Sunday, October 11, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Caldwell Revision 1

Name: Alicia Caldwell
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Failed Innocence

Pain, and a shadowy face that hovers above me, obscuring my view of the full moon, is all I remember about last night. That small recollection is enough to send shivers up my spine. I fidget with the zipper on my purse, glancing every now and then at the stranger in the driver’s seat, trying to conjure up anything containing her name or her face. As soon as I’m about to give up trying to remember, I clasp on to an image of her behind the wheel. I was in the passenger seat . . . crying.
The silence is growing more unsettling as she drives us to breakfast. I have to say something.
“Um, thanks, for, ah, letting me crash at your house.” My voice is hoarse and raspy. I take another sip of coffee from the travel mug she gave me before leaving her house to try and wash it away.
“No problem,” she says. “I couldn’t let you go home alone in the state you were in.”
She told me earlier, after I woke up, she had been really worried that I had alcohol poisoning considering how many times I threw up at the party. It's not like me at all to get rip roaring drunk at parties. The few parties I do go to, I usually hide in the corner, sipping the same beer all night, waiting until my best friend, Kendra, is ready to leave. I'm horrified and humiliated things got so out of hand, and I'm still not sure how they did.
I turn toward her. “I’m sorry, but what was your name again?”
“Gwen.” She smiles, surprisingly not upset that I had forgotten.
I want to ask her if she knows what happened and if there’s a reason for this sense of dread I’ve had in the pit of my stomach all morning. Maybe she doesn’t know either. I kind of hope she was just as drunk as I was and just as clueless today. Then she can’t tell me anything, and my memories can remain in the dark confines of my mind. But since she was able to drive us back to her house after the party, I know she was lucid enough to see whatever horrible things my drunkenness brought on.
“Um, sorry for the cry fest.” Since that’s one of the few things I recall, I decide to plunge right in. No point in putting it off. I have to find out how pathetic I really acted. Face it and move on. “I don’t remember a whole lot. What was I going off about?”
Gwen side glances at me. “Really? You don’t remember?”
I shake my head, slowly, scared what’s coming next.
The Honda Civic speeds over the inclined parking lot entrance to Burger King, jostling my already sensitive stomach. Gwen shifts the car into park and turns the key. When she shifts to face me with her lips pressed together and her eyebrows drawn I know I shouldn’t have asked. I should leave last night in the murky shadows, never let it see the light.
Slowly and carefully, Gwen says, “You, ah, kept telling me how you, um, wanted to graduate a . . . ” Her pause is long, too long. Eventually she continues. “A virgin.” She stops again, studying my face. “And you almost made it.” She says this in a congratulatory way, the same way someone would tell you that it’s okay they came in last, it’s the effort that counts.
Almost made it? My stomach thinks I just stepped off a three-story building. The feeling is so real, I clasp the sides of the seat to have something solid to hang on to. Suddenly I hear my mom’s voice in my head, chanting her religious warnings. Sex before marriage is the second worst sin, just after murder.
“Bree?” She reaches over and touches my arm gently after seeing my reaction. “Are you okay? Ya know, it’s huge to make it to seventeen. You should feel good about that. And besides, last night didn’t really count anyway.”
With each word, I feel like she’s shining a flashlight on those dark confines I thought were safe to hide my memories in. But she’s forcing them out of hiding.
My first thought is it had to have been my on-again-off-again boyfriend. We met at church last summer. Two months after dating he started pressuring me. Until I met him, I really thought I might actually be able to stay chaste until marriage. Even though my mom constantly reminds me how sinful sex is, I know that’s not realistic. Graduating a virgin is a more reasonable goal I came up with after meeting Tristan. Last night I must’ve given in to him. Somehow he convinced me to give it up in my drunken stupor. The second I think it, I know the mysterious body hadn’t been Tristan. It was someone else entirely. Involuntary shakes start in my shoulders and quickly spread down my arms. I grip my biceps to get them to stop.
When the memory of crying to Gwen popped in my head, I assumed I was venting about Tristan and my inability to leave him because every time I try to he turns around and becomes Mr. Wonderful again. Right now, more than anything, I wished that had been the case instead of this. Anything except this.
“Ethan is such an asshole,” Gwen blurts. The name makes goose bumps pop up all over my arms and legs followed by an uncontrollable shudder. “I can’t believe he took advantage of you like that. He’s not gonna get away with it. You know that, right?”
I want her to stop. Stop talking. Stop telling. I take it back. I don’t want to know. But it’s too late. I can’t stop the memory from revealing more and more of itself. A big chunk of the puzzle snaps into place and the picture that’s forming makes me want to jump out of the car and throw myself in front of a truck.
The bright, blinding moon.
The repetitive, thrusting pain.
His hot breath on my face.
His cigarette flavored tongue shooting in and out of my mouth.
No no no no no no no. It didn’t happen. It couldn’t have. This is just a horrible nightmare. I reach over and pinch my arm hard. That’s not working. I’m not waking up. Instead of pinching, I dig my nails into my skin. Nothing. My reality doesn’t change.
Something’s squeezing my throat. My stomach wants to give up the coffee. My body’s shaking. I squeeze the seat tighter as I unwillingly remember.
Ethan had been the one holding my hair while I threw up in the back yard. He began kissing me . . . after I threw up. It was his tongue forcing it’s way into my mouth. I shudder so hard I feel the seat move with me.
My mind is frantically trying to retrieve the details against my will. Suddenly I’m overcome with a new fear. How does Gwen know? Why would I tell her? We just met last night. Did I tell anyone else?
Somehow I force myself to ask, “Who else knows?”
Gwen takes a deep breath, searches my face like she’s trying to tell if I can handle her answer. “You didn’t have to tell anyone.” She pauses, looks down at her feet and back up at me. She continues in barely a whisper. “They watched.”


  1. Hi Alicia,

    Thanks for your great feedback on my entry. I left a question after your comment. If you have time to answer it, I'd love to know your opinion. Thanks!

    I have to admit, your revision threw me for a loop. I didn't realize this is what the story was going to be about. I feel really bad for your main character--good job in eliciting those feeling in me. I get the main problem in these five pages and want to see how it will get resolved. I know this is only the first five pages, but I'm already wondering if this is a revenge story and if Gwen is going to help her with the revenge.

    Just a few comments: Your first line seems a little long to me. Maybe taking out the line about the moon would help. Also, this line threw me off "to try and wash it away." I had to go back to see what she was washing away.

    I know the main character is a female, but I wonder if a first-time reader would wonder because we don't get her name until half-way through. Also, I think it would be nice if you gave us descriptions of Gwen. From the start it might help us to see what Bree is seeing a little better and it might even give us a better sense of the situation. Does Gwen have dyed hair with a nose ring or is she wearing glasses with her hair in a tight bun? And you give us the name of the car, but is it vacuumed with clean windows or is there trash on the floor and used candy bar wrappers in the console?

    Insert the word "of" in this sentence: "scared what’s coming next." When you say this sentence: "The second I think it, I know the mysterious body hadn’t been Tristan. It was someone else entirely." It implies she remembers having sex. I feel like the second she remembers she might have an internal or even physical reaction. As it reads now it feels a little more passive.

    Anyway, good job. That last line got me--makes me wonder what's going to happen.


  2. Hello Alicia,

    This is strong. Both in the writing and the story itself. The second half is fluid. I really never stopped reading that bit.

    I paused only once to consider her use of the word "chaste". If the character heard this from her mom, which it seems that she may, then I can understand its use. But for some reason it stood out as an odd word for her to choose in her inner monolog.

    The only place where there were a few stumbling blocks for me was right near the beginning. I had trouble determining "when" and "where" we are at the start. The "I fidget with my zipper.." part feels that she is talking about doing this right now. She wonders who is in the driver's seat, then remembers in 'the past' when this person was 'behind the wheel". I'm just confused here about where she is and if this is past or present.

    Aside from that part it was clear and enjoyable to read.


  3. Hi Alicia,

    You have very strong, immediate writing and the interior voice of your main character is compelling.

    I have to be honest; I liked your first version of these pages better. This may just be me, but this one seems to have a little more telling (“She told me earlier . . .”), where your first draft was a more organic unfolding as she tried to play it normal while wondering what had happened. I really liked the contrast in your earlier draft between sitting at a kitchen table as if everything were fine, and struggling to know where she is and who she’s with. It kept interest since I wondered along with your character what had happened. In this draft I feel like that mystery is resolved a little too fast; it feels more like we’re being told backstory.

    I don’t know if that makes sense, but those are my thoughts. :)

  4. Hi Alicia!

    Your revision is definitely more haunting and dark than the first version - that last paragraph just about made my eyes pop out of my head! Both versions are very strong and show off your awesome writing skills, so I think it's more of a question of how you want to set the tone for your story.

    Depending on what the rest of the story is about (i.e. is she going to be torn between her boyfriend and Ethan, is she going have to deal with having a bad reputation, etc.) I'm not sure how you want to pace it - i.e. do you want us to know right off the bat that she lost her virginity to someone that wasn't her boyfriend? Or do you want a slower reveal? Personally, I think I liked this version a little more, but your style of writing made me want to keep reading both versions, so I don't think you can go wrong either way.

    I missed some of the descriptions in the first version (I think you have a great talent for setting a scene, describing emotions, etc.) but I think we get a better idea of who Bree is in this version - I loved the paragraph that starts off "It's not like me at all to get rip roaring drunk at parties." I feel like we get a really good idea of who she is here, and how last night was out of character for her. I also liked the part where Bree describes how she met her boyfriend, and how he was pressuring her, etc. as opposed to the first version where there was just a casual mention of him.

    If you're having a hard time deciding between which way to go, I think I'd go with this version, and maybe borrow some of the elements from the first version, i.e. I think the opening paragraph of the revision might lack the punch of the first version, and I'd like to see a similarly provocative opening here too.

    Great job once again, and I hope this helps you decide which way you want to go!


  5. Hi Alicia,

    First I want to say that this version had me reading until the end, so good job! Much darker and the reveals were timed really great. I didn't feel bogged down once.

    I do agree that there is a lot of telling going on, but that's something you can address when you edit. I think this version has a lot more appeal and is much more gripping. We know whats going on. We know the stakes immediately and are invested right from the start.

    My one comment though, if this was her first time, she would be feeling "something". I think not addressing it, even in passing, makes it hard to believe that she just had sex hours earlier. She may not remember what happened, but it could just be an uncomfortable or unfamiliar soreness between her legs. That way, when she starts remembering her mothers words, she'd sort of have an idea what happened. Then when you reveal what REALLY happened, its like punch in the gut.

    You've made great strides from draft one!