Sunday, January 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gilliam Revision 1

Name: Gabby Gilliam
Genre: NA Peter Pan retelling
Title: Hooked

I’ve always felt my name is a bit of a joke. Maybe a cruel trick of nature to punish my parents. They named me Willow, most likely expecting a daughter that fit the name. Meanwhile, they got me. I’m nowhere near thin enough to be considered willowy, carrying my freshman fifteen and then a few. I did get the height though. I’ve towered over Mom since I was about fourteen. When I first met my roommate Jill, I was excited because she was an inch taller than me. I thought it would be refreshing to be near someone my size. Instead of a kindred spirit, I just found a spoiled girl who viewed my wardrobe as an extension of her own.

“Jill, have you seen my lip gloss?” I shouted over my shoulder.  Jill’s earbuds were a permanent attachment, and I knew she’d pretend she couldn’t hear me if I didn’t shout.

“Nope.” She smacked her lips which were a suspicious shade of strawberry frappe.  I rolled my eyes.  Whatever. In a few minutes, I was out of there.  She could keep the damned lip gloss.  I looked around the tiny dorm room I’d called home for the past ten months.  Goodbye, cheap mattress that made it impossible to sleep for longer than two hours at a time before a spring dug into my skin.  Sayonara, tiny window. Can’t say I’ll miss your inability to let any sunlight into this little cell, or your beautiful view of the crumbling brick wall across the alley.  Good riddance, inconsiderate roommate and your kleptomaniacal habits, especially where my sweaters and cosmetics are concerned.  I didn’t even wave to Jill before I carried my last bag down the stairs to wait for the taxi that would take me home. I ignored the snickers of the girls on my floor as I passed, determined not to let them break me in the last moments before freedom.

For the sake of accuracy, the taxi was not actually taking me home.  It was taking me to the bus stop at Virginia Tech.  My rustic little college wasn’t even large enough to merit its own transportation service. Once the taxi dropped me off, I would catch a bus to Charlottesville where I would transfer to a train for the rest of the way to Fredericksburg.  It was a convoluted way to get home, but I didn’t care, as long as it got me out of Blacksburg.

Even with meticulous planning, there was still twenty minutes between when my bus arrived at Charlottesville Union Station and when the train would get there.  It wasn’t long enough for me to do anything other than people watch. My stomach growled, but I decided to wait until I got on the train to quiet it with offerings of food.  I didn’t have enough time to get anything from a restaurant anyway, not that I could afford it even there was time.  I had spent the last of my money on the tickets home.

A flood of travelers coursed over the platform around me.  My entire college life lay at my feet.  It fit into three suitcases and a knapsack, and the sack was only filled with snacks for the train ride home.  I watched as mothers and children embraced before parting, and lovers cried as their other half pulled out of the station.  My only companions were my battered suitcases, purchased second hand last summer when I still believed that college was the solution to all of my problems.  As it turns out, my oppressive hometown was not the root of my suffering.  I was even more miserable on campus.  A year of processed, packaged dinners had earned me twenty extra pounds and a bad case of acne.  I thought college would help me discover my true self, that I would blossom outside of my Mom’s walls.  Instead, after the first week of school, I locked myself in my dorm room and avoided interaction with fellow students at all costs.  It was a far cry from the transformation I had hoped for.

My train pulled into the station, so I lugged my bags across the platform.  A kindly old porter helped me load them into the luggage compartment before I found my seat.  When the whistle blew, the seats near me were still empty and I was relieved.  I was unpracticed in the art of small talk.  I fished my headphones out of my knapsack and plugged them into my phone.  I found a playlist that suited my mood, and let the dark melodies drown out the noise of the other train passengers.  I did my best to pretend I was alone, closing my eyes and losing myself in the music.  Pretending no one else existed had kind of become my specialty.  It made the indifference of my peers hurt less.

The rain pelted the windows of the train—each drop striking the glass like the clouds were unleashing pebbles instead of water.  I crushed my hoodie into a ball and tucked it between my head and the window.  I don’t know whether it was the inadequate pillow or the fear that the rain would shatter the glass, but I wasn’t close to falling asleep.  Or comfort.  I stared out across the dismal fields of Charlottesville.  Normally, the view was lovely—the deep, rich green of fresh grass and trees against the Blue Ridge Mountains.  That day, it was gray upon gray, and I couldn’t even make out the mountains in the distance through the mist.  It was like Nature manifested my emotions.  My guilt and apprehension attacked my stomach with the same intensity as the rain.  I was headed home to Fredericksburg from Radford University, and I had no intention of going back.  I had not yet shared this information with my mom.  Summer break lasted for two and half months.  So, I had that long to find my courage, and let my mom know I was pissing my future away. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?  Lightning forked across the sky, and I did my best to pretend it wasn’t a bad omen.

The train pulled into the station with a squeal of brakes against the wet tracks. I could see my mother’s Mickey Mouse umbrella through my window. She used to walk me into school on rainy days under that umbrella. Now, she was picking me up from my last day of school with it. Weird how some things come full circle.

Mom was everything that I’m not. She had dark auburn hair that fell in loose, natural curls around her heart-shaped face. My hair can, at best, be called coffee-colored. I usually referred to it as an enchanting cow patty brown. I begged Mom to let me dye it when I was in high school, but she refused, claiming it would damage my hair and I’d regret it later.  I bought a box of color my first night at school. I also got hives, blisters near my hairline, and my left eye nearly swollen shut. My first day of class, I looked like Quasimodo, so of course Victor Hugo was the first author on my Gothic Lit syllabus. I locked myself in my room until the swelling went down, and then every night after that. Mom was totally right.

Even though she was forty three, the freckles that peppered her nose made Mom look more like my sister than my mother. My nose is slightly too large for my face, and doesn’t have any freckles to make it cuter. While her eyes were the green of the first fresh grass of spring, mine are the same dung brown as my hair. She was petite, the shortest person on the train platform even with the ridiculously large Mickey Mouse umbrella.


  1. It’s a Peter Pan retelling! I find this really exciting! So I guess Willow will be a Wendy? I would definitely like to read something like this.

    The new beginning is much stronger. And that first sentence draws me immediately into your character’s head. The section you added about hair dyeing was very nicely done. I read through the pages with very few pauses and wanted to keep reading at the end.

    Here are a few sentences I would consider revising:

    1. “I ignored the snickers of the girls on my floor as I passed, determined not to let them break me in the last moments before freedom.” – I feel this sentence somehow breaks the nice flow of the narrative between the third and fourth paragraph.

    2. “Even with meticulous planning, there was still twenty minutes between when my bus arrived at Charlottesville Union Station and when the train would get there.” – “between when” sounds clunky.

    3. “My guilt and apprehension attacked my stomach with the same intensity as the rain.” – does it mean she feels sick or hungry? And it sounds like the rain attacked her stomach.

    I hope this helps! Thanks for sharing your work,

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Lily! Your response to #3 made me laugh! I never looked at it that way. I will definitely have to reword that sentence so it doesn't sound like the rain is assaulting her.

  2. Hi Gabby,

    I love this new intro. Starting with her name felt great and very relatable. I also love the hair dye detail.

    Telling her mom she's not going to go back to college would be difficult for many people, but I am curious as to whether there's something in why this would be even more or specifically stressful for Willow. Is she not going back to do something else her mom would be against? Did her mom sacrifice a lot for that college year? Is there some cautionary tale in the family about dropping out, or are they all highly educated and dropping out is unthinkable? Were all the hopes and dreams of the family on her?

    Willow's life feels pretty sad. College was not good, and she's not going to back to anything any better. I think that's totally fine as it allows for lots of opportunity for her to change, grow. But I also would have attached to her a little more with a small piece of hope -- something she's passionate about or looking forward to or at least isn't awful. Maybe something connected to music since that's where we see a glimmer of happiness?

    Can't wait to read more.


  3. Great job on your revision, Gabby. I like the new opening, too, with her name. We get quite a few mentions about Mom, but is her father around, too? What are his expectations for Willow? What kind of person is he and what is their relationship like? It might be interesting to add a line or phrase in a couple of places to flesh this out or foreshadow.

    I like so many great lines, like: Lightning forked across the sky. The description of the rain striking the glass like pebbles.

    I do think that 5 pages of straight narration is a lot. Is there a way to break it up with some dialogue or interaction? Even a line of dialogue from the porter when he takes her bags. Everything right now is inside her head and it wouldn't feel as claustrophobic if we saw her actually interacting with the other people around her--even if it's just in tiny ways.

    The other problem with so much dense narration is that it often feels like *telling* without very much showing.

    What is the transformation she was hoping for at college? What was she like in high school? Who were her friends, and where are they?

    Just some thoughts that I hope will help. Looking forward to next week's revision.


  4. Hi, Gabby!

    Well, this is a really good revision! We get way more of Willow in this, and I feel much more sympathetic to her this time. Your first paragraph is hooking me so much better. And yay Peter Pan! I like knowing this, because now I know that Willow is going to meet a boy. And I’m hoping he’s all grown up! Ha!

    So I think you did exactly the right thing in this revision (giving us more Willow), and now I’m thinking you could do even MORE of that right thing for even better effect, especially with your first person narrative. One way to give us even more Willow might be to cut extraneous words and let the meat of her thoughts be front and center. Just as an exercise, try copying and pasting the first page or two into a new doc and brutally cut every extra word that does not help convey the main idea. Then read aloud what you have left. I’m going to do the first four sentences, just as an example (Gabby, my strikethroughs didn't paste over into the blog post formatting, so I'm just going to leave out the words "I've always felt," "Maybe," "most likely," and "meanwhile."):

    My name is a bit of a joke. A cruel trick of nature to punish my parents. They named me Willow, expecting a daughter that fit the name. They got me.

    This is NOT to say those words shouldn’t be there, or that you should ever cut words that convey personality and voice (I am the queen of wordiness and happen to like extra words very much! Can you tell??), but doing this as a general exercise might show you places where extra words could go, allowing Willow’s thoughts and feelings to blaze out even more clearly. It’s amazing how this can make a character shine!

    I also think interspersing even more “show” than tell will help, too. Instead of telling us a kindly old porter helps her with her bags, what does he say to her? Show us he’s kindly, and then how Willow reacts. Does she come off a bit rude, just because she’s awkward and unsure of herself? This would show us her social skills, not just have her inform us about them. (And that was just an example, you can probably think of much better ways to do this!) Plus, breaking up thought patterns with some dialogue would be a welcome break for the reader as well.

    This brings me to one other thought, which is the addition of the sentence, “I ignored the snickers of the girls on my floor as I passed, determined not to let them break me in the last moments before freedom.” I think this is a good addition (especially since I think I suggested it!) but I wonder if this could be shown to us with a piece of dialogue rather than just telling us? Or is there a way to make it more personal to Willow? It seems like such an opportunity for the reader to feel Willow’s pain. I also wonder about that sentence in conjunction with the later, “It made the indifference of my peers hurt less.” Are they indifferent, or do they try to “break” her? Make sure the reader is clear on how Willow is relating to other people, so we can understand and also feel what she’s been going through.

    Overall, great work, Gabby. I hope these thoughts are helpful. Please ask questions if needed, and so looking forward to reading the revision!

  5. Hi Gabby,

    I like what you did with the revisions. The new opening gives us more to hang out to when we start the story with Willow.

    I did have some issues with wording in a few places.

    "I don’t know whether it was the inadequate pillow or the fear that the rain would shatter the glass, but I wasn’t close to falling asleep. Or comfort."

    The "Or comfort" part has been bothering me since last week. I think it's because I know she means that she's not close to being comfortable or falling asleep, but the phrasing is just off for me.

    Then in the second to last paragraph, when Willow says, "I also got hives,..." I'm pretty sure that she means that not only did she regret dying her hair, but ... Maybe adding in a few words there would help clarify that and make it flow a little better.

    Hope that helps. Looking forward to your new revisions.

  6. Hi Gabby,

    Love the new opening. I feel like I already "know" Willow a bit. I think you nailed her voice. I'' wondering if there is a way to weave a bit more of the back story in though to understand how she got there. It's only the first 5 pages though so it may not be needed. I have to say only knowing 5 pages makes it really hard to critique.

    I agree with the comments about a bit of dialogue. I think it would be easy to slip in with the girls in the hall and the porter and it would break things up a bit. Also I think it would be a great opportunity to help us understand willow. If she is good in those small interactions, well then maybe she's overly hard on herself...if she stinks at that or is rude it is a different shading of her character.

    I think adding some small details could help on, what color hair dye? How long was there swelling etc.

    I'm also really curious about her mom, there is a bunch about her but no sense of their relationship so I think the story could go in a lot of interesting directions based on the family interaction, or lack there of.

    Looking forward to reading more.

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