Sunday, August 16, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Miles Revisions 2

Name: Melissa Miles
Genre: Young Adult
Title: Hashtag Witness
One of the worst days of my seventeen years was the day they found the body of Dana May. It was the day reality slapped me in the face and I realized that I could actually become the next target in a deadly predator's sights.
The incessant media coverage of the so-called Reign of Terror gripping our state had me jumping at shadows and pulling the covers up to my chin at night like I did when I was a little kid. At first the sensationalistic phrase annoyed me, but now I've come to accept that it's pretty damn accurate. We are all being terrorized. All of us.
Her decomposing corpse had just been discovered in a remote area within a few miles of my family's vacation home. The news hit me like a sucker punch in the gut. My breathing felt constricted when I first heard exactly where she'd turned up. It was just way too close for comfort. Even knowing that a cold-blooded killer had been anywhere in that vicinity made my skin crawl.

“Aren't you worried Mindy?" The expression on Whitney's face clearly conveyed that she thought I should be. I'd just jumped nearly a foot when a kid behind me dropped his tray, but I didn't want to admit how freaked out I was--even though I was pretty sure it wasn't just the smell of cafeteria cabbage making me want to puke.
It had been a decent morning for a school day. The teachers were more ready than we were for summer break, so we'd just signed yearbooks and wasted a crap load of time in all of my classes. As soon as I walked into the cafeteria, it was obvious that yesterday's talk of Netflix summer viewing plans had been replaced by talk of the gruesome discovery.
Attempting to tune out the chatter and appear nonchalant, I shrugged casually in response to her question. "I'm not all that worried really."
Ugh. I don't know why I always try to act so tough, but I hate showing weakness. My dad says it comes from my Highlander ancestry, just like my thick tangle of red hair. I think I'm just stubborn.

Whitney plowed ahead, ignoring my denial. "But both of those girls disappeared within thirty miles of y'all’s house up at the lake.” Permanently on her phone, she was already pulling up a map of the area in question just to prove her point.

“Thirty miles is a pretty huge area,” I shot back, trying not to sound irritated. Ditching this small town for our secluded house on the lake was the one thing I’d really been looking forward to during these last weeks of school. I refuse to let crazy fears ruin it for me. What's the chance some killer would pick me out of all the other teenage girls around?

"Whitney's making a good point for once." My head whipped around to gawk at my best friend Sanjay. Not him too. His expression showed a trace of amusement, but for once he wasn't being entirely sarcastic.

Sanjay popped some Cheetos in his mouth, appearing to seriously ponder the point, then persisted, “Well, Min I’ll tell you. If the killer was limited to travel on foot you might have a fair point. But considering that he has access to a car, as widely reported by the press, I don’t think thirty miles is a significant enough buffer zone for my personal comfort level.”

Until I met Sanjay, I'd never met anyone else my age with such a mastery of the English language. He'd jokingly called me a brazen trollop once, and I'd had to look it up before I could even get offended.

Sanjay broke into his pitch-perfect impression of the principal's PA voice, “Students and faculty, may I have your attention please?” He provided the realistic pause to allow for everyone to shut up and listen. “In one short week, the normally sensible Bob and Laura Jackson will be removing their enticing daughter Mindy from the relative safety of small town South Carolina, and plunking her into the path of a serial killer. You might want to make a special point to say farewell to her before school is out for summer.”

I glared at him, one eyebrow raised. “Seriously?” He evaded a swipe of my yearbook against the side of his head with no concern for my hostility. “ And I'd been looking forward to your normal lunchtime comedy act. That's all you've got?”

“Actually, I think your folks taking a vacay at the ‘lake house’,” his fingers made air quotes around the words, “in the midst of the largest manhunt in the history of the state provides for a good shtick.”

“You're such an ass,” I said, even though I was completely unable to refrain from smiling. Sanjay found it hilarious that my parents had put a double-wide trailer on such a prime spot on the lake. Our trailer lake house was an ongoing joke between us, and the tone in which he said the words was too funny not to elicit at least a brief smile.

"In fact, I did make good use of my unexpected free time this morning," he continued, pulling a folded piece of paper from his backpack. Sanjay had spent his first class period drawing a picture of me hanging clothes on a line, wearing Daisy Dukes and a cropped top outside of a trailer. He’d added a caption under the picture that read: “How trailer people do laundry.”

"Wow, I'm so flattered," I said as sarcastically as possible. But to be honest, I planned to keep the picture forever.

Whitney, refusing to have her concerns pushed aside, brandished her phone again. “It says right here that the suspect is now a person of interest in as many as five other unexplained disappearances of young women over the past two years. This is getting massive.” When my expression didn't render an appropriate level of concern, she quickly added, “It’s been all over CNN,” as if hoping to sway me decidedly into freak out mode.

I eyed them each suspiciously. If they kept this up, I wouldn't be able to keeping faking my calm facade. “Do you guys want me to nut up over this? You’ve both been up there. Nothing remotely exciting ever happens—that’s kind of the point. It's quiet."

Sanjay waved a hand. “Forget I brought it up.” He immediately switched gears, leaning in close to whisper, “1985 called and asked Laurel to return that big hair.”

I laughed, but didn't find anything funny at the moment. I pretended to listen as Sanjay and Whitney debated a rumor about our English teacher hooking up with the much younger assistant football coach. I was too distracted to stay focused, but the topic was at least a welcome change.

I wondered if they would still want to come up to visit this summer, or if the place seems undesirable now. Sanjay shouldn't be worried--it wasn't guys who were getting grabbed from their yards in broad daylight. But it did feel like a cancer had infected the entire area where girls had vanished and their bodies had been recovered. And our lake house was right in the middle of the tumor.

As we began ambling towards class, Sanjay winked. "We weren't trying to freak you out, Min. I'm sure it will be fine."

God, I hoped he was right. I really needed an escape from this town. 


  1. Hey Melissa,
    I like this second revision just as much as your first one! I like how you added the detail of Sanjay's wide vocabulary to explain his mature dialogue, and it's great that you made Mindy as freaked out as one would be if a serial killer was that close to where he/she would be staying. I think you've done a good job of polishing everything up! I'm sure everyone else will have more construcitve things to say, but as for me, I don't really see anything else that needs to be changed here

    1. Thanks Danielle! I look forward to reading everyone's final revision.

  2. I definitely like the tone of this revision better. Knowing that she's scared but putting on a brave face for her friends makes Mindy more realistic and sympathetic. The language is a lot more natural, too.

    There are lots of opportunities to tighten the language up now. Take out unnecessary filler words like actually, really, and exactly. Adverbs can be cut too, generally. "I shrugged casually" can just be "I shrugged." No one shrugs formally. Sarcasm should be clear enough that you don't have to point it out directly... etc.

    You've really come a long way on this. Congratulations!

  3. Hi Melissa, A great job in clearing up exactly how Mindy feels about the murders, I understand the conflict of being scared and not wanting to show it now - especially being highland blood! (I once met a lowland Scot when I was traveling over there and headed up to the highlands who warned me to 'Watch those highlanders, they will shake your hand with one arm and stick a knife in your back with the other.' Ha!) Seriously, it is a great character trait to be able to play on - the descendants still have a reputation for being a bit wild and out there and I would hope we will see this come to play in Mindy over the course of the story.

    I agree with Erin that the language could be refined a bit now, but that is just minor revision on your part.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention that I loved the trailer by the lake - I really think that is a lovely visual. If you tried to do that in this part of the world the other holiday home owners would run you out of town, which is a shame really.

    I know you have put in a massive effort over the past couple of weeks and I really think you have done a stellar job with these revisions. Good luck and keep writing!

    1. Thanks Helen! It's been a great experience having other people read the story and share how I can make it stronger.

  4. I really like the voice in this. It is distinct, but still sounds like a teenager. You also did a great job of starting in the right place, which is hard to do in thrillers.

    One thing to look at is using the same words many times in one paragraph (for example, day in paragraph one). I usually say that two is the most if it is a noun or verb, and one is the most of an adjective. If there is more, it can be distracting.

    Also -take a look at your similes and make sure they aren't clichés - I think you can do better than "like a sucker punch in the gut". As far as the writing goes, I agree with Erin, cut out filler words. I see one of your big ones is "just" (eight times in these five pages).

    I am glad you have a line explaining Sanjay's dialogue, because it sounded way too formal. Just make sure it is consistent throughout the entire manuscript.

    You have something really great here!

  5. Thank you for your feedback! I've been working on the voice, so I'm thrilled that you enjoyed it. Also, the mentors and other participants have helped me to find the right starting point for the story. I'm so glad to see it has paid off! Deleting clichés and repetitive words sounds like a pretty easy fix, so it gives me encouragement that I can make the story work. Thanks again! I know you are busy.

  6. Hi Melissa,

    Good job on your revision! We now have a scene that's coming together very clearly, and is easy to take in as the reader.

    I'd encourage you to edit now: cut back on the telling (let dialogue speak for itself instead of adding too much stage direction or interior thought).

    Also, read aloud to draw the voice back in a little bit more...what's your main character's UNIQUE perspective on the murders? I need her to stand out, to surprise me a little with what she's thinking and how that connects to her back story. I know she's scared....but what are the other layers of emotion there? Dread? Curiosity? Paranoia? Sadness? EXCITEMENT? There are many levels of emotion, and all of them tell us something about your character. Let her surprise us. By raising the level of interest here, you'll give us a reason to read on and make your thriller stand out from the crowd.

    Good work and good luck!

    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

  7. Definitely much to still work on! Thanks for the suggestions Melanie!

  8. I loved the intro! It got me so excited. I loved the Dana May bit which then went on to talk about being the next victim. It showed their similarities without telling us. I like that the Reign of Terror is reserved for the second paragraph. Great job capturing my attention. :)

  9. Hi Melissa, This is coming along. I think you are honing it and getting a better grasp on what you actually want to convey. This is the first time we actually know that your MC is worried and scared and covering up those feelings. If that's the crux, then you are getting there with where to start. However, I have to still say, the opening isn't really strong enough. It's all telling and it's also essentially flashback/info dumping. Those first three paragraphs need some oomph for me. I'm not sure I'd have kept reading after the first. When you start your story you are looking for a killer (sorry for the pun) first line and paragraph. I think you need to still search for that here. In addition, as Melanie said, you need to cut back on the telling and let your character speak for herself. I'd much rather perhaps have you showing how she actually IS upset and worried about this.

  10. Like perhaps all along she's been covering -- even to herself. She didn't even admit to herself how worried she is. And yet with each joke Sanjay gives and with each fact her other friend recites, your MC is finally admitting to herself she's SCARED. If we see that happen rather than it all already has happened and she's telling us, it might make for a more active than passive scene. Another option is to have her at the lake. Unloaded the car and she keeps hearing noises and is jumping out of her skin. She calls her friends to calm her and they do the opposite. Just a thought. Obviously you know where the story goes from here. But one thing that concerns me is that you are setting this up like a horror flick--we (seemingly) know from the start that this reign of terror she's scared of is going to hit home. It is taking that element of surprise away and we'll read waiting for the moment...maybe I'm wrong about where the story goes, but that's one major concern I have at the moment. It's like a big "wink, wink" kind of thing, you know? I think you can make this work, but I'd suggest you working on it a bit more. I really appreciate you letting us into your world and story and wish you the best of luck with it!


  11. Thanks Lori. I appreciate your help getting the right feel for the opening. :)

  12. Hi Melissa,

    I REALLY think you've found the voice in this. Great job!

    My only concern now is in the tense. You're mixing up past and present tense and I think it's because you're trying to do this as a flashback so you can start with a punch. As much as I understand why you want to do this, I don't think it works. If this book is present tense, you need to write this scene in present tense. Otherwise, it is reading like a backstory dump.

    Best of luck!

    1. Thanks Holly. I will go back and look at the tenses to correct. I appreciate all of the help you've offered these past few weeks.