Sunday, January 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Evenson Rev 1

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

Rachel Reichert has the persuasive powers of a future cult leader.

I realize this about five minutes after she’s successfully lured me to the dumpster behind the Arby’s and convinced me to break up with her boyfriend for her.

Well, technically we’re still arguing, but we both know I’ll end up doing it. I’m not exactly what most people would call ‘a strong personality.’

“Um, what?” I say, shaking my head emphatically. “I’m sorry, but you’re insane. You can’t move away without telling him.”

Rachel rolls her eyes skywards and takes a hit off the joint we’re sharing.

When she invited me out here to smoke with her, I mistakenly thought she was being nice. I thought we were celebrating the first day of spring break. Now, of course, I see the joint for what it really is: a bribe.

And okay, it’s a decent bribe. But that still doesn’t mean that I want to be the guy who tells my best friend that his girlfriend moved away in secret. I’d like to point out that this isn’t even a thing. Nobody moves away in secret.

Except Rachel, apparently.

Her opening line was, “I have to tell you something,” which in hindsight should have been a warning. Nobody’s ever like, ‘I have to tell you something-- I bought you a milkshake,’ or ‘I have to tell you something-- I just saw a really cute video of baby otters playing in a bathtub.’ It’s always something terrible.

“Actually, I can move away without telling him,” she says. “And I didn’t have to tell you, either. I just thought you should know, because--”

She breaks off, because finishing that sentence is pointless. I feel like she just took a jigsaw puzzle that I painstakingly assembled and kicked its pieces all over the room.

Not that I have anywhere near the amount the patience required to do a jigsaw puzzle, but you know. If I did.

Point being, I’m going to be the person picking up the pieces and making sure Parker doesn’t do anything crazy. Which is pretty much par for the course, seeing as how most people have this inexplicable tendency to treat me like I’m Parker’s dad, or his babysitter.

When he got caught making those fake IDs at Kinkos, the Kinkos guy cornered me in the back of the store. “Fake IDs are a felony,” he hissed, brandishing a staple gun in a very threatening way. “You better tell your idiot friend, because I know he’s not listening to a word I say.”

Not that I actually have much sway over Parker.

But there are a surprising number of optimists in the world.

“So basically,” I say, “you’re asking me to tell him that you up and left in secret. Which is almost the same thing as asking me to break up with him for you.”

She frowns. “Don’t be so melodramatic, Jonah. I’m not asking you to break up with him. Tell him whatever you want. Tell him I was abducted by aliens. Tell him I died. I seriously don’t care.”

Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes. She says it like she’s giving me some awesome array of choices here. Like I might actually tell him that she died. But the truth is obvious: by telling me, she’s forcing me to tell him. The amount I know about relationships could fill a Dixie cup, but I do know that there’s no way Parker will accept Rachel disappearing without an explanation.

I switch tactics. “You know he’s going to lose his mind,” I say, which is definitely a massive understatement. Six months ago he pushed me off a roof because I told him that he laughs like a donkey. “He’s, like, really into you.”

Rachel snorts. “Trust me,” she says, “he really isn’t.”

I guess it’s possible we’re employing different definitions of “really into,” with my definition being a tad more literal than Rachel’s. I couldn’t really say whether Parker, like, cares deeply about her or not, but I can say that the two of them have been hooking up relentlessly for the better part of two years. 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 at least a dozen times in the last three months alone.

It’s hard to say whose nudity grosses me out more-- Rachel’s, because she’s a girl, or Parker’s, because he’s my best friend and I’m hardcore not into him like that.

It’s a testament to my incredible willpower that I haven’t stabbed my own eyes out yet.

Rachel takes another hit off the joint and then exhales smoke, which mingles with the smell of old fryer grease and rancid meat. She passes me the joint. “It’s just not working out,” she says.

I’ve always known this moment would arrive, so it’s not a huge shock. Rachel is pretty and smart and popular, and Parker is a rude borderline-nymphomaniac with the emotional maturity of a gerbil. Their relationship has long been one of the great unsolved mysteries of Clintonville.

Fortunately, I am one of the least curious people alive. I have no interest in mysteries.“Don’t put me in a crappier position than you’re already putting me in, okay? I don’t want details about your breakup.”

She scowls. “Trust me, Jonah. You’re nowhere near number one on my list of people to talk to about my problems.”

I realize normal people would probably take this as an insult, but I’m actually pretty relieved.

I must look it, too, because Rachel makes a face and puts the joint out. “Well, it seems like we’re done here,” she says, grabbing her backpack off the ground.

And now I officially feel like crap.

Rachel and I have always been friendly, but not quite friends. There’s a thin veil of awkwardness coating all of our interactions, which I blame on the number of times I’ve seen her naked.

But I don’t want this conversation to be the last conversation we ever have.


“You know,” she says, turning around, “you could make other friends, Jonah.”

This is also the kind of thing that would sound offensive to some people, but it’s also the kind of thing you get used to hearing when everyone thinks your best friend is a total douchebag.

And it’s not nearly as simple as she makes it sound.


  1. Your voice is incredible. It's honed and strong and vivid. And, again, an awesome hook of a first line. I liked the last version, but I love this one. It accomplishes so much for you! Great revision!
    Suggestions. Look at adverbs to see which must stay and which can go. Cut the ones that can go.
    It gets a little strange when Rachel and Jonah begin to bicker about how he should tell Parker about the breakup. Something about Jonah's meekness clashes with the sharpness of his inner monologue. This discrepancy gets stronger at the end of your piece. I just can't put together the Jonah who is narrating with the Jonah who is talking and acting. What gives? Not sure. Perhaps make Rachel more pushy, so not even the reader can imagine how to put her in her place? Right now the only evidence of her powers of persuasion is your opening line. "Show, don't tell" they say :)
    Still, what a voice!!!!

  2. Oh wow, what a change from the first one. In a way, because I’ve read your old opening, I’m missing the humor from that one, but I can see how this version grounds us more in the conflict and character than the other one did. So, overall, this is a stronger opening! You’ve still maintained much of the humor and that’s fantastic. I also think I’ve got a better idea of Rachel which is great (unless this is the only scene with her as she’s leaving? Then it might be best to open with him telling Parker that she’s gone? If I’m wrong ignore this completely!!) I’m instantly intrigued as to why Rachel wants Jonah to make other friends. If she’s dating Parker, why does she think this? I do want to know what’s happening next, and would definitely read on.

    I had a few questions while reading. For me, if the answers to these were hinted at, it would be a stronger opening. What is the main conflict that’s affecting Jonah? He’s got Rachel leaving, and the prospect of telling his friend about that, but what is the conflict that’s going to blow Jonah’s world apart? Also, why does Rachel really not care what Jonah tells Parker? Because all the focus is on Rachel in this opening, I’m questioning why she isn’t the protagonist? And why this isn’t her story? Why am I seeing it from a point of view that isn’t Rachel or Parkers? If this is Jonah’s story, then make him the center of attention. Get his conflict in there. Not Rachel’s.

    Now that I’ve had a better think about it, I probably liked the old opening better. If this was chapter two, or the second part of chapter one (which is does follow on from) I would be quite happy that all my initial questions were being answered. You’ve got two versions of openings, I think I preferred the old one with this following it up…but then again, I see how this addresses some issues quicker….is there a way to merge the two? Or start with the old opening and him trying to digest what Rachel has just said to him? Sorry, I know I’m meant to say clearly which one is stronger but for this I’m really not sure. Maybe if the question I mentioned in my second paragraph were answered in this version I would like this version more. I think clarity is the answer here. Whatever opening gets the MC’s conflict in, go with that.

  3. Hey Emma,

    Good job on your revisions. I like that you skipped all of the intro and we dive right into the real reason Rachel wants to talk to him.

    Having to tell his best friend that his girlfriend wants to break up sucks. But it doesn’t really affect Jonah beyond that conversation, as far as we know. If it ruins their spring break plans, maybe add that back in. Or if the last time Parker got broken up with he went into a deep depression or became destructive, we need to know that. Basically, we need to know why we should care that two characters that aren’t the MC are breaking up.

    I also think it would be nice to have more insight into why Jonsh is not a strong personality. An anecdote or something.

    Good luck!

  4. Hi Emma,
    I can see you really took the suggestions given during the last round to heart! I still adore the heck out of this voice, but now that you’ve introduced some new information, I have more questions. I am still unclear on the stakes/conflict and in the previous opening, I thought it would have something to do with Rachel, but now, based on the last few sentences, I wonder if it has something to do with Jonah confronting Parker on being a terrible friend. Or, maybe it’s neither of those things. If the conflict is Parker-centered, I might suggest starting the novel with Jonah telling Parker that Rachel has moved and Parker getting upset, so we can see the dynamics of their relationship. I suspect that this bit with Rachel is more of an illustrative anecdote, as opposed to significant event in the course of the novel, but I’d need to read what comes next to make that determination. I’m super curious about this story and I feel bad for Jonah immediately, which makes me wonder if this is the right place to begin.

    Happy to answer questions if you have any!

  5. Hi Emma,

    I really liked your re-write. I feel like we got more of Jonah’s voice, more about his relationship with Parker, and more from Rachel. I think we got even more humor in this piece too.

    I was confused why they were behind Arby’s. Is it close to the school? Does Jonah work there? Is there a reason it can’t be the dumpsters at the high school?

    I’d like to know more about what your story will be about. Jonah mentions Rachel messing up his plans, but I don’t really understand how she does or even what his plans were.

    I liked that in the first we got some mention about spring break. Here you say Parker will lose his mind, but I don’t really know what that means beyond getting mad in the moment when Jonah delivers the news. This version also made me wonder if Rachel would be important to the story later. If she’s not, I agree with other comments that you could focus more on Parker. If she is, maybe hint at how she will be.

    Even so, I’m ready to keep reading just to hear more from Jonah!

  6. Hi Emma,

    Thank you for sharing your revision with us!

    I LOVE the voice in this. It's easy, it has great rhythm and's flawless.

    I know you can sense a "but" coming, and here it is: I am still not sure what this story is about. If the central plot is: "I need to break up with my best friend on behalf of his girlfriend," I don't know that it's a plot I actually want to read...unless there is some kind of conflict that is personal to Jonah.

    And Jonah is such a delight! He really deserves to be centered in his story.

    Think about how Looking For Alaska opens. There's action, but it's centered on the main character, on his quest for answers about the innerworkings of the universe and relationships. We know what he yearns for. We feel the stakes--his whole life is at stake!--because what he shares is so personal, even if in the context of a girl.

    The trouble we have here is that Nate is periphery to this plot, or at least this scene conflict. We could switch Nate out for any other character and the scene would still work. That means that the conflict is not specific to him yet.

    Here's an example: In WINGER, the opening scene shows Ryan Dean at his boarding school with his head being shoved into a toilet by bullies. In this moment, Ryan Dean is funny and heartfelt, questioning who he is and what he really wants at this school, whether he wants to be on the rugby team with these jerks or not, and whether he will ever land the girl of his dreams. Those are his personal goals, and the success of his teenage life is at stake.

    What are Jonah's goals, outside of this scene-level conflict?

    Is he known as a match-maker, so is that why breaking up for someone matters? Is he in love with Rachel, so this sucks personally for him because he feels huge guilt? Is he in love with his best friend, and so secretly THRILLED to break up for the girlfriend? We need to know what Jonah's goals are and WHY he is part of this story (other than the girl randomly choosing him for this mission).

    I encourage you to look at what your blurb/query would be for this story. The opening line should read something like, "When 16yo Jonah does XXX...he must YYY or lose ZZZ." This setup should come across in the opening scene. We should have a notion of where the story is going, and what goal Jonah is trying to reach.

    My best,
    First Five Mentor

    1. Sorry, where it says Nate it should say Jonah! I have no idea how that happened. :)