Sunday, June 17, 2018

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Lacy Rev 2

Name: Ben Lacy
Genre: Young Adult fantasy
Title: The Tragedies


Fifteen year old Arthur Penwright is doing his best to avoid thinking about his father’s death two weeks earlier.   The depressing classic literature in his high school’s advanced English lit class isn’t helping. So when he finds a golden pen in his father’s desk that can physically transport him into any novel it touches, he tells Romeo that Juliet was only faking her death. When Art returns to the real world, the ending of Romeo and Juliet has changed from tragedy to comedy.  Only he remembers the original.

Soon, Art’s entering other tragic classics. He stops Ethan Frome’s final sled ride, he keeps Anna Karenina from jumping in front of that train, and he even brings the Little Match Girl a Happy Meal and a case of disposable lighters to sell. When he’s able to use the pen to enter a non-fiction book, he realizes he can change the past.  Art concocts a plan to use the pen to undo his father’s death.  And he doesn’t care if his rewriting of reality will bring us to the edge of the next World War.
1st five pages

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 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 thing ever written.

[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 ago, I’d been unwillingly bumped up to my school’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 thumb and forefinger, I held it in front of me like a dirty diaper 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. The room smelled musty; it had been days since anyone had been in here. I should leave.

Don’t be stupid. 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 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 golden 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 it 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 was certainly gold plating, but it had been beautifully made.

Standing in front of the desk, I flipped the book open to the scene where Romeo buys poison and touched pen to paper. The book disappeared from my hand and the lights dimmed. I heard a voice.  

[“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.”]

Disoriented, I flinched; my arm struck something hard and I heard glass rattle.  The voice paused.  I froze, afraid of giving myself away.  My eyes adjusted 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 first man. The weak light coming in from the room’s one window 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,”] he said in a teen’s voice. He dropped some coins onto the counter. One rolled toward the table’s edge until the other man slapped it flat.

I looked around, 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 the same thing to the apothecary on the page I’d touched with the pen. I realized my fingers clenched something tightly in my right hand. 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. 

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 over several bottles 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 on his butt. I turned away sure I could outrun him.

“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 going.  

I spotted Romeo walking swiftly uphill.  “Romeo, she’s faking,” I shouted, running after him. Romeo turned towards me and put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Whoa, whoa,” I said, lifting my arms in the air.  

Romeo might be a love sick teen, but he was also a dangerous killer.  He’d already stabbed Tybalt to death and would soon murder Paris.  If this was a dream, I’d wake up if I died, but if it wasn’t…


  1. Thanks for all your comments. I've tried to take them to heart and I think they've helped quite a bit.


  2. I also wanted to point out that Blogger seems to be making an odd transcription error, the line that reads 'The test was ....... and I was already way behind.' is actually 'The test was on Friday and I was already way behind.'

  3. I love what you've done! And wow, a world war. Those are some high stakes. Is there anything personal to add?

    The text reads much better as well. You've got a lot of distancing language that could tighten it up and some redundancy, but I think this begins well and picks right up and already gives us some sympathy as well as that hero in the making.

  4. I like your pitch, and now I’m even more interested in the story! The only place where I get caught up is when you say he doesn’t care if rewriting reality will bring them to the edge of the next world war. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t care. It seems like the stakes would be higher if he was trying to undo his father’s death AND keep from starting a war at the same time.

    Haha, I totally get how he was holding the book now that you’ve added the dirty diaper comment. Nice revision. Maybe just say “pinching the book like a dirty diaper” or something like that to tighten that up.

    I like how you tightened up the pen description. You might be able to cut even more by finding ways to remove filtering phrases like “I could make out” and “I wondered if”. For example:
    “A hairsbreadth-wide split ran down the center of the point. Was this the kind of pen you dipped in ink?”

    You use other filtering terms like “I heard” a couple times and “I realized,” which you could also tweak to make your writing stronger.

    I think you can tighten the paragraph that starts “I looked around.” For example, you could omit “the same thing”.

    The scene with the two men at the counter is much clearer now. I think I was confused about which side of the counter he appeared on. Maybe make it clear right away that he’s BEHIND the counter.

    Great revisions overall! Good luck!

    By the way “on Friday” shows up when I read this on my laptop. But on my phone, it’s a dotted line.

  5. Ben, this is so much fun -- time travel and classics. This is every teacher's dream book to assign for independent reading (though it might need spoiler alerts) ;) I didn't realize he'd lost his dad two weeks earlier until I read the pitch which gives the pen all that much more weight to it as an artifact. He didn't just find this pen in his father's desk. He found it in his *dead* father's desk. It definitely ups the tension, which is great. If you're purposefully waiting to tell us this until later, that's fine, but make sure it's on purpose and perhaps look for places where you can leave us some emotional breadcrumbs around it earlier since it now holds such sadness (and explains why he wants those happy endings!). It's been a pleasure to read your work. Best of luck with your next steps!

  6. This is much tighter now. Good job on the edits. The pitch draws me in even more. I figured his father was dead even before I read it in the pitch since you mentioned no one has been in his office/study in days and his teachers were trying to distract him from something.

    About the pitch, it may just be me but the line about his father's death was weird to me. It may be the way I'm reading it. In the pages, I like that we get more of what happens after he's transported into the book. The details are much clearer and Art's reaction is more believable.

    Good job on the revisions and good luck!

  7. Love the twist that he's actually rewriting classics! But I agree with everyone else's comments, why doesn't he care that he's bringing everyone to the brink of another World War? It'd be nice to know the back story on that.

    I like the edits you made, cutting out the part where Arthur was in class sped up the story and got us right to the thick of it. I thought you did great in incorporating more of what happened with his dad.

    Good job on the updates! Good luck!

  8. From Danielle:

    I love the idea of stepping into a classic and changing it! (Who hasn't wanted to step into a book?) This is really fun. I do think the idea that your character doesn't care about the consequences (WWIII) takes some air out of the stakes, though. If your character doesn't care about preventing WWIII, he isn't actually wrestling with the morals of the situation he has found himself in, which means we don't have much of a conflict in this novel. If he doesn't care, he can just rewrite the past and have his dad back and you can skip everything else--what is stopping him?

    From a market perspective, this will probably fit better in the middle grade space. The concept is whimsical and it feels a little bit younger. The educational theme you're exploring (i.e. a character's actions have consequences) is also a little younger-leaning.

    I don't think we need to start a few minutes in the future and then jump back before moving to the future again. We can just begin with your character feeling frustrated with R&J. That's a very relatable feeling and should help the reader immediately connect with your character.

    The scene blocking surrounding the highlighter feels a little cumbersome to me and then the character accidentally stumbling on the magical pen feels a little coincidental. Can his dad have warned him never to use it, which makes him want to use it? Can he know there is something special about it? Maybe he has been holding on to it secretly since his father's funeral?

    I also think you're going to want to slow down and really give him a chance to have feelings and reactions to things. The action feels a little rushed to me. He has been thrown into the past and yet he doesn't seem particularly startled. Why is that? I think this will be stronger if you take the time to really explore the nuances of his emotional reactions to the situation he is in.

    I'd recommend reading some Gary D. Schmidt before diving back in to this revision. The Wednesday Wars comes to mind because of the Shakespeare connection, but I also think Okay for Now would be useful too. It can give you a sense for that middle grade voice and for slowing down so your characters can feel their feelings. I hope this helps!

    -Danielle Burby