Sunday, December 14, 2014

First 5 Pages December Workshop - Jellison Rev 2

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

Meg was staring unseeingly at the board, silently groaning to herself. She was sitting in her English class, listening to yet another boring lecture from her teacher, Mr. Parker. Last time she had checked, he was droning on about symbolism in classic novels. She, however, was staring at Tazity’s new haircut. The geeky girl had chopped off everything but a few inches and it looked horrible. Meg couldn’t believe she had come to school looking like that. Or maybe she didn’t own a mirror. That would explain her normal look, anyway.

“Meg, I need to see you after class.”

Meg shook her head and stared at Mr. Parker, certain she’d heard wrong. This had never happened before. “Why?”

He frowned. “Because I said so.” A couple of girls snickered and Meg sighed. The class was long enough.

The bell rang 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 flicked her off and looked 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 couldn’t stand failing a class. She came close once and the disappointment in her dad’s eyes every time he saw her just about broke her.

Meg had written 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. “Mr. Parker, I really thought it was due next Monday. I must have written the date wrong. But I am just past the ‘People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for,’ and I really like it. Can I have until Monday? You can even take half the points off.”

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. 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 hang out with her new boy of the week.

"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 egg Sam’s car last year!"

"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."

Meg turned her head so Aria wouldn’t notice her pause. Lately, Aria had been going farther and farther with her dares and Meg had started to feel bad for some of her victims. But she had worked hard to be top of the school; she wasn’t about to lose it now. "I'll do it." Meg was already working out the best way to confront the guy, whom she did not even know.

"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.

"Jason?" Oh, he was kind of cute. Fluffy black-brown hair and blue eyes that flicked up to meet her face.

The boy pulled his headphones out and threw a casual smile her way. A smile that lit up his face and made Meg feel safe. Man, this would be hard. "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.” Not a lie. “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?"

Jason narrowed his eyes. "Me? But you don't even know me."

"I know, but I really want to. And what better way than to chat over coffee?" This has to work. Aria will kick me to the bottom if I fail one of her dares.

Jason’s eyebrows knit together, but a smile tugged at his lips. Finally, he stood up, he face a mixture of confusion and excitement. "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 glared at Aria. She had actually been considering taking him out to coffee before Aria interrupted.

She turned to leave, but not before looking back to Jason. If he had been blushing before, he was a lobster now. He was staring directly at the camera, horror painted on his face. Yet nothing compared to his eyes. They were wide with pain and Meg saw rejection flash in them before he looked at the ground. Meg backed up and her face stung as if he had slapped her.

"Screw you." He turned his head and sprinted in the other direction. Aria choked her laughter down and watched her victim run away. Aria couldn’t force herself to fake a laugh.


  1. Hi Ashley. You have done a fantastic job with this. From your original to this, it has improved a ton. Great, great job! You've done a great job here showcasing Meg and her personality, and I love that you've given us some glimpses of Meg that aren't all bad. The hinting about her Dad's disapproval shows so much, and no doubt will come into play heavily as the story goes on. I liked the addition here of her thinking that Jason was cute, and her realizing how much her cruel joke hurt him. I would be interested to see how her attitude changes throughout the story.

    One small thing. Right at the end when you said "Aria couldn't force herself to fake a laugh", did you mean to say Meg, and not Aria? Since Aria was already laughing, I figured that's what you meant so wanted to mention in case you needed to change it.

    This is a great rewrite! Congrats!

  2. Yay! Great revision! I like Meg now and that's a big thing to me! Now carry that vulnerability through the rest of the MS. I still feel sorry for Jason, but I have hope that something's going to happen with him and Meg. (Yes??)

    My biggest suggestion would be your opening paragraph. You use "was" several times. An idea: Meg stared unseeingly at the board and groaned. Use stronger verbs to replace the telling. Even then, I'm not sure this is your best way to start. :( But as hard as you've worked on these revisions, I'm sure you'll get it! Not sure where you are in writing the MS. Sometimes after I'm done with a few whole MS revisions, I can go back and see more clearly how to begin. My beginnings probably drastically change more than any other part of the story.

    Best of luck with your writing! Sounds like you have an intriguing premise!

  3. So much better! It's exhausting, isn't it? But you've really taken in all the feedback and created a richer, better paced and more realistic opening. It's so hard to give guidance on the second revision because I'm not sure how far along you are on the manuscript as a whole or the direction you plan to take. So, I'll leave it here: 1. As I said before, you've proven you can develop and enrich your work through revision (aka, you've got some good writer chops). 2. You need more practice. Things like overuse of "and" as well as adverbs; passive verbs; and over explanation (aka, not letting things speak for themselves--ex: In P1, you don't need to say "her teacher" b/c Mr. Parker's identity is clear from context) are still too prevalent in your work but I am confident you'll weed them out with practice. 3. I think it's time to move forward with this revision in mind. Write 100 more pages of THE DARE before doing this type of fine revision again. You will either find this painful but satisfying OR impossible. Either is a lesson in the journey that is becoming a writer. Keep working on this manuscript and/or others. Read Steven King's ON WRITING -- the second half is loaded with technical tips that will be helpful to you. Congratulations on a fine month of work. Do keep us posted and good luck!

  4. Ashley, this is getting much closer. I'm still wondering if the classroom is the best place to start. And if you do decide to keep that as your opening (which you'd need a good reason to do so) I'd delete some of the snark. In the opening lines Meg is already having mean thoughts about another girl's hair. Not a good way for readers to like your main character. I think it's ok for her to start out a little unlikeable, and then grow from there, but there has to be something redeemable about her. Outward snark might work, but inner thoughts that are snarky to not.

    I think a quick line or two about WHY Meg feels she needs to perform these dares is necessary. Yes, she doesn't want to lose her status, but is that really all there is to it? Is it a game that she and Aria have played together? Daring each other to do things? The way it is now, Meg seems weak because she does whatever Aria tells her to do. And at the expense of other people. Too many of those, as suggested in this text, and they would not be popular at all. Other teens would hate them.

    When the dork comment is made about the guy, Meg should go along with it, if necessary, but she should feel bad. You've done a much better job by adding some inner turmoil, which is great. I'd expand on that.

    And why this guy? What is it that propels Aria to make him the subject of the dare? Just because he likes Meg? Or could it be deeper? Could it be that he dissed Aria in some way and now she's out for revenge? Or is she just a mean girl? Right now it seems rather shallow.

    When the boy called Meg "miss popular" it took me out of the story. It didn't seem like something a guy would say, especially a dorky guy to a popular girl. With three teen boys at home, I've never ever heard them act confident in front of a girl they're crushing on. More likely they'll avoid her or stay quiet. Just something to keep in mind.

    Overall it's gotten much better. As you step away from this workshop, I hope you'll continue to make Meg likable in this opening. It's getting closer but there's still work to do.

    Good luck!

  5. Hi Ashley-

    “Meg was staring unseeingly at the board, silently groaning to herself.”

    I am going to dissect your first sentence, which you may or may not appreciate, but I hope it will help make your writing stronger.

    Meg was- “Was” is such a passive verb. It doesn’t show the reader anything. Avoid it whenever possible (it is not always possible), and replace with something stronger – more action oriented. Readers want to see your story and your characters moving forward. Just skip “was’ and go straight to “Meg stared”. But be careful because you use this verb four times in your first section. Ask yourself how often we really stare at anything in life.

    Staring unseeingly- The word ‘unseeingly’ yanked me right out of the story. It’s an awkward word that just doesn’t flow well. Try reading the sentence aloud. It is also a dreaded adverb. Avoid whenever possible.

    Silently groaning- Can one groan silently? Not sure. I’d changed to a different physical reaction. If she’s bored, maybe she’s tapping her pencil or glancing over her shoulder at the clock. Perhaps she feels her eyelids closing and wishes she’d splurged on a Venti Latte.

    To herself- This is in Meg’s POV so everything is ‘to herself’. The words are redundant, like writing “He thought to himself.”

    First sentences are so tricky because the must be engaging enough to pull the reader into the life of a character he or she knows nothing about. Meg’s reaction to her boring English class is probably something most teens can relate to, but relating to something doesn’t make it interesting. What about Meg’s experience is different from the norm – maybe even a little shocking or at least surprising?

    A few more thoughts:

    “The professor” – use the word “teacher” for a high school instructor.

    “You can even take half the points off.” Taking half the points off would automatically give her an F. Maybe ten points?

    The scene with Jason might be more appealing if he turns out to be the kind of guy who’s a match for her, sees right through her little ploy and leaves her feeling like the one who’s been rejected. Just something to think about. Readers love witty banter!

    Have you read some of the Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars books? You may want to read, or re-read, and study how those authors take mean girls and turn them into sympathetic heroines. Also read the non-fiction Queen Bees and Wannabees for some more insights.

    I know you have worked really hard during this workshop and your writing has improved. I really wish you the best of luck.

  6. Ashley, this is a huge improvement, congrats on your dedication and perseverance! As JennyC dissected your first sentence brilliantly, I'll just agree with every word she said pretty much. Same goes for the other comments. These are all technical things for the most part that only practice will teach you.

    To follow up on the 'realism' of his response to being talked to: few teen boys would talk like this at this moment ("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!") Even taking out the middle section (So I never thought that you would even notice me. But I've liked you for a while and this is great.) would be a big improvement on having him sound more naturally teen boy. A lot of times YA authors will have their characters say something that, to be blunt, sounds like something the authors themselves wished they'd had the courage to say at that age...not the worst thing, to be that tied into our YA selves, but something to keep an eye on to ensure that the voice of each character is both distinct and age appropriate.

    There are still small, minor edits of a purely technical nature (not related to characterization or plotting): You were doing well in the beginning and now you refuse to put in the work.

    That 'and' might be better being a 'but' (as previously mentioned in a comment, you tend to overuse 'and.' All writers have words they overuse in early drafts, best advice it to start making a list of words you might overuse and make sure to search for them once you're editing/revising).

    Best of luck with this!!!

  7. Hi Ashley,
    I like how you do not sugarcoat Meg as a person. A character does not have to be sympathetic for the reader to find her compelling. The key is to make the protagonist interesting.
    I have a couple of concerns about this first part, mostly relating to both the dialogue and the voice. The dialogue is a bit stilted. These lines of dialogue "Yet again, though, you’ve disappointed me." and "What are you doing here, Miss Popular?" sound unrealistic to me. I can come up with more examples, but they would illustrate that the characters do not sound like actual people.
    There's also the voice in Meg's head, which comes across as passive. We need a better sense of her motivations and why she is thinking what she's thinking. Why is she afraid of disappointing her father so much, besides how he looked? Does this relate to how she is willing to go along with Aria and her pranks, though she has grown uncomfortable with them.
    Also, we don't find out until the second scene that Meg is the most popular person in school. Could we have a hint of that in her scene with Mr. Parker?
    Towards the end, we switch to Aria as our POV character with these lines: "Aria choked her laughter down and watched her victim run away. Aria couldn’t force herself to fake a laugh." Did you mean to have us switch to Aria's head?
    Thank you so much for letting me read this. I do appreciate it.