Sunday, February 11, 2018

1st 5 Pages February Workshop- Shae Rev 1


Name: Britney Shae
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Fearless

As I walked into the convenience store, the first thing I noticed was the old TV sitting behind the attendant’s counter. I immediately recognized what was playing—the fight. Shit.

I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, and slipped into the candy aisle, scooping up a bag of Skittles for Margie. The store was dead quiet except for the low hum of the TV. Reaching for the milk I had come in for, I heard the announcers talking—Her first professional fight. Her chance to win the Junior U-18 MMA title. And so soon after her brother, fellow MMA fighter, Marco Armani, was killed in an unfortunate car accident.  Look at her eyes—have you ever seen such intensity?

I shut the refrigerator door with too much force and cringed as the sound echoed through the store. I didn’t want to give myself away.

Pulling out a wad of bills from my back pocket, I slowly approached the counter. The clerk’s attention was on the TV.

 “Gimme one sec.” His gaze never left the fight. “This girl’s gonna throw a punch like nothin’ I ever seen before.” He chuckled, the fight reflecting in his gray eyes.

I cleared my throat.  “That fight happened two days ago. Everyone knows who won.”

 “I can’t stop watching that punch. It’s gone viral. Can’t go anywhere without seeing it.”

I almost scoffed out loud. Ain’t that the truth.

At that moment came the punch. Just as it had in real time, my stomach lurched as my opponent crumpled to the ground, nothing but dead weight. I had wanted to win when I stepped into the octagon that night, but even in my wildest dreams I hadn’t thought I would. Especially not that easily. My stomach flipped again. I wasn’t supposed to win.

The clerk let out a low whistle, shaking his head in awe. “She just won her first title, but there’s no smile, no elation—nothin’. If you ask me, I think that’s the sign of a champion. She knew she was going to win from the moment she stepped into that ring.”

My eyes darted to the clerk in disbelief, then back at the TV. How had I managed to look so confident I was fooling strangers at the convenience store into thinking I was a champion?

I didn’t feel like a champion. And I hadn’t known I was going to win—especially that easily. From training and watching various fighting matches, I knew that knockouts came down to a lucky punch, but it still seemed surreal my first punch had been the K-O.

As the man began ringing up the milk and the Skittles, I glanced back up at the TV and right into my own blank eyes.

 “What if she didn’t know?” My voice came out before I could stop it. “What if she didn’t know she was going to win? What if she doubted herself even after she threw that punch?”

 “That girl?” He scoffed. “She’s a winner. You don’t just throw that kind of punch from nowhere.” He handed me my change.

I stared at him for a second. My head rang, Yes, you do just throw those punches out of nowhere.

 “Thanks,” I mumbled, taking my items and turning to leave.

It wasn’t until I reached the door that I heard the man exclaim with wonder, “Well I’ll be damned…” He had likely seen the embroidered letters adorning the back of my sweatshirt advertising Donovan’s Fight Club, the premier mixed martial arts—MMA—facility in Philly where I trained. I cursed my outfit choice into the cool evening air and walked away as quickly as I could.

#
           
Loud music from Marc’s ancient iPod pumped through my earbuds as I walked into the gym, greeted by the familiar smell of mustiness and sweat. I’d only been absent for a few days, but god did it feel good to be back.
           
Donovan’s Fight Club was my escape from reality. I went to the gym to train, but that wasn’t why I was there. When I punched the bag, the music from my brother’s iPod blasting in my ear, I could forget everything happening outside the brick walls. Fighting and training had been my brother’s hobby, his passion. But for me, it was more than that—it was home.
           
I wasn’t sure what I listened to, other than that it was a playlist created by Marc, which he not-so-creatively titled “Angry.” I listened as the singer screamed out his words, the guitarist fiercely attacked his riffs, and the bass thudded with the driving beat.
           
This playlist was perfect because I was angry. I had been angry since inheriting Marc’s iPod two months ago when he died. Inherit wasn’t exactly the right word—it’s not like Marc had a will. Instead, it had been handed to me at the hospital by a police officer, taken from the wreck of Marc’s car. Unlike Marc, the iPod wasn’t destroyed. It wasn’t even scratched.
           
With my hood up and music blasting, it was like I had tunnel vision. I headed straight for my usual punching bag, the one tucked away in a corner room off the main gym on the first floor. I threw my bag on the ground and pulled out the grappling gloves Marc had given me nearly a year ago, when we had first started getting into MMA after years of karate and martial arts training. I started my warm-up, switching between punches and kicks.
           
I grunted as I landed a solid kick and watched as the bag swayed. Maybe this anger was just one of those stages of grief like the school counselor had tried to talk to me about following Marc’s death. She had sat me down in her sunny, cheerful office and told me she was worried about my slipping grades. I had only half-listened to her as she spoke, wondering if my school was using Marc’s death as an excuse—my grades had been dropping long before Marc’s death, starting with the bullying. Girls didn’t want to be friends with a girl who fought. And boys were threatened by a girl who was stronger than them. Their teasing and taunting was sometimes too much to bear.
           
We don’t need to justify anger, Anna-Maria, Mom always said. We don’t have to justify anything we feel.
           
As I went through my standard routine, a few guys poked their heads in from around the corner, looked at me, and then turned to each other excitedly. I knew why they were there.
           
I had just won the mixed martial arts junior U-18 title, beating out four-time champion Taylor Heery. Except they didn’t know the whole thing was a fluke.

I hadn’t allowed myself to think about what it would be like to win the title. I especially hadn’t imagined how scary it would be to win the title. I froze every time the thought crossed my mind. What next? When would my next fight be? Who would it be against? Can I win again?

And most importantly—what happened if I lost? Would I lose the opportunity to ever compete again?
    
I had stopped paying attention to my workout, my fears pulsing through me instead of concentration. The track on the iPod switched from the screaming, bass-heavy song to something surprisingly low-key. I had only been at it for about ten minutes, but sweat already dripped down my face.

8 comments:

  1. Hey Britney!

    Awesome revision! It feels a lot smoother, cleaner, and tighter than your original pages.

    I enjoy the internalization Anna-Maria has. Her facing imposter syndrome is clear and applied in a way we understand why she feels the way she does. Her fears are getting the better of her, and I look forward to seeing her overcome them. I also want to see more of the relationships between her classmates vs. her peers later on.

    A change:

    “My eyes darted to the clerk in disbelief, then back at the TV. How had I managed to look so confident I was fooling strangers into thinking I was a champion?”

    I would remove “at the convenience store” to just “strangers.” We know where she is, and she’s technically “fooled” several hundred others who enjoy the sport nation or worldwide.

    That’s all I really have for now. Great work!

    Cheers!

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  2. Hi Britney,

    I enjoyed reading your piece last week, and it feels even stronger now with the revisions that you made. I can see how you tightened the narrative with the suggestions that were given. Great job!

    Specifically, I liked how you added this sentence in the store scene:
    How had I managed to look so confident I was fooling strangers at the convenience store into thinking I was a champion?

    I agree with Larysia's comment on how that can be tightened -- but I really liked how you added that thought.

    The exposition with some of the back story flows naturally in the gym scene while Anna-Maria is listening to Marc’s playlist. I like your main character’s voice and I feel engaged as I’m reading – you definitely got me hooked! Beneath Anna-Maria’s anger, there’s that suppressed vulnerability which you capture well.

    Your revisions have improved what I thought was already a strong opening. Well done!

    Cheers,
    Michelle

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  3. Britney,

    Definitely smoother and tighter! Honestly, the only suggestion I would have would be to keep working on the smoothing. You've made definite strides here, and I think if you read it aloud, you'll find the last few rough spots. I know they don't want us line-editing so it's tough to illustrate what I mean without that :) Just read it aloud and if you stumble to say it or if it doesn't flow in speaking the line, that's what you want to adjust.

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  4. Hi Brittany,

    Brava! The writing is much tighter in this revision and the pacing has picked up. Well done!! For this revision, I'd like you to focus on a few key things.
    First, your opening line needs to be stronger (pack a punch, if you will. ha ha). Something that immediately puts us in her emotional state and gives us her physical bearings: "The fight was on. Again. Repeating like it was following me."

    Second, make it clear to your reader exactly what your MC's conflict is. It's great that you have a backstory of a surprised champ, and we get hints of the
    deceased brother. All good. But what does the character have to overcome? An agent is going to want to know what's at stake for your character in these opening pages and it's not clear yet. This conflict is what will keep a reader turning the next 300 pages so we need to see it really early on.

    Third, I don't get any sense of the brother's relationship with the sister. Were they tight? Competitive? Estranged and she regrets it now? Was fighting the one thing that overlapped in their lives, brought them together? I'd like to see more time spent on the emotional connection of these characters instead of the playlist. And I want to *FEEL* her grief. I want to see her punch the bag as if it were the car that trapped her brother. Crush it like the metal crushed him. Right now I don't feel her anger and I want to. Make it visceral and real. You've got a great opportunity for this since the accident happened recently.

    Lastly, while I *love* all the tightening you did around her being a surprised champ, I'm a bit confused at why she was surprised to win the championship since
    she seems to train relentlessly and admits that the ring is "home." So clarity there would be good. And why is the ring home? Is her real home life filled with
    conflict?

    I'm all in. Seriously. This is good and the changes you make continue to strengthen an interesting opening.

    ~Shannon )

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  5. Little changes made a big difference! Tighter and stays on track better!

    I really like Shannon’s idea for the opening line! And I will second her on trying to find a way to fit in a hint of her relationship with her brother.

    I like that you cut out some of the backstory, it helps the flow for sure!

    I still want to know who Margie is. Lol

    This sentence doesn’t flow quite right to me. If you take out like, I think it helps. “Maybe this anger was just one of those stages of grief like the school counselor had tried to talk to me about following Marc’s death.”

    Great job!

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  6. Hey Britney,

    I love the changes you've made & everything flows so much better. You brought out the MC's voice and I'm curious to dwell more into her emotions and what's she going to do next. In the first part, I'd suggest adding a short phrase on who Maggie is, whether its her sister or friend. I would also suggest removing that one phrase, "into the cool evening air" because the sentence is good without it.

    When talking about the anger she feels, see if you can express it more. Show us her built-up rage at what happened. I like the extra details you've added on the bullying - it gives us more insight and builds up her character.

    Another suggestion would be to change up the "I had just won the mixed..." paragraph to show us more of how the fight is following and haunting her everywhere. Show us how people look and treat her differently, perhaps even compare it to their previous behavior in a few, simple lines.

    I love the ending part where we can see her anxiety and anger colliding. Overall, your edits have made this a better chapter! Well done!

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  7. Hi Britney!

    Great job on this revision! It all flows much better, and everything feels a lot tighter.

    At this point I'd just like a bit more interiority to unpack what she's feeling. I need something to hold onto going into the next part. I need to have a better sense of what her conflict is. It feels vague right now.

    Right now you've got two paragraphs that are kind of redundant:

    At that moment came the punch. Just as it had in real time, my stomach lurched as my opponent crumpled to the ground, nothing but dead weight. I had wanted to win when I stepped into the octagon that night, but even in my wildest dreams I hadn’t thought I would. Especially not that easily. My stomach flipped again. I wasn’t supposed to win.

    And then a couple of paragraphs later:

    I didn’t feel like a champion. And I hadn’t known I was going to win—especially that easily. From training and watching various fighting matches, I knew that knockouts came down to a lucky punch, but it still seemed surreal my first punch had been the K-O.


    Rather than repeating that she hadn't expected to win and how easy it had been, you could use that second paragraph to unpack a little. Does she think that because it wasn't fought hard for, she doesn't deserve the win? What does she think being a champion should feel like? It doesn't have to be anything huge, but it's an opportunity missed to expand on your original thought and give your reader a better understanding.

    I also think your giant block of questions near the end could be broken up a little. Or maybe better integrated into her actions?

    I really do love the voice. <3 It's getting better and better. Can't wait to see where you go with this!

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