Sunday, August 9, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Miles Revision 1

Name: Melissa Miles
Genre: Young Adult
Title: Hashtag Witness
 
It had honestly never occurred to me that I could become the next casualty of the so-called Reign of Terror until the day that the second victim's body was found. Her decomposing corpse had just been discovered in a rural location. The gruesome state of her remains was now dominating the lunchroom conversation, replacing the previous day's prevailing topic of Netflix binging plans for the upcoming summer break.
 
Until lunch, this had been a relatively decent day. The teachers seemed even more ready to be done with the school year than we were, so we had just been signing yearbooks and goofing around for the most part.
 
“Aren't you worried Mindy?" The anxious expression on Whitney's face clearly conveyed that she thought I should be.
 
Trying appear more nonchalant than I truly felt, I shrugged. "Not really."
 
Whitney plowed ahead, ignoring my denial. "But both of those girls disappeared within thirty miles of ya’ll’s house up at the lake.” She held up her phone showing a map of the area in question just to prove her point.
 
“Do you have any idea how big of an area thirty miles is?” I was already growing exasperated by this conversation. I really didn’t need anything putting a damper on my one place of refuge. Ditching this small town for my family's secluded place on the lake was the one thing that I’d really been looking forward to during these last weeks of school.
 
"Whitney's making a good point for once." My head whipped around to gawk at my best friend Sanjay. Not him too. His expression bore a trace of amusement, but he wasn't being entirely sarcastic for once.
 
Sanjay popped a handful of Cheetos in his mouth, looking as if he was seriously pondering this point. After swallowing, he 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 our perp 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.”
 
As if to further validate his point, Sanjay broke into a perfect simulation of our principal's voice making an announcement over the PA system. “Students and faculty, may I have your attention please?” He provided the realistic pause to allow for everyone to shut up and actually pay attention. “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 without any apparent concern for my hostility.
 
He shrugged, completely unabashed, allowing me to rant. “I had really been looking forward to what you would come up with to amuse us during lunch. I figured four whole periods of salacious gossip would have provided more than adequate fodder for something better than that.”
 
“I don’t know Min,” he retorted with a wink. “I think your folks going on a little 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 is rather salacious in itself.”
 
“You are 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. He 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. The caption under the picture read: “How trailer people do laundry.” I planned to keep the picture forever.
 
Whitney 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. “Do you guys want me to completely nut up over this? You’ve both been up there. Nothing remotely exciting ever happens—that’s kind of the point. It’s a place to just go and relax.”

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, agreeing that I’d seen Delta jets with a smaller wingspan than Laurel’s hair—but not completely forgetting the unnerving conversation about the serial killer's proximity to the very place we’d be heading in just a few days.
 
I pretended to listen as Sanjay and Whitney debated a rumor about our English teacher hooking up with the much younger assistant football coach, but I was too distracted to stay focused. Mainly I just sat there feeling grateful to have finally made some friends in this stuck-up small town. When my dad took the job as the minister of the Presbyterian church, I didn't think I ever would. But now I have this quirky group of friends that don’t care what my dad does for a living.
 
Having a dad as minister of a church instead of a normal job like a bank president or accountant, means you have hundreds of people who think they can tell you what to do--especially what they think you are doing wrong. You can’t get away with anything. If you think I’m kidding, just the other day a woman whose son is the biggest pervert I’ve ever met, told me that I shouldn’t come to church without wearing pantyhose.

Pantyhose? Really? Even my own mother calls them stockings, and she’s cool with me not wearing them. It isn’t 1922 anymore, and I seriously doubt my bare legs offend any normal un-snobbish person under the age of seventy. So I just smiled, thanked the woman for her concern, and went on about my business in my bare legged glory. But still, it completely gets on my last nerve.

Why doesn’t she worry about her own son Edwin, who grabbed my hand and pulled me into an empty room on our first Sunday here to ask me for a blow job? It seems to me that propositioning the new minister’s daughter for oral sex is a bigger disgrace than a lack of hosiery. But of course, I didn’t work up the nerve to tell the woman about her son’s special interest in me—even when she asked me in her fake syrupy voice if Edwin was making me feel welcome. Oh, he made me feel welcome, all right.
 
As we headed to our last few classes of the day, Sanjay gave me a wink and said, "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 a couple of weeks up at the lake to just chill.
 

19 comments:

  1. Hey Melissa,
    This is a really good improvement. There's more information and Iike the witty conversations between Mindy and her friends (I like both of them by the way). You did a good job of giving Sinjay and Whitney distinct personalities right away. I can tell Whitney is a bit of a worrier and Sanjay is a goof (I love goofy characters). I like the dialogue, the details of her father and Mindy's not-so-ideal church life and less-than-holy church attendents. You've created a nice sense of suspense since Mindy is going where the serial killer could be.
    Now I know you said "until lunch" before starting your second paragraph, but I didn't get the sense that they were at lunch. Were they in the cafeteria? Are they sitting down, is there food in front of them? If so, maybe you can just clarify that a bit. It could be just me that didn't get it. Otherwise, really good job! I like it.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback. I did some trimming due to word count so I likely removed something I needed for clarity. :) I'm glad you liked it.

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    2. Ah okay. The word count can be somewhat restricting

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  2. This is definitely a big improvement on the action front!

    I thought it was pretty obvious this was at lunch since you refer to the lunchroom conversation right in the start. I don't think it would hurt to add more details of the setting though. Is it noisy? Smelly?

    When you say, "It had honestly never occurred to me that I could become the next casualty" and then "Trying appear more nonchalant than I truly felt," -> both of these make it sound like she is truly freaked out, but her reaction below doesn't show this. She seems more focused on her vacation and her friends and people's hair that this murder. You need to SHOW us she is freaked out (if she really is). If she's not there yet, you shouldn't tell the reader she is.

    There are two other things I think you should work on and that is the amount of telling and the whole talking to the reader thing.

    When you write something like, "Having a dad as minister of a church instead of a normal job like a bank president or accountant, means you have ..." -> this is telling. She can't just start thinking about it for no reason. Her friends are currently discussing some teacher having an affair. That does not seem like a reason for her to consider her father's profession. You need to tie them together. For example, if they were talking about someone's dad having an affair, that might make her think about her own father's profession. I'm not sure if would transition to pantyhose and blow jobs though.:-)

    In this line, "If you think I’m kidding..." -> this is talking to the reader. When you do this, it pulls the reader out of her head and points out that SHE is NOT them. Unless the whole style of the book is done this way, it should be avoided.

    Holly

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  3. Thanks Holly, I will definitely look specifically at those elements of the story. I appreciate your feedback!

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  4. This scene is definitely more active than your last, which I liked. I do wonder why the press is calling it the Reign of Terror before the second body is found. Wouldn't that come after a string of deaths rather than just one? It also doesn't ring true to me that a teen wouldn't be worried about a killer within thirty miles of her secluded house. The nonchalance with which she mentions the blow job proposition is also a little unsettling. I'd expect her to have a much stronger reaction to it, regardless of what her father does for a living.

    A lot of the language here doesn't strike me as YA. For instance:
    "If the killer was limited to travel on foot you might have a fair point. But considering that our perp 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."

    I get that Sanjay's a smart-ass, but this just sounds like a news cast. Also:

    He shrugged, completely unabashed, allowing me to rant. “I had really been looking forward to what you would come up with to amuse us during lunch. I figured four whole periods of salacious gossip would have provided more than adequate fodder for something better than that.”

    Now you have two characters speaking in a very similar, way-too-mature manner. I don't know many adults who speak like this, to be honest.

    Also, I've never heard "nut up" used in the sense of going crazy. I have, however, used it to mean "man up," as in testicles. So you might want to change that.

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    1. I'll look at the phrasing! Thanks Erin. :)

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  5. Hi Melissa, I agree with the others that this is a much more active opening - so well done. To me the voice does sound younger than in the previous posting but I would have to agree with Erin that it still sounds a little more mature than standard YA characters - it's a difficult voice to catch, isn't it? I don't know if you would like to consider taking them out of school, maybe moving them into college and making it a YA instead, but that is a very big jump.

    I am also a little confused as to how Mindy really feels about the killings - is she actually frightened and just trying to be brave because unfortunately, here, I am getting very mixed messages, perhaps her character is being a little too subtle for us.

    I do love Sanjay - he seems like an awful lot of fun and you bring him forward very nicely indeed. I hope this isn't too critical a review, this revision is pushing the opening foward very nicely and I'm feeling a lot more invested in the characters and the action.

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  6. Helen, thanks for the feedback. I can see the point about the mixed messages and will try to clean it up! :)

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  7. Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for sharing your revision with us!

    Congrats on taking a big old stab at this one by trying a totally different setup. I can't say that it's really working better than the previous version, but that is totally normal when you're sorting out your opening scene. The important thing is that you're trying new setups so that you can find the right one.

    As before, I'm still slightly unsure of the genre I'm reading in. If this is a straight up contemporary with only an element of mystery, then this scene setting is probably ok, if not particularly new or interesting. We see a lot of lunch scenes. Where else might these friends be hanging out? When else might we see this conversation? Is there a setting that reveals their characterization, or is more meaningful to the story overall? Also, setting as time needs more focus. What time of year is it? What makes this day more important than others that came before it? We need that sense to feel that this MUST be the opening scene. There should be NO other scene that could open your story.

    If this is going to be a thriller, then I think we need to open with a much higher degree of tension and a sense of stakes. Thriller are adrenaline fueled, and scary in the way that the information unravels in front of you. In a way your previous version had much more of a thriller feel--the voice was skeptical, but clearly creeped out. We've lost the main character's voice a bit (which is totally normal when you try new scenes!)...so I've lost that sensation of menace.

    I ask about genre because your query and first pages need to promise the same story. I would recommend very different comps depending on whether this is a thriller or a contemporary story, and agents will look for the same concise message.

    You've made a lot of progress with showing us a bit more of the world and the characters--now find what rings true to YOU and give us another pass that sucks that voice and unique setting into place.

    Good luck!

    Melanie

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  8. Thanks Melanie, you've given me quite a bit to work with and think about! The story is not specifically a thriller. The MC gets caught up in a highly publicized trial in a way that exposes her to unwanted attention (in person and on social media platforms). So, even though she is freaked out by the situation, I wouldn't call it a thriller. I've considered it contemporary YA. I was hoping that the Netflix reference would help define the time frame for the setting, but maybe it is still too broad. I appreciate your help honing the opening!

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  9. Hi Melissa,

    I’m coming to this after the others have already commented and I agree with much of what they have said. I like the active nature of this; I think having your MC interact with her friends is a good way to learn more about her; and I’m getting more of a sense of story here NOT being entirely a thriller, which is good.

    However, I think Melanie’s point about why the story starts today is a key one. Because the second girl is found? But how does that impact your MC? For example, my book starts on my MC’s 16th birthday because that’s the day she receives the powers that allow her to grant wishes. It’s a huge change in her life. That’s why the story begins on that day. What is the huge change of life for your MC? That’s the day you should start.

    I think the comments about the dialogue being perhaps too mature is something to consider. Also, think about this in terms of your MC too. She talks about going to the lake to relax and to chill and that feels more adult to me than teen. Teens might be upset about being taken from their friends—unless you show us why it’s not.

    If your MC is so annoyed that there’s so much focus on the dead girls, then amp that up. Maybe show she’s so cavalier about it but her friend is super scared—contrasts are a great way to show character. I think you can dig deeper into your MC and use the first person POV to show us her internal thoughts to great effect.

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  10. This is a revision so of course there’s more work to do, but I think you rare getting the sense of the need for action and more than just narrative in here which is great. But you do need to be careful of the telling/showing thing as well as a general efficiency in language. YA needs to be snappier than this. I don’t mean snarky; I just mean more to the point. Don’t use three words if one will do the job. That allows your language to really pop the way it needs to.

    For example: “As if to further validate his point, Sanjay broke into a perfect simulation of our principal's voice making an announcement over the PA system.” Could be more effective as: “Sanjay commanded the table with his pitch-perfect imitation of the principal’s PA voice.”

    Don’t tell us the MC is going to rant, make her words show that she’s ranting.

    As for the end, I think your stuff about the old lady in church goes on too long. And the pantyhose and the blow job is just too much. Use one good example and the pacing will increase. Less is more, always.

    I was actually taken by something Erin said: how is this a reign of terror if it’s only the second body. That could be a fun way to open. I think your main paragraph needs some work to truly hook the reader. You could play with the MC hearing everyone say “reign of terror” and show us she’s sick of it. Her being the sole one to question how it could be reign of terror before even the second body is found would show us a lot about your MC’s insights and feelings about the news blowing this out of proportion—which they are apt to do.

    I think you are on the right track and I’m excited to see what comes next!

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    1. Thanks Lori. I do like the rephrasing of the sentence! I do tend to lapse into "telling" as my default mode and I need to constantly watch for it as I write. Thanks again!

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  11. Hello! I really liked this. I feel like we got to know more about Mindy as a character which is what I'm drawn to. I think that you should start the story with why she would be scared to be the next victim. Like right off the bat explain that it's happening near her lakehouse and that's it's teenage girls. If there is more like hair color and such, I think it would make for more of a punch. I agree with the fact that she doesn't sound too scared but I feel like she's one of those characters who only show what she wants to be seen. Which is great when she wants to convince her friends that she's not scared but maybe since we are in her mind we could get some fear. Overall, I really enjoyed it!

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    1. Thanks Valerie. I'm glad you liked it! It's coming along. :)

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  12. Hello! I really liked this. I feel like we got to know more about Mindy as a character which is what I'm drawn to. I think that you should start the story with why she would be scared to be the next victim. Like right off the bat explain that it's happening near her lakehouse and that's it's teenage girls. If there is more like hair color and such, I think it would make for more of a punch. I agree with the fact that she doesn't sound too scared but I feel like she's one of those characters who only show what she wants to be seen. Which is great when she wants to convince her friends that she's not scared but maybe since we are in her mind we could get some fear. Overall, I really enjoyed it!

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