Sunday, October 18, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Caldwell Revision 2

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


Seventeen-year-old Bree Moore thought graduating a virgin would be easy. But “easy” is all anyone thinks about Bree after the night of her drunken promiscuous debut, even if it wasn’t her choice.
After Ethan Long has his way with Bree at a party that gets out of hand, she wonders if she brought this on herself by not living the religious life her mother and church hammered into her head. If she hadn’t been such a sinner, maybe her boyfriend Tristan wouldn’t have dumped her, maybe she would still have her best friend Kendra, and maybe she wouldn’t have to commit the ultimate sin, murder. 
The only ones who can help Bree come to terms with what happened and stop her from her own self destruction are Gwen, a girl who witnessed what Ethan did, and Cole, her real best friend. But Bree’s guilt has her in stuck in denial that is not only blocking out the memories from what happened, but also the only chance she may ever have at real love.    

1st Five Pages:

A shadowy face hovering above me, and pain, is all I remember about last night. That small memory spark is enough to send shivers up my spine. I fidget with the clasp on my purse, glancing every now and then at the strange girl in the driver’s seat, trying to conjure up anything containing her name, her face, or that purple hair. As soon as I’m about to give up, I clasp on to an image. She was driving then too, but moonlight streamed in instead of the harsh morning sun that now glares and stings my head with every passing car. I recall being hunched over in the passenger seat, face in my hands, crying.
As I touch my fingers to my cheeks and feel the dryness left from my salty tears, a wave of regret and embarrassment immediately washes over me. I can’t bear this unsettling silence any longer. I have to say something.
“Um, thanks, for, ah, letting me crash at your house.” I reach over and take the travel mug out of the cup holder, hoping a sip of coffee will wash away the hoarseness in my voice.
“Oh, no problem at all.” She waves a hand at me. “It’s not like I could let you go home alone in the state you were in.” The light turns red and she twists sideways to face me. “I was really worried that you had alcohol poisoning. You threw up like five times at the party.” Vague images of vomiting in the bathroom, in the gutter, in the grass, flash through my mind. 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. How did things get so out of hand?
I wait until the light turns green to ask, “I’m sorry, but what is your name again?”
“Gwen.” She smiles, not appearing upset at all 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. I’m already humiliated about crying and kind of hope she doesn’t know either. Maybe 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 of what’s coming next.
The Honda Civic speeds over the inclined parking lot entrance to Burger King, jostling my already sensitive stomach and reminding me of the unfamiliar soreness I’ve had between my legs since I woke up. Gwen shifts the car into park and kills the engine. When she turns to 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 with her purple nails. “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 save it 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 with my quivering hands to get them to stop. But they won’t stop. My entire body is trembling.
I had assumed when I was crying to Gwen it was 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 wish 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 more uncontrollable shudders. “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 even more. 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. 


  1. This is Erin posting for Saba:

    Your opening line has impact, and is intriguing — so great job! In general, your pages moved well, and I like that you started your story at a compelling point in your protagonist’s life. Most unpolished drafts we see just don’t start at the right place, and I’m personally very interested in stories that explore the aftermath of the inciting incident of a narrative.

    Your voice is measured and trustworthy, but at the end of the day, it isn’t as memorable as it could be. I’m not getting enough of a sense of Alicia’s unique personality. You’ve made her very relatable, which is great, but so far, it’s not exactly ideal that her reaction to being in this situation is something I can imagine anyone at all in, because it’s almost too universal and standard — does that make sense? It should be relatable, but not to the point where I don’t get a feel of who Alicia is, and what makes her special, or different, or interesting in any way. And, of course, the best way to do this is to elicit an emotional connection between Alicia and your readers by coaxing more specific emotional reactions out of her — reactions that have subtext, that allude to her deepest insecurities and fears, without stating them out loud. Towards the end of your pages, you do bring out Alicia’s horror, but this story would be much more powerful if you showed it to us without just having her recount her memories from her 1st person POV as they come back to her. It would make for much more interesting storytelling if you were to find another way to show us how she comes to realize what happened to her the previous night. Just a thought :)

    Here are some more specific notes:

    “Send shivers up my spine”

    Try to avoid using cliched terms, especially as early as in the second sentence of your book. Look for more original and inventive ways to describe sensations and events, that ideally reflect your protagonist’s personality.

    You also repeated the word “clasp” in consecutive sentences in the first paragraph, and once after that as well. Be careful. This is the very beginning of your book — go through each sentence and make sure they have crisp, fresh images and stand alone, while contributing to the flow of your narrative in a seamless way.

    “Um, thanks, for, ah, letting me crash at your house.”

    I noticed that you tend to mirror speech patterns in your dialogue by using filler words, such as “ugh” and “hmm” and “huh” and ”ya know”. I suggest you rework your dialogue a bit to make it sound authentic and refined without sounding too realistic, as this can make it sound less sophisticated. It’s ironic, but readers aren’t looking for realistic dialogue; they’re looking for dialogue that feels authentic without necessarily mirroring exact speech/grammatical patterns. That’s why I discourage people from using words like “um” and “uh”, even though most people speak that way. The odd use here and there is fine, but in general, you want to limit it.

    Otherwise, these pages look pretty good — if this were queried to me, I’d continue to read past this point to see how things unfold.

    Of course, my views are super subjective, so I wouldn’t take anything I say here as Gospel necessarily. Another agent, even at my own agency, could feel entirely differently about this sample. But you’re already on the right track, just by virtue of putting your work out there — keep workshopping this (and your future) projects, and I have no doubt that you will continue to improve your writing craft.

    I hope this helped!

    My best,

  2. Hi Alicia,

    Query: I really like the opening paragraph. It makes me want to keep reading. The second paragraph gets me even more. I like the third paragraph--I'm wondering if you can give us a little bit more about Cole. Overall, I thought it was strong.

    Pages: I like the detail you added about Gwen. It gives me a mental picture of her right from the start. You use the word "clasp" twice and pretty close together in the opening paragraph. I would maybe change one of them. I think you've given really great detail about the surroundings--I have a total mental picture of all that's happening. I like the paragraph where she somewhat congratulates her for almost making it to graduation.

    One question I have as a reader (and maybe you want me to have it) is when she's thinking that it may have been Tristan, does she remember him being at the party? If he wasn't even there she might not even think about him, but if he was there, she might wonder about the last time she saw him at the party and if he had said or done anything that might indicate they had sex.

    One other thing, if there's anyway to make it so the last sentence of your first five pages could be the same as last time (about everyone watching), I think it would be great. It was such a punch last time that if an agent requests the first five pages for the sample, I think it is a fantastic place to stop.

    Overall, I think the voice is good and I feel like it reads smoothly. Good job! --Emily

  3. Hi Alicia!


    I love the opening paragraph - it's catchy and intriguing. And the rest flows very well - I really like the added punch about committing the ultimate sin. The only question I have is in the 3rd paragraph, and whether Bree's self-destruction/guilt has do with what she did (i.e. committing murder) or what was done to her. But overall I think you did a great job with the query!


    I agree with Emily's earlier comment about the word "clasp" being a little repetitive. Otherwise, your writing is very strong and flows seamlessly. The descriptions are great and put me right in the thick of things, and Bree's voice has a naturalness to it that I really like. The only comment I can think of is Gwen's reaction to Ethan taking advantage of Bree. It sounds like he forced himself on her, and Gwen's reaction seems a little tame to me. The fact that she says something along the lines of "we're not going to let him get away with it," makes it sound like Ethan played a prank on her or something, but maybe that's just me! Otherwise, I think you've done a great job with all your revisions!


  4. Hi Alicia.

    It just keeps getting better. There are a number of places where some additional information and dialog solidifies the scene for me. The conversation and overall reveal of the situation feels very organic.

    There are still a few questions that stop me as I read and make me look back to see if I missed something. One noticeable instance is when she thanks Gwen for letting her stay at her house. I know this scene was part of the first draft, but now with it omitted it confuses me a bit. She doesn't know the girl and barely remembers flashes of her face, yet she knows she slept at her house.

    Personally I like stories that give you just a hint of information and then slowly build and develop over time. To me those pay-offs are the best. And I get the feeling that this is what you are doing here. Revealing a incident that propels the character and reveals her motivation. From your Query it seems that Gwen will be integral to the story, but maybe you're trying to reveal and set up to much here. Maybe it starts with Bree and Cole, then Gwen is revealed as the one who helped her and actually knows everything that happened.

    I think you have a great concept and your writing is strong. In the end you should write what you feel these characters would do and let them drive the story. You know them best.