Monday, December 8, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Jellison Rev 1

Name: Ashley Jellison
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: The Dare

“Meg, I need to see you after class.”

Meg stared at Mr. Parker, her English teacher, with alarm. This had never happened before. “Why?”

He frowned. “I think that should remain private at this time.” A couple of girls snickered and Meg just sighed. The class was long enough and now she had to stay after for a bit.

The bell screamed through the school. Meg stayed in her seat while everyone else filed out. A few of her friends gave her sympathetic glances and one girl smirked over her shoulder. Meg produced her best glare and the girl scampered away.

Mr. Parker closed the door behind the last student and turned to look at Meg. He didn’t speak for a minute, just stared thoughtfully. Then he broke the silence. “Meg, I’m worried about your grades in here. You were doing well in the beginning and now you refuse to put in the work. I’ve allowed you into an advanced class and I expect you to do the work. Yet again, though, you’ve disappointed me.”

Meg, who had been lazily staring out the window, snapped her head around. “Disappointed you? What did I do?”

The professor rubbed his beard and cleaned his glasses before answering. “Your Harper Lee project was due today. Before school started. I told you that last month.”

No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening. Meg wrote down the due date as next Monday. She hadn’t even finished the book yet, and while she didn’t have a perfect grade in the class, she had figured out what she had to make on everything to pass without flying colors. Popular girls weren’t smart girls. “Mr. Parker, I know I don’t deserve this since I haven’t been doing really anything, but can I just turn it in Monday?”

The afternoon sunlight came through the window and made the teacher’s wrinkles more prominent. “Meg, I assigned it for today. Maybe next—“

“I’ll have it done. Better than everyone else’s. You can even take points off. Please, sir, I need this grade,” she pleaded. And she knew by his sigh she had won. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! I won’t let you down!”

Meg grabbed her backpack and ran out of the classroom before slowing to a walk. She had to look calm. The world couldn’t know she had just begged to redeem her grade in an English class.

"Meg!" At her locker, Meg turned and saw Aria, her best friend, running towards her, waving her arms. "Are you still mad at me?"

"You know I can't stay mad at you." Aria was supposed to pick Meg up for school that morning; she’d blown it off to buy a new outfit.

"Good. Because I dare you to do something." Mischief danced in the girl's eyes.

"Uh oh. These never end well."

"What do you mean, they never end well? I've never dared you to do anything too extreme."

Meg scoffed. "Aria, you dared me to cover my naked body with nutella and run around the neighborhood, knocking on people's doors!"

"Yeah, but you did it, didn't you?"

"Oh, whatever! So what is it this time?"

Aria smiled. "Not yet. I'll tell you soon." With that, she grabbed Meg's hand and practically dragged her out of the school and towards the fountain. As soon as they got close, though, Aria pulled Meg next to the building and held a finger to her lips.

"When I say so, look around the corner. Ready?" Meg nodded. "Okay. Go!"

Meg's neck popped as she jerked her head out. She didn't see anything of importance, just a few kids trying to swim in the water.

"What are you talking about? There's nothing there."

"Oh but there is. There is a boy sitting in the corner, reading and jamming to music. Look again, and pay attention this time."

Meg peeked out once more. Indeed, she did see a boy that seemed familiar sitting alone. "Okay, so there's a guy over there. What gives?"

"Rumor has it that he's, like, obsessed with you. I mean, crazy in love. Macy heard some guys talking about it at lunch."

"Wait, really?" Meg could see in Aria's eyes that the girl wasn't lying. "Oh my gosh, ew! He's, like, a total dork. As if he'd even have a chance with me." Both girls laughed at that.

Once they quieted down as to avoid being spotted, Aria cleared her throat. "Exactly my point. He's a freak, and doesn't even deserve to look at you. So, I was going to have a couple of the basketball players challenge him to a fight, but I didn't want to get arrested if the guy got himself hurt. Instead, I was thinking you could help out with this."

Meg grinned wickedly at Aria. "What do you have in mind?"

"I was thinking that I dare you to ask him out."

"And this is why we are friends. I'll do it." Meg was already working out the best way to confront the guy, whom she did not even know the name of.

"He's Jason Michaels, junior," Aria supplied. "Go on. Get out there. I want this recorded."

Meg laughed and then strutted out from behind the building, making sure every curve of her body stood out as she walked to the corner.


The boy startled and pulled his headphones out, then did a double-take when he saw who was in front of him.

"Yeah? What are you doing here, Miss Popular?"

His response took Meg by surprise. Not many people had the nerve to answer her without stuttering.

"Well, I've seen you a couple times, and I think you're really cute. And...well...I was kinda hoping that--"

The boy stared at her, slightly blushing. "Yes?"

Meg shot him her sweetest smile and stuffed her hands into her pocket to make herself look more awkward. "I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me?"

"M-me? But you don't even know me."

"I know, but I really want to. And what better way than to date?" This has to work. Aria will never let me live it down if I fail at asking a loser out.

Jason looked dubious, but excited. "Wow. I mean, I'd love to. Really. I just thought that--well, I've heard the rumors. So I never thought that you would even notice me. But I've liked you for a while and this is great. Yes!"

A rude laugh made him pause. "Cut!" Aria stepped out from behind the fountain. "Good job, Meg! The freak thought that somebody actually liked him! Let's go, before you're late home."

Meg started laughing and turned to leave, but not before looking back to Jason. He didn't look angry, so that was good. But if he had been blushing before, he was a lobster now. Yet nothing compared to his eyes. Meg saw the rejection flash in his eyes before he looked down.

"Screw you." He turned his head and sprinted in the other direction. Meg and Aria choked their laughter down and watched their victim run away.


  1. Hi Ashley! This is a much better opening - you're putting us right into a situation that highlight's Meg's (not so great) character. Great job on that!

    I still wanted to be more inside her head. I think a few tweaks and you could get this POV even closer and Meg's personality will just pop off the page. For example when her teacher is talking to her, show us that she doesn't care. Maybe show us earlier that she's glancing out the window and thinking "geez, can this guy hurry up already." or something snarky. Then when she realizes she wrote down the wrong date and has to scramble to redeem herself, it will make that section really stand out because it will contrast to her attitude just prior.

    I also think I would have liked to see her motivation for taking the dare a bit more. Is it a pride thing that she never turns down a dare so of course she has to do it? Or does she genuinely enjoy making people miserable? I love that you showed the dare here complete because as horrible as it was, it's already over, which makes me think "Dear heavens, what is next?" and would keep me reading.

    Great job on the revisions!

  2. So, wow, you really put your elbows into this revision. It's thoughtful and responsive to all the feedback - great job. You're not quite there yet so, for what it's worth, here are my thoughts for the next revision. I'd focus on WORD CHOICE and CREDIBILITY. Here's what I mean w/r/t WORD CHOICE: the bell "screamed" (pacing-wise, this isn't the place to put a high-drama word like scream b/c the end of class is basically perfunctory); the girl "scampered" (if we're in Meg's POV, basically she's describing what's going on, I doubt she'd use the word scamper here). Which brings us to credibility: I kind of don't buy that any teen girl would cover herself in Nutella and run naked anywhere. Maybe something more believable? Also, Meg saying "Popular girls weren't smart girls" is a sort of generic trope more likely to be used by someone outside the crowd. What is the deeper, more specific thing she's getting at here? Maybe SO-and-SO would kill me if I got an A? And, would she say to teacher, "I know I don't deserve this since I HAVEN'T BEEN DOING REALLY ANYTHING"? I'm not sure what it means but, perhaps, cutting all of that strategy about sliding by/popular/smart text and giving her a carefully, artfully chosen, manipulative sentence could tighten and enhance this moment, e.g., "I know this sounds lame but I thought it was due next week and I've been working really hard and I want to prove I deserve to be in this class. Really Mr. Parker. I love Harper Lee. Let me show you. Monday, okay?" Something like this is what a clever, manipulative girl might so say.
    SO, I'd reread this text, removing (almost) all adverbs (thoughtfully, lazily); look carefully at each word and make sure it feels authentic, credible, suited to the pace and plot in the given moment. Finally, while it's much better, a lead sentence of "Meg, I need to see you after class" doesn't entirely grab me. Is Mr. Parker a sufficiently important character to get the very first sentence of the novel? Leading with dialogue is considered generally weak as a start strategy.
    Instead of writing exercises, here are two very useful reads that might help you with this manuscript. SAVE THE CAT (a book on screenwriting that very directly addresses how to help audiences (readers, movie viewers) develop empathy for difficult characters) THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS by E. Lockhart (a terrific YA novel in which the wealth of the protagonist is written in with subtlety, insight and flair).
    You have proven that you are receptive to feedback and your revision reflects your care. This writing thing is harder than it first seems but you CAN do this. You've got the chops. Just keep at it. Good luck with your next pass. I am excited to see what you do!

  3. Ashley - you really worked on this revision! This is more engaging. I agree with Stasia on some credibility issues - running naked with Nutella - funny, but not likely. I was liking Meg better until the last scene. This is just me, but I would quit reading this after the girls treated Jason like that. You could redeem Meg if she had some IM about feeling bad about it or (if Jason turns into a character and not just this one time appearance) show her having some attraction to him. She's doing the dare to make Aria happy, but maybe Meg sees something in him that makes her heart flutter. Then she has remorse instead of joining Aria in laughter. This is bullying and you want us to identify with the bully.

  4. Great start on this. I definitely agree with the previous comments and wanted to delve a little deeper into motivation here.

    Meg is a bitch. There's no way around that at this point in the story. But she seems to be a rather silly generic bitch, where you have the opportunity to create a truly unique appealing bitch.

    Imagine: rather than giving the teacher the first line (which I simply can not believe that Meg would think he'd deserve it), you could start with Meg's absolute disregard for her teacher. Get us fully inside her head, and not with generic 'staring at the window' and overused adverbs, but with something unique to Meg. Whether that's internal monologuing on what some girl is wearing or has done to her hair or something even bitchier is up to you, of course. But if you can make the reader HATE Meg in the first line and then end that first scene with the teacher having Meg literally begging for extra time (and, again, instead of something generic like 'Mr. Parker, I know I don’t deserve this since I haven’t been doing really anything, but can I just turn it in Monday?' having Meg quote the last line she'd read, being the only line she can remember, from the book giving her some life there) you'd have something really special since the reader, hating Meg would suddenly be confronted by a sympathetic Meg.

    Finally, the second scene, with the dare (lose the nutella, or if you want her nude and covered, have it done in house. Meg should NOT be someone up for public humiliation unless she's the one doing the humiliating). You got close to something special with the flash in his eyes, but you could take it a step or two further (especially if his character is important to the story). This is someone Meg's never really 'seen' before, having her get close to him and realize, oh, he's actually cute, making HER be the one stuttering would humanize her, especially if she then glared at Aria for interrupting and making Meg look like a bitch. There's just so much more fun you could be having with a character like Meg.

    There's still some formal dialogue that needs to be made more 'high school' (reading everything out loud will really help with this). Quick example:

    He frowned. “I think that should remain private at this time.” A couple of girls snickered and Meg just sighed. The class was long enough and now she had to stay after for a bit.

    This paragraph could simply be: He frowned. "Because I said so (you'll need to come up with something here. What you have is formal, 'I think' isn't needed, for instance). A couple of girls snickered and Meg sighed (the word 'just' isn't needed). The class was long enough.

    Small changes, losing the word 'just' and the last half of the last sentence, plus fixing the dialogue, but small changes are a big part of what revising is. Good luck!!!

  5. Hi Ashley-

    This is so much better, but still not quite there yet. But that’s what this fabulous workshop is for. Here are some thoughts and ideas.

    “Meg stared at Mr. Parker, her English teacher, with alarm.” Meg is the POV character. Remember, she can’t see her own face. Most of us don’t stare at someone while thinking “I have an expression of alarm on my face.” But we do feel our hearts beat faster and our pulses race when we feel alarmed.

    “Popular girls weren’t smart girls.” – and yet she’s taking advanced English which would be for students who have done outstanding work in a previous class so she must have proven herself at one point. If she’s attending a private college prep school- which driving a Porsche implies- then smart girls can be popular girls. In fact, “I’m taking three AP’s and Honors Spanish this year” is something to brag about. (Maybe you’ve cut the Porsche – I remember that from last time!) And maybe this isn’t a school where one can brag about the number of AP’s. I’m just speculating!

    “She hadn’t even finished the book yet, and while she didn’t have a perfect grade in the class, she had figured out what she had to make on everything to pass without flying colors.” Re-work this sentence. It’s a little long and confusing. And I’d take out “flying colors”. It’s a cliché and not something a teen would probably think.

    While grades in high school are something many teens do care about, I’m not sure an English grade is compelling enough to hold the reader’s attention at the start of a novel, especially since I can’t figure out if Meg really cares about her grade or not. What is her goal? Does she want to avoid getting in trouble with her dad over a bad grade? Does she want to get into a good college without ever letting anyone know she’s smart? Maybe it’s more internal. She hates feeling like a failure. Whatever the goal, I would make it more clear.

    “Aria was supposed to pick Meg up for school that morning; she’d blown it off to buy a new outfit.” Most high schools start between 7 and 8 and most stores don’t open until 9 or 10. Maybe Aria could blow Meg off for a boy. Or did you mean she’d blown off school? If so, then what was she doing there after school hours?

    “Meg was already working out the best way to confront the guy, whom she did not even know the name of.” Rework so the sentence doesn’t end in “of”. It’s just awkward construction.

    “And what better way than to date?” This would sound more natural if it was a bit more casual. “To go out for some pizza or whatever” or “to grab some coffee”.

    Aria is clearly a bully, and appears to be the one behind any trouble Meg gets into. She also strikes me as Queen of the School. Other kids are probably terrified that a word from her could send them spiraling down into unpopularity hell. Is Meg afraid of Aria? Does Aria know something that if everyone found it out would me mortifying to Meg? That might give Meg a reason for her extremely cruel behavior. If so the reader needs to see a hint of that early on. YA readers like an underdog as a hero/heroine. Someone who triumphs over the oppressor. Look at Harry Potter or Katniss. Right now I have zero sympathy for Meg. Your job as the writer is to make me care, and that needs to happen right away.

    Best of luck with your next series of revisions! I look forward to seeing what you do.

  6. Ashley, welcome to round two! Already this is looking much better. You've clarified who's speaking, which is great.

    Some notes to ponder:

    Opening with dialogue is risky and rarely works well. Give us some context before your characters speak.

    The classroom opening might not be your best place to start. Unless her slipping grade is crucial to the overall story problem. If so, we'd need to know why. Hint at a larger reason why she has to ace that class. And I'm not sure if you have high school kids at all. I have three boys in high school. It is VERY rare for a teacher to allow a student a one week extension on an assignment. This would open the door to other kids asking for extensions. They would likely only do that if there was an illness or death in the family, or if the student was sick, etc. So just be careful of that.

    You may want to jump straight ahead to the dare. And the opening line could relate to the dare or her misgivings about it. Just an idea.

    I'm so sorry, but Meg is still not likable. But this is good news for you because you know that now and can fix it before you submit. Asking the nerd out to please a friend is cruel. She shouldn't give in to this so easily, if you want us to like her. She should be VERY conflicted about this. Perhaps she can remember a time when she was bullied or made fun of, which would make the reader understand her a little better. Whatever the reason, she should not WANT to hurt this boy. And after she asks him out (is that THE dare?) she should feel horrible for hurting him. She doesn't have to show that outwardly, but she needs to feel it inside. Right now I'm rooting for the boy and not Meg.

    There was a slight POV shift here: "Aria will never let me live it down if I fail at asking a loser out."

    And calling him a loser makes Meg even more unlikable.

    So these are things you can fix. Just try to tie us in to a character we like and hint at the larger story question in the opening paragraphs. Unless her grades have something to do with it, (which you'd need to hint at) I'd start later in the story.

    Keep going. Keep making this better. This workshop gives you lots of tools to tinker with your manuscript before other eyes see it. And you've already made lots of progress.

    Good job!

  7. Nice work on the revision, you are really moving forward with this. My main suggestion is to keep working on Meg's character. I am a little off-balance with her - she seems bored when she's asked to stay after class, looking lazily out the window, but then is suddenly incredibly worried about the missed assignment. Unless she's faking that? And why is she so willing to do what Aria asks, even if it's cruel or humiliating? I think if you can flesh out her thinking, it will help us connect to her.

    That said, the episode with Jason is pretty awful. It's hard to root for a girl who's doing something so mean, unless we have a really, really good understanding of why she's doing it. It might just be too mean for the opening. I also wasn't sure why Aria had her doing that. How does that connect to the fight with the basketball players?

    Keep up the good work! Can't wait to see the next round!