Sunday, October 5, 2014

First Five Pages October Workshop - Danes

Name: Anya Danes
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Title: PopStars

First Five Pages:

The biggest, the most extravagant talent show in the country. Thousands come out for auditions, hungry for the five minutes of fame, hoping for the chance to move onto the next round. Hearts are broken, dreams come true. But there is only one winner of Quest for a PopStar…

My knees quiver. To try to stop, I pin my hands between them. I hum my song over and over, hoping I won't freeze and forget the words. All around me, people sing, growing louder and louder to hear themselves over the top of one another. I don't want to add to the chaos. I'm not even sure if I'll stay for my own audition.

A family of six kids and their mother move into the seats beside me. The older three look around my age, but the younger three seem to be early teens, the youngest girl probably being about ten. Their mother appears Islander in background, but they look mixed race with softer features and their skin not quite as brown. They're all gorgeous.

They huddle together and their mother leads them in their song. Although they sing softly, their song seems to drive all the rest of the clamor from my ears. They sound incredible! I've never heard such beautiful harmonies and perfectly blended voices.

When they stop, the oldest son glances at me, catching me staring. He scowls and looks back at his mother. The second brother and oldest daughter glance at me. I look away. I must look like an idiot. I've never considered myself attractive with my mousy brown hair and grey eyes, and next to them, I know I look drab and boring.

My phone buzzes. Pulling it from my handbag, I see Tom, my boyfriend, sent me a text. I open it and read, Hey babe, where are you today?

I hadn't told him I'd come down for auditions, or anyone for that matter. People would think I'm stupid and wasting my time. So I reply, Not feeling good.

Sorry, that sucks. Get some rest and I'll cya soon.

I slip my phone back into my bag and sigh. With people like the family beside me auditioning, I seriously doubt I'll make the next round. Tom will never need to know.

"Numbers six fifty to six seventy-five," a stagehand calls out.

I stand, being number six sixty-three, and the family stands too. I look at them again and see the number six sixty-two. Just my luck to follow an amazing number like them.

They line us up in order backstage. I lean against the wall, trying to release some of my tension with a long breath. Butterflies swell and pulse in my belly, making me want to throw up. I hadn't performed on a stage since high school, and never anything this grand scale.


I look up.

The oldest daughter from the family smiles at me. "I'm Clarissa. You nervous?"

I force a smile. "Big time."

Her smile widens. "I bet you've heard every trick in the book; imagine them naked or in their underwear, just don't look at anyone specifically…" She winks.

A grin forces the corners of my lips upward. "Oh yeah."

"I don't know how you do it."

"Do what?" I tilt my head, curious. What could I have done to draw her interest?

"Sing solo on stage. I can only get through because I have my family around me. I'm not a solo singer."

I turn to face her directly, surprised by what she said. They sounded so incredible, surely she could sing well on her own. "To be honest, I'm about to run off so I don't have to go out there. I heard you guys before and I really don't want to follow you. You're amazing."

Her whole face lights up. "You think so?"


We shuffle forward, and only two acts stand between me and utter humiliation. "I think I might be sick."

Her oldest brother gives me another scowl, but she touches my arm. "Take deep breaths. You'll be fine."

I slowly draw in a deep breath.

"There you go. So what's your name?"

I raise an eyebrow. "You're trying to distract me, aren't you?"

She smiles. "Is it working?"

"Maybe." I take another deep breath. "I'm Hailey."

"It's nice to meet you, Hailey. What do you do with yourself when you're not in this panic pit?"

I chuckle. "School. Studying for a BS in biology."

Her eyebrows shoot up. "Smart."

I shrug. "I guess I'm a bit of a nerd."

She chuckles. "No. Smart is different to nerd. Lucas is smart, but he's not a nerd." She motions at her oldest brother. "But Isaiah is neither."

The second brother turns to us. "Are you calling me stupid?"

She shrugs with a smirk.

He grabs her in a headlock. "Stop bad mouthing me, woman." He offers me his hand as his gaze drags up and down my body. "Isaiah."

I take his hand. "Hailey."

"I heard." He smiles at me.

Wow, gorgeous.

"We're up," their mother says. "Good luck, guys."

She gives them each a kiss on the cheek as they head out to the stage.

I shuffle up beside her to watch as they stand on the stage talking to the celebrity judges.

The celebrity host, a rap artist from the late nineties, says to their mother, "A family of talented kids. You must feel like the next Jackson family."

She laughs softly. "I'm very proud of all of them."

They speak briefly, but when the "kids" starts to perform, all focus turns to them. They perform like they'd been born for the stage. I stand in awe, but feel sick about my own performance after them. Their rich harmonies reverberate in my body, making me shudder. When they finish, I clap eagerly, knowing they'll be shoo-ins.

And they are.

The audience cheers as they leave the stage. Isaiah waves and blows a kiss. A stagehand touches their mother's arm and leads her around the back of the stage to meet them.

"You're up," another stagehand motions for me to head out.

I take a deep breath, dreading the response to me after that performance.

I approach the microphone and the audience falls silent. I clear my throat, so nervous my head spins. "I'm Hailey Becker, and I'll be singing―"

"Tell us a little about yourself," one of the male judges, an ex-boy band member, Lance, says.

I just want to sing and get it over with, but with the cameras pointed at me, I swallow hard and answer. "I'm twenty, and in my third year of my degree."

"Studying what?"


The four judges exchange smirks.

"I'll ah… I'll be singing My Lagan Love." I clear my throat again, eager to be done. I sing a cappella, my voice resonating around me through the speakers. I hit every note perfectly, to my surprise, even the high notes I'd squeaked on at each of my 
practices. When I finish, no one applauds. The judges stare at me, their jaws hanging.

Officially freaked out, I step back from the mike to leave.

Then the female judge, 80's sensation, Drusilla, stands, clapping with tears in her eyes. I freeze as the other judges do the same, and soon the whole crowd is on their feet applauding me. Drusilla leans over to speak into her mike. "Amazing. It's been a long time since a voice moved me to tears. You're in."


  1. Hailey is definitely a character can relate to. I enjoyed getting caught up in the dialog, which I felt gave me a better image of Hailey than the initial paragraphs. I would like to know how old Clarissa is, only because I immediately thought of her as 10 or so, and not sure that I am correct. Maybe having Hailey guess their ages rather than the oldest, next to oldest etc. I can already see Isaiah and Hailey getting together!

  2. The dialogue in this excerpt was really natural and brought me in. It gave me a good picture of Hailey and a good idea of Clarissa and Isaiah. Though as Laura commented, I was unsure if Clarissa was one of the older ones or younger ones.

    The first paragraph tripped me up. I assume these Hailey's thoughts, but I would like more of an indication of that. I also didn't get any description of the setting. Where is Hailey sitting in the beginning? What does it look like as she moves backstage?
    If you can just give me the smallest tour of Quest For A Popstar, I'd be more drawn in. If you can mix that in with what the first paragraph is explaining - even better.

    The heavy description of the family and the one Hailey gives herself bogged things down in the beginning for me. I you could sprinkle those thoughts through the dialogue I think it might help the pacing a bit.

    I really wanted to feel the shock of the last paragraph, and was almost there. If Drusilla was mentioned earlier so you could reference her just by name, and "I freeze as the other judges do the same" had me confused if two of the judges and Hailey were standing still while everyone else applauded, then it would really help the moment solidify.

  3. Okay, let's do this!

    This is a really unique concept; those talent shows are all over TV, but I think I've yet to come across a manuscript that deals with the challenges of going through one. You've definitely got my attention.

    The lines in italics at the beginning threw me off a little... I wasn't quite sure if those were supposed to be Hailey's thoughts, a narrator's voice, or a sound bite introducing the show. A little bit of clarity in the beginning would be nice.

    The introduction of the family is a bit too much, too fast. We jump from learning about the show and Hailey's anxieties, and a moment later we get a list of seven new characters who are moving in and taking over the scene. I think a more gradual introduction of the family might keep things from feeling too abrupt. Especially since the boyfriend calls a moment later - it just made me feel like we were getting too many characters thrown at us too quickly.

    All the details of the show feel very real, exactly how I'd imagine a show like this to be. That said, I'd like to get a better look backstage. What does it look like? Are there people running around backstage? Makeup artists? Is it hot back there? I feel like those are things I might make note of if I were in Hailey's position.

    The dialogue between Clarissa, Hailey and Isiah felt very natural, and very real. It flowed well, it was interesting, and it was easy to follow. Well done! Dialogue is definitely a strong suit of yours. I feel like I'm getting hints of some interest between Isiah and Hailey, makes me wonder how things with her boyfriend will go.

    I kinda felt like I'd prefer not to see the names of actual celebrities used for the judges. Pop culture references in books make me nervous - even five years from now, 20-year-olds reading this won't remember Lance Bass. Plus it gives you an obligation to stick to those peoples' real-life personality, and I think characters like '90's rapper' and 'has-been Boy Band member" could be a lot of fun to play with.

    I also would have liked to see more build-up to the final paragraph. Hailey spends the whole chapter beating herself up for being terrible, and then the whole performance is over in a paragraph. I think it'd be nice to see some of her thoughts as she's singing... especially when those high notes are coming up and she knows it's a make-or-break moment!

    You're off to a great start! Can't wait to see what you do with this, Anya!

  4. This is a great start, Anya. I can feel that you've got a solid grip on your mc, who is definitely a character I'm ready to follow on her journey. The dialogue is bright and believable and the setting is great. That said, it feels a bit like you are "writing in" to your first chapter. While the details are great, I still feel a little bit like it's a set-up. It's just a touch exposition-heavy and I feel like we need one more character element for Hailey to deepen our connection. Herewith a couple of thoughts that come to my mind (don't take them as directions or suggestions so much as ideas of areas you could explore): The REAL reason she didn't tell the boyfriend about the audition (is there violence, a secret); A motivation to get away from school (is she done with academia and needs a huge change but her folks won't understand); A money problem (does she need cash to finish school, pay a gambling debt, help somebody). Also, Drusilla (Buffy reference? And, if so, LOVE!) feels kind of dumped in at the end. Maybe you could start with an image or poster of Drusilla. Maybe there's some secret relationship between D & Hailey or D and Isaac???? Give readers a reason to make it important that Drusilla, and not someone else, tells H she's "in." Finally, a five-person family singing group plus the mom are a lot of characters to manage so, from a practical perspective, it might be worth considering limiting the number to the members/characters who will have important roles in plot of story.
    These points sound picky but honestly that's because you've got some great material here. This is one of the tightest first pages I've seen here at the site and I think your ms has real potentional.
    Looking forward to your revisions. Happy writing! - Stasia

  5. I like that you start in the middle of the event, rather than describing any lead-in or background to it. The emotional aspect comes through really well (“I pin my hands between them” – very nice visual) and I think it would be great if you could focus more on that as she waits and finally performs. The descriptions of the family members get a bit in the way of Hailey’s emotional experience, and I think now, in the moment of her audition, the story could be more compelling if the focus is primarily on her. Obviously Clarissa and her brothers need to be there – what’s a competition without competitors – but perhaps they could interact more after they make the cut (which I assume the family does as well as Hailey). As it stands, I definitely want to know how Hailey and her new friends do as they move forward, so you’ve done a good job of catching my interest and making me want to continue reading. I was so excited to read that the song Hailey is singing is My Lagan Love – what a fantastic and emotional performance she gives, obviously, considering the judges’ reactions, and I’d like to have more than a couple of lines describing it. Anyone who chooses that song has to have an emotional investment in it, and I am curious as to why she chose it and how she feels as she sings it.

  6. Hi Anya! Thanks so much for sharing the beginning of Popstars.

    What I immediately loved about this is how it captures a cultural phenomenon that will automatically interest a lot of readers. I'm not personally a watcher of American Idol or The Voice, but I do enjoy stuff like Masterchef and ANTM, and I think most people are intrigued by at least one reality TV show (even if some of them won't admit it).

    I understood what you were trying to do with the beginning paragraph so I wasn't too bothered, but I do think you could ground it in scene by either having Hailey read similar words off a flyer on her way into the building, or overhear the announcer speaking at the very beginning of the tryouts.

    You do a good job of setting the basic scene in these pages--it's easy to tell this is present day, we know several things about Hailey, we know what she's doing and how she's feeling. One thing that made me curious was that Hailey so easily lied to her boyfriend. I was expecting her just to ignore his text until after the audition. It definitely says things about her character and their relationship that she's so willing to lie, and that she goes on to say if she doesn't make the next round that she won't even tell him she tried out.

    I know it's hard to balance description, internals, and action, but I'd love to see more of the initial setting. The way you describe it makes me think everyone is lined up in auditorium seats, or maybe folding chairs, in a room, but the only "reality TV tryouts" I've ever seen have people kind of milling around a backstage area, or slumped here and there. However you want to do it is your call, but I'd love more description, especially some that incorporates often underutilized senses. There's a lot of seeing and hearing here, but not much feeling, smelling, etc. Are people sweating? Are they wearing different perfume scents that war with each other?

    Managing descriptions for six characters the MC doesn't know is always going to be difficult, so my practical question is: do you need this family to be this large? Could there be three or four of them and accomplish the same thing? If you need all six, is there a way to manage them without having to resort to "oldest" "middle" etc.? Maybe they are dressed in different colored shirts or (perhaps cheesy, but) maybe they have their names on their shirts in rhinestones or something?

  7. Whoops, I had too much to say. You can count on me for that always. Here's a little more feedback :-)

    I was curious as to how Hailey felt about the judges. If I walked out on a stage in front of someone I'm obsessed with (or was formerly obsessed with), my internal thoughts would be different than if I was performing in front of someone I thought was more flash than substance. I also wanted (I'm demanding >:D) to see her response to the audience--I know on stage you can only see a few rows, but how big was the auditorium. I'm not familiar with the song My Lagan Love so other readers also might not be. A good way to give a little more info about this would be to have one of the judges ask her why she chose that.

    I also think the performance part of this scene was a little rushed, but I know that might have been to fit everything in for the workshop, so I definitely wouldn't hesitate to stretch out her actual singing. One last thought--I felt a bit...misled by Hailey. Okay, I guess some people who are bad singers try out for these shows (though I suspect some of those AI disasters are staged), but it seems like someone knows whether they can sing by the time they're 20 years old. I get that nerves would definitely make someone feel like they should just turn around and leave, but Hailey seems to tell the reader she's not that good of a singer (kind of like that beautiful girl MC that all the boys love who thinks she is oh-so-plain) and then knocks it out of the park. I'm left wondering if this was the performance of her life, if she's seriously talented and doesn't know it, or if she's talented and does know it but just kind of worried us for nothing.

    Having said all that, I think this is a phenomenal story idea and a great start. The characters are interesting, the prose is solid, and I would definitely keep reading.

  8. Heya Anya,

    LOVE the premise. Speaking as someone who has weathered countless singing auditions and performances, you’re mining tension gold here!

    Everyone has made great points. Agree, agree that you have a knack for dialogue. I needed more grounding. Take me there, the stage, the audience, the backstage, where are the judges seated… Some more sensory would be cool too, i.e. contrast of onstage vs. offstage lighting.

    A few showbiz specifics: I’ve never been to an audition where the candidates are straining their voices by out singing each other before their audition. Vocal warm ups in the corners, or the occasional bathroom solo, yes. A stagehand would not be bringing in contestants. It would be a stage manager, casting person, or even a production assistant. And you’d never audition with a song that you “squeaked” out high notes. You always use one you know you can nail every time.

    I would also like to see a stronger MC. Instead of being worried about what her friends would think, focus on her “dream.” Also, if she thinks so little of herself why is she even auditioning? I want to root for her, not be frustrated with her weak self-image.

    Watch out for clichés, like butterflies in the stomach, head spinning, picture people in their underwear, moved me to tears – have fun and invent new ways to say these things while conveying the same meaning.

    I think you can jazz up the blurb at the beginning and then connect it to a specific speaker. Is it a canned intro. from the stage? Does a host say it? Does it have to come at the beginning? It's pretty clear early on this is a singing competition.

    All the other wonderful comments have hit on my other points. Thank you so much for sharing your work. Diamond star for bravery. This is definitely a story I would dive into.