Sunday, June 14, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop - Van Wagoner Revision 1

Name: Traci Van Wagoner
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Dragon Dilemma

I just wanted to get the cow manure home without talking to anyone, but someone with my luck never gets the happily ever after like in Gran’s Big Book of Fairy Tales. I pushed the cart along the overgrown road. All I had left was this one last cartful, and I was golden like the eggs laid by Jack’s goose. Promise kept.

My mom made me promise to keep my mouth shut. Her excuse was she didn’t want anyone to know we traded chicken eggs we weren’t supposed to have for an extra cart load of manure. But I knew she was really afraid that if I talked to anyone, I would turn them into frog or something. She thinks I’m a witch, and maybe I am.

It was getting hard to ignore the strange things that happened around me. Like yesterday's bumbling. It was too painful to even think about.

Ever since my thirteenth birthday a month ago, I had failed at more apprenticeship interviews than anyone in the history of Hidden Lake, I’m sure. But it wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t help it if animals liked to do weird things around me, and to usually cause the Master of whatever craft or trade or last-chance pickle-maker to holler and shout and chase me out. And I didn’t ask for any of those animals to follow me home either.

Like the crows were doing now. But that was probably because of the manure. They flew above me like a black cloud, diving in now and again to peck at the cow pies that my brother should be carting instead of me. But no, he was back at the farm fixing the hydrotractor again. At least he had a valuable skill. Mom and Pop had even turned down an apprenticeship with the local Tinkersmith to keep him on at the farm to fix things.

The only valuable skill I seemed to have, besides carting dung, and it was coincidence despite what Reggie said, was singing eggs from the chickens. He liked to tease me saying I sing and -- bam! -- out pops the eggs. I say it's just Reggie’s stupid big brother theory to keep his little sister worried about being dragged off to the CMP, the Center for Mutated Persons. I’m at least 90% positive they would lay their eggs without me singing to them.

A crow looked up from its pecking and tilted its head at me. I wondered what Mom would think of this new batch of birds I was apparently bringing home. At least the chickens gave us eggs. I thought about shooing the crows away, but I had to admit I liked their company. It was just me and them on the South Road, empty all the way to the South Wall visible as a smudge of blue at the end of the valley.

All I had to worry about now, was getting past the farm between me and home. Past the memories welling up inside me. But I couldn't keep them down, just like I couldn't keep down the anger every time I thought of her. My ex-best friend, Sara.

Without me telling them to, my feet stopped to look at the house at the edge of the potato fields. The back window which used to be Sara's bedroom was dark like I knew it would be.

I sighed. Every Planting Day since I could remember, we had worked side-by-side digging in the dirt, planting the seedlings, and telling each other our deepest, darkest secrets.  But then she betrayed me. She took an apprenticeship with our enemy and abandoned me.

Her apprenticeship with the tailor offered her a room, a new home in the Craft District of the lower city. She was too good for me now. Soft clothes. Shiny shoes. Clean fingernails. New friends.

I turned away. Well, so what? Who needs her anyway with her mousy voice and wide eyes as if everything was a surprise. She never had to worry about being carted off to the CMP. She was normal as normal could be.

No use crying over spilt milk, I told myself using one of Gran’s favorite sayings.

I froze as the familiar squeak of Sara’s front door split the quiet afternoon. I glanced behind me and my heart flip-flopped. It was her. And she was with none other than our once upon a time arch enemy, Gabriella Taylor. Little Miss Gabs-a-lot herself.

Their giggles rose in the spring afternoon. I put my head down and pushed the cart with all my might, which wasn't much being a short and scrawny girl. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me. It didn’t help having a black cloud of birds circling overhead.

“Adeline!” Sara shouted.

Ka-thunk, bump! One of the wheels hit a hole. Out bounced manure. All over my feet.

“Addy, wait!”

Right then and there, I wished I was a witch like Mom feared so I could turn myself invisible. I squeezed my eyes shut. Turn invisible, turn invisible.

“Hey, Adeline, you know we can see you even with your eyes closed,” came Gabby’s snotty voice.

Nope. Not a witch. Not invisible.

I peeked through my eyelashes. Sara stood touching shoulders with Gabby.

She wiggled her fingers in a little wave. “Hi Addy.”

I didn’t wave back.

“I heard you caused quite the ruckus at the pickle plant yesterday,” Gabby said. She nudged Sara who laughed along with her. They both mimicked what I must've looked like, arms waving and legs kicking while spinning in a circle.

My face burned. News sure does travel fast. I focused on shoveling the cow pies back into the cart. It wasn’t my fault that dumb cat was twisting itself around my feet so I fell and stumbled into a control panel that threw the whole works into chaos as my hands slammed into every single button.

“Oh come on, Addy, that was funny,” Gabby said.

Ha, ha, so funny I forgot to laugh. Maybe if I ignored them, they would go away. Again, not my kind of luck.

“Well, I say you can’t get an apprenticeship because you stink,” Gabby said.

My teeth clenched so hard my jaw ached. I would not let her get to me. I shooed a bird away and shoveled the last cow pie back into the cart.

“Yeah, you stink because you are scooping poop,” Sara said. I bit my tongue and glared at her.

“Addy the Pooper Scooper,” Gabby said, smiling at my ex-best friend as if they had always been the best of buds. “But then again, being a pooper scooper is much better than being a witch, right Sara?”

My stomach clenched. How much had Sara told her? Sara shrank further behind Gabby and threw me an apologetic look. I threw it back. I couldn't breathe.

Gabby and her family could easily get me carted off as a mutant to be locked away in the CMP with even the hint of anything out of the ordinary. 'For the good of the community,' like the Governor says after every speech, and the teachers tells us to recite at the end of every lesson.

“Oh, come on Addy, we're just teasing,” Gabby said. “You take everything too serious. You’ve got to learn to laugh at yourself.”

Easy for her to say with her perfect and ordinary life, with every fingernail polished to perfection and every hair in place.


  1. What a great revision! I can imagine the scene so much better and am understanding the loss of Sara's friendship. I like that she seems to attract animals and likes them. Makes her more sympathetic as a character. Even crows will be her friends.

    I wonder about the use of two cliches in the first sentences. Happily ever after and golden eggs. I don't think either adds to the description and they take me out of it while I try to remember the tales.

    Again you use a trite saying with "Ha. Ha. So funny I forgot to laugh." You do not need it.

    The references to CMP confuse me and why are they threats of being carted off to? Who does the carting? Is it like a prison or insane asylum?

    The idea that she may or may not be a witch intrigues me. If this is central to the story, build it up.

    The fantasy world is becoming clearer. Your details help the reader to imagine it.

  2. Thank you so much for your revisions! You've made some really wonderful changes here that I think work well. Specifically, I feel like you've worked out the pacing issue without slowing down the story too much. Kudos for that.

    I'm still have a problem with the voice (and I actually think it comes down more to word choice than to the overall vibe). It's an MG fantasy, but it feels a little more contemporary. The use of "Mom and Pop" for example, feels like something they might say in the 50s, and the "Center for Mutated Persons" feels much more like a contemporary or Victorian term rather than a fantasy one. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't use those terms, but they don't seem to fit well with the story and pull me out of it.

    I'd also echo what Margaret said about avoiding trite phrases. Specifically I'd point to the "No use crying over spilt milk" comment attributed to her grandmother. Rather than phrases like those, use that as an opportunity to make up your own or to twist well-known phrases into something unexpected but natural to your world. Well-known phrases like that will turn readers off, but if you make it your own, give them something unexpected, you'll grab them.

    The other thing I'd advise is about specificity. You write, "I would turn them into frog or something." and "Like yesterday's bumbling." These are moments to get specific and creative. Things like that aren't best left to readers' imaginations. Give them good vivid imagery. Don't just turn them into a frog, turn them into a frog sitting on the side of the cart eating flies buzzing over the manure. Or turn them into a giant dung beetle so they can help her roll that cart of poop home faster. Never go with something vague when you can be specific.

    This is a really great revision. Thank you for sharing it. I can't wait to see the next one!

  3. Love the comments you're getting from Shaun and everyone else, Traci! You did a great job with this revision, I can really *see* the world so much better - and I understand it a bit better, too. I feel like you have lots in store for Addy and I'm curious about what's going to happen, so that's a good thing!

    I'm still a little confused by why everyone thinks she's a witch? Are there other witches in this world? To have another witch/or suspected witch mentioned might be helpful, just a brief mention or anecdote.

    The CMP sounds like something from X-Men - does this world really have a place like this, or is it just a threat? If its for real, perhaps a mention/anecdote about someone the family knows who was sent away there. That would raise the stakes and the tension of the story.

    Is there something significant about the fact that when Addy turned 13 she failed at all the apprenticeship interviews? Can you elaborate on that a bit?

    Fourth paragraph, second sentence: It's a very long sentence and you have two ideas in it that get a bit confusing and convoluted. I was focused on the fact that animals do weird things around her and then suddenly it's talking about Master of various crafts chasing her out. I think those two ideas need to have their own sentence/ and or paragraph. I get the feeling they're important to the story.

    Near the end when Gabby is mimicking Addy's waving arms and legs I wasn't sure what she was referring to: the incident with the manure falling on her feet - or something that happened at the pickle plant? And if the pickle plant tell us what happened!! :-) Is it the cat incident? But why would a pickle plant have a cat roaming around - and the explanation comes a bit too late so that the teasing isn't connected well enough to the incident.

    Wishing you much luck this week on your revisions!! Can't wait for Sunday's new pages.


  4. I am really enjoying this story. Poor Addy! Though I'm so glad the manure only ends up on her feet.

    A few things: First, while I like that she has a special knack with animals, it does make her sound like a witch, which confuses me because she's supposed to be trying and failing to be a witch. Do I have that right? It might help if we knew what kinds of things real witches can do, to show that Addy is far from that.

    It also might be nice to give us a little flashback to a failed apprentice interview. I'd love to see how she's feeling there and what kinds of things she has to try and fail to do.

    I agree with the comments above that the Center for Mutated Persons sounds kind of sci fi.

    I would love to get some hint of how the dragon fits in.

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

  5. Hi there Traci! Boy, the revisions definitely helped a lot of the earlier issues. We’ve got a better sense of the scope of Addy’s troubles and her sense of betrayal with Sara – in particular, the line about abandoning her for an apprenticeship with their enemy says a lot.

    I felt like the transition into reminiscing about Sara (“…Past the memories”, etc.) feels a little forced. Since Addy has been strolling in the direction of the farm for a page or so, it’d be nice to see her dread passing Sara’s house before she passes it. Alternatively, since Addy mentions failing so many apprenticeship interviews, she could also mention that even her ex-best friend Sara had found an apprenticeship.

    We also see that Addy’s scared of being labeled as a witch, and toward the end, we make the connection that witches can get taken and locked away at the CMP. Having that connection be made sooner will make it all the worse that Addy sure seems to be a witch.

    Another thing to keep in mind for nailing down the time period for your setting – details will be your friend here. Is Sara’s farmhouse wattle-and-daub, timber-frame, clapboard, or another style of housing? What are Addy’s shoes like? Heck, is she wearing a skirt or pants, and if the latter, is it socially acceptable for girls to wear them? You can use these to build up the world you’ve got as well as building up the characters themselves.

    Good work with this revision! I’m excited to see the next one.

  6. Great revisions. Just some smaller things now:

    I agree that you should eliminate one of the metaphors in the first paragraph. I'd also change one of the two occurrences of the jaw or stomach clenching.

    "My mom" should be "Mom" otherwise she is speaking TO the reader.

    I'm confused about who the enemy is here. You say it's the tailor Sara took an apprenticeship with, but then you go on to say Gabby was their worst enemy. Is Gabby the tailor? Or his daughter?

    Finally, there is still a lot of telling and backstory for the first part of this. I think you might want to try to weave this into the action more.

    Good luck!