Sunday, March 22, 2015

First 5 Pages March Workshop - Pagel-Hogan Revision 2

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

I gripped the tree branch with all of my strength, but couldn’t hold on much longer.

“Hang on, Tony!” cried my best friend Inky. 

I closed my eyes. My arms felt like they 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 going numb.

“I’ve almost got it!” Inky said. “Just one more second!” He glanced back and forth from me to his sketchbook. I tried to hold on as his hand whipped around the page.

“Argh!” I cried and fell. I hit the ground and my ankle twisted under and I fell backwards into the dry leaves. Only klutzy me would get hurt after dangling about a foot above the ground. We were in the woods behind Inky’s house working on his new comic book story. I was helping Inky out so he could draw a character in his new comic realistically dangling in midair over a cliff. 

Inky sat on a log still drawing 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 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 minivan. 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.

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.

My palms 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. 

If only 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 a little ways in the nearby houses are hidden and it feels like a wilderness. 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 there was lots of 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.

“You almost wrecked my drawing,” he frowned.

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 always whispering to each other and laughing at Gunther’s mean pranks and shoving people out of the way. My secret nickname for them was the Mosquitos. 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.

Chapter Two - The Tunnel
“Hi Gunther,” I muttered and stood up. His huge booted feet snapped thick twigs as he left the trail and marched into the clearing. Gunther had six inches on me. 


  1. Like how this reads, Elizabeth.

    This section seem out of place with the expository paragraph that follows:

    "If only 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."

    I'm expecting some sort of revelation or danger, but then you have the paragraph describing the woods. This description should come earlier. It disrupts the tension of the story.

    Good job.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion about rearranging the woods description, I really think you're right about moving that around.

  2. I love the changes, great job! It’s nice to see Tony being a klutz and getting hurt. And I still love how Inky draws Tony, which is such a great way to describe how Tony sees himself. Great job getting Gunther in there, and saying Tony’s nickname, as well

    There is a bit too much telling in these first pages. I spot several areas where you could tighten it, and thus improve the pacing. Talking about the scabs, and how often he gets them, is repeated several times. Do it once, make it powerful, and then harken back only briefly – I itched my scab, or rubbed my leg, etc, or when you show us falling. (I still would like to see him fall over the log and end up with another scab!). Also, the woods don’t need to be described in such detail – how big it is, why you go there, etc. That paragraph slows the narrative.

    You’ve done a great job moving the story along, introducing us to the characters, and setting up the conflict. Good luck revising!

    1. Thanks Erin, I will dive back in there and take care of those repetitive sections.

  3. I'm going to agree with Erin on her suggestions.

    I did love Tony and am hopeful by the end of the book he can stand up to Gunther and any other bullies. By the end, I was already rooting for Tony and Inky and I loved how he described himself as Robin instead of Batman. It was rather telling.

    Great job on this and keep it up! Good luck.

    1. Thank you Kimberly, I am glad to hear you connected with my characters. I appreciate your time and input very much.

  4. I agree with Erin that some repetition can be cut. At the same time, I want to add that I like these characters already, and that's important. They look like kids, and sound like kids, and act like kids, and it really fits MG audience you are aiming for. I'm still giggling over Guntherpants, then again, it doesn't take much over here...

    1. Thanks Lyudmyla, it's good to know another grown adult still laughs at underwear jokes!

  5. This is really much tighter and better. Its come a long way. I had confusion at first and now I do not. I agree with Erin that you have moved this along nicely. Thank you for revealing the nickname. Great job!

  6. This is really much tighter and better. Its come a long way. I had confusion at first and now I do not. I agree with Erin that you have moved this along nicely. Thank you for revealing the nickname. Great job!

  7. Hi Elizabeth,

    I don't have too much to add to the other comments, but I will say that I agree with Erin about the longer descriptive paragraphs. Just a little trimming could help.

    You have so much voice here, and there's so much to love - your characters, Inky's drawing, the tension with the bullies, just to name a few.

    Best of luck! It's been a pleasure! Hope you see success with this soon!

    1. Will do, thanks Gloria! Thanks for your input and advice. Best of luck to you and Mei!

  8. I think Tony and Inky are wonderful characters. You do a great job establishing their friendship and the strong bond they have. Tony has spent all summer trying to avoid scabs, but for Inky, and Inky's art, he is willing to take the risk of getting more scabs. . It's fantastic. When Gunther and his Mosquitos show up, I already care about Tony and Inky, and I'm worried for them. You do so much in very few pages. Great work!

  9. You wrote that Tony is willing to get more scabs for Inky. If you feel that in only five pages, I am on the right track!