Monday, June 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Romero Rev 1

Name: Gabriela Romero
Genre: YA science fantasy
Title: The Perfect Pairs

I: Silverback Academy

“<i>Scan and transcribe Lorena’s notes.</i>”

The words were scratched on a post-it note in Dr. McLaughlin’s handwriting. The letters curly and thick. Philippa twirled the post-it note in her hand, her eyes transfixed on the flimsy, yellow material, but her mind was elsewhere. She had a plan. She had the post-it note, Dr. McLaughlin’s lab keycard, and a question fueling her wild scheme.

Phil’s desk shook as someone brushed by it. She snapped out of her thoughts. She looked up and saw Renata passing by, also purposely bumping into Maxie’s desk on her way to the teacher’s desk. Renata flipped her mane of curls from one shoulder to another while turning in her work. As if she was telling the whole class, “Look how shiny they are! My natural, coiling, perfect curls.” She strolled back to her desk, smug eyes on Maxie, and Phil turned away.

Renata’s antics couldn’t bother her today. Phil flipped the post-it note again, reading those words. The note had been a reminder, left on Dr. McLaughlin’s desk as part of his daily to-do list. Phil had snatched it the last time she was in his office. She had seen the loop of the L to the O, had craned her neck to read the name Lorena, and her heart had given a jolt.

She never imagined she would be seeing the name of her deceased mom two-thousand miles away from home, here at Silverback Academy. <i>Lorena</i>. She knew it had to be her mom. Her dad was an old friend of Dr. McLaughlin’s. The family friendship was the only reason Phil was stuck in this insane school in the first place. It was too much of a coincidence not to be her mom. But why did Dr. McLaughlin want to transcribe her mom’s notes? What notes?

A buzz of conversation shattered the classroom quiet piece by piece. It was the telltale the period was drawing to an end and most everyone had finished the work. Seniors turned this way and that to chat, or passed notes to their friends. Phil watched her classmates turning to each other while a globe of loneliness traveled down her belly. It was as if she was in the spotlight, as she was the one saying, “Look at me! I’m the new kid without friends!”

No one cared for her too much, though. Their attentions were on Renata, who sat two desks down from Phil. She was heckling Maxie.

In her few days of class, this was a scene Phil was well-acquainted with.

“I can’t believe you told,” Renata told Maxie in her thick Spanish accent.

The boy sitting beside Renata, one of her friends, flicked a small crumpled paper at Maxie’s back, earning him sniggers of amusement from the spectators.

Phil took a deep breath and gazed down at the post-it note, and still Renata went on, saying, “Don’t you know snitches get stitches?”

“He wants beef,” someone added, but Phil muted them out.

She tugged at her memory, trying to think of how Dr. McLaughlin could have something of her mom’s, and could remember only one instance. Her first day at Silverback.

She remembered it had been rushed and awkward, for she had come to school a week late. She had come with her twin sister. Their stepmom had delivered them to Dr. McLaughlin, along with an odd suitcase neither Phil nor her sister had made a fuss about. What was odd about an extra bag when they came to the boarding school with luggage themselves? But Blair had never uttered a peep about that brown leather suitcase. She simply had set it down at Dr. McLaughlin’s office and had continued on with the pleasantries of getting them acquainted with the school—with their new lives.

The suitcase must have had the notes, and who knows what else. What right did Dr. McLaughlin have in keeping them? If anything, Phil and her sister were the only ones with the right to be delivering mysteries suitcases and transcribing notes. Lorena was <i>their</i> mom, dead for years—

“So what, is the requirement for the Dumpster Scholarship that you snitch on us? Whose team are you on? The Keep McLaughs’ Happy So He Won’t Kick Me Out team?” Renata said, prodding Maxie with her mechanical pencil. The people around her stifled their laughter. <i>McLaughs</i> was a running gag within the student body. No one took Dr. McLaughlin seriously. His laissez faire management was probably the reason why everyone was so awful to each other all the time. So when Phil first heard the nickname, she wasn’t too surprised. “Yeah, sure, he’s taking applications, but I’m sure he likes his underage toys to be of the opposite gender, and you’re probably a little too </i>negrito</i> for his taste,” Renata added, finally, and her friends oohed and made hissing noises and murmured, “<i>burnt.</i>”

Phil went red in the face for Maxie. She didn’t want to imagine what he must be feeling, being the subject of Renata’s insults. Renata was loved by their classmates, and she abused it. She was a champion of good grades and perfect makeup. And if anyone ever dared to oppose her, say, by confirming to Dr. McLaughlin or to the vice principal that yes, she was a bully not above exploiting the tiniest flaws, then they were turned into her prey.

Phil forced herself to stare out the window. She couldn’t pick a fight—the period was almost over. The moment the bell rang she could spring out her desk and find out where those alleged notes were, and why they needed transcribing.

She watched the world of green and copper beyond the glass. The classroom window hit just the right angle where she could see the topiary garden separating the school building from the dorm buildings. The boys’ and girls’ dorms faced each other, at opposite ends, each fronted by a wide fountain and both surrounded in a sea of primped trees and gardens. Without the usual bustle the campus grounds looked peaceful, beautiful, the autumn winds caressing the greens in ripples.

Again, Renata’s words wrenched Phil from her musings, “No guys, chill, I don’t think I can burn him anymore than he already is.”

<i>Is she serious?</i> Phil had to bridle her words.

“He’s probably here so he could be the resident snitch. Like a little puppet McLaughs can use to get real-time proof that—”

“Dude, what is your problem?” Phil blurted, unable to sit there any long and listen to one more breath of vile. To hell with the consequences.

Renata, the spectators, and even Maxie turned to her, expressions of shock across all their faces.

“No, it’s okay, Phil,” Maxie mumbled, waving his hand down as if to appease a kindergartener, “It doesn’t bother me, really.”

Renata didn’t falter for long. She straightened up, and with a smile said, “I’m sorry, who are you? I didn’t realize a new student came in today.”

Her friends sniggered. Phil was new, but she wasn’t that new. She had thought to repress her slip of the tongue, but Renata’s smile was an invitation. </i>Come at me</i>, it said.

To Maxie, Phil said, “No, it’s not okay.” Then she turned to Renata and added, “Go validate your insecurities with someone else, but leave him alone for once. I’m so sick of sitting here listening to you lifting yourself up by putting him down, </i>every single class.</i> Like, don’t you have better things to do?”


  1. OMG, LOOOOOVE. I love this revision! So much more immediate, so much more at stake! I want desperately to know what's in those notes, but I also love that Phil couldn't stop herself from smacking down Renata. Great scene! I love the character details so much--the way Renata flips her hair for attention, the way they call the VP McLaughs out of lack of respect, Maxie's cool, unruffled response to Renata's hazing, it's so good!

    I'd still like a tiny bit more in the setting department, maybe Phil noticing the golden light of autumn streaming through the window and reflecting off Renata's perfect curls, or the ever-present clouds of winter adding a muted-gray filter to the campus grounds, or maybe the never-changing San Diego weather bathing everything in sunshine, despite the lateness of the year. Even mentioning the kind of tree she sees outside the window could be helpful, or even feeling the lack of the seasonal weather while cooped up in a basement classroom. I think it would only take a line or two to ground us in place. Unless you're keeping the setting a secret on purpose, that is. In which case, ignore everything I just said. :-)

    Other than that, I think it's all little stuff--like, I'd call out Stepmom's name to keep her from getting confused with Lorena/mom. I thought they were the same person at first and then couldn't figure out how mom could be dead for years if she'd just dropped them off. Lol. And there were a couple of word choices that threw me a tiny tiny bit, but they're not really worth mentioning. Overall, this is a very strong opening, IMO. Maybe just a hair more detail about what Phil is physically seeing to make us feel more immersed, but other than that, excellent job!!

  2. I really like this revision. I think it gives us not just a clear sense of setting, like the last one, but a hook that will keep us reading. Why does the head of the school want Phil's dead mom's notes, and why did her stepmom drop them off? (Love the nickname McLaughs, by the way. So perfect, so high school.)

    This is probably a nitpick, but I'd like to know where the teacher is in this revision. Renata's not only disrupting the class, but she's using racial slurs, and it will say a lot as to whether teacher's dealing with another disruption in the hall, willfully ignoring them or just absent. It might also give us some setting - is it a school for the 'problem kids,' or one where the teachers have to be nice to everyone because their parents are powerful people in whatever corner of the world we're in?

    I'm wondering if the flashback Phil has about her stepmom (Blair, right?) and the suitcase slows the pace down a little. At the moment you are describing two conflicts in the first five pages, and I like the in-out tug in Phil's brain as she both tries to ignore Renata and finds that she can't. However, I think if you keep both of them clean and spare, we can get details later and keep immersed in the double conflict now.

    I feel that this revision pulls us closer to what will kick the story off, as well as developing four separate characters (I'm counting McLaughs because from the students' attitude towards him, we already know what sort of leader he's going to be). Really well done, and I look forward to the next one!

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  4. Hi Gabriela! I quite like the beginning of your piece i.e. the first two paragraphs. But I think what took me out of the story a bit was the conversation/dialogue between Renata and Phil and Maxie. It reads very-typical-mean-insulty kind of way and I found it kind of cliché. Phil sounds like a clever girl and so does Renata. I think to really make their characters interesting and more relatable is to make Renata harsher and tougher, rather than just Miss Perfect or the typical mean girl. When the classmates around Renata snigger or laugh, I don’t understand why, because hardly anything she said was that funny. I mean, unless it can be explained by their upbringing or their background, then I think the jokes/the bullying can be tweaked. The one thing I will commend you on though is that my heart DEFINITELY went out for Maxie. Poor guy for being the brunt of the joke.

    I like the potential that Phil has. The ending was her calling out Renata’s BS and me yelling YES! YOU GO GIRL! I think though, the end dialogue could use a bit of a chop. It reads unnaturally long and it reduces the effect on the reader if you want them to cheer on Phil for standing up for Maxie. Also, the principal and Phil’s mother are interesting. I’m intrigued by Lorena and the mystery shrouded around her. I suggest though watching out for repetitiveness and too much information. There were moments where I felt like I either knew that already or I was being told everything.

    Overall, I think Renata is my biggest issue, but Phil, Maxie and everyone else seems to be okay and fleshed out. Because you are writing for a young adult audience, I suggest really heightening up the stakes with the insults and to really cover the mystery around Lorena. I think it’d make for a more cinematic and clever read.

    Good job! Can’t wait for the next revision!

  5. This was a strong revision, with much more immediacy and urgency, as has been stated. I know your opening line is meant to be a hook, but to me it rang a bit as "author-engineered suspense"--a situation in which the MC knows something or plans to do something, but that information is withheld from the reader even though their in the MC's point of view.

    It seemed to me that the information that Lorena is her mother's name came late in the narrative, and I would suggest you mention it right away. That way you'll front load the entire five pages with intrigue. Phil could be turning this over in her mind and so you can keep your flashback about the stepmom driving them to school with the strange bag in tow. Then you could show Phil's trying to suss out what's going on with Renata's bullying episode.

    On that episode, I agree that some of her dialogue and characterization are a bit "mean girl" cliche. It seems that these girls are always classically pretty--what if Renata isn't quite so perfect? It will make her status as queen bee all the more frustrating--that she thinks she's all that, and everyone acts as if she's all that, but Phil just doesn't quite see it. I can remember as a teenager being driven crazy about why some of the most popular girls were the most popular. I could never quite figure it out. That makes the scenario a tad less predictable, which will cause the reader to "lean in" while reading. I felt like that when Maxie waved her off--I took notice at his reaction as in his mild way, he kind of owned what was happening.

    I liked the other high school twists, especially McLaughs. You've got a good handle on the absurdity of high school without going over the line into farce.

    I'm really curious about Lorena's notes. This is a good setup and as a reader I've signed up to help Phil solve the mystery. Good work!


  6. Hi Gabriela,

    Thanks so much for sharing this re-write with us. I really really really REALLY love this beginning. That 'aha' moment when you realize Lorena is her mother and what is at stake is fantastic - great job!

    Like Teresa, the conversation with Renata threw me off a little bit. I think it seemed too eloquent to be believed, especially when Phil says 'go validate your insecurities with someone else' at the end (which was amazing because YES standing up to bullies) but at the same time this girl is in high school and it seems too scripted to be believed. Also the paragraph where Renata is talking about McLaughs was phrased awkwardly in some spots which made it difficult to read.

    I personally wish there weren't so many characters in this scene (I know, I'm not really one to talk) because the conflict is really with three characters in the classroom (Phil, Renata, Maxie), and there is also conflict with McLaughlin and Lorena, and the other characters distract from the scene and just add confusion to the story.

    Like Nancy, I wasn't really hooked by the opening line. It wasn't until we learn WHO Lorena is that I got interested, and that's already a couple paragraphs in. Maybe this should be something said earlier? Because as soon as I knew who Lorena was I was HOOKED.

    Also, knit-picky comment but can you twirl a post-it?

    Thanks again, and good luck on your re-writes! I look forward to reading your pitch to know how the superhero thing fits in.


    1. Hi Carly! Thanks for the critique. I actually mislabeled the story by saying the subgenre is superhero. I've discussed the plot with some writer friends and they suggested I call it YA science fantasy.


  7. Ack! I wrote a critique and it didn't save. Let me see if I can remember what I said.

    Awesome job revising. I love Phil's voice, I love the action, the bullying scene is brilliant. This is a much stronger submission.

    I'm going to be mean here...sorry, but I must...and tell you that you aren't allowed any memories, flashbacks, backstory telling in your next revision. It slows down the pace and can be told as the story unfolds. An good example is if Phil gets in there and smacks the bully around a bit. She could end up in the principal's office. He can basically tell her "I know you've gone through a lot with your mother's death (give some detail) and with your father's shenanigans (give more detail), but we won't tolerate violence." It reads much better (and quicker) and doesn't feel like an info-dump.

    Editorial issues are much better. Watch out for "Echo" words. For example in the opening page I lost count how many time she said desk. She if you can find other ways to describe it or use another piece of furniture or action. Ideally, I wouldn't repeat the same word within a few paragraphs more than twice, not at all if you can pull it off.

    The bullying scene is brilliant! I thought it could be trimmed. It drags out a bit, especially since Maxie tells Phil not to worry about him more than once. I'd rather see Phil smack that girl for being rotten. If you trim it up, it gives you more space to add compelling storytelling.

    I am not liking Mr. Laughlin so much. I'm not sure if that's the impression you were going for, but I thought I'd mention it. Why is he sitting around letting this nonsense happen? What's he doing while this is happening? It seems like Phil and the rest of the class can clearly hear what is going on and Phil even gets involved, but the teacher does nothing about it. I'm just curious. Maybe he needs to leave the room so this scene can play out organically.

    Overall, brilliant revision. I can't wait to see what you come up with the second round.

    1. Oh, not at all, you're not being mean. I really appreciate hearing these things--following good advice is the only way my craft will improve. Thank you so much for the guidance. Next draft will be better I hope!


  8. I think this revision works much better!! I'm much more invested in the MC, and I really want to get to know her. This seems very typical high school, but with an interesting twist--I really want to know what Phil's family has to do with the school and why she's stuck there.

    However I do agree that the flashback is killing this scene. I was very invested in the immediacy of it and I wanted to know more about the characters . . . but then I found myself reading about other characters I don't know and also who I'm not convinced will be important at all. In the first five pages, it's definitely not great for me to feel "get back to the story already!!"

    Additionally, I too think there are too many names/characters in this scene, but I think removing the flashback would help.

    To disagree with some notes above, I liked the first line! I did think the realization that Lorena was Phil's mother came a bit late too, but the first line really works for me.

    I think this is definitely a step in the right direction and I'm excited to read the next version. :)