Sunday, May 22, 2016

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Alexander Rev 2

Name: Sarah Alexander
Genre: YA Mystery/ Suspense
Title: Clueless Academy 

Have you ever wondered what happened to the characters from the Board Game Clue? They were all cleared of murder and went on to live normal lives. But in the young adult mystery novel, Clueless Academy, their children are also suspected of murdering their professor.

Rawling Pratt is the Headmaster of an elite preparatory school that houses six very unique students; Indigo Plum, Magenta Scarlett, Hunter Green, Jasper Mustard, Pearl White, and Sapphire Peacock. They were all present at a party that was broken up by Miss Waddington. An hour later, her dead body was found in the cafeteria. A piece of evidence was found that tied all six of them to the crime. The only problem is that they maintain their innocence.

The six students must find a way to get past their differences and work together to find out who the real killer is. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, they are being guarded by crooked special investigators, Headmaster Pratt is planting evidence, and one of them has already been arrested.

It becomes a race against time to find the real killer and it all ends in a good old fashioned gun fight.  

Indigo Plum was called into the detention office first thing Saturday morning. She had partied pretty hard last night and was definitely not in the mood to deal with Headmaster Pratt. She had put on a merlot colored blouse and black skinny jeans. Normally, she would wear heels with this ensemble but today she was barely walking straight. Flats were the way to go. Hopefully they would assume her unbalance was from exhaustion instead of inebriation.
“Miss Plum, thank you for deciding to grace us with your presence. Have a seat. We have something very urgent to discuss.”
She sat down at a desk overlooking the field of her elite preparatory school and admired the mountains. They always helped her to feel at peace. Then she looked down at the gate and saw the armed guards. There appeared to be more than normal and she was instantly on edge.
“What can we do for you Headmaster?” Indigo asked in a mocking tone. He choose to ignore her and addressed the five other students who would be subjected to his tirade.
“You have all been called here because we have proof that you attended a party at Hunter Green’s suite last night. At around twelve thirty Miss Waddington called to inform me that she was headed over to shut said party down. An hour later, her body was found.” Headmaster Pratt seemed to be barely holding it together. His voice wobbled on the word dead and he took a minute to get control of himself again.
Indigo’s mouth fell open and her body tremored a bit. She had no idea that this was what he was going to say.
“I will be questioning all of you to determine what happened when you left the party. One of you might have seen something that could be useful in determining who the killer is. We have some suspects in mind but I am not at liberty to discuss it with you.” Pratt stood up a little higher as if to show how superior he was.
“But how could this have happened? You boost about your security measures all the time. It’s in like every brochure. How could you let a murderer on campus?” Indigo sounded angry but that was because she was desperately trying to hide the fear. She pouted her lips to keep them from shaking.
“Miss Plum, some respect please.” He said but Indigo noticed that he did not answer her question.
 “The police have been notified but until they get here, the school’s investigators will be analyzing the remaining evidence. I can say that we do have evidence that each of you was in the hallway around the time of the murder.” He said this a little harshly.
Indigo felt herself start to panic. She looked over at her friend, Sapphire Peacock and saw the same alarm in her eyes. 
She could hear her heart beating but she refused to show him any sign that he was affecting her. Any type of weakness may be deemed an admission of guilt. Indigo squared her jaw and looked him dead in the eyes. “I thought that we were just witnesses. You’re making it seem like we’re suspects.”
“As I said, we are just looking to get a time line to figure out exactly what happened. One of the armed guards here will be escorting you to my office for questioning.” He turned to leave the room but Pearl White stood up.
Indigo looked at her and rolled her eyes. Pearl must have missed the memo about being strong as she was a sniffling mess.
“The guards are here for our protection right? The killer, he could still be out there.” Pearl’s voice had a slight hitch in it.
Pearl was currently seeing Hunter, Indigo’s ex-boyfriend, so Indigo desperately wanted to ignore what she had to say. However, she had to admit that Pearl made a valid point. The very real killer was still out there. It had never crossed Indigo’s mind that the killer might still be in the school. Sure, she was sad for Miss Waddington’s death but it hadn’t occurred to her that her safety may actually be at risk.
“The killer, he or she, is definitely still out there. It is the guard’s job to protect us. I have called in every one on our payroll so there is extra protection in case anyone tries anything else.” He gave all six of them a pointed look and Indigo could not shake the feeling that Pratt knew a lot more than he was letting on.
Hunter joined the conversation next. “Shouldn’t we have an attorney present? Aren’t we being questioned in a criminal trial?” He sounded exactly like his lawyer father and spoke in a calm manner. But Indigo knew better, she noticed that his knee was shaking from distress.
“I’ll be questioning you, not the police. At the beginning of the school year, your parents authorize me to act as your guardian if anything were to happen. So really, think of our talk as one with paternal motivations.” Pratt smiled but it was not pleasant. He looked like the Grinch before he stole Christmas.
Hunter looked like he wanted to say something else but quickly quieted. It was actually Magenta Scarlett who felt the need to add her two cents.  
“How was she killed?”
“She was bludgeoned to death with at least two weapons. At this point, we have not identified or found them. Does anyone have an idea what they could be?” He looked around again accusingly. “I mean, did any of you see anything on your way back to your rooms last night? Anything out of place?” Nice recovery, thought Indigo.
“Headmaster, if we saw a bloody hammer on the floor, I think one of us would’ve said something before now.” She tried to make light of the situation but this was clearly the wrong response as everyone gave her frustrated looks.
“Do you think this is funny? A teacher has been killed! She was young, beautiful, smart, and caring. Where is your compassion Miss Plum?” She figured this was a rhetorical question and kept quiet.
Luckily Sapphire chimed in for her defense.
“Indigo is just grieving. She doesn’t know how to handle this much emotion so she made a joke. I’m sure she understands the travesty ahead of us.” Indigo smiled at her friend.
The truth is, she had locked up her feelings and refused to show the weaker ones to anyone. Sitting in the middle of the floor and rocking back and forth was not going to bring Miss Waddington back. Besides, Pearl was basically doing that already. No, she would keep her emotions together and look back on them in a private space.
“Well this is not the place for any of this. I want all of your cell phones. We need to keep your stories pure so we don’t want you talking to any of the students outside.” He walked down the aisles of the classroom and took each phone.
As Pratt passed Indigo, he stopped for a second too long and gave her an appraising look. She felt uncomfortable and thought she smelled alcohol on his breath. But that was probably just her. Hopefully he didn’t notice.


  1. Your pitch has too many names. Think of way to clean it up, for example, saying that there are six very unique students is enough. There is no need to muddy up your pitch with all of the names.

    I like your play on the board game Clue. Sounds interesting!

    ~Sue Miller

  2. Dear Sarah,

    IMO this is your best revision yet! It reads quickly, the tension mounts, and the stakes are clear and high. We know we’re in Indigo’s POV and have a good (and amusing) sense of her personality. We meet the other major players and learn a lot about them, too. And we want to keep reading. Altogether cleaner, clearer and compelling. You’ve also shown that you can take constructive criticism and really re-vision and re-think your writing. Great work!

    One minor nitpick. When Indigo comes into the detention room, it seemed she was by herself until you mention the five others a couple of paragraphs down. Consider mentioning them earlier?

    Best of luck with this!


  3. I will comment on the pitch first.

    I would not recommend asking a question in your pitch because if the answer is no, you have lost your reader's interest. I think it would suffice to say that the book is based on the kids from the characters in Clue.

    For the rest of it, there is too much focus on plot. I can't tell who the main character is here or what she wants, which means you are not engaging me in her plight.

    Finally, you make the gun fight sound like something fun. Shooting at teenagers (or anyone for that matter) is not a fun matter. Unless this is a comedy, I think you need to reword this pitch so it sounds more like a thriller or mystery. If it's not a thriller, you need to reword to show why this murder is somehow funny.

    Good luck!

  4. Now for the excerpt...

    I like that you've slowed this down, but I still think it needs to be much slower. You need to take your time setting the scene and the mood, and you need to give us a clear picture of each character. There's a lot of telling of emotions happening here. It would be stronger to show these. Show us how each character is reacting to this news and build a strong visual of each one as you do. I want to know if the kids look like their parents from the board game. For example, do they wear the same colors?

    Finally, you need to keep the emotions consistent. Your character is going from shock to sadness to sarcasm to sorrow way too fast. Pick an emotion for her to feel and spend this scene establishing it. She can try to act a different way "on the outside" but she shouldn't flipflop without a turning point. The news of the murder is the turning point in this scene so that really should be the only thing that moves her. Also, I still think this news comes too soon in the chapter. You could almost build a whole chapter on these students waiting in the room (and wondering why) and end with the news of the murder.

    Good luck!

  5. I love the idea of the kids of the original clue cast being the focus of this novel, but I would make sure that you identify who the main character is in the pitch, and what the stakes are for her individually, not just the ensemble cast. Also, the pitch reads as if it is a mystery, but the good old fashioned gun fight made me wonder if it is more tongue in cheek than suspenseful. If not, I’d cut that line.

    Your revision is so much stronger! I really get a good sense of Indigo. I do agree with Holly, the emotions switch too quickly, making it hard to follow what she is feeling at times. I also agree with Holly that there is still a bit too much telling – for example Indigo can notice that Hunter’s knee is shaking, she doesn’t need to tell us that it’s from distress. I also thought Mr. Platt’s excuse about the parents signing a waiver was a bit weak, and doesn’t make much sense to me (and I’m an attorney). You can do a bit of research on this – I do believe that school’s have the right to investigate without notifying parents in general. You could also have him say, a waiver is included in each admission packet, granting me authority to investigate all matters that occur on school grounds as I deem appropriate or some such. (But again, I’d do some research).

    I was also confused about calling in everyone on their payroll. Is everyone trained as security? And watch out for echoes – “The very real killer was still out there.” And a few lines later, “The killer, he or she, is definitely still out there.” I find reading the manuscript out lout is so helpful in catching echoes, tense slips, and forced dialogue.

    Overall, great revision! Good luck with this story!


  6. Sarah,
    Don't give away too much information in your pitch. Use it to generate interest not tell the whole story. Taking out the details is an easy fix I'm sure you can easily make.

    Your revision did a good job of showcasing Indigo's character and attitude. However, I am confused about the Headmaster. His character has been muddy up. First he's condescending, then emotional, then superior. Be sure to maintain the character traits at least through the beginning. If he's too dynamic, you'll confuse the reader.

    I agree that you could slow down the pacing of the piece. It feels a bit rushed and you're making each exchange work harder than it needs to. Be sure to show not tell when it comes to the character's behaviors and it will flow better.

    Best of luck with the story.

  7. Hi Sarah,
    Wow! Your story has taken a beautiful turn during these weeks. The starting is strong and drew me in immediately. The characters are much clearer and although the pace is a bit too fast, it makes me want to read on. There are grammar issues at a lot of places though, and I'm sure you'll look into them. And I was just wondering if Indigo would address the headmaster as 'Headmaster' or just 'Mr.Pratt'. I also agree that the news of murder could come in a bit later, after all characters have been assembled and some mumbling and grumbling on their part for being summoned. Right at the beginning Indigo asks 'what can we do for you Headmaster?' I wonder who the 'we' is because the others have not yet been introduced to the reader.

    As for the pitch, it is a bit verbose. It feels like I'm reading an excerpt from the story itself. So maybe you could make it terse and drop the names like Holly suggested.

    I really love the way you've developed the story from the first draft. Wish you all the best with taking it to the finish.

  8. Hi Sarah! I really like your pitch. It is engaging and pulled me in immediately. I suggest being more direct in the third paragraph. Question: what are their differences and why is it challenging for them to get over them? Without giving it all away of course! Also, removing the names of all of the characters, instead just focus on Indigo as your MC and make her shine.

    This is the best revision thus far, Sarah! Really well done. A few small notes. In the beginning, upon seeing the extra guards and feeling on edge, why is Indigo using a mocking tone to speak to the Headmaster? The internal and external reactions seem incongruous.

    I would love to see you dig deeper and show a bit more instead of telling us outright how Indigo is feeling. You tell us that she hears her heartbeat but what else can you use to describe her body language and position to convey her nervous energy?

    Lastly, I would love a description of the room, all in attendance and where people are seated, to form a crisp visual.

    All in all though, I really like what you have done, Sarah!

  9. Hello, Sarah -- nice work on this revision! It's definitely the strongest of the three, and your hard work is obvious. The concept of your book really hooks me. Seriously. A YA murder-mystery with rich, preppy kids at a super elite private boarding school in the mountains. There's so much potential for juicy intrigue, forbidden relationships, incredible teenage drama! I think the seed at the center of this is worth growing.

    I will say, I think the story would benefit it if was based a little more loosely on Clue than it currently is. Having the names of the six students match the game so closely feels a tiny bit gimmicky to me -- but then again, that might just be me. Also, six students is a lot of people to follow. Maybe it would be better if there were just three or four of them?

    I also think that this would benefit from more physical descriptions. The more detailed and sensory-specific, the better. You have hit gold with your setting, and I don't feel like you take complete advantage of it. This academy feels like it could be a magical and intriguing place (perhaps even darkly so) if you set the scene for us. Even in the beginning. Just as a quick example of the kind of details I'd love to see in your world:

    "As she waited in tense silence with the others, Indigo Plum watched a ray of late afternoon sunlight illuminate the rich mahogany paneling of Headmaster Pratt's office. Indigo couldn't make out a single speck of dust floating anywhere in the sunlit air. Well, of course she couldn't. Dust was one of many things not allowed anywhere on the premises of Clueless Academy. Not in the velvet-walled dorm rooms, on the glass chandeliers hanging in the vaulted dining hall, and especially not in Headmaster Pratt's master suite of an office. Indigo sighed and tried to ignore Pearl pacing nervously back and forth next to her. They had already been waiting for hours, and judging by the stony faces of the two guards standing by the doors, Indigo was afraid that whatever news Headmaster Pratt had for them wasn't going to be good."

    Obviously this is not great and can be super cleaned up, what I mean to say is just I want to see more of what's around them physically and I know that you can show it.

    I really want to read about the resolution of the murder of Miss Waddington at this academy. I want to know the twists and turns, and also why they suspect these students had anything to do with it!

    Great work and GOOD LUCK!!!