Sunday, May 6, 2018

1st 5 Pages May Workshop- Wyatt

Name: Paige Wyatt
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Never, Sometimes

I’m sitting in the principal’s office because Brendan White used my wristband full of safety pins to beat the shit out of Connor Easton under the bleachers. It’s all some arbitrary, double standard bullshit. Principal McKay is only out for blood because tomorrow is the first night of football regionals and Connor is the star quarterback who now, thanks to Brendan, has three broken fingers on his throwing hand.

The secretary is typing so hard I’m sure she’s about to break a nail. She looks at me every few minutes through her cat-eye glasses and sighs like I’m another mess to clean up. This is common treatment for me. People take a look at my black clothes and pink hair and nose ring and assume I’m a juvenile delinquent. The next time she does it I’m going to smile and wave. Maybe I’ll freak her out enough to make her stop. 

Principal McKay steps out of his office and clears his throat. He’s tall and round and bald and boring. I try to give most teachers a chance, but he’s a slimey con artist, like he’ll tell me anything to get me to believe he’s a decent human being. “Miss Pennington.” He sounds like a dad who’s not mad but disappointed in you. “Step into my office please.”

I walk into the large room where he conducts important business that keeps Middletown North High School running like a broken down machine. He has certificates and photographs and pennants hanging too neatly on the wall, and the furniture is faux leather that’s supposed to look expensive and classy but just comes off as a sad attempt at Walmart chic. 

I sit in one of the pleather chairs opposite his desk and he sits, too. “I’m only going to ask you one question and I want you to be honest.”

A smartass reply is ready to tumble out but I bite it back. “Yes sir,” I say, not caring if it sounds sarcastic.

“Did you supply Brendan White with a weapon?” he asks as he, and I shit you not, folds his hands neatly on desk and hunches forward like he’s Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. 

“Weapon?” When in doubt, play dumb.

He tosses a plastic bag onto his desk in disgust, and as I examine it, I can see why. Sealed inside is my wristband. The safety pins that were once clasped closed are open and there are chunks of bloody flesh on their sharp tips. My face is expressionless. “I have no idea what that is.”

“Several students and teachers confirmed that this is your wristband.”

I shrug. “I swear it’s not mine.”

“Are you sure?” His salt and pepper mustache twitches as his eyes bore into me. 


His face is flushed because he knows he can’t prove anything. “Fiona, you’re a bright young lady. Top of your class. Taking all honors classes.” He sighs and it’s unnecessarily loud. “I’d hate to see you fall in with a bad crowd and ruin your potential.”

“Bad crowd?” Wow. He’s pulling out every cliche in his boring-ass, save the children arsenal. I know he’s referring to Lily, Thrasher, AJ, and Brendan, but I don’t want him to know I understand what he’s saying because somehow that would feel like I’ve lost this battle.

“Why don’t you join the basketball team? You used to play, didn’t you?” he asks.

“I don’t like basketball anymore.”

“Then join the drama club, or the mathletes.”

“Mathletes?” I echo, trying to stifle a laugh.

“Do something to keep yourself out of trouble, young lady.” He leans in to give this impression that he’s about to tell me something no one else knows, but I can see through this act. Every adult I know has tried this on me at least once, but I can spot the disingenuity like a turd in a punch bowl. “I’m only telling you this because I care. Those kids will get you into trouble and they won’t care what happens to you.”

I just want to leave. “You’re right, sir. I’m thinking of trying out for the softball team.”

He smiles. “I’ll email the coach and put in a good word for you.”

I fight the urge to tell him to shove his recommendation up his ass. “Can I go back to class now?”

He writes me a pass and I’m out of the office before he can say anything else. When I close the door, Lily is waiting on the other side. She should be in Geometry too, but of course she’s waiting for me because that’s what best friends do. “So what did McKay want?”

I fall into step beside her. “He just asked about the wristband. I played dumb.”

“Good. You can’t get expelled, too.”

“Expelled?” I stop so fast she almost crashes into me.

She leans in toward me and her rainbow braids fall over her shoulders. “They’re expelling Brendan this time.”

Expelled means I won’t see Brendan on my way to English class, or stare at him in Geometry, or sit next to him at lunch and pretend I don’t notice our legs touching under the table. “Who told you that?”

“Thrasher said he’s out ten days and then they’ll decide if he’s out forever,” she explains as I try to compose myself.

“Have you talked to Brendan?”

She looks down at her phone. “He hasn’t replied.”

“Damn.” I kick a locker so hard my toe aches. 

She squeezes my shoulder. “Come on. We’re already late thanks to McKay’s inquisition.” I follow her because the one thing I can control today is my A in Geometry. 

When we get there, Landon Easton, Connor’s younger cousin, stares at me like I’m some alien. I learned a long time ago not to back down with people like him, so I stare back. Landon looks away first. Good. Today has been a shitshow, and I don’t need him to make it worse.

After class I’m headed out the door and thinking of texting Brendan when someone taps me on the back. I stop short and almost knock Landon over. He looks ridiculous with his Captain America haircut and letterman’s jacket. “Hey,” he says.

I haven’t spoken to Landon since middle school. Our last conversation involved me screaming at him about how we weren’t friends anymore. “What?”

He holds up a pencil. “You dropped this.”

I snatch it out of his hand as his cousin Evan rounds the corner. Evan is shaped like a gorilla except I’m pretty sure any gorilla is smarter than he is. You’d think with all their money, the Eastons could buy him a brain. “What’d your boyfriend do to my brother, hambeast?”

I don’t dare show how much the insult stings. “Jesus Evan, all you got are fat jokes?”

Evan’s jaw clenches and he steps closer. “You better watch your back, bitch. We’re coming for you.”

Landon inserts himself between us, which stops Evan because Landon is tall. Last year he was the only freshman to make the varsity basketball team. “Hey,” he says. “Let’s go.” Landon keeps his hands on his cousin’s shoulders as they walk away. 

As much as I hate to admit it, Evan’s threat rattles me. It’s impossible to concentrate on anything for the rest of the day, and after school I sense there are more eyes on me than normal. Maybe they will kill us all.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your first pages. I love a good underdog, and so far what you have is filled with tension and a set up for a dramatic story.

    From this selection, Fiona comes off angry, defiant, and as a victim. I love the energy surrounding her character, though the victim mentality feels a little forced, almost as if she wants to be viewed as a victim [ This is common treatment for me. People take a look at my black clothes and pink hair and nose ring and assume I’m a juvenile delinquent] I think this could be more powerful if shown through the scene rather than the character telling us people view her like this. Maybe she's proud of her new hair color or an all-black outfit she reinvented out of her closet, and then we see that confidence trampled by dismissive behavior from the office. When we see the process of her being hurt, that is buy-in for rooting for your character. It is difficult to root for a character who is angry and calls other characters names from the get go without that added context.

    For your consideration - these lines might make for an intriguing opening:

    Did you supply Brendan White with a weapon?”
    > then provide setting detail - I'm sitting in the principal's office... Then perhaps how she feels - it's the last thing she expected to be asked today/ I was pulled out of honors English for this? He thinks I carry weapons?

    Starting with someone accusing HER rather than her angry with others can possibly shape that perspective of sympathy for her situation.

    I would love to see some hints or foreshadowing of why she is so angry, especially if what she says outwardly conflicts with her inner narrative; if she snaps at the principal but inside she's worried she'll get expelled too, or worry for whatever issues she has at home. Angry can absolutely work--YA is all about emotion and stories that reach young readers where they are. I think with the right balance of understanding her motivations and inner world, the anger becomes relatable. You hint at this at the very end, that the threat rattles her, which is in stark contrast to snatching things from him and viewing him like a gorilla and not even a smart one. Having her snap at him with harsh words, but internally feel threatened could be powerful. We would see her lashing out, but hurt inside.

  2. Hi Paige,

    I'm looking forward to working with everyone this month! I think you have the frame work for an interesting conflict between Fiona, Conner, and Brendan, both in terms and romance and beating people with bracelets. My suggestion is to think about what's really important to the main conflict, and look at everything through that prism. Is the visit to the principal's office critical to the main conflict, or would the story be the same if it started immediately after that? Only you know at this point, but that conflict should be apparent throughout. I hope this helps!

  3. Hi, Paige!

    The voice you've got going here is AWESOME! I love the imagery conjured by 'Walmarc chic' and Mr Burns, and I could picture Fiona vividly. So much tension and drama. . . this is going to be a good one.

    I did, however, want deeper insight into Fiona. Steph has pretty much summed it up already, but at the moment, Fiona seems to be full of disdain and self-pity and snark, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I wanted to understand WHY. Especially since she is so judgemental with other people. The scene moves quite quickly, so I think there is room to explore the reasoning behind her actions, and give us insight into the layer below her tough exterior. As is, she's a bit too abrasive to root for.

    Also, small thing, but I tripped a bit on the "Maybe they will kill us all" line. Does she mean . . . literally? Because if so, GEEZ, and why would she think so? Who is 'all'? I suppose the tricky thing about a sarcastic protag is figuring out what is an exaggeration and what is serious, but I think this line stood out more than the others because it came at the end. Small thing, but maybe something to consider :)

    Still, I'm stoked to see what you do with this!! Again, LOVE the voice, love the humour, love the drama, and I have a feeling I'd eat up this whole story!

    ~Mary :)

  4. Love the title!

    I like that I immediately get a feeling for the cynical, fed up voice.

    Not sure I get much from the line about how the protag dresses. Maybe the principal could make a comment on that instead of having the character say it?

    The voice is hilarious. I definitely want to hear more of what they have to say and the jokes they make. It's crass. I'm a fan of crass.

    I'm not sure the voice has to be consistently angry, unless that's just the character, but despite that this actually got me laughing, it gets to be too much after a while.

    I don't get much an impression about the plot. I don't understand really what's going on or what this story is going to be about. Not all stories need that in the first five pages. Maybe yours doesn't. But is there something else you can start with other than the talk with the principal? It's funny, but I wonder if what got them there is more interesting.

    The potential is there. I just want to know more.

  5. Hi Paige! Thanks for this. Stellar voice. Nailed it. You did a great job unrolling details in a natural way ("she's waiting for me because that's what best friends do" -- masterful).

    I didn't particularly mind Fiona's grumpy, angry attitude. I was a cranky teen myself, so when I read her, I know we're gonna learn more about her later. You give me a strong foundation so I trust you as an author to unpack her, so I'll trust you and wait for it because I have the feeling it's going to be good.

    That said, while I could listen to Fiona talk about whatever for days, what I felt was missing in these pages was knowing what the book is going to be about. We get the impression of some drama and conflict, but at least at this point, I don't actually know what the overall problem is going to be. I think by the end of these pages, I'd like to have an inkling.

    I also agree with Mary -- I tripped a second on "maybe they'll kill us" because I was like wait, do we have a reason to believe they'll literally do this? And especially with the school violence climate right now, this particular hyperbole (if it is one) reads a little too literal.

    Looking forward to your next round!


  6. Paige,

    Thanks so much for sharing your work! As others have said, the voice is spot on and I'm really interested in who hurt Fiona and why she's stopped doing the things she used to do. Even the hints of the secondary characters are great and I definitely want to know more.

    Also as others have mentioned, the stakes are not apparent in these first pages. It would be easy for the principal to take it a step further and mention why it's so important for her to stay in line. What does she specifically have to lose?

    I would also caution against too much description in the very beginning. I think starting with the conversation with the principal would grab the reader and you can intersperse whatever is most essential between the dialogue.

    Looking forward to reading more!


  7. Hi Paige

    I love Fiona! You're really captured her voice. She sounds like the girl I wanted to be at that age but was to shy to try. I could read her snark all day!

    Saying that, there are a few little things that jarred. As the others have said, that final line 'maybe they'll kill us' rang a little false - it may be because it's the last line here and if we had more it would tie in better.

    I also really want to know why Fiona is so angry - maybe not yet, but I'm really hoping we find out later. Snark is great, but I get the impression that something changed in middle school and I want to know more!

    It would definitely be interesting to see more of the conflict between how she acts to others and what is going on in her head in these scenes. I know there's gotta be a lot going on in his bright cookie's skull.

    I love the first scene with the principal and I think this really shows us Fiona's attitude. Assuming that the principal plays a reasonably significant role in the story, I think it is worth keeping this in as an introduction to him, with just a few tweaks.

    However, if he is a more minor part of the story, maybe start afterwards - she and Lily can always have a good bitch about him and the secretary to use all that great snark!

    At this point, I'm guessing at least some of the conflict of the plot is connected with Landon who maybe still likes her versus Brendan who seems like a bit of a bad boy?

    If so, I know it' a pretty big chance, but maybe one of them should have a different name? Landon and Brendan are possibly a little bit close and I could see myself getting a bit confused. (I am terrible at names!)

    Hope that helps a little bit and I am very excited to see more of Fiona!