Sunday, August 2, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Pennington

Name: Valerie Pennnington
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Opposites Collide

“Charlotte Beckers, please proceed to the principal’s office,” Mrs. Magnus announces to the class; this elicits a chorus of “oohs” with an annoyingly loud “again?” from my oh-so-mature classmates.

 “Thanks”, I say as I reach for Mrs. Magnes’ hall pass; I would rather do anything, including take a trip to see the principal, than sit in her class for any longer. She explained on the first day of class that she believes in the just-world hypothesis (or more aptly called the just-world fallacy because it’s a mistaken belief) which states good will be rewarded with good while bad will ultimately be punished. Personally, I think it’s an excuse to read her romance novels and not pay much attention to her class, but I wouldn’t put it past her to be performing some elaborate social experiment.

Once I’m out of that zoo, I walk the very short distance to the front office; all of my classes seem to be within a few hundred feet of the front office, I smell a conspiracy.

“Well hello Charlotte, it’s been, what, three days? I think that’s a new record.” A smiling Miss Walkens greets me when I step inside the front office. She likes to give me a hard time for my “problem student” reputation, but I know that I’m secretly one of her favorites.

“Hey Miss W, how’s your day going?”

“I’ve had better days.” She sighs. “My fiancé got sick in the middle of the night, so I spent my night at a hospital surrounded by puke and florescent lights.”

“That sucks, I’m sorry. Is Jake better now?” Over the years, we’ve forged somewhat of a friendship, with us each knowing random facts about one another. I like her a lot but most importantly, I respect her. She’s never looked down on me or written me off, and her patience is legendary. Even I can appreciate that. Her smiling face has become the quiet before the storm.

“Miss Beckers, you may come in now.” I throw a smile to Miss Walkens before facing The Murph (or as other students respectfully refer to him, Principal Murphey).

“How are you today, Charlotte?”

“I- -“

“Please explain to me exactly how it came about that you called Carl Young a ‘misogynist and narcissistic pig’?”

Crap. “Sir, I understand how this reflects poorly on my character, but I felt that his behavior needed to be corrected and his… umm… ways needed be changed. It might not have come across as nice but I honestly think that he will be a better person because of it.” I throw out one of my charming smiles but he doesn’t fall for it.

“Oh Miss Beckers, you do have a way with words, but unfortunately for you, I need you to apologize to him. And before you argue with me, I am intentionally not giving you a detention because I know how much you are looking forward to The Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program. I am asking that you do this today and stay out of trouble from now on because I wouldn’t want anything to happen with that great opportunity.”

Ouch, that threat hit its intended target. “Thank you sir. I will be on my best behavior.”

“You may leave.”

Anger at having been dismissed quickly gives way to dejection. The Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program is my shot at getting into Brown next year, but there is still a little over a month until school ends and that is asking a lot, some might say too much, for me to keep my mouth shut for that long.

---

“What’s the verdict, Gremlin?” my best friend, Hunter, asks me in my next class. He started calling me Gremlin because he thinks it’s a fitting nickname (they are mischievous by nature) but it’s obviously not. I just tend to stick up for my beliefs passionately which gets me in trouble more than the average human.

“I have to apologize.” I huff out.

“Is it ‘too late to apologize’?” Hunter sings out, clearly proud of himself.

“Hardy har har. Ryan Tedder doesn’t even sing a-pologize; if you listen to the song, he just says ‘pologize’.”

“This punishment is making you particularly cranky today.” Hunter notes. Sometimes people are confused why we are best friends because he’s more of the shy, intelligent type while I’m not. The answer is simple enough: he doesn’t put up with my crap, and he always tells me the truth, whether I ask for it or not. It might not be a recipe for success, but it’s worked for us since elementary school.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.”

“See! It’s not that hard.” His triumphant smile makes an appearance.

I don’t dignify his response with an answer. Even though he can annoy the crap out of me, I really don’t know what I would do without him. As my aunt would say, he’s “good people”.

Just as I am about to dive into my peanut butter and jam sandwich, in walks Carl Young. Awesome.

“Go get ‘em tiger.”

I plaster on a slightly convincing smile and make my way to the table that holds an impressive amount of egomaniacs. Be nice, Charlotte.

Carl’s friend, Garrett Williams, nudges him when he sees me coming which seems to flip a switch in him and a smug little smile appears on his face.

“Well hello Charlotte, how are you today? Is there anything that you feel… compelled to tell this, what was it, misogynist and narcissistic pig?”

I swallow down all of my pride because I know that if I don’t come off as genuinely sincere, The Murph will follow through on his threat.

“I’m good, thanks Carl.” I push out through my forced smile.” I, umm, would like to apologize to you formally. I was out of line when I called you those names, and I will work on my self-control.” I take a breath before I lie to his face, “I’m sorry.”

My cheeks are starting to hurt because they’ve been holding the same position for too long, yet Carl doesn’t say anything.

“How are you?” I eventually ask.

“I’m not trying to be picky” I’m gonna punch him. “But that just didn’t feel sincere. You still think that I am those awful things you called me and that hurts.”Not as much as your stomach is gonna hurt in a minute.

Breathe. I look over at Garrett and all I see is a look of glee and anticipation. The Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program. Do it for The Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program. “I’m sorry for calling you a misogynist and narcissistic pig. You are quite a lovely guy.” I inwardly cringe. “I was in the wrong when I said those things.”

“So you don’t think I’m either of those things?” He asks with a look of pure glee.

“Not at all.” I grit out.

“Okay.”

I want to punch him.

The last thing that I see before I launch myself at my table where Hunter and my sandwich await is a wicked grin that I want to smack off of his face. By the time that I get back, I’m nearly fuming but it will all be worth it when I get accepted into the Lawrence program. Eye on the prize.

“Umm Char, whenever you’re done with your rather extensive inner dialogue, you might want to see who is quickly approaching our table,” Hunter says, a look of confused amusement hiding in the depths of his mouth.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you for the chance to comment on your first five pages. I am looking forward to working with you this month.

    I like that we find out right away that the "carrot" of The Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program is dangling in front of Charlotte's face. It obviously serves as motivation for her. There also seems to be some foreshadowing that she will have to be doing more of this "groveling to achieve her goal" in the future, especially regarding her classmate Carl.

    Charlotte is bright (as evidenced by her use of terms such as misogynist, which I'm sure I didn't use in high school!) and spunky. I like to see strong female characters who stand up for what they see is right, so I think you are off to a good start in developing her character. I also like the banter with her friend.

    I did feel as if I were dropped right into the middle of an ongoing situation. Perhaps it would help to tell us a bit more about Charlotte? Maybe it was just me, but the pace and dialogue moved so rapidly that it was hard to get a real sense of what motivated the main characters. This may still work well in this genre as long as we come to get a sense of her story as we go.

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    1. I tend to think/process like a Gilmore Girl (scripts are typically 40-50 pages long while GG was 80 pages long) which totally makes sense as to why it was moving so quickly and with fast dialogue. I will definitely try to slow it to a more appropriate pace that won't give readers whiplash. I honestly never realized that I don't describe ANY characters. This will be remedied. Thank you.

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    2. I tend to think/process like a Gilmore Girl (scripts are typically 40-50 pages long while GG was 80 pages long) which totally makes sense as to why it was moving so quickly and with fast dialogue. I will definitely try to slow it to a more appropriate pace that won't give readers whiplash. I honestly never realized that I don't describe ANY characters. This will be remedied. Thank you.

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    3. My opening moves too slowly and doesn't have enough dialogue, so I may not be the best one to give you advice. :) But I do think that all of us will have much stronger beginnings once we do our revisions. I'm really excited about it.

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  2. I like Charlotte's attitude, and her seemingly rebellious nature. I like the way some things are worded, like "throwing a smile" or "amusement hiding in the depths of his mouth." The relationship between Charolette and Hunter is clearly established as playful, which I like. Pretty much all the relationships were clear.
    However, everything really was moving fast, and there there was some detail lacking here and there. (We don't know what anyone looks like) But otherwise, this seems like it would be a fun story to read .

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    1. Thank you for your comments. I didn't even realize the pacing was so fast but three different places in five pages is maybe a little too much.lol. Next time you read this, Charlotte will be described. Thank you!

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    2. Thank you for your comments. I didn't even realize the pacing was so fast but three different places in five pages is maybe a little too much.lol. Next time you read this, Charlotte will be described. Thank you!

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  3. Hi Valerie, Charlotte is certainly a piece of work, isn't she? She is sassy, smart and focused on her future. She is also her own worst enemy which I really love. I do tend to agree that I got a bit lost with everything that was going on. While I love the bit about Ms Magnes' love of romance novels is it important enough for the second opening paragraph? Maybe it is, but perhaps we could see it a bit more from Charlotte's view - I don't know of any school that would tolerate teaches openly doing this though and students are very quick to complain these days so maybe it is a bit more of a furtive activity on the teacher's behalf that Charlotte catches her out at - she seems like the kind of girl who would file that away for future ammunition.
    Also, while I understand the power of repetition the Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program was mentioned at least one time too many for me - that could just be me, a pet peeve is repetitive words in a paragraph, please feel free to give me a kick if you notice me doing it, but again it is all personal taste - it is minor and just something I always fixate on.
    I like you MC and Hunter and warmed to them immediately. I think the only thing that is missing for me is where this is headed - I think we need to know who is coming to the table and what their business is before you close off.
    I appreciate being able to read and comment on your work.

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    1. You understand Charlotte! Someone mentioned just starting in the principal's office which will just eliminate that scene which I think will be for the best. You're right, not super necessary. Oh gosh! I HATE typing the Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program so I believe that you got tired of reading it. I just was having trouble alluding to it in a shorter form. If you have any ideas, that would be helpful. Since I cut out that first scene, I'll include who comes to the table for next week. Thank you!

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    2. You understand Charlotte! Someone mentioned just starting in the principal's office which will just eliminate that scene which I think will be for the best. You're right, not super necessary. Oh gosh! I HATE typing the Lawrence Institute Summer Leadership Program so I believe that you got tired of reading it. I just was having trouble alluding to it in a shorter form. If you have any ideas, that would be helpful. Since I cut out that first scene, I'll include who comes to the table for next week. Thank you!

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  4. I enjoyed reading this. It’s well-written with great instances of voice. I like Charlotte’s feminist mindset—especially given she’s over-zealous and getting it a bit wrong. Very relatable since the teen years are when we form a lot of passionate interests. I immediately thought of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (which I love!).

    As the other commenters suggested, the pacing could use some adjustment. I don’t know that it’s a matter of too much happening, but more that the scene is spread out among three locations within the five pages. One suggestion might be to start the story in the principal’s office, with the “what, has it been three days?” comment and note she is specifically walking into the principal’s office. We don’t really need to see her get called out of class, or know that teacher’s name. Then, by showing Charlotte immediately chatty with The Murph  we see rather than are told that despite Charlotte being in trouble, she’s friendly with the office staff and not an angry bully. You show that well already in a few paragraphs.

    My other suggestions is to have the boy she needs to apologize to already in the office. To me, it makes more sense if her punishment is the apology for the principal to witness and facilitate the apology. Otherwise, how to prove she apologizes? You can still show Charlotte’s discomfort and internal dialogue, plus a lot of tension is pulled from that triangle; trying to please the principal, having to swallow pride with Carl. Later at lunch, Carl can hassle her further about the apology. That conversation is likely different than what happened in the principal’s office.

    I think you have all the ingredients here. It’s more a matter of organizing to give the scene the most impact. Which characters need to be on the page in the first chapter and what is integral to move the story forward.

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    1. I wanted to write a strongly flawed and strongly feminist character, so I'm glad you see that. That's a freaking fantastic idea, I already cut the first scene because it wasn't necessary and it can still be established in the principal's office. I also think that it makes way more sense for Carl to be in the office already, it would totally be in The Murph's character to put Charlotte on the spot like that. Thank you so much.

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    2. I wanted to write a strongly flawed and strongly feminist character, so I'm glad you see that. That's a freaking fantastic idea, I already cut the first scene because it wasn't necessary and it can still be established in the principal's office. I also think that it makes way more sense for Carl to be in the office already, it would totally be in The Murph's character to put Charlotte on the spot like that. Thank you so much.

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  5. I like Charlotte right away, and I like that she's smart and quick to use words like "misogynist." I think it would create a better contrast if everyone else was more flummoxed by her. Maybe the principal asks her where she learned such a word. Perhaps Hunter has no idea what the word means, and he has to look it up and he still doesn't understand it. (In fact, this seems more likely anyway.)

    I like the previous suggestion that you keep these scenes all in one setting. But even if you don't do this, your characters need to be doing something as they talk. Right now she enters the principal's office and they have words, but there's no indication of what the office looks like, what he's doing when she gets there, if she's sitting or standing, etc. It will seem more natural and give the reader a better sense of space if you work in more details like that.

    It also seems like your characters are performing little monologues to one another rather than interacting in a conversation. The principal's office is another good example of this. More back and forth will give the scene a more natural pace and allow for the details of setting and action to come through.

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    1. I think that's a great idea, to separate her even from her best friend. I can see how I completely left out the important details like that and will include them in next time. Oh, I believe that they feel like monologues because that is how I am. I completely agree that more back and forth will do the book some good. Thank you. :)

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    2. I think that's a great idea, to separate her even from her best friend. I can see how I completely left out the important details like that and will include them in next time. Oh, I believe that they feel like monologues because that is how I am. I completely agree that more back and forth will do the book some good. Thank you. :)

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  6. Hi Valerie!

    I really enjoyed reading these pages. Charlotte is an interesting character with a great voice. You’ve gotten a lot of great advice so far – I think you need to describe the setting, so that we can visualize the school (typical? Modern? etc.) and the characters as well. I love Stephanie’s idea of starting in the office, with Carl there, because it did seem to jump around quite a bit – scene wise.

    I also love that we have the stakes – the summer institute – which is great. Why don’t you name it something that you can abbreviate easily, so that it becomes an acronym for LEAP or something.

    One thing that struck me was that really nothing happened in these 5 pages. She almost got in trouble but didn’t, almost lost her cool apologizing but didn’t. So there isn’t much tension. Cutting the first scene might get us to the tension sooner – so I look forward to reading next week!

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  7. Hi Valerie, So great to have you as part of this workshop, which is near and dear to my heart. It kicked my butt a couple of years ago and is responsible for my book selling to Macmillan—for sure!

    First off, it’s a tricky thing to start with dialogue. We don’t know the characters at all so it’s hard to feel anything about what we’re being given. If you start with dialogue it’s got to be a wallop of a good line. What you have here is just a standard request that could just as easily be narrative. It’s not strong enough to be the first line of your manuscript, I’m sorry to say. A first line has to truly WOW the reader and be unique or show voice or lure the reader in with spectacular prose. Agents pass after one line—seriously. It’s that fast. So you need to spend more time on it and your first paragraph and page than anything else in the book — just about!

    I’d rethink this opening. You start with a somewhat banal order to the principal’s office and then the next line is a pretty standard reaction about classmates not being mature. This is a bit of a stereotype and doesn’t make your story uniquely it’s own. You then go into backstory about the class and teacher. And then we have the interaction with Miss W. and the principal and it feels like a lot of telling here. And all of that also seems to slow down the story. It’s a lot of characters and people in a very short time. It kind of feels like a tennis match, bopping our heads back and forth to follow. We are craving action from the get go. I actually think you could start with her apologizing. That would be more intriguing. Think about giving us just enough to whet our appetites but not so much backstory that it weighs it down. A quick reference to the summer program while she’s apologizing as you have her is sufficient—we don’t even need the exchange with the principal. Too much detail bogs things down and if you tell us everything, there’s no reason for us to keep reading. It’s a fine line between enough to intrigue but not leave us confused and too much that just feels like telling.

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  8. In terms of language and prose: consider eliminating the semi colons. they aren’t used much in fiction and they are distracting. Similar, pay attention to your prose and word choice and try to pump up the words you use and limit the repetitive ones (“class” is used many times in paragraph two). You “swallow pride” not “swallow down pride.” Think “efficiency” in all of your writing and be brutal with cutting all but the best stuff. Less is always more.

    In terms of your dialogue, try reading it out loud to see if it sounds natural. People speak not in full sentences and without perfect grammar. The dialogue here is a bit stilted at times. For instance:

    “Hey Miss W, how’s your day going?”

    “I’ve had better days.” She sighs.

    Someone would likely just say, “I’ve had better.” Little changes make a big difference.

    My biggest comment may be the hardest: the voice here is sounding middle grade, not YA. I don’t know the age of your characters or the story here, but I would take a look at this to see if you really think this fits as a YA. MG is a wonderful genre and your voice seems better suited to it at least in these pages.

    For instance, you have 5 pages of a character apologizing for an insult that isn’t all that bad—certainly not in a high school, but it IS in a middle school. It’s even something like that which shows that this might be better suited in that genre. 5 pages for one apology just isn’t enough action or tension or mature enough for a YA book as it is presented here. It’s the biggest thing I would suggest you consider as you work on these pages.

    Lots to think about here! Curious what you decide to do with it!

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