Wednesday, March 11, 2009

#5 1000 Words

TITLE: Untouched
GENRE: YA Fantasy

As I lay on my death bed I was sure of only two things. First, that at the young age of eighteen, death was claiming me long before I would ever be ready. And second, that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Little did I know, I was only half right.

I knew when it was my time. I could feel it in the ambiance of the night- so still and so perfect. The essence of death hung heavy in the air, an uncomfortable pressure that was heavy against my chest. It felt like the room was slowly closing around me- but more than just the room, it was the building, the sky, the air. The world was slowly closing in around me.

Ten years ago, just a few months shy of my eighth birthday, I learned of the disease that would one day take my life. And ten years wasn't enough time; I was still as unready and unwilling as ever. I didn't want to die. I stared at the ceiling above my bed and cursed the life that had cursed me in return.

A soft clicking of heels suddenly caught my attention- a new sound amid the humming of the medical machinery that was keeping me barely alive. Someone was walking down the hallway toward my room, and it was not a doctor. Doctors had no reason to visit my room; there was nothing more they could do for me.

For a moment I let my hopes get the best of me, and whispered into the darkness. “Mom?”

Rationally, I knew it couldn't be my mother. I had spent the last few nights convincing her that I felt increasingly better, hiding the fact that the opposite was true. Her heart would be broken enough without her having to watch as I choked on my last gasp of life. I was stronger than that. I wouldn't call her to my side to suffer along with me in those final moments. I would do this alone, for her.

But just for a moment weakness overtook me, and the only thing I wanted in the whole wide world was for my mother to hold my hand and tell me beautiful lies about how everything would be alright.

The footsteps became louder then ceased. Whoever it was had stopped right outside my room. I held my breath as the door swung open.

I couldn't see the woman's face right away, but my first instinct was that she had entered the wrong room. The light from the hallway created an almost halo around her head, making her wavy blond hair glow against the darkness. She looked about the same age as me, but that was where the similarities stopped. She was very tall, and she wore black heels and a black satin dress that was so picture perfect it looked like something from a fashion magazine. She looked as though she ought to be attending prom, not visiting terminal patients in the cancer ward.

I was about to tell her that she had the wrong room when she spoke.

“Hello, Gwendolyn.”

My words froze on my lips as questions flooded my mind.

“Hello,” I said slowly. I couldn't seem to organize my thoughts, let alone form coherent questions.

“My name is Glory,” she said, stepping into the room and closing the door behind her. The gentle glow from the monitors lit up her face. Even in the dim light I could see how beautiful she was; her eyes a sparkling blue, standing out against her ivory skin. I could only imagine what I looked like beside her- sickly and sullen with my long black hair clumping and sticking to my forehead and the back of my neck.

“H-how do you know my name?” I finally stammered as she took a seat in the chair next to my bed.

“I know lots of stuff about you,” she explained. Her voice was light and bubbly, and paired with the outfit I assumed her to be nothing more than a ditzy prom queen. “I know you were diagnosed with leukemia when you were seven years old. I know you've gone through three remissions. I know you have a super rare blood type- AB negative- and that's why you never found a bone marrow donor.” She rattled off the reasons, counting them on her fingers as she listed each one.

I was confused. “Are you a doctor?” Nothing about this was making sense.

“Ew, no way!” she said, sounding offended. As though implying she was a doctor was the biggest insult I could have thrown at her.

“Then who are you?” I asked bewildered.

“Well, I was a model.” The bubbly quality to her voice was replaced with an obvious bitterness that was so sudden it confused me. I heard her mumble something as an afterthought, but I couldn't quite make out what she said.

“Then what are you doing here?” I exclaimed, using every ounce of energy to pull myself into a sitting position. I was starting to get annoyed. Who was this girl? Why couldn't she just let me die in peace and solitude?

“Whoa, whoa, anger management!” She replied, her cheery voice returning. It didn't seem like she even acknowledged me. “You're mad, I get it, believe me. I was pissed too when I found out I was dying.”

I settled back against my pillow. “You're dying?”

“I was. I... got over it. Sort of.” She shrugged and started inspecting her nails.

“'Got over it'? What's that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

“Look,” she sighed, sounding frustrated. “This isn't about me. Tonight's all about you. Tonight is the night you die.”


  1. I liked the overall tone, despite some very minor editing problems (commas, nothing really major).

    Overall, I thought the writing was a little choppier, with a number of sentences of similar length one after the other, than I'd have liked, missing a greater depth of feeling to the end of life of this person. Maybe this has a little to do with the telling, more than showing, in the first few paragraphs. I think this has interesting potential and look forward to reading a tighter version.

    In one way, I think the first 3 paragraphs are almost unnecessary and there because they're well-written narration. Almost as though the scene would pop more if the first two lines were: 'Someone was walking down the hallway toward my room, and it wasn't a doctor. Doctors had no reason to visit my room; there was nothing more they could do for me.' or something to that affect, if that makes sense.

    I'm really interested in Glory and what she has in store for Gwendolyn and would definitely keep reading...

    [Maybe this is just me, I was a little caught off guard when I suddenly realized that 'I' was female...maybe that's just because I'm a male, reading it.]

  2. For the first few paragraphs, I wondered, if this person was dying, why did they have such well put together thoughts that lacked emotion.

    I thought for an 18 year old they were extremely mature to not want Mom there with them. The voice at the beginning didn't have a teen voice to me.

    Second paragraph - I don't think you need the whole paragraph to poetically describe the fact that death hung in the room. It was a little too much.

    Third paragraph - you are telling, things that later, the ditzy prom queen shares. So, you really don't need both.

    I'd have given up on being interested until the sound of the footsteps. Thats when the story starts for me. You did a great job introducing tension by drawing out the scene so we don't actually see who it is right away.

    Later, it surprised me when Gwendolyn got angry with the lady, because so far her voice was very even keeled, not even death was making her angry, but then this lady does? That didn't make sense.

    Overall I enjoyed their dialogue though. But Gwen just didn't seem like a girl barely hanging onto life. Maybe shorter thoughts. Make it seem like she really is on her death bed.

    Some repetitiveness. For example you don't need, I was confused. and then after her dialogue, Nothing about this was making sense. They both mean the same thing. So I'd look to tighten in those areas.

    But, I'm interested to find out who this lady is and what kind of offer she has for Gwen.

  3. I was intrigued at first, although I agree that the first three paragraphs are not really necessary; the second in particular felt overwritten. That said, the first paragraph did catch my attention.

    Gwendolyn's voice and her age didn't seem to quite match; in the first bit, she seemed older, and then as it went on she seemed younger. Also, as an 18-year-old myself, I can't imagine not wanting my mother at my bedside, but I was very moved by her sudden wish for her mother. That increased my sympathy tenfold for both Gwendolyn and her mother. (I feel really sympathetic for her mom though, since we already know Gwendolyn is going to die.)

    I didn't like Glory at first, but she grew on me as her voice got stronger. Very cute. :)

  4. I'm curious about where this story is going, but the writing could be tighter.

    There is some repetition that could be cut. I would delete the entire third paragraph since later the woman tells us this same thing with more details. And the description of the woman could be shorter. First you say she looks like she came from a fashion magazine, then like she should be attending prom, then later that she seems like a prom queen again. Only of one these examples would be enough. And maybe combine the descriptions of the woman; right now you are describing the woman before she enters the room and after she closes the door, and this seems like too much. We probably don't need every detail of hair, clothes and eyes at this point either.

    Also, this would be stronger if we were more inside the head of your character and could really feel everything she is experiencing. You are telling us what she thinks, but the emotion isn't quite there. And throughout the conversation with the woman, she doesn't seem to behave like someone who is about to die. I would think she would be weaker and not have the strength to argue with the woman.

    Watch out for overusing 'was.' There is at least one 'was' in every sentence of your first two paragraphs and throughout most of the rest. Your writing would be stronger if you reworded to get rid of as many of these as you can.

    A few other spots that stuck out at me:

    **Rationally, I knew it couldn't be my mother.** Why could it definitely not be her mother? Just because she asked her to stay away, doesn't mean she would. She hasn't left town has she? Maybe change this to make it less absolute, and show her getting her hopes up as the footsteps come closer.

    **My words froze on my lips as questions flooded my mind.** This doesn't seem like a natural reaction to me. I wouldn't think she would be that confused just because the woman knows her name. At this point, she could just be someone who works at the hospital. Once she starts revealing she knows more of her past, the confusion makes sense.

    Dialogue tags: Most of the time, 'said' is enough. And when only two people are in the conversation, not needed at all. I'd cut/change several of yours: she explained, I asked bewildered, I exclaimed, I demanded. Also, you can't 'sigh' words - make 'She sighed...' a separate sentence to fix the problem.

    Hope this helps.

  5. I like the potential this story has. I am wondering what is going to happen.

    With that said, I agree the writing needs to be tightened. I also think the second paragraph can be deleted.

    The other problem I had is the missing mother. I think most mothers would be at their child's side regardless whether the child wants them there or not. I know if it was my child that they could not pry me from the bedside with a crowbar. If you need parents absent, you could always have the mother go home for a second to freshen up or go downstairs to pick food from the fine selection offered at hospital's cafeteria. :)

  6. I'm really not sure about this one. I do think there is a lot of repetition, and the writing needs to be more concise.

    The second paragraph is definitely over done. Sometimes, less is more.

    Sixth Paragraph - "choked on my last gasp of life" this is a tad bit, well, maybe more than a tad, over-dramatic. : )

    My initial thought - start with the 4th paragraph and go from there.

    There is definitely potential in the story. Keep up the good work.


  7. When I began reading, I didn't get the sense that the person narrating was really eighteen. The voice seemed so much younger, like a girl barely stepping into her teens. That may be my inexperience with young girls minds though, since I only have sons and I'm a dad. But that was my impression, that the voice didn't seem to match the character. The assumption that Glory was a ditsy prom queen-type seemed a bit abrupt as well, but maybe thats not entirely out of character given the girl is only 18? I'm definitely interested in where this would go (I have some suspicions already), but I have to admit that it started out a bit slow and didn't really catch my attention immediately. So maybe it just needs a little bit prior to Glory walking in? Or maybe you could start with Glory walking in and then backtrack with descriptions of why the girl is there, how she is feeling about dying, sort of a mental quick musing about her situation.

  8. I feel like there's a fair bit of telling. More showing would feel more action-y.

    Also, I agree with an earlier comment about voice. The teen in my says, "wow, you're more mature than anyone in my high school."

  9. I was very interested in the story, but I bet you could eliminate almost every single dialogue tag: 'I said', 'she said', 'I exclaimed', 'I asked', 'she explained', 'I finally stammered', etc. Most of the time you don't need any of those.

    In some of those places, you could describe the emotion in front of the dialogue like you did in this paragraph:
    'I was confused. “Are you a doctor?” Nothing about this was making sense.'

    Also, I had no idea Glory was young until I read the description of her outfit. Maybe a brief mention of how old she looked when Gwendolyn first sees her might help.

    Otherwise, I'd like to find out what Glory can offer her.

  10. I think your story starts with the third graf...but there is a lot of editing you can do to tighten it up. I also believe that YA usually has characters younger than 18 - you might want to check.

    A soft clicking of heels (catching attention is sudden, so delete suddenly, plus it's an adverb, gotta be careful of those) caught my attention. It was a new sound amid the humming of the medical machinery (that was) keeping me barely alive. Someone walked(was walking) down the hallway toward my room. (, and it was not a doctor.) Doctors had no reason to visit my room; there was nothing more they could do for me.

  11. I agree with most of the minor edits here, with commas and adverbs, and I think you need to make Gwen's thoughts a bit more sleepy, I guess. She's dying-- I don't know if she'd have the energy to form complete thoughts and dialog like she is. I think you should introduce Glory's bubbly voice in her second piece of dialog, when she introduces herself, because I had a completely different voice for her in my head until I read your description farther down. I'm not a fan of the last sentence in the first paragraph, but other than that, I loved it. I liked the description in the second paragraph-- it really shows the reader what she feels. Great job!

  12. This sounds like an interesting story. The first paragraph really grabbed my attention.

    However, you might want to skip the second and third and cut directly (w/ a few changes) to the fourth paragraph. Little details about her illness could be woven into the story later w/out slowing the pace down.

    One thing that didn't work for me was the sick teen noticed a lot more than I would expect her to, given that she is on her deathbed. She notices an awful lot about the dress Glory is wearing when it is so dark. Also, I didn't understand why she got so angry at Glory so soon. She actually might have found her a welcome diversion and been more curious than angry.

    Other than those nit-picky things, I think this sounds interesting...keep going.

  13. I see everyone has already said most of what I was going to say, so I tried to find a few little things no one else mentioned.

    This line would read smoother if you rearranged the words: “created an almost halo around her head” to almost created a halo around her head.

    You have Glory reacting (over-reacting) to anger that Gwendolyn hasn’t really shown, she THINKS about her annoyance, but her words don’t sound particularly angry. Or are we supposed to think that Glory is reading her mind?

    And I know others mentioned this, but as a mother, I just can’t believe her mother would stay away from her bedside.

    I think this could be an interesting story, just tighten up your writing and go for it!

  14. *** Didn't read any other comments. Sorry if repeating anything already cleared up, etc...

    - My problem to start is the voice might sound too old or maybe formal for YA. But that might be compared to the YA books I've read. On the other hand, the girl's on her death bed. Dealing with a long disease would make somebody age beyond their years.

    And then also, the formal tone added to the vulnerable feel you gave Gwen.

    Pushing that aside. I really got snagged after Glory showed up.

    Nice work<:

    Good Luck!

  15. Haven't read the other comments -- here is my first take on this submission:

    I like it -- great potential! I liked your first sentence -- great opening. I like the visit by the mysterious stranger who "was" dying and isn't any longer and the promise that perhaps the same will be true for Gwen.

    Your writing is generally good but I do have a few nits -- you use a lot of dialogue tags that could be eliminated or replaced with something less repetitive.

    For example:

    “H-how do you know my name?” I finally stammered

    Since you have her stutter, telling us that she stammered is repetitive and unnecessary. You don't need a dialogue tag here since we know who is talking. I'd leave it out completely and have it like this:

    "H-how do you know my name?"

    “I know lots of stuff about you,” she explained

    Since she is explaining, you don't need to tell us she is doing so. Again, my advice would be to take out the 'she explained' and leave it at her statement. It's unnecessary.

    “Ew, no way!” she said, sounding offended

    Here, your word choice conveys everything the reader needs to know so you can leave out the "she said sounding offended. We can tell who is speaking so you don't even need a 'she said' here.

    “Then who are you?” I asked bewildered.

    Again, it is clear who the speaker is by the dialogue content. You don't need to tell us your MC is bewindered because her words convey that. Also, since the line of dialogue is a question, you don't need to use 'I asked' -- it is implied by the ?

    “Then what are you doing here?” I exclaimed

    Again -- no dialogue tag is necessary here as there is no confusion possible regarding who the speaker is. Just leave it as it is.

    “Whoa, whoa, anger management!” She replied,

    “'Got over it'? What's that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

    Same for both these - if you cut out all these dialogue tags and needless adverbs, your prose will be more succinct and will be a faster read.

    Other than that, I think this is a good start.

  16. Aside from the tightening comments made by others, I was "hooked" right away and your last sentence left me wanting more. Very intriguing!

  17. It sounds like an interesting premise, but I'm not sure it came together as a whole for me.

    1) The first sentence is in passive voice, and that kinda sets the tone for the whole piece. There's a girl dying. That should be active, and hit you hard. But the passive voice softens the blow so much that the impact is really lost.

    2) There are several parts of this that don't feel natural to an eight-year-old's point of view. Regardless that the narrator is telling us these events that happened in the past, the one part that really struck me was Gwen's reason for not asking for her mother. Saving someone from suffering is really an adult concept of self-sacrifice, and to understand and act on that at age eight felt a bit unbelievable to me. Plus, what kind of mother leaves her child alone in the hospital when she's so sick?

    3) The model's language threw me out of the narrative, too, because you didn't let us know this important fact about her sooner. Upon first glance, Glory seems like an angel, but her colloquialisms and slang kept confusing me as they didn't feel right for the character. Is there any way to introduce her identity right up front?

    4) The last line's great. I'm definitely intrigued.

    Good luck!

  18. I like the feel of this, but I agree with some others, it needs tighter writing and a more active voice, as opposed to passive.

    I think you should cut the first couple of paragraphs and jump right into the action.

    Good job, though, I'm intrigued!

    And @Lori- The protagonist here is eighteen, not eight :) This would be way too mature for an eight year old, but I do believe it as an eighteen year olds POV, especially under the circumstances.

  19. Okay, you set us up with narrative backstory. We have a dying kid. A kid dying alone. Odd. She might have fooled mommy, but she could never fool a nurse. And nurses don't like to let their patients die alone. I don't get a well-enough sense of place other than hospital to say how well monitored she is or not, but even before I worked ICU I never let a patient die alone. So, find an excuse to get rid of the nurse.

    Next point, the error many people make in hospital scenes. No one who has been in a hospital as much as a cancer patient has would make the mistake of thinking those feet belonged to a doctor. Doctors are in an out very quickly, once or twice a *day*. Nurses and techs, they run the floor. She'll think 'nurse' before 'doctor'.

    This is interesting material, a girl about to die, or is she?

    You need to do more showing, a little less telling, give more emotion, dying isn't easy at any age. Is she in agonal breathing? Let us feel what that would be like, to gasp in each breath as a n individual accomplishment. Is her heart fluttering? Palpating? Doing anything?

    Is she hooked up to machines? Hospitals like machines and monitors and they all have blaringly, annoyingly loud alarms on them. Give us setting, and agony, and then the hope of salvation.

  20. I generally like the idea of this, but the writing needs to be tightened up. The first two paragraphs didn't work for me. I agree that the voice seemed too put together and too old for an 18 year old. And there's little emotion--you could have just as easily been describing the water cycle. An 18 year old would be hysterical to be dying, I'd think.

    I do like the model character, and how she tries to be cryptic at first. I also like the mc's descriptions of her.

  21. I liked the premise of this a lot – a dying girl is visited by a mysterious stranger who implies that dying isn’t the end, after all – but I think the execution could use some work. Your main character seemed far too calm to me, even for someone who has resigned herself to death. She seems quite lucid for someone who is barely being kept alive. You say in the narrative that she doesn’t want to die, but I want to know what this means more specifically. Is she afraid? Is she thinking about all the things she will never be able to do? Is she angry? Is she in pain? The sentence about wanting her mother to hold her hand, for example, rang true for me and helped me to feel a stronger emotional connection with her.

    When Gloria first enters the room, the scene becomes a little disjointed. If a strange person entered your hospital room, would you fixate so much on what she looked like? Your POV character says that she thinks of her as “nothing more than a ditzy prom queen.” While this might be a good description in other contexts, it doesn’t make sense here. Why would a ditzy prom queen have snuck into her room at night (after visiting hours)? I get your character’s general sense of confusion, but it feels more told than shown. “I was confused” and “I said bewildered” do not get me inside your character’s head – I want to feel her emotions, but right now there is too much distance between her feelings and the narrative to make that possible.

    The last line really “hooked” me (to take a line from the secret agent contests). Gloria seems like an interesting personality, and I want to see where you are going with this. What does it mean to “get over” dying (hilarious line, by the way)?

  22. Like it overall! Great cliffhanger ending at the 1000-word mark. Like what you're setting up here. I'm upset that Gwen thinks that denying her mother the chance to be there at "the end" is somehow a good thing. Her mother would regret not being there the rest of her life. I think the scene does go on a little long for what it is, which is mainly inner monologue. I think there is some definite tightening you could do to move this along a little more, but it's not "slow" per se.

    Agree you don't need as many dialogue tags. Strip them back and you won't miss them. Also agree that the voice seems too sophisticated at times, though I can understand how 10 years of leukemia treatments might "age" one prematurely.

    Not my genre, but well done!

  23. I haven't read every review so I apologize if much of this is repetitious.

    What's right about the begining is that you plunge us into the story. There is no doubt what is at stake.

    What's wrong is "Little did I know, I was only half right." It's been over used and become cliche. Find a more original way to move forward.

    In the second paragraph, the word ambiance threw me. This is a generally positive word used to describe pleasant surroundings. A deathbed is anything but.

    After the opening paragraph the momentum slows down. The reason is the character is alone and explaining the circumstances. There is an old bit of writing advice that says don't write scenes where your main character is alone. This is why the story loses steam. It might have been better if a nurse had been in the room. Then you can show us how your main character is suffering by describing what the nurse is doing (a diaper change, changing linens while she's still in bed, blood draws, a fight over medicine that makes her puke until she's weak), and reveal her history of luekemia while they talk to pass the time.

    It felt like the room was slowly closing around me- but more than just the room, it was the building, the sky, the air. The world was ,slowly closing in around me. This is repetitive and a bit cliche. Find another way to say it (Death pressed heavy on my chest).

    Another cliche alert: does death always have to wear black. Surprise us. Put her in mod paisley and a big floppy hat. The rest you did well. It was nice that death was formerly a ditsy model.

    The light from the hallway created an almost halo around her head An almost halo? "Light from the hallway radiated behind her, making her wavy blond hair glow against the darkness."

    Last cliche alert: The storyline seems predictable. You'd better be ready to surprise us. It's going to feel like cold old hash if the main character and lady death become chums and lady death helps ease her transition to death. I hope your protagonist isn't going to fall for it and fights every step of the way. Afterall, conflict drives story.

  24. Like an earlier reviewer, I think this would have done jsut as well if it had started with the comment about doctors not comign to her room because there was nothignthey could do for her.

    Somewhere in there, early on, I woudl try to get her gender established. It does come kind of late. The name is less importantthan knowing up front if our protagonist is male or female.

    In my own opinion, she may be remarkably mature, but dying can take a lot of innocene from you, so that doesn't seem to be too far out of character.

    You mention "the disease" but doesn't name it in an early paragraph, and then rely on the Valley Girl to name it for you, which, if you're going to tell us about it, tell us. Name it.

    Overall, I liked the tone set, the hopelessness, settign the scene for what feels like a huge difference coming up.

    In particular, I liked the line "I stared at the ceiling above my bed and cursed the life that had cursed me in return." That sums up a teenager's bitterness at her own mortality very well,and if you edit anything out of this, don't remove that. also, the part about wanting her mother to tell her beautiful lies about how everything would be alright.

    In general, I can see a vampire bite coming, given the setting (night, hospital, dying girl), so if I'm right, no surprises there. However, it's a trope, not a cliche. It keeps getting re-used for a reason. It works.

    However, what I find myself wanting to know is "How is this story unique from others of its genre?" That is the challenge, to me, in the first 1000 words. Primarily, the voice is what stands out. I would keep on reading to see if you broke out of what I expected, since the voice was good enough to make me feel for the character.

  25. I think you should consider re-writing the first paragraph, not because anything is wrong with the writing (I think it's good, actually), but because it sounds way too similar to the prologue of Twilight. Ordinarily that wouldn't be much of a problem, but your genre is YA fantasy, and you don't want to be seen as derivative of a mega-seller. It would be a bit like starting a thriller with a museum curator being shot by an albino.