Sunday, February 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Elize Rev 1

Name: Dawn Elize

Reasons I’m still an artist:

1.   I’m in the Art Room during Lunch.

2.   I’m retouching an old painting so that must mean something.

3.   The old paint stains on my uniform must be a sign.

The paintbrush eased over the canvas, darkening the red. With a little coat of new paint, the painting came back to life. I wish I could fix everything with a few simple touches. I tilted my head back, seeing the vibrant yellow emerging out of the red.

"Your work is fantastic, Lillie." Mr. Akhiro’s grin stretched his cheeks.

Tension slipped from my shoulders. Mr. Akhiro, my art teacher, placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. Even when I brooded and worked on the old painting instead of starting a new one, he didn’t question me.

There was a gallery submission and the best artist in Lincoln High School could have their work displayed. A cash prize would be awarded, and Mr. Akhiro knew it would help me in paying for university and in building my portfolio. He needed my best paintings, and it was my golden ticket. If only I could paint.

"I’m sure they will love your work," he assured me, seeing the self-doubt that always plagued my mind.

I fiddled with my hands. "I still need to do one more portrait, right?"

"Yes, but you have time."

He left to refill his cup of coffee, taking away the aura of comfort. I looked around the art room, soaking in the vibrancy of the paintings plastered over the walls, bringing my soul to life with the familiar scent of paint. Sculptures of various sizes decorated the place, squeezing between the paint bottles lining the shelves, reflecting the sunlight from the two large windows.

I wrapped my school bag around my back, leaving my solace in school. Strolling by the only other few Koreans, I ducked my head, ignoring their chatter in Korean. Not like I understood anything, even if I was a Korean-American. They only served as a reminder that I was not a part of either world but jammed in-between, never belonging anywhere.

"Lillie!” Jasmine walked alongside as she flicked her plaited hair over her shoulder, her dark-skinned face breaking into a smile. "You submitted another piece?"

"Yeah, but I have to do another portrait."

"Do you have anyone in mind? I don't know how I managed to stay still for so long.”

Jasmine had agreed to be my subject for the first portrait. What she did not expect was to be holding a dance move for hours. But the moment her eyes fell onto the final painting, her heart had won over all the waiting.

I hadn’t liked how Jasmine’s other friends swarmed me as they praised the painting for capturing her vivid personality. I loved that my painting had a lot of “Woah!” compliments and pictures posted on their stories on Instagram. Until they asked me to draw them and I backed away from further human contact.

I reached early for my Calculus Math class, where the teacher was known for assigning homework with high marks. I spotted three students, pencils scraping against their notebooks as the clock ticked on. That was me yesterday, awake at midnight. One boy stood out from the rest, sitting next to my usual seat.

Even though the other Korean-Americans had attempted interaction, Zevi spoke to me once before, asking for a pen. He kept to his football team and I kept to my art; our circles never intersecting and never in the spotlight. But a few months ago, he was the talk of the school as the ‘Hero’ returned. The scars forever etched on his skin built up a barrier between him and everyone else. The message was clear: Back off.

Dragging my squeaky seat back, I sat down, shooting him a quick look. His eyes were glued to his desk, engrossed in his homework, and I let out a relieved sigh. I opened my notebook, seeing one page filled with an old sketch of Bugs Bunny and another as blank as my mind. Instinctively, I wrapped my fingers around my pencil, itching to doodle. But nothing came to mind. A desolate feeling clenched around my chest as I tried to force myself to draw something. Anything.

"Hey," someone whispered.

The battle between the empty page vs. my empty mind trapped me in my own little world. I jumped, startled as I felt someone poke my arm. Turning to the side, I felt my eyes widen as Zevi stared at me, retracting his hand.

"Uh, hi," I stuttered.

Inside my chest, my heart’s usual soft patter turned to thuds. Was I being too weird? He cleared his throat, pushing his notebook towards me.

"Can you help me? We've got too many marks on this and I need it. Have you finished them?"

I nodded, flipping back my notebook to show him the answers. His light-brown eyes studied my work as he chewed on his bottom lip, his foot bobbing on the glossy linoleum floor.

"How the heck did you do that?" he asked. Shaking his head, he muttered to himself, "Why am I so stupid?"

 “Uh, it’s not your fault. Those questions were harder. I got my dad to help me out."

 Zevi’s lip curved into a bitter smile. "Lucky, I’ve got no help.”

I played with the curly edges of my black hair, unsure what to say. He shot me a tight smile, throwing a quick glance at the clock as he pushed the notebook towards me.

"Can you explain how you did this?" he asked.

I hated explaining things. I hated questions too. But seeing the helplessness on his face, I showed how I calculated the answers. I felt the intensity of Zevi’s gaze on me, making my insides quiver. I hoped he didn’t catch the tremble of my fingers.

When he looked at my book, I caught a quick glance at his face, catching sight of the scar around the side of his neck, deepening downwards. His eyes trapped mine, knowing that I was looking at his scars. He stiffened. I dropped my gaze back to my book, adding a new rule in my mind: Never look at him again. Zevi didn't speak, probably afraid of me asking any questions, causing guilt to pinch my heart.

The courage to ask him personal questions didn’t exist. In a quiet manner, he handed my notebook back, muttering a soft "thank you" as students entered. I gave a silent nod, still looking at my notebook, expecting him to go back to his original seat in the back of the class. He didn't.

I didn’t know if it was the little voice in the back of my head yelling out ‘Impeding Doom: Painting!’ over and over again, or if it was the conversation with Zevi, but either way staring at the clock didn’t make time go by any faster. When submitting the assignment, Zevi caught my eye, giving me a kind smile. The one he had given me long ago with the pen exchange.

"Thank you, Lillie. I like the Bugs Bunny drawing too," he said, gracing me with another smile.

My lips stretched into a slow grin as I watched him leave. A small itch to paint the scarred boy crawled its way into my mind, splashing some color onto a blank page.


  1. Hi there, Dawn!

    I feel like there weren’t a whole lot of changes done except when it came to the interaction between Zevi and Lillie. It does deliver more hints towards a backstory and has the awkward exchanges of a crush, which I really like. The idea of the shy artist and the unapproachable hero is a super one for a couple! There’s also minor changes to the interaction with Jasmine, and I like how Lillie has an aversion to recognition. Overall, it gets her character across quite well!

    But I personally found this new opening less impactful than your previous one. I see numbered points and I think of a grocery list. It makes my eyes want to wander to the first paragraph immediately. I also feel the 3 points feel too generic to grab my attention.

    The line that really struck me was:

    “He needed my best paintings, and it was my golden ticket. If only I could paint.”

    Maybe have an opening similar to your other one, but have it be something like: “My paintings were my golden ticket. If only I could paint. I have to remind myself I’m an artist every day.”

    I still feel there isn’t something really “punchy” to keep me reading to where it really picks up in Calculus. Maybe move Calculus further ahead, and place interacting with Jasmine after that? Just a suggestion!

    I hope that helps!


  2. Hi Dawn!

    I love how you set the beginning up with a list—I’m a sucker for that sort of opening. :) One minor suggestion, though, since it SEEMS your MC is grappling with whether or not she actually sees herself as an artist or not:

    “Reasons I must be an artist” OR “Reasons I tell myself I’m an artist.”

    Also, this is a super strong sentence: “I wish I could fix everything with a few simple touches.” Nitpicking here for sure, but I think it could be even stronger if you wrote “I wish I could fix everything in life with a few simple touches.”

    Overall, though, even with fairly minor changes at the very beginning, I’ve gotten a better sense of your MC’s hesitation with art, as well as her goals. Nicely done!

    Your paragraph passing the “other few Koreans” is also really good—definitely tighter than before! Good work there, too!

    Another nitpick, when Zevi says “I like the Bugs Bunny drawing too” the “too” makes it sound as though your MC also likes it, and we don’t know that she does? I suggest “Also, I like your Bugs Bunny drawing” or something like that.

    Also, I do recommend reading through your paragraphs once your MC gets to math class (possibly out loud). They read just a *tad* clunky to me. I think you can smooth it out a bit. :)

    Overall you definitely made some good changes and adjustments to your opening to give your readers a better sense of place and the conflict (the art conflict, and the fellow Korean-American conflict).

  3. Dawn,

    I understand what you're trying to do with the opening, but I've seen SO many of these numbered lists on YA covers that it'd become cliche. I loved the sense of your original opening line. It needed smoothing but the underlying concept was powerful and poignant, and this doesn't have the same impact.

    Some nice tightening/smoothing here. It's flowing better. Good work!

    I'm still lacking a hook. What's going to grab me here that I haven't seen before? We have elements that are less common--Korean-American MC--and some that are intriguing--Zevi's scars--but I'd suggest digging deeper to see what makes your story more than just a variation on a theme.

  4. Hi Dawn,

    At first, I really liked the revised opening, but then I noticed the immediate shift from present tense to past tense. Will you be going back to the present tense voice? If not, I think the opening should be in the past tense, too. I also thought this sentence was lovely, and could potentially be your opener: “I looked around the art room, soaking in the vibrancy of the paintings plastered over the walls, bringing my soul to life with the familiar scent of paint.” 

    I definitely see the improvements with this revision. It flows more smoothly, feels tighter, and I liked the clarification of Lillie being Korean-American earlier on.

    I noticed you added the Instagram reference, which I thought was excellent to place this as a contemporary novel.

    Here’s a minor point, but I was wondering if the word “versus” should be spelled out when you write…. “the battle between the empty page vs. my empty mind trapped me in my own little world.”

    Once again, I really enjoyed the tension between Lillie and Zevi, and I feel drawn into the story. By the last sentence, I want to continue reading to see what happens between them!


  5. Hey there!

    For the new start, I’m honestly not a big fan of lists… I’m trying to think of a good way to hook someone into an art story… maybe…and this is the artist in me speaking… “A drop of crimson red splattered to the floor, standing out in sharp contrast against the polished white tile. My eyes narrowed as the bristles of my brush eased over the canvas, and a single fall leaf came back to life. If only everything else around me could be fixed with such simple touches.”

    I think you could tighten up some sentences and create more vivid imagery. A few examples below:

    Sculptures of various sizes doesn’t give me a good picture.
    Maybe mention one sculpture in particular, “The sculpture of a Roman angel nestled between two empty paint bottles on the shelf, her somber face reflecting a ray of sunlight streaming through the window.”

    “I slung my backpack over my shoulder and left the art room, my refuge, behind.”

    A few sentences didn’t sound right while reading:

    “I reached early for my Calculus Math class” I got to class early for calculus? (don’t need to say math)

    “interaction, Zevi spoke to me once before, asking for a pen.” Had only spoken?

    “flipping back my notebook to show him the answers” flipping back in my notebook?

    Her attraction to the scarred Zevi is a compelling part of the story, and I like how you brought it even more to the surface.

    Read these 5 pages out loud, and anytime you have to pause, or catch yourself, or it sounds off, make a note and see if you can change up those spots.

    Can’t wait to see your revision!

  6. So sorry to be commenting late! I see that you've really worked hard at the opening, and I can see why you went with a list--it can definitely work. But I feel like it changes the MC's voice. So I would either make sure the voice matches, or rework the original. I'm also not getting much in the way of stakes. Is the art competition going to lead to conflict? You could hint more at that for sure. Really thoughtful changes, looking forward to the next round!

  7. Apologies for the lateness of this feedback. Good things: You've got strong energy for revision and I can tell you're trying to move this forward. That said, this chapter still feels like there's too much exposition/set-up coming on too fast. For example:
    "There was a gallery submission and the best artist in Lincoln High School could have their work displayed. A cash prize would be awarded, and Mr. Akhiro knew it would help me in paying for university and in building my portfolio. He needed my best paintings, and it was my golden ticket. If only I could paint."
    Feels heavy-handed and asking a lot of the reader to hang on. I think the trickiest thing you need to grapple with right now is voice. Lillie sounds fragile, so okay, but she's also a bit monochrome. Down about everything; insecure about everything; voiceless and disconnected in every way. Which brings us to the list issue. While it does not bother me conceptually (as a device) as much as some of the commenters above, I do believe that lists, like all literary structures and devices, must serve the story and the voice/character/narrator. Is Lillie a list-maker by nature? If not, who is she imagining/speaking to when she offers up this list? Is she every going to make another list in the story? Is list a thematic concept in some way? The answers to these questions speak to whether or not a list is a strong story start - and more broadly to the way you need to consider Lillie's voice, not just the things you reveal about her character but the way/order/choices she makes in giving up this information to the reader. Hope playing with these questions will be of help. Great luck with your revision!