Saturday, January 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Evenson

Name: Emma Evenson 
Genre: Young adult contemporary 
Title: Tourist Attractions of the Upper Midwest 

Friday, March 16th, 2012 

According to the Mayan calendar, the world will end a few months from now, which is pretty much fine by me. 

I’d be fine with it ending right this second. 

I clear my throat and stare out at the rest of my public speaking class. 

I’m not sure what the point of public speaking is. No adult I know has a job that involves public speaking, unless you count teachers or that one manager at Arby’s who really gets off on using the intercom to remind us that the refills aren’t free. And somehow I think that even without specialized training I could cope with yelling at my sister and her friends over an intercom. 

Parker, in his perennially unhelpful way, told me to “picture them in their underwear.” But the first person I make eye contact with— which is to say, the first person who isn’t actively texting, coloring in their nails with a Sharpie, or sleeping— is Rachel Reichert. Rachel might literally be the last person in the world I want to picture naked, because in addition to being a girl, it’s really easy for me to picture her naked. 

It’s not entirely her fault. 

When your best friend is basically a nymphomaniac, seeing his girlfriend naked is kind of an occupational hazard. It’s made even worse by the fact that Parker seems to view any empty room as a personal challenge, like the universe is daring him to have sex in as many places as he possibly can. I’ve walked in on them four times in the year they’ve been dating. 

Every one of those times happened in one of the vacant summer cabins out by French Lake. The whole reason I started breaking into those stupid cabins with Parker was so I could get away from my mother and her revolving door of nightmare boyfriends, and then Parker had to go and turn them into his personal collection of sex lairs. Now it seems like I can’t walk into a single cabin without finding a used condom on the floor. 

Despite my best efforts, an image of Rachel in a hot-pink bra flashes through my mind. I gag internally. Some asshole coughs in an exaggerated way, like 'when is this going to start.'

Picturing people naked is a slippery fucking slope. 

I glance down at my notes. I can barely read my own handwriting. 

“Cloning is a good idea…” 

In my first version of this so-called “persuasive speech,” I ended that sentence with “because it would be incredibly cool to have a clone,” but then I rehearsed it for my sister and Evie looked at me like I was the dumbest person who ever lived. She crossed it out and wrote, “because of the new frontiers it opens up in science.” 

Admittedly, that sounded way better. 

Parker, on the other hand, thought my topic was dumb as shit. “You’re a twin,” he’d pointed out. “You’re basically a clone. Who cares?” 

There were so many things wrong with that that I could barely come up with a place to start, although the fact that Evie is a girl seemed like a pretty obvious one. 

Our teacher gave us this impassioned little speech about how the persuasive speech unit is our opportunity to ‘show the class what we really care about,’ like the idea of showing a bunch of half-asleep people that I mostly hate what I ‘really care about’ is appealing in any way. So instead I went out of my way to choose the topic I cared about the least, which was cloning. 

I stumble through the first few notecards, which are mostly about that one sheep that everyone likes so much. I know that I’m reading so fast people can probably barely understand what I’m saying, but I want it to be over. 

The only person who’s really paying attention is Rachel, and when I meet her eyes she flashes me an exaggerated grin and waggles her hands in a double thumbs-up. 

She’s doing an impression of my mother’s boyfriend, which unfortunately causes me to break into laughter in the middle of a sentence about how cloned animals die when they’re really young. And it’s not just one of those normal snort-laughs that you can recover from easily-- it’s like this totally maniacal, full-blown laugh that makes me seem like a psychopath that tortures animals for fun. 

My teacher frowns and taps her watch. 

Rachel’s face contorts with silent laughter. 

I probably should be annoyed, but I’m not. It’s nice of her to pay attention, especially since Rachel’s speech was really freaking cool. She talked about online surveillance and she started by sharing screenshots of embarrassing things people in our class had posted to their social media profiles in middle school. Granted, she only got about a minute into her speech before the teacher made her stop, but it made an impression. 

Evie deleted her Instagram the next day. 


“Time,” my teacher calls, clapping her hands and standing up just as the bell rings. Everyone in the class leaps out of their seats like they’ve been sitting in electric chairs. 

All the tension melts out of my shoulders. My speech is over. It’s now officially spring break. I guess I can handle waiting a few more months for the world to end. 

Rachel corners me in the hallway. “Sorry,” she says, her expression stuck in some no-man’s-land halfway between embarrassment and amusement, “I didn’t actually mean to make you lose it in the middle of your speech.” 

“No big deal. Now everyone will think that I find animal death funny. Which should definitely help my reputation.” 

Rachel smirks. “You don’t have that bad of a reputation,” she says, which would sound charitable coming from almost anyone else. But Rachel is dating my best friend, so her bar is pretty low. 

Underground, more like. 

“Thanks,” I deadpan. 

Rachel coughs and fiddles with the ends of her hair. “So, uh, I’m moving,” she says. 

And I know it’s horrible, but the first thing I feel when she says that is a wave of jealousy. 

Not concern about whether she wants to move, or how this is going to impact Parker. Or how it will impact Evie, who is Rachel’s best friend. 

I just wish that I was the one leaving Clintonville. 

“That sucks,” I say, shifting my backpack onto my other shoulder. “When?” 

She glances down the hallway, like she’s watching for someone. “Today. Like, now. And, uh, I haven’t really mentioned this to Parker.” 

I blink. “You what?” 

And just like that, my spring break is shot to hell.


  1. Hi Emma! This looks great so far. You have really authentic dialogue and some snappy one liners.

    I am confused about a few points though. The first is about the MC gagging when visualizing Rachel in her bra. It seems like they're friendly, so it's strange to me that his? reaction is gagging. Maybe embarrassment or feeling awkward, but gagging makes it sound like he hates Rachel or that she's disgusting.

    I think you can expand a little more, just a sentence or so, on the twin sister deleting her instagram account. I was surprised to read near the end that she's best friends with Rachel. The line about her deleting her account after Rachel's presentation made me assume that Rachel had majorly embarrassed her somehow. If that's the case, maybe a quick explanation is in order.

    I like the feel of your last sentence, but I don't quite get it. If Rachel is just his best friend's girlfriend, why does her moving affect him so much? Will his spring break be ruined because his best friend is going to be moping around or is it because the three of them had exciting plans?

    Hope all of that helps!

  2. Hi Emma,
    First, great opening line!
    I chuckled at your "No adult I know has a job that involves public speaking, "--I am one of those adults, hahaha.
    Second, great characterization. You really give me a taste of your MC, his friend, the friend's girlfriend, the MC's twin--short and to the point. Great job.

    Some suggestions. First, the opening line is great, but it just hangs there, unsupported by anything else in the story, and begins to seem like a gimmick by the time you touch upon it with the second mention of the end of the world. Maybe you talk about the Mayan calendar later in the book--I don't know. And maybe it's fine as a gimmick. I was just expecting something about Mayans, or superstitions or the end of the world :)

    Another suggestion is about the length of time you spend on the MC's self-criticism. It's fine in good measure, but too much begins to lose me. I think cutting a sentence or two would do wonders for flow.

    Finally, adverbs. I get that this is the MC's speech, which is allowed all kinds of mannerisms, but as it is your main narrative tool, I say prune those "actually," "Basically," "literally" and such to an absolute minimum-- and maximum impact.
    I enjoyed it.

  3. Hi Emma,

    Thanks for sharing your writing with us.

    The opening line is effective in hooking the reader. I’m instantly getting a sense of the type of personality this protagonist has. This is such a funny piece and I want to keep reading! Your characterisation is great, too, really realistic portrayal of teenagers.

    I don’t have a lot of feedback but there were a few of things that made me stop and re-read to make sure I was understanding the text.

    - I thought, at first, that the protagonist was a girl. The line, ‘in addition to being a girl’, seemed to confirm this, as a girl could easily imagine another girl naked. And then the next paragraph says that this is the protagonist’s best friend’s girlfriend, well, a girl can have a boy as a best friend so it didn’t confirm that this was a boy’s thoughts. It would have been helpful for me to have a more concrete ‘this is a boy’ closer to the start. It made me stop and re-read which is a shame because, again, your story is so funny and engaging that I didn’t want to pause and double-check.
    - the relationship/feelings/thoughts the protagonist has about Rachel. It’s not clear. I don’t know if he’s jealous, if she likes her, hates her. If he doesn’t like/hate her then you’re missing a good opportunity for some conflict. Even if there is no drama between them, could it be made clearer that the protagonist either likes her as a friend or not. Right now, the reader can’t tell.
    - Lastly, where’s Parker in all this? He seems to be the plot (how will he deal with his girlfriend leaving etc) but he’s nowhere to be seen. Shouldn’t he be here in class with them?

  4. Hi Emma,

    Here’s what I thought it was about:

    The MC is a high school boy (I thought guy from the twin comment). MC likes Rachel and feels bad because she is the MC’s best friend’s girl friend. When the MC finds out Rachel is moving, he’s mad because now it’s his responsibility to tell Parker the bad news.

    I’m not sure what this will be about, but my guess based on the title and first pages is MC and Parker will take a road trip over spring break, visiting Rachel (or at least with the plan to) and possibly bringing Evie along. If you want to give more info, maybe cut back on some of the speech so we can hear more of the MC’s thoughts after Rachel tells him she’s moving.


    I really liked the voice! You do a great job showing the MC’s uncomfortableness during the speech and awkwardness over his feelings for Rachel. And I think it was funny without being snarky.

    I think you could skip mention of Evie until later to avoid having so many characters at once and focus on MC, Parker, and Rachel for now. By MC’s interaction with Rachel at the end, I got some sense of who she is, but I don’t really get what Parker is like yet. That could also give you more time to tell us what the MC wants (we know something about spring break but we don’t know what his plans/hopes are yet) and more detail on why Rachel leaving means that won’t happen.

    I enjoyed reading!

  5. Hi Emma,

    Thank you for sharing your words with me! I think your strength is voice—the snappy inner monologue was delightful. I could read this main character’s thoughts all day.

    My issue with this opening is there’s no sense of stakes or conflict. You hint at it at the very end when Rachel indicates she’s moving and she hasn’t told her boyfriend, but with the information we’ve been given leading up to that, it’s secondary and doesn’t—that we know yet—affect the main character directly. You haven’t let us know what problem he has to solve.

    I felt there was a lot of real estate spent describing Parker and Rachel’s relationship in the very beginning that could’ve been used to get the reader to the conflict more quickly. I might suggest cutting the whole speech bit and interjecting something about his relationship with Parker when Rachel says she’s moving.

    My guess is the conflict is probably on the next page we haven’t gotten to read yet ☺ Looking forward to reading the revision! Let me know if you have questions or comments.


  6. Hi Emma,

    Thank you for sharing your work with us!

    I really enjoyed reading this selection. The voice is charming and self-deprecating and the scene is easy to step into. You've made your world easy to understand and your character approachable, which is great. I even love the way you framed the opening scene with the theme about the world ending--that writing is well done and fun to read!

    I would say that my main feedback, overall, has to do with the story. It's a little bit missing, I'm afraid. In YA, readers want to know what's going on very soon, ideally on the first page if not the first line. What this means is that you need to weave in the central story question to this scene, or you need to choose another scene to show us first. Either way, the reader needs to know:

    - the main character's name
    - what he wants
    - what problem he's facing in getting what he wants

    And right now, while I find the POV utterly charming, I don't know what this story is about. My advice would be to start on a fresh page once you've answered these questions for yourself:

    - what does the main character want?
    - what is the conflict in getting it?
    - what is the lie he believes that keeps him from getting it?
    - what is the wound he's suffering from, that he must overcome in order to get what he wants?

    Your writing is easy and fun, and I have all the confidence that you can show us what this story is about and hook us right away!

    My best,
    Melanie Conklin
    First Five mentor