Sunday, January 10, 2016

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Goren Rev 1

Jessica L. Goren
Middle Grade; fantasy
Pollin Pals: The Power of Flowers

It started just like any other day. The night creatures tucked themselves away in cozy dens and warm nests. The birds stretched their wings and sang their songs. The daytime animals shook off their dreams as they came out of their snug burrows. The bees buzzed, the ants marched and the butterflies flitted. As the dew-covered flowers opened their petals to welcome the sun, every drop of dew was full of rainbows from the first rays of sunlight. All was as it should be on a beautiful summer’s day. Or so everyone thought. But just as the sun reached its highest point in the sky a sharp cold wind blew in dark clouds. The clouds flew across the sky until they hid the sun from the world below. Harsh crashes of thunder cracked overhead, lightning sizzled across the sky and the rain poured down. Water ran down the hills into the streams, and rivers overflowed into ponds. The flowers turned into tiny teacups as their petals filled with rain.  And then, just before the sun was supposed to be marching off to bed, she burst through the clouds splashing purples and pinks and blues across the sky, chasing away the clouds before she fell below the horizon making room for the moon to rise. 

Owl yawned blinking away the sleep from her large yellow eyes. It was the night creatures turn to rule the world and Owl had to get about her business. She popped her head out of the hole in the tree that connected her nest with the outside world and watched the moon come up, full and bright, bathing the world in a soft silvery light. She took out her feathers then launched herself into the cool night sky, her large feathers stippled in brown and white whispered quietly in the cool night air as she pumped her powerful wings. From up high in the sky Owl coasted down land in the gently hollow formed where the willow tree branch poked out of the tree. Owl took a good look around to see what had happened during the day. The leaves were heavy with rain and the pond was overflowing and everything was as it should be. But wait, what was that in the garden below? As the moonlight hit the rainwater in the tiny teacup of an iris Owl saw the water began to bubble. Not a big rolling boil, but just tiny little blips of bubbles here and there. The bubbles floated out of the iris turned teacup and swirled around collecting the moon’s light. Then the bubbles did the oddest thing. They disappeared with a distinct pop and in their place was a tiny creature, with the body of a human, the wings of a dragon fly and the beauty of the flower from which she came. At least Owl thought it was a she with such delicate high cheekbones, tiny nose and pointed ears. Her legs looked like long green stalks with woody vines growing up from the feet and winding around its eggplant purple legs and body. The long lean arms uncovered and a lighter shade of purple. Topping it all off was a shock of bright yellow hair. It is always so hard to tell the shes from the hes with creatures other than owls. 

Owl was so surprised a little ho-ho escaped. The creature flew a few inches back and hovered a moment. Then the creature slowly flew up to face Owl. 


“Hello,” Owl said back.

“Who might you be?”

“I am Owl. And you are?”

“Erisa. But wait how did I know that?”

Owl patted the branch across from her with her long wing. “Sit child. You have been asleep for a very long time. I imagine you must feel all muddled.”

Erisa flew to the branch and sat down facing Owl. “How do you know how long I’ve been sleeping? Have you been watching me? Do we know each other and I just forgot?”

“No, child we do not know each other but I have heard of you.”

Erisa straightened up at that. “Am I famous? Is that how you know me?”

Owl hooted and it sounded like small chuckle. “I know you because when I was a tiny owlet, just out of the shell, my mother would tell me stories about the Pollin Pals as she tucked me in to the nest. To be honest I thought you were a myth. But here you are, so you must be real.”

“What’s a Pollin Pal?”

“You, child, are a Pollin Pal.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, I heard the crashing of thunder today didn’t I? And from the soggy state the world is in, it is clear it was a very big storm. Then I saw you come from the iris below,” Owl huffed puffing out her feathers.  “Besides, you leave a trail of pollen behind you. You must be a Pollin Pal.”

Erisa looked skeptically behind herself. But there it was, a fading trail of yellow pollen marking the way she came. She looked back to Owl. “Is there anything else I should know?”

“There is always more to know but I suppose you want to know, specifically, about the Pollin Pals right now. Now where should I start?”

“You start at the beginning, of course,” Erisa said a bit testily.

“Which beginning? The world is full of beginnings. It is important to start at the right one. Very well. The Pollin Pals are born from flowers. They come only in times of great need.  ”

“What great need?”

“The Earth’s. You see, the Earth is our home but it is also a living being with needs of her own. Sometimes, when we are careless, we hurt our home without meaning to. When that happens, the Earth calls on the flowers to use their special magic to help heal the Earth. It has been a very long time. My mother only knew of Pollin Pals as stories. I suppose I am lucky to have met one myself. Although, if you are here I can hardly consider myself lucky. I knew there were problems, child, of course, but I didn’t realize…” Owl trailed off. “Well, it’s neither here nor there. The Earth is in need and you have been called,” Owl said, more to herself than Erisa.

“Wow,” Erisa said, slightly deflating as her wings sagged down her back. “That sounds like  a really big job! How would I even start?”

Owl reached out her wing, scooping up Erisa, so she sat under the dome of Owl’s wing. ”I cannot tell you what you must do. You must be of the world to know the world. Only then will you know what needs to be done.”

“But how will I figure anything out? I don’t even know where I am.”

Owl watched as Erisa stifled a yawn. “Ah, I had forgotten, Pollin Pals are born knowing what they need to survive but they must learn about the world each time they return. You are in the garden and there is a great big world out there to explore. But the world will still be there tomorrow and you need some rest.” 

With that, Owl shooed Erisa from under her wing. Erisa lazy floated in circles down to the iris from which she came. She climbed into the flower and pulled the petals around herself just in time to fall asleep.


  1. Wow, it’s amazing what a difference a couple of changes of position can make! You’ve done a great job, at least in my opinion! The choice to show the creatures’ birth through Owl’s eyes was a good one, it made the scene less abstract and more real. Then beginning with only Erisa allows for a natural flow of the narrative, rather than having to describe four different characters at once. And the reader learns at once what’s going on, that something big is at stake. I felt engaged and entertained, and wished I could read on.

    I think you have found the right shape for the beginning of your book, now all you have to do is some polishing. In order to come up with constructive critique, I had to read the text a couple of times, and even so these are the only things that came to mind:

    The first two paragraphs are quite long, I would split the first paragraph in two, “Or so everyone thought” could be the end of the first part. I would also remove the “But” from before “Just as the sun reached…”

    The second paragraph is really long, I can imagine it taking up a whole page by itself. A possible break could be with the sentence “Owl took a good look around to see what had happened during the day”.

    Apart from a few commas and a spelling mistake or two I couldn’t find anything wrong with your five pages. I’m kind of curious how it continues (when do the other Pals appear?),

    Thanks for making me a part of your work,


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  3. We get to see so much more of Erisa with this revision! It makes a huge difference cutting the characters down to only two. I also liked watching Erisa'a awakening through Owl's eyes.

    I noticed a lot of typos as I was reading. I know we're not supposed to do line edits, but I wanted to point some of them out to you. You say it was the night creatures turn, but it should be creatures'. You also say Owl took out her feathers. I'm hoping you mean shook, as I would assume taking out feathers would be painful. Also, Owl ho-hos, which is a sound I usually associate with Santa Claus. An Owl whos or hoos or hoots, I think. Near the end, Erisa lazy floated back to her iris. I think you meant lazily here.

    It's difficult to work such a major revision in a short time, and the typos are completely understandable. I just didn't want you to miss them during the next revision round.

    I agree that the opening paragraphs are a bit long. They might seem daunting to MG readers. Breaking them up wouldn't sacrifice any content and would make reading them easier for younger readers.

    I still love the beautiful language as you introduce us to this world. I wish Owl gave Erisa more information about the Pollen Pals, maybe even sharing one of the stories her mother told her. I'm hoping she goes on to do that the next day, after they both get some rest.

    I think your revision definitely steered this in the right direction!

  4. Jessica, I must reiterate what I said last week: you have a gift for beautiful language. It's so pretty! I could imagine the entire scenery. Adding sound might even be a good idea to bring it more to life. But truly it's beautiful.

    You did a good job of cutting most of the former beginning in order to get us to Owl quicker and to some sort of disturbance. I'd caution you against the two very large paragraphs at the beginning. Also, I'd caution against using so much description in that opening paragraph. You may want to consider starting with snappier language and cutting out any description that doesn't need to be there. Although beautiful, I feel it's a bit much--especially for middle schoolers.

    Owl's voice is very nice. Wisdom comes through! You also did a nice job of focusing your POV. I'm surprised it isn't told in Erisa's point of view, though, based on last week's pages. If Owl is the main character, then this makes sense. If Erisa is the main character, I think the POV still needs to be clarified.

    In a nutshell, good job cutting some of the opening but I'd say it could be cut even more.

    Can't wait to see what you do with it!

  5. Hi Jessica,

    I'm very intrigued by Owl and what role she will play with the Pollin pals, and I thought it was fascinating to hear that they appear at times of great need.

    I'm especially curious about the fact that they appear when the earth has been harmed because its inhabitants have been careless. Sounds like you could have a strong social message/allegory here about the environment? I love when messages like that can come through in fiction, and even though it can be tricky not to be too heavy-handed, that did make me wonder if there was a way to start showing hints of the earth's problems as you're introducing the world. Your beautiful prose describes a very picturesque environment, and what's going wrong is more that the weather is unpleasant today. Plus this unpleasantness doesn't seem so bad, as it leads to something beautiful (the bubbles). I wanted a small sense of something sinister lurking below, even a subtle phrase or two.

    One thing I did miss a little from the first draft was the hint of conflict to come with Zeki. Here the conflict to come feels more like a huge challenge she'll have to face (we get the sense she'll be a heroine for some major world problem) but I didn't get as much of a sense of personal obstacles as before where she and Zeki were at odds. That doesn't mean Zeki needs to come back, but just wanted to note that was something where I felt a little wistful that he'd been deleted.

    I agree with Julie on cutting some of the opening. The two first paragraphs feel like they're both about how today is both a normal day and totally not. So I didn't know if both were necessary. I also don't know that I would start with "it started just like any other day"; maybe something else that shows that we are in a very unique world.

    Does Erisa need to go back to sleep? I was excited to hear more about how she reacts to the world, and I would have wanted to keep following her. Not sure if that happens or not if she's asleep?

    I'm excited to read more!

  6. Hi Jessica,

    Thank you for sharing your revision with us!

    You've done a lot of work here, and given us a great selection to review. When you go for big changes, it really makes things clear more quickly than fussing with words. So kudos to you for diving in!

    I'm a fan of OWL. I think she's got a great voice. My main question regards point of view: Why not Erisa's point of view? I think it would be VERY exciting to experience her emergence into this world, during which she could easily convey the details of her surroundings, and then come into contact with Owl. I feel like that might be a more dynamic scene--typically, you try to inhabit the POV that is experiencing the most action. Owl is an observer here. The scene does not depend on her. It depends on Erisa.

    I would also recommend that you thread your opening paragraphs of scenic detail into the action. Taken in a lump this way, it can be off-putting, but the imagery is beautiful, and there will be places for it in the scene. Think of it as window dressing--and show it to us AS your POV character interacts with or thinks about it. My general guideline: if your character isn't thinking it, it shouldn't be on the page.

    Thanks again for giving us another glimpse into this world. It's very interesting, and a little further revision will let that unique quality shine through.

    My best,
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five Mentor

    1. What are tr thoughts on changing POV. I was thinking Owl would be the opening POV and then it would switch to Erisa and stay with Erisa unless Owl is involved in the scene, which would be infrequent and more like the voice of wisdom here and there. Do you think something like that can work?

      Thanks for your feedback,

  7. Hi Jessica!

    Wow, you did a lot of work this week! This is a really good revision. There’s a lot more of Erisa here, and we get into the meat of the story much, much quicker, which is awesome. And you made Owl a main character! Yay!

    I agree with some of the other comments that while there’s beautiful imagery and personification in your opening paragraph, it’s still reading quite long for the opening of a young, MG novel. It’s also the only paragraph where there is the heavy presence of a narrator. Everything after that is told through the eyes of Owl. With some minor tweaks, you could actually start the story with the second paragraph without losing any needed information, which is another good indication that the first paragraph is proving lovely, but not necessary. And pretty as the language is, I’m not convinced it’s the best way to hook a young (impatient) reader. Consider much shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences, with descriptions that are only coming from inside the heads of your characters and I think that will help a lot.

    But the main thing I think you might consider as you work on your next revision is expanding your characterization. What is it about Erisa that is quirky or different? (Besides the fact that she is yellow and purple and woke up in a flower!) Is she impulsive? Reckless? Sensitive? Does she have a sense of humor? It was interesting that she said she wanted to be famous. Is she the tiniest bit conceited? And how can you reflect these personality traits in Erisa’s word choices and body movements? Show us (not necessarily tell us!) in very small ways what's going on inside Erisa’s head, how she feels, and what makes her tick. And I would say the exact same about Owl. Owl is very wise, which is appropriate, but what is there about Owl’s personality that might surprise us? Is Owl a professor, or a poet? Could she use very beautiful, personified imagery to describe the garden to Erisa (like maybe some choice phrases from your opening description?) Or maybe Owl is very old, and a little crotchety or curmudgeonly? These are just thoughts to get you going. The main idea is to show me how Owl and Erisa are actually like people I’ve met and couldn't forget. And don’t be afraid to give them some believable flaws as well as strong personalities!

    The only other thing I would suggest is to see where you can insert a sense of the dark or mysterious. If Pollen Pals are born to save a world that is in danger, would they have a name that reflects the seriousness of that? Owl talks about the world being harmed, and needing saved (I love that you introduced this idea!) but she doesn’t seem all that worried about it. And the setting is very idyllic. Where can you insert a sense of the “impending doom” that the good guys will have to overcome?

    Really a great job, Jessica, and as usual, discard whatever advice doesn’t resonate with you and feel free to ask for clarifications as needed. Can’t wait to read the next revision!

  8. Hi Jessica,

    I really like beginning with Owl. It gets us into the story, and Owl's view of the bubbles gives us a sense of something being amiss.

    The first two paragraphs could be split into multiple paragraphs. I recently heard another author mention that he uses each paragraph to explore one thought. I've found it useful, and maybe that idea could help with the first two paragraphs here.

    I feel like there's a lot of exposition going on between Owl and Erisa. We don't really learn about either of them as characters, other than how Owl knows all this information that he's passing on to Erisa.

    I also agree with Sharon. If the Pollin Pals have been summoned because the Earth is in trouble, maybe the opening should show that trouble. It seems like things would be dark and gloomy when Erisa emerges. And Owl would be happy to see her because Owl knows that there is trouble with the Earth, but also a little... defensive maybe. If Owl doesn't know just how bad things are, maybe she would see the Pollin Pals' appearance as a threat, or a bad omen.

    Another thing that I noticed is that there are a lot of long sentences, and little change in length. It kind of bogged down the reading for me to the point where I started skimming. Maybe breaking some of the sentences up and varying the length would help with that.

    Looking forward to your next revision.

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