Sunday, June 21, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop -- Wagoner Revision 2

Name: Traci Van Wagoner
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: Dragon Dilemma (may change to: Outside of Normal)

I pushed the cart along the overgrown road and mimicked Gran’s storytelling voice, “Once upon a time,” I said to the crows flying in a black cloud above me, “a tragically misunderstood girl trudged alone on an empty road in the boondocks of a protected community of humans, perhaps the last humans on Earth, hidden in the majestic Rocky mountains. She hauled a cart of manure toward home with only one goal in mind, to keep her big mouth shut.”

The crows caw-cawed at me. Some of them dove in to peck at the cow pies. I wondered if Mom meant I shouldn’t even talk to crows. I shrugged. Who were they going to tell?

Before leaving me with the cart of dung, Mom had said, “Please just promise me you’ll keep your mouth shut, Adeline. It’s safer that way.” She had traded eggs we weren’t supposed to have for the manure to fertilize her seedlings. She shouldn’t have had to, but we were docked credits because of the damage I caused at the pickle plant yesterday. Another apprenticeship interview failed. I’m pretty sure I had failed at more interviews than anyone in the history of Hidden Lake. But it wasn’t my fault, most of the time. I couldn’t help it if animals did weird things around me. It’s not like I asked them to follow me around.
One of the crows 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. Just me, the crows, and the flies on the South Road, empty all the way to the Mouth Wall visible as a smudge of blue at the end of the valley.

All I had to do was get past the farm between me and home.  My heart beat faster with each step I took, each step bringing me closer to my ex-best friend Sara’s house. For a second I forgot how to breathe. Seeing her dark bedroom window was like a punch in my gut even though I knew she wouldn’t be there. She hadn’t been there for six months now. Six months with no best friend to talk to.

I sighed, remembering last Planting Day, and every one since we could walk,  Sara and I worked side-by-side digging in the dirt, planting the seedlings, and telling each other our deepest, darkest secrets. She always listened and never judged. I never once thought I shouldn’t tell her about the strange things that happened around me. Or that she’d betray me. Even though every one of us in Hidden Lake was trained since birth to protect the human race. To report anything out of the ordinary and uphold the high standards of our protected community. For the good of humankind. I trusted her.

But then 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 snooty friends.

I turned away and pushed the cart past her lane. Who needs her anyway with her mousy voice and wide eyes as if everything was a surprise. She never had to worry about the guardians coming to cart her off to the CMP, The Center for Mutated Persons. She was normal as normal could be. She was able to get an apprenticeship on her first try. I only hoped she kept my secrets. Hers would go with me to the grave, even though none of hers were dangerous.

Giggles rose in the spring afternoon. I glanced behind me and my heart flip-flopped. It was Sara. And she was with none other than our once upon a time arch enemy, Gabriella Taylor, the tailor’s daughter. Little Miss Gabs-a-lot herself.

Digging in my toes, I pushed the cart as hard as I could. Must go faster. Please go faster. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me. It didn’t help having a black cloud of birds circling overhead.

“Adeline!” Sara shouted. “Addy, wait!”

Ka-thunk, bump! One of the wheels hit a hole. Out bounced manure. All over my hand-me-down boots. 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 Gabsy’s snotty voice.

Nope. Not a witch. Not invisible.

I peeked through my eyelashes. Sara stood touching shoulders with the girl who had once called us both stink-pots.

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,” Gabsy said. She nudged Sara who laughed along with her. They both mimicked what I must've looked like after the cat got tangled up in my legs, their arms waving and legs kicking while spinning in circles.

My face burned, and I focused on shoveling the cow pies back into the cart. I did make a mess of things yesterday, but this time it was for sure not my fault. It was that dumb cat’s fault. I said “hello cute little kitty,” and it followed me around and twisted in and out of my legs, tripping me and causing me to stumble into the control panel which sent the entire pickle factory into a chaotic mess of blaring beeps, broken bottles, and workers shouting and ducking flying pickles. The more I tried to fix it by pushing the flashing red buttons, the worse it got, until I was hauled out of there by my collar with a stern glare and a warning to never come back. The cat was thrown out after me. Serves it right. But then it followed me home. Another animal added to my collection.

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

It was not funny, I was in big trouble. The biggest I’d ever been in. Mom didn’t lecture me, instead she muttered, “We better hope he doesn’t report this. Report you.” Before I could argue, she said, “It’s always something, Adeline. And it usually involves an animal. That’s not …”

She didn’t finish the sentence, but I knew what she was thinking. That’s not normal. 

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

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 glared at her.

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

Every part of me froze. How much had Sara told her? Sara shrank further behind Gabsy and threw me an apologetic look. I threw it back. I couldn't breathe.

Gabsy and her family could easily call the guardians and have me locked away as a mutant in the CMP with even the hint of anything out of the ordinary.

“Oh, come on Addy, we're just teasing,” Gabsy said. 


  1. Traci,
    Nice work! I’m not sure what are all the changes you made, but I feel like this reads smoother. I was right there with Addy, trudging down that road with the cart. It’s much clearer that Addy is attracting the animals and that’s causing problems in her life. I didn’t understand before that the apprenticeships were for non-witch jobs (for some reason, I was thinking that she was trying to be an apprentice witch), but that’s much clearer now. I love Addy’s chagrin at the birds following her.

    Your new opening paragraph is very intriguing. I like that you introduce the crows right away (I love crows!) and you give a sense of Addy’s being put-upon, but also her sense of humor. It is a bit tell-y for an opening. It might help to leave the “boondocks of a protected community” stuff for later.

    When you introduce the conflict with Sara, the physical reactions seemed a bit too much to me – she’s short of breath, her heart is pounding, she’s been punched in the gut, even though she hasn’t seen Sara in six months? I would expect more of a blue feeling instead. Those physical reactions are great, though, when she does see Sara with Gabsy.

    In the paragraph that begins, “I sighed…,” I wasn’t sure if Sara had told people a secret that Addy had shared (maybe about the animals?) or if she was just afraid that Sara would tell, and the betrayal was Sara leaving for the apprenticeship.

    You have created such a great, likeable main character. I think you should keep amping up Addy’s voice and personality, while feeding us the world-building in bits and pieces as you go. Addy’s so fun, I’m happy to follow her while I sort out the rules of this world. Good luck with this!

  2. The balance between showing and telling is tricky. I think you tipped it toward telling in this revision. The previous one read more smoothly for me even though more things are explained. It's almost too much at once and too hard to process it all.

    I do like the addition of the crows. The storytelling line in the first paragraph feels contrived to tell rather than show her situation.

    Your character is developing into someone I can sympathize with. I want to know more. I have high hopes for a change in her situation. You have created someone we can root for. Good luck!

  3. Hi Traci,

    I echo the nice work in this revision. I feel like I know Addy better and I felt her emotions along with her more, as well as it read a bit more smoothly. I also liked having more world-building details, although try not to do too much all at once. I did think that there was a lot of telling in the first page or two. Take a look at it again and you'll notice that there are 2 pages (12 paragraphs) of narrative without any dialogue. Is there a way to move some of this a bit later, just shift things around a little? Kids - and adult readers - love dialogue! Perhaps Addy could talk/shout at the crows to bring in some dialogue and show her thoughts instead of telling. Especially if she's alone she could just let loose interacting with the crows. I think the crows are interesting and can be such a great tool for back-story, dialogue, action, and what has happened in Addy's past.

    I agree with the comment above about showing Addy's melancholy and remorse over her ended friendship with Sara. Show us her hurt, her vulnerability, and she will be more empathetic, too.

    Wishing you all the best with your project! You have a great start here for an intriguing world and character with lots of promised intrigue and twists. Keep drafting to the end! I wouldn't spend too much time revising any longer until the entire manuscript is drafted, then you'll know better what to move around - or you might even decide you want to begin the book at a different place! My first chapters get rewritten at least 20 times - even after I've finished the entire book.

    Good luck!


  4. Traci - Thank you for these revisions. It's been great seeing your progress these last couple of weeks.

    I really feel like this flows so much more smoothly. I love the opening. The twist of the "Once upon a time" story trope. It's a nice surprise.

    I'm still really conflicted about the world. It might be just that I'm caught up on the sample being tagged YA Fantasy, but the addition of the "blinking buttons" in the pickle factory is confusing me as to when and where this story is. You mention the Rocky Mountains, and that makes me think this might be set in the US, maybe an alternate history sort of thing. And the Center of Mutated Persons makes the story feel not like fantasy. Now, that may just be a limitation of only reading five pages, so it's difficult to tell. It's not enough that I wouldn't keep reading, but it does draw my attention and pulls me out of the story some, so it might be worth considering setting the world a little more in the beginning.

    Overall, I really enjoy this, and I definitely think it's got a lot of potential. Good luck!

  5. Traci - Thanks for sharing your work. It was a great read! I've put together a list of what I liked best, and what I would question/consider revising. I hope you find it helpful.

    * Great set of problems creeping into the story bit-by-bit. I like how you layered it in:

    -- how Addy failed more interviews than anyone in the history of HIddlen Lake

    -- how she has a strange connection to animals

    -- six months with no best friend to talk to :(

    -- seeing her old best friend with their enemy, now THEY are best friends!

    * Nice description of surroundings, but I can't picture Addy in my mind, other than a farm girl covered in dirt with dirty fingernails. I want to see HER in my mind, face, hair, body type, etc.

    * If her mom is a witch, then they cannot let anyone find out, right? How is that kept a secret? The girls are joking about her being a witch, so perhaps it's obvious to all that she is one...?

    * Is Addy's father in the picture? What is he -- a human, or some other mutant? Addy doesn't necessarily have to be a mutant, right?

    * This was listed as a YA novel, but I felt like Addy and her friend were perhaps around 11 years old / around 6th graders. Is that right? YA is usually high schoolers, so more like 13+ therefore, I felt Addy is coming across much younger than you may have intended.

    * It feels like Addy is very poor, and she's obviously trying to help the family by getting an apprenticeship. Brings the question again about her father... are she and her mother all alone? Why?

    * What's the deal with the pickle factory? Why was she there, field trip, or interview? I'm confused about why there's a factory in the middle of farm land anyways, and what she might be doing there.

    Those are all of my questions that you might want to ask yourself about the story. I think you've painted a really vivid picture of this world, and it makes a great start! Congratulations on a job well done. Best wishes on the rest of your novel.

    ~ Tina P. Schwartz, Founder & Literary Agent, The Purcell Agency, LLC

  6. P.S. I see that this is MG not YA. My mistake! Sorry. :)

  7. I forgot to say - I like Dragon Dilemma as the title. I'm not sure how the dragon fits in, but it tells me the story is a MG fantasy. Outside of Normal sounds like a YA contemporary to me. That's all! Good luck!

  8. Hello Traci! This has been such a fun story to watch grow over the course of the workshop. With this latest revision, you’ve given us a better sense of the setting and the context that makes Adeline’s apprenticeship woes much more ominous – things like being docked credits make it much more real. We also get a more cohesive idea of where she is, physically, and where she’s going. Great work!

    What I’d recommend now is going through and figuring out what readers need to know at the most basic level to make the story function up to this point. For example, in these first few pages, we need to know that they live in a protected haven for humans, and that any sign of superhuman ability is seen as a threat and removed. We don’t need to know just yet that they’re possibly the last people on earth. We also don’t need to know *who* takes them quite yet, especially if you phrase it as “jailed” or “arrested”, which will imply some sort of government entity.

    I’d also go through and look for instances where Addy is explaining or remembering a plot point, and try to take out any filters between us and her stream of consciousness. For example, the section about Planting Day becomes stronger if you take out “I sighed, remembering…” and jump straight into “Sara and I had worked side-by-side every Planting Day since we could walk.” Think of it this way: “I felt a breeze” or “I wondered about her” or “I saw a cow” is the character processing something happening. “A breeze caught my skirt” or “Maybe she’s gone” or “The cow shook its head” *is* the action, rather than the processing of it.

    Good luck with the rest of your manuscript! From everything I’ve seen here, it’s going to be a fun and poignant ride.