Sunday, February 21, 2016

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Billings Rev 2

Name: Chelsea Billings
Age/Genre: YA Contemporary


When Vanessa Montgomery is abruptly dropped by her best friend, who also encourages the rest of their peer group to exclude her, Vanessa feels her life spinning out of control. Paralyzed by anxiety, she turns to restrictive eating. Then, just before she’s lost herself completely, she transfers to a new high school to start over.

Vanessa wants to forget what happened at Green Valley. And more than that, she wants to convince everyone around her that she’s “fine”- most of all, herself. But her past still haunts her. She needs to remember the traumatic events she’s repressed and come to terms with her experience in order to move on. But if the truth about what happened last year stays buried underneath the layers of self-protection that are preventing her from ever trusting anyone again, Vanessa risks distancing herself from her peers at her new school too, and spending the rest of high school as an outsider.

My intent is for Lost in Transition to educate today’s youth on the silent epidemics of anxiety and social/emotional bullying in our society via a fictional character that young adults will strongly identify with.


Chapter 1
June- Summer after Freshman Year
Waiting for Bus to Camp

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay here by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine, Mom.” I know she’s asking because of everything that happened last year. I really wish she’d stop. I wish everyone would stop. I don’t know how many times I have to tell them I’m fine.

I give Mom a hug good-bye and close the car door. About a dozen other kids have gathered in the parking lot to wait for the bus, and they’re huddled in groups a few yards away. I smile and wave at a few, but take a spot by myself on a nearby bench. Of course, as soon as I sit down, I can’t help but worry that they’re talking about me, and thinking about what a loser I am for sitting here alone. I take a deep breath and tell myself to stop being such a freak. No one’s talking about you, Vanessa, I say to myself. Those days are over. Everything is okay now.

A low, thin layer of fog hangs overhead, and the air is misty: typical weather for a northwest Washington morning, even in the summertime. It’s not particularly cold outside, but I still can’t help but shiver. That’s one of the side effects of being underweight: I’m constantly cold. I take a deep breath and look around, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window. The girl I see is perfectly normal-looking, with long blonde hair that reaches almost to her waist. I wish I were as confident as she looks.

A white charter bus pulls in just a few feet away from the Starbucks across the parking lot. I momentarily daydream about a Starbucks scone, but don’t consider getting one. It’s safer that way. I know that sounds crazy. How could a scone be unsafe? But eating one would make me feel “off”, because it would be against my rules.

A girl with shoulder-length brown hair and a woven purse slung over her shoulder, who looks to be about my age and has a breakfast burrito in her hand, comes out of Safeway and sees me. “Hey, are you here for leadership camp?” she asks. I nod and give her a friendly smile, feeling a wave of relief.

“Me, too,” she says, smiling back. “I’m Rochelle.” She puts out her hand.

I am struck by this gesture. I probably extended my hand to a dozen people during my first few weeks at Green Valley, only to be met with stares, the kind that read, we don’t shake hands in high school. That’s for, like, making business deals or something. At Green Valley I always got the feeling that you were already supposed to know who people were before you actually met them. Then when you had a conversation with them, you were supposed to know the right things to talk about, and you were supposed to talk about them using some kind of secret language. I was apparently absent the day they taught this language. I don’t care about that anymore, though. But Rochelle shaking my hand and introducing herself is still a refreshing change.

“I’m Vanessa,” I say, shaking her hand.

“Nice to meet you,” she responds. Another noteworthy pleasantry.

“Nice to meet you, too.”

“It looks like they’re loading the bus.” She points across the parking lot to where kids have started to form a line in front of the charter bus I saw a few minutes ago. We make our way across the parking lot. As we board the bus, we are given nametags. They’re the stick-on kind that say “Hello, my name is…”

As we get on the bus, I think briefly about how Old Me (that’s me Before Transferring Schools) would have thrived on this kind of adventure. Old Me was the class president, and loved to be in front of crowds and give speeches and plan dances and do random things without caring what anyone else thought. Old Me also seized any opportunity to make new friends, and came away from any summer camp situation with a list of phone numbers and screen names of people to keep in touch with throughout the school year. That’s who I used to be, and I want to be that person again.

I purposely make sure Rochelle boards in front of me, hoping that she will invite me to sit with her. Inside the bus, the windows are tinted, and the seats are covered with a navy blue velvety material. Rochelle chooses a seat by the window and puts her bag on the floor, which I’m pretty sure is an indication that she expects me to sit in the seat next to her. I briefly second-guess this, but make myself sit down anyway. She seems to think this is perfectly normal, proceeding to unwrap her burrito and comment on the nice interior of the bus. I feel another flood of relief.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to have someone to sit with, a place where I belonged. I never used to over-analyze these kinds of situations, like some kind of pathetic social outcast. It’s interesting how when you have someone to sit with, or stand with, or eat lunch with, you don’t give it a second’s thought, but when you don’t have anyone to do those things with, it’s all you can think about. It also feels like everyone in whatever situation you are in is watching you, and knows you don’t have anyone to hang out with, and is thinking about what a loser you are and wondering what might possibly be wrong with you.

“That burrito looks delicious,” I say, gazing longingly at the mouth-watering mixture of scrambled egg, bacon, and potatoes Rochelle is holding in her hands.

“It is,” she replies. “I’m usually not much of a breakfast person, but it looked good, so I decided to grab it. Are you hungry? I have some snacks in my bag.”

“No, I’m good,” I answer quickly. “Thanks, though.”

“Okay,” she says. “Let me know if you want some.”

“Cool, thanks,” I respond, knowing full well that I won’t be asking for any snacks. I ate breakfast at home, and I won’t be eating again until lunch, no matter how hungry I might get in the meantime.

A girl sitting in front of us passes back a black Sharpie for us to write our names on our nametags. I give her a friendly smile as I take it, noting that now that I have someone to sit with, I feel a thousand times more confident than I did just a few minutes ago. I write my name, “Vanessa”, and draw a small butterfly underneath. This makes me think of Dean, and how just a few days ago I wore my butterfly necklace over to his house, feeling all symbolic. I thought our relationship was going to be like a butterfly: it started as a friendship, and I thought it would grow into something more, just like a butterfly starts as a caterpillar and morphs into a butterfly. All the signs were there. How could I have been so wrong?

Rochelle glances over and notices my nametag. “Ooh, I like the butterfly,” she says.

“Thanks,” I respond, and then decide to explain. “My name actually means ‘butterfly’,” I begin.


  1. I'm going to comment on your pitch separately so the two don't get confused.

    First, you need to tell us what this traumatic event was. It sounds like the BFF dropped her for a reason, but without knowing what that is, we don't really get why this whole recovery is a challenge.

    Second, I think we need to see the end goal of this story. Why does she need to get over this anxiety NOW? Is something going to happen in this story if she doesn't?

    Third, I would highly recommend that you remove the part about your goal being to educate youth. While that may be your own personal goal, the pitch is supposed to focus on what the reader will get out of this book and not what you (the writer) will get out of it.

  2. Hi Chelsea!

    Holly already did a great job of pointing out the areas in your pitch that needed clarification or tightening up, so I have nothing to add to that.

    As for your opening pages, I really like the small, few details you've added. In previous revisions, the MC's anxiety was already coming through. The only thing I would have to add is that the MC repeats herself in the paragraph that starts, "I wasn't always like this..." Also, it's a bit of telling vs. showing. The MC already is worried that others are thinking she's a "loser" so maybe there's a way to phrase this differently?

    Otherwise, a really good opening.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi, Please excuse my lameness. I'll over feedback tomorrow. Thanks for understanding

    1. I like the pitch. It helps to ground me with the story. Vanessa represents a huge population of kids who have an eating disorder (years ago I heard it was about 1 out of 10). I like the description of being cold as a way to bring up being under weight. The low fog, white charter bus, Starbucks scone are all details that help to draw me in. I also like a discussion about snacks is more than ordinary. Letting Rochelle board first helps support as a go to behavior of control. I do think that controlling all the details of life would be exhausting. Contributing a feeling would help be understand her better because she seems very calculating. Thanks for sharing the experience. Best wishes of your MS.

  4. The sample pages have really improved! The only new thing I'd add is that we could use more thought behind her not eating. I don't know your story, but if she has an eating disorder, she should be thinking about food in terms of fat and calories and weight gain. It would not just be about hunger.

    Also, a teen wouldn't refer to herself or her peers as a "kid".

    Best of luck!

  5. WOW! Your first five pages are night and day better. I so empathize with your protagonist now and can see her and relate to her. She seems so real to me, I can almost touch her. Lovelovelove. Great job. Very strong opening, IMO.

    As for your pitch, I think it's a pretty good start. Definitely ditch the last paragraph. It's a red flag to agents if you talk about wanting to educate anyone. And it's not really necessary. The play's the thing, as Shakespeare would say. Let the story speak for itself.

  6. Your story has improved a lot. You are really getting into how lonely she is and that she is punishing herself for whatever happened.

    I agree with Holly. I'd like a glimpse about what happened on the pitch too... it would make it more dramatic.

  7. I really like this revision! It's come a long way from your first draft. It flows well and leads us better into the background of Vanessa with action instead of just inner dialogue. I'm not getting a very good idea of what the story is actually about from the pitch though. There's some really great advice of how to write a pitch in the comments of some of the other participants. I have a hard time with summarizing my story in just a few short paragraphs too. Not the easiest task. I really like your first five pages though. It's a great opening. Good luck!

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  9. Right now I'm having a bit of a hard time relating to Vanessa. I think that these opening pages are a bit too much inside her head and her thoughts are fairly self-deprecating. Considering the synopsis, I can see why she'd be unsure of herself and not the most confident, but I agree with what others have said here that to relate and emphasize with her we need to know more about her past and why she went from the happy girl she was to who she is now. Why did she move? Did something specific make her want to make a change? I might make it more clear what she's doing in the beginning too with the leadership camp. I think a bit more set-up to the story will go a long way here.

    Also, I'd set the scene a bit more. We have some descriptions of her surroundings but I'd like a bit more. Picturing your character's surroundings help your readers feel more a part of the story.

    Other than that, your pitch was enticing though I wonder if there's enough external conflict. It seems very internal. Just something to keep in mind. Also, be careful of being too dark. Make sure to throw in lighter moments or even humor throughout to vary it up a bit.

    All in all, this sounds like an important book and thank you for tackling this tough subject matter. It's important that teens going through something similar have books they can see themselves in and that will hopefully help them!