Sunday, July 19, 2015

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Murphy Rev 2

Julie Murphy
Young Adult
I Hate My Life

Lexie squatted by the cabinet and pulled out the gift box that held her razor blades. Eyes closed, she told herself, don’t do this; the relief doesn’t last. Her fingers itched to reduce the pain.

Overwhelmed by the sadness inside her, Lexie looked at the bathroom door and wished for the millionth time that it locked. She held her breath and let it out in a big whoosh.The sadness was so deep she didn’t know how far down it went.

Lexie held the razor blade tightly in her left hand and looked at her soft inner thigh. She made a tentative scratch. No blood came. Her breath came in jagged gasps. The only way to make the sadness stop for a while was to make the cut hurt.  She stuck the point deeper into the flesh. The scratch began to bleed. Lexie focused her eyes and concentrated on the small drop of blood. A warmness started in her stomach like a swallow of mom’s hot chocolate. She half grimaced and half smiled. The pain from the cut felt exhilarating. She timed it. After five minutes, the feeling of warmth and exhilaration faded.

A noise came from the bedroom; Angel’s whiny voice intruded.

“Stay out of the bathroom, Angel. Don’t you dare open that door.”

“I just came to get my Princess Belle doll. Don’t be such a big grump.”

Lexie hurried to clean up. She looked at the bathroom door. Quickly she wadded up the bloody toilet paper, checked the cut once more and flushed the paper down the toilet. This was the deepest cut she had made in two months. Lexie didn’t like to cut that deep; she didn’t want scars, just scratch marks.

Angel’s footsteps faded away. Lexie groaned when shame and despair flashed through her in jagged bursts like the lightening from the winter storm outside.

Lexie walked to her dresser, opened the third drawer, and reached under her underwear to grasp a parquet box. She lifted its lid and picked up the old newspaper article on top. It was dated March 3, the day after her birthday. The front-page headline read: Baby Girl Abandoned at Local Hospital. Lexie unfolded the creased paper. She slid her fingers over the page, pausing over the crinkles to smooth them out. The words blurred. She fought back tears. Oh my God, the sadness rolled over her like a really big wave at high tide on Folly Beach. Lexie folded the paper, laid it on top of her baby cap in the box, and returned the box to its safe place.

Lexie sat on the green and yellow bedspread. She picked up her iPhone. She played this game with herself where she typed in random numbers, pressed Send, and waited for a response. She prayed some pervert would get the number and come kill her. She wished she had never been born. Lexie confided in Kelsey several times in the last few years that it bothered her that she didn’t look like she belonged in her  her family. Every time, Kelsey’s responded, “that’s silly.” Lexie kept her feelings to herself.

Lexie surveyed the mess of the room she shared with her sister, Angel. Angel moved into Lexie’s room after Damon came to live with them. Lexie uncurled her legs. Pacing the room, she glowered at the chaotic debris Angel left. Scattered crayons, random papers, and Angelina Ballerina books littered the desktop. Lexie shuddered when she looked into the open door of the closet: cluttered shoes and sweaters and dresses never hung up. She crinkled her nose and sniffed. It smelled like dirty sneakers and baby powder. How can a seven year old have smelly feet? She hated a messy room.

With increasing agitation, Lexie stuffed the crayons into the pencil box, gathered all the papers and threw them in the trashcan, stacked the books on the top of the book case jam packed with Lexie’s book, and slammed the closet door.

Lexie found her drawings from art class under all Angel’s books and mess. Mrs. Anderson really liked the picture of the blue heron flapping its wings and the the sunset over the marsh. She thought touching up the background trees might lighten her mood. Lexie held the drawing in her hand and made no move to bring out her art supplies safely tucked away in her back pack. It was too much trouble. The drawing rejoined the others that needed work.

Lexie stopped her frenzy of restoring order to her room, brief though the order would be. It seemed so unfair that Angel took over her bedroom. Mom didn’t make Angel do her part. She was too busy with Damon and work. Kelsey had a boy friend, and didn’t have time for her anymore. She wished the unfinished space over the garage would be finished. Mom and Dad promised her that construction would start in January. She fantasized about her new suite: bedroom, art studio, and bathroom with hot tub.

Overwhelmed her by pain and numbness, she thought about her life: adopted, didn’t look like her mom, dad, and Angel, their precious biological baby. She had no privacy. Kelsey, her best friend, was involved with Logan. Feelings of loneliness, anguish and self-pity swept her like a brief but powerful summer thunderstorm swept through the Lowcountry. She could not bear this pain anymore.

Mom’s voice intruded, “Alexis, supper is almost ready. Come set the table.”

“Why can’t Angel ever do any chores. She’s old enough to set the table.” She walked into the kitchen.

“What did you say?” asked her mother in a sharp voice.

“Nothing.” She grabbed four plates.

She stopped at the high chair to greet Damon, her adopted baby brother. “Hi, Bubba,” she cooed at the two-year-old who looked back at her with solemn eyes. She rubbed his thick wavy hair, and then patted down her own bushy dark hair.

Damon burst into a chorus of gibberish, gestured to Lexie while she placed the plates and silverware on the table. She handed him a spoon and he began to bang on the tray of his high chair. The puppy darted from under the table and ran into the other room. She grinned at the laughing baby. “Baby Bro, when will you learn to speak English so we can understand you?”

“The people at the orphanage spoke only Haitian Creole to him, so it may take him more than two months to learn English.” Mom laughed. “By the way, I have a doctor’s appointment for him on Wednesday. I need you to watch Angel for me when you get home from school. It’s so hard to take her with us.”

Mom added chopped up tomatoes to the growing bowl of salad. “Get the blue bowl for the corn, please.”

Lexie stood on tiptoes to reach the bowl. She dropped to her feet, slammed the cabinet door, and banged the bowl on the granite counter top. She winced at the loud noise and glanced toward her mother. She quickly dumped the corn and placed the bowl on the table.

Mom chopped the carrots with such force that ends flew off the cutting board. She grabbed them and threw them in the sink. Not


  1. Good revision I really like the changes. I think it reads better, Lexie is not whiny and best of all I am not turned off from her attitude.

    I like the start with the cutting. It adds action and gets into the story. I like how you added the part about the pain she felt.

    A couple of changes I may suggest. I think you mention twice how she doesn’t fit in the family. I think only one mention is necessary.

    The only other suggestion is that you start nine out of 25 paragraphs with the name Lexie and I believe three of them were in three consecutive paragraphs. Maybe varying the start of the paragraphs.

    Good Job.


  2. Excellent job adding tension and emotion! I love the line about the warmness in her stomach and comparing it to hot chocolate. Readers can connect with that.

    My suggestions/questions:
    1. In the first paragraph, I suggest either moving the sentence “Her fingers itched…” to right before “Eyes closed…” or adding the word But/However to the start of “Her fingers itched…”

    2. Why does she time the relief? Is that relevant somehow? I guess I’m just curious if she expected it to be five minutes. Is the relief always that long or does it get shorter/longer each time?

    3. I don't quite understand the sentence, “The sadness was so deep she didn’t know how far down it went.” But maybe it's just me.

    4. To help make a smoother transition, what do you think about this:

    Lexie hurried to clean up. She looked at the bathroom door. Quickly she wadded up the bloody toilet paper, checked the cut once more and flushed the paper down the toilet. Then Angel’s footsteps faded away.

    Lexie looked at her leg and groaned. Shame and despair flashed through her in jagged bursts like the lightening from the winter storm outside. This was the deepest cut she had made in two months. She didn’t like to cut that deep; she didn’t want scars, just scratch marks. But the sadness inside was too overwhelming (moved from the second paragraph to here).

    5. I’m not sure why her mother speaks to her in a sharp voice. Maybe if you add a tag to what she says when she walks into the kitchen to show her attitude, then her mother’s sharp voice might make more sense. Also, I think it makes more sense that she walks into the kitchen then speaks. So for example: Lexie walked into the kitchen. “Why can’t Angel ever do any chores?” she snapped. “She’s old enough to set the table.”

    6. When she slams the cabinet door and bangs the counter top, does she do it on purpose? I think not because she winces and glances toward her mother. I’m confused on what this detail does for the story. If it’s not done on purpose, it just seems like filler to me.

    Overall, great revisions! As a reader, I definitely get a better sense of Lexie’s conflict.

  3. I like this opening. One suggestion though: ‘the sadness’ is so broad and vague. What do you think about dropping a few hints about what exactly is going on in her life? Something like: ‘The sadness was so deep, she didn’t know how far down it went. Her mother abandoning her, her best friend turning on her, her adopted sister ruining her life. It all pulled her toward the razor.’

    Try ‘warmth’ instead of ‘warmness’

    Would a small drop of blood come from a cut great enough to give that kind of relief? The description ‘small drop of blood’ makes me think of a pinprick.

    Three out of the six solid paragraphs (so not the one’s that are just lines of dialogue) have similes in them. They’re nice ones, but so many so quickly diminishes their effect.

    Lots of paragraphs starting with ‘Lexie’

    In reference to Melanie’s comment on the line ‘The sadness was so deep she didn’t know how far down it went.’ I did understand it. I just assumed the ‘she didn’t know how far down it went’ was testament to how deep it was. Like looking into a dark hole.

    Great job on the revisions!

  4. You’ve done a lot of work on this in one week!

    “…the sadness rolled over her like a really big wave at high tide on Folly Beach” Great way to give us an idea of her surroundings and her normal.

    “Lexie held the razor blade tightly in her left hand and looked at her soft inner thigh.” You could condense this sentence: “Lexie clutched the razor blade in her left hand and…” Since this is one of the paragraphs that started with Lexie, you could reorder the words. “Razor clutched in her left hand, Lexie…” Just a suggestion. :-)

    “Lexie hurried to clean up. She looked at the bathroom door.” Maybe to change the beginning of your paragraph, add something to the beginning like: “Something hard thumped the bathroom door, maybe Angel’s doll.”

    “Lexie groaned when shame and despair…” Maybe: “Lexie groaned. Pain and despair….” I like the lightening imagery in the sentence!

    Lexie sat on the green and yellow bedspread. She picked up her iPhone. Could be: “She sank onto the green and yellow bedspread, grabbing her iPhone. With nothing to do, she dialed a random number…”

    I like how she cleaned up the mess, how it seemed like she’d never get it done. I’ve felt like that numerous times cleaning up after my kids. :-)

    “…room she shared with her sister, Angel. Angel moved…” Maybe switch up your wording so that Angel isn’t twice in a row.

    “…jam packed with Lexie’s book,” Should it be “books”?

    “I need you to watch Angel for me when you get home from school. It’s so hard to take her with us.” What is Lexie’s reaction to this?

    “Overwhelmed her by pain and numbness,” switch “her” and “by”

    ““Why can’t Angel ever do any chores. She’s old enough to set the table.” She walked into the kitchen…” I feel like the action could come before the dialog. And use a “?” after chores.

    I like that Lexie has a connection to her baby brother and that she’s sweet to him.

    Some random thoughts as I read:
    1. I wondered about Lexie’s main goal and motivation. At this point, my guesses are: Connecting to others, learning to love herself, finding her place in the world, and/or making peace with herself. How close am I? :-)
    2. I’m guessing your end is maybe a flipside of this beginning.
    3. I wonder what happened before she gave in and cut herself. What tipped her over the edge?

    I've enjoyed getting to know Lexie! Great work!

  5. Julie, I'm SO glad you've adjusted those opening lines. To me, they're much more riveting.

    A couple of points. I wouldn't equate the warm feeling to Mom's hot chocolate. Seems out of place. Also, two comparisons were made to summer storms. I'd delete the first and keep the second.

    I'd also revise again to delete the complaints about Angel. It makes Lexie so much less likable so early in the story. Give us a glimpse of this conflict, but don't make her sound whiny. Does that make sense?

    I LOVE how you teased us about the newspaper article. I'd definitely delete the "Angel annoys me" parts and expand on how she feels out of place in her world. That would make more sense with the cutting.

    Oh, and the cutting part is soooo much more vivid now. It made me cringe--in a good way.

    You've got the beginnings of a powerful story here. Do NOT give up on it! Keep going and going and going until this story grabs and won't let go.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi there!

    This is looking better! I'm glad to see you've cut quite a bit of the whiny parts and you're definitely on the right track. I agree with Julie M. about cutting more "Angel is annoying" parts and delving deeper into how out of place she feels—that, to me, makes much more sense with her depression and self-harm than "I have an annoying little sister."

    Some other thoughts:

    I encourage you to play with other title ideas. I'm so happy you changed the first line, but that old teen angst is still front and center with the title.

    I'm seeing a lot of emotional telling, i.e.: “Overwhelmed by the sadness inside her…The sadness was so deep she didn’t know how far it went… shame and despair flashed through her…” etc. What I mean by emotional telling is you’re TELLING the readers what emotions Lexie is feeling rather than showing us through her thoughts, actions and more importantly, how the emotions affect her physically. When you’re revising, I encourage you to think about how exactly those emotions affect Lexie in a physical way. A resource that’s really helpful for this (I use it all the time) is THE EMOTION THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I recommend it to all of my CPs. :)

    I like the mom’s hot chocolate analogy. I think you mean “warmth” rather than “warmness” though.

    You’ve got quite a few filter phrases throughout, too, that you’ll want to be careful with—i.e.: “looked” “wished” “felt” etc. I wrote a post about filter phrases and why/how to eliminate them that you might find helpful:

    I think you mean “lightning” not “lightening.”

    Is there a reason the dates are whited out? Not sure if that was intentional.

    I’m…not sure how I feel about the line where Lexie says she wants someone to answer one of her random texts and come kill her. On one hand I get why she’s sending random texts now, but on the other…if she’s really suicidal, wouldn’t she just use the razor blades? She has the means. It seemed to me that since she didn’t really want to cut deep that she didn’t really want to hurt herself too badly.

    So that's what I've got! I think this has definitely improved, so good luck!

  7. You've made some nice improvements, Julie. I'm beginning to feel Lexie's pain a bit more, and the addition of getting into her mental state is coming through. So good job on that.

    There are several paragraphs and sentences that begin with Julie did this or Julie did that. Try to weed those out and find another way to begin the scene. It begins to feel a little repetitive.

    Maybe mention Kelsey as her best friend right away instead of later.
    A noise came from the bedroom; Angel’s whiny voice intruded.
    (What kind of noise? Perhaps: Lexie turned at the sound of Angel's whiny voice through the door.)

    This is a very serious subject, as I have said before. Now we also see that Lexie is suicidal, as she says she wishes some pervert would come and kill her. How will this progress? If she is seriously that depressed, I can see a lot of opportunities for gut-wrenching scenes. But they have to be believable.

    Work on varying those paragraphs that begin with "Lexie."

    I might sound like a broken record by now, but really study the books you like. Even type out some of the pages directly from one of your favorite YA books. Study the rhythm of the words. The voice. The dialogue.

    I think you have definitely improved with this version, Julie!

  8. Hi Julie,

    You're dealing with some big concepts here -- cutting and suicide are frequent themes in YA, but they really do need to be handled with care. In my opinion (and I am just one person, but I do encourage you to think about this), it's really important to watch for romanticizing or glamorizing self-harm, which I think the open scene here does. It feels almost like you're encouraging the reader to luxuriate in Lexie's pain, and if this were a submission that came to me, that would be enough to make me stop reading by the third paragraph.

    Of course, hitting the reader with a lot of darkness right from the start with a character we don't know yet is a choice you *can* make, and there are definitely reasons to do so, but do keep in mind that you run the risk of readers not making it past the first page. It might be worth considering starting the story in a different place--even when she puts the razor away, instead of when she makes the cut.

    Then we go right from there to a section where not much action happens, and there's quite a bit of telling voice. I think that having her tidy up the room is fine, but could be more brief. In my view, everything from "Lexie found her drawings..." to "....this pain anymore" seems like backstory or telling voice, where the reader is told how Lexie feels rather than feeling it with her. You might consider cutting that here and instead weaving some of that info in later as it becomes directly pertinent, in order to keep the crucial opening pages moving.

    I hope that's helpful feedback, although keep in mind that these notes (like all workshop comments) are of course subjective, and you should only take those that resonate with you. Great work in being brave enough to put your writing out there -- workshops like this are an awesome way to strengthen your work!

    All best,
    Patricia Nelson
    Marsal Lyon Literary Agency