Sunday, October 11, 2015

1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Tardiff Revision 1

Name: Anthony Tardiff
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Willow and Eagle

Petunia had to crane her neck back to see the whole school. “It looks like a haunted house,” she said.

Laura frowned at her. “They keep it in very good shape,” she said.

“Not that kind of haunted house,” Petunia told her social worker. She studied the sharp gables and sprawling wings. The place even had a tower. This wouldn’t be a rickety, falling down haunted house, but a rambling, gothic one, the kind with ornate staircases and faded wallpaper and corners shadowy with history.

“We’ve talked about your imagination,” Laura said, starting up the path towards the doors. 

“I know,” Petunia said. From long habit, her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out the old, faded memo book, the one she saved for special occasions, big changes. Leather covers, cream paper, three-quarters filled with thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and, most of all, advice from a dozen past lives. The first item read, as always, “Accept reality.” Petunia didn’t really need the reminder: she had mastered that skill long ago, which Laura would know if she’d paid attention to the more recent years in Petunia’s file. But that was the problem with uneventfulness. It didn’t stick in the memory.

“Come on,” Laura said over her shoulder, and Petunia took a deep breath and stepped forward. The tower loomed over her, dark against the gray sky, and then she was under the awning and Laura was pushing open the ornate double doors. Petunia told herself she was grateful; this was what she wanted. But her uniform felt strange, the blouse starchy and stiff, the skirt brushing unfamiliarly against her legs as she stepped inside. 

The foyer was a marvel of brass and marble. Two staircases rose on either side of the room and joined on a balcony that stretched around the second floor. Beyond, a tarnished, unlit chandelier hung in the shadows onder the high peaked ceiling. Petunia looked at her memo book again. Item number four on her list read, “It’s a school like any other.”

Was that really true? It wasn’t just that the building was a repurposed estate house, over a hundred years old. This was Canfield Mountain School, the most exclusive prep school in the county. She didn’t belong here.

But when had she ever belonged anywhere? She squared her shoulders and joined Laura in the middle of the room, just as a friendly voice said “Welcome!” and a woman came out of a door to the right. Bustling noise and voices escaped behind her and were stilled when the door swung shut again. “Petunia, right?” She was a plump woman with a cheerful face, and her hand when she shook Petunia’s was warm. “I’m Mrs. Gilner, Dean of Students. We’re so glad you can join us.”

Oh good, Petunia thought. She’s the motherly type, not the business-y type.  

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” Mrs. Gilner said, seeing that Petunia’s eyes were still drawn to the opulence around her. “We’ve tried to keep the foyer as close to its original state as we can. Impresses the parents.” She winked. “The rest of the school’s not so fancy, I’m afraid.”

“Thanks again for this,” Laura told Mrs. Gilner.

“Oh, we’re glad, so glad to help. And we’ve had a prior good experience, as you know. I’m sure Petunia will be another welcome member of the family.”

That would be a first, Petunia thought.

“Petunia, your first class starts in ten minutes,” Laura said. “You have your schedule?”

Petunia nodded.

“Then off you go,” Laura said.

“Right through that door, first classroom on your left,” said Mrs. Gilner.

Off I go so the adults can talk, Petunia thought, but she put her head down and walked to the door Mrs. Gilner had come out of. She pushed it open and the noise hit her like a wall, stopping her in her tracks. 

Students filled the narrow hallway, jostling for access to the lockers that lined every spare inch of the walls. They all wore the Canfield Mountain School uniform — skirt and blouse for the girls, slacks and dress shirt for the boys, each with the Canfield crest embroidered on the breast pocket — but it seemed that everyone had augmented it in some way. Bright socks flashed in the sea of feet. Long keychains swung from hips, and miniature toys dangled from backpacks. Petunia, in her unadorned uniform, felt suddenly underdressed.

A book lobbed good-naturedly by one boy at another almost hit her. She stepped aside as he retrieved it without glancing at her, and looked at her list. Item number eight read simply, “Mingle.” She looked up again and her heart dropped. Wade into that mess? She didn’t even know which locker was hers. And the classroom was right there, steps away to her left. Without some purpose she would look foolish pushing down the hallway. And the noisy environment wasn’t the place for converation, anyway. So she put her head down and didn’t look at anyone as she walked stiffly across the hallway and ducked into the classroom. She tried to ignore a twinge of guilt, but she couldn’t stop herself glancing at her list. Item number three was, “You are a new person here. So be a new person.”

Not the best start.

There was only one other student in the classroom, a dark-haired girl sitting by the window. Her uniform was neat and strictly to regulation, no bright socks or backpack tchotchkes. Her books were arranged tidily on the desk in front of her, a fresh page open for notes. She stared with unfocused eyes out the window, her face distant and a little haughty. Petunia recognized the expression. It was the one her face wore whenever it could be spotted in the background in class photographs from past schools. She hated that expression. It made her look cold and unapproachable. What it really was was hardly any better: it was the face of a girl who didn’t belong anywhere, and knew it.

Item number seven on Petunia’s list was, “Identify a quiet girl and be friendly towards her.” Well. She had copped out in the hallway, but this she could do. She tucked the memo book back into her skirt pocket and stepped forward. “Pretty bleak weather out there, huh?” She winced at how forced her voice sounded.

The girl’s head swiveled around and her eyes met Petunia’s, cool and remote. They flicked down her body and up again. After a moment she said in a flat voice, “It’s March.”

Petunia recognized this, too. The girl didn’t mean to be harsh; she had been taken off guard and that was the first reply she could think of. So Petunia kept the smile on her face. “Hi, I’m Petunia,” she said.

The girl’s expression didn’t change. She held Petunia’s eyes without even blinking. After too long of a moment, one of her eyebrows slowly rose and she said, “Good for you.”

Petunia began to suspect she had made a mistake.

“You’re the new girl,” the girl said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” Petunia said, her smile fixed now. She wanted to say something more, something clever, but her mind had blanked.

“Pet,” said the girl.

“Petunia,” Petunia corrected. Not that it was much better.

“Pet,” said the girl, turning away and looking out the window again.

Petunia stood there for a long moment until she realized that the conversation was over. She turned, feeling foolish, and found a desk in the back of the room, just as a wave of student came in, talking and laughing. The room filled. Petunia hoped she wasn’t sitting at anyone’s chosen desk, but if she was, no one said anything. No one said anything to her at all.


  1. Hi Anthony,

    Your revision is great! I get right away the distinction between Petunia and Laura, and that Laura is older, where before, I was confused. Great fix.

    Everything else reads really well. The only part that I had trouble with was this: "From long habit, her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out the old, faded memo book, the one she saved for special occasions, big changes. Leather covers, cream paper, three-quarters filled with thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and, most of all, advice from a dozen past lives. The first item read, as always, “Accept reality.” Petunia didn’t really need the reminder: she had mastered that skill long ago, which Laura would know if she’d paid attention to the more recent years in Petunia’s file. But that was the problem with uneventfulness. It didn’t stick in the memory."

    I had to read that a couple of times to understand it. Maybe because there are so many descriptions right next to each other. It tripped me up when reading.

    Otherwise, it's still good.

  2. Hi Anthony,

    Good job on your revision. I like your first line a lot better. It gives me a clearer picture of what's going on. Because you've given an action, you can delete the "she said" tags after the first and second dialog lines.

    What have Laura and Petunia talked about with her imagination? That she needs to keep it in check? I think you could add something to that effect so that not only Petunia knows what Laura's referring too, but so that the reader does too. Good job on clearing up who Laura is by letting us know who she is right off the bat.

    I really like your descriptions of the setting, and I like what you added about the notebook and its purpose. Last time I thought I'd have to wait to find out, but I like knowing right from the start this time. With her notebook, I feel like you're letting us know that Petunia really wants to make this new situation work. I wonder if you can play on that just a little more? Maybe by giving a small snippet of one of the places she's come from and why that didn't work out or by letting us know if and why she wants this place to work so badly?

    You have a couple of small typos. "Onder" instead of "under" and "converation" instead of "conversation".

    I still really like the conversation between the girl in the classroom and Petunia. I'm interested to see where the story goes and what awaits Petunia in her new life.

    Nice job!


  3. HI Anthony,

    I like the story, the characters and what you have done with the revision. The characters are distinct and the descriptions are great. The notebook and reference to listed items is a great tool. You could add in some short note to clarify its origin or purpose, but I'm not sure that's necessary yet.

    I actually enjoyed the section that Alicia found to trip up the reader. If I would suggest anything for that segment it would be to revise some of the punctuation and cut down the sticky sentences.

    I enjoy the dialog. There are a few parts right at the start where I think it would be difficult to follow the conversation if the connecting sentences were removed. I imagine two characters speaking to one another as I watch them, and here I feel I would be a bit lost. The rest flows well and feels natural.


  4. Hi Anthony! I really like your revision. The details are much clearer now, and it flows better. There are still a few sort of sticky/awkward places, but I think if you read it outloud, you could probably catch those quite easily.

    A couple quick thoughts:

    "Leather covers, cream paper, three-quarters filled with thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and, most of all, advice from a dozen past lives."

    I love this sentence SO MUCH. It's a great glimpse into Petunia as a person. However, since this is YA fantasy, I was confused about whether or not the reference to "past lives" was literal or not. I'm guessing not, that it's just a way to refer to her many foster situations, but it did trip me up, especially with such a gothic beginning. :)

    “Petunia, your first class starts in ten minutes,”

    This was something that actually bothered me the first time around too. I'm not sure I buy that her social worker wouldn't have brought her in a little earlier than ten minutes before class. If it was a new public school, and her parent was dropping her off, maybe, but since her social worker is bringing her in and since it's so exclusive, I think Petunia would have at least met the headmistress before.

    Part of the problem is that nothing in your description/action prior to this hints at any other people in the scene at all. I would think if it's that close to class time, kids would still be coming in, (or coming down, if it's a boarding school) and there would be a lot more bustle. At least you should be able to hear the kids, even if they're trying to keep them out of the foyer for some reason. It's just a jarring transition, from spooky quiet gothic house to crowded hallway ten minutes before class. It's kind of a nitpicky thing, but It did throw me out of the story both times.

    Like I said though I do like this revision a lot! I'm excited to see what you do next week.

    Good luck!

  5. Thanks for the amazing feedback, everyone! This is very, very helpful.

  6. Hi Anthony!

    I really like your revision. I love the line about Canfield being the most exclusive school in the country and Petunia not belonging there as well as Petunia's aside that it would be the first time that she was welcomed somewhere - both make me sympathize with her and keep me invested in the story.

    When we hear from Petunia I think her voice comes across as typically middle grade - her concerns about fitting in, etc. are very typical for a middle schooler, and I'd love to see more of that in the opening paragraphs.

    There's a couple paragraphs starting with the line "Students filled the narrow hallway" that I feel like might need to be broken up. It's a little bit overwhelming and little too information-heavy. I think the descriptions are great, and you should definitely keep those, but I think that that part of the story could be better served by breaking it up a little bit. In that instance, maybe it would be helpful to hear more about Petunia? Maybe where's she's been before Canfield, etc.

    I still like the idea of the school looking like a haunted house, but I'm wondering whether it would better to open the story with a description of the house rather than a quote from Petunia just saying that it looks haunted. I think you have a real gift for setting the scene and describing the setting and I think a detailed description of the exterior of the house (embellished with Petunia's inner musings) would be a great start to the story.

    Good work and can't wait to see your next revision!