Sunday, January 14, 2018

1st 5 Pages January Workshop- Wenger Rev 1

Name: Haleigh Wenger
Genre: Young Adult contemporary romance
Title: Words in the Sand

“I can’t believe Opa won’t be home with us,” I say. The funeral’s been over for almost an hour, but I still can’t stop my hands from shaking when I think about it.

No one says anything, but Mom and Dad both pull me into a sandwich style hug as we reach the front steps of the beach house. Mom runs her french manicured nails down my back, and I shiver and pull closer. My sister, Livvy, pockets her phone for a millisecond and reaches over to squeeze my hand.

“It sucks,” she says. You know it’s bad if Livvy is offering support.

Dad turns to Mom, Livvy, and me before turning the key in the lock and pushing the coral-colored door open. He extends his arms out in front like we’ve won a prize. Home is not exactly accurate, even though it feels right to say. Every summer, as soon as school lets out, we pack up to spend our entire summer at my family’s beach house in Florida. This year we drove separate cars and stopped for the funeral first. Me and Livvy in my car for fifteen hours of silent passive aggression from her, and uneasy nerves about the funeral from me. But the long drive was worth it because I’ll have my freedom the next three months whenever I need space.

Newsflash: I already need space.

Livvy exhales so loudly I almost mistake it for a gust of wind. “Seriously Dad, this is getting old. I don’t have time to stand here bonding with you guys. I’ve got a summer vacation to get to.”

Dad pockets his crinkly smile to raise his eyebrows at her. “This is the beginning of our family summer, Liv. Let’s enjoy the time together.”

Livvy plants one hand on her hip and sucks in her cheeks while Dad ceremoniously fusses over invisible smudges on the seashell-plated light switches. She glances at me to gauge my annoyance level, but I'm too busy taking it all in to help make fun of Dad. The first day back to the beach house is like the first day back to breathing after a long nine months away in land-locked Kentucky. Livvy pushes past the rest of us standing in the doorway and sneaks down the hall. Into the last bedroom on the right, the one she claimed five summers ago once we were old enough to realize it was the biggest and most private. I swear I’m still missing hair in the spot she pulled a chunk out of that June, too. Apparently, it was a rough year.

“Do you think he left us anything?” My voice is higher than I want it to be. Instead of an offhand question, I sound a little crazed. I feel it too--sweaty, wide-eyed, and wild. It’s not a good look for me.
Mom and Dad glance at each other before looking back at me. “Sorry, Claire,” Dad says. “All of his belongings have already been moved to a storage shed until we have a chance to go through them. And his will has been taken care of already, too.”

I nod like I understand. But I don’t, not really. Opa and I have always been close, so it’s hard to believe he would leave me with nothing just when he knew I need him the most. I know he didn’t die on purpose, but jeez.

“Well, whatever. It’s fine,” I say.

My parents eye each other once more before they drag their suitcases to the master bedroom. The first room past the entry and the most beach themed, with its aqua paint and starfish applique pressed just above the door knob. As soon as they close the door behind them, Mom’s not-so-subtle whispering starts.

“What are we going to do about this, Aaron? We can’t have Livvy sneaking around with boys all summer like she did last year.”

Dad mumbles something I can’t make out.

“I’m not worried about her. Claire will be fine. She just misses my dad. And he was supposed to take her on their big art tour this year…”

More faint responses from Dad, then a door closes and the sound of water from the shower whirs through the pipes in the ceiling above me.

I thought Opa dying would make Mom sad, quieter maybe, but it’s just made her angry. I stop in front of the floor-length mirror opposite the entryway and avoid the reflection it holds while I try to tune her out. I reach up to let my fingertips graze the row of pictures taped to its sides. My favorite is a small and blurry picture of me at the beach with my Opa from last summer. Mom and Dad’s arms thrown around each other in front of an impossibly perfect orange and pink sunset. Not pictured is the bonfire, Mom’s turkey dogs we had been conspiring to bury, and the marshmallows we planned to gorge on instead. I am hovering over Opa’s shoulders, stretching my arms around his neck from behind, while he sits in a collapsible beach chair. It was taken right after his first heart attack, when even doing little things like standing were too much for him. He planted his chair in the sand and sat there all summer long, cheering everyone else on as we threw frisbees, built fires, and went on walks.

“This has been my favorite summer,” he told me, right at the end, the same week we were packing to head home. I suspected then that his words would mean something, that I should remember them. I still didn’t see it coming when it did though.

Instead of making me cry again, the picture makes me feel a tiny bit better. I can imagine him here, taking a nap in front of the TV while he waits for us to unpack and settle in. I use my fingernail to loosen the tape on the picture and slip it into the back pocket of my shorts. I have a feeling I'm going to need a reminder of Opa close to me this summer.

I sense her behind me even though I missed the sound of her bedroom door closing. “I can’t do this summer without him, Mom. I seriously can’t.” My voice cracks as I turn to face her.

I gesture limply to the bright room. I want so badly to walk into the next room and find him hunkered down in his leather recliner, absentmindedly picking at the loose folds on the armrest with his eyes trained on the pages of some gigantic mystery novel.

Her mouth is already pulling down, her shoulders slumped. “Honey—”

I shake my head to ward off whatever she’s going to say. Nothing makes this better. “I miss him. I miss Opa and being here is hard enough. This was supposed to be The Summer of Art. I’m supposed to be working on my early admission packet, but he’s not even here to help me. And our trip...”

“We’ll figure it out. I promise. You have good grades and you’re talented--your application isn’t in jeopardy just because you haven’t been to every single art museum in central Florida.”

That was the plan. Besides majorly missing him, I needed Opa to help me find my place as a budding artist, something I can’t ask my parents to do since they don’t know the difference between Jackson Pollock and Banksy, much less anything about art school applications.


  1. Hi Haleigh.
    I think I could go for a little more showing of the grandpa. You do give us glimpses of him here and there. But, to relate to your MC's overwhelming sadness, it would help me to get a first-hand impression of what she had lost. Give a little more than an image of Opa reading, or sitting in a beach chair. Does he smell like mouthwash? Or cigars? Does his voice crack when he talk? Does he have a mannerism that is sweet and memorable? Give a small exchange between the MC and Opa maybe? More than "it was my favorite summer"--that's too general to make me love him and wish he were around. Something he said to the MC about her dreams of going to Art school? His belief in her talent? Good luck!

  2. Hi Haleigh,

    I definitely prefer your opening in this revision. I think you’ve done the right thing in starting at the house. You’ve captured the characters quickly and I instantly get a sense of who they are: the anchor which is the father, the materialistic mother, the typical teenage sister, and the more sensitive protagonist. I also like that you give us more information about what the protagonist wants. At the end you mention her love of art and how she is applying to art school. This is great. I was able to connect more with the character. The little anecdotes about the grandfather are great and they’re subtle enough that they’re not huge and distracting from the protagonist.

    Again, I think your start is much stronger so I’m having a good think about how it could possibly be made even stronger. I think, while all the details are great about the family and they’re coming across well, there is a lot of telling rather than showing. There’s a lot of information given about the fact they always come to this house in summer, that there was a long car ride and there’s also a lot of memories there. All this information could be spread out, and shown more, throughout the following pages. It’s all here at the start, instead of the story starting with a real sense of the character and what she wants. There’s no real sense of conflict or pace here. If the narration is closer to the character and we see/feel/hear things the way she does, instead of being told in big ‘info dumps’, this could be solved.

    Again, there’s nothing wrong or overbearingly slow here, I’m just thinking of ways to make it pacier and maybe ramp up the conflict and get us thinking, ‘right, I know this character, I get what she’s feeling and I know what she wants. Now, let’s go and face these challenges!’.

  3. Hi Haleigh,

    Good work on the revisions – the changes you’ve made focus the scene and we get just a hint of conflict there at the end when you bring up art school. I think you can probably tighten even more. If she’s feeling the loss most by not having Opa to help with her application, I’d probably mention that even earlier. It’s not just an empty house, it’s a summer derailed. She’s lost. The thing I was missing the most was grief. Everyone seems kind of ho hum about Opa’s death, even the narrator. Also, if the funeral was a few days after his death, I would doubt all of his belongings would’ve been packed away in a shed already. That’s the kind of thing family does, right? Going through his things could make for a good scene though!
    Let me know if you have questions!

  4. Hi Haleigh,

    I like your new start and that we’re learning more about Claire and her plans for the summer!

    It’s still a little odd switching from the sad hug to her dad opening up the doors of the beach house as if it’s a prize. It just feels like a big mood switch.

    She mentions how it’s so nice to be away from landlocked Kentucky, so it sounds like the ocean is significant to her. I’d like to hear more about that part of her.

    I thought the part about Claire asking if her grandfather had left her anything and her reaction was a little off-putting. After thinking about it, I thought you might be trying to convey that she wanted a piece of him to remember him by (especially with the picture later), but with my first read through it just came off as kind of spoiled.

    Claire mentions that her mom is angry after the death, but I don’t really see that from this scene. Maybe consider showing it more or cutting that part out.

    I’d like to know more about Claire’s alternative plans. Does she still hope to go to these museums? Why was her grandfather going to be the best person to help with her art application?

  5. Hi Haleigh,

    I think your changes in this revision are really effective. I think we get a much better sense of what else Claire has lost by her grandfather dying, other than his general presence/support in her life.

    You cut a paragraph, I believe, after they walked into the house (which I think was a good move). However, it makes this line: “Seriously Dad, this is getting old. I don’t have time to stand here bonding with you guys," now feel kind of abrupt. I also agree with other commenters that we don't get a sense of her mother's anger, even though Claire tells us she's angry.

    I wonder if the fact that they've already moved all his possessions away should elicit a stronger reaction from your protagonist. Everyone grieves differently, but that seems like the kind of thing that would really upset a lot of people, especially since she was so close to him and was hoping to find something to remember him by. I also think the "jeez" in the paragraph about that comes across a little too flippant.

    I think you're starting in a better place now, without the jarring transition from the funeral to the beach house, but I found your previous opening line a lot snappier.

    Again, I really like this and I think this is a great revision!

  6. Hi Haleigh!
    I like this round so much better than the last! It feels much smoother and more cohesive, with no choppy tense shift. The best thing about starting at the house instead of the funeral is that it gives you more time to develop your characters, who we get to know more in this version. You have some really strong lines in here that pack a lot of meaning. Like: "You know it's bad if Livvy is offering support," which tells the reader about Claire's mood and Livvy's character at the same time. Plus it's nice and voice-y! (Same with "Newsflash: I already need space.")

    I do think it's a little odd that the place has already been cleaned out. I think it might be more powerful if Opa's stuff is still there -- a big mystery novel face down to hold its place on the leather recliner as if Opa were about to shuffle into the room and plop himself down to continue reading. Not sure if this is where you wanted to go, but dealing with having to pack up Opa's belongings could be a great way to give Claire more emotional conflict to deal with -- and it could be really interesting if she learns something unexpected about her grandfather (and her relationship with him) in the process.

    Finally, I like the fact we now see that this was supposed to be the Summer of Art. It makes Claire's loss even greater and lets us know her more as a character. It also gives us more conflict and motivation for Claire's feelings.

    Great job! I look forward to seeing the next round!

    All best,