Saturday, February 3, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Elize

Name: Dawn Elize
Genre: Young Adult, contemporary
Title: Painted Scars

I was retouching an old painting to give off the impression that I was still an artist. The paintbrush eased over the colours, darkening the rough red edges, bringing it back to life. I tilted my head back, seeing the vibrant yellow emerging from the depths of the red.

"Your work is fantastic, Lillie." Mr. Akhiro’s grin stretched his cheeks, his thin lips spreading across his face. 

Tension slipped from my shoulders, smoothing the lines on my forehead. Mr. Akhiro, my art teacher of two years, had always believed in my potential. He placed an encouraging hand on my shoulder, offering guidance on my painting.

Recently, he talked about being able to submit my work to a gallery, where a cash prize would be awarded to the best artist; something that would really help me in paying for university. He wanted me to bring forward my best submissions, believing in my potential. If only I could paint.

"I really think they will love your work," he assured me, knowing that it was always on my mind.

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

Mr. Akhiro nodded. "Yes, but you still have time."

He left to get a 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 in between the paint bottles lining the shelves, reflecting the sunlight from the two large windows.

I grabbed my bag, leaving my solace in school and walked down the hallway. I passed by the small group of Koreans, their chatter echoing off the walls, and ducked my head. Once again reminded of my lack of knowledge about my own culture. I always felt small and insignificant when I was around people, like a helpless gazelle moving around a stampede of lions.

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

I nodded. "Yep. But, I still need to do another portrait."

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

Jasmine had eagerly 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.

It wasn’t that I particularly loved all the attention I got from Jasmine’s friends as they praised my work, telling me that I had managed to capture the real essence of Jasmine’s vivid personality. No. What I enjoyed was the attention my painting had received. 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 feverishly against their notebooks as the clock ticked on. One boy stood out from the rest, sitting next to my usual seat.

I spoke to Zevi Park, one of the other few Korean-Americans in school, once, when he had mumbled under his breath, asking to borrow a pen. The rumor mill had claimed him as its victim months ago when the ‘Hero’ had returned to school, only to be put-off by the distance he kept from everyone and the scars forever etched onto his skin.

Dragging my squeaky seat back, I sat down, shooting him a quick look. His eyes were glued to his desk, engrossed in his homework, causing my chest to rise and fall with 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, my dark brown eyes widened as Zevi stared at me, retracting his hand.

"Uh, hi," I stuttered out, glancing away.

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?" He chewed on his bottom lip as his foot bobbed on the glossy linoleum floor.

I nodded, flipping back my notebook to show him the answers. His light-brown eyes studied my work as his forehead creased up.

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

I bit the inside of my cheek, wanting to comfort him. In an awkward mumble, I said, "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. His lips tightened before he shot me a tight smile. He pushed the notebook towards me. "Can you explain how you did this?" he asked, almost hesitant.

In a small voice, I began my explanations, keeping my eyes locked on my notebook. 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. My muscles tightened, and I wondered if he was still in pain.

Suddenly, his eyes trapped mine, knowing that I was looking at his scars. He stiffened, studying me as he set his jaw. I dropped my gaze back to my book, deciding to 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, nor was it present in any other aspect of my life. In a quiet manner, he handed my notebook back, muttering a soft "thank you" as students entered. I gave a 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 nervousness about my impending art submission, or if it was talking to Zevi, either way the class seemed to drag by painfully slow. When submitting the assignment, Zevi had 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, smiling as he picked up his bag.

A huge grin spread across my face 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! I love that your MC is an artist! Art was a huge passion of mine back in high school. I miss it so much. :)

    So, I’m all about the opening line and I love yours, especially the “to give off the impression that I was still an artist.” That’s SO GOOD because immediately I want to read on—why does she just want to give off that impression? Why doesn’t she think she’s “still” an artist? I love it!

    However, I do think it could be just a tad stronger to get your reader grounded in the world with your MC. She’s in school. So maybe start off something like, “I was in second period art class, retouching an old painting to give off the impression…”

    Or maybe even: “I was in Mr. Akhiro’s art class, retouching an old painting…”

    Of course play around. But I think if you introduce a little more setting, it’ll give your readers a good footing for where your MC is in the world. :)

    The fourth paragraph is really excellent. We now know that Lillie’s art teacher believes in her potential, that she needs money for university, and that art could be a path to getting that money. But the best part is “If only I could paint.” WOW. What is going on with this MC?! That part is totally fabulous!

    One thing that causes me pause, though, is the paragraph after: knowing that *IT* was always on my mind. I’m curious what the “it” is? The self-doubt? The disbelief that she’s an artist?

    A few paragraphs down when she passes the Korean students, you have the following: “Once again reminded of my lack of knowledge about my own culture.” This is a strong sentence, but the sentence is incomplete (which sometimes works depending on the voice, but I don’t love it here). I recommend doing something like: “Seeing them reminded me of my lack of knowledge about my own culture.” Also, I would like to know what it is about seeing them makes her think this? Is she Korean, too? Or do the Korean students have a comfort with their own cultural identity that makes he feel out of touch with her own? I think strengthening the “why” as to this reaction would make this stronger.

    I like the introduction of Jasmine and I really like how Jasmine has friends that aren’t Lillie’s friends. I feel like that’s a reality of friendships in high school, that not everyone always loves everyone else’s friends.

    The introduction of Zevi Park is good and obviously screams importance. But I want MORE—Hero?! Scars etched onto his skin? Is this an attack? I think you could probably reveal a little more to your reader without totally giving away the mystery.

    (I can totally relate to Lillie wanting to doodle but nothing coming out—ahh I feel that way about writing sometimes!)

    LOVE that last paragraph!

    Overall, I definitely love the characters and how you’ve introduced them so far. I’m very curious about Lillie’s art hesitation as well as cultural identification and her relationships with classmates. Great work, and can’t wait to see how your revisions progress!

  2. Yay! I love to paint so this is right up my alley!
    Your prose is really nice and you paint a great picture with your words (no pun intended!)
    The very first sentence is a little weak, especially compared to the next two, so I’d change that a bit. Maybe start with those two and follow with a different version of the first?
    I’m assuming she is Korean? Maybe make that a little clearer. Also in that paragraph, I caught two examples of telling: I grabbed, I passed. Show us how she grabbed, how she passed.
    Also when Jasmine is introduced, I would say “she walked alongside me”
    The first sentence about Zevi, where she asked him for a pen once feels off, it doesn’t flow like the rest. And then after that you talk about the rumor mill being put off. Not sure if you meant it like that, but to me that was confusing!
    When he pokes her in the arm, you talk about her brown eyes, but since you’re doing first person, she can’t see her brown eyes unless she’s looking in a mirror, so I’d leave that out. Maybe change to: Turning to the side, I felt my eyes widen as Zevi stared at me, retracting his hand.
    With her hair, try to describe black. Ebony, Raven, Coal...
    I like the last paragraph with the exception of a huge grin. Playing the scene in my mind, I see a slowly forming grin, not an exuberant one. Plus there’s the ‘a huge grin’ followed by ‘a small itch’
    I like your characters and I like how you’ve set us up with several questions - why can’t she paint anymore? What happened to Zevi? Why is he a hero? This makes readers want to keep reading!

  3. Hi Dawn!

    I’m not the biggest fan of contemporary, so I’m not sure how much help I’ll be, but I’ll do my best!

    To kick things off, I think it’s great to have a painter as the main character. Sometimes artists don’t get quite the same amount of love as their art, so I think this story is perfect for representation in a lot of ways.

    The opening line is good for making us wonder about Lillie and why she feels as she does. I do like how she’s an outsider within her own culture, too. It makes us ask why. It’s a good blend of establishing who the character is and making us curious about her.

    The rest of the paragraph (and even pages) sets up what the character does daily along with her discussing submitting another piece for her future. That’s where the story doesn’t actually pull me in, unfortunately. I think it’s because it’s just not my preferred genre. It’s setting everything up well, the writing is clear. But starting out in school, wandering halls, and sitting in Calculus doesn’t grab me.

    That said, my interest does pick up when we come across Zevi. I feel he has quite the story behind him and want to see how Lillie will approach him in the future.

    I think the punch I personally need earlier on is maybe less of Lillie dealing with impostor syndrome and more of the stakes raised. What happens if she doesn’t submit? Why does this matter to her? Is it just the money for university, or something more?


  4. Dawn,

    Really nice dialogue and internalization here. I also see some serious writing chops that are begging to break through what can be awkward wording. You know what you want to convey, but you're having some trouble getting it across smoothly. For example, right in the first line, there is such deep meaning here--we see, in that one line, that she's not only an artist but that she's blocked in her art, and you convey that in a lovely way, showing but not telling. The actual wording, though, is clunky, with the cliche "giving off the impression" stuck in the middle. Read your story aloud and see how you can smooth out the writing and it'll make those lovely bits shine.

    Your dialogue works very well. I would suggest that you clear some of the clutter around it and let it flow. Less "business" (actions, attributions etc) and less reflection on the dialogue while it's ongoing. Save the reflection for afterward.

    You have lots of great little hooks in this piece. Plenty of lines that raise questions in the reader's mind, and that's what you need in the opening pages. However, you also need a bigger hook--more of a sense of where your plot is going. I feel as if I'm drifting pleasantly through these opening pages, and that's nice, but as a picky reader, I'm not hooked. What in your story makes it different? What will grab my attention and keep me turning the pages? If I picked this up casually in the bookstore and skimmed this opening, what's here to make me say "yes, I want this book." Give that a bit of thought.

    Again, I see some real writing talent here. Nice job!

  5. Hi Dawn,

    I really enjoyed reading your piece and your prose was well-written.

    Here are my notes:

    Because you're writing in the first person, I stumbled a bit in the beginning with the following sentence... "Tension slipped from my shoulders, smoothing the lines on my forehead." Unless Lille was looking at mirror, she wouldn't see that. I had the same reaction later with Lille's self-desription... "my dark brown eyes widened."

    In comparison, this self-description felt natural to me... "I played with the curly edges of my black hair."

    I really liked the emotion and tension with Zevi. I thought you captured that very well.

    And the final sentence is beautiful: "A small itch to paint the scarred boy crawled its way into my mind, splashing some color onto a blank page."

    Ties in very nicely with your title and gives the readers a hint of what might be coming up. Great job!


  6. Hi Dawn,

    I don't have a lot to say that hasn't been said (all great comments above), but here are a few points.

    - I wanted a little more from the setting. I didn't immediately get school, until she leaves the art classroom. In fact, it felt to me like 2 different scenes stuck together--in the room and in the hall.
    - The first line confused me. I'd clarify. I think smoothing some of the sentences and adding more description will add a lot.
    - I was unclear on who Lillie is, relative to the other information she gives us about the people she's with. I know she's a student, but is she Korean? Korean-American? Neither? Is she an outsider in an international school?

    I'm really intrigued by this piece and I think, despite wanting more, you've set the reader up for something really tense and fascinating. I would definitely keep reading. Nice work!


  7. Hi Dawn.
    This is a fascinating start. The two major plot premises I see are that something has shut down Lillie so she cannot draw as she used two; and Zevi has had a very traumatic experience. Setting - a school in Korea with very few Korean-American students in attendance. Driving the timing of the narrative - an upcoming art competition with a scholarship prize.
    So, that's all good. Style-wise, however, I feel like what we've got here is a sense of you, the writer, feeling your way in to the story - letting yourself know that Lillie has had the same art teacher for 2 years (something not necessarily important in Chapter 1), that Zevi once before made eye contact with Lillie, and that she (and Zevi) feel like outsiders in their 'world.'
    What's not quite there yet is the writing style and pacing.
    1-Watch for wordy descriptive passages. Young Adult readers tend to prefer a tightly-paced, crisply-worded page. (e.g., "...his thin lips spreading across his face. Tension slipped from my shoulders, smoothing the lines on my forehead. Mr. Akhiro, my art teacher of two years, had always believed in my potential. He placed an encouraging hand on my shoulder, offering guidance on my painting...) You're doubling-down on every observation. You can probably just say 'the lines on my shoulders relaxed' and skip the rest of the 'tension'-related text; 'thin lips...spreading smile' can just be 'he smiled.'
    2-Watch for passive voice 'In a small voice, I began my explanations, keeping my ' could become I kept my eyes cast downward. 'It's not too hard,' I said. The fact you explain everything is implied.
    3-Saying 'saw the Koreans' feels racist, which I know is not intended but you might try rewording to something, like 'Zevi and I were the only two Korean-American kids in the Seoul High School. Most of the other expats went to the International School' And there you have it without hitting it over the head.
    4-My advice (albeit LATE-sorry!) for your first revision would be to write down the 3 or 4 essential actions/facts you want to establish in the story and pare down all the text that does not speak to these points. Then, cull out adverbs, adjectives, indirect verb structures and complicated dialogue attributions (e.g., anything not 'asked' or 'said'). Then see what you've got and go from there.
    I hope this helps. First chapters usually take MANY revisions as they're often the first part of a novel you write and you're really still getting the feel for the characters, the settings...everything. Keep honing it--you can get there!
    Thanks for sharing! - Stasia