Sunday, August 9, 2015

1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Pennington Revision 1

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. The problem that he continually runs into is that I’m not (usually) physically violent. I’ve instead crafted my words into their own weapon. While this lands me in his office regularly, he has a hard time justifying giving the boot to one of Lambertville High’s top students, especially when we are barely scraping by in the state-wide testing department.

“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 is wearing a toupee and suspenders.

As I take my regular seat in the worn leather chair in front of his name plate, 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 grand commencement. 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. Dark red hair resides in my patented Mulan bun on the top of my head giving me a little extra height. My brown eyes roam the familiar posters and achievements on the wood-paneled walls as I wait for him to speak.

He dramatically sighs. “Charlotte. Would you care to explain to me how exactly you came about calling Mr. Carl Young a, what was it? Oh yes, a ‘misogynist and narcissistic pig’?”

“Sir, I understand how this reflects poorly on my character, but I felt that his sexist comments needed to be addressed.” I say in my best “good student” voice.
“And you had to be the one to address them?”

“It isn’t so much that it had to be me as much as it wouldn’t have been anyone else.”

“Why is that?”

“Carl’s beloved by the masses. I’m not saying that he’s a bad guy, but I do believe that popular and unpopular alike need to be educated on these matters.”

“While I appreciate the effort, your words won’t get you out of this mess. You have a reputation for verbally attacking students and it must stop now. I’ve talked with some of your teachers and the school secretary, and we feel that detention isn’t a suitable conscience for your most recent misconduct. Instead, all I require of you is a sincere apology to Mr. Young.” He says with his patented “checkmate” smirk.

“But sir—“ I object. I try to make it a habit of not blatantly lying and an apology to Carl would be a steaming pile of crap.

“Before you say anything else, I would like to remind you that I have a large sway in who gets picked for the prestigious Leaders of the Eastern Academic Division program. Now I propose that you do as I ask and apologize to Mr. Young.” He throws down his trump card and waits as it takes effect.

Before I can say anything, there’s a knock on the door that alights his smarmy face with a million watt smile. He tells whoever it is to come in while he gestures for me to stand up. I turn around and my eyes land on Carl. His “Roaring Lions Baseball” shirt is stretched over his defined arm muscles but even his nice body can’t detract from his crap personality. I try not to roll my eyes as he greets our beloved principal. He stands at the back of the room and I make my way to stand in front of him. His face looks so smug that I could punch him but I resist the urge as I see The Murph creep around his “Just Learn It!” poster.

“Hello Carl.” I grit out through my smile.

“Charlotte.” Carl returns with a phony look of dejection.

I take a deep breath. It’s now or never. “Look Carl, I’m sorry for calling you a misogynist and narcissistic pig. I don’t even know you and I judged you unfairly. You seem like a, uh, nice guy who I misjudged. You have a right to your opinions as I have a right to mine. I shouldn’t have jumped down your throat and I apologize for that.” I breathe a sigh of relief after delivering a fairly convincing apology.

“So, you don’t think those awful things about me?” His lip quivers. I discretely roll my eyes. I know he’s doing this to get under my skin but little does he know the LEAD program is much more tempting than punching his pretty-boy face.

“Not at all.” I smile, thinking happy thoughts.

Instantly he brightens up, but the sudden change makes me suspicious, like it has more to do with a new idea than my apology. He quickly shouts his forgiveness at me as he turns to The Murph and shakes his hand before leaving the room. His departure is tinted with a little too much self-satisfaction for my taste.

I stay where I’m standing but move my body until it faces the only remaining person in the room.

“Miss Beckers, as a junior, I expect you to be an example to your fellow underclassmen and that means staying out of trouble. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“You may go.”

I quickly walk out of his office but slow down while I wait for him to shut the door. Once he does, I make a beeline over to the school secretary, Miss Walkens.

“Thanks Miss W, I know that you had a lot to do with the ‘lack of a detention’ thing.”

“You’re a good student, despite what some of the staff may think, and your dreams shouldn’t be ripped away that easily.” Even though Miss. Walkens is only in her mid-twenties, she talks and acts like a Southern mother. Her hair is much bigger than the accepted standard in Michigan and her clothes include a lot more scarves and cowboys boots than anyone here.

I give her my first genuine smile of the morning. She’s become my calm after the storm that is our lovely principal. I’m not sure if it was the constant exposure to me or if we just have compatible personalities but we’ve developed a mutual respect for one another. 

“I’m glad you think that. Brown University can’t get rid of me that quick.” I laugh.

“You are gonna just have a ball when you get chosen as a representative for our school to the LEAD program. A few weeks without trouble will just whiz by.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.” I let out a hearty laugh. Still, it’s nice to know that at least one staff member believes in me.

“Have a great day, Charlotte.” I hear the smile in her voice as I head into the zoo that is my school. Wild students stalk through the halls getting from one destination to another as I join in. Once I enter the feeding area, I spot my best friend, Hunter.

“What’s the verdict, Gremlin?” He asks as I take my place next to him in line. The nickname started in seventh grade when we first watched it; he says it’s fitting because Gremlins are mischievous by nature. He’s clearly delusional. I take in his standard uniform: casual khaki pants and a loose-fitting V-neck on his lanky body with perpetually messed up brown hair. Objectively speaking, he’s attractive but none of the girls here are intelligent enough to look past his jocklessness. 


  1. Wow! I'm sure that Lori and the other mentors will have much more concrete and helpful feedback for you than I can come up with, but I do have some observations. It flows so much better. The first paragraph still puts you in the midst of the action, but I didn't feel lost in all the dialogue shooting back and forth this time. It was a nice blend of dialogue and description in my opinion. I like the way you managed to weave in some description of both the setting and your MC into this opening. The apology taking place in the office worked much better for me. It's obvious that you put a great deal of thought into the revision and took all of the feedback you received to heart. Great job!!

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  3. I agree absolutely with Melissa, you have worked really well with all of the feedback and this is gives us a much clearer picture of what is going on. I get that Charlotte has a great deal of attitude and this is threatening her entry into the LEAD program. The one thing I 'm not getting here is what this story is about. Is it just the story of a girl with a bad attitude that causes her a problem getting into her chosen program or is there more to it, because if there is I think we need to know about it in these five pages. To me there is still too much detail around this apology and not enough about what is really going on here. Just my thoughts. I like Charlotte and her sass and I like Hunter he seems like he could be a lot of fun. I just want some indication of where this journey is going.

    1. A lot of people are saying that and it all comes together on like page seven but I agree that it needs to happen sooner. I realized a way that I could make everything come together much smoother but it won't be I'm cutting down the apology to a page or a page and a half. Thank you!

  4. Wow - great job revising! It flows so much more smoothly, the details of description are vivid and well done, and I love Charlotte. She has such a great, strong voice. My main question is - would a reader want to keep reading. That I’m not so sure about. Other than the story being about a sassy smart girl who wants to get into LEAD, which will be a challenge for her to keep her mouth shut – what is it about? That is not enough to hook the reader. If something big is about to happen, maybe (I know, I know! This is the hard part) you should start closer to that. This can be added later – really anytime she gets in trouble -- or cut.

    It is crucial to hook the reader, all of the wonderful writing in the world won’t do that. You could also start with something like, the day started like most others, with me in the principal. I thought my biggest problem would be convincing Murph not to pull me from the running of the prestigious LEAD program at Brown, my ticket out of boringville. Little did I know… or some such. Or boil down this scene to a page – much can be done in narrative, you don’t need this much dialogue. And don’t waste much prime first 5 page real estate on minor characters. If Carl, Murhp or Miss Walker aren’t important, trim them considerably or cut. Fool around with it. Write the scene that presents your story problem, and then figure out how to get us there quicker, or foreshadow, or something to pull us in.

    Good luck! I can’t wait to see what you do with this!

    1. I'm making the apology only a page or a page and a half. Something big is coming right after these pages but I agree that it needs to come sooner. I really have to credit your input with the idea that I have to make it all come together (which you'll see next week). Carl's best friend, Garrett, is the love interest and Carl can be replaced with Garrett in the scene and then the plot starts. Thank you so much!

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  6. I'm still getting the feeling these characters are much younger than they're supposed to be in the story, probably because I don't know where it's really going. So much time is spent on this one little insult and that's just not enough tension to spark my interest yet. My husband teaches 8th grade and I doubt it would even cause him to bat an eyelash let alone send someone to the principal's office.

    I also feel like the character descriptions are a little forced. Particularly the "My dark red hair resides..." line, and her "taking in" Hunter's appearance. The description of Carl seems much more natural.

    Minor nitpick: I'm wondering if the name Carl Young is some sort of allusion to the psychologist Carl Jung? If it's just a coincidence, it's not really a big deal. I doubt too many YA readers would even make the connection. But maybe it's just sticking out at me because not many teens are named Carl these days?

    1. I appreciate your input. I'm severely changing the apology scene and I think it'll make it so much better (and so much shorter). Yeah, thank you for saying that. Descriptions were actually really hard for me and that's why some were stiff but I will definitely work on making it smooth. It is an allusion to Carl Jung! I'm a psychology grad student and I like to insert little presents in my work. It comes together later.

  7. Hi Valerie,

    Nice work on this revision. I like the changes you have made to the voice to make Charlotte sound a bit older, but I still think in concept it’s reading young in terms of the apology being worth 5 pages at the start of the novel and her desire to get into the LEAD program without a clear stake as to why. Those types of strong, single-minded desires can work in younger characters (though more motivation is better there too!) but it’s hard in YA.

    I think the fact that you have this much dialogue is throwing the pacing and the story off. You aren’t able to get in the narrative we crave—the narrative that will help us determine what this story is about and allow you to put in some more description that feels a bit less forced.

    Also the dialogue you do have is feeling a bit stilted. People don’t speak in full sentences and aren’t so “spot on”. When you have characters talk this way, they just don’t sound natural and therefore don’t feel real to us. Read this aloud, or better yet, have people play the characters and you’ll get a feel for what’s not working here.

  8. For example, especially if she’s a regular in the principal’s office, they have a relationship.
So this: “While I appreciate the effort, your words won’t get you out of this mess. You have a reputation for verbally attacking students and it must stop now. I’ve talked with some of your teachers and the school secretary, and we feel that detention isn’t a suitable conscience for your most recent misconduct. Instead, all I require of you is a sincere apology to Mr. Young.” He says with his patented “checkmate” smirk.

    Might be better as: “You speak well, Charlotte, I’ll give you that. But that’s precisely the problem. No more verbal attacks on students. Starting now.” He drums his fingernails against the glass top of his desk. “Warnings, detentions, none of it seems to faze you. So this time, we’re trying something a little differenet. Something you use so well.”

    And that’s how I wind up apologizing to Carl Young.”

    Think about integrating narrative and you’ll have a much better way to show us more character, more of the story problem, and perhaps you’ll be able to get us into the true crux of this story faster.

    But he end of five pages, we must have a sense of where the story is going and we must be enticed to read more.

    Excited to see what you do next week!

    1. I agree, the apology is taking too much time. I thought by reworking it I could make it work but I'm cutting it down and changing it to where it will be one and a half pages max. I tried to make the dialogue flow more but I can see how the conversation with The Murph was still stilted. Thank you, I'm going to get to the meat next week!

  9. Hey Valarie,
    I really like this revision. It's a great step-up from your submission. I agree with Melissa- this flows much better.
    But I just can't seem to get a sense of where this is all going. There isn't really a sense of conflict here, or anything that foreshadows something bigger to come. Maybe add something that will give the reader a sense of where this is headed. You did add more description, but as Erin said, it seemed a tad forced. Take the way you described Carl and apply that to the other descriptions. Also, instead of just telling us your character has brown eyes, you could say "I looked at the wood-paneled walls, which were the same color as my eyes." (I'm assuming the wood is brown?) this is just an example- you don't have to use it :)
    Otherwise, good revision

    1. I like your mention of the wood/eyes and I'll definitely incorporate it better. It was a challenge for me but I appreciate your input. I'm going to get to the crux in the next submission. Thank you!

    2. *Valerie (sorry, I realized I spelt your name wrong in my comment) great, I'm looking forward to reading your next revision :)