Sunday, May 22, 2016

1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Narayanan Rev 2

Name: Priya Narayanan
Genre: Middle Grade - Slice of Life, Humor
Title: The Promise

The two things Seventh Grader Shamit cannot do without in his life are watching the television and sleeping. So passionate is he about these that he ends up breaking many a promise made to his mother, just so he doesn’t compromise on his favourite activities. However, the tables get turned on him when one day, having to choose between sleep and another darned promise, he chooses the former. Only when he wakes up late in the afternoon does he realize the gravity of his choice – Shamit, in his groggy, sleep-deprived state has promised Amma that he’d not watch TV for the rest of the week! That the said days are settled comfortably in the lap of the summer vacations only add to his woes.
What will Shamit do without his ‘idiot box’ time?
Will he keep this promise or will he break it like all those times he’d done before?

The Promise is a tale peppered with wry humor about a cheeky 12-year-old’s travails as he trudges through five TV-less days during the summer holidays. With each day presenting him with new challenges and experiences, Shamit discovers a facet of himself and his quirky family he hadn’t yet bothered to explore.

Once upon a time, I made a promise.
Now, it wasn’t as though I wanted to make the promise. No sir! Promises are not for me since more often than not, I end up breaking them. I have a sneaky feeling they were invented only to be broken -definitely the doing of a cruel mind. You goad someone into believing you, rely upon you for something of great importance and then SMASH!
You simply break the promise along with the person’s heart. NOT a good idea. But that’s not to say nobody should make a promise. You want to make one? Go ahead . . . but hey, make sure you know to whom you’re making it out to.
Your friend? Cool.
That girl you have a crush on? Umm . . . fine.
Your best friend? Red Alert!
But your mother? NEVER!!
Never ever make a promise to your mother. Especially if your mom is anything like mine. Amma has the knack of coming up with punishments (she calls them ‘self-enrichment exercises,’ by the way) that seem harmless at first glance but manage to make my life miserable nevertheless.
Take the Case of the Unfinished Assignment from a few months back, for instance. I promised her I’d complete my Environmental Sciences assignment soon as I finished watching my favorite TV show. Just as I was about to turn off the TV as promised, a trailer for the latest Batman movie jumped out at me. Boy, did I dig that mech-suit he wore or what! And then the next show started without warning, drawing me into a curious plot about banana-eating aliens. The next thing I knew, it was time for dinner followed by bed.
When I came back with a note from the teacher the next day, Amma let out an exasperated sigh. It was the seventh such note I’d brought home in Seventh Grade. Although I thought it had a nice ring to it -seventh note in seventh grade- the same could not be said of Amma. And so, I spent the next weekend in the neighborhood nursery where I received hands on experience in the topic of my missed assignment – composting and vermiculture. YUCK!
So, call me chicken if you must, but I choose not to make a promise at all. But wait . . . didn’t I just say I made a promise? Oh well, I do surprise myself at times!
I still have a vivid memory of that day. It must have been a balmy morning because I could hear the faint hum of Amma’s favorite tune as she sauntered into my room. I wouldn’t know for sure, of course. I was quite groggy, sprawled on my stomach on the couch with one hand dangling down and the other hand still gripping the remote control under my chest.
“Shamit . . .” Amma called out in her happy tone.

“Mmmm . . .”

“Shamit . . . wake up dear, it’s nine o’clock.”

“Mmmmmmmm . . .”

“SHAMIT! Wake up!! Everyone’s already at the breakfast table. And remember we’ve planned to visit the temple after that?”

“Five minutes Maaaa . . . and in any case, I’m not interested in the temple. You go ahead without me, okay? And wake me up after you’re back.”

“But you promised me you’ll come to the temple this time! Grandpa and grandma are going to be super upset. This is not done!”


“Shamit, did you hear me?”

More silence . . . followed by Amma shaking me vigorously, causing the remote to fall to the floor. 

“Oh, so that’s the way it’s going to be . . . huh? Well, you can sleep through the afternoon, right until evening for all I care,” Amma raised her voice quite uncharacteristically. I could see a blurred vision of her picking up the remote and staring hard at it as though her top-secret laser vision would teleport it to the land of the banana-eating aliens for good. “But get this straight Mister, you break this promise and I’ll make sure you pay for it with a far more torturous one. Do you hear me?”
Honest to goodness, I did want to get on my feet right then and follow her to the temple like a puppy dog; I was just not up for one more promise.  But hey, I’d watched TV until four o’clock the previous night (or early morning if you please). And I now had to choose between one of my favorite things (the other being the TV, of course) and a darned promise? So you know what I chose.
“Mmmm . . . okay Ma, I promise to do whatever you say; just leave me alone okay . . .GO . . . PLEEEEASE . . .”
“Okay, have it your way. If your ears are awake, let them know your new promise is that you’ll not watch TV for the rest of the week.” Amma’s voice started off as a whisper and gathered enough decibels along the way to help her achieve the glass-shattering level that only divas at the opera are blessed with. This was followed by a thud, which I assumed was the sound of the remote landing on the rug, and the bang of the door.
And then there was silence . . . and sleep.
When I finally woke up at quarter to one and narrated my surreal dream to Amma as she went about setting the table for lunch, I was met with an icy glare.
“Oh, so it wasn’t a dream . . . okay. No problem . . . umm . . . I was just joking Ma. A promise is a promise. I’ll stand by it . . . okay?”
But Amma’s eyes refused to leave mine. And with that, I stared at the prospect of five TV-less days ahead of me. That the said five days had settled comfortably in the lap of the summer vacations only made matters worse.
Surreal Sunday
What does one do on a hot summer afternoon if not chill on the couch with a plate of succulent mangoes and TV? But thanks to my promise, all I did the first day of my TV-less ordeal was to wander like a zombie around the house. I got into everyone’s way as I aimlessly trudged up and down the stairs of our bungalow, inviting innumerable scowls and angry glares.
When Amma decided to tend to her plants, I chugged along behind her, much to her surprise. I had no intension of helping her in her yawn-inducing hobby though, especially after my experience with vermiculture. I simply moved around pulling out sharp blades of grass and plucking leaves off her well-manicured plants. The result was a couple of ferocious looks from her that prodded me to slink away. Clearly, she was still mad at me.
As I moved back towards the comfort of my room, the TV – perched like royalty on the stucco-finished white wall – lured me mockingly, like the witch who lured Snow White with her juicy red apples. Only, I was no Snow White. I wouldn’t give in to my temptations and break another promise . . . or would I?
A brilliant idea sneaked into my head. What if I found a loophole? Or maybe I could just work around the promise without hurting Amma?


  1. Hi Priya! I'll start with the pitch:

    I'm actually going to start at the end of the pitch. The last paragraph sells me on the plot, conflict, and tension of this story. Other than for a few word choices, I think it works. The intro paragraph is a bit iffy, though. It could be clearer through word choice and order of sentences/thoughts. Also, there's a lack of voice in the opening, for me anyway. You can help that by writing the hook in the voice of Shamit. Remember, he's a 7th grader, who values two pretty lazy ideals - which is typical for this age. Lastly, you've written the first sentence in an incline - meaning, as I read each consecutive word I had a sense of increasing tenstion; that is until I reached watching...and sleeping. I kind of felt let down, like I crashed a burned as a reader. I think you can keep it, but add a second sentence either kind of making fun these or giving the hint that his values are kind of low but not to him. (Something that compliments and adds more urgent feeling to the first sentence.)

    Revision: Love the opening paragraph! What an improvement. The feel is much more MG. Nicely done. My only comment is watch your tenses. Shamit's humor is so relaxed this time. I can hear it and feel it, especially when talking about Amma. And I like how you've ended this.

    A few minor notes: if Shamit is on the couch face down lying on the remote control how could Amma's shaking knock it off and it fall to the floor? When Shamit realizes that five TV-less days is a reality, I feel like there should be more urgency at that revelation.

    Best of luck with this! Great work these past few weeks.

    1. Thanks SA! Looking forward to rework my entire ms based on the great insight I've received over the past couple of weeks. Your feedback regarding the character's voice was really helpful and I'll now see how to carry it through to the end. And I can't wait to rework my pitch based on your suggestions.


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    1. Love Shamit's voice - perfect for middle grade.
      Do not have questions in a pitch - remove those because they are implied in your first paragraph.
      Make your first paragraph 2 key sentences (remove the unnecessary details - the promises are confusing) coupled with the last paragraph of your pitch and it will be near perfect.

      Sounds like a fun and touching story.

    2. Thanks Sue. I'm glad I finally cracked the MG voice of the character! As for the pitch, I'm sure I got carried away with it. I thought I have to make use of all the 200 words at my disposal and that,I guess, was a mistake. I did a quick rework on it on the lines of your suggestions and it sounds better already! So thanks again.

  3. Dear Priya,

    Great work over the last weeks! Your first five pages are definitely stronger. They were always funny and full of Shamit’s personality, but now there’s more showing, clearer conflict, and stakes. And they end with the promise of more! What loophole will Shamit come up with? We can only imagine. And we want to find out.

    I agree that writing your pitch in Shamit's voice could be really fun.

    One other minor comment- I needed to reread as I got a little confused with which promises we were talking about when Amma has her showdown with Shamit before breakfast and temple (the old promise vs the new). But you could argue that there being enough promises to get confused between is funny.

    Best of luck with Shamit, Amma and gang!


  4. Priya,
    Enjoyed your pitch, some wording issues that can be reworked will improve it.

    Shamit's personality is so interesting. I find myself routing for him in spite of himself.

    There are a few continuity issues that were already mentioned. One nitpick is I'm not sure if the details you added about Batman and the note added anything. I like it better without them.

    Good luck with the manuscript.

  5. Hi Priya! For your pitch, I love the last paragraph and would love to see the rest written in that same tone and succinct language. The first paragraph feels loose, more like a summary without the snap of the last paragraph which really grabbed me. Also, I have been told that you don’t want rhetorical or unanswered questions in your pitch unless you answer those questions in the coming paragraphs. I hope this helps.

    I love the paragraph you added about how Shamit came to spend the week in the nursery! It is informative and pulls me into the action of it.

    I know you are restricted by the word count for this workshop but I would love a description of Shamit’s room to get a better visual. Right now I can only picture the walls and the tv. It might also be fun to hear him scrolling through his list of non-tv based activities as he contemplates his fate (although you might already do this in the coming pages). I really like what you have thus far though, and the work that you have done to tighten these first 1250 words is wonderful! It sounds like a lot of fun, and it is right up my tv-loving son’s alley. Please, if there is a way for all of us to stay in touch after this workshop ends, let us know if and when your ms will be published. My son would love it and will definitely relate!

    1. Thanks Julie! And I'd love to share the final product with all of you. . .


  6. Hi Priya,

    It's been so fun to watch Shamit's voice become more and more certain (and firmly placed in MG) over the past few weeks. I think that you are really onto something with him -- he's impish and very lazy, but somehow I still really like him. He's complex and interesting. I think that he's definitely got a bit of Dennis the Menace in him. Maybe Shamit would be excellent as a character who goes on rip-roaring, silly, naughty adventures in shorter length chapter books.

    One thing I will say about this is I might change the details of the environmental sciences report, or make them easier to understand. Composting and vermiculture are pretty specific farming terms, and I think that the majority of your young readers probably wouldn't know what they meant -- so the "YUCK!" part wouldn't hit them, and they wouldn't quite understand it. Is there a way that you could make that more simple?
    Regardless, I think that Shamit and Nerdy Nattu have a lot in store for them! Good luck with this, it's been so fun to read!

  7. Hi,

    I think some of your paragraphs are a little long. You may want to consider splitting them up a bit. I did notice some tense problems and a few typos but I'm sure you can catch them on the next read through.

    I love this opening. The voice has really come together and I can clearly picture your MC. But you go back and forth from using MA and Amma. This may throw people off. Maybe cut out Ma when he is talking to her to avoid the confusion. I feel like after you introduce her name, then you should stop using Ma.

    I think this will be a fun book. It certainly sounds that way from the pitch. Good luck with it!