Monday, September 15, 2014

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Meehan Rev 1

Name: Melanie Meehan
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Title: Dancing in the Rain

The spiraling bat connected with my shin just below my knee. Thwack. Was it a hard throw? Not really-- it wasn’t like my six year-old brother could hurl a plastic bat with that much force. But, somehow, that bat hit my leg in such a way that I couldn’t breathe because my shin throbbed so hard.

At first, no one noticed that I had crumpled. Max was running to the makeshift first base in our back yard. Dad and Uncle John pretended that they couldn’t hold onto the ball and the rest of the kids cheered and whooped for Max. Even my mother and Aunt Michelle clapped for Max from their patio seats. I clutched my leg on the grass behind home plate.

“You’re ten,” I said to myself, blinking away tears. “You’re too old to cry.” But those tears pushed right through the walls of my eyes and streamed down my face, leaving dark circles on my pink Red Sox t-shirt.

I tried to block them with my hands, but I needed to keep my hands around my leg because I didn’t want it to move.

“You okay, Kelly?” my cousin, Jack asked. He had been catching, so he was closest to the collision of my leg and the bat.

I nodded, but I couldn’t speak. He held out his hand to help me up, but no way was I ready to move. Whack, whack, whack, someone was hammering on the inside of my leg with a sledgehammer.

“C’mon, Kel,” Dad said, jogging across the yard. “You’re up at bat. Shake it off.”

I squinted up at him. The late afternoon sun blinded me and red spots appeared when I blinked. Words still got stuck in my throat.

Dad’s brow furrowed and he turned toward Jack. “Did the bat hit her that hard?”

“Not really.” Jack shrugged. “Max just tossed it behind him. It wasn’t like he whipped it or anything. Plus, Max uses the plastic one.”

Dad knelt down. “Can you take your hands off so I can see?”

I lifted my hands, wincing as my leg shifted.

“That’s from the bat?” Dad’s voice sounded surprised. A bump was purpling underneath my hands.

I nodded. Then, when Dad went to touch it, I hit his hand. I didn’t mean to. My hand just jumped up and blocked him, swinging as it went.

“Don’t touch it,” I said through clenched teeth.

Max remembered to call time out and jogged over from first base.
“What happened?” he asked.

“You can’t throw the bat after you hit,” Dad answered. “You whacked Kelly in the shin. See the bump?”

Max blinked. The veins stood out on his neck and his shoulders tightened. “I’m sorry, Kel.” His voice cracked.

My cousins sauntered toward home plate. I hated having everyone gather around me and my face burned, so I was relieved when they seized the opportunity to get drinks. But my leg still pounded too much to stand up and walk away.

“How’d she get that big a bump from Max’s toss?” one of them asked.

“I think she’s legit,” Jack said. “Her leg has a big bruise.”

“He didn’t even throw the bat. She just wants attention.”

I recognized Tyler’s voice and he was lucky that I couldn’t get up and punch him. He hated the fact that we were the same age and I could play most sports as well as he could. I could hit a baseball farther, a tennis ball harder... I could run faster, do more push-ups... How dare he suggest I was faking it?

“Can you walk?” Dad asked.

“I’ll try.” I wanted to get out of that circle of people staring at me. Dad helped me hobble to a chaise on the patio, away from the baseball game. Mom brought me some ice.

When she saw my bump, her eyebrows lifted high. “That’s from the plastic bat?” she asked. She turned to Dad. “How close are you letting the kids get to the batter?”

“She wasn’t that close,” Dad snapped. He took a breath. “She was several feet away. And it was Max. It’s not like he can throw that hard. Doesn’t make sense, really.”

“Hm.” I thought Mom would say more, but she just tucked a pillow behind my back and placed the bag of ice on my leg.

The game didn’t last much longer since dinner was ready. After hamburgers and hot dogs and ice cream cake with candles for my cousin Will, the kids put in a movie and the grown ups gathered around my leg. Dad had carried me to the family room sofa.

“Let’s see the leg, Kel,” Dad said.

The four of them stared.

“You can’t break a leg by having that sort of a hit,” Uncle John said. He had been watching from the batters’ box on the steps. “She didn’t twist it or anything.”

“But it’s a pretty good bump, though,” Aunt Michelle said. “And a nice color, too.”

“I still think it must have hit a bruise that she already had,” Dad said. “Sometimes when you whack an old injury, it hurts twice as much.”

Mom just made that hmm sound again and the four of them moved into the kitchen. I could tell that they were still talking about me because they kept looking in. Mom’s eyebrows kept raising and Dad’s forehead kept wrinkling.

Max snuggled against me on the sofa. He pulled a blanket over the two of us, placing it gingerly over the ice pack.

“How’s your leg, Kelly?” he asked.

“I’m okay, Max,” I said. “It feels better.” I wasn’t telling the truth, but he looked at me with such wide sad eyes that I didn’t want him to know that my leg still pounded if I moved. “Let’s just watch the movie.”

He continued to stroke my arm as we all watched the first Harry Potter movie.

“What were you talking about?” I asked Mom when she came in to check the ice and give me some motrin.

“What do you mean?”

“I know you were talking about me with Dad, John, and Michelle. What were you saying?”

She glanced at Max. His eyes were glued on the flying brooms that Harry Potter and his friends were riding.

“We were just debating about whether to take you to the emergency room,” she whispered. “I called Dr. Sylvester and he thought it would be okay to wait until tomorrow to see how you are.”

“Emergency room?” The only time I had ever been to the emergency room was when I was three and couldn’t stop throwing up. The nurse had told me that they would put a needle in my arm and sugar water would get into my body that way. When I saw the size of the needle, I ate the orange popsicle even though I hate orange popsicles. The place buzzed with crying kids and beeping machines. I shuddered at the memory. “It’s not like I’m going to die or anything. We can wait.”

“I’m sure you’re fine.” She smoothed my hair away from my face and kissed my forehead. “We’ll see how you feel in the morning.”

As it turned out, whether the ER trip had happened that Saturday night or Sunday morning, it wouldn’t have mattered. My parents were much more scared of what the doctors said about the gray image on the X-ray than they had been about the bump on my leg.


  1. Hi!

    This is a whole lot better. It makes so much more sense why everyone thought her a pansy (plastic bat, weak swing, etc.). So good work!

    A couple comments/commendations/suggestions.

    1. I like how you subtly put her age in there.

    2. Avoid over-explaining. This may be because it's MG, but I think there's too much explaining going on. Example: "He had been catching, so he was closest to the collision of my leg and the bat." I think you can just leave it at "catching." Most, I think, would assume that's why he has the best insight on that.

    3. Wordiness in general. Sometimes you take ten words to say something that should only take five. Example: "Max remembered to call time out and jogged over from first base." Just say, "Max called time out and jogged toward me." One thing I do after every draft is look at the word count and cut it by 10%. I think you could afford to do 15-20. Set a goal and cut. :)

    4. Nice characterization here: "I recognized Tyler’s voice and he was lucky that I couldn’t get up and punch him. He hated the fact that we were the same age and I could play most sports as well as he could. I could hit a baseball farther, a tennis ball harder... I could run faster, do more push-ups... How dare he suggest I was faking it? " I think it could be cut a bit more, but it gives insight into her character. I'd add other details that reinforce this view (e.g., her clothes, her way of speaking, the way others act around her).

    5. Narrow the focus your lens on the point of change. Think of the whole scene building to the final paragraph. That last paragraph is great and you want it to have the biggest emotional punch. In everything that you say before that, prepare the readers emotionally--put them on edge, make them worried, make them sweat, draw them into the MC so they're shocked to learn she's in trouble. Example, her three-year-old trip to the ER, currently, doesn't help. You can modify it by having her dwell emotionally on how horrid the experience was. Currently, there's a bunch of details that sound bad, but let's get inside her head. There's a difference between saying, "I was throwing up. They gave me a needle. It was big. I ate a Popsicle," and saying, "As I vomited, I felt like every organ in my body fought for release....the needle looked like a sword, one I was certain would break me. And it did. As it prickled my skin...."

    In short, set the mood before the moment of change then it will have much bigger impact.

  2. This opening is waaaaay better than the first (in my opinion). This is an excellent revision. We have a much stronger, quicker opening (although I'd say baseball bat instead of bat, since I first imagined a bat of the blood-sucking type).

    I do still think there's too much "he said this, she said that" type of thing going on. Have you considered cutting a big chunk of this opening, making it shorter, and then leaping ahead to the hospital? After a scene break, you could start with something like "The gray image on the X-ray screen ... " that sort of thing. Know what I mean? It's just an idea.

    I think the opening works fine, but after we know her leg is injured, we need to get to the next step in the story instead that amount of back and forth.

    You did a great job of showing her pain. The sledgehammer bit was great.

    You've done a great job of showing that Kelly is shy and doesn't like unwanted attention. You've also shown us that she's a nice person, because she doesn't lash out in anger when she's been hurt. She only gets upset when she's in pain.

    Characterization is great. Let's move the story along quicker! Nice job.

  3. Hi Melanie!

    I think this moves at a really smooth clip now. The progression really makes sense here.

    I like Dustin’s suggestions, especially about getting inside her head more. You’ve done a great job describing her pain (hurt so bad she can’t breathe, her shin is throbbing, other amazing details), but sometimes my attention is taken away from this very important thing to other areas of focus that aren’t as important.

    For example, the second paragraph. One moment she’s in so much pian she can’t breathe and then she’s narrating all this other stuff happening that has nothing to do with her pain. I know that when I hurt myself, all I can do is swear and roll around for awhile until it’s subsided a bit. If she’s in pain, what is that like in her head? Is she looking around the field to find someone to notice and help her? Is she looking around the field to distract herself from the pain? Or is she in so much pain the rest of the world doesn’t matter?

    I also agree with Julie that I think it’s important we get to the hospital scene and understand the circumstances of her bump as soon as possible. There is a lot of writing-laundry going on here, I think, that could be tightened. I’m not sure if it’d make sense, but I’ll throw this out there anyway: instead of moving her away from the game, maybe move her inside sooner? Her dad can carry her and an uncle, aunt, her mom—just one other person—can go with to open doors. During that time, you could have the adults talk about the bump and ask if she wants to go to the ER. This would move things just a little faster and cut some elements (the baseball game ends, food, moved to house, her exchange with her brother) that don’t necessarily move the plot forward.

    Then I think you were also worried about the tension, so I’ll talk a bit about that, too. Honestly, I didn’t feel the lack of tension from the removal of the majority of the foreshadowing. I’m still not a fan of it, to be honest, in that last paragraph, either. Rather than be told that there’s something wrong with her before it happens, I’d much rather see it happen. Might just be my preference! Where your new tension is, though, is that she’s in pain (emotional tension), she doesn’t want anyone to know how much because it’d make her parents worry and her brother feel guilty (internal conflict), and she doesn’t want to go to the ER (bad past experience that makes her anxious—more emotional tension). This is a really great foundation to work from. I think if you strengthened these points of tension/conflict, your opening could be stronger.

    Kelly is as adorable as ever in this, though. I love her relationship with her brother. I also adore how she calls out her parents for talking about her basically behind her back. She’s a smart girl! I also really love the sense of family that you’ve weaved into this piece. The family dynamic here is amazing.

    Thanks for sharing and I can’t wait to see your final revision.

    PS A little nitpick—it’s clear to me Kelly can play sports BETTER than Tyler :)

  4. This is progressing really nicely! I love how much smoother it is, especially the latter half. I would agree with the others who said you're repeating yourself though. For example, you don't need to state Max can't thrown the bat that hard in the first paragraph, because you do such a good job of restating it when everyone reacts to her injury.

    Regarding moving things forward faster/getting to the hospital, here's my take. I think the issue you're running into isn't necessarily that you aren't getting there fast enough, it's that this scene isn't quite pulling enough weight.

    If you want to start off with this scene to show us your MC and her family before everything changes, you have to use this space to really make us care about them (if that makes sense) I love the family oriented setting, but there are so many people here and everything is flowing past us in a way that makes it hard to really dig in and get a sense of what this kid's life and family are like.

    Right now it feels like you're sort of killing time in these pages until the real story starts. I'd encourage you to really think about how you can use this space to get us invested in your characters so we feel for them when things go bad.

    Good job revising! I'm excited to see what you come up with next!

  5. I definitely think this is stronger I do think you can sped things up even more a little bit. And when the dad says “I still think it must have hit a bruise that she already had” he hadn't said that before so I would delete the "still." With MG, you have to get deep inside the character's head because the readers are so inside their own heads. It's what they're used to.