Sunday, June 7, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop - Van Wagoner

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

All I wanted was to haul the last cart of manure home without talking to anyone, but someone with my luck never gets the happily ever after. I made two trips, no problem. The South Road was empty, just me and the silly flock of crows diving in now and then to peck at the cow pies. All I had was one more trip. One. Back and forth, and I’d be home free. No incidents. Promise kept.

I was halfway there, and I had to go and thumb my nose at Lady Luck. I stopped at the end of the lane leading to my X-best friend’s house. I knew she wouldn’t be there, but I missed Sara, even though I’d never admit that to her. Last year we were both outside hauling manure together. We laughed and told each other our deepest secrets. I would keep hers to the grave. I hoped she would keep mine.

The back window which used to be her bedroom was dark like I knew it would be. She’d gotten her apprenticeship with the tailor and had moved to the Craft District in the lower city. She was too good for me now. Soft clothes. Shiny shoes. Clean fingernails. New friends. Who needed her anyway?

I turned away but froze as the familiar squeak of her front door sounded as loud as thunder to my ears. 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. Gabby for short, cause she was never short on gab. Sure as my shadow was following me, she was busy yakking in Sara’s ear, probably making fun of me. 

I shoved my weight into the wagon. Time to flee. Their giggles rose in the spring afternoon, chasing me. I put my head down and pushed with all my might. Must. Go. Faster. But cow poop is heavy and the road was bumpy. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me. It didn’t help having a black cloud of birds circling overhead. Go away! I thought, to the birds or the two girls, I wasn’t sure which. If anything, the birds grew more agitating, cackling down at me.

My name floated on the wind. I risked a glance under my armpit. The girls turned right at the end of the lane. Toward me. Dang it, cow poop, move faster.

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

“Addy, wait!”

I looked around wildly. I should run. Ditch the poop and get my butt out of there. But I couldn’t leave the manure. Pop had paid with chicken eggs we weren’t supposed to have, sacrificing our breakfasts for a week to pay for it. So, standing in the middle of a pile of cow poop, too valuable to leave behind, I gave up all hope of dignity. Right then and there, for the first time ever, I wished I really was a witch like Mom feared.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Turn invisible, turn invisible. If I were a witch, it would work, right?
“Hey, Adeline, you know we can see you even with your eyes closed,” came Gabby’s snotty voice.

Nope, not invisible. I peaked through my eyelashes. Sara stood with her shoulders slumped half hidden behind Gabby.

“I heard you were turned down for another apprenticeship yesterday,” Gabby said. “I heard you nearly burned down the warehouse.” She nudged Sara who laughed along with her.

I scowled at them. 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.

My face was hot. I hoped my hair covered my stupid blushing as I shoveled the manure back into the cart with my teeth clenched so hard my jaw ached. Only in an extreme emergency was I to say anything. I promised Mom I wouldn’t.

“Maybe you can’t get an apprenticeship because you stink.” Gabby said, pinching her perfect turned-up-little-pixie nose.

Real funny. I shooed a bird away and shoveled the last cow pie back into the cart. Every day since my thirteenth birthday a month ago, Mom and sometimes Pop, dragged me to various places around Hidden Lake to get me an apprenticeship with someone … anyone. Every day they came home with me tagging along behind them, staring at my toes so they wouldn’t see my grin.

“Yeah, you stink because you are scooping poop,” Sara said. 

“Addy the Pooper Scooper. Good one,” Gabby said, smiling at my X-best friend as if they had always been the best of buds. Only a few months ago, Sara and I would’ve been making fun of Gabby. “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? I evil-eyed them both as if I were a witch and could turn them both into frogs. Sara shrank further behind Gabby and threw me an apologetic look.

“Oh, come on Addy, that’s funny,” Gabby said. “You’ve got to learn to laugh at yourself.” 
One of the birds darted right at her, cackling like mad. It flew so close, Gabby’s hair blew off her surprised face. She squealed and flapped her arms.

I laughed and Gabby stopped her ridiculous dance. “You should laugh at your own self,” I said.

“So, she does speak,” Gabby said, brushing her skirts. She stuck her nose in the air. “We came all the way out to the stupid boondocks to invite you to join us tomorrow — thanks to Sara,” Gabby scowled at the smaller girl shrinking behind her. “We’re going to Master Hubert T. Bozzlewig’s Amazing Menagerie and Traveling Show. Limited Engagement.”

Sara looked at me with big eyes. “He’s only here for a week. He came from outside the gates, and he’s got all kinds of animals. I know you like animals.”

Gabby smiled, looking down her nose at me. “Hey, I’ve got a wonderful idea. You should ask him for an apprenticeship.” Sara nodded enthusiastically, and Gabby went on to say. “I’m sure he needs someone to pick up all the poop from his most amazing animals still left on earth. Maybe he’ll give you an apprenticeship as his pooper scooper. Then it would be official, Addy the Royal Pooper Scooper.”

“Leave her alone,” Sara said in her mousy voice.

She was sorry, I knew, but I didn’t care. “I don’t need you to stand up for me. I don’t need any of you. I don’t need any stupid apprenticeship. I like digging in the dirt! Maybe I like to stink so people like you won’t bother me!”

What I didn’t say out loud was that at that moment I wanted more than anything for them to stink worse than me, for Gabby’s pretty pink and purple dress to be covered in poop like my dingy overalls.

In a flurry of beating wings, the flock of birds swooped in like a black cloud over the girls and let loose their wet gooey loads. It was raining poop.

“Ew! Stop it!” Sara screamed.

“You’ll regret this, Addy the Royal Pooper Scooper!” Gabby shouted as they ran away.

“Serves you right!” I shouted. I cheered the birds on as they chased the screaming girls.


  1. Your first paragraph sets up this scene well. I am right there, scooping and smelling the manure!

    I advise you to take out the first sentence of the second paragraph because you are using a cliche' in addition to telling. Show us what happens next. I would even suggest using Sara's name and not identifying her as X-best friend. By the end I actually like Sara and I don't think she is totally in control of her position.

    The title of your book is Dragon Dilemma; however, there is no mention of dragons or even many references that identify this as fantasy.

    You have some strong characters emerging here and you should trust that. Try to cull out the telling parts, such as "Gabby for short cause she was never short on gab." Soon enough we figure out Gabby's character.

    I look forward to reading your revisions.

  2. The happily ever after at the beginning immediately made me think romance. I know this is MG but that term is not. There are a few other places where it sounds a little old. For example, "I gave up all hope of dignity". This seems upper YA to me.

    I agree about the telling. You need to show us who Sara is and that she misses her by her actions. Sometimes, a pause at the end of the driveway or thought of something they used to do on that driveway is enough to show there was a relationship that went sour/ended. Also, turning around to say "Who needed her anyway?" in the next paragraph negates the longing feeling almost immediately. Consider if this is what you want. Same comment about Gabby. Show us she's the enemy and how that makes her feel. She may want to act tough outwardly, but her inner thoughts need to reflect her actual feelings.

    This is just a tidbit but I feel like I'm reading the word "poop" too often. Also, it almost doesn't go with the older MG voice in earlier sections. Would this 13yo say "all hope of dignity" but also say "poop"? They don't seem to mesh.

    Good luck with the revisions!

  3. Hi Traci,

    You've got the makings of an interesting MG novel and with a few more clarifying words or sentences I think you can hone in on who your main character is more. I agree with both Holly and and Margaret above (just in case that helps to know that several people confer on those areas :-))

    Addy has a definite "voice" and style, and that's good! (I'd take out at least half of the "poop" repetitions. We get it with one or two.) But I would really like to see more of her past, close friendship with Sara. Is it possible to show this or have her remember specific instances that now hurt to see Sara with Gabby? It would make Addy more sympathetic, too. We would feel her pain along with her.

    A few questions to consider while revising:
    1. Why doesn't Mom want Addy to say anything to the girls? What's the reasoning/consequences, or why would talking to them be bad?
    2. Why does Addy think she should ditch the poop and run? Does she fear the girls for some reason?
    3. This is stated as a fantasy but I'm not seeing any fantasy elements yet.
    4. What time period is this and where is it set? I'm having difficulty picturing the setting. Some language/dialogue sounds old-fashioned, but other instances the girls sound modern/contemporary. Even little phrases or a sentence or two would help ground the reader.
    5. X-best friend should be ex-best friend.
    6. peaked should be peeked.(This is nit-picky but thought I'd point it out.)
    7.Why are girls apprentices' in this setting and time period? It's unusual to use that phraseology in contemporary times and if this story takes place in the past it's even more unusual.
    8. I LOVE the "Master Hubert T. Bozzlewig's Amazing Menagerie and Traveling Show. Limited Engagement." This mention proves to foreshadow a grand adventure and mystery!
    9. Sara mentions that Master Bozzlewig came from outside the gates. What gates? Is this an enclosed, cut-off community? (Sounds a bit dystopian, actually.)
    10. "Addy the Royal Pooper Scooper." Since Master Bozzlewig is not royalty this nickname doesn't completely jive. Perhaps she could be called the Official Pooper Scooper or something like that.
    11. Finally, I wasn't sure the MC was a girl until the end of the second page. Her voice and activity (hauling the manure) could have been either a girl or a boy. Perhaps clarify this earlier somehow?

    These are all very do-able fixes, Traci! Can't wait to see your revision next week!


  4. Hi, Traci! Thank you for sharing this.

    In terms of these first five pages, I actually think the setup here works really well. There's tension, there's humor, and by the end, I have an idea of what the problem might be and where the story might be going. So, that' definitely a good thing.

    My two major suggestions would be to think about the voice and to slow down a little and give the scene some breathing room.

    Voice is always a bit tricky. I like that this is a fantasy but has a conversational feeling to it (it kind of has a Shrek vibe going on). However, sometimes it doesn't feel like you've committed 100% to the voice. There are places were it gets too serious, and others where it got too silly. I think you need to find a middle ground with the voice and then really stick with it consistently throughout the story.

    As for slowing down, that's usually something I don't tend to advise, but you're cramming a lot of information into such a small space, that I think you actually can expand on some of the ideas a little bit more before moving on. Show us a little more who our narrator is. Show us Sara and Gabby before we're running away from them. Try to avoid having Addy tell us who they are, allow readers to see it for ourselves. In that way, you'll give readers time to catch their breaths before we move on.

    Some smaller notes: "ex-best friend" rather than "x". Try to avoid exposition in dialog. "I know you like animals," tells us about Addy, but it feels too much like exposition.

    I'm really excited to see where you go with this in revisions. Thank you again for sharing!

  5. Traci,
    You've got an intriguing first line, a main character I'm rooting for, and a fun set up with young witches. Nicely done! My few comments:
    First, I'd love some more world building, particularly in terms of time. Is this a long ago fantasy world? A futuristic one? The set up with the manure cart felt old-fashioned, but some of the language (e.g., thumbing my nose at Lady Luck; get my butt out of there) seemed more modern, and then the control panel seemed futuristic.
    I wasn't sure if Sara is actually mean to Addy or is just going along with Gabby. I thought it was mostly the latter, but then Sara says the line starting "You stink...." Because that was the only line where Sara was affirmatively mean, it threw me a bit.
    For some reason, I wanted to understand whether the manure ended up all over her (like, from her head down), or just on her feet. I'm hoping it's the latter, because otherwise, that scene is just so painful!
    Addy and Gabby are really similar names. I like the idea that Gabby gabs a lot, but consider whether it might be easier for the reader if the names were a little more distinct.
    Overall, I really enjoyed this, and am really rooting for your MC. Good luck!

  6. Hi there Traci! I like the first line a lot, but I agree with the others – it sounds a bit too world-weary for MG. That said, a lot of Addy’s voice comes from what sounds like a tough background, so it’s understandable for her to sound a little old for her age, just not TOO old.

    I enjoy the apprenticeship concept, and I think fleshing it out a bit more could be helpful. There’s a bit of technological dissonance between the idea of being apprenticed to a job involving a control panel, and Addy’s current reality of hauling manure on a cart by hand – it makes it harder to pin down the approximate era this is set in. You could potentially explain some of the professions other girls have been apprenticed to in a way that helps us get a better sense of the setting. (For example, we’d learn a lot about the setting if we knew there was one girl apprenticed to the village’s only midwife, or in contrast, if there were girls apprenticed with every dentist, doctor, and apothecary in the city.)

    Sara’s conflict is interesting too, and I think a lot of readers will know exactly what it feels like when your BFF ditches you for someone cooler. It may help us get a stronger sense of her internal conflict if she starts out meaner but ends up being nice, or vice versa, just so she only makes one big switch rather than floating around the middle like right now.

    All in all I enjoyed reading this! Good luck with revisions!