Sunday, March 15, 2015

First 5 Pages March Workshop - Pagel-Hogan Revision 1

Name: Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Title: Dare Club

I gripped the tree branch with all of my strength, but I couldn’t hold on much longer. 
“Hang on, Tony!” cried my best friend Inky. 
I closed my eyes. My arms felt like were being pulled out of my shoulder sockets. I gritted my teeth as the rough bark scratched my palms. 
“I’m slipping!” I gasped. My fingers were numb.
“I’ve almost got it!” Inky said. “Just one more second!”
I tried to hold on as his hand whipped around the page. He glanced at me, then back at his sketchbook, then back at me, then back to the sketchbook.
“Argh!” I cried as I fell. I hit the ground almost instantly because I had only been dangling about a foot in the air. We were in the woods behind Inky’s house working on his new comic book story. I was helping Inky out and holding on to the branch so he could realistically draw a character in his new comic dangling in midair over a cliff. 
Inky sat on a log still sketching like crazy in his sketchbook that never left his side. Inky only drew with ink pens, never pencils, so his fingers and hands were always covered in black ink. He read somewhere that real artists never erased mistakes, they just worked them into their drawing. 
I flexed my numb fingers and grimaced as they itched and tingled. The rough bark had scratched off the day-old scabs I had gotten from falling - instead of stepping- out of my mom’s van. I brushed the constellation of bright red blood dots off my palms onto my shorts. My mom wouldn’t be surprised by a little more blood. She told me once I kept the stain remover company in business all by myself. 
“Did you get it?” I asked Inky. 
He leaned back so I could see the page over his shoulder. 

I saw a guy hanging from a tree branch, a serious look of determination in his eye, the muscles in his arms bulging.
“Wow, who is that?” I asked.
“That’s you!” Inky grinned. “At least, it’s based on you.” 
“No way, dude.” I shook my head.
“What did I do wrong?” Inky held the sketchbook out at arm’s length and squinted at it through his glasses. 

Once again Inky’s drawing skills blew my mind. The guy on the paper did not look like some clumsy, scabby kid. The guy on the paper looked strong and brave. And cool. If I looked like the guy on the paper I would have no trouble starting middle school in two weeks.
“Nothing, as usual. It’s amazing,” I patted his shoulder. “I just wish I looked like that in real life.” 
Inky was the best artist in our elementary school. I was sure he was going to be the best artist in sixth grade, maybe even the entire middle school. But he was so shy about his drawings, I was the only one who knew how good he really was. Sometimes I felt like I was Robin to his Batman, keeping his talent a secret. If Robin was a total klutz, that is. 
 The scab on my elbow itched. I scratched it. Then the one near my ankle itched. Neither one seemed to be getting better fast enough. 
“Only two more weeks,” I reminded Inky. 
“That’s plenty of time,” Inky said.   
I hoped it was. It had to be. Only two more weeks and I could start middle school scab-free and get rid of that stupid nickname from elementary school. 
Trying not to get scabs ruined the summer. I wanted to climb trees. I wanted to use my new skateboard. I wanted to backflip off the diving board and play flashlight tag and even camp out with Inky in his backyard. But every one of those was sure to end up with klutzy me earning a brand new reddish-brown bumpy, itchy scab.
I looked at my palms again. They stung. Would these heal in two weeks? Even though I had stopped doing anything fun, or basically stopped, I still got scabs. When one got better, I tripped, or fell, or bumped into something and a whole new scab started. I couldn’t go into school with a scab. Not after the yearbook fiasco.
“Are you almost done?” I said. I wanted to head back to the air conditioning. It was late in the afternoon and even in the cool of the woods sweat rolled down my back.

“Almost,” Inky said without looking up. 
I wished there was a breeze. But the woods were completely still. As soon as I noticed that, I realized there was something different about the woods. There was no sound at all. No birds, no insects. 
The woods weren’t big but once you’re a little ways in you can’t see any houses. Basically it was a large area of trees and bushes but there was a ravine with a creek winding along the bottom. Down there were some cool boulders that were fun to climb on, but you had to watch out for poison ivy. And no matter how careful I was, I usually ended up with a new set of scrapes, bruises and a really itchy rash. Whenever Inky and I played in the woods we usually went to a small clearing with some fallen logs. Other kids went there, too, because once we found the cold black ashes of a campfire and a bunch of crushed, empty beer cans there. We didn’t tell Inky’s mom about that. 
We were alone, but I couldn't shake the feeling that someone or something was nearby. I stared into the trees. And then I heard a sound that filled my stomach with piranhas. 
“Oh no,” I said. “Hide!”
I shoved Inky backward off the log and dragged him behind a tree trunk.  
“Tony!” Inky said. “Watch out!”
I scanned the woods. I couldn’t see them but I could hear them.
“You bent the page,” he said. Typical Inky. He wasn’t worried about the coming danger, but if anything happened to his sketchbook the world would end.

“Shh!” I whispered. “Sorry!”

“You almost wrecked my drawing,” he frowned.

“Sorry sorry,” I whispered. Then I clamped my hand over his mouth and pointed. A group of kids we knew came into sight on the trail, but they were the last kids I wanted to see on summer vacation.

“It’s Gunderpants,” I said.

Gunther, or as I secretly called him “Gunderpants,” had a chipped tooth and his own smartphone. He had a group of friends who followed him around like the Secret Service. They were always whispering to each other and shoving people out of the way. I called them the Mosquito Swarm because they were just as irritating. Seeing Gunther and his gang was not how I planned to end my summer. I hoped he had been abducted by aliens or recruited for science experiments at the bottom of the ocean. 
I knew when sixth grade started I’d have to face him but I wasn’t ready. I still had scabs. I peeked out.

“Did he see us?” Inky asked. I shook my head and didn’t answer.

“Good, because if he did I bet he would—”

Before Inky finished his sentence, Gunderpants froze. He held out an arm and the Mosquitos bumped into each other. Gunther scanned the woods. I didn’t duck fast enough.



“Hello, Scabs,” he grinned.

12 comments:

  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    Minor suggestion: The sentence “He glanced at me, then back at his sketchbook…” feels a little repetitive. Perhaps you can say something along the lines of “He ping-ponged between me and his sketchbook.”

    The sentences “We were in the woods behind Inky’s house…midair over a cliff” could perhaps have some voice injected into it. Maybe a unique phrase here or there to spice it up (like you do in the next paragraph – you describe Inky’s habits with a lot of voice).

    I love the “stain remover company” line. You have great voice here, and I loved the revisions you made. The “I didn’t duck fast enough” was such a great way to build tension and hook us. I wanted to read more!

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    1. Thank you Gloria, very kind of you to say you wanted to read more. Excellent points for me to address in the next version!

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  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    Great job on the revisions! We get to the tension quicker, and I love how you end with I didn’t duck fast enough. You have done a great job with the voice – and I would definitely want to keep on reading.

    A few things – a lot of sentences start with I. It’s a problem with first person, but there are ways to minimize it. Instead of:

    I gritted my teeth as the rough bark scratched my palms.

    Try: Gritting my teeth as the ….

    And then I’d suggest reading the entire thing out loud. Your ear will pick up more repetition and echoes than your eyes.

    Also, if Inky is such a big klutz, we need to see it. We see Tony’s mad drawing skills, which is great, but we need to see why Inky has this nickname. There is too much telling with regards to that – show us.

    Lastly, towards the end – I’d suggest not having - I secretly called him “Gunderpants,” and then a few lines later having - I called them the Mosquito Swarm. Separate this out a bit, or rephrase. It feels a bit like a list as it is.

    That’s basically it! I look forward to reading next week!

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    1. Thanks Erin. The read-aloud is important! Have to do that. Will look for places to get rid of "I" and making sure I show Tony as a klutz.

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  3. Hi Elizabeth
    I know I commented on these two points before but I'm still wondering what Tony's nickname is?

    And, this sentence - I knew when sixth grade started I’d have to face him but I wasn’t ready. I still had scabs. I peeked out. I'm left feeling I have questions about this. But then again this is so hard as they are probably answered on page 6 LOL.
    So, other than that I liked it :)

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  4. Hi Elizabeth
    I know I commented on these two points before but I'm still wondering what Tony's nickname is?

    And, this sentence - I knew when sixth grade started I’d have to face him but I wasn’t ready. I still had scabs. I peeked out. I'm left feeling I have questions about this. But then again this is so hard as they are probably answered on page 6 LOL.
    So, other than that I liked it :)

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    1. HI Sarah, I think some bad formatting made it hard to see the last line where I reveal Tony's nickname. But just in case, it's Scabs. Hopefully the fact that you were left with questions would encourage you to keep reading?? I hope? thanks for your critique!

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  5. Hi Elizabeth,

    I agree with Erin on the number of sentences beginning with "I". Had a similar problem with my last novel, Sons of the Sphinx. It takes a bit of work to re-work your sentence structure, but the story will flow better.

    Definitely liked the addition of "Not after the yearbook fiasco." I'll be wondering about that for quite a while.

    Loved how you changed the description of Gunther and his crew to the Mosquito Swarm. Not even sure you need the rest of that sentence, as irritating popped into my mind as soon as I read it!

    Heightening the tension at the end of this excerpt does wonders. I also like how you slip in Tony's nickname.

    Great storyline here.

    Cheryl

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    1. Thanks Cheryl. That's interesting about deleting the remainder of the Mosquito Swarm. I always worry things won't be clear to young readers, but if you think I can delete it, it will help me keep the beginning moving. Thank you!

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  6. I don't even know what to say! Guessing his nickname is Scab? hehe

    I agree on too many "I's", and I'd suggest a way to fix it, but *I* just got slapped my hands for that as well in a different workshop. So, good luck to us both figuring it out. It's definitely a problem here "I knew when sixth grade started I’d have to face him but I wasn’t ready. I still had scabs. I peeked out."

    I'm in love with "Guntherpants" nickname, and I want to be friends with Inky. Can't ask for more.

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  7. “I’m slipping!” I gasped. My fingers were numb.” I think it would be more accurate to say “My fingers were growing numb” or almost numb or “I was starting to lose feeling in my fingers.” If his fingers were already numb, then I think it would be hard for him to still keep his grip.

    Argh!” I cried as I fell. I hit the ground almost instantly because I had only been dangling about a foot in the air.” I think you give this away too fast. If he hits the ground and then he cries out in pain or worry because of the scabs, then Inky could say, “It was only a foot.” This would create more tension and then more humor. It would also show us what an imagination Scabs has.

    I love that we get more about the scabs now. This version reveals more about his character. He’s clumsy, and self-conscious, but he has a sense of humor. Great. I love this character.

    “I saw a guy hanging from a tree branch, a serious look of determination in his eye, the muscles in his arms bulging.” Love this.

    “Wow, who is that?” I asked.

    “That’s you!” Inky grinned. “At least, it’s based on you.” Fantastic.

    “Once again Inky’s drawing skills blew my mind. The guy on the paper did not look like some clumsy, scabby kid. The guy on the paper looked strong and brave. And cool. If I looked like the guy on the paper I would have no trouble starting middle school in two weeks. Great!

    “Nothing, as usual. It’s amazing,” I patted his shoulder. “I just wish I looked like that in real life.” I would cut this. You don’t need to tell us in dialogue what we already know.

    “Shh!” I whispered. Sorry!” I don’t think you need this sorry.

    “Sorry sorry,” I whispered.” I think it’s stronger to cut the sorry sorry and go right to--I clamped my hand over his mouth and pointed. A group of kids we knew came into sight on the trail, but they were the last kids I wanted to see on summer vacation.

    “It’s Gunderpants,” I said. I love the nickname.

    “I called them the Mosquito Swarm because they were just as irritating. You are so good at metaphor and description. Give us more here than just “irritating.” Describe how they are like a swarm of mosquitoes, so we can feel the irritation.

    “Hello, Scabs,” he grinned. Great way to end this section (chapter?)


    As I said before, I love the voice, and Scabs and Inky are great characters. I think in this revision you’ve given us more of the great stuff, and I can understand and relate to Scabs so much more.

    Great work. I look forward to your next revision.

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    1. Thanks - this is helpful, I've gone through and addressed your comments. This is the end of my first chapter. I'm going for shorter chapters in the hopes of keeping interest and readability high.

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