch-up. Great job. The change of tense really does make a significant difference for me.

    Going from top to bottom: I might switch the first two sentences around for clarity and flow ("Sprawled on the open lawn, Meredith pressed a telephone receiver to her ear, static crackling like bacon in a frying pan. It seemed like her homemade radio didn't work after all").

    I'd take out the line about her "ingenious teenaged mind" - it's too "tell-y" especially because you do a great job, a paragraph later, of SHOWING us she's ingenious (by checking connections and then fixing the radio on the fly).

    I agree with Jide (I think I always agree with Jide!) that I liked the surprise of not knowing there were Deviants in your world until they showed up. Maybe we can see that her goal is to chase down something she's interested in on the scanner, that it's probably something weird and interesting, but not know what until she arrives and sees something supernatural/magical. Let us wonder what she's after that's so exciting, if only for a moment.

    I really like the addition of Meredith going to save the little boy. It makes her so much more agentive and so much more sympathetic as a character! I think you also have a great opportunity here to tell us something about your world's attitude towards Deviants. "She wasn't sure if they couldn't see him [the boy] or they just chose not to help him." You're almost saying it but not... do people dislike/fear Deviants? So much that firefighters might let a little boy die because they suspect he's one of them?

    Overall, though, this is a substantial improvement in terms of tense and content. It's tough to balance that with not losing the great tone and voice of Meredith from the first draft! But I know you will continue to improve this! Looking forward to reading more!

    S

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  3. Hi Sophie,

    This is a really great revision. Just a few thoughts and questions.

    I like how you changed the beginning to allow us to understand Meredith’s homemade radio and that is isn’t working but she keeps fiddling with it. I totally get this scenario this time around. I can see Meredith doing this. I might suggest to bring your first line to the end of the first paragraph so we understand she doesn’t think the radio is working which then flows into the next paragraph nicely. But that suggestion is not a firm one, LOL.

    I wasn’t sure on what the shadows in her peripheral vision meant as you don’t bring this up again. Are they the deviants on their way to blow up the house?

    In the paragraph about the crowd outside the house (glad you added others wondering and looking too), how can a tree limb blow past IF the explosion had already happened? The use of “fire-users” seems to drop out of nowhere. I wasn’t sure what this was. And I guess Meredith is used to seeing these deviants because she acknowledges that must be what/who this is but no response of shock or amazement. Same with her wondering if that’s why the first responders aren’t helping the boy. Are they used to seeing deviants, too? Is this the normal world? While Jide and SA were happy to see the deviants show up, I was confused about your fantasy story world. BUT an easy fix.

    “Bifurcated” might be a rather obscure word to use.

    And then you added your extra paragraphs that I simply love! We get to know Meredith’s personality so much better in this sample. I mean, wow, she’s climbing a tree and offering to help a boy (a deviant!) surrounded by smoke and fire. Great characterization.

    Great job. This sampling flows so well and I want to read on.

    Becky

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  4. Hi Sophie,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I ended up having pro-d after work Monday that went until 7:30 and I got home around 8:30. Yesterday, I had a meeting after work and got home late again. Today, after work, was the first chance I had to get back to replying.

    Wow! Changing to past tense made a huge difference in how easily it read this time, and then punching up the tension by shortening the sentences made this a more exciting read. I like that you hinted at her age by saying how old she thought the boy was – but clarify it by leaving out ‘only’ or ‘several’, but not having both. Because her age may still be a sticking point, you could always add a sentence after she pulls out ‘Othello’ to say something like, “Grade 11 can wait” (or whatever grade she is in)… “this is more important.”

    Because she has a sustainable beeswax wrapped lunch, it seemed odd that she would just toss the wrapper away and not be more careful with the environment. I love the new pacing but in creating tension, a few details may have been missed, such as the scene where she discovers the possibility of Deviant activity she has already left her things to find a better place for reception and then heads off in the direction of the crime… does she stop to grab her things, or does she leave them behind? Will she need the items?

    The sentence about the first responders possibly not choosing to help the boy didn’t work for me, because they would always help everyone, especially a child. I think that needs to be reworded – if they didn’t typically help Deviants, then that would need to be made clear. And we end the scene with suspense galore! I like that this scene shows her character – she is willing to risk her own safety to help another, and one, whom it seems others aren’t helping yet, for whatever reason.

    Definitely, this version moves along at a fast pace and I figure as the chapter/story evolves, we will learn more and more about the Deviants and their skills. Looking forward to the next section and your pitch.

    Cristy

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  5. Hi Sophie,

    Wow! This is a fantastic revision! The homemade radio scene works so well here, and we really get a sense of her grit and determination to make the radio work. We get a feel for her personality as well by seeing the contents of her backpack, and even the finer details like her Eco-friendly sandwich wrapper.

    I also like the earlier line about how she’ll finally get to see some Deviant activity. That gives us a good reason why a teenager is doing something like that in the first place. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see Deviant activity?

    Small things: “In the distance were the sound of sirens.” Could be tightened to: Sirens sounded in the distance.

    “bifurcated” feels a little scientific-jargony for the context of the novel.

    I LOVE the revision with the boy who creates fire. When Meredith sees him on the balcony and knows she needs to help, she’s now an active part of this scene instead of just a bystander. I’d like to see a little introspection here—what is she thinking when approaching this “deviant” boy with fire powers? She’s also on a scary tree branch, so there’s a lot of her own safety at risk here, not to mention the fact that she could catch on fire. A little bit of her internal thoughts would be great here -is she naturally super brave and impulsive, or is this terrifying but she’s doing it for altruistic reasons?

    Overall, this is an intriguing story and it’s very well written. I got so drawn into the narrative that I had to read it a couple times to stop an analyze it to remember that my whole goal here is to give you feedback. I can’t wait to see your pitch!

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  6. Hi Sophie -- Wow! You really dug in here. Per the comments above, the tense change really helps with flow. Well done! I'll try not to restate notes from folks above. Here are a few other thoughts.
    The radio description is solid and interesting but (for me, and I'm only one reader) it felt a little on the long side. I wasn't sure why I was getting so much detail on Meredith's radio-building prowess as the first, most important thing. It works well because it's an action (v. just reflection) BUT I'd try to nuance this slightly to help direct readers to WHY we're getting this info at the start.
    There are a few instances that feel a little "I'm writing for teens here-ish" to me -- a little too intentional, like you're ticking boxes. One example: "Her ingenious teenaged mind had never failed her before. She rolled over and rummaged in her backpack to take out a half-eaten sustainable beeswax-wrapped sandwich carefully labelled “Tuesday lunch.” She unravelled the sticky sandwich paper and took a bite, chewing with her mouth open." (ingenious teenage brain, sustainable, beeswax-wrapped, mouth open (really? is that her MO? very specific so make sure it feels true to character).
    One tricky bit with this revision is that there's no one for Meredith to talk to until the very end, so no opportunities for dialogue. Dialogue is both great for character development AND makes natural changes in the flow of the writing which feels refreshing and looks great on the page. I'd try to figure something out with that.
    Ending w/ boy and fire is exciting and would make me turn the page! Can't wait to read pitch! Thanks for great work! -- Stasia

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  7. This revision is amazing! I have a couple of thoughts to maybe add to it for another layer. One thing that is missing here is Meredith's feelings. It seems to me from her character, that she's more of a thinker than a feeler, which is great! It's really working for her. But I know she's also feeling. And feelings are what really bring reader connection. I would suggest adding some of that emotion in by showing readers more things like her pulse pounding or her hands sweating--the internal and external signs she'd experience while feeling an emotion. Hint: don't fall into the trap of telling/naming the emotions like she felt scared or fear shot through her veins. Show instead.

    Because when we get to the part about her seeing the fire and wanting to see Deviants, I start to get the feeling that she might be a villain who likes to watch fires. Then she helps the boy. I think if we add in some of her emotion in the fire scene that will help take out the villain status.

    And lastly, maybe cut some of the fire and running scene a bit to get to character dialogue sooner. Dialogue can really make or break in a book, so bringing in that personality sooner is good.

    Great job though!! I look forward to the next revision.

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  8. Sorry for not replying to everyone for the insightful comments that are now informing my revisions. I did not expect this work week to be so demanding when I signed on to do this workshop and I realized my time is short for getting the rewrite done. When I am finished, I will address each of you individually to thank you but I hope for now, this will suffice. Off to finish the edits so I can post them in time! Good luck to all with finishing yours and preparing your pitch! Can’t wait to see them all.

    Cristy

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