Sunday, August 16, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Pennington Revision 2

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

I’m honestly surprised that The Murph hasn’t kicked me out of school yet. One look at my grades will explain why he’s so hesitant though. My status as one of Lambertville High’s top students is hard to overlook in a school where the state-wide testing scores are lower than many thought to be humanly possible. Over the years, I’ve fashioned my words into a weapon, slicing through ignorant statements and cutting down egomaniacs while only getting the occasional detention here or there. I realized years ago that avoiding physical violence is integral to survival here and I’ve kept good on that… until today.

 “Miss Beckers, you may now come in.” I look up to see Principal Murphy standing in the doorway, his imposing height belittled by the fact that he’s wearing a toupee and suspenders.

As I take my regular seat in one of the worn leather chairs, he shuts the door behind me and ascends to his throne. This isn’t my first rodeo and I know better than to talk before he has his dramatic entrance. He spends a few seconds studying me while I sit up in my chair in attempts to make my mere 5’1” stature seem taller and more formidable. I fluff up my bun of dark red hair for added height as I take in the familiar posters and achievements on the wood-paneled walls. I imagine it must be suffocating for The Murph to stare at these walls all day and then find the same dull color in my eyes.

He straightens up and I mirror him, the show’s about to begin. “Charlotte. Is verbally bullying students no longer enough?”

“I’ve never ‘verbally bullied’ anyone, sir. I view it more as educating the masses.”

“Regardless, now you’ve combined verbal bullying with physical bullying. Why’d you kick Garrett Williams in the groin, Charlotte?” He lets out an exacerbated sigh.

“He saw me educating some jock and told me that it ‘took some balls’ to confront that guy.”


“And that phrase is entirely sexist! To imply that having a penis and scrotum somehow gives you mythical strength or bravery is just absurd. I mean, women give birth, Murph! They literally—“

“How many times have I told you to call me Principal Murphy?” He asks rhetorically. “Get to your point in the next five seconds.”

“Sorry, so I was educating him and when I told him that he’s suffering from Freudian thinking, I punctuated my argument with a, uh, display of what actually takes balls.”

“I’ll cut to the chase, Charlotte. You’ll report to detention every morning for the next week. In addition to that, I expect you to apologize to Garrett.”

“But sir—“

“If you fail to do either of these things, you’ll be pulled from the prestigious Leaders of the Eastern Academic Division Program.”

Just as I’m about to ask if that means that I’m in the LEAD program, I simultaneously hear a knock on the door and the squeak of hinges. I turn around in my chair to see who had the gall to barge in but my eyes get distracted by the impressive peaks and valleys that is Garrett Williams’ body.

The Murph ushers him in to the remaining chair on my left. I watch as he folds his 6’0” body into the seat, and for the first time I notice the gleam of glee in our dear principal’s eyes.

They’re both waiting on me.

I take a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry for kicking you in the sack. I let my anger get away from me and I’m sorry it caused you pain. I was out of line and you didn’t deserve it.”  I look for approval but instead I find more instruction. “Oh, and I’m sorry for what I said as well. That phrase pi- upsets me and my knee-jerk reaction is to respond passionately. I know you didn’t mean to set me off.”

The Murph seems happy enough but when I turn back towards Garrett, apathetic blue eyes greet me. He turns towards Principal Murphy with an eyebrow quirked, seeming to ask permission to leave.

“Thank you, Charlotte. Our baseball captain here is such a good sport. Not that we didn’t know that already.” He beams down at Garrett, staring down at the pride and joy of our school. “Now that I have you both here, I want to congratulate you on being selected for The Leaders of the Eastern Academic Division Program.”

I sputter out a breath. Two students, one female and one male, are chosen every year to attend the prestigious program that is notorious for opening up doors to colleges all over the world. I know tons of students who have been battling for one of the two spots and somehow Garrett Williams beat them all out? Schools are already knocking down his door, what could he possibly benefit from this program?

The Murph immediately launches into reading the program packet. I zone out because I’ve already read it so many times it’s practically committed to memory. I sneak a glance at Garrett, trying to view him not as a douchebag but as a serious student who cares about his future. His eyes are focused on our droning principal and they seem alive with interest. He’s wearing a maroon Henley with dark wash pants as opposed to his usual baseball shirts and athletic shorts, giving off the impression that he dressed to impress. Maybe my biases tainted my view of him. Maybe he’s more than his jock complex. Maybe.

We discuss the program for another ten minutes. I learn that our smelly gym teacher will drive us the twelve hours to Providence but I can’t make myself care about the sure-to-be-awkward car ride. The final destination will be worth it. One whole month of pure collegiate bliss. The more we talk about it, the more excited I get. It’s real. It’s happening. I made it.

Before we leave, The Murph passes out papers to give to our parents. In one week, all seven of us (our parents, The Murph, and us) will meet to go over logistics and to sign forms. It’s sure to be a delightful meeting.

Garrett’s dismissed before I even realize what’s happening but I’m not so lucky.

“Charlotte, this is an honor. Don’t mess it up. No trouble, understood?”

“Yes sir.”

He motions for me to leave and I race out of his office is search for a head of short brown hair. I zero in on my target and tug on his Henley when I get there.


He stares blandly at me.

“Uh, I didn’t know that you were interested in the program. It doesn’t involve baseballs or hot girls throwing themselves at you.” I laugh.

He remains silent.

“I want to start with a clean slate, is—“

“Listen, we don’t have to be friends. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. This program doesn’t change anything.” He punctuates his statement by walking away.

I’m speechless. I’m the one who ends the conversation and walks away.

I stand there like a goober until someone hits me from behind. I whirl around, ready to strike, when I see a familiar mop of messy brown hair and my best friend’s goofy smile.

“Hunter, you’re such a weirdo.”

“And you aren’t?”


“It’s pointless to try and deny it. I know you. And I know you just came out of The Murph’s office. Char… are the rumors true?”


  1. I have a much clearer picture of this character and her situation now than I did after reading the first entry. You've really pulled it together and upped the stakes with Charlotte becoming physical with the baseball player. I do like that they both find out about being chosen for the program, and I think the scene between them after they leave the office is great. I do wonder if her kicking him in the groin might be going too far. She would probably be suspended for that, and not chosen for the program. Just something to think about. You have come a long way on these pages and I think you've done a great job Valerie.

    1. I really appreciate your feedback. I am struggling so hard with the reason for her being in the office. I want to start with her getting in trouble and a lot of people kept saying that she wouldn't get in so much trouble just saying words (which I totally agree). I might have gone a little too far in the other direction Thank you, it's definitely something I'll be thinking about. :)

  2. I like the added tension between Charlotte and Garrett, and the dialogue flows much better in this version. But sorry to sound like a broken record -- I'm still not sure where this is going. Is it all about her adventures at this prestigious program? If so, maybe starting with her already there would be more engaging. What conflicts will she have to overcome once she's there? I want to know about that. If she and Garrett are going to be foils, then maybe a scene with just them in it would work somehow. Right now, you're talking about something that's already happened, then she's being handed this big achievement and all she has to do is not physically attack anyone in the meantime, which is not enough stakes to keep me reading quite yet.

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    2. I see that you've really tried here Valerie, and you did a nice job! I think if you're struggling to figure out what your MC did that was so bad but not too bad, maybe have her "spill" a drink on Garrett or something like that. I know it's not easy, buy do try and amp up the action a bit to foresee where this is going. A big step up from your first submission though!

    3. Personally, I like this opening. Based on the revision, instead of spreading out getting called to the office, the office, then apology, all of that is done in one scene. we get an intro to the characters, see the MC's values, and the inciting event--both students being put together in a program. This to me is not extrananeous set-up and it's active and interesting. While there is no one right place to start a story this to me does not feel like it's starting in the wrong place. For me, I already get a sense of where this story is going.

  3. Hi Valerie - this is a mighty hard workshop and I totally get your struggle, I've been through it myself these past few weeks. I think if you are having difficulty with your opening, you may not be opening in the right place. I had to rewrite my opening completely before I applied for this workshop because to me it read well enough but just didn't sit right. The big question to me is, where is our MC at the opening? To use my own example my earlier draft had her fighting with her mum moving to the new house, but the move in itself wasn't the problem, it was the fact that her father had died and she had been forced to leave him behind, when then naturally led to visiting a strangers grave in a cemetery, because she had no other option. This is only my opinion, but to me your story opens when she is accepted into the program along with her jock nemisis - maybe you could open with the announcement that they had both been accepted, her hating the fact and then back story from there? Just a thought, this is your story.

    All that aside you really did answer our questions so much more in this revision and have cleared up a lot of earlier confusion. Funny how, as authors, it's all so clear in our heads, and as soon as someone looks at it, they are like 'what?'. I think you've done a brilliant job over the last few weeks.

  4. Overall, I think these pages are fantastic and you only have a little polishing.

    I will give you the same advice I have given others - go through and try to get rid of the extra words that aren't really needed. I noticed it right away in the second sentence with the word though.

    I really like this character's voice and how well this sets up for the rest of the story. Though I have to agree with others that kicking a guy in the ball is a little too far. I love the idea of dumping a beverage over his head.

    No major comments though.

  5. Love this revision! Now I would keep reading. You have set up the story perfectly. Charlotte has a great voice, and you have set up the stakes and the tension with Garret. The dialogue is much crisper and more natural, too.

    I agree kicking would likely be cause for suspension – dumping a drink or some such would be much better. Other than that, read it over out loud a few times and then you will be in great shape. Great job! I look forward to reading the pitch next week!

  6. I like this! Nice work. A minor suggestion for your first paragraph: I love how you open with The Murph. The next line you could replace "he" with Principal Murphy so readers can more easily connect that The Murph = Principal Murphy. No additional explaining needed, but solves any confusion of who this Murph guy is.

    The back and forth dialogue that follows is great and flows well. It shows a lot about your character. I like how she has to apologize in class--you're making the scene more active. Really nice work on this.

  7. Hi Valerie, first, congrats! This has come a long way since your first draft and I know how hard it's been and how much work you've put into it. It moves much faster. We get some more stakes and sense of the story problem. While your character's voice is much stronger here, she runs the risk of coming across as unlikable. What could be helpful to that end is to get a hint of why she thinks she's better than everyone else. That inner story problem coming into play would go a long way to making her more relatable and real. Though it is kind of nice to see her get dissed by Garrett at the end. I would urge you to be a bit careful with your words..."goober" sounds young. Be sure you are being consistent in the voice throughout.

  8. While I like the information presented in your first paragraph, and while it helps explain a lot, I'm not sure it's the strongest way to start the story. Your third paragraph has the best stuff in it early on and could be nice to start there and then weave in that first paragraph backstory as you go. The second paragraph of being called into the office is extraneous. If she's sitting there, we know she's called in so you can cut it.

    I do think you need to be careful about her kicking him. Any hint toward bullying raises cautionary flags and even if you are doing it in a joking way, it's something to be handled right. You say you are struggling for why she's called in...does she have to be called in for doing something bad? Can this just be how she finds out about the leadership? Can Garrett be pissed at her b/c she's been her usual wordy vocal self but there's not "wrong doing"? Something to explore. Also, the line she starts to say about women giving birth feels too adult for a teen and also a bit cliche. Everything needs to be gone over to ensure it's the strongest it can be in the first pages. But that we are getting down to the nit picky is a good sign! Best of luck with this and thank you for participating!