Sunday, February 12, 2017

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Turley Rev 1

Name: Beth Turley
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary


I measure how happy a day is with sounds. Happy days sound like a TV on low volume or bird calls through a screen door. Sad days sound like dishes crashing around in the sink. Sad days sound like too-loud voices. Once a day is stained sad, it’s hard to make it happy again.

I sit with Olivia and Ryan at our blue table in the cafeteria. 

“Chew with your mouth closed, Ryan,” Olivia says.

“Are you my mother?” he asks though a mouthful of sloppy joe.

“That’s a book, not a question.” She sucks on her organic juice box. Olivia is smaller and cuter than I am. She has sun colored hair and pink glasses. I feel lucky that we’re friends even though I’m the only sixth-grade girl sprouting zits. Mom says I got them from her.

The three of us jump when the doors of the cafeteria slam shut.

“Have a happy day, Brookview Elementary,” the loudspeaker says.

The lunch monitors run around the tables, herding us into groups. I sink to the ground with my back against the cafeteria wall and watch the lights go dark. The lunch ladies seal themselves up in the kitchen. Ryan breathes shaky breaths next to me, so I reach out and hold his hand. It feels funny but safe.

“What’s happening?” he asks.

“It might be a lock down drill.” I swallow down being scared to sound strong instead. 

“They always tell us when we’re having one.”

“I know.”

“Are we going to die?” Olivia whispers. 

“I don’t know.”

Footsteps echo in the hallway. The cafeteria doors rattle and Olivia hides her face behind my arm. I breathe in deep. The smell of sloppy joe and bleach makes my stomach twist up. 

Drills are useless. Everything is different when the enemies aren’t imaginary. My heart was not properly prepared to beat so wildly.

I wait for the eleven years of my life to flash by, but instead I am thinking about Are You My Mother. A baby bird is sent tumbling from its nest and into a desperate search for someone to love him. I wonder why mama bird is who the baby bird belonged to, just because she was the same species. Maybe the dog or the bulldozer would have loved him just as much.

Undecipherable voices leak through the wall. I close my eyes and wait for whatever is out in the hallways to find us.

“All clear,” the loudspeaker says.

Like a miracle, the lights are turned back on.

“Stay seated, everyone,” Bubby, the head lunch monitor, shouts to the cafeteria.

Olivia peaks out from behind my arm. Ryan lets go of my hand like he was never scared at all. Relief rushes all the way into my toes. 

“This was a lock down drill. We were practicing how to respond if there is ever a threat in the school. If you hear those words ‘have a happy day, Brookview Elementary’ and find yourself alone, get to the closest place to hide out of sight. Now finish your lunch,” Bubby tells us.

The lock down code words are added to my brain dictionary. I would like to tell the principal that “have a happy day” is not an appropriate code for a lock down, because lock downs are full of sad day sounds. 

Olivia, Ryan, and I don’t mention the lock down again during lunch. We turn ourselves from puddles of fear back into sixth-graders, into the oldest students at Brookview Elementary. Liquid to solid. Phase transition.

It is easier not to talk about things.


I walk down my street after school. It is October and the air smells like chimney smoke. Daddy’s truck is in the driveway and my insides turn to quicksand. He is not usually home until dark.

The truck makes me think about third grade. I’ve learned a lot since then. I know not to say crazy things that will get me sent back to Ms. Bishop. She made me talk and it made Daddy mad. She told them what I said about the fighting. After that, Daddy promised that he would never leave but that wasn’t really the problem.

 I don’t want him to leave. But I’m afraid of what happens when he stays.

I open the front door and see Daddy on the couch. His hands are covered in white paint and balled up in his lap. The TV is on loud. A knife slaps the cutting board too hard in the kitchen. 

 “Hi, Daddy,” I say. I stay close to the door, where I can escape to the front yard if the yelling starts.

“How was your day?” he asks. He doesn’t look away from the TV.

“Good. Why are you home?” I ask.

My question carves lines into Daddy’s forehead. I try to reverse time and take the words back. Sometimes I think I have dormant magic inside me. One day my powers will wake up and make everything better.

“Sometimes, Hannah, when you build houses for people, they change their minds. And you lose hundreds of dollars and weeks of your time.”

I know those words. They turn Daddy into a monster. I must fight back with words that will make him soft again.

“We had a lock down today,” I say. The lines in his face fill back up. His eyes focus on me like spotlights on a stage. Mom comes into the room with a towel in her hands. She has a brown ballerina bun on top of her head, her cooking hairstyle.

“What did you say, Hannah? You had a lock down?” she asks.

“It was a drill, but we didn’t know at first. I was scared,” I say.

Daddy turns the TV down and makes room for me on the couch. 

“Don’t be scared, hon. No threat is going to hurt my girl,” Daddy says, and kisses the top of my head. 

Threat. The same word Bubby used in the cafeteria. I have the basic definition in my brain dictionary. I start to add more.

Threats are when the hurt is right in front of you but doesn’t touch you. Threats make you forget about everything except being whole and safe and happy again.

I think Daddy loves me more than he wants to be mad. He doesn’t yell all night, even when I spill his can of Coke during dinner. Maybe he is still picturing me in lock down, surrounded by threats. I wish he would always be this way. I’d do anything to make the sad sounds go quiet forever. 


The next day, my class is copying vocabulary. Analysis: detailed examination of the elements or structure of something. Falsification: to present an untruth. Intention: an aim or plan.

The tip of my pencil breaks. I walk to the back of the room and shove my pencil into the sharpener. The grinding sound is a happy one. It means a new point for the pencil, a shiny do-over.

On the way back to my desk, I look down. There is a small white piece of paper crunched into a ball on the floor. I pick it up and stretch it out. Three words are written on the torn-off corner of a sheet of notebook paper:



  1. To my mentors and fellow workshop participants,

    I wanted to use this comment to say thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback on my previous submission. I can't begin to tell you how valuable your insight was. With your help, I aimed to eliminate the unnecessary, highlight what you pointed out to be most important, and get to a more critical moment in the story within these five pages. Thank you so much! I look forward to continuing with this process and reading the awesome revisions!


  2. Hi Beth!

    You've done an awesome job on your revision, and I'm blown away by how the changes you've made have lifted your story! I'm deeply on Hannah's side, and am rooting for her from the beginning. I think you've done a great job getting the reader to care about what happens to her.

    I like how you have used the sound idea more throughout the first 5. It's a unique concept. One minor (subjective) comment. When she's at home, I was looking for a definite sad sound. When I read this line:
    "A knife slaps the cutting board too hard in the kitchen." 
    My brain literally said "A sad sound." Didn't know if there is a way to attach it there, or if it would be too much, but I wanted to give you an idea of what I thought as a reader.

    "“This was a lock down drill. We were practicing how to respond if there is ever a threat in the school. If you hear those words ‘have a happy day, Brookview Elementary’ and find yourself alone, get to the closest place to hide out of sight. Now finish your lunch,” Bubby tells us."

    This paragraph was a little bulky for me. I don't know if you can chop it up just a touch to make it flow better, but again, this is very subjective and I'm not as well read in the MG category.

    I LOVE the tension at the end. I wanted to keep going. I feel like ending with this tension was a great idea. I can't wait to read your pitch. You've really amazed me!

    A L

  3. Hi Beth!!

    I think this is a lot stronger than your original, which is awesome! The ending, especially, had me way more hooked than before. :)

    The transition between your opening and the initial scene in the cafeteria seemed really abrupt to me, and not super engaging. It sort of reads like the beginning of a script instead of a book, if that makes sense? Also, Hannah knowing what a lockdown drill is right off the bat makes a lot more sense to me, but then I was a bit confused as to why it got explained to everyone/why they were changing the protocol now. (I'm thinking that might be part of the plot now that I've seen a bit more of it, so if I'm off-base just ignore me!)

    This isn't the direction I was expecting this story to take, so I'm excited to read your pitch next week!! Hopefully this was helpful :)

  4. Hi Beth!

    What wonderful work you've done! You've separated the scenes well, and they flow really well from one to the next now. You've upped the tension beautifully. That ending: WOW! You really left me wanting more pages!

    Here is something to think about though: Where do you want us to focus our concern? First, there was the scary lockdown. It turned out to be a drill. Whew! Then there was dad, which was set up that he could be dangerous. Then he was having a good day. Finally, we have a threatening note. You've set a pattern of threat of danger, then release of alarm, then another danger.

    I think you could mix that up a bit with dad. The lines with the spilled Coke were telling, not packing emotion that showing would. I'm not sure you need that. Showing (even telling does this) her spilling the Coke, worrying, and then nothing coming of it adds to the pattern. You don't want the reader to get complacent, thinking, "Hannah worries a lot, but it turns out to be nothing." That minimizes your tension, and you don't want that.

    This comment is just for you to think about. Be intentional on when you up the tension, up the fear, and how often it turns out to be false panic. Hannah has a lot to worry about, a lot going on. Amplify (show) and slow down the pace in the areas where the reader should focus and really pay attention, and tone down (tell) the areas that aren't as important. Without reading the whole manuscript, it's impossible for me to know where those areas are, but you know.

    Also, know that it's OK to let the reader have a quiet scene to take a breath after an intense scene. We always talk about upping tension and keeping the stakes high, which are important, but easing up and breathing before the next intense scene is necessary too.

    You've done wonderful work. Your story and your characters are multi-dimensional and interesting. I can't wait to read your pitch next week. Onward!

  5. Hi Beth,

    I'm with the others. This revision is awesome! And I read the last line and about screamed because there are no more pages for me to read, lol.

    You've gotten some good suggestions, so I'll just reiterate that dropping "he said" "she said" dialogue tags and adding action beats instead will give you even more words to work with and help show us more about the characters.

    Voice wise, this revision is improved as well, but I still feel like it could be aged up just a touch more to get that magic spot. MG is by far the hardest voice to nail, and I'm still reading widely in than genre because I know I couldn't do it justice yet either. You are so close though and I'm sure you're gonna make this sparkle by the next week.

    So excited to read the next version and your pitch. Best of luck!


  6. I think this has come a long way. I liked it to begin with, but I think this is much tighter and more focused. For some reason, when I read "Daddy," I think of really little children. It throws me off a little. Hannah seems smart and mature for her age, with her word choices, but when I hear Daddy, it seems out of place. Could just be me though.

    You've done a good job upping the tension. I really like the misdirect of Have a Nice Day. When we first read it, we're not quite sure what is happening, so when we learn what it really means it's quite impactful.

    Great job overall. I'm really interested in hearing your pitch.