Sunday, July 3, 2016

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Lollis

Name: Dan Lollis
Genre: Middle Grade Sports
Title: Scratch

“Ladies and gentlemen, it all comes down to this putt.”

I looked down at the ball, licked my lips, and spread my feet. Shoulder width apart, I thought to myself.

“If he can make this, Win Moore will be the youngest champion in golf history.”

I lined up the putter and tightened my grip. I took one last look at the ball and the hole.

“The hushed crowd waits in anticipation.”

I let my mind go blank, pulled back my putter in one smooth motion, and then brought it forward. The putter made a satisfying PING as the ball jumped off the turf and shot towards the hole 25 feet away.

“And the putt is away. Moving a little left-to-right. This ball has a shot.”

I loosened my grip and leaned a little to the right. Willing the ball to move in that direction.

“Win Moore likes his putt. But does it have enough speed?”

“Come on. Get legs,” I whispered under my breath as I moved towards the hole.

“This shot is right on target, ladies and gentlemen!”

“Get in the hole!” I yelled.

“Almost there! But will it make it? The—ball—is—“

The ball slowed to a stop, froze on the edge of the hole, and seemed to debate whether to move another fraction of an inch and fall in.

“Drop,” I whispered.

The ball shifted slightly and then—CLINK.

“It’s in the hole! He made it, ladies and gentlemen! Win Moore has won the championship with that amazing putt!”

I jabbed my putter toward the sky and karate chopped the air in front of me as I ran to the hole and grabbed my ball. After kissing it, I held it up for all to see, and began to sing and dance.

“All I do is win, win, win no matter what—”

Someone cleared his throat behind me.

“Hey, kid? Are you done yet?” asked a dad with two little kids behind me. “We paid for the 18-hole early bird special.” He leaned against the rainbow-colored windmill and crossed his arms while his two bratty kids swung their putters like swords and hit each other.

“Oh yeah,” I mumbled. “Sorry. I didn’t see you there.” I grabbed my putter, jumped over the fence, and ran into the clubhouse. The bell on the door jingled as I went inside. Mom’s head was buried in a book, and she didn’t look up from behind the cash register at the counter.

“Welcome to Putt Putt Palace, home to 36 holes of putt-erifc miniature golf and the best—”

“Mom, it’s me,” I interrupted. “You can quit the sales speech.”

She looked up and smiled. “I thought I saw you out there bright and early this morning. Is the windmill on hole number nine spinning? Dale swears he fixed it for good this time. Is it just me, or does something break around here every other day?”

I glanced around the clubhouse. At the duct tape holding together part of the cash register. At the piece of cardboard over the broken front window. And at the flickering neon sign above the golf ball dispenser that read “PRESS BUTT    FOR BALL”. The letters O and N burned out last summer, and Mom said that they were super-expensive to replace. I wish she would just turn it off.  Do you know what teenagers do when they see a sign like that?

“This place is a dump, Mom. But the windmill is spinning, and the fountain on number three is working. Nice blue water instead of brown foam that smells like sewage.” I gagged a little at the memory.

“This place isn’t a dump,” she looked around and scratched her chin. “It just needs a little—work. How did you putt out there this morning?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Okay—I guess.”

“Did you win your championship?” Mom asked with a smile.

My face reddened, and I pulled my cap down low.

“Oh come on, Edwin!” I see you talking to yourself out there and jumping around like a maniac when you make a long putt. You think you’re the only one that ever pretended to be a sports star?”

“It’s stupid,” I said as I shoved the putter back in the rack and threw my ball to the giant “PRESS BUTT” ball dispenser. “Besides, it’s just putt-putt. It’s not even a real sport.”

Mom put her hands on her hips--the international mom-signal for here comes a lecture.

“It most certainly is a real sport!” she said. “Any professional golfer would tell you—”

“It’s part of a real sport,” I interrupted. “And not even the fun or cool part. Smashing a ball 300 yards off the tee is exciting. Tapping a putt three feet into a hole is a game for little kids.” I waved my hand toward the window so Mom could see the two screaming, putter-sword fighting brats on hole nine.

She crossed her arms and gave me her listen-to-me-young-man look. Uh oh. This was getting serious.

“Every shot counts, Edwin. The three-foot putt is as important as the 300-yard drive. It’s not always about how far you hit it.”

“It is when you can’t even drive the ball to the fairway,” I mumbled as I grabbed a water bottle and my sack lunch from the fridge behind the counter.

“I gotta go. See you tonight,” I said as Mom tried to reach over and give me a hug, I ducked under her outstretched arms and made it out the front door before she could grab me.

“You’re never too old for hugs from your mom,” I heard her shout as I pulled the door shut. I spun around and literally ran into two teens. They were thick as a brick wall, and I fell flat on my butt.

“Watch it, munchkin! You almost made me spill my drink,” one of them said as he fumbled with his soda can.

“Uh—sorry,” I said as I propped up on my elbows. “I didn’t see you.”

“Short and blind,” the other one chuckled as they walked past me, opened the door, and went inside.

I thought about following them in and getting Mom to kick them out, but what good would that do? Putt Putt Palace needed all the business it could get. Besides, I was used to the jokes about my size. For a few seconds I imagined what it would be like to be tall. I’d finally be able to jump up and touch the ceiling. I would be able to see over the seat and heads in front of me in the movie theatre. And I would be able to hit a golf ball a mile.

I stood up, dusted myself off. I imagined myself on the tee box at Pebble Beach, gripped my imaginary club, closed my eyes, and took a practice swing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, he got all of that one. Edwin Moore just crushed that ball!”

The alarm on phone buzzed. No more time to play around. I grabbed my bike from the side of the clubhouse and took off pedaling. Mr. McManus would fire me if I was late. I swerved past the potholes in the parking lot, dodged the beat up orange cones that kept customers from parking in front of the dumpster, and shot past the crooked Putt Putt Palace sign begging customers to “TURN HERE FOR FUN-CREDIBLE, FUN-BELIEVABLE MINI-GOLF."


  1. Love the witty "PRESS BUTT" dispenser - I can imagine all the teenage jokes that would've come out of that. I like the character already, and I want him to win so that's great!

    Small thing but in the last paragraph you said, "The alarm on phone buzzed," maybe add a "my" in there and you'll be peachy.

    1. Christian, thanks for the feedback. The Press Butt thing even makes me laugh. It's hard to write humor!

  2. Hey Dan,

    Thanks for submitting your pages. This is fun! There has to be room for a middle grade book about a kid who fantasizes about being a pro golfer, right? It's Caddyshack for kids.

    The opening misdirect is nice. You might want to think about putting the imaginary announcer's commentary in italics without quotation marks.

    It's a nice record-scratch moment when we see that this is all in his head, and customers are waiting.

    I don't know a lot about golf, well, hardly anything, but I think what you're getting at is much bigger than just the sport itself.

    Your MC's name is Edwin, right? Perhaps use his real name in his daydream? I thought his name really was Win Moore, and had to read through a second time when I noticed it was Edwin.

    The writing has a nice rhythm to it, and I think you're onto something original. I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

    1. Ronald, thanks for the feedback.

      I'll definitely change the opening to italics. I had that originally but I was afraid it would be lost in (plain-text) translation.

      Edwin is his full name, but he goes by Win. I stole the name from Win Butler (singer for the band Arcade Fire). So his name is Win Moore. Too cute?

  3. Dan,

    Thanks for giving me the chance to read your submission! SCRATCH looks like it's going to be lots of fun -- I had a great time reading the first five pages. I could see how this could end up having a real WIMPY KID feel about it.

    I like your main character right from the embarrassing moment when we realize he's just playing mini golf. I don't think there's a kid alive who hasn't had that announcer voice running through her or his head when playing a sport. (Heck, I still do it!) And I love the "press butt" detail. Edwin's reflection on it -- "do you know what teenagers do when they see a sign like that?" -- is terrific. You can't help but draw that picture in your head.

    There's a lot to like here. I have a few suggestions that I think will make these pages even stronger.

    1) I think you can cut a lot of the internal fantasy at the start and still convey the joke. As it stands, it looks like that daydream makes up nearly a third of your pages. Try to tighten it up and you'll have room for more character development. Which brings me to my second point....

    2) As I mentioned, I like Edwin. But I'd probably like him even more if I got to know a bit more about him. See if you can provide the reader with a little more insight into Edwin's character. I know he's a dreamer, but is the story going to be strictly about his dreams of being a pro golfer? Or is there something else going on? Also, you employ the device of Edwin using that internal sports announcer twice in your pages -- once at the beginning and once at the end. While I like the symmetry, I wonder if we can learn something new the second time we look into your MC's head. Maybe it's a twist on the announcer in his mind?

    3) Take some time to massage your dialogue. I felt like some of what's being said between Edwin and his mom feels a little stiff and unnatural. You might be able to smooth that out.

    4) Proofread! Don't give agents any reason to stop reading your first five pages!

    5) I'd love to see the teenagers who bump into Edwin tease him about what his mom yells ("You’re never too old for hugs from your mom!"). It's like he narrowly avoids his mom's hug, then instantly gets his mortifying comeuppance with the teens. Feels like that would be a great opportunity to heap on the mortification.

    So that's what I'm thinking. But overall, a really great start! This could be a really funny and sweet underdog story (assuming that's where you want to take it)! I'm definitely eager to see where you take it from here!

    All best,
    Rob, 1st 5 Pages mentor

    1. Rob,

      Thanks so much for the advice and feedback. I was worried about the opening. I will go back to italics instead of quotation marks. My idea was for that to be Win's internal dialogue.

      I think I can tighten up the fake tourney and provide more characterization for Win. And I'll see what I can do with Mom/Win dialogue.

      I love the idea of the teens teasing him about hugs from his mom. And I'll have to proofread more carefully. And slowly.

  4. Dan,

    This was really entertaining! Win is a character we wan to root for as much as he already roots for himself. I think you developed great characterization in these opening pages, showing us what Win wants and what his conflicts and challenges are.

    I like the opening golf tournament scene, but felt a little mislead when it turned out to be all in his imagination, a little like the character was having a dream. The dialogue confused me a little because of the quotes. I wasn’t sure if Win was thinking or there was an announcer speaking. I think both of these issue might be helped by putting all of the announcer’s words in italics. It would give us a clue that something different might be going on.

    I felt the dialogue and description after the imaginary tournament could be tightened a bit, but I felt you did a great job with some of the images. I love the sword-fighting kids and the neon ball dispenser sign. Win’s dry humor about that and his mom’s obliviousness to it made me laugh out loud. I did feel his mom’s lecture was a little too on-the-nose and could be trimmed back.

    I think you have a lot of great elements here that middle grade boys would love, humor, underdog MC, and golf, a sport about which I haven’t seen many books. As a 5th grade teacher, I tried to build up my classroom library selection of sports books and most were football, baseball, basketball, or soccer. I look forward to reading more of your work this month!

    1. Lisa,
      Thanks for the feedback. I was worried that readers might be confused at the beginning. And you answered my question. I am going to try to keep it with italics and make a few changes. I hope that will help.
      And I can definitely work on the dialogue. I don't want it to feel inauthentic or cliche with Mom/Win. Thanks for the honesty!

  5. Hey Dan,
    I really enjoyed reading SCRATCH, and I love that the title doubles as a golf term! This sounds like a book young boys would love, and it has the perfect amount of kid humor. I can't wait to read more! I have added some of my thoughts and ideas below.

    1. I liked the idea of someone MCing Edwin's golf game, but when Edwin started talking, it made it a little confusing. Is Edwin MCing out loud, or just thinking in his head? If he is speaking out loud, then this may need to be set up a little differently.

    2. What is Edwin's motivation for wanting to win money at golfing? Is it so his mom doesn't lose the Putt Putt Palace? Or so his mom can quit work at the dump? Or maybe it has to do with making his father proud, though his father isn't mentioned.

    3. I love how perfectly you have gotten the kid who is too good for hugs and kisses. My brother is 10 years younger than me, and he did that all the time. I think any parents (especially parents who read books before they let their kids read them) will appreciate this touch of humor/reality.

    4. I think kids will enjoy the humor, especially with Press Butt!

    5. I'm interested in Edwin's job. And I can see the jokes coming on Mr. McManus' name ha!

    6. How old is Edwin? If he is on the verge of middle school and high school? Could he have run into a bully from school? Maybe someone who is a year a head of him, or who was held back a year and is in his class? Just thought it might be interesting to have more interaction with that character and Edwin.

    Overall, I thought it was a great story that I would definitely keep reading! I look forward to more!

    1. Christian,

      Thanks so much for the feedback. You aren't the only one confused at the beginning. I am going to try and use italics and see if I can show that this is Win's internal dialogue.

      Motivation - this is a great question. And has made me think that reconsider why I haven't made that more obvious. Is it a manuscript killer that his motivation is that he just wants to be good at one thing? That's a kid thing right? Just wanting to do on thing well? I need to add that somewhere early. No high stakes (losing the Putt Putt place or saving a family) - he just doesn't want to be a loser. That's enough right? I'm asking myself as much as anyone? It doesn't have to be high stakes for a fun, breezy read?

      Yikes...deep thoughts. You've really got me thinking. Thanks!

      I like the idea of the bully from school...something almost exactly like that is a few more pages in the book.

    2. My thoughts on the motivation (thoughts only so please don't feel obligated either way!) are that maybe a little motivation would be good. I remember being 10. My family just moved me from a private school to a public school. At the same time, I started playing soccer, and I was good (not so good that I would become famous or anything lol), but I remember thinking all that time, just like your protag what it would be like to be famous. I wanted to be really good at soccer so that more people in my school would like me (I didn't have any new friends at the new school). I even dreamed about being famous because, at that time, my family didn't have much money, and I thought if I were famous I wouldn't have to eat any more beanie weenies lol. I remember my motivation at that point in my life was generally superficial, quick to change, and not very deep. Just some of my thoughts!

  6. Hi Dan. I love the tone and heart in these pages. The contrast between Edwin's dreams and the reality of his life really struck me. It got me wondering what would happen with him over the course of the book and I found myself rooting for him. He's a great character, and I already want him to succeed. That can be difficult to pull off in just five pages. Nice work.

    I'm curious about Edwin's size. He seems to jump over things easily. His size didn't really come to the forefront until he runs into the teens toward the end. Is there a way to get a hint of his stature earlier on?

    In the scene with his mother, I found myself wanting her to be a little more colorful. While I like the way she starts off (nose in the book behind the register, thinking he's just another customer), as she talks, she sounds a little stereotypical. Is there a way to make her a little more unique? Change up how she says what she says to make her jump off the page a bit more? I got the sense maybe you don't know her as well as you know Edwin. Is she happy with her life? Does she really believe the things she's telling Edwin?

    I also wonder if we can get a better sense of how his mom's words impact him. Does he dismiss them entirely, or do they ignite hope in him? If you add more depth to the mother, it will flavor not only their interaction but also his attitude toward her or his opinion of her, and therefore his reaction to what she tells him.

    One other thing to consider when you revise: when writing in first person, it's easy to slip into repetitive use of I + verb sentence structure, and the repeated I pronoun begins to echo in the reader's ear. Try reading your work out loud and listen for that pattern. You can avoid it by varying your sentence structure, focusing in what's external to the character (rather than focusing on "I"), and doubling up actions to avoid giving the play-by-play (I did this, I did this, I did this). While I didn't find this to be an overwhelming issue in your pages, it is something to be aware of.

    I can tell this story is going to have a lot of heart. I definitely want to keep reading. Really good work.

  7. Hi Dan!

    You have so many great things working for your story: great MC, great tone and use of humor, and I love that it focuses on golf. Your story feels different and unique from the beginning – well done!!

    I love the opening scene where he’s imagining himself being an awesome golfer – felt very authentic to me. LOVED the karate chop in the air celebration. The dialogue felt a bit contrived in parts (and just in parts!!) For example, Edwin’s response to being snapped out of his daydream: “Oh yeah,” I mumbled. “Sorry. I didn’t see you there.” – What would be an authentic reaction for Edwin? His face blushing? Immediately dropping his arms and pressing them against his sides? Maybe he just mumbles “Sorry, didn’t see you there” and runs away without making eye contact. Use this as a chance to build his character a bit. Or another example: “I thought I saw you out there bright and early this morning. Is the windmill on hole number nine spinning? Dale swears he fixed it for good this time. Is it just me, or does something break around here every other day?” Perhaps drop the last line and have that be Edwin’s internal monologue.

    The part between the mom and Edwin is another perfect opportunity to build both characters. I really like Edwin. You mention his height – is there an opportunity to give me a specific visual? His chin barely hits the counter? Maybe adding his age in here would also help. A few more little details with Edwin might go a long way. The mom feels less defined. Perhaps think of one or two traits she possesses and keep her consistent in this opening scene.

    As I go back and reread, you really have some strong lines that pop throughout this entire scene. I love the Putt Putt Palace setting – a great set-up for a kid who wants to be really great at golf.

    Also – and this is so, so minor – you refer to the kids playing golf with their dads as brats twice. Is there another way to describe them the second time?

    Like I said, you have so many strong elements working for your first five. I think a little tweaking here and there will go a long way!!