Sunday, February 15, 2015

First 5 Pages February Workshop - Levy Rev 1

Sheri S. Levy
YA (10-14)
Starting Over
Five-six--eight, quiet minutes ticked by on my soft-glowing clock, giving me a false hope of sleep. Just as I dared to close my eyes, my eight-week-old Labrador started another round of squeaky yelps. Robotically, I swung my legs over the bed, collected my frizzy hair into a ponytail, and dashed across the hall. “Colton, I’m coming.
Flicking-on the overhead lights in the laundry room, I blinked and Colton ducked his head. “Hey, little guy. Sorry you’re so lonesome.”
His wispy, black tail whipped back and forth as he strained to set his short, front legs at the top of the baby gate. Like a prizefighter he tried again, and again, until he collapsed on the floor, whining.
I climbed over the gate, sat, and cradled his plump body. Memories of Sydney, my first service dog, surfaced. After earning my handler’s certificate, I was put on the waiting list. Then one year ago, Sydney came to me after his puppy raiser had to move away. At six months old, and trained in his basic needs, Sydney slept through the night.
But Colton was a blank slate. And-I’d be his first, and only, foster momma until he turned eighteen months old.
Colton crawled up to my face and licked me with a silky tongue. I buried my face in his short, black fur coat, stroked his velvety-droopy ears, and whispered. “Are you going to be waking this often, every night?”
His warm, chocolate-brown eyes winked at me.
I surveyed the newspapers covering the floor, scrunched my nose, and shook my head.If I had known how much work was involved would I--? I sucked-in my cheek and nodded. Yeah! I’m almost fourteen- I can handle this! I wadded up the messy papers and spread new ones on the swirled beige and rust colored tile floor. “All done! Let’s go outside.”
After a quick romp with the sensor light going off and on, I placed him and a handful of kibbles inside his crate. “Night-night. Ple-a-s-e go to sleep.”
His face lay in the opening of his crate, and he fought to keep his eyes open.
If I could get a little more sleep, it’d be an easier day tomorrowWhat I am I thinking? It’s already tomorrowI pictured chasing Colton in the muggy air, teaching him new words, cleaning his messes, and then snuggling together. Before long, the sun leaked under my eyelids.
A whiff of coffee jolted me out of bed and told me my parents were up. Was Colton still sleeping? Twisting a loose curl on my neck, I hurried into the kitchen and scanned the room. Mom puckered her face. “Hey, Trina. Rough night?”
I nodded, rubbing my face. “Yep! Is he still sleeping?”
Dad set his coffee cup down. “We heard you two every time you got up, but we promised to stay put.”
Mom lifted her chin. “I know he’s your job, honey, but I had to see him before I left for the clinic. Dr. Mayer called early, needing help with a sick dog. When Colt wakes, he’s yours from now on!”
“Wow! Thanks. That really helped.” Before finishing my cereal, sharps howls erupted. I rolled my eyes, grinning. “Okay. I’m back on duty!”
#               #              #
In the yard, Colt’s ears raised at the clunk, clunk, of Mrs. Brown’s golf cart driving up the path to her paddocks next door. As I collapsed in the shade, Colton stared toward the clatter, and for safety, scrambled over my crossed legs. I whispered in his ear. “Mrs. Brown is bringing in the horses. You’ll get to meet her soon.”
He looked toward the hidden racket, lost interest, and charged through the trees. The simmering sun crept overhead and brought a wilted pup back to my lap. I carried him to his crate, and he crumpled into a small heap. “Whew--Finally!”
I bounced into the recliner and texted my once again best friend, Sarah, since we’d patched our friendship while on vacation.
Instantly, she texted. “How’s Colton?”
“Call! Too much to text!”
My old cell phone chirped, and I told her about my night. And ended with, “He’s exhausting, but awfully cute.”
Sarah jabbered about Peyton’s texts and phone calls, her first time boyfriend from our beach trip.
I nodded, and played with a frayed thread on my jean shorts, waiting for her to finish. When she paused, I changed the subject. “Do you want to go to the barn? I have to see Chancy. Heather took care of her while we were at the beach and I’m afraid she may want her. Colton’s down for a little while.”
“Okay. Meet you in ten.”

In our neighborhood some people had barns, others had only pasture land. Our eight acres were covered in hardwoods and pine trees with a small grassy area around the house. I hurried up the path and waited for Sarah under an old oak tree.
A grumbly, loud noise like a cement truck grew closer.
Sarah approached. “Trina, what’s that sound?”
“Sounds like a big diesel truck. Let’s get closer.” Behind a large tree trunk, we spied the silver-gray, dually-truck pulling a white two-horse trailer with matching five gray-hearts interlocked along the sides. “That must be the new boarder. I forgot she was coming today.”
The truck shifted, grinding its gears, and slowed onto Mrs. Brown’s drive.
Sarah screamed over the noise. “Do you know how old she is?”
“Mrs. Brown said she’s in the ninth grade.” As the commotion lessened, I whispered in Sarah’s ear, “And, she’s supposed to be a really good rider!”
The engine turned off, and a tall, dark-skinned man leaped from the driver’s side. At the same time, a long-legged, skinny girl in black riding pants and shiny black boots stepped down from the front passenger door. The sun shined on her round brown face, poofy bangs and ponytail, and flashed on her dressage whip waving in the air as if it were a sword.
The girl’s raspy voice boomed through the trees, “Dad, why’d you stop here? You’re too close to the barn. What the?--”
Without saying a word, her father opened the trailer’s top half doors and latched the panels to each side. From the rear of the trailer, a stately, black horse kicked and neighed. Standing on opposite sides of the trailer, they each pulled a clip out of the lock and set the ramp on the ground.
The girl climbed in a side door to untie the horse. He put one hoof a couple of inches behind and then took another step. With a frantic snort, he blew air from his nose and lurched forward.
She screamed at the horse. “Knight, walk. Get-off-the-trailer.” Her whip slapped at the air. “What’s wrong with you?”
Without warning, the horse threw his head and bolted backwards down the ramp. The whites of his eyes showed as his head shook, wildly. White foam lathered his shiny chest.
The girl’s voice dropped an octave. “Dad! He’s getting away.” Then she shrieked, “Move!-You’re no help!”
I held my breath, and clutched Sarah’s arm.
The father rushed over and pulled the whip from the girl’s hands. “Morgan, Quiet down. You’re frightening Knight. Give him a chance.”
She jerked the lead line. “Knight, you stupid horse. You know better.”
I scrunched my face, shook my head, and huffed, “OMG! I could never be friends with someone who treats her horse like that. What’s she doing at my barn?”


  1. I don’t know if it’s because I copied this story this time and pasted it in Word so that it was easier to read, but I really enjoyed the story this week. Last week I felt like it was bouncing all over the place because of the multiple scenes. GREAT JOB, SHERI!

    I’m confused what “Five-six--eight, quiet minutes” means. Do you mean eight quiet minutes ticked by? I so, I’d just say that. The beginning threw me out of the story because I had to figure it out. And it’s not a good thing when your reader is thrown out of the story on the first sentence.

    Love the squeaky yelps. I can envision that perfectly. I love all of your descriptions. I feel like I’m there in the scene.

    “Robotically, I swung my legs over the bed, collected my frizzy hair into a ponytail, and dashed across the hall.” To me, robotically and dash don’t work together. The difference between them is too jarring. Robots don’t dash. And robotically is telling. Show me what you mean. Are the movements stiff? Is it because she’s still asleep and is on autopilot?

    Are you sure you can get your service trainer certification at such a young age?
    I didn’t know dogs could wink. Can they really? It just sounded comical to me and distracted from the story. I expect the puppy to start talking next.

    And Wow, I don’t remember that second scene from last week. Great job with that. You had my complete attention (and I’m easily distracted).

  2. Hi!

    I wont bother to crit the opening paragraph, because Stina took the words right out of my mouth!

    One thing I realized with this reading is that I think that the Courier font is really throwing me off. I'm not used to it and it makes all the puncuation really stand out on screen. Anyway, it's just a personal issue with that font choice, but something you might want to consider with editors etc, as a lot of them seem to prefer standard Times New Roman.

    I love how you added more intrigue regarding the new girl, and the tension there.
    Because this is getting more polished, I'm going to dive into some line-by-line edits here:


    I nodded, rubbing my face. “Yep! Is he still sleeping?” [[ Small thing, but the exclamation point seems a little too energetic for someone rubbing their face with sleepiness ]]

    Dad set his coffee cup down. “We heard you two every time you got up, but we promised to stay put.”

    Mom lifted her chin. [[This action is a bit confusing to me ... is she raising her chin in defiance?]] “I know he’s your job, honey, but I had to see him before I left for the clinic. Dr. Mayer called early, needing help with a sick dog. When Colt wakes, he’s yours from now on!” [[I'm not sure what the mom is implying here. Did she put the dog back to bed? Also, the mention of a Doctor and another dog is confusing me a little. ]]


    I'm actually not sure you need this phone scene. It's mostly a segue to when they are together ... and any critical info that is revealed in this scene could probably be revealed in an actual, in-person conversation. Also re: the phone conversation, I found it interesting to learn that they are on-again-off-again friends, but I will say that I lost a bit of sympathy for the MC in learning that she kinda ignores what her friend is saying and may be a bit of a fair-weather-friend.

    I love that we are getting more of the new girl and the resulting tension in the first five now. Love this scene. There were just a few times that the way she spoke drew me out of the story a bit. "her raspy voice boomed" ... I picture a raspy voice as hoarse - can it boom? // "her voice dropped an octave" ... considering that she's altering her voice to yell at her dad, I would expect it would raise an octave if anything.

    1. Sheri – WOW! What a difference! This week, you grabbed me and kept me. I loved it. Well done!

      I don’t have much to add to what the others said. Only a couple details:

      I finished my “self-editing” book last night and there’s a chapter on using italics, suggesting not to, unless you really need them.

      Now that she’s said it, I like Carissa’s suggestion of skipping the phone call. Perhaps she could just text to say “Meet me at the barn in 5…” Then on the way, reminisce to give us a little backstory.

      The bits I like knowing are 1) the friendship is on-again off-again (when I was 12/13, I had 3 best friends… we fought every Thursday and swapped who was friends with whom… so as a reader – particularly, for this age group - I would relate to this. 2) That she’s not super-interested in her friend’s conversation about the boyfriend… again, very relatable, esp. for the age.

      I’m intrigued by the new girl. Is it maybe a bit “on-the-nose” to say “I would never be friends with her” – perhaps she could just react negatively to the girls treatment of the horse? But I liked the line “What’s she doing at my barn?”

      Otherwise, beyond what’s already been mentioned, I think this is fantastic!

  3. Hi Sheri,

    Great revisions. I'll just jump in... agree with comments on beginning: Watching the clock and then daring to fall asleep don't seem to jive. I felt like Para. #4 was just a tad too much backstory. We're getting to know your MC and Colton, but then our attention is pulled toward Sydney. Others have told me (and it seems to work) to try peppering in a sentence or two of backstory but avoid full para.'s in the opening sequence that pull us out of the immediate action. "Foster momma" strikes me as odd language for a 14 yr old girl unless its geographically relevant. ( e.g. growing up in NYS, I would never say momma at that age.) When your MC buries her face in Colton's puppy fur it seems like the perfect opportunity to tell us what he smells like, exploit our senses! I think Carissa may have mentioned this, but you lost me with the string of events with her parents. The writing isn't as clear as it needs to be. Also, I'm wondering how pertinent her parents interfering with Colton is to the plot? If it is important, clarify the events. If it isn't, I would consider deleting or shortening. Great job with the second half. I can really picture the new family rolling in with the trailer, etc. great descriptions. I do wonder if the new girl would be so aggressive/antagonistic with an animal that is so much larger and more powerful than her? Where does her confidence come from? I admit, I do not know a lot about horses, but the white eyes on the horse I really understood/could picture. The white foam lathering the chest seems a bit of an overreaction to the situation of backing out of the trailer. But again, I don't know a lot about horse behavior. I can't help but feel like these sample pages still seem like two different openings to me. Have you tried reversing them and leading with the new family and then have your MC and her friend introduce us to Colton? Just a thought... Keep going!

  4. Great ideas everyone. Have lots to work on! I wasn't happy with my beginning and will try again. Yes, the service dog org. I did my research with used children if they had passed their handler training. Trina can put a cape on the dog and take him on outings with her training. Some families are foster families and they just play with the puppy on the weekend, but whoever is in charge of the dog must have training. The main story is about training the new puppy- Title: Starting Over, and the new girl is the secondary story that helps Trina change. My daughter rode horses competitively, so my descriptions are real. I love your comments and they help me see what isn't clear...I need to tighten more!! Thanks everyone!!

  5. Hi Sheri! Thanks for sharing your revisions. I agree that overall it is a much tighter first five pages and easier to get involved in. I totally relate to that first sentence. I have thought my son was really asleep, closed my eyes, and then heard waaaah! If it's throwing people off, though, you could change it to be something like, "After eight minutes of quiet, I thought my puppy was finally asleep. Just as I dared to close my eyes..."

    I'm guessing this takes place in the south? If so, mugginess and foster momma could fit right in. I guess the feedback would be, could you give us a little more grounding in place? For example, "I heard she's one of the top riders in Kentucky" or some other name-dropping. Or if not name-dropping, some distinctive dialect or landmark to help us place the region of the country.

    I also thought the on-again/off-again friendship and not quite paying attention were very relatable, but you could make the MC more sympathetic through that by making it Sarah who stopped being friends, or that at first when she had a boyfriend she wasn't hanging out with Trina, but then they patched it up.

    Small thing: Did she actually say "OMG"? or did she say "oh my gosh"? :)

    Was Knight afraid of the trailer? Why was the girl criticizing her dad's parking? I don't need to know the answers, but they might help me figure stuff out.

    Finally, if the main plot is about training Colton, what is the conflict? Is there a way we could hint at that? Right now I love reading about Colt, but I'm not sure what the problem is going to be. Does Trina miss Sydney? Did he get taken away? Did she ask for Colt because of her fight with Sarah? Feel free to ask for ideas here or on the Facebook page (I think we do the queries the last week? So it would be too late then)

  6. Thanks Abigail, for those questions. I will post to the first pages group. I wasn't sure if I could post revision ideas. But I do have questions.

  7. Hey Sheri -

    You have treasures in the comments above. Your writing continues to have a nice flow and confidence.

    I thought it interesting in a comment you made that you identified the dog arc as the main story, and the new girl arc as the motivation for your MC to change. Perhaps the dog story is the B story. What is your character’s problem/quest that drives the main story? Which arc provides the solution/resolution to that dilemma? That’s your A story.

    I’m repeating my comment from last week, but I wonder if this is the most dynamic place to start. I had a thought if you are adamant on starting here. To set it apart from a normal “waking up” beginning, what if she’s fallen asleep by Colton after the umpteenth time having to go deal with him? She’s awakened by squeaky yelps and a wet nose in her ear. Maybe soggy kibbles matted in strands of hair.

    Ditto here on the comments above for the first paragraph. Do you feel this moment has enough tension to open your story or is it too “quiet’? The arrival of the girl and the horse yanks me right into the story with questions and wonderings that would send me reading on. What if all the up front Colton info. comes out in pieces when we see how tired your MC is? Can you jump right to her connecting with the friend and then seeing the “new girl?”

    Watch for pattern repetitions in your sentences such as adjective + noun: wispy, black tail/ silky tongue/short, black fur coat/ velvety-droopy ears/warm, chocolate-brown eyes. Try mixing up your descriptions structurally and toss in a dash of figurative language.

    Congrats on your revisions. Sending you good vibes for the next round.

    1. I'm hoping this revision will make the dog part clearer. One more round to try. Thanks for pushing me to think about new ideas.

  8. Wow, what a stellar revision!! You’ve really taken everyone’s notes to heart and returned with an awesome opening! Great work!!! I loved how wonderfully each passage flowed into the next, and how nicely the story moved forward.

    You do a wonderful job of blending description, interior thought, and forward-moving action. I could see the characters very clearly, while at the same time, felt I was getting a lot of important information about Trina's past work with service dogs.

    Here are my nits:

    Based on the dialogue, the sweet relationship Trina has with her parents, and the way the girls hide behind the tree, the girls are coming off as closer to 12 than 14 to me.

    Something felt off to me about the line: “I know he’s your job, honey, but I had to see him before I left for the clinic.” I think what I’m missing is why she *had* to? Did she just want to peek in on the new puppy? Or was he whimpering, so she went to check on him? Trina’s following line makes me think it’s the latter, but I think a tiny clarification here would go a long way.

    We get a lot of description of the new girl and her father, but none of Sarah. Just a line or two should do it.

    Love the line: “The simmering sun crept overhead and brought a wilted pup back to my lap.” Beautiful stuff!

    Lastly, I think Morgan’s coming across a bit too mean. It’s fine if she’s supposed to be stern, but if we’re going to sympathize with her later on, having her call the horse stupid came off as a hint too much for me.

    All in all, this was a FANTASTIC revision. So many beautiful lines of description here, and Colton sounds so cute, I want to hug him! You’ve done an amazing job, and I can’t wait to see the final one.

  9. Thank you for all the comments. All of these ideas are so helpful. I' m sure glad we get one more try at this! There's a reason for the girl to be so angry, which will slowly change the readers feelings toward her. This was a good comment for me to think about.,