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Author Topic: Shadow Island
Zack Zyder
Member # 9162

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Here are my first thirty pages and a quick summary. This is a middle readers book that should have crossover appeal to older readers.

"Thirty miles off the coast is an island that is not on any map, and you will not find it, no matter how hard you try, unless you are meant to find it."

--from The Tragic History of Shadow Island by Cremin Bouchard

I stared at the fog drifting over the endless sea, the waves of the ocean and the dull peeling paint on the hull of the boat. Everything seemed to be a thousand different shades of gray: the shifting clouds of the overcast sky and the tall jagged boulders that stuck out of the ocean like so many stone knives stabbing at the sky. This year had to be different. I created a list of things in my head—things our family would do together. We could search for tide pools along the beach, we could rent kayaks, we could…

That’s when it first occurred to me. We were the only ones on the ferry.

I gazed off into the distance. Far, far away, almost lost in the haze, there stood the outline of a rocky coast. Against the fog it looked more like a dark threatening shape than a real island.


Eleven year old Nick Sircar is a loner who feels like an outsider in his family. His twin sister is the hard charging honor student who is strong on the outside and brittle within. Mom, a former model, is the neurotic center of attention.

Dad and mom have a secret. They take the family to Shadow Island in hopes of solving it. Once there the kids are on their own. Mom and dad start coming in late at night and leaving early in the morning, hiding their faces and wearing masks.

On the first day at Shadow Island Academy, the kids find out that they are the only two humans in a locale filled with creatures of the night. The novel progresses to a climactic moment where Nick can save his life by becoming a monster himself or risk it all but stay human.
(End of summary)

I would enjoy feedback on the first twenty pages. Let me know if you are willing.

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What is the person thinking when he's/she's staring? Every time I've ever written "seemed to be" I've always deleted it later. Consider changing it to "was". Also, try to eliminate the word "that" wherever possible, such as, "jagged boulders that stuck out of the ocean..."

This year different than what?

In the second paragraph, who is "we"--the main character and the frog, his/her family?

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To be honest, I was really attracted to your writing almost immediately. However, I nearly erased the description of the sky and sea until I got to 'That's when it first occurred to me. We were the only ones on the ferry.' I personally think it's a good setup and plot. It's very mysterious, but maybe start with the family being the only ones on the ferry. It sticks out the most-to me. That's just my suggestion.
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Zack Zyder
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I've been doing some rewriting. How does this sound?

"Shadow Island is not on any map. You will not find this island, unless it is your doom."

From The Dark Heart of Shadow Island by Edgar Bouchard


Fog drifted over the murky sea. Tall, jagged boulders stuck out of the ocean like stone knives and stabbed at the shifting darkness of the overcast sky. Too much gray. Like my life.
My twin sister, Amanda, had turned on me. She called me the baby, because I was born five minutes after her. She was the favorite. The smart one. The good-looking one. Amanda got Mom’s raven hair. I got Dad’s neon green eyes and wild imagination. Life sucked.
Waves pushed against the boat, churning foam and bubbles. My legs dangled in the salt water, but I kept a firm grip on a pole. I doubted that my family would care if I fell overboard.
A monster wave slammed the side of the boat and knocked my head against the metal pole. I saw stars.

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More poetic, artful, with stronger attitude and clearer, stronger reality imitation.

"Fog drifted over the murky sea." This sentence is ho-hum bland attitude compared to the next sentence and much of the fragment. When a first sentence ought as a best practice understatedly jump off the page and grab readers' imaginations. Consider spicing up the attitude so that; one, the subjective attitude of the first-person narrator signals this visual, tactile, aural sensation is the central character's perception; two, so that the emotional meaning ties into the "Too much gray" metaphor; three, foreshadows the action to come. //Scratchy fog simmered above the murky sea.//

"Like stone knives and stabbed at the shifting darkness of the overcast sky" Similes tend to ask more from readers' imaginations than metaphors. In any case, a comma is warranted between simile "like stone knives" and metaphor "and stabbed at." "Shifting" too is problematic for being a gerund, a present participle verb used as a noun or adjective modifier and signaling indefinite time. "Overcast" is on the indefinite side too: Socked in? High altitude overcast? Low? //ocean--stone knives stabbed into the unsettled darkness of the lowered sky.//

Several sentences stand out to me as less-artful-than-might-be-desired explanation, tell, conclusions that feel unsettled among the otherwise strong reality imitation portrait painted: "Like my life." "Life sucked." and "I saw stars." I feel they would be more artful if strongly and clearly implied and inferrable rather than directly stated. Best practice to let me, let readers interpret meaning, especially emotional meaning.

For example, "Too much gray." A few well-chosen emotional descriptors would say as much, if not more than, as "Like my life." //Too much monotonous, bleak, routine gray.//

"Life sucked." Explains what the paragraph means. For stronger impact spice up the antagonizing causes of a terrible life twin sister Amanda causes, maybe omit the paragraph's first sentence, and begin the next sentence with //My twin sister Amanda called me the baby because . . .// So that the emotional meaning is implied and readers may infer for themselves.

Grammar faults: When a pronoun phrase is a definite modifier of a noun, essential, the noun isn't bracketed with commas. "My twin sister, Amanda," nor is subordination conjunction "because" preceded by a comma in most cases, not this one in any case: "the baby, because".

"My twin sister, Amanda, had turned on me." This sentence is murky. Though its following paragraph develops the meaning of its causes, the effect "had turned on me" is given beforehand.

"I saw stars." "Saw" is a narrator summary verb. a tell, static from narrator mediating the visual and more sensation's meaning. No doubt that the "I" protagonist-narrator is who sees the stars. Consider just describing the visual, perhaps tactile, maybe aural sensation serves the function. //Jagged stars stabbed the gray gloom. Knockout bells rang.//

This sentence is also murky: "Waves pushed against the boat, churning foam and bubbles." "Churning" could be interpreted as either a present participle verb or a gerund, asking too much of me to figure out the meaning from insufficient clues. Wave action against a boat hull churns foam and bubbles. Okay. "Churning foam and bubbles," if a gerund appositive phrase, modifies "boat." Where the waves are the actual doer of churning foam and bubbles. Otherwise, "churning foam and bubbles" is grammatically incomplete, hanging out in nothingness by its lonesome self. Rare to see a dangling participle follow a main clause, though not unheard of. //Waves churned foam and bubbles against the boat.//

I am intrigued, though, from what's given and what my imagination projects. The novel's title Shadow Island and the chapter title "The Ferry Ride" do artful service, too. At the very least and most important for engaging readers, this fragment's emotional equilbrium is upset from interruption of the first-person narrator's routine bleakness. He's on his way by design or unwittingly to Shadow Island and its ominous promises: a Milieu-type narrative emphasis in Orson Scott Card's MICE quotient principle.

[ June 07, 2014, 05:56 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I like both openings, but for different reasons. What I do like in the first, and which is lacking in the second, is the foreshadowing. What I like about the second is that it is more firmly fixed in the protagonists POV. Having said that, both openings need a lot more development and thought IMHO--particularly the second version.

First person, immediate POV is a perilous POV in my opinion. I know, I wrote a whole story in it and then spent hours making certain all thoughts, sensations and observations were 'immediate' and not past tense. A chore.

The tag at the end of the first paragraph--"Too much gray. Like my life." is a classic example of tell in story writing. Tell is not always a bad thing, despite the protestations of some, but in this instance the immediate POV makes it imperative that you 'show' the reader that the protagonist feels their life is grey, dull, monotonous and so on.

I think you are on the right track for an opening that will both entice the reader by its style as much as its content. The interest is piqued, but I would like to see a slightly longer narrative distance and slightly more subtle foreshadowing.


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