Author Topic: Seeking Beta readers and Review. VICTIMLESS (Opening Chapter, 2500 words)  (Read 287 times)

Offline Zaheer547

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Hey there! Here's my opening chapter to my novel. It has been edited for a few more rounds since I'd last uploaded it, including by a few professionals. I am now seeking beta readers to read and review my entire novel. You can pop me a Private Message on this forum and we can discuss from there.
For those of you that will just have a read here, feel free to leave a reply. I appreciate any comment or criticism.

Chapter 1

I cut myself - off of the extending thorns of the trees in my path, not in the other way if that's what you thought.

Twigs break beneath my feet as the moonlight sets in and shines through the holes of the top of the forest roof. Vast contorted trees - as if they had come straight out of a horror movie - stand tall on my way home on this late evening. (Or early morning.)

I had lost track of time after taking one too many shots of tequila. Yeah, underage drinking, whatever. It was all that I could have, anyway. Super drunk me is not a pleasant person and I have to arrive home on the sober end of the scale. Especially with the typical brown family questions: With who? Where? What time? You know the rest.
I look up at the bits of the black sky that I can see; I didn’t intend to be out this late. Abuela also usually sets a curfew on weeknights. Fortunately, my phone died, so I’m saved until I reach home. A bit of guilt makes its way into my chest. She’s always been there for me after Mom and Dad... She raised me like her own daughter. She’s made me into half the person I am today.

And I, like the other half idiot I am, decided to take the shorter route home through the forest. Like in those cliche horror movies; some idiot girl always takes the forest because she’s that desperate to run away from the murderous killer. Those girls are usually blondes, so what does that say about me?

Thankfully, and very graciously with only one cut from the plants, I finally reach the other side of the forest. Safe and sound - which is rather surprising because I have this feeling like I’ve been watched the entire night.

Crossing the street, I dread opening the door to meet Abuela’s face and see her mad at me. I hesitate at first and consider sneaking up through my bedroom window, but I have to take this like a man - as the patriarchs would say. 
I open the door and it hits me like a truck; The day I first moved in with Abuela. Her sweet face losing tears as she grasped me in her arms.

No, get out of your head.

On the other end of the door stands a sweet face with a big frown and holds a whisk in the air. Next to her, a heavenly smelling bowl of cookie batter.
“Mijita, you better have a good explanation for this. I don’t work my nalgas off for you to be giving me this behaviour!” she says with Latina anger.
 
“Abuela, I can explain,” and my sentence drifts off when I catch the wall clock. 12:15. Just over an hour past curfew.

“I had to start baking to calm myself,” her voice quietens down, “...you know you can’t be doing stuff like this. Y especialmente cosas como esta, I get worried.”

I’m taken aback at first. No massive scolding, no death stares Yeah the angry tone but this is nothing compared to the usual. Strolling towards her, I head into the heaven that is a Mexican’s kitchen. Every time I see her face-to-face I get the urge to bring up memories that make me want to tear up, but truthfully, I’d like to say I’ve gotten used to it..
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was so excited to see Mom and Dad after I got home from school but all I remember was the yellow tape. After that, things got complicated. I’ve been practically raised by my Abuela and she’s taught me everything I know.

“Abuelita.. I’m really sorry. The movie started late and my phone died and I tried to come back quicker through the forest but I got lost.”

“Segura que fue una película?” She stops in her tracks and looks at me dead in the eyes. Her beautiful eyes stare straight into my soul and burn a fire at my wall. The mix of red and gray hair, the curvy wrinkles, the rosy chubby cheeks and caramel tortilla skin just like mine create a person that I cannot put up to lie to.  I’ve tried before.
She sighs, “it’s okay, mi amor. I was just worried - not angry, otherwise the cookies wouldn’t turn out okay. Just don’t do it again okay. Especially if you run into the police. As long as Leigh was there, right?”

“Yeah, Leigh was there,” I say. Abuela has always been so fond of Leigh. Appreciated that I had made a good friend this time. “The party was pretty shit.” That’s a half-lie considering Leigh left about halfway through.

“Hey,” she takes her whisk and holds it up towards me letting some of the batter fly, “watch your language.”

“Lo siento,” I say wanting to die of laughter at her version of a knife threat

“It’s alright. Here help me. Get the chocolate chips.” We’ve been baking together since I was in diapers. I have this great memory of when the entire bowl of batter ended up on my head and dripped down all over my face. It was not lumpy at all and the peaks were stiff - so that was a plus side.

"Okay all done," I say pushing the last form of cookies into the oven. "Let’s get to bed, Abuela." Hopefully my version of an apology helping her with the cookies sits well.

"Sí. Let’s go. Do this one more time and I’m going to freak.”

“Yeah yeah, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”

“And it’s a Wednesday. School night, ¡idiota!”

The night slowly creeps in and as I lay in bed I notice how, when the light from the hallway shines, the door frame actually needs another paint job, and so does the window frame and so do my walls. I go on like this until procrastination is not in my mind anymore and I can finally fall off to sleep. Everything is peaceful.
Obviously that doesn’t last long when the urge to pee hits me.

As I enter the bathroom, I hear it.

“Don’t freak out,” a voice pierces the air.

If I tell you, I am literally going to lose all my shit because I jump and turn around frantically looking for the voice.
“Hey head, that’s not you right?” I shake it off and relieve myself.

Entering my room again, except this time with little to no footsteps, I can’t help but feel something in the air. I’m not one to usually get scared from such minimal things, especially when they throw words around me like ‘PTSD’ or ‘therapy’, but this time it's different.
I go to look outside the window. Slowly, I crank the glass up and the cold wind already starts to make its way through my clothes and cements itself deep into my bones. I can feel my heart wanting to rip through my sternum as fear slowly builds.  Standing several feet above ground, I stick my head out and watch the San Diego darkness with the hopes to just get some air and calm myself down. I’ve had one hell of a night but I can’t help but wonder why I feel like I’m being drawn outside. “Stop it. This is why those blond girls always go out in the horror movies. What’s that sound? I better go check it out and die. Did you hear that? We should go check it out and die... Just no.”

“When we’re done with this, remind me to figure out what a movie is. Sounds interesting.”

“Abuela!-”

“No, no, no, no, keep it down,” the voice hushes. I can barely make it out but it sounds human. I turn around without hesitation but I see nothing… and only hear the voice that cut me off instantaneously as if I’d done it without knowing. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and clench my fists. If I’m dying tonight, I’m making sure I punch the living demon out of whoever might be here. “I won’t hurt you. Just follow me outside so we can talk.” the voice drifts off. I don’t hear the window closing, I don’t hear any footsteps, I hear nothing. When I open my eyes, I see nothing out of the ordinary.

Damnit,.

Why can’t I be normal? And why on Earth am I actually going outside now? I definitely heard a voice that wasn’t mine. In fact, I can even make it out to be a guy.
“Well… here goes nothing.”
As if I’m drawn to the outside unwillingly, which is why I slip my pocket knife under my sleeve, I climb down through the window , and plop off the roof landing in the street. Right between the house and the forest that I just came through.  I gaze up to see that the light in Abuela’s room is out.

The air temperature has dropped and the icy wind strikes me as if subtly dull needles stab my skin leaving the tiny goosebumps that race across my skin in its wake.
Darkness surrounds me and I use my hands to try to move leaves out of the pathway. Doing this allows some moonlight to poke through which gives me just enough to see what’s ahead of me. With every foot forward, I make sure I step very lightly to ensure no echo comes with it.
I let my hand feel to the left side of my jean into the pocket when I want to kill myself more than anything out here; I didn’t put my phone on charge.
A movement to the right of the tree line catches me and I turn to face it. I walk slowly deeper into the forest until the street lights can no longer illuminate my path and I’m deep into the woods - again. My heart is racing. Deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. I try to calm myself down.

They say you have two natural responses in a fearful situation; fight or flight. For me, a third one kicks in: freeze. I’m just standing here. Helpless. I’m not one to scream so this death would go unheard but I’m sure as hell I’ll go down with a fight.

“I really don’t want to get eaten today.”

Strength builds in me. I let the knife slide down into my palm and my fingers firmly grasp the handle. Adrenaline becomes indifferent to the blood in my veins. It pumps through me giving me the energy and ferocity of a wolf - a fitting animal noting the setting that I’m in.

“Hi,”

My arm swings without me even looking and I’m waiting for the impact or even a scream. When that doesn’t happen, I open my eyes faster than I’ve ever recalled myself doing so. Nothing.

“Surely my alcohol tolerance is a lot more than this.” I tell myself. I shrug it off and lift my leg up to make the next step back home when a sudden laughter fills the air. It’s so distinguishable from the background sounds of the dark and mysterious forest. The laughter is eerie with a sense of mischief behind it. El Diablo - first thought that comes to my mind. My heart starts racing again. Pounding actually. I can feel the blood rushing through my body this time which shortens my breaths. Contrary to what I normally feel, I’m absolutely terrified.

“You’re not drunk, Chelsea Valentina Pérez,” the voice says again. Someone around seventeen or eighteen years old.  A voice not too deep. Light and definitely male.

“Okay, it’s not my mind because ‘it’ will definitely know that I go by as just Chelsea.” A sudden silence fills the air creating a dreadful tension between my breathing as I try to look for the source of the voice.

“Over here.” I turn to look at the edge of the opening where the darkness meets the moonlight.

Slowly, particles of light start to gather together and cascade down taking form as they fall to the floor. It reveals a leg’s shape first. Then an arm’s next to it. My eyes trace the body parts until they all join into one solid body of light that gleams and glitters under the moon.
The bluey white fades out leaving a translucent silhouette of a boy. I stare blankly and watch as his eyes form and shine grey as they stare directly at me. As he moves, light particles dust off him and reform again creating his body form. He nonchalantly whisks his left hand back and forth between the dark forest area and the bright lunar opening and I see as his body disappears without the presence of light and reforms when he pulls it back in a truly mesmerizing sight. The thing slowly floats towards me without even setting foot on the ground.

I rush forward and hurle my fist for him but the knife goes right through leaving my arm looking mutilated as it passes right through his torso. I stare up in terror - and wonder because now, I don’t think my un-sobriety has anything to do with this..

“Un...fantas...you’re a ghost,” I say in shock and disbelief.

“Yeah, and you’d be surprised what other names I have but sure, let us proceed with Ghost.” This time, I catch almost an accent of a high, polished English. Not British, but just fancy.

“...What?”

“Well I’ve never actually met a human before but-” he says and pauses for a minute before continuing, “I need your help.”

“...What!” I shout this time. “Ay, Chelsea, qué me pasó? How much have I had to drink?” I whimper out and stumble a few steps back.

“Please listen,,” his voice gets stern and worrisome as he turns back looking at something beyond the trees, ”you need to come with me. Now. I’ll explain everything on the way but I fear they may have found me and I desperately need assistance in finding my-“

“No, no, no. This is all just in your head, Chelsea,” I try to calm myself down by closing my eyes but it doesn’t work and I snap them open to get a look at him again to make sure I’m not dreaming. “What do you mean you need my help? Who’s they? What the hell is going on?”

“Chelsea,” his face frowns and he rushes towards me floating through the air without laying a foot on the ground. I dash backwards without lifting an eye of the marvel that I’m seeing.

“Dude, stop. This is really freaking me out!” It feels odd saying that to what seems to be a form of PTSD that my psychologist warned me about.

“Chelsea, we don’t have time for this! I fear we may already be too la-“ his voice cuts off and the sound of the forest filters back in and the first beam of moving light wanders this way accompanied with a low buzz. “Hide!”

Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Seeking Beta readers and Review. VICTIMLESS (Opening Chapter, 2500 words)
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2020, 05:53:15 AM »
First thoughts, for what they're worth.

I find it hard to believe this has already been looked at by two professionals and adjusted accordingly!

Your opening sentence makes very little sense. It's not great when a writer starts off on the wrong foot, assuming they want their audience to continue reading.

Your second sentence isn't much better. You can't even decide what time of day it is - and the twigs breaking under your feet 'as the moonlight sets in' makes it sound as if they break because of the moon setting.

My advice - ditch them both and start the story with sentence number 3. At least that's clear and to the point.

The in-your-face narrative where you address the reader directly can work, up to a point. But it quickly becomes tiresome to read. Something to consider as the story progresses. It's story we want - not backstory or being party to every thought that goes through the author's mind. The author should remain invisible at all times. Let the story speak for itself.

Quote
I open the door and it hits me like a truck; The day I first moved in with Abuela. Her sweet face losing tears as she grasped me in her arms.
No, get out of your head.

This kind of nonsense would normally be enough to make me stop reading - and if I needed any more encouragement to throw your book against the wall, the scene with grandma baking cookies - followed by a flashback to her parents' death - would clinch it. It tells me nothing about your main character and everything about your lack of originality as a writer. There has to be a more subtle way of portraying the family dynamics and your character's history than this.

You spend far too much time trying to manipulate the reader's feelings or recording the rather mundane elements of her home life instead of getting on with the story. An opening chapter has to give some idea of what the plot is going to be about - and it has to leave a lasting impression. Yours seems mostly to be about a rebellious teenage girl's relationship with her grandmother. That's hardly gripping.

There's no doubt you can write, but so far what you have written didn't grab my attention or make me curious enough to investigate further. This needs cutting down to the bone.

Good luck.

Offline writer99

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Re: Seeking Beta readers and Review. VICTIMLESS (Opening Chapter, 2500 words)
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2020, 11:34:36 AM »
I echo PIJ1951's comments. I'll keep my advice short and simple.

Go back to basics and learn how to write a sentence!

(Do let us know who these "professionals" are by the way. They both clearly had an off day by the look of it.)

Offline Idioume

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Re: Seeking Beta readers and Review. VICTIMLESS (Opening Chapter, 2500 words)
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2020, 08:57:40 AM »
Opening line comes off as indulgent and poorly and as a cheap grab for attention:

"I cut myself - off of the extending thorns of the trees in my path, not in the other way if that's what you thought"

If you are doing something we readers are not expecting there is no need to pause and tell us that you are. This is the author being intrusive and breaking the experience of the work, not the narrator's natural voice. If you want to have an intrusive narrator place them in a space that doesn't spoil the experience.