Monday, August 18, 2014

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Allen Rev 2

Name: Kathleen S. Allen
Genre: YA dark contemporary

I don’t do well in crowds.

The shoving and jostling, sends me into panic mode. I should be able to get through this, no one else is panicking about their first day of high school. Old friends embrace one another, lockers bang, laughter rings out but it all fades to a distant echo as my heart speeds up and my palms sweat. Eager to get away from the crowd, I spot an open door up ahead.

Please don’t let me pass out.

The bubble of panic lodges in my throat and swells. Footsteps echo behind me. Through the door is the sweet scent of rain.

Holding my bag in front of me like a shield, I rush out. My gaze darts searching for a place to hide. The rain-soaked air cools the hot bubble. The bell rings for first hour and I breathe easier.

Welcome to the first day of high school, Zoey. Congratulations, you made it a whole ten minutes.

Careful not to get too wet, I duck under the eaves to watch the rainwater gush from the ends of the half-broken gutter pipe onto the dirt making muddy puddles at my feet. Glass panoramic windows afford me a view into the school. But if I can see in, my classmates can see out. I catch the gaze of a girl staring at me and I duck to scoot around a corner.

I jump when I encounter a boy who smiles the kind of smile I wish I could keep in my pocket. I blink, caught in its brilliance. Frozen deer-girl, blinking stupidly at this boy. His smile deepens and his bright blue eyes mesmerize me.

The overhang doesn’t afford much shelter. A sharp crack of thunder in the distance draws my attention. I don’t notice him reaching for me until he already has the strap of my leather satchel in his hand, tugging on it. I’m tempted to give it to him, all he’ll find in it is an empty wallet with the picture of a girl I like to imagine is my sister and my book of Poe poetry. Still, I’m not sure why he’d want it, so I tug back. He pulls harder, jerking me closer to him.

My gaze drifts to the ground wondering what this boy wants. Lifting my eyes to his, he smiles.

“Stay out of sight,” he says. “Or they’ll find us.” His soft, soothing voice surrounds me like a warm blanket fresh from the dryer. I long to cocoon myself inside his words. My grip tightens on the strap of my bag and he finally lets go. I stagger backwards and press myself against the wall of reddened-bricks. And my heart beats so loud I’m sure he can hear it, but he gives no sign he can.

His tall, lanky frame lounges against the building. “I like the rain, too. It doesn’t rain much here so we have to enjoy it when it does.”

I press my back into the rough texture of the cool bricks and relax my hold on the strap.

The rain pummels the overhang and gathers into fat red drips at the edge. “It was night and the rain fell; and, falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood. And I stand in the morass among the tall lilies, and the rain fell upon my head-and the lilies sighed one unto the other in the solemnity of their desolation.’”

“Edgar Allan Poe,” he says. “And the red is from paint on the roof.” He inspects me as if he’s never seen a Poe-spouting girl before. “Do you write it or read it?”

“Both,” I say.

He opens his mouth like he’s about to say something. Instead, he runs a hand through dark curly hair too long to be considered fashionable, unless he’s in a rock band. His gaze sweeps from the top of my head to my muddy Doc Marten’s and back up again to rest on my eyes.

I blink and his grin expands. “Freshman?”



“New York.”

I’ve already shared more than I usually do. Does he know about me? Do I have a scarlet letter emblazoned on me like Hester Prynne? Yes, I’m the same girl you saw in the news, I’m that Zoey Walker. Maybe I should’ve changed my name along with my address. My hands shake more than usual as I wait for the question everyone asks: what was it like to be kidnapped and held prisoner for six months? But instead, his eyes turn back to the now-muddy parking lot. My shoulders relax.

He doesn’t know about me.

The scent of the rain seeps through my skin and I want to keep it there as a memory for future rain-starved days. His cool gaze is on me again. His intense stare rattles me and my eyes dart to the left side, but there’s only another building, another brick wall. A nook carved prison just big enough for a small goth girl. I search his face as he scrutinizes me.

“Hold still.”

He reaches out a hand to my hair. I freeze and close my eyes, anticipating the first touch of his long fingers. I shiver breathless as he swipes at the top of my hair. A finger flicks at my cheek.

“Got it,” he says. I open my eyes blurry with visions and he shows me a tiny insect. “This critter was in your hair.” He puts the bug in the grass and it skitters away grateful for a stay of execution.

“You didn't kill it.”

He steps back and leans against the wall again.“Why should I? It’s not its fault your hair got in its way---.” He smiles. “---I’m Rowan.”

He expects me to say my name but I remain silent. When you know a person’s name, you have control over them. And no one has control over me.

Not anymore.

He leans one foot on the wall. My hand aches with longing. One touch. One touch and I’ll be lost. I make a sound halfway between a gasp and a moan. His gaze is kind on mine.

“You okay?”

I try to keep it inside but I have to get out of here or I won’t be responsible for my actions. This can’t be happening again.

I promised.

He turns toward me, blocking me in. I reach out a hand wanting to feel his skin against my palm. Needing to feel it. But before I connect, the door opens. We tip our heads to the side like dogs listening for their master’s voice. A youngish teacher with black-framed glasses too big for her face peers at us from around the corner of the building.

“I thought I saw someone come out here. Back inside, both of you. The bell for first hour already rang.” Her nasal, high-pitched voice grates on my nerves.

The rain plasters her hair to her head. Her curls droop like her expression. Little does she know she’s my savior. Breathing a sigh, I nod.

Rowan shrugs. He takes his time extracting himself from his position against the building. In a leisurely stride he walks to the door. I rush past him to stand in the hallway, breathing hard to focus on calming down.

“Get to class.”

She reaches up to smooth her wet hairdo and makes a face. Her brown and white flower-print dress hangs on her frame. She pushes her too heavy glasses up with one finger. “Well, why aren’t you going?”

Neither one of us moves. She sighs and holds out a palm to me. “Schedule.”

I reach into the top of my right boot and pull out the folded piece of soggy paper and hand it to her. She holds it between two fingers as if it’s contaminated and squints at it. “Library is down the hall, Miss Walker. Find it.” She gives the schedule back and I refold it and stuff it back inside my boot.

I’m not sure if I’ve been dismissed or not. I hesitate and glance at Rowan. His crooked grin shows his amusement.


  1. Hi Kathleen,
    Wow-- you have added a lot of tension to these pages that wasn't there before.

    A couple of things...
    I think that if you are writing in first person, it's important to sound like the character. There are times when she says stuff that doesn’t sound like a teenage goth girl.

    I’m also confused by her and trying to figure it out. If she was kidnapped and held in captivity, then I would think that she would not want him to be touching her, but it seems like she does. I am definitely confused by the mixed signals that she seems to be giving and the hints that your writing is giving, like “I promised.” As a reader, I felt more confused than I wanted to be, maybe a little too frustrated. The tension is definitely there, and intriguing to me, but for my taste, I want to be able to figure out a little of the background mystery in order to be hooked.

    Love the premise of a girl who was held hostage having to return to school. I definitely want to know about her and I think many other people would be fascinated, as well!

  2. Hi Kathleen-

    I am so glad you added subtle hints about the story.
    I think the premise is a great idea. Although I'm not feeling the first line and second paragraph. Not doing well in crowds is something that happens to many people and so doesn't seem that much of an attention grabber. Maybe try something like:

    Please don't let me pass out, I say to myself as I look for a way to escape the crowd. The bubble of panic lodges in my throat and swells. Footsteps echo behind me. I spot an open door and smell the sweet scent of rain. Holding my bag in front of me like a shield, I rush out. My gaze darts searching for a place to hide. The rain-soaked air cools the hot bubble.
    I don't do well in crowds. The shoving and jostling, sends me into panic mode. ETC... Or something like that.

    It makes me want to keep reading to find out what exactly is happening.

    I like how you cut down on a lot of the fluff. But I think it left some of the flow a bit clipped. Many of the sentences feel choppy, especially at the beginning. Certainly a reader doesn't want sentences that are a paragraph long on it's own but perhaps joining some of the sentences.

    All in all I like the changes that you've made and it is much easier to follow and more interesting. I think you've got something here.


  3. Still struggling with first paragraph, new one:

    The sharp jangle of the warning bell propels the swarm to move, with me dead center.
    Please don’t let me pass out.
    The shoving and jostling sends me into flight mode and I scurry forward ignoring the friends who embrace one another after a long summer absence. The slamming and banging of the locker doors clashes with their laughter. It all fades to a distant echo as my heartbeat speeds up, my palms sweat and a hot bubble of anxiety lodges in my throat. Frantic to get away, I spot an open door up ahead and race toward it, the sweet scent of rain embraces me as I rush out eager to escape the throng. Holding my bag in front of me like a shield, I search for a place to hide. The rain-soaked air cools the hot anxiety bubble and when the bell rings for first hour, I breathe easier.
    Welcome to the first day of high school, Zoey. Congratulations, you made it a whole ten minutes.

  4. This new revision captures the tension of a first day of school for a girl with some serious emotional trauma, but I'd like to feel it even more. Overall, this flows much better and the character of Rowan is not so "dangerous," he seems nice and is someone we can root for. I do miss the first line of poetry that you've cut out, and still think it is a bit sudden for her to just quote poetry without having said anything else first.

    Otherwise, I really like how this is shaping up.

    1. Thanks for your help (and everyone's too). It's so much stronger now. I even have a newer first paragraph I like better.

      My heartbeat races, my palms sweat, and my stomach is in knots as I try and maneuver my way through the throng. A hot bubble of anxiety lodges in my throat as I plaster myself up against the wall trying to avoid the crush of bodies swarming to get to class. I spot an open door up ahead and rush toward it, head down, barreling through the crowd with shouts of, “Hey, watch it” behind me. The sweet smell of rain embraces me as I run outside. The rain-soaked air cools the hot bubble of panic and when the bell rings for first hour, I breathe easier.
      Welcome to the first day of high school, Zoey. Congratulations, you made it a whole ten minutes.

  5. I agree with all of the notes above, especially Melanie Meehan's note about the narrative sometimes switching between the voice of an authentic young girl and then your own voice (as the author who wants to put your own colorful spin on things).

    Overall, I love the pacing. From your first entry to the current one, it moves a lot faster and I love the brevity as you move from one place to another with Zoey. I do think, however, as someone pointed out above, that some of your sentences ended TOO clipped as a result.

    I also really like that within these first five pages, you've now made mention of Zoey's situation and what makes her (and her story) so unique. That's absolutely imperative, and I think you should give yourself a little pat on the back for nailing it.

    Best to you on the road ahead!

  6. Great job on the revision Kathleen! I like your new paragraph, and the one you just added above. Perhaps combining them both - I like the feel of a regular old high school, and her trying to talk herself into it (in this original revision), but I like the action and drama of the new paragraph, too.

    I am so intrigued by the story, which is just what you want! But it feels a bit rushed in the middle - when she meets Rowan and reads the poetry. I like Rowan more now, he doesn't seem creepy, but you could take a couple more sentences to draw out the attraction that she feels, and give us a bit more before she suddenly recites Poe.

    I'm also curious about the touching - but it does signal paranormal to me. If this is not your attention, be careful there.

    Overall, fabulous job, and good luck!

  7. Hey Kathleen,

    I'll give more detailed notes soon, but I had to pop in with a quick HOORAY - what a leap forward.

  8. Hello Kathleen,

    Congrats on your revision. I’m feeling a better focus shaping up here. Nice grounding in the opening. From your first draft, I’ve appreciated your way with words, a memory for future rain-starved days makes me sigh every time. Ahhh.

    Here are some food for thought suggestions and questions:

    • I don’t think you need Please don’t let me pass out. You’ve shown us her anxiety.
    • Let the holding the bag up as a shield be a direct effect from the panic bubble. The line about sweet rain zaps the tension a little. Maybe find a new place for it.
    • Why does the gaze of one girl cause Zoey to head outside?
    • Instead of telling us Rowan’s blue eyes mesmerized her, try working in some of your nice figurative language here.
    • Why is Zoey tempted to give her bag to Rowan?
    • How does Rowan know Zoey likes the rain? Use of “too.”
    • The Poe quote still feels a tad unmotivated to me. I really think the book needs to make an appearance to be used as a springboard for that beat.
    • The Dog’s listening for their master’s voice – comparative isn’t as lyrical as your other language. I’d go for a more poetic image. If you’re meaning to foreshadow the kidnapping trauma here with that phrase, I understand why you’d want to keep it.

    The major changes you’ve made allow you to have fun finessing the flow and consistency of voice in subsequent versions. Well done on upping the tension. I’m still not sure if Rowan is potential friend or foe and what the purpose of their meeting is. It has me asking questions which is good. I am super curious to know about the kidnapping and how her past will drive this story.

    The last bit you put in the comments has a great feel to it. You’re cooking!

    Thank you for sharing your work. Have a blast bringing it to the next level.