Monday, October 13, 2014

First Five Pages October Workshop - Danes Rev 1

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 as the commercial blares overhead. To try to stop my knees, 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, the noise growing louder and louder. I don't want to add to the chaos. I'm not even sure if I'll stay for my own audition. In high school I'd been excellent, but this is something else entirely.

People bustle around me, filling the massive backstage room and shuffling between plastic chairs. Even with the air conditioning, hairspray thickens the air, sickly sweet scented with all the combinations of brands mixing together. I'm surprised anyone can sing in this. My throat feels coated and I'm not opening my mouth.

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. Their mother appears Islander in background, but they look mixed race with softer features. 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, who I'd say looked to be early twenties, 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'm freaking out while they're amazing. Although most people here have no chance, they just proved some contestants can nail it. Am I that good?

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. 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 show crew person 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 may have made leading lady my senior year in the school musical, but school is so different to this.


I look up.

The oldest daughter from the family, who looks about seventeen or eighteen, 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. I catch a glimpse of Jeffrey Halloway, my mother's teen heart throb. I'd grown up listening to his music, and the thought that he's about to hear me sing makes me lightheaded.

The celebrity host, a rap artist from the late nineties, speaks briefly to the mother, 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.

"You're up." A 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 says from behind their black desk right in front of me.

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. The Celtic melody shows off my upper range well, and is so rarely sung I knew it would grab attention, even if the higher notes make me nervous. I just need to relax. If I don't tense, my voice won't suffer. I hit every note perfectly, to my surprise, even the high notes I'd squeaked out on occasion. The song on it's own is beautiful, so I hope I do it justice. When I finish, no one applauds. The judges stare at me, their jaws hanging.

Officially freaked out, I step back from the mic 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 her, and soon the whole crowd is on their feet applauding me. Drusilla leans over to speak into her mic. "Amazing. It's been a long time since a voice moved me to tears. You're in."


  1. Hi Anya--

    A cool thing about your revision is that although it's reading better this round, I can't put my finger on most of the things that you've changed. I love when that happens because it means you've gotten rid of problems without losing any of the essence of the story.

    The family of six feels less distracting to me this time, but for purposes of your entire book, I feel like you need to make a choice on the celebrity judges. If you're eventually going to name them, why not name them upfront? Would you ever really go to an audition with Usher and think of him as "some R&B singer." Would you go back and tell the story to your friends and say "some boy band singer" or would you say "JJ Destruction, former lead singer of BoyzToyzDestroyz?" (Or insert real person if you want.)

    I guess that's my question for you--how close do you want your MC to be to your reader? Because this is first person present tense, which usually means a close bond, but Hailey feels a bit distant, like she's telling this story to a college advisor she doesn't know very well, not a friend. Or maybe you're writing this from a distance, from outside Hailey. Can you put yourself inside of her, even if she's not you?

    Outsider person says:
    "In high school I'd been excellent, but this is something else entirely." (Note that you come close to repeating this beat with: "I may have made leading lady my senior year in the school musical, but school is so different to this.")

    Insider person says: "In high school I'd always scored one of the juicy roles in our musical productions, but this is a little different than singing "Wash that man right out of my hair" while wearing a grass skirt and a bikini top. This is big league. My brain makes an unhelpful list of all the things that could go wrong. Drusilla might do that clicking thing with her tongue all during my song. And then JJ Destruction might say I sound like a cruise ship singer. I might get confused and take that as a compliment! I mean, some cruise ship singers are really solid... Oh. My. God. What if I forget the words or everyone laughs at me? Or worse, they don't even notice me because they're too busy texting or tweeting? [Or, you know, whatever Hailey would think.]

    Both instances are telling, but can you see how digging deeper and looking out from the character's brain comes across differently than writing the character from a distance. The bones of the beginning of a fun, romantic, widely-appealing story seem to be in place and the dialogue is really solid. My recommendation is to see if you can't breathe more life, more detail, more voice into the narrative.

    Best of luck! :)

  2. Hailey and Isaiah are going to get together right??!! I definitely get a better feel of their ages, thanks. I think you covered it in the first paragraph, maybe it doesn't have to be repeated as much. A few words are repeated a bit much, "amazing," "incredible" and possibly "excellent." Just a weird pet peeve of mine. Hailey would be someone I would get along with though, so it is a story I would continue to read. Especially if she gets together with Isaiah....hint hint. Do like the pacing of your dialog as well.

  3. Hi Anya!

    I like that you've fixed the introduction a little and given us more context for the blurb at the beginning. I still really love this concept, I'm excited to see where you go with this.

    I like that we're getting more out of the main character, but she feels a little bit clinical at times. She's telling us about what's happening and describing the scene, but I can't really get much emotion or voice out of it. Spicing up her internal monologue a little might really help us feel her anxiety along with her at the beginning.

    The introduction of the family is definitely more gradual and doesn't feel nearly as sudden. I like that we have a sense of their ages right away. One thing, though, is that once you've given us their ages, you don't need to repeat yourself by saying the brother looks to be in his early 20s.

    This story reads a lot more like a third-person past tense novel than a first-person present tense. We get descriptions of what's going on, but we don't really get the kind of running internal commentary you'd normally expect in a first person novel. For instance, when the character says "I stand, being number six sixty-three, and the family stands too. I look at them again and see the number six sixty-two.", I would expect something more like "Oh, crap! That's me! I'm number sixty-three. And oh my god, I think the family is number sixty-two." I just don't feel as connected to your narrator as I should be without that access to her thoughts.

    I think we get a better sense in this version that Hailey knows she can sing, but in unsure about her degree of talent. In the previous one, it sounded like she'd wandered into the auditions off the street with no talent, and I think this way works much better.

    The dialogue, as always, is smooth and flows very well. Well done!

    There's still a bit of confusion as to which brother is which. Clarissa motions to the oldest brother when she says Isiah is neither smart nor nerdy, so I'd expect the oldest, glaring brother is Isiah, but it's the second brother who turns around and introduces himself. I had to read that a few times.

    When Hailey says "He offers me his hand as his gaze drags up and down my body. ", it would be nice to know how she is feeling about that. Is she flattered? Nervous? Threatened? Offended? Pleased?

    I really like the detail we get on the washed-up boy band singer, but the introduction of the host feels like Hailey is delivering a powerpoint presentation. What does she think of the host? Does she like his music? Can she remember a time when she did like his music? Or was she too young to listen to his albums when he was popular? She must have some personal detail she could tell us. Same goes for the ex-boy band singer.

    The singing section is better this time. Adding the description of the song is nice - I happen to have a Celtic Woman CD on my desk right now, but I'm not sure how many readers, especially teen readers, will be familiar with it, so it's nice to give them a sense of what genre it is. The singing section still feels a little rushed to me, though. We get a better sense that this is a song she is good at and has practiced, which feels more realistic than the first version, but we don't get much more feeling out of Hailey. Your voice will always sound very different when you're hearing it come through a speaker beside you - what does Hailey think when she first hears herself? Does she get anxious when the high notes are coming up? What's running through her head? Does she get a rush of exhilaration when she knows she's nailed the notes? You have lots and lots of tension built up here, you can afford to drag it out a bit and make us squirm.

    Great revision! Definitely some big improvements, can't wait to see the next round.

  4. I still feel like there could be more emotion to her performance - does she close her eyes when she sings? Is she transported to somewhere in her past, a person, an event? Does she have an emotional attachment to the song - does she get 'lost' in it? As I was wondering about how she might feel as she's singing, it occurred to me that you definitely want to include the end part where she's told "you're in" - so perhaps you are limited by the word count for purposes of the workshop, and in your book you might be planning to add more of a description of the performance, as Hailey experiences it. So - I don't want to beat it with a stick if that's your plan. When Isaiah's gaze "drags up and down my body" I feel a little creeped out - maybe he could look into her eyes instead? Focus on her as more than just a pretty girl? I love the hairspray detail - as an '80s girl, we had dueling hairspray scents as a part of everyday life, along with the stickiness that went with it.

  5. Huh, that was really smooth. I can't really put a pin in what you changed either, but it reads very smoothly now. Which is good, but doesn't leave me with many ideas for suggestions.
    I like that the first paragraph is a commercial Hailey hears, but it still took me a minute to get that's what was going on. Maybe make it a bit more obvious, or perhaps I need to read more carefully. ;-)
    Still could go with a little more description of the studio or performance hall she's in. I think that would really land the seen for me.
    The scowling brother, I wish he would do something more than scowl, perhaps mouthing "why are you talking to the enemy" to the sister or trying to wave her back over, something.
    I wish the sister would say something more original than "picture them naked" especially since she also says "I bet you've heard every trick in the book. I would like it if she said something off-the-wall or quirky, something that describes her sense of humor.
    The introduction of the judges, to me was perfection. It was all evenly spaced and got little images of all of them. Also, describing what she was singing and how she sang it was wonderful, I really felt it, and this coming from a dude who could care less about a story that doesn't involve a ghost chewing off the arm of a man-leopard.
    Ok, wish I had more for you, but I don't. This version is nice and clean, a few more tweaks and I bet she'll sparkle.

  6. Must agree with above comments that it doesn't feel like a dramatic revision. I feel like you're still writing in a bit when what would work best would be a narrowing of focus. The chapter meanders a bit. We start with hairspray, nerves and a rather disconcerting ego (in high school H was "excellent" - don't feel like you want your character to say that to readers); then there's an odd text exchange with boyfriend which gives us so little information that it's probably not worth including; then H becomes kind of transfixed by this sextet who are pointedly "ethnic" which feels a bit forced; we get Isaiah scowling at H and looking at his mommy; then Clarissa somewhat randomly befriending H, who is a competitor (would she do that? what does it say about her?) and explaining in a rather expository way about her brothers' characters. Finally, we get approval from an 80s rock star who kind of drops in from out of the blue. I think you really need to make some choices here and try some strong revision steps, not just line edits. Which are the three most important plot elements and can you save the others for later chapters? Do you need all of these characters since there seems to be so many? Do we need Drusilla here? Does she even need to find out she's "in" on the spot? Try making some strong cuts, writing some new material--even paragraphs, drub out a character or two (maybe Tom). You can always put that stuff back in if it doesn't work but the experience of doing a dramatic revision is very useful especially when you're trying to polish a chapter to the point of enticing agents, editors and readers. Good luck and Happy Writing!

  7. Hello Anya,

    Congrats on moving forward with your story. This is such a terrific moment to begin with. Don’t be afraid to ratchet up the tension even more. Make sure you keep your character strong – if her doubts are too great, it is hard to root for her. I want to feel that she is “all in” for the audition, come what may. She had to believe in herself enough to get her here.

    Love the sensory moment of the way the room smelled and how it affected her. I still would like to see a stronger sense of place. Where is the commercial playing? Monitor? Is this L.A., NYC, Nashville? Is this a rehearsal room? Wood floor? Wall of mirrors? I still have some authenticity issues with a room full of people out singing each other. Vocal warm ups, soft singing, yes. It would not be a crew member or stagehand dealing with the talent – it would be an assistant to the casting director who would pull in the contestants.

    I do want to mention the use of clichés again: ie. Butterflies in the stomach, imagining audience in underwear – have fun, make up some new metaphors.

    Does Hailey have any thoughts about what it would be like to sing with a family instead of solo?

    Why does she think she looks like an idiot? Show us.

    Try to avoid using one word adjectives and help us understand viscerally what Hailey is feeling. When she talks about being the leading lady in high school – give us a peek at her experience instead of just telling us it happened.

    Watch out for repeating words. Amazing. Shuffle. Glance.

    What specifically makes Hailey think Isaiah is gorgeous? How does that make her feel?

    LOVE the fact mom’s teen crush is one of the judges. Big YES for high notes making me nervous. Big NO for her squeaking out the high notes. If that ‘s the case, why use that song to win a contest?

    I want more from the moment she wows the judges. Go search the SUSAN BOYLE BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT Youtube video. Watch the reactions of the judges. That’s the moment you want here.

    Show me how she’s “freaked out” at the end of the audition. Pretend I have to act out that moment and you as the author need to give me enough information in order to make it real.

    This is such a fun fun fun beginning. It plays on all the fears people have of public speaking, but amped up because it’s public singing. Milk that for all it’s worth.

    Thank you for sharing your work. Have a blast writing on.