Sunday, October 11, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Jacobs Revision 1

Name: Elisa Jacobs
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: A Better Shape

POP! It sounded like knuckles cracking, or bubble wrap bursting. I’d been hearing it more and more lately. I’d be eating lunch, or brushing my teeth, when all of a sudden: POP!


In a way, the sound was worse than the pain that followed. I could deal with the pain, and if it became unbearable, there were pills I could take. But there was nothing I could do to drown out the popping sound that echoed in my head.


I blinked myself out of my daze. “Sorry, what did you say?” I shifted uncomfortably on Dr. Levy’s taupe couch. Everything in her office was beige except for the magenta orchid on her desk. I couldn't decide if the lack of color was calming or depressing.

Dr. Levy studied me as she adjusted her dark-rimmed glasses. “I was explaining the difference between talking about trauma and processing it.”

Right. My so-called traumatic experience. “What is there even left to process at this point? We’ve already rehashed what happened, and the story never changes.” The score was tied. I was running down the field with the ball when a player from the opposing team swooped in. But instead of kicking the freaking ball like she was supposed to, she kicked my knee. Hard. I heard my ACL pop, and my knee quickly gave out from under me. The next thing I knew, I was lying facedown on the cold, spiky grass. “My body failed me. End of story.”

“It’s not about changing the story, Hannah, it’s about changing your emotional response to it.”

Even though I’d been seeing Dr. Levy for almost a month, I still didn’t understand how talking about my feelings was supposed to help my rehabilitation. Someone hadn’t bullied me, a 140-pound girl had tackled me.

Dr. Levy gazed down at her yellow notepad. “You mentioned that your body failed you. Does that mean you feel like a failure?”

I shrugged. It was kind of hard not to feel like a failure. Junior year was peak time for college recruitment. Some coaches had shown interest in me last year, and had wanted to see me play again. But now, not only was I out for the rest of the season, I was damaged goods. Nobody buys a bruised apple on purpose.

“You know, Hannah, it’s not uncommon for athletes to become depressed after experiencing a significant injury.”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “I am not depressed. Not being able to play soccer has just been...” I paused, struggling to find the right words, “an adjustment.” I started playing soccer when I was five. My mom had initially signed me up for ballet lessons, but when it became clear that I couldn’t stand still long enough to plié, she exchanged my ballet slippers for cleats, and signed me up for youth soccer. After I scored my first goal, I was hooked.

Dr. Levy nodded. “Do you still feel like your friends don’t understand what you’re going through?”

I looked down at my leg, which was still purple and swollen. After my surgery, Em and Hayley jokingly called me the Bride of Frankenstein on account of the screws in my knee. At first, I laughed along with them, but then I burst into tears. Even though you can’t really feel them, having screws in your body is like having a permanent reminder that you broke and couldn’t put yourself back together again. “I guess,” I muttered, sinking into the couch.

Dr. Levy looked out the window and thought for a moment. “You know, Hannah, I’ve been thinking that you might benefit from group therapy sessions.”

I sat up. “Like with other injured athletes?”

“Well, no, you’d be joining a group of teenagers struggling with various issues, like depression or anxiety.”

I pictured myself sitting in a circle with the types of kids you see on the covers of those “Troubled Teen” pamphlets. I frowned. “I already told you that I’m not depressed, and now you want me to hang out with a bunch of cutters, drug addicts, and anorexics?”

She gave me a tight-lipped smile. “You’d be surprised, Hannah. Group therapy can be very therapeutic for people who feel isolated.”

I already had my own sob story to contend with. I didn’t need to hear a bunch of strangers tell theirs. One was more than enough. “Thanks,” I said, “but I think I’ll pass.”  

“So how’d it go?” my mom asked as she drove me home after my appointment.

I shrugged as I watched the palm trees flash by my window. “Fine,” I said curtly. It was unlike me to be short with my mom, but I was tired of talking. Talking about my feelings had become so exhausting, I sometimes found myself wishing that I had torn a ligament in my jaw instead of my knee.

She eyed me sideways, like I was a bear who had wandered into her backyard and she wasn’t sure if she should wave her arms and yell, or keep perfectly still. “I spoke with Dr. Levy after your appointment,” she said carefully, “and she mentioned that group therapy sessions might--”

I clenched my fists. “Mom, I am not going to group therapy. There’s no way I’m talking about my feelings with a bunch of kleptomaniacs and glue sniffers. I’m not one of those people. I was going to play college sports! I’m not some girl who eats her feelings and hides donuts under the bathroom sink.”

My mom frowned, as if to say, “don’t use that tone of voice with me.” “I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly normal teenagers that go to group therapy.”

“I’m already seeing Dr. Levy one-on-one,” I said, raising my voice, “what more do you want from me?!” My mom booked my first appointment with Dr. Levy after I compared the sound of my ACL tearing to a funeral bell. I wasn’t suicidal or depressed or anything, but we had just readFor Whom the Bell Tolls in English, and it seemed like an apt analogy. I tried explaining this to my mom, but she didn’t believe me because 48 hours after my “For Whom the ACL Tears” speech, I was sitting in the waiting room at Dr. Levy’s office.

She sighed as she coasted to a stop at a red light. “I’m just worried about you, Hannah.”

When I saw the defeated look on her face, my shoulders drooped. “I know, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell.” I shifted my gaze downward. “It’s just that these stupid crutches are driving me crazy. But once I start physical therapy on Monday, I’m sure I’ll start to feel better.” I hated lying to my mom, but it was what she needed to hear, and what I needed to tell her in order to get out of group therapy. Starting physical therapy wouldn’t make a difference. Come Monday, I’d still be on crutches, and I’d still be sidelined from life as I knew it. Surgery may have fixed my torn ACL, but I still felt like I was in pieces. I was a scrap of a person.

My mom gave me a tired smile and put her hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, honey. I know it hasn’t been easy.”

I tried to smile back at her, but I couldn’t. I was just too tired. If there was one thing that was more exhausting than talking about your feelings, it was faking a smile.


  1. Hi Elisa,

    Great revision. It's got more punch than the last one for sure. Especially the first paragraph. And I love some of your lines in here, like, "No one buys a bruised apple on purpose", and "She eyed me sideways, like I was a bear who had wandered into her backyard and she wasn’t sure if she should wave her arms and yell, or keep perfectly still". Love it! Again your writing is fantastic. It has a YA voice I can easily read and gives me a good impression of your characters personality.

    In this revision I have more of a sense of what the book is going to be about--her struggle with this injury and accepting has it has changed her future.

    There were only a few places that tripped me up, and I think they're just typos. This sentence: "Even though you can’t really feel them, having screws in your body is like having a permanent reminder that you broke and couldn’t put yourself back together again." Did you mean to say "that you're broke"? Another place I wasn't sure what you were trying to say is here: "I wasn’t suicidal or depressed or anything, but we had just read For Whom the Bell Tolls in English, and it seemed like an apt analogy." Did you mean appropriate analogy? Just a couple line edits since I don't have much else to suggest to fix.

    There was one more place that I felt could be more clear, and that's where you talk about Em and Hayley. Before the revision, I read they were her friends, but in this one, there's no mention who they are. Could you mention these are her friends? Just a quick, "my friends, Em and Hayley" would be enough I think.

    Great revision! Love your writing style and voice!

  2. Hi Elisa,

    Great job on your revision! There were a lot of really good lines that stuck out to me this time--the one about the bruised apple, the line about wishing it was the ligament in her jaw rather than her knee, and the one about the bear wandering into the backyard--were a few of my favorites. I feel like you have a really good grasp on how teenager's react to situations--like when she laughed along with her friends until she burst into tears.

    One thing, when Dr. Levy mentions group therapy and Hannah sits up, it makes me think she's excited. Is this what you want? If not, you might want to change it so Hannah jerks her head back or slumps further into her chair. Also, these are really nit-picky, but I think there needs to be some sort of break (and maybe there is in your actual MS) between Hannah at the therapist's and when she's in the car. Maybe *** or something else. It took me a second to shift to her new surroundings. Also, I think you'd be fine just to do a question mark instead of ?! when she asks "What more do you want from me?!” And finally, the sentence "...having screws in your body is like having a permanent reminder that you broke..." tripped me up a bit. Maybe "you are broken?"

    Anyway, I think your premise and writing are both really great!


    P.S. I read Alicia's comment after I wrote mine and realized I commented on some of the same things as her. ;)

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  4. Hi Elisa,

    Your writing is really smooth. I like the new scene with Hannah and her mom in the car (even though I’m concerned there might still be just a little too much telling overall, but maybe that’s just me).

    I’m a little confused about the “pop.” Is the popping sound something she’s imagining, like reliving the moment? Or is it something she’s experiencing, like the knee popping as she eats lunch? I think you’re going for the former, which is cool. I love the thought of that sound becoming something that haunts her. But the way those first paragraphs are written, it sounds immediate. There’s a pop, pain follows, but can be addressed with pills . . . sounds like something physical that recurs in her leg.

    Did the accident happen because a girl kicked Hannah’s knee, or because she tackled her?

    This is just a thought, but . . . what if you start out describing the sound, then cut and take us back to when it happened by showing the scene in action, culminating in that awful pop? After all, that’s the inciting incident, right? Then cut back to the psychiatrist’s office. Get us off the couch, so to speak. :)

    You have lots of little details here that are very strong. I like the bride of Frankenstein bit. (But I wonder if that one in particular can’t be made stronger by showing it to us, in a later scene if need be?) And the bit about For Whom the Bell Tolls and how that landed her in a psychiatrist’s office – that’s a fun detail, an unintended result of a Hannah indulging in a bit of melodrama.

    Overall, very smoothly readable, and I’m getting a picture of Hannah just from these pages. Looking forward to the next revision!

  5. Hello Elisa,

    This is coming along quite well. Initially, there were a few parts that made me stop and consider the wording or the response of a character. But the last 2/3 was a smooth read. The dialog is great and I will add an additional praise for the "Nobody buys a bruised apple" analogy. Excellent.

    I have a few suggestions and comments but all are fairly minor. It does seem that you have Hannah being kicked by the girl and then she recalls being tackled later.

    I agree with Anthony about the connection between the POP and the pain. I'm interpreting this as she has a sort of flashback and a bit of an auditory hallucination of the sound, and that sound in her head actually triggers her to feel real pain.

    I like this section and know this is something people really feel. I've had a number of running injuries and at times have anticipated pain in my left knee as I imagine it twist. But I think you can clarify this for the reader. It seems to be a key part of the character and interests the reader, so you can probably embellish and explain this a bit more.

    I'm not sure where your story goes, but when I hear her rail against sitting in a room with the "cutters and drug addicts" I get a feeling of nostalgia for Breakfast Club.

    It makes me want to read more.


  6. Hi Elisa,

    Wow, you've done a great job revising! You've manged to take out a lot of the telling and add in conversation to move things forward nicely. The analogies are great too (just be careful you don't overuse too many at once)

    If you are setting it up so that the book centers around her in group therapy and what happens there, then you've done a good job of it!

    The transition from therapy to the car is abrupt. I had to stop and reread to realize that therapy was over and she was in the car with her mom. A simple, "Dr Levy spent the last ten minutes of our session talking about..." Then she can be in the car with her mom riding home and the transition works better.

    Overall this draft is so much better! The writing flows and the voice is really good.

  7. So much better! That last line especially is beautiful! You did a great job, here, Elisa. I'm so curious to see where this story is going. It's clear to me now, as Patrick said, that going to the therapy group is the inciting incident. Before I wasn't sure if it was the injury or the therapy group. Now I'm much more focused on the therapy group and what's going to happen there to knock her out of her ordinary world--and will it be a good thing or a bad thing?

    I agree with other commenters about the disjointedness of the transition between the therapist's office and the car. I think either suggestion for how to fix it would work great. I also wouldn't mind seeing a bit more detail in the therapist's office scene, so if you wanted to flesh that out a little, it would ground me more in the story, I think. That being said, it sort of depends on what your plans are for the rest of the chapter. If you need to move on, move on. ;-)

    As for the "you broke" line, I like it exactly how you have it now. I see what the other commenters are saying about it seeming like a mistake, but I see what you were doing, and it has a voiceyness to it that I really like. Consider keeping it if you can.

    The only other suggestion I have at this moment is taking a look at how frequently you use italics, especially in dialogue. Try not to overdo it too much as it can wear on the reader's ear. I don't necessarily think you are doing it too much here, but I could see you might fall into that trap over time. It could be one of your writer ticks (we all have them--mine is 'but then').

    Great job! I'm looking forward to the next round!

    1. Thanks so much! I am happy with the revision, but I'm now starting to wonder whether the beginning is misleading because she doesn't actually end up going to group therapy until the end of the MS. The inciting incident is actually her meeting a fellow physical therapy patient (she meets him in chapter 2), and the book revolves around their budding relationship. Would you recommend rewriting the beginning and leaving out the part about group therapy if that's not what the book is centered around? I think when I wrote the beginning I was using the group therapy discussion as a means of showing Hannah's current state of mind. Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Thanks again!

  8. Hi Elisa,

    Great revision! The method of incorporating her inner thoughts directly into the action works wonderfully here. Nicely done. I still like her voice and your writing still flows easily. You've created some intriguing catch lines, too. Those are great for drawing in a reader, but also for giving us a little more about that specific character. You've also increased the pace of the scene with her doctor.

    I have to think that this scene will eventually lead to her actually attending a group session. If so, it could benefit this part by adding a few inner thoughts with her contemplating actually going to a session. She could waver back and forth, at least showing she wants to move forward. Her outer actions show a totally different picture.... Oh wait. I just read your response above. Hmm... You could always keep the underlining idea that group therapy is really what she needs, but in this intro make it more of a suggestion from her doctor. Maybe have her tell her mother the doctor suggested it and have Mom a little more complacent about the idea. This might help define her current state of mind, but leave more than one avenue for the reader to think she might go. As you stated above, she does go to a group at the end of the ms, so I'm assuming the tension of the idea amps up throughout the story. Looking forward to reading again!