Sunday, June 10, 2018

1st 5 Pages June Workshop- Lacy Rev 1

Name: Ben Lacy
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Title: The Tragedies
Words in [] are Shakespeare’s.

I stood on a cobbled street in 16th century Verona, Italy. The sun had set and only the blaze from a few torches hanging off a nearby building allowed me to see. The golden fountain pen that had brought me here glittered in the weak light as I held it in front of me. I realized I had no idea how to get it to take me back home to 21st century Ohio, where not a half hour ago, I’d been laying on the couch reading the worst book ever written, Romeo and Juliet.

[JULIET Snatching ROMEO's dagger

JULIET - This is thy sheath;

Stabs herself

JULIET - there rust, and let me die.

Falls on ROMEO's body, and dies]

“They both died because of a misunderstanding!” I yelled as I tossed the paperback copy of Romeo and Juliet across the living room where it bounced off the far wall and fell behind the TV. Romeo killed himself because he thought Juliet was dead, but she’d just been faking. Until she found out Romeo had killed himself, then she did it for real. What a stupid story.   

I sighed, pushed myself off the sofa, walked across the room and fished the book out from behind the TV stand. The test was on Friday and I was already way behind.   

A week earlier, I’d been sitting in the back of the Introductory English classroom, happily studying the first Harry Potter book. Midway through the lesson, the Vice Principal stuck her head in and said, “Mr. Penwright,” as she curled her index finger towards her. In the hallway, she gushed on about how well I’d done on the most recent standardized test before she dumped me in the Masterpieces of Literature class, Mark Twain High’s hardest and dullest sophomore English class.  

I stretched back out on the couch and pulled the cap off the highlighter. [This is thy sheath] – that had to have some stupid symbolic meaning. I drew the yellow felt tip across the phrase. It remained stubbornly black and white. I pressed harder, the tip squealed over the paper, still nothing.

I pitched the marker into the waste basket by the couch. The junk drawer in the kitchen next to the stove had a dozen pens and almost as many pencils, but no highlighters. Pinching the book’s front cover between my thumb and forefinger, I waved it in front of me as I walked back to the extra bedroom Dad used as an office. Inside, his teak desk with the slate top sat alone in the center of the room. I stood there staring at it for a moment. The room smelled musty; it had been days since anyone had been in here. I should leave.

Don’t be silly. It’s just another room. I opened the top desk drawer then brushed a layer of dust off my hand. I found more Bics, a mechanical pencil, and a pen that looked like a small gold torpedo.  

I picked up the torpedo. Removing the cap from the top half revealed a triangular golden tip.  Holding it almost to my right eye, I could make out a hairsbreadth wide split running down the center of the point. I wondered if this was the kind of pen you had to dip in ink. I drew it across the remains of an old envelope, a fine gold line trailed the path. The gold ink glittered with a metallic sheen I’d have thought was real gold if I hadn’t known better.

It wasn’t a highlighter, but the gold ink would serve just as well. Besides, the pen was way cool.  Tiny, wavy lines running through the shaft made the gold shell throw off flashes of light as I spun it through my fingers. The clip was shaped into a miniature gold arrow, with feathers on the end attached to the cap, and an arrow head pointing from the free end. It must be gold plating, but it had been beautifully made.

I flipped the book back open, sat down at the desk, and touched pen to paper. The lights went dim. I heard two voices talking.  

[“Put this in any liquid thing you will, and drink it off; and, if you had the strength of twenty men, it would dispatch you straight.”]

Those words sounded familiar. Where was I? I forced myself to keep still. My eyes began to adjust to the darkness. I stood between two rows of crudely cut wooden shelves. Large glass bottles and brown ceramic jars covered each one. Past them, I saw a heavy set man standing at a counter with his back to me.   

Facing him, a man wearing a feathered cap and a brocade shirt with large puffy sleeves argued with the shopkeeper. The weak light coming in from the one window behind him wasn’t strong enough to let me see his face.  

[“There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls, doing more murders in this loathsome world, than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell,”] a teenager’s voice said. The boy dropped some coins onto the counter. One rolled toward the table’s edge until the shopkeeper slapped it flat.

I looked around me, had I woken up in a low budget production of that stupid play? No, there was nothing but walls behind me. Was I dreaming? What that kid had just said about ‘poison to men’s souls,’ Romeo had said that on the page I’d touched with the pen just before I ended up here. I realized I held something tightly in my fist. I lifted the gold pen to eye level.

Romeo started to back away from the counter. [“I sell thee poison; thou hast sold me none. Farewell: buy food, and get thyself in flesh,”] he continued. I knew what was going to happen next, Romeo would go to Juliet’s tomb, kill Paris, and then poison himself. Had the pen brought me into the story at the spot where I’d touched it to the page?

Now at the shop’s door, Romeo finished his speech, [“Come, cordial and not poison, go with me
To Juliet's grave; for there must I use thee.”]

“No, wait,” I shouted making a spur of the moment decision. Romeo ignored me and walked out the door but the apothecary turned as I ran between the rows of shelves, knocking several bottles over as I did. Before he could react, I ducked under the counter and dashed toward the door. I barely swerved in time to avoid running into an open barrel full of some foul smelling liquid. I moved carefully around it; I knew enough about olden times to have some nasty guesses as to what it might be.   

“Boy, thou dost not belong here,” the apothecary yelled. He grabbed a large stick and tried to follow me under the counter, but the stick got caught and he fell onto his butt. I turned away; I could outrun him if I had to.

“She’s alive,” I yelled, heading outside. I halted as the sights of 16th century Verona tumbled in on me. I stood on the edge of a narrow cobbled street. Two and three story wood and stone buildings ran along each side. The sun was almost down. I skipped to one side to avoid colliding with two horses drawing a cart. No sidewalks in olden times. The driver shouted something indecipherable at me and kept on going. 


  1. I like the new beginning, and you managed to pack it with so much information: the setting, the plot, the goal, the character. You almost don’t need to name the book at the end of that paragraph because you go right into an excerpt, and readers will get to figure out what the worst book ever is all on their own.

    You did a nice job of adding in some setting details to root us better in the scene in the living room.

    I like how the tip of the highlighter squeals over the page. I can just hear it!

    I’m having a bit of trouble picturing this: “Pinching the book’s front cover between my thumb and forefinger, I waved it in front of me…” I realize you’re trying to let us know he took the book with him, but it doesn’t seem like a natural way to hold a book.

    “Don’t be silly. It’s just another room.” is in a different tense, which signifies his inner thoughts. You might consider italicizing inner thoughts.

    I love the pen and its description. There are 2 full paragraphs describing it. Maybe work on this a bit. The description is most effective when it’s tied to an action (like when he draws it across an envelope).

    I still think the second he gets transported to another place he needs to kind of “freak out” a bit sooner. Grip the table. Rub his eyes. Feel his heart race. Something. He seems to handle it too calmly.

    I think I’m still confused about the characters he’s seeing. You mention a heavy set man, then a man wearing a feathered cap, a shopkeeper, a teen’s voice, a boy, Romeo, an apothecary. I’m assuming these are not all different people, but because you use different names for them, I have to reread and work too hard to figure out who’s who.

    It’s great how the last paragraph takes us back to where he was in the first paragraph. And the idea that he’s in this R&J story and possibly altering the story by telling Romeo “she’s alive,” is the hook that makes me want to read on!

    1. Are italics appropriate for first person POV inner thought? I've seen a several things saying only use for third person.

    2. That's a great question! I think because you switch to 2nd person (you is implied - like he's talking to himself), that's what made it feel like it should be italics. I tried to look up the rule for this, but didn't find anything.

  2. Wow, Ben. You've done wonders with this new beginning. So well, that I don't think you need to state the name of the book at the end of the paragraph. Just let it flow into the reading and readers will know. So much better. Bravo! And I still love the voice at the beginning. Readers will relate.

    For the most part, the flow from sentences and then to paragraphs is pretty smooth. But there's still a few areas that could be tightened. Try combining some description to up the impact and shorten the telling. 'The lights went dim' could be 'The lights dimmed. Also, this is the pivotal point where the world changes again and becomes his current reality. Try adding a smoother transitional sentence like he squeezed the pen again in his hand reminding him something was off or he look at it or whatever. Even rearranging the slight action sentences you already have could accomplish this.

    The paragraph where you ask Where am I?: I think asking this question is in the wrong place. Moving it a few sentences later, after he makes some observations to the change of his surroundings, would signal the reader to a change of scenery a bit more naturally. I also think giving him a more dramatic reaction to his changed world would add tension and conflict.

    I like the way you've ended this as well. I want to keep reading! Nicely done.


  3. The new opening is a lot better. I love that we know immediately that the MC isn't "in Kansas anymore" haha. Nice job. But I agree that you can end the first paragraph at "the worst book ever written" since you included lines from the original work and tell us in the next paragraph when he tosses the book.

    The description of the pen and the cobbled street painted the images perfectly. I could see the pen, the shelves in the shop, the horses, the buildings, and the road/street.

    A few things I thought about while reading: First person is my favorite to read and write, but it can be difficult to avoid overusing "I". Like in the "I looked around me..." paragraph (which brings up another issue/thought that I'll touch on in a moment), you use "I" a least 7 times. The first sentence alone would work great without "I looked around me".

    In the same paragraph, you have 3 sentences with "I" followed by action. I looked, I realized, I lifted. It happens a few more times in other places as well. It's not much of an issue but changing it up may help.

    The edit toward the end cleared up who was where while the MC tried to exit the shop. Good job.

    The ending made me think, "well, does he catch Romeo in time or not!" I want to know more and would definitely read on!

    Good luck in the next round!

  4. First, I'm so sorry I didn't comment last week. Please forgive me and, to make it up to you, I'll give you a free query critique. Just contact me on Twitter @HeatherCashman.

    The backstory of the class needs to be taken out. It's not essential to the story here in any way and halts the forward momentum. Save any necessary backstory for after the first ten pages at least.

    I actually preferred him beginning in the bedroom, reading this horrible book, throwing away the marker and going to find another one. It's relateable. Nobody likes homework. Everyone has markers fail. When he goes to find another one, he stops and thinks about how he shouldn't be in this room. I'd add some deeper internalization there that's going to help us become more emotionally attached to him. Why shouldn't he be in there and what brief memory or loss is it provoking?

    If you're going to start in the shop, then start there and keep moving forward. Use the book of Romeo and Juliet that he's reading to ground us and show that he's been reading, his bed disappeared and now he's laying on the floor hearing the words he's reading. Don't look back until the first ten is done.

    The main thing is to hook us and then keep going. Don't look back. If that starts on the bed reading and finding the pen, great. We'd get to know him a little in media res (in the middle of his life) before he jumps to the past. If that's beginning just after the jump, that's fine too so long as we get really hooked in the action and forward story that we then have a breather later on to take a bit and get to know him. This is risky. The words and action have to really grab us and also have some major internalization that will help us care. That's difficult to pull off in the middle of a chase scene.

    This first ten pages is where we bond with the MC. We need a universal, life problem that he has that we as a reader will connect to.

    The great thing you have going for your character here is that he's trying to fix something, help someone, save someone's life. And that's a hero we can all get behind.

    I'm wondering to myself when he arrives, is he still holding the book and the pen? Did they come with him? Could he be still looking at the book, and he reads the text of them as the words are said? to transitions us more clearly? When he looks up, he sees the apothecary finishing the sentence.

    I love the concept and think it's going to be a fun novel!

  5. I love when writers try something new with their openings -- it was bold of you to put us smack into the middle of the fish out of water story for our young Mr. Penwright (that name, too -- so fun). Now, though, you have a logistical situation to examine for your next round of revisions -- an acrobatic one that is possible, but needs some tightening: He starts in the streets of Verona - bam! Place, reason, conflict all in the first paragraph. Then you take us back -- looping us into his bedroom where he's struggling with our old pal the Bard. Then -- you take us back again, to a week before where the finger-crooking Vice Principal changes up his schedule. This is all fine and potentially very, very cool (especially because this book involves time travel of some sort) -- just closely examine the looping (for tense, for place) and make sure as readers we don't feel too jerked from one place to the next without anchor points. This sort of looping can be really effective for energy but also challenging to pull off in an opening chapter. I say go for it! This novel has such a sense of fun and energy.

  6. I loved the new beginning. I felt a better grasp of the setting and the home that he was ripped from by the pen. I agree that you probably don't need to state the book's title in the beginning paragraph.

    I like the updated description of the torpedo. I understand that he knows the scene from the book, but I agree with other comments that he's adapting really quickly to this new world. Is he scared? If he's not, why is he so easily able to adapt to Verona? I think you transitioned from the first paragraph in Verona to back home pretty seamlessly, but when you go back to Verona, it may help to add in more than just "the lights went dim."

    Loved the changes and can't wait to read next week!