Sunday, November 6, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Thompson

Name: Elizabeth Thompson
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Being Whitney


Chapter 1

Whitney stepped out of the locker room and stopped short, her dad’s
voice freezing her steps.

“She’s going to our money maker one day. Stanford and then the WNBA.
That’s her path. When she’s out there, you can see it in her eyes.”

“I think that’s your eyes honey. You’re the one who can see it.”

Her dad glanced at her mom with a clinched jaw. Whitney winced; her
mom’s interventions never resulted in progress.

“Well I think we can all see it,” her dad continued to the stranger,
“Whitney knows it though. She knows where her talent lies. She may only be
fourteen, but she’s very aware this is where she can make something of herself.
It’s now or never.”

Whitney tried to take a deep breath, but found her chest too tight to
oblige. Worried she’d puke if she listened any longer, she stepped out and
joined her parents. More almost-praise filled her head, all tinged with
‘maybes’ and ‘ifs’ relying on “how bad she wanted it.” She wanted it of course,
but her dad wanted it even more.

Once inside the car she waited, begging the knot in her stomach to

Her dad started before they’d left the parking lot.

“Do you believe you played up to your potential today Whitney?”


“Do you have another lame excuse you’d like to give me about why?”

“No. There are no excuses.”

“Then why the hell do you keep playing like shit? Why do you keep
wasting everything we’ve worked for?”

Whitney fed her dad all the lines she knew he wanted, but he didn’t
stop. Although the lectures became commonplace around seventh grade, their
intensity continued to grow. Usually Whitney could handle them, he was just
trying to help, but today the stabs felt covered in salt. By the time they hit
the freeway Whitney’s eyes were full, leading to her mom’s interjection.

“Matt, I think she understands what you’re saying.”

“Obviously she doesn’t! And she doesn’t need you babying her. She needs
to understand her future relies on her success on that court.”

Whitney waited for her mom to back down, like always, but she didn’t.

“You’re ruining her Matt. I told you I wouldn’t put up with this
anymore and I’m serious.”

Whitney’s dad ignored the threat, until it was too late. Three weeks
later his look of shock mirrored Whitney’s, on opposite sides of the tinted
glass window of the SUV Whitney’s mom drove her away in.

Whitney’s mom billed it as the most humanitarian rescue mission in
history. Her dad billed it as the single greatest mistake her mom would ever make,
in regards to Whitney’s life and her own. Whitney just cried. Her friends, her
court, her house, her entire being, they were Mountain View, California. Until
they weren’t.

It took eight hours to strip Whitney of everything she’d ever known.
They pulled into their new town as the sun set behind the water tower, standing
tall over tiny Millersburg, Oregon – population 4,237. They crawled through the
two-lane main street, Whitney acutely aware of the lack of anything passable as
a store she’d ever be caught dead in, and turned at the second, of two,
stoplights. Quickly the small neighborhoods of fifties houses gave way to a
newer development, which gave way to farm land. They drove into the country,
chasing the sun, passing only one car on the six mile drive. Whitney stared
into the green landscape, unable to comprehend that real people lived in this
desolate place.

Their new home set back off the road, on a small hill appearing
glorious in a way Whitney hadn’t imagined a century-old farmhouse could. Beyond
the house stretched field after field and in the near one a tractor made
perfectly straight passes across the tan grass. Whitney followed her mom
inside, quickly found her room, tucked into the front of the second floor, and
returned her attention to the farmer. She watched until he reached the last
row, parked the tractor near a beat-up old truck and climbed down. Only then
did Whitney see that the ancient old man she’d pictured inside the enclosed
cab, was actually a bare-chested, blonde haired teenage boy. His jeans hugged
his hips perfectly as he climbed into the truck and drove off leaving Whitney
with a little hope for this foreign land.


Chapter 2

School started a week later, by which point Whitney still understood
nothing about the foreign town she now called home. She truly felt like she’d
moved to a different country in which, she was now an intruder.

Working her way across the yellow lawn in front of the school, she
heard kids greet each other, warmly reminiscing about their summer. They talked
about afternoons fishing at Bond’s Pond, stargazing for hours in Jasmine’s far
field, wild bonfires at Dylan Johnson’s house and weekends spent riding ‘quads’
at the beach. Whitney shook her head; nothing at all made sense.

Outside Whitney had felt invisible to the hundreds of kids around her,
now however, navigating the long hallways, she felt all eyes fall on her. The
entire school seemed to watch her with purpose, shamelessly sending more
judgment and scrutiny her way than she had ever known, and she’d been in school
with the epitome of mean girls since first grade. Up ahead she spotted four
girls, wearing clothes no one in California would be caught dead in, cowering
from everyone who walked by, except for Whitney. As Whitney approached they
turned and stared. Whitney looked away quickly, unsure how she was a spectacle
in this world where they wore wranglers with chew circles on the butt pockets,
drove huge trucks followed by plumes of dark smoke and apparently, didn’t do
their makeup or hair. She ducked into the nearest bathroom and checked her
reflection. In front of her she marveled at how exactly the same she looked
while feeling so completely different.

Whitney moved silently towards first period, avoiding eye contact at
all costs, and slid in next to the most normal looking girl. She spent most of
the period oblivious to the muttering of the teacher and instead engrossed in
people watching. A very pretty girl with long blonde hair curled to perfection
and carrying herself with a confidence that demanded attention, and three
decently attractive boys, with cute jeans joined the normal looking girl right
before the bell and while still country, they at least looked human.

With class winding down the teacher, who looked exactly like Dru from
Despicable Me, retreated to his desk, and first day chatter filled the room.
Whitney, though, sat alone and awkward, highly aware of the whispers
surrounding her.

Finally one of the cute boys turned her way. “Hey new girl?” he said,
“Where’d you move from?”

Whitney turned around cautiously. “California.”

“Awesome! Do you surf?” he asked. His buddies all smiled.

“No,” Whitney replied.

“Do you know anyone famous?”


“But you’re rich, right? You look rich.”

“Like everyone in California is rich dude,” his friend threw in.

Whitney struggled to understand if they were serious. “Not really.”

The bell rang, and the trio of boys headed for the door. “She’s got to
be rich,” she heard them say on their way.

“Ignore them,” the normal girl said. “We all do.”

Whitney smiled.

“I’m Ivy, and this is Brynley.” The pretty girl smiled and swung aside
her perfect hair.

“I’m Whitney.”

The girls smiled briefly before catching up with the boys in the hall
and leaving Whitney to wander towards where she thought the science classes
were held.


  1. I like it so far. I started to really dislike the parents right away. Hope that's what you were going for.

    Maybe when you introduce the new people in the 2nd chapter you can show Whitney's feelings about them. If these are gonna be her new best friends, I'd like to feel more for them right away.

    I like the imagery of crawling down the road and the population sign. I was in the moment with her.

  2. Loved the conflict between Whitney's parents, however I feel like I wanted stronger action or words from her dad to necessitate the dramatic separation that followed.

    Also loved how you pulled us in to the new location Oregon I got a visual of Millersburg the farmhouse... when we got inside though, I was anticipating Whitney's reaction to the room, and perhaps how it compared to her modern home back in California.

    In Chapter 2 I liked most of it, the dialogue etc. However when Whitney checked herself in the mirror, I found myself wondering what she looked like.

  3. You have great dialogue. It sounds natural, and you use it to great effect setting up bits about characters and story detail. Very well done.

    I felt like the first scene could benefit from another sentence or two as set up. I didn’t immediately know to whom the dad was talking or have any kind of physical space to put him in. I’m not talking about anything extensive—just a single detail perhaps that paints a junior high hallway or parking lot. Additionally, you might consider putting in something earlier than you did to signal Whitney’s reaction to it. Something along the lines of (but obviously better than this) … “Stanford and then the WNBA.” He was so loud people were looking. He always got loud after Whitney won. “That’s her path…”

    When the parents split up, you switch your writing style. You switch from present action to telling. I’m sure that’s conscious. For me, though, it had the effect of sort of glossing over one of the most raw moments of Whitney’s life. I think that paragraph about how each parent billed it could be cut. The only information I think it adds is that Whitney leaves California.

    Lastly, I agree with T.K. that I wanted a little sense of how Whitney dresses/carries herself. She’s a fish out of water. You give us how new the place is, but we don’t get a sense of who Whitney is and why she doesn’t fit (outwardly at least).

    Oh, and as the parent of a Despicable Me lover, I think the character is Gru.

    Really nice work here. I would definitely keep reading.

  4. Hi, Elizabeth!

    I like these pages and really want to know what happens to Whitney in her new home/new school/new life. She’s an interesting, strong character with lots of potential.

    A few things:

    *You might consider fleshing out the first scene, adding more details, drawing out the action/tension more? It went by kind of quickly, and I wanted more details, more information, more atmosphere.

    *Related to the above … I was confused by paragraph 5 (“… he continued to the stranger.”) Who is this stranger and where did he/she come from? Before that, I thought the dad was just talking to Whitney’s mom. And Whitney can obviously see the mom and dad as she’s stepping out of the locker room, since she describes what they’re doing (glancing, etc.), so she would presumably see the stranger as well? If so, you might consider showing Whitney seeing this stranger, her impressions, etc.? Also, later, when she steps out and joins her parents, the “stranger” isn’t there. Where did he/she go?

    *Paragraph 6: Where is the “almost-praise” coming from? Her parents or other people? Maybe make the scene clearer, add more details of who/what/where?

    *The segue from “Whitney’s dad ignored the threat” to the “three weeks later” felt a little abrupt.

    *You might consider adding more dialogue to the end of Chapter 1 and the beginning of Chapter 2 to pull the reader in more closely, make everything feel more immediate? The descriptions are great but they also felt a little far away.

    Excited to see where you are going with this story!

  5. Hi Elizabeth! I'm thrilled to be one of your mentors, w/the Ultra-cool Lisa Maxwell!!
    First, I want to say that I love where you're headed with this story, and I love that Whitney plays basketball!! LOVE IT!
    After reading this over a couple of times, I believe the first thing you should address is your beginning. In YA fiction, in particular, it's best to start as close to the "action" as possible, and weave in the backstory as you go along. Your first chapter is mainly just Whitney's conflict with her dad and her mom standing up for her. But we don't really get much of a sense of it being 'the final straw,' and we don't feel Whitney's reaction to it all that well. If your story is going to be primarily about Whitney meeting the farm boy and trying to figure out how to fit in in a new school, I think beginning the story with her and her mom pulling up to the new house. We need to feel Whitney's conflict about this. Does she feel responsible for the breakup of her parent's marriage? Is she glad to be away from her domineering father? Did he have unreal expectations? If so, when you weave in that part of the story--let us see much more of that. Show us how he would wake her up at 5 am to practice. How he made her miss part of her own birthday party when she was young. But again...that part of her story is in the past. Something big has changed in her life, and we want to know What the main conflict is going to be. You don't have to spell it out, but we need to be RIGHT there with her, feeling her confusion and anger or her relief and lightness.
    Your descriptions are good! I loved this line.. "but today the stabs felt covered in salt."
    You have a great start of a terrific story!!!
    I would just think carefully about what your plan is for your main conflict, and start as close to that as possible!!

  6. Hi Elizabeth!
    Super excited to help you out here (and I can vouch that Janet is every bit as cool and lovely as she appears).

    First off, you do a really wonderful job capturing the cadence of natural dialog. My favorite part about this was where the characters actually talked and interacted with one another--it pushed the scenes right along and really helped us see what was happening.

    I agree with Janet. I think what might be happening is that you're doing or trying to do too much with this opening as is. As Janet says, figuring out what your main conflict is going to be will help you figure all of this out. Right now I see 1) conflict with her father and the hurt his expectations cause, 2) conflict with being ripped away from everything she knows without warning, and 3) hot guy. If you can figure out what we absolutely need to know before we see her walk into school for her first day, that's going to help draw the reader in.

    The other thing that will help this opening is if we get a little more of her reactions. DOES she love basketball? Does she REALLY believe she didn't do her best--or does she not care, because it's her dad's thing? Is she happy that her mom rescued her (at least until she realizes what that rescue entails)? If you want to keep the third person POV, you'll want to sink even deeper into the character's perspective. Sometimes we get her voice filtered in, but at times the prose sounds kind of detached from the perspective/voice of our MC.

    For example "She spent most of the period oblivious to the muttering of the teacher and instead engrossed in people watching."--> the language here seems very formal while "Her friends, her court, her house, her entire being, they were Mountain View, California. Until they weren’t."-->feels more informal/conversational and more typically YA to me. Another solution to this is to give it a shot writing these five pages in first person POV. You'll be able to instantly see where you're "telling" rather than showing us how she feels by doing this, and it might help to make the overall feel of this more intense and urgent.

    Finally, I have a few very small nit-picky things:
    **Missing a word or something here: “She’s going to [be?] our money maker one day. Stanford and then the WNBA. That’s her path. When she’s out there, you can see it in her eyes.”
    **clenched rather than clinched
    ** At the beginning, I thought it was her mom the dad was talking to, but then she thinks he's talking to a stranger--but why does Dad call her honey?
    **desolate place—but it sounds like green farmland? The word desolate has a bareness involved with it. Bleak. Maybe a different word?
    **Maybe break up the paragraphs a bit for emphasis and a sense of urgency/rhythm. When you have long sections that aren't dialog, it might be good to use paragraphs to break up the longer discussions.

    Hope that helps!! Can't wait to see what you do with it!

  7. Lisa made a BRILLIANT suggestion here, Elizabeth! Trying it out in 1st person could definitely give you a better perspective of and connection to Whitney's inner voice!