Sunday, July 12, 2015

First 5 Pages July Workshop - Murphy Rev 1

Julie Murphy
Young Adult
I Hate My Life

“I hate my life,” Lexie snapped at the iPhone, tapping on the keyboard.

Settling on the bright green and purple bedspread, Lexie typed in a phone number: 
828–555-6556 on her iPhone and pressed Send. It would be weird if she just typed in a real number. Playing with numbers on the phone gave her something to do instead of what she really wanted to do: cut.

She looked around 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 looking into the open door of the closet: cluttered shoes and sweaters and 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.

Lifting up the books on top of the desk, Lexie found her drawings from art class. Mrs. Anderson really liked the picture of the blue heron flapping its wings and 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 clear the desk. It was too much trouble. The drawing rejoined the others that needed work.

Lexie stopped pacing, sprawled on the bed, then sat cross-legged, as still as a Buddha. Her fingers itched to reduce the pain. Angel took over her room, Kelsey had a boy friend, and the unfinished space over the garage remained unfinished. She fantasized about her new suite: bedroom, art studio, and bathroom with hot tub.

She leaped from the bed and strode from bathroom door to the door of her room. Overwhelmed her by pain and numbness, she thought about her life: adopted, didn’t look like her mom, dad, or Angel, their precious biological baby. She had no privacy and no best friend. Feelings of loneliness and rejection rolled over her like a giant wave at high tide. She hated to feel this pain. She hated her life.

Succumbing to the need of release, she cracked her door; no one was in the hall. She closed the bathroom door and wished for the millionth time that it locked. 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.

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 and she pressed deeper until the scratch began to bleed. Lexie closed her eyes and relaxed with the physical pain feeling the emotional pain ebb. Sitting on the side of the bathtub, she held the cut closed. 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.” The bedroom door slammed shut.

Five minutes later, 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.

Lexie walked to the 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. She mouthed the words memorized from so many years of reading the article:

Baby Girl Abandoned at Local Hospital

Hospital officials report that a baby girl less than thirty minutes old was left at the emergency room door of the Winston County Hospital. The infant weighed seven pounds eight ounces. She was wrapped in a tattered Virginia tee shirt. “Although the umbilical cord was still attached,” a hospital spokesperson, Marie Lucas, reported, “the baby is healthy and doing well.”

Local police are asking citizens to help find a car seen speeding from the parking lot. It was identified as an old black Jeep missing a taillight and the right rear passenger window. Officials are also asking the mother to come forward, stating that she will not be prosecuted for abandoning the baby.

Lexie whispered, “What kind of mother abandons her newborn baby like that? She must have been a monster.”

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

“Why do I have to set the table? Her majesty, Princess Angelina, never sets the table,” mumbling, walking 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 herhair, 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 kitten 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. 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 looking up, she said, “Ask Kelsey to come here. She can stay for dinner, and I’ll rent you a movie.  And she can sleep over.” Mom added the carrots to the salad and pushed back a“I haven’t seen her all weekend. Anything the matter?”

“No. When are going to start on my room? Angel is such a slob. I hate having my room look like a pig pen.”

Mom’s blue eyes flashed as she let out a sigh. “Lexie, give me a break. We’ve talked about this a million times. The people at the orphanage thought it best for Damon to have a room close to ours. Taking Angel’s room was best because it’s next to ours and you have the other bath. Turning the unfinished room into a bedroom for you will take time and money.”

The beat


  1. I don’t know how to put this without offending you but I don’t like Lexie that much and I wouldn’t read 300 pages of her woe is me.

    I don’t think you need the fake number. Just mention she types in a fake number and hits send.

    I like the part, how can a seven your old have smelling feet? I had seven year olds, they can! Also seven year old should be seven-year-old.

    You talk about Mrs. Anderson liking the picture and then say she thought touching up the background trees might lighten her mood. Who Lexie or Mrs. Anderson thought that?

    Does Kelsey have a boyfriend or a friend who is a boy?

    Good description of the cutting.

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

    I like the sliding the finger over the page to smooth the crinkles.

    Can they tell the actual time of birth of an abandoned baby within 30 minutes? I don’t know that is why I’m asking.

    Needs a space between her and hair.

    It is awkward the part about watching Angel and then just going to get the blue bowl please. Maybe mom can do something in between.

    Mom dialogue about Kelsey needs some work. It just doesn’t flow well.

  2. Sorry I was so harsh, that wasn't my intention. I thought about it and I can like Lexie but I need something to hang onto. Maybe she saved a dog from death row at the animal shelter, or she feeds the homeless, or she has a relationship with a cat. I just need something about her that makes me want to like her.

  3. Hi Julie :)

    Is it important for us to know the exact phone number?

    ‘I would be weird if she just’ – why ‘weird’? Since it’s supposed to just be a distraction and she doesn’t actually want to talk to anyone, I don’t think it would be weird, she just doesn’t want o do it.

    Also, for all she knows it may be a real number! Which could be interesting. What if she sent out those messages to random numbers secretly hoping someone would eventually respond?

    This may be a personal preference, but when you say things like ‘THE iPhone’ and ‘THE bedspread’ it makes them sound so impersonal. Like they don’t belong to the character. Verses ‘HER iPhone’ and ‘HER bedspread.’

    Is it important to know why Angel and Lexie share a room right then and there? It may fit better when Damon actually physically comes in to the story. That way we don’t get two new characters at once while we’re still meeting our MC too. Especially since we get a better explanation later on.

    So I was thinking about how last time we mentioned that we don’t SEE Angel’s spoiled princess nature. What if instead of not only being messy, Angel also got most of the room? And all Lexie had was the corner with her bed and a few hangers in the closet?

    ‘Lexie stopped pacing’—she’d already stopped when she looked at the artwork, so maybe just have her return to the bed?

    ‘and pushed back a’ – this sentence is incomplete.

  4. I’ve enjoyed your revisions. You're dealing with a really deep concept here. I was trying to think of other books I've read that included cutting. Storm Siren is one. I've heard Gillian Flynn has a book with a MC who cuts, but it's not YA. Such a difficult topic. Keep up the good work!

    “Settling on the bright green and purple bedspread,” What about amping up the emotion a bit? Settling is a gentle verb, one that doesn’t usually denote sharp emotions. What about flopped or another verb that shows the movement is harsh and hard?

    I liked Kalyn’s suggestion to switch up “the” with “her.”

    “Bright” also implies a light-hearted tone. I have a tendency to overdo emotionally laden words, so bear that in mind, but I’m wondering if you could put the cheerfulness of the bedspread at odds with Lexie. If you said too-bright it could give the reader a vibe that she’s dissatisfied with the shape of her room, but if she loves those colors, you could show something about it clashing with her sister’s stuff? She settled on her bright green and purple bedspread but felt lost in a swirling storm of her younger sister’s pink ruffles, Angelina Ballerina army, and smelly sneakers—how could one seven-year-old girl manage such stinky feet?

    I read E.S. suggestion to have Lexie do something that helps the reader bond to her and make her more sympathetic. What if instead of her glowering at the mess, you had her cleaning up the room, and the mess would obviously be her sister’s stuff?
    Then you could describe the room as she’s picking things up, and you can show us she likes things neat and orderly, but maybe the sister comes in while Lexie’s in the bathroom and it’s like an Angel tornado hit—maybe she tosses a bunch of stuff on Lexie’s bed. I liked the suggestion to have the sister’s stuff taking over the room. Her toys and clothes could be bursting out of the closet—maybe Lexie only have ¼ of the shelves for her stuff.


  5. Oh, and maybe Lexie finds her special set of art supplies while she’s cleaning, and they’re broken, used, and maybe the heron pic is newly embellished with a stick-figure Angelina. This would set her up a bit like Harry Potter at the beginning.

    Another thing she could be doing is checking her phone several times to see if the volume is turned up and if it works. Maybe she could try texting herself to see if her phone will beep? (Never tried that, does it work?) She could check her text history with Kelsey to make sure she didn’t miss a text, but there’s nothing and more nothing there. Only Lexie’s invite to come spend the night hanging like the forgotten piece of shredded piñata that stayed outside for three weeks after Angel’s last birthday party? But maybe on Instagram Kelsey is going back and forth with the boyfriend.

    “Her fingers itched to reduce the pain.” Does she ball them into fists in an effort to keep from moving?

    “She hated to feel this pain. She hated her life.” Since you use this line a few paragraphs into the story, what about changing up the first line to something more wistful that would give the reader more insight into Lexie’s heart? What does Lexie want? A sense of peace? Love? Belonging. From the first few pages, I feel like Lexie is worried about where she belongs in the world and trying to fit in. Is that part of your theme? Maybe an “if only” kind of statement? If only love and friendship were as easy as a 7 y/o’s ability to make a mess/________. (That may have nothing to do with your story. I’m just playing with words here.)

    “She leaped from the bed and strode from bathroom door to the door of her room.” When I first read this, I pictured her bedroom being connected to the bathroom, like she’s pacing in her room. Is she in the hall?

    As Lexie’s on the way to the table, what is Angel doing? Is she playing with her dolls? Is the unfairness in Lexie’s perception or is it like Harry Potter where it actually exists? You could show the unfairness, but not necessarily have Lexie being the one to point it. Maybe the mom isn’t trying to be unfair, but Angel is a snot when Mom isn’t looking, like sticks her tongue out at Lexie or even dumps something over that Lexie will have to clean up? Having the reader draw the conclusion that Lexie’s treated unfairly might make her more sympathetic rather than Lexie telling us.

    Great start to a deep story! Keep it up!

  6. Hi there!

    I think your revisions are a good start, but this could still use some work. Here's what I'm thinking:

    I’m still not a fan of the first line. “I hate my life” feels very clichéd teen angst and it still doesn’t sit well with me given that this is about cutting.

    If Lexie typed a random number and actually hit “send” chances are very likely she would actually call someone by accident. I get that she’s looking for a distraction, but this doesn’t seem like a realistic (or effective) way to find distraction for a teenager—instead, what if she plays a game on her phone? Or scrolls Facebook or Twitter or checks or Snapchat or something? I could totally see a teen using apps to distract herself instead.

    First two lines of the second paragraph could be streamlined to “She looked around the mess of the room she shared with her sister, Angel, who moved into Lexie’s room when Damon was adopted.” (I think he was adopted?)

    You can’t look into an open door, but you CAN look into an open closet. I think that’s what you mean when Lexie looks into the closet. :)

    The last couple sentences in the fourth paragraph could be streamlined to “Maybe touching up the background trees might lighten her mood, but it was too much trouble. The drawing rejoined the others.”

    “Her fingers itched to reduce the pain.” What pain? Do you mean stress maybe? I’m having trouble conceptualizing why sharing a room with her sister is causing her physical pain (assuming that’s what you meant).

    Lexie is taking issue with things that are pretty petty TBH, which is still making it vert difficult for me to connect with her because she comes off as really whiny. Yes, okay, her little sister is messy, but so what? And yes Kelsey has a boyfriend, but again, so what? Cutting because she doesn’t have her own room, to me, doesn’t feel like a realistic reason. (Granted I have never cut, but my understanding is that’s usually rooted in deep, hurtful beliefs or mood difficulties. Not something as light as “I don’t feel like sharing a room with my sister.”)

    You talk about Lexie’s pain and numbness but I’m not seeing at all where it’s coming from. Sharing a room with her sister and her friend getting a boyfriend, to me, is not nearly enough.

    Later you get into loneliness and rejection and THAT makes sense to me—I want to see that emphasized right from the beginning.

    I’d remove all instances of “I hate my life” “She hated her life.” Again, it just feels way too teen angst.

    Lexie complaining that her seven-year-old sister never has to set the table sounds super whiny to me. I’m having trouble sympathizing with her at all because she complains about every little thing.

    “'Why do I have to set the table? Her majesty, Princess Angelina, never sets the table,’ mumbling, walking into the kitchen” should be: “'[dialogue]’ Lexie mumbled, walking into the kitchen."

    I think you’re missing a few words between her mom adding carrots to the salad and her dialogue at the end.

    Overall, I agree with what E.C. said about Lexie being difficult to connect to. I think in order for readers to really connect with her, you're going to need to cut a lot of the whining and complaining throughout your manuscript, and instead show Lexie dealing with the things that annoy her and trying to make the best of the situation, even if internally it's driving her crazy. I also think she needs more legitimate reasons to be upset because as I said, having a share a room with a messy little sister and being jealous of your best friend just didn't feel like nearly enough for me to sympathize with her.

    I hope this helps! Good luck!

  7. Overall this is well written. You do a great job of describing the setting and showing Lexie’s actions. What I feel is missing, and this ties in with the previous comments about connecting with the MC, is how she is feeling.

    First, in the beginning, I don’t get a sense that she feels lonely and rejected. To me, she seems angry – she snapped at the phone, glowered at the debris, crinkled her nose, etc. Someone who feels lonely and rejected, I think would feel sad. I don’t get sadness from her.

    Second, when she is sitting in the bathroom, she relaxes with the physical pain. More details here. How is she relaxed? For example, her mind quieted or the warmth of the blood on her skin soothed her. Really build that sense of peace. Then, rather than say a noise came from the bedroom and Angel’s whiny voice intruded, show the readers this. What noise? What does Angel say? Right now, Lexie is quiet, peaceful. She should feel jarred. Her sense of peace is broken by Angel The readers should feel that too.

    Third, after she cuts and wads up the bloody toilet paper, how is she feeling? Is she still at peace? Does she feel guilty? Does she want to cry? This is such an important moment. Emphasize it.

    Maybe if you found a way to bring these feelings out, the readers can better empathize with Lexie.

    One other suggestion I have is that I think you have an opportunity to really build conflict. In the first few paragraphs, Lexie is jumping from action to action but you haven’t really established her motivation for doing so. I assume she’s trying all these things to take her mind off cutting but it’s not working. Build that tension. Build that suspense.

    For example, here’s a rough run through: in the first paragraph after you say “…instead of what she really wanted to do: cut,” have her touch the last place she cut. Maybe she can still feel the scratch or the mark. Her heart instantly speeds up. A feeling of excitement(??) comes over her. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. No, she tells herself. I can’t. But when she opens her eyes and looks around the mess of the room, she feels trapped(?) claustrophobic(?) by the mess. This leads into the second paragraph and the description of the room. At the end of the paragraph have her think about cutting again because she is so stressed by her messy room. But she’s still trying to not give into the temptation so she looks at her drawings. Art is a release for her. It’s something that calms her. But realizing her drawing needed more work just makes her feel more stressed which makes her want to cut some more. She starts pacing. The nervous energy is building. But pacing doesn’t help. She has to step on the clutter to get from one end of the room to the other. So she goes to her bed and sits cross legged, almost as if she is about to meditate. She tries to concentrate on her new bedroom, fantasizing about what it will look like but the whole time her fingers are itching. She balls them to keep the tingling feeling from overwhelming her. But nothing is working. Finally she gives in. Describe how she reaches her breaking point. The feelings are building and building until finally she leaps from the bed and strides to the bedroom door. Does that make sense?

    I think adding that sense of conflict/suspense and Lexie’s emotions will make your writing that much stronger.

  8. Julie, I think that it is great that you are posting your work here and are open to feedback. That is one of the most important things for new writers. So congratulations on doing that!

    I feel that this version shows improvement, but you lost a little tension with your previous opening line. That was good stuff, and immediately drew the reader in.

    I think this is getting better, bit by bit.

    Lexie stopped pacing, sprawled on the bed, then sat cross-legged, as still as a Buddha. Her fingers itched to reduce the pain.

    This is good. It gives us physical description and also makes us feel what she is feeling inside. "Her fingers itched to reduce the pain."

    I want more of that. Take your time. Go through and see where you can find those nuggets that will really shine with a little polishing.

    One other note. There is a habit I see in your writing of using participle phrases to start a sentence. (Yes, I had to look that up. I knew it was something like that but wasn't sure.)

    Here are a few examples:

    Settling on the bright green and purple bedspread...

    Lifting up the books on top of the desk…

    Succumbing to the need of release…

    Now, a few of these are okay, but be careful. You don’t want to have too many. Root these out and find a more active way to describe the scene:

    Lexie found her drawings from Art Class under a pile of books. She picked up the drawing of the blue heron and studied it. Her teacher, Mrs. Anderson…

    That may not be the best example but I'm sure you get the idea.

    Ok. So keep going, Julie. I know you can do it. You’ll only get better!

  9. Julie, so sorry I'm late to the conversation! Thanks for the revision.

    Your piece has the promise of being a VERY powerful manuscript. My advice is to fix the pacing and delete material that doesn't need to be known in the first five pages.

    With a topic such as cutting, you have a big responsibility to get this right, AND you have a big opportunity to help others who experience this same sort of pain/release cycle. Let's make the most of that.

    In mining these pages for gold nuggets, I found this: 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.

    In my opinion, THAT should be your opening line. Then, THEN we FEEL her cut herself. Don't tell us. FEEL that pain/release cycle.

    She cleans up in a hurry because of Angel, then rushes to her room. THAT'S when she pulls out the newspaper article. And don't give us all the newspaper information up front. Give us the headline, and how that makes her FEEL (shown not told), and then leave the rest for later.

    You want to plant questions in the reader's mind while also getting us to like your main character. Right now, the cutting and emotions are rushed, and there is a lot of stuff in the opening that isn't relevant YET. Hook us with her crisis of emotion and shame, and then move on.

    Right now, she seems kind of whiny. We don't want that. We want the readers to like her and feel for her. I can tell you've developed a well-rounded character with big potential. Leaving out the complaints in the early pages with help with that.

    This may be a touchy subject, but I'd also strongly consider changing the title. With a topic such as this, the title seems too "bratty." You can choose something with beautiful/disturbing imagery.

    I hope this helps! Can't wait to see what you come up with.

  10. By the way, have you read "Sharp Objects" by Gilliam Flynn? Not YA, but a VERY powerful book that includes cutting. It would be a great place to pull from the emotional AND physical pain. She wrote "Gone Girl" so her books are definitely dark, but totally awesome.