Sunday, February 18, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Elize Rev 2

Name: Dawn Elize
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Painted Scars


After discovering about the art gallery submission, Korean-American artist Lillie Kang has to submit one last painting to win a cash prize. The only downside is that she hasn’t painted in two weeks, and all the other students finished long ago. Everyone in school expects the ‘Art Girl’ to be the winner, and at home, her parents have even higher expectations.
Until she meets Zevi, the hero who saved his cousin from a fire and got burn scars. Despite her social awkwardness, he attempts to coax her out from behind her canvas. Feeling inspired, she tries to paint him but fails.
Then, she finds out that the gallery has the opportunity of a scholarship to her dream university. Still unable to paint, and with her friends drifting away and more finances at home, her overthinking mind plunges all her passion. Being an artist is the only thing Lillie knows so stripping away her sole identity, she attempts to discover who she can be without it. With a few days left to the deadline, can she manage to paint the scarred boy?


It had been two weeks since I last painted something. In an attempt to seem like an artist again, I was retouching an old painting. The bristles of my brush eased over the canvas and with a little coat of new paint, the painting glowed. I wished I could fix everything in life with a few simple touches.
"Your work is fantastic, Lillie." My art teacher, Mr. Akhiro, grinned.

Tension slipped from my shoulders. Mr. Akhiro lifted the painting up from the easel, placing it with my other works lined up near the large window. I inhaled the familiar, bitter scent of oil paints, trying to push away the worry that crawled in my mind.

There was an upcoming gallery submission and an outside judge would pick the best artist. The cash prize attracted every art student in Lincoln High. But Mr. Akhiro narrowed down the list to ten students; one of them was me. 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 red, paint-stained 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 cleaned up my palette, pushing it inside my small art supplies bag that I always carried around. I lined up the paint bottles on the shelf, avoiding the paintings of the other art students competing. They had all finished two weeks ago.

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and left the art room behind. 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 another reminder that I was not a part of either world. I was always jammed in-between, never belonging anywhere.

"Lillie!” Even in the crowded hallway, Jasmine spotted me walking close to the beige walls. She flicked her plaited hair over her shoulder as her dark-skinned face broke into a smile.

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 won over all the waiting.

Jasmine's other friends swarmed me, praising the painting for capturing her vivid personality. I loved that my painting had gotten a lot of compliments and pictures posted on their stories on Instagram. Until they asked me to draw them and I backed away from further human contact.

More students flocked into the hallway, and Jasmine waved to a few of them. They started making their way towards us, so I bid goodbye to Jasmine and dodged inside my Calculus class. The closed door blocked off the loud chatter as I let out a relieved sigh. Someday I’d be in the mood for social interaction but that wasn’t today.

Three students hunched over their tables as they tried to finish the assignment. 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.
I contemplated shifting seats, but I didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of having someone ask me to move. Dragging my squeaky seat back, I sat down, shooting him a quick look. His homework seized his complete attention.

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. Nothing came to mind. The familiar ache clenched my chest as I tried to force myself to draw something. Anything.

"Hey," someone whispered.

The battle between the empty page versus 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.

I stuttered out an awkward response. Inside my chest, my heart’s usual soft patter turned to thuds. Had he said something to me and I completely ignored it? My mom always complained that I was off "in my own universe." He cleared his throat, pushing his notebook towards me.

"Can you help me? It’s a lot of marks. Have you finished them?"

I nodded, flipping to the front of my notebook to show him the answers. His light-brown eyes studied my work as he chewed on his bottom lip.

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. "That’s lucky. My parents always want me to learn on my own.”

I played with the curly edges of my black hair, unsure what to say. He shot me a tight smile, asking for an explanation on my answer. More than meeting new people, I hated explaining. It meant someone staring at you while you attempted to put together a decent explanation in a coherent way. With Calculus, it became hell. But seeing the helplessness on his face, I swallowed back my nervousness and explained the answers.

When he looked at my book, I caught a quick glance 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. His foot bobbed on the glossy linoleum floor.

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.
During class, my mind shifted from the cries of my impeding painting to a slow replay of the conversation. I sneaked a glance at him, wondering if he thought I was another “weirdo.” But I also wished that he would never ask me for an explanation again. 
When submitting the assignment, Zevi caught my eye for a second, giving me a kind smile. The one he had given me long ago with the pen exchange. Even after a messy day, just that one smile managed to loosen the pressure on my chest.
"Thank you, Lillie. I like the Bugs Bunny drawing also," he said, lifting his bag.
My lips stretched into a slow grin as I watched him stroll out of class, unable to take my eyes off him. A small itch to paint the scarred boy crawled its way into my mind, splashing some color onto a blank page.


  1. This is getting stronger, Dawn. Your pitch, too, has improved over the FB version. You're definitely moving in the right direction.
    There are still some things to work on, broken down below.
    1-Your opening pp hints at something magical. Keep working it. Maybe try starting w/ sentence 2. 'The bristles of my brush eased over the [old] canvas and with a little coat of new paint, the [once subdued old portrait] glowed. I wished I could fix everything in life with a few simple touches.' Spare, creative, enough.
    More broadly, the pages are stronger but I still feel like you are writing in. On the micro, technical level, dialogue attributions that attempt to share information about character feel studied and overwritten, such as Mr. Akhiro here:'he assured me, seeing the self-doubt that always plagued my mind.' There are places where writing is a dialogue between the author and the reader. You need to leave space for the reader to complete the picture for him/herself - and to not restate and restate that Lillie is anxious/unhappy. Dialogue attributions asked/said are always best. The reader skims over them easily and remains focused on the character/situation. Also, there's still too much exposition, particularly the long segment about Jasmine posing for the first painting. Ask yourself, 'does the reader need all of this information right now?' Honestly, just 'Jasmine would never have the patience to sit for another painting' would probably be enough in this introductory chapter.
    2-Pitch. I wonder at the only 2 weeks she hasn't been painting. Just doesn't seem like such a big deal. Again, 'finance problems' is too vague. Has Dad lost his job? Has some big, unexpected bill hit the family? TELL don't tease/hint. And, most importantly, you need to tell editor/agent something about WHY Lillie can't paint (is it tied to the financial troubles at home?). You finish with a great ticking clock 'two weeks left' but I wonder at the parallel between 2 weeks hasn't been painting/2 weeks to deadline? Is this intentional - something you could play with creatively?
    In sum, I think the device that you may be playing with - that the novel is about finding out why Lillie can't paint anymore - may be problematic as readers are unlikely to stick with you through 200-odd pages unless something else is also going on. We don't have a reason to stay with Lillie right now. I suspect there's a good one - and that you know it - you just have to figure out how to get it onto those first 5 pages.
    In SUM...Keep writing. Your work is moving forward and I feel like you have the tenacity to get this to submittable form. I'd also recommend trying to find a novel-writing class to help you develop your technical writing skills. Also, Donald Maas's book, Writing the Breakout Novel, might be instructive.
    All the best, Dawn!

  2. Hi Dawn,

    Nice pitch! I think it’s a good summary of your story, and I like the cliffhanger feeling in the end with this sentence: With a few days left to the deadline, can she manage to paint the scarred boy?

    In the 2nd paragraph, I think this sentence may need to be re-worded to keep it in Lillie’s point of view: Despite her social awkwardness, he attempts to coax her out from behind her canvas. Maybe consider something like this… Despite her social awkwardness, she opens herself up to Zevi as he tries to coax her out from behind her canvas.

    As for the pages, I really like your revised opening paragraph. This sentence is great: I wished I could fix everything in life with a few simple touches.

    I notice the other edits you’ve made throughout the piece. This revision feels smoother and tighter. Great job!


  3. Hi Dawn!

    Your pitch has got a good set up, but could be reworked for higher conflict, stakes, and more motivation for Lillie. How does Lillie struggle with her family? Why, exactly, does the closed off “Hero” get to know her? Since Lillie is good at Calculus, does she offer to tutor him in exchange for him to be her subject? Could they potentially connect over the fact their families have high expectations of them (high grades/independence) so they keep their interaction secret? Do they connect over the fact they feel like outsiders now? It feels like your pitch is potentially missing really big hooks that delve into Lillie’s relationships with her family, financial situation, and Zevi that could make it juicy. I know how tough pitches are, I struggle with mine all the time. But I feel you’re on the right track!

    I like the changes you’ve made to your pages. The opening feels stronger, but still feels like it is missing backstory regarding Lillie’s financial situation. I think adding that in would really give the audience more perspective as to why she’s got this crushing anxiety interfering with her ability to create art.

    Also, I really like how you changed this line:

    "That’s lucky. My parents always want me to learn on my own.”

    It’s a good way to get us to know about Zevi’s family life.

    Best wishes, Dawn! Good luck with all the querying!


  4. Hi Dawn,

    Great work on this! My issue at this point is stakes. In the pitch, they're quite vague. What are the financial issues Lillie needs to help with at home? Will her family lose their house? Will she not be able to go to college? Is someone sick and can't afford treatment? There needs to be something bigger to make the reader feel invested in her journey. You’re up front about her wanting to win in the beginning of the pages, which is awesome, but why? And, since this is a story where Lillie’s basically paralyzed and can’t do the thing she wants, I’d love to see more of an emotional reaction from her right away. That will also draw the reader in and make them sympathize with her.

    Best of luck with this!

  5. Hi Dawn!

    Great pitch! I love this conflict you’ve got going on here with an artist who’s worried she’s lost the ability to paint! Especially with this pending deadline!

    Now for my nitpicky comments:

    Your first paragraph is really, really good. All I’ve done is cleaned up the wording just a little bit and also tried to add the higher conflict into the paragraph. I think you have done a good job of showing where your character is at as your story opens, but we need that conflict.

    - Everyone expects Korean-American artist Lillie Kang to submit her work in the local art gallery contest (not sure that’s the right word). All she has to do is paint one last painting and the cash prize could be hers. Everyone in school expects the “Art Girl” to win, and at home, her parents have even higher expectations. But there’s a problem: Lillie’s inspiration is gone. –

    The other thing that works is combining the second paragraph into the first. “Until she meets Zevi” doesn’t really connect to the first paragraph in the way you have it. But I think if you do something more like my example (and mine is purely just a suggestion/example, of course you can go somewhere else with your opening!) it connects the “Until” better. :)

    The third paragraph is also really good, but I’m going to pick apart this sentence a little: Still unable to paint, and with her friends drifting away and more finances at home, her overthinking mind plunges all her passion.

    First, we don’t know why her friends are drifting away. Are they drifting away because of her inability to paint, or is there another reason? The way I’m reading it now, it feels like they’re drifting away because of the inability to paint. Something tells me that’s not the reason, or at least not the full reason. Don’t be afraid to give us more. Why are her friends drifting away? Is it because she’s moody in her inner-turmoil over losing her identity as an artist? Does something happen that causes them to drift away?

    Second, focus on this “more finances at home” – I’m assuming you mean “financial trouble” or “financial difficulties” at home. What does this mean for Lillie? Less paint supplies? Does she have to get a part time job which takes up her time to paint? Or does this just add to her stress? I think the stress is what you’re getting at with the last part with her overthinking mind. I would word that instead as “her passion for art disperses with stress” or something more akin to that.

    Overall it sounds like you’ve got a story fraught with conflict and stakes - just be sure to illustrate this more in the pitch. :)

    As for your pages, one thing you could do is explain why the cash prize is her “golden ticket.” Golden ticket to school? Golden ticket to buy more paint supplies? What does she hope to gain with that money? Why does she need the money? It might also give your readers some early insight into her family’s economic situation.

    The other thing is Zevi. He seems very sweet and lovely and I can definitely sense Lillie’s quick connection to him. But I’m just a little confused, because she describes him as being standoffish (message was clear: back off) but he doesn’t seem that way at all. Instead, he seems friendly. I guess I want to know just a little more. WAS he a huge jock before the scars and the scars changed him? Closed him off? So Lillie’s ESPECIALLY shocked he talks to her because he hasn’t been talking to anyone? Or is it just Lillie’s perception of him, which is wrong? I think if you can just give us an inkling of who Zevi really is, it’ll be less confusing. :)

    Best of luck!! I love stories about artists and think you’re onto something really great here!


  6. Hi Dawn,

    I like the pitch! It gives the reader a good glimpse of Lillie's obstacles and dreams. However, the delivery feels a little unsure of itself. In a nutshell, my understanding is that this is a project about a young painter under pressure to paint a portrait. I'm getting the sense there might be a romance. There's a little flicker that familial expectations are involved in this pressure, and (perhaps I'm reading into it and making assumptions) an itty bitty spark of "but WHY hasn't she painted in a while" to indicate another stressor Lillie is holding back from the reader.

    It grabbed my attention enough that, if I received this query, I'd read more. So, here are my observations of the first 5 pages.

    Overall, there is a lot of telling going on. I see Lillie in the art room, I see lots of people, people are saying good things to her about her art, Zevi appears and seems nice. But I'm not feeling anything. What is the undercurrent of Lillie's emotions? Is she stressed? Panicked? Calm? What is going on in her artistic brain as she continues final touches on her artwork but cannot seem to paint something new? When Jasmine appears, how does Lillie feel about her other than "she was a model for me"? I get the sense Jasmine is popular, but is she a nice person, a shallow person, a magnetic person, a mean person?

    And finally, Zevi. I think we're going to get a lot of great interactions between Lillie and Zevi, but I also believe his arrival in the manuscript is far too early. The reader needs to get to know Lillie, befriend her, find a sense of her hopes and dreams and anxiety and pressure, before we meet and befriend Zevi and learn of their relationship with each other.

    I would love to see more exploration of Lillie's character, and the pressure to get another painting done in a short time frame. Amp up the stakes. Why hasn't she painted in two weeks? What's going on with that? In fact, why is it two weeks and not something a bit more desperate, like two months? Why isn't she throwing in an Okay painting as her final submission? What level of stress and desperation are we discussing with this manuscript?

    Long rambling questions short, I want for you to think about Lillie more thoughtfully, more deeply, and introduce this character more fully in your opening pages. Right now we have lots of action and telling, and as a reader I'm not getting the sense of her personality, her character, her worries and her desires. Slow it down a bit, and then perhaps introduce Zevi on the scene.


  7. Dawn,

    I'm focusing on the pitches for this round. Yours reads very smoothly. It's easy to follow and gives a sense of the stakes and the plot. What I'm missing is character I understand that she's getting to know herself more as she stops identifying solely as a painter, but there must be more to her to start. What's stopping her from writing? What's her inner conflict? This is going to be a character driven story, so we really need a sense of her from that pitch.

  8. I like the bones of your pitch, a great improvement from your post on facebook! I do think we need to see the stakes a little more clearly. Maybe this prize money is her ONLY shot at getting into collage, because of family finances.

    For the pages, You definitely did a good job tightening things up.

    I feel like it should be more than two weeks... unless there was an event that happened two weeks ago, and if so, touch on that.

    This new addition is too telling: There was an upcoming gallery submission and an outside judge would pick the best artist. The cash prize attracted every art student in Lincoln High.

    I think the whole introduction of Jasmine could be whittled down to one paragraph instead of the three.

    This sentance still feels off: Even though the other Korean-Americans had attempted interaction, Zevi spoke to me once before, asking for a pen.

    I agree that the interaction between Zevi comes across different that the first explanation of him clearly saying 'back off' He seems more nice and shy in calculus.

    Best of luck!